Our Last Resort

Mark 5: 21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

Yesterday I was speaking to a teenager – who will be entering high school next year – and I asked if he was enjoying summer vacation. He said, “I wish vacation would never end.” I get it. I look forward to days when I have no deadlines, no required reading lists, no homework assignments. But part of the reason that this young man wanted an everlasting vacation was likely the fact that in the fall he’ll be attending a large high school where he’ll be the wnew kid on the block, and he won’t know the teachers or the students. It doesn’t help that puberty is also kicking in.  It’s a scary time in life, and I can still remember the fear and awkwardness that I felt.

And as I spoke with this young man and reflected on my own discomfort with high school, I realized that there is another frightening aspect to high school; it’s a place where we are educated and groomed for adulthood. Officially that begins at age 18. It’s a year where you are deemed responsible enough to vote, old enough to serve in the military, and old enough to be responsible for your own well-being – old enough to live independently, which means that you’ll probably need to have a job, to pay your taxes. And you’ll be old enough to be HELD responsible for obeying laws.

When you think about all the baggage that comes with adulthood, and adulthood begins just 4 years after you begin high school, that’s a bit scary. I can understand why this 14-year-old wished that vacation would never end.

But must of us arrive at adulthood, stumbling our way through several years before we get a handle on it, and then things proceed pretty well. And a big reason that they proceed pretty well has to do with the support that our community provides: If we get sick or hurt we are treated by a doctor who takes an oath to care for you whether you can pay for treatment or not. If you can’t work for whatever reason the government assists you with everything from food to housing to clothing and air conditioning, etc. You may not live under the best conditions, but you can live and be pretty happy.

I celebrate the fact that there are agencies and services that can ensure some quality of life to those who need it. And the fact that there are laws in place to protect you from abusive employers or dishonest sales person, laws that ensure that you will receive help for an array of problems, has not only increased our quality of live over the years but also the quantity of life we enjoy. Life expectancy in our country is about 80 years for women, 74 for men (at the beginning of the last century it was only 46 years for men and 48 years for women).

Clearly things have gotten much better.

But one of the possible side effects of improved quality of life is the decline of the Church. There are of course other reasons why church attendance has declined, but as the average GDP of a particular nation increases, few people spend time in church. As we become more and more confident in our own ability to succeed at work and as our society provides more resources to help us manage, people find less of a need for God.

“What use is there for God?” A humanist who believes in the near infinite potential of our species would tell point out that the world is providing more medical and social services to the general population, that even among the poorest people in our country there is a quality of life that is greater than most of the rest of the world. And whatever shortcomings there are, we are pretty confident that we can get what we need, and we can expect an even brighter future.

So what use is there for God?

Perhaps another question we could ask would be, “What would cause me to seek God’s help?”

Well, generally what leads people to God is a crisis in their life that no human being can solve. Part of my training to be a pastor involved something called CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education – which is a fancy way of saying that you’re learning what chaplains do. You work in hospitals and nursing homes and you visit patients and residents.

And it’s in such a setting that I came to see what the effects of a lifetime devoid of any spirituality looks like when a person learns that the life that he has come to enjoy and grown used is not going to last that much longer. I remember one day coming to the door of a hospital room where the occupant had just learned that the treatment he had been receiving for his cancer was not working and that the cancer would likely take his life in less than a year, and at first I was not welcomed. In fact this guy yelled at me; “Get lost! I don’t need your prayers or pity.” So I did what I was told and got lost.

But coming back two days later, I again walked by his room, carefully, and looked in, and when this man recognized me he invited me in. His anger had transitioned to confusion, but he also realized that this was the time to start thinking about spiritual matters, to start thinking about what lay beyond this life, and also to reflect upon the life he had lived and the way he had excluded God from his day to day activities. He was not in a state where all his success, all his wealth, all his titles, meant nothing anymore. All  his plans for upcoming vacations then retirement, well, none of it mattered anymore. Now he needed something that the world could not give him. Now he needed a Savior. Now he needed God.

Like the woman we read about in today’s gospel lesson who was hemorrhaging for 12 years this man had sought out all the cures and treatments and resources that the world could offer to help him live, and they hadn’t worked. Now he needed Jesus.

He also needed doctors and medical staff, because God works through doctors and medical staff. If you were to open your Bibles to the 38th chapter of Sirach you’d probably have difficulty doing so because Protestant Bibles don’t generally include of Sirach, but if you did you’d find some great wisdom there:

“When you are sick do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you…And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him.”

Don’t trust your health solely to a quack faith healer. God does not look favorably upon those who are not doctors but think that through Jesus they can do all the healing. In 1955 at a revival in Miami, FL, an evangelist named Jack Coe told the parents of a three-year-old boy that he healed their son who had polio and then told the parents to remove the boy’s leg braces. The boy was not in fact healed, and removing the braces left him in constant pain. The next year Coe was arrested and  convicted of practicing medicine without a license, but the case on grounds that Florida exempts divine healing from the law. And Coe could have gone back to his faith healing racket, but later that year Coe was diagnosed with bulbar polio, and died a few weeks later. I can’t help but feel that there was some divine intervention going on there.

And I wish I could tell you that after we prayed his cancer miraculously disappeared and he went on to be a devout Christian and travelled the world giving testimony to what God had done. Perhaps it did! What I do know is that this man,  reached out to God as he had never done before, and whatever condition his body was in, his soul was in a good place after that prayer.

The world does not have a cure for a distressed soul. When our life is going well by all the economic and health measurements we may feel at ease without an awareness of God’s presence. But we also come to accept that illness and disease and war and violence and greed and injustice are things that we must get used to, like the mourners at the funeral of Jairus’ daughter – you cry in consideration for the family’s loss, but you laugh at the notion that God can do so much more than we can, if only we reach out to God.

Notice that Jesus has a large crowd around him as Jairus elbows his way to see Jesus and asks him to come with him and heal his daughter. And Jesus makes no excuses; he doesn’t tell Jairus to wait until he finishes delivering some brilliant lesson to the crowd. He leaves the crowd hanging so that he can go with the one who asks him for help. And Jesus will drop everything to attend to your needs when you ask him to.

And it doesn’t matter what’s troubling you; Jesus is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Jesus was rendered “unclean” when the hemorrhaging woman touched the hem of his robe. And what did Jesus say to the woman?

“You got me dirty!” No, he said, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed.”

And dirty Jesus proceeds to Jairus’ home where he touches what in all likelihood is a corpse, making him even more unclean. And in so doing, Jairus’ daughter becomes alive again.

Anglican Bishop Tom Wright comments that people tend to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards. What he meant was that we tend to not pray much at all until we need God to deliver us from evil, and then we pray fervently. If you get in the habit of speaking to God regularly you’ll come to start your prayers with a recognition of God’s holy name and praying that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Until we recognize how much we really do rely on God we tend to pray that OUR kingdom come on earth, and let God’s kingdom remain in heaven. We need reverse that.

POINT: In every situation seek God. Seek help from people as well, but don’t leave God out of the picture. Don’t make God your last resort. Don’t simply focus in on your comfort level at a particular time and say, “I’ll call on God when I really need him.” Your body might not be broken, but your soul could be in bad shape. You need God now as much as you will need God when things fall apart. Pray in every circumstance, build your relationship with God, and when real trouble comes, you’ll know that comfort that comes from the divine presence.

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