A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2018. The scripture readings are Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, and Mark 5:21-43.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
The other day, several of the Merricats-Castle preschool kids were in the garden with their parents. One little girl was exploring every corner, looking at the flowers, climbing on the bench, playing with her friend. But at one point, something she was playing with seemed to go into the bushes. Not quite sure what to do about it, she looked over at her mother and yelled, “Help!” Her mother stopped her conversation, went over, and helped solve the little girl’s problem.
As I watched the little girl ask for help easily and naturally, I wondered, “At what age do we stop doing that?” When do we begin to learn that it’s NOT ok to ask for help or that we should do everything ourselves? How often are we like that little girl—needing help, perhaps wanting help—and yet, we don’t ask?
Today’s Gospel introduces us to someone who does ask for help. But in order to ask for help, he must have overcome a lot of internal and external resistance. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue. He’s well known and probably successful in whatever he does. He’s someone people look up to, the sort of person you’d want running stewardship or chairing a mission project. He gets things done (and sometimes that means doing them yourself if you want them done right.) He is probably responsible and organized and runs a tight meeting.
But suddenly, with his little girl sick, he’s out of his field of expertise. He can’t control, manage, or direct. He can’t fix or persuade. He’s at his wit’s end. His daughter is getting worse and some are saying that she is going to die. Finally, out of resources, out of ideas, with no more options, Jairus reaches out to Jesus. Jairus asks God for help, and healing comes.
This story has a happy ending, but it’s the kind of story I sometimes worry about people hearing. Does this story always promise a happy ending? If a young parent with a very sick child comes to me, do I tell them this story as a means of hope, or do I carefully avoid talking about Jairus and his daughter, in case it gives false hope, in case it gives the impression that God always shows up right when we need it and that healing always comes with a cure?
Perhaps here is where we might recall that healing CAN involve a cure, but doesn’t always. If healing has to do with wholeness, with shalom, with God’s bringing things to a loving completion, then we will need to acknowledge that sometimes healing end s in death. That’s one aspect of the vast spectrum of healing, but we (and others in this room and beyond) also know that miracles of healing happen. People get better. A parishioner who risked losing her eyesight had surgery that included the doctor placing a tiny bubble in the back of her eye. The bubble filled the hole somehow and sight was preserved, a miracle made. Sometimes miracles involve medicine, and sometimes they are simply unexplained.
Miracles happen with prayer and with medical care. But today’s Gospel also points to the more mundane miracles in our lives—the ones that involve healing when someone asks for help.
After Jairus asked for help, his daughter is healed—but that’s just the most obvious part. The Gospel doesn’t go into detail about the other ways that I’m sure Christ brought healing—to Jairus, to his family, to their community, and on and on the healing circle goes. That’s the way healing works when we are humble enough to ask for help—it expands in all kinds of unimagined directions.
When I think of this kind of healing I think of a former parishioner I’ll call “Sarah.” Sarah was middle aged and never married. She had no living family except for one or two distant cousins. When she first received a diagnosis of cancer, she began on a course that would create miracle after miracle. She asked for help.
First Sarah asked friends for help understanding the diagnosis. Which course of treatment might be best? What were others’ experiences? In order to ask for help, she had to get to a new place of humility of realizing that there was no way she could absorb all of the information, do all the research, and weigh every detail alone. She needed help. But that was just the beginning.
Over the next five years, Sarah’s health had ups and downs. She continued to invite other people to help her—doctors and nurses, but also friends and new friends from church. She had one of these amazing spirits that would smile in the face of fear and make a joke about losing her hair during chemotherapy. Each time she got a new, dire diagnosis, she would plan a trip, and that really involved asking for help. In her last year of life, the doctors told her there was no way she could make a dreamed-for safari to Africa. But she felt ok and just kept praying and asking for help. She navigated transporting her medicines across international borders. She lined up emergency insurance and medical support. She had friends praying for her. And she made her trip, taking beautiful photographs that are now shown in an exhibition at our church.
After a long series of ups and downs, Sarah eventually died—peacefully. In the process she had empowered friends who had no idea what they were capable of. She had raised new issues and concerns about the retirement complex where she lived, including other voices and changing procedures and rules for the future. She slowly gave her two animals (probably her very best friends) to other friends, blessing those families with new life and adventure. And she gave her priest (me) the kinds of conversations one usually only imagines in seminary: “What do you think heaven will be like? How do I pray for people who have wronged me but who are dead? Did I fulfil my mission in life?—on and on the questions went, and the conversations continue to live in my head and heart. They sustain me and guide me in talking with others.
Healing that comes from the humility of asking, from a place of emptiness. But the other side of healing encourages generosity and the expansion of inner and outer resources people never dreamed they had.
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is talking to the wealthy Corinthians almost shames them by telling them about the Macedonians. Look at the Macedonians, he says. They’re poor as church mice, but look how they insist on being a part of every campaign—they’re giving and making and serving and showing up. The Christians in Macedonia had created a culture of generosity. Even though they didn’t have much to share, they shared what they had. As anyone who has ever lived or served among the poor knows, it’s often the poorest of the poor who are the most generous. That’s because they’re used to asking for help. They live more often in a place of humility, so generosity is just that much more obvious.
Richard Rohr is a popular writer and priest of the Franciscan tradition. In one little book, he says, “to finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body” (Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 8-15).
To keep the head open, some kind of contemplative prayer or meditation helps.
To open up the heart, we take a look at our past, be honest with our relationships, allow for creativity, and actually allow our heart to broken, at some point.
For that third part—keeping the body open—Rohr says that the “body is like the ignored middle child in a family.” Having been ignored for so long, the body gets revenge through compulsive eating, sexuality, anorexia, and addiction…” The body needs to be reclaimed as being a part of God’s “good, generative force.” God called it good. God calls US good. And so, we try together, to pray and to live our prayers that God might open within us, “head, heart, and body,” so that we might be healed and might share healing with a wounded world.
As we celebrate this week that includes Independence Day, much of the national celebration will probably focus of the celebration of strength and success and power. Those can be good things and for them, we can offer honest thanks. But also, at least in our own lives, may we also be clear about our weak places. May the Spirit reveal our deficiencies, our inability to fix everything and control everyone. May we be aware of our neediness and ask for God’s help, that we, too, may know God’s healing and resurrecting love.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.