When All Seems Lost

Sermon preached July 1, 2012

Texts: Mark 5:21-43

Here we are, July 1. Where did June go? We are just days away from July 4, a day of celebration for The United States of America. A day like this, so close to the 4th, is often a good time to reflect on our national life – what’s going well and what may need more work.
I believe there is a moral dimension to being a follower of Jesus. When Jesus tells us to love others, he is asking for more than a good feeling. Loving others has something to do with respect, with care, with compassion, with justice. The moral dimension to being a follower of Jesus laps into politics. Broadly understood, politics is about making decisions about our life together as a nation. There are moral dimensions to issues such as poverty, hunger, health care, war, care for the environment.
As a pastor charged with speaking about faith and leading us deeper into following Jesus, there will be times when I share my understanding of the political implications of the moral dimensions of following Jesus. I will comment, and you can disagree. I hope we can keep the spirit of John Wesley in such conversations – “though we may not think alike, may we not love alike?” I do celebrate today and this week that we live in a country where such conversations are possible. I celebrate that we live in a country where we are free to worship as we deem appropriate.
But this July 4 weekend, I want to go in a different direction, a more personal direction. I feel led that way by this week’s gospel readings.
Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel is action packed. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd, and some in the crowd seek Jesus because their lives are in disarray. They are hurting. Jairus, a synagogue leader has a daughter who is deathly ill. He thinks Jesus may be able to help. Pushing her way through the crowd to touch Jesus is a woman who has been suffering for years, and no one has been able to help her. She thinks that Jesus may be able to help.
The second story takes center stage for a time. The woman reaches Jesus, touches him and is made well. Jesus senses something has happened, and upon finding out what, tells the woman “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” A happy ending.
That has created a delay for Jesus in attending to the first crisis, and it seems as if he is now too late. Jairus’ daughter has died. Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jairus does. His daughter is brought back to life.
One entry point into these stories is to recognize that both are about people feeling helpless, hopeless. They are people caught in situations and circumstances when all seems lost. In both stories, Jesus is there and is of help.
Let’s admit that as modern readers, these stories pose some problems for us. How are such things possible? The stories seem just a bit too neat. They are neatly packaged and with their happy endings they feel a bit like an hour-long television drama where the story is nicely wrapped up. There are difficulties here, but I hope we won’t let either set of issues get in the way of our hearing the message.
The point of the story is not asking how such things are possible, and yes, the stories are a little neat. This is a gospel, not a newspaper report, and the gospel wants to share good news, and it is this – Jesus is hope, Jesus is healing, Jesus is a way when all seems lost. Even in our complex world and our complicated lives, where we know that not every issue will be easily resolved, and where we know that eventually something will get each of us, for we all will die, even in such a world, Jesus, as the face of God turned toward us, Jesus is hope, Jesus is healing, Jesus is a way when all seems lost.
A pastor tells the story of a friend, a person he describes as “a man of deep faith.” This man was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was in his fifties. The man and his wife prayed for his healing. Twenty years later, he is in the last, debilitating stages of the disease. Yet this man once told his pastor friend that his prayers had been answered. I have been healed, not of my Parkinson’s disease, but I have been healed of my fear of my Parkinson’s disease. (Feasting on the Word). In a world where we all get sick sometime, and where we know that some one of those diseases will be our last, there are other kinds of healing than physical healing, important kinds of healing that represent real hope and a real way forward when all seems lost.
When I was in my early twenties, still in college, I was diagnosed with chronic ulcerative colitis. I have prayed for its disappearance, wished that after some visit to the doctor I would be told that my colon no longer showed any signs of the disease. That has not happened during my long journey with this condition. Because I have had this disease for so long, I am at a higher risk for colon cancer and the kind of colon cancer I am at risk for is a more aggressive type. I, therefore, undergo an annual colonoscopy. Fasting has become one of my spiritual disciplines. A few years ago, before I was your pastor, the medications I had been taking to keep my disease in check simply quit working and it took some time to find the right new medications.
I am not healed from this disease, but I do think that there have been other kinds of healing in my life because I carry this disease. I am very aware of the fears people have of going without health insurance, and of getting health insurance due to pre-existing conditions. I am more aware of the remarkable nature of the human body – its combination of fragility and toughness. I believe the spirit of Jesus has helped such “healing” to happen in my life.
Some of you know that last December Julie and I became grandparents to a little girl named Isabelle. She is our son’s daughter by a woman with whom he is no longer in an on-going relationship. Some of you ask about Isabelle sometimes, and some of you may wonder why I don’t say much about her. The truth is I have only met Isabelle once, last January. The situation is a difficult and challenging one. I sometimes feel disappointed, or angry, and even a bit hopeless and a bit lost. There has been some suffering along the way.
While I cannot offer a neat ending to the story, I know that my relationship with Jesus has helped. There has been some healing for the hurt. There remain rays of hope within. I believe there will be ways forward, even when all seems lost.
I don’t think I am alone this morning with having experiences of hurt, experiences of discouragement bordering on hopelessness, of feeling as if all is lost. The good news today, and every day, is that Jesus is hope, Jesus is healing, Jesus is a way when all seems lost.
And this good news is meant for all. Reading the stories in Mark in their cultural context, Jesus boldly moves into ministry with the marginalized. A woman bleeding was considered unclean in Jesus’ cultural context, so, too, the body of a dead person. Jesus lets himself be touched by this isolated woman, and she is healed. Jesus touched the hand of a dead girl, and she was brought back to life. The good news is for all.
As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from tough times, from difficult days. Jesus is hope, is healing, is a way when all seems lost. As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from illness, and one day we will die. Still, Jesus is hope, is healing, is a way when all seems lost. As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from heartbreak and disappointment. Jesus is hope, is healing, is a way when all seems lost. As followers of Jesus we are not exempt from floods. Jesus is hope, is healing, is a way when all seems lost.
The hope that is Jesus may take a surprising form. The healing that is Jesus may be different than we might expect or pray for. Yet the good news is that Jesus is a way when all seems lost, and this is good news for each and for all. May we receive it with hopeful joy. Amen.