Jesus the Healer

Mark 5:21-43
Sixth Sunday of Pentecost - July 1, 2018
St. John Lutheran Church, Union City, NJ

Normally I would just jump right in to talking about this text and the message for the day, but a few years back my home congregation had a pastoral vacancy. We had one supply pastor that would come every few months or so, and each time he would say a word to introduce himself, so he wouldn’t be quite a stranger just hopping into the pulpit. I liked that, I found it extended respect to me and to our congregation. So I’m going to emulate him and say just a brief word about me. I want to thank you and Pastor Paterson for inviting me to share worship and the Word with you this morning. This very warm morning.

I’m Paul Bellan-Boyer, from Jersey City, and I have been a Lutheran almost all my life, certainly since my parents adopted me way back in June 1958 – you do the math! I’m a member at St. Matthew’s in Jersey City, and have been involved in the Lutheran church and the wider church here in Hudson County since 1990, a graduate of the Diakonia program for lay leaders.

I am also really grateful to be back here, and stand with you in remembering your pastor, my friend, Gary Kugler, a good man, a good pastor. Now Pastor Kugler and I did not agree on every little bit of theology, probably you did not agree with everything he said either, but that never divided us because – and I will say that Gary led me in this – our differences never divided us because we were absolutely united on our love of Jesus Christ and our certain knowledge that God called us to be united in serving our neighbors. Gary’s vision of friendship, and neighborliness, and service was bigger and broader than so many of the details which the world tells us are all-important. Not so. God’s love is all-important, and that is more than enough.

You know, one thing I love about the Church is that it keeps bringing us stories and people and places we might never notice if not for God’s spirit grabbing us and getting our attention. You see, God has a purpose for each of us, and is working every single day to lead us to the kind of whole and holy life which is God’s vision. That’s whole, W-H-O-L-E, a life with integrity, a life which is complete because God is bridging the gaps and healing the wounds which make us less than the HOLY, H-O-L-Y people we are capable of being.

As you read the gospels, there are some things which come up again and again. Sometimes, because they are there so often, they might even seem to fade into the background. One theme which I think is often underappreciated, is seen throughout all four gospels, even though each bears its own witness to Jesus.

You see, we can say many things about Jesus. We call him Rabbi/Teacher, Redeemer, Prince of Peace, King, Lord of Creation, Savior. The list goes on and on.

There is ALSO Jesus the Healer. You can scarcely touch a page of any gospel without a mention of people coming to be healed, or Jesus going out of his way to bring healing, to those on their sick beds, to a blind man standing by the road, to lame and lepers, to people on the Sabbath when he should be “resting.”

And in today’s gospel, which tells an un-usual story in several un-usual ways. Jairus, an important man, the leader of the synagogue, comes to Jesus when his daughter is sick, to the point of death.

Now we might wonder why Jairus came to Jesus when his daughter was so ill. Was he just lucky enough that Jesus happened by at just this point? Or had he waited, like so many of us, putting off that visit to the Great Physician, hoping she would get well on her own? Or did her sickness have to get desperate enough that he was willing to try anything, even approaching this somewhat suspicious, homeless, unorthodox man roaming about the countryside?

It is even stranger that this remarkable story of Jesus healing the young girl, bringing her back from the dead, is interrupted – by another healing. This is not just a storyteller putting in their own favorite story, because the same basic thing happens in all three gospels where it is told, Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Jesus is interrupted on the way to the little girl’s house by this woman...

This woman who had been suffering. For twelve years… Twelve years, the same number of years Jairus’ daughter had been living.

Twelve years she had been bleeding. Every day she shed some of her lifeblood. Every day she was weaker. Every day she felt the pain inside. And she suffered as well from social pain. You know how it is when you’re sick. Not everybody comes to visit. Not everybody wants to touch you.

Because she was bleeding, she was also ritually unclean. She could not go to the Temple in Jerusalem. She could not fully participate in the rituals of her faith, she could not take the ritual bath, the mikvah, with her fellow women and become clean. Because the blood kept flowing. As long as she was bleeding, there was no way for her to be clean in the eyes of her community. The text tells us “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had.” All her money in pursuit of healing.

We don’t know if she had husband or children and if so, where they are, they are not in this story. We see her alone in her sickness. Her physical illness had led to isolation, frustration, economic trouble. She desperately wanted healing and it was nowhere to be found. Despite the doctors, despite the prayers, “she was no better, but rather grew worse.”

Now one cane easily imagine losing hope in a situation like this, even as she loses her blood and her strength. Marginalized, weekend, she may doubt that anyone cares about her. She probably does not feel she can approach Jesus or has any claim to his attention, after all, she’s supposed to be in the shadows, she is not supposed to touch a man. She might not trust him any more than she does all the others. But...

She had heard about Jesus, and the wonders God was doing through his hands. She’d heard about his power to heal and to make people whole. And we know she wanted to be healed, to be whole again. So she snuck up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, in the crazy hope against all odds that if she but touched his clothes, she would be made well.

[Pause...]

Brothers and sisters, there is one thing you should never be in any doubt about. God’s will is ALWAYS for healing. Always. Jesus didn’t plan to heal this woman. He was on his way to someone else. Jesus didn’t even know who touched him. All he knew was that God’s awesome power had gone through him and to someone else. It may be that he was even a little bothered at this detour, this transfer of power. He stopped. The disciples didn’t notice, and chances are that if this woman had come seeking Jesus’ presence, they would have tried to keep this improper, unclean, trying to hide herself woman away from Jesus.

But Jesus knew when God’s power was at work. He felt it in his body just the way the woman did in hers. He knew God’s power in his own life. And he knew the difference between God’s power and all other powers. For God’s will is always for healing, God’s will is always for good, so that when God’s power is deployed, when God’s power is activated, when people connect with God’s power, good is certain to follow. Healing is certain to follow. Justice is certain to follow. Righteousness, holiness, love is certain to follow. New life sprouts from God’s power because God is the very source of life, life on earth and life eternal.

Who wouldn’t run to touch power like that?

[Pause]

Strangely enough, too many of us. When Jesus asked who had touched him, she must have thought she’d done something wrong, even though she knew in her body she was healed. She must have felt the blood stop flowing, the pain ceasing. Yet this man had called her out. She knew she had broken the rules which prevented her from reaching out to touch him.

“The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. ‘Daughter,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”

We could almost stop here. Her healing is the point of the story. You can say all kinds of other things about it, the way it demonstrates Jesus’ power and unique connection to the power source. But the healing is the point of the story.

Remember those questions I asked earlier about the little girl and her father? How the man came to Jesus didn’t matter. The grief and disbelief of the neighbors didn’t matter. Not even her death mattered. By the time Jesus gets there he’s hushing everyone to not make such a fuss over the “sleeping” girl. And then he calls her back to life as though it was the most ordinary thing in the world.

And for God, it is. God’s will is ALWAYS for healing. Only God’s will for life mattered. You see, God is in the healing business. Period. Full stop. Roll the credits – to God be the glory!

We do need to say a word more, though. One little word. Faith. Jesus says it to the woman, her faith has made her well. I will not argue with the Lord. But that really isn’t the whole story.

I recently heard a preacher speak on “Faith alone,” one of Luther’s bold claims. He was working that famous Reformation ground, that we are saved not by anything we do, not by working hard, not by obeying the commandments. These are good things, but they don’t matter even the tiniest bit in GOD’s work of salvation. Rather, we are saved by God’s boundless love for us in Jesus Christ, by God’s grace alone, seen in our lives through faith.

The preacher was doing fine until he got near the end. Then… you’ve heard it before… If you have faith… If you have faith you’ll get a job, a raise, a house, a husband or wife. If you have faith, you’ll be delivered from your migraines or depression or cured of cancer… If you have faith…

Yet we’ve all known people of faith, of strong faith, of faith probably stronger than ours, who pray for relief and for help and for a cure, and who nonetheless suffer poverty, isolation, pain, ill-treatment, ill-health, who die waiting for that hoped-for cure.

You’ve probably heard this before, from a TV preacher or a neighbor. This is the refuge of the false evangelist. If you only have faith, which really means, if you only have ENOUGH faith, or the RIGHT faith, you’ll receive God’s favor, you’ll get that healing, and if you don’t, it’s not God’s fault, you just need more faith.

Notice what we have done if we go down that route. We have just made faith into another work, something we can do to get God on our side. Not so. That is not good news, it is fake news. God is ALREADY on our side. God has ALWAYS been on our side. You see it’s not our faith that is decisive. It’s God’s. God, who is faithful and just. God, who loved us before we were, who loves us still, who loves us more than we can ever even know.

Our faith is important. But it’s most important to us. Faith is not the destination – it is the road, the channel by which we know God’s grace flowing into our life. God is loving us, God is helping us, God is blessing us all the time whether we know it or not. God’s love for us, God’s mercy, God’s blessings in no way depend upon our faith. Jesus told us so. He didn’t say we needed faith as big as God. He said all we need is a little faith, small as a mustard seed, and that would be enough to activate God’s power in world-changing ways, enough to move mountains, enough to save lives, enough to grow beyond ourselves that we might bless others.

That is God’s gift to us. God’s will is always for healing. Don’t mistake healing for a cure. We all want problems fixed. But God’s vision extends far beyond ours. For whatever reasons, everything is not healed in this life, that wholeness we want does not always come to pass when and how we want it. God’s resurrection plan is still unfolding. Like it or not, we are still mortal. Most of us are still working on stuff on our death beds. The cup did not pass even from Jesus’ lips. The full healing we need and want is in the fullness of God, on that great day when we too are raised up into resurrected life.

But God’s will is always that we be filled with more love than we need, so that it spills out of our small vessels and onto others. God’s will is that we love righteousness and one another just as much as is humanly possible. And Christ’s conquest of death means that our healing extends beyond this life, unto that day in eternity when the whole world is redeemed. Nothing, though, prevents us from reaching out and touching as much of that power as we need in our life, in our church, in our community, in our world. Right now, when we need it.

Jesus has been reaching out to us our whole lives. Seize whatever faith you have and run to him, reach out and touch that power. It’s enough to heal us and the whole wide world.

Amen.

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