Sermon preached June 28, 2009
Text: Mark 5:21-43
One of the joys of life for me is the discovery of writings that move me – that stir my heart, my mind, my soul, my imagination. Last summer I read Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death and found it an incredibly rich work on human life. Becker drew on the tradition of psychoanalysis for some of his incredible insights, and in the year since I read Becker, I have found myself coming across certain psychoanalytic thinkers from time to time, and this has led me to Michael Eigen. I came across his name in a few places and one day in a used book store I came across one of his books, The Electrified Tightrope. It bursts with insightful remarks about human life. Eigen is a therapist, and he writes well about his work. I have experienced many miracles of growth. Mangled areas of torment and stagnation have opened gardens of subjective delight. Out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land: repeatedly. How does this happen? What is IT that does it?… One cannot predict when or how one will find the spot or particular point of entry that will do the trick. (277, 275) I love the way Eigen describes the kind of healing that happens in therapy, and the mystery of that process.
We encounter the mysteries of healing in the gospel reading for today. Crowds surround Jesus. Jairus asks for help for his daughter. Jesus responds by going with him. Suddenly a woman fights her way through the throng to touch Jesus, and she is healed. Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ home only to be told he is too late. Is he? Apparently not, for Jairus’ daughter is brought from seeming death to life, from sleep to wakefulness. The stories are jammed together in a way that heightens their drama and our amazement. We are left wondering, at least a bit – how does this happen? What is IT that does this?
Without taking away all the mystery in these stories, we can learn from them something about how healing happens, about what healing is like. While the stories focus on physical restoration, their meaning penetrates more deeply. Salvation, healing, wholeness are related words in the New Testament, and I think these stories speak powerfully about being made more whole in the broadest sense. I think they speak of aliveness and deadness as described by the teacher and writer Ann Belford Ulanov in her work The Unshuttered Heart. Deadness is living in such a way that it is as if “some part of us has been driven into exile and we cannot get it back” (ix). Deadness feels like no zest, crippling anxiety, a hole in us from something done to us that should not have been done, or from something not done with us that should have been done – – – living at half strength, feeling tepid, dull (9). Ulanov argues that “we all know something of this deadness and we all struggle to be alive and remain alive with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength” (15). To deadness, she contrasts aliveness. Aliveness comes down to one thing – consenting to rise, to be dented, impressed, pressed in upon, to rejoin, to open, to ponder, to be where we are in this moment and see what happens…. Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us. (15)
These stories are about healing, wholeness, aliveness, coming out of deadness. There is a certain mystery here, yet the stories reveal something of what it means to be healed, to be made more whole.
To be healed, to be made whole, to become more alive is to know that we matter, that we are not just taking up space, that God knows us by name. The scene for these stories is a crowd scene. Jesus is being followed, surrounded, pressed in upon. There is a great crowd, a large crowd, a commotion of people. Sometimes we feel lost in the crowd, less than alive in a sea of humanity. Even in church we can come and feel unnoticed, just part of the worship furniture. Healing happens when we are noticed, when we discover that we matter, when our names are identified – Jairus, when we feel the power of another and know that they feel our power.
This week I was at a denominational meeting in Nashville and one morning I was having breakfast with a couple of United Methodist seminary leaders – a dean and a president. The Dean at Drew Theological Seminary shared a story about classes the seminary was offering in prison. Seminarians were half the class and prisoners the other half. It was a powerful educational experience for the seminarians, in part, because they could begin to see these people in prison as persons, as individuals, as singular. When we see others in that way we are changed, made more whole. When we are seen, we are healed and made more whole – the daughter of Jairus, the woman who had been bleeding for years.
Healing happens, aliveness is encouraged when barriers are broken down and boundaries that separate person from person are crossed. The woman in the story who touches Jesus is a remarkable character, and the story is remarkable for all the social conventions violated. A woman should not have been touching a man. The woman’s bleeding made her unclean. She should have stayed away, isolated from all those surrounding Jesus. Instead, she crosses the boundary, she breaks down a wall, and Jesus calls this faith, faith that heals. Jesus goes in to a girl who may be dead – her body, too, would have been considered unclean, religiously impure. Jesus crosses a boundary, and healing happens.
Earlier this week, the youth of our church went to package meals for Feed My Starving Children in the Twin Cities, and you will hear more about that during our sharing time. All together we packaged enough meals to feed twenty-eight children a meal a day for a year. But before and after we watched videos about the children we would be packing meals for – children a half a world a way, children who could not be more different from our youth in so many ways. When we were done, we were headed to Valley Fair, and later ate at Famous Daves. The children we packed food for might not see the kind of money spent for a day at Valley Fair in a month. Boundaries were crossed, walls broken down, children fed – healed, youth made more aware – more alive.
Then there is the Motown sandwich part of the story. I know you have been puzzled by this – well here it is. The top slice of the sandwich is the way these stories tell us healing happens when we reach out – Reach Out, like the Four Tops. The Jesus of these stories encourages people to reach out with the assurance – I’ll be there. For our own healing, we need to be willing to reach out, to acknowledge our need for healing, wholeness, our need to be made more alive, our need to be resurrected from deadness. The insidious thing about deadness in life is that it can become our way of living. We get told often enough we have nothing to offer the world, and we come to believe it and melt into the crowd. We hear often enough that we cannot make a difference in the world, and we bury our gifts in the sand. AA has taught us that the first step in making change in our lives is to admit we need changing – but long before Bill Wilson there was the bleeding woman who had had enough and reached her hand to touch Jesus, and he touched back.
The other half of the Motown sandwich, the bottom slice is another reach out song – Diana Ross – – – reach out and touch, somebody’s hand, make this a better world if you can. In Christ, we can be healed, made more alive, resurrected from deadness – but these are gifts always to be shared. Healing is our ministry in a broken world. Michael Eigen says of therapy “in this business we deal with broken lives and heartbreak, and we do so with our own broken hearts” (277). That is a pretty good description of the ministry of the church. As our broken hearts are healed, we in turn offer others healing. We, in turn, offer healing to a broken world.
There is a certain mysteriousness in healing – how mangled areas of life are made more whole, but these stories give us some idea of what healing is like and how it happens. In these stories we are invited to reach out when we are hurting and when our lives feel dead, to hear our names called and know that we matter, to reach out beyond boundaries that separate. In these stories we are called to bring Christ’s healing to the world. We are called to create safe space here for others to reach out for healing. We are called to be a place where people are known and where they know they matter. We are called to be a place that breaks down barriers – barriers that get in the way of healing, well-being, wholeness – – – barriers such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, background, education.
If you feel that you can’t go on, cause all your hope is gone, and your life is filled with much confusion, and happiness seems just an illusion – reach out, Jesus will be there reminding you that you matter, that your life matters, that your life is to be lived fully. As God’s lively people, reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can – – – and you can! Amen.