The Adventurous Lectionary – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018

The Adventurous Lectionary – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018 June 23, 2018

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Today’s texts invite us to consider the universal need for healing. We need healing of our experiences of loss, of our sense of moral failure, greed, and brokenness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships. We need social transformation and planetary healing. Given the darkness of our national and planetary time, we need to pray for personal, congregational, community, national, and planetary healing. Healing is interconnected. Healed people are called to be agents of healing. Healing communities are necessary to bring healing to persons. As social gospel leader Walter Rauschenbusch asserted, regarding an impoverished Manhattan neighborhood, “Hell’s kitchen is not a safe place for saved souls.”

The Old Testament reading describes David’s grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan and provides an opportunity to reflect on the universality of loss. “The mighty have fallen,” David laments. All things must past, and death is the lot of all humankind. To live a full life is to experience what Judith Viorst calls “necessary losses.” Though David grieves Saul, he is devastated over the death of Jonathan, his most intimate friend, for whom his affection was greater than the love of a woman. There is no clear indication of the exact nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship, but the passage affirms that we may have many types of love and appropriately love many persons and that whether it is a child, parent, lover, spouse, friend, or grandchild, we may be overwhelmed by grief.

The reading from 2 Samuel invites us to consider the dynamics of grief, explore our own grief, and discover ways to find healing amid loss. As one who has lost my two best friends to cancer in the past five years, I can appreciate David’s grief. I still miss them, but I grieve their deaths, not as hopeless, but as one who trusts that they – and I – are in God’s care. (For more on death and grief, see Bruce Epperly, “From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure”)

Psalm 130 continues with the theme of desolation. “Out of the depths” we cry out to God. The Psalmist is bereft and isolated. Initially, the Psalmist sees no relief in sight. There is a hint of moral iniquity; a sense of moral failure that alienates us from the Holy One. But, we may experience woe from a variety of sources and discover in the process that we need healing; we need to feel God’s companionship fully once more. Despite his isolation, the Psalmist prays, connecting with God. Prayer is the ultimate act of connection, which enables us to find home in times of despair.

2 Corinthians is a clarion call to generosity. We need healing from greed, stinginess, and economic individualism. Scarcity thinking is a disease that isolates and alienates, while feelings of abundance restore us to health. Our abundance is not a private possession to be used at our prerogative without consideration of others. Our possessions are at the disposal of persons in need. We are to live simply and give generously so that others might simply life. Generosity connects us with God and all creation. We discover our unity and our common need when we let go of possessiveness and open to the needs of others.

The readings from Mark 5, describing two types of healing, present a tour de force of Christ’s healing ministry. While these passages are not prescriptive, they describe several important pathways of healing. I believe that Jesus’ healing ministry represents a heightening the energy that created the universe and that is resident in our cells and souls. Jesus’ healing ministry –and our own – is not contrary to the laws of nature, but an expression of the powers available to us when we are fully in synch with our deepest selves, God, the well-being of others, and our environment. Jesus marshalled the power of the big bang to heal the sick and raise the dead. Nature is filled with energy and may be utilized to bring wholeness to others. Then and now, Jesus’ healing ministry is more than sociological and political, although it includes these factors, but spiritual and physical in the most holistic ways possible. Healing is universal, global, and God’s intention for humankind and creation.

Mark 5:21-43 contains two healing stories: the healing of Jairus’ daughter bookends the account of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood. Jairus is wealthy, the unnamed woman is impoverished. Yet, despite his largesse, Jairus, like the woman, is feeling powerless and desperate, and calls upon the only one who can save. His daughter is in a coma and near death. He beseeches the healer Jesus to come to his house, and Jesus leaves immediately to respond to his need. As the father of a cancer survivor, I know how desperate I felt when my daughter-in-law called us with news that our son had been hospitalized. I dropped everything and drove the 120 miles from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Washington D.C. I was afraid and initially certain that he was going to die. I would have done anything and would have moved heaven and earth to insure his survival. I would have changed places and taken his pain on myself. Jairus felt exactly the same way. While he may have previously been suspicious of Jesus, his daughter’s condition broke down any sense of judgment he felt toward the healer from Nazareth. Jesus the healer felt Jairus’ pain, and nothing would stand between him and restoring this young girl to health.

The path to healing is often surprising and unexpected. On the way, a woman reaches out to Jesus and is healed. Plagued by what most scholars describe as a gynecological ailment, her illness had alienated her from husband (if she had one) as well as family, community, and religion. She was a social and spiritual outcast and, like many people today, impoverished by the cost of health care. Perhaps she even internalized the social judgments heaped upon her, wondering if somehow she might have committed a sin that led to her ailment or if God was punishing her for some sin of which she was unaware. For her, the healing moment was now! In her desperation, she found the courage to face the crowds, the stares, and comments, and the risk of rejection from the healer.

Her healing required chutzpah! This was her time and she wasn’t going to let it pass. It was now or never and she pushed her way toward the healer, guided and sustained by her affirmation, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” I imagine her repeating this over and over, so that it became the lens through which she viewed her future.

When she touches Jesus, the healing energy of the universe is released. A power flows from Jesus that heals her cells as well as her soul. The power is so great that it unsettles the healer, who looks all around for the recipient of his energy. Healed, she comes to him, elated but filled with fear and trembling at what she just experienced and how he might respond to her. She receives his final blessing, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Thankfully, this, like so many of Jesus’ healings, is many-faceted. Her faith is a factor, but not the only factor in her healing. This passage is misused if we see it fully dependent on her faith. By implication, those who are not healed somehow lack the faith that transformed her life. In truth, her healing came from a divine synchronicity of her faith and divine power. Her faith opened the door to healing power residing in the healer. Healing is not about us, but a synergetic connection of our faith, the faith of others, our condition and previous behavior, the nature of the illness and medical responses, and God’s ever-present goal of abundant life.

The healing of Jairus’ daughter is also the result of the interplay of faith and divine power. Jesus dismisses the naysayers and allows only those who trust his diagnostic (she is not dead, but asleep) and healing power. Jesus creates a healing circle to bring about her recovery. Healing is always a communal event, grounded in a community of faith that believes on our behalf. In this healing story, the faith of others opens the girl to God’s healing touch. When others are unable to believe, our trust in God can be a tipping point from illness to health, opening up new pathways for God’s healing power.

I believe that our churches are called to be laboratories for healing and wholeness. Can our church become a healing circle, opening us to God’s energy of love that transforms cells and souls alike? That is the message of Mark’s Gospel to us today. When we say “yes” and let go of our fears and need for control, miracles occur, energies are released, not contrary to the laws of nature, but in accordance with God’s vision of abundant life for all creation.

. (For more on Mark’s Gospel, see Bruce Epperly, “Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel”; “Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B”; and “God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus.”)

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