The Healing Power of God's Love
On a wet, chilly evening many years ago, a young woman – we'll
call her Angela – headed to a bus stop on a university campus. She was glad to
see that there was someone else waiting in the shelter out of the rain, and even
more delighted to find that she knew the young man who was waiting there. They
were old high school buddies who had each traveled some distance to be at this
university. As they caught up on the years since they had seen each other,
another young man came into the bus shelter. Angela's old friend asked her some
very probing questions when he found out that she was studying theology and
preparing for ordained ministry.
Angela shared her story with this old friend in the time that
they all waited for the bus.....she talked about how God's spirit kept nudging
her toward a new path. She resisted this feeling that she needed to make a
change in her life, but God's insistence won her heart, and she began to explore
what that call meant. Angela said it had been the most difficult decision she
had ever made. To leave everything that was safe and predictable and take up a
life of loving and serving the Lord in ministry had been her greatest challenge.
But it also affirmed her choice, because she knew that NOTHING
except the persistent and powerful call of God would take her to these new
places in her life's journey. She told her friend that despite the challenges,
she had never been happier. She said to him "I get up every morning and I know
that I'm doing exactly what God has called me to do. Life just doesn't get
better than that." Soon the bus arrived and all three got on board, and each in
their turn left the bus and headed into the night toward home........
Today's gospel lesson shows us an interesting style of story-telling that is typical of Mark. He "sandwiches" the stories that we hear of the daughter of Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman. The passage begins by introducing the characters of the Jairus story and telling us that despite his power and prestige as the leader of the synagogue, Jairus felt powerless to help his ailing daughter who was twelve years old.
Then the story takes a turn..... Jesus, and the story of Jairus' daughter, are interrupted by the needs of the day.
A woman who had suffered from chronic illness for twelve years reaches out to Jesus for healing. Then the story concludes with the restoring of the young girl to health.
This "sandwich" of telling these two narratives in Jesus' life speaks to us on so many levels......
First, that the act of interrupting his planned visit to the sick girl to heal the hemorrhaging woman was truly a reflection of God's awesome love.
It's one of those times when we see how Jesus can get past all of the peripheral nonsense, and direct his attention to what is REALLY important.
This woman was completely rejected by her community because of her illness. Her twelve years of suffering had left her poor and shunned by everyone around her.
She was considered "unclean" because of her bleeding.....
... so she could not prepare food for others,
...she could not touch anyone or be touched by anyone, CAN YOU IMAGINE HAVING NO HUMAN TOUCH YOU FOR TWELVE YEARS? Not even to hold your hand, or put a hand on your shoulder....
...she could not set foot in the synagogue,
...she was an utter outcast, but Jesus knew that all of that was unimportant. What mattered was her astounding faith.
Jesus sensed that someone had touched his cloak and had been changed. Not only did he seek her out, but he said to her "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease".
There is a story of Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian author, who was walking down the street one day and came upon a man begging for coins. Tolstoy reached into his pocket, but found that he had no money at all. So he turned to the man and said, "I'm sorry my brother, but I have nothing to give".
The man brightened and said, "You have given me more than I asked for you have called me brother".
This story is the only account in the New Testament of Jesus calling anyone "daughter". That's how powerful this moment was in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It tells us that God's grace, and the power of God's love, can be found in the interruptions of life.
It tells us that we need to pay attention to what God IS doing in our lives while we are waiting to see what God WILL do in our lives.
And what about the faith of this woman?? After all those years of loneliness and despair, her physical body weak with illness and wear..... she still had enough faith to reach out to Jesus. She still had hope. And so did Jairus, the leader of the synagogue.
In this passage his power as the leader of the synagogue is stripped away. He has undoubtedly attempted to do everything he could to help in his daughter's struggle for life, and still she is gravely ill. Even his friends tell him not to bother Jesus because there is nothing else that can be done.
But he is not hopeless.... he reaches out to Jesus too. And the same can be true for us when life's greatest heartaches come our way, we don't have to lose hope. Because we have been touched by the miraculous love of Jesus Christ, we can reach out and enter into the warm embrace of that love.
So that is an important message for us: God's healing love is offered to us, and as people of faith, it falls to US to reach out and receive it. Can you picture that? God reaching out to us, and all of us, in faith, reaching back......
.... God's generous love can heal the dead places in our lives. Those may be old grudges, regrets of opportunities not taken, long held grief that has never been named or allowed room to be healed and replaced by acceptance and hope.
All of us have old wounds.
The real value in this gospel lesson is that we know those wounds can be healed. And because we are in the season of Pentecost, we know that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide and our strength as we seek out that spiritual healing for ourselves, and THEN carry out his ministry in the world.
Each of us is called to do both. We are called to reach out to the God who loves us and receive the healing that our souls need, and we are called to carry that healing love into the world.
And that means that OUR FAITH has the healing power of God's love in it. And you never know when someone might be touched by God's love working in and through you.
Many years later, Angela attended a workshop on Grief and Bereavement that was being held for clergy types in her community. A young man came up and shook her hand and said, "You don't know me, but 12 years ago, I waited at a campus bus stop one night and you were there too. I heard you tell your friend your story." He paused, then he said to her, "It changed my life."
"I had just found out that I had failed all but one of my mid-term exams. Apparently engineering wasn't meant for me. I felt so lost, and I didn't know what I was going to do next. It was as if God sent you to that place just to help me deal with my broken spirit and loss of direction. It wasn't easy, just like you said, but now I get up every morning and know that I'm doing exactly what God has called me to do in this life".
Then he said with a big smile, "It just doesn't get any better than that".