Fifth Weekend of Pentecost B
Preached at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Muskegon, MI, while on Internship.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
I don’t know why my early childhood keeps coming to mind when I write sermons, but two weeks in a row you are getting a glimpse into the early years of little(r) Kenny Ranos.
One morning when I was four years old, camping with my family at Potato Creek State Park, I was happily riding my bike, training wheels and all, around the loop that our campsite sat on. I must have been daydreaming, because I don’t know how I didn’t see the girl on her bike coming around the other way.
Our bikes slammed into each other, and off I fell. I hated when that happened, especially since training wheels were supposed to prevent the whole falling over thing. But it happened, and boy did it hurt. My parents came over and picked me up, bringing me back to our campsite to administer some first aid to my cuts and scrapes. It was only later that evening, when they were tired of hearing me scream every time they tried to pick me up, that they starting to think that maybe something else was wrong. Off to the hospital we went, where we discovered that I had a broken collarbone.
Well that’s just great.
Nothing ruins a kid’s camping trip like a broken bone. I had to wear this huge, bulky, Styrofoam cast-like contraption. I wasn’t allowed to go swimming, which suited me fine, as, while I somehow ended up on the local swim team as a kid, I was never all that fond of being -in- the water.
But what about all the other things I couldn’t do? I couldn’t play on the playground, couldn’t play badminton or football, or do any of the other rough activities my cousins and I routinely engaged in on camping trips. To put it frankly, it was one of the worst camping trips I’ve been on. I wasn’t allowed to have any fun!
My injury wasn’t all THAT major, and today, I can barely remember it. But for those few weeks, my life was completely different from what it had been. Today, you wouldn’t know that I’d ever broken my collarbone—some times I even forget I broke it. It doesn’t affect the rest of my life.
That’s not the case with everyone. How many people do we know who suffer with an illness or disease every day? How has it changed their lives? My father still hobbles around on the ankle that he shattered twenty years ago, dealing with the pain. My mother lives with the reality of rheumatoid arthritis every day and has radically altered her living and her diet to cope. My Grandma struggles with diabetes and schedules her life around meals and medicine. My cousin was born with a learning disability and has struggled every day of his life to fit in with classmates, neighbors, and family (we used to have to translate his words for Grandma). Members of our own congregation live with cancer, physical disabilities, mental disorders, and terminal illnesses.
When we hear the story today about the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, it’s easy to dismiss it as a story about the healing of an illness. Yay Jesus, the great healer! Okay, NEXT! Resurrection! But look at how much we overlook in the story.
First, we are told that for twelve years, this woman had seen doctors and physicians who tried to help her, but in the end, only succeeded in increasing her suffering. She had spent all of the money that she had trying to get well, and had only succeeded in losing it all. As abnormal bleeding would have made her ritually unclean, she lived a life ostracized from the rest of her people. In short, this illness, this bleeding, not only changed her life, it ruined it. Bleeding was the least of her problems.
When she is healed of her illness, I am struck by the words Jesus says to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” The Greek word for “made well” is “sesoken”, from the word “sodzo”, which means, “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction”. So when Jesus says she has been “made well”, this is what I hear: “Daughter, your trust has saved you and made your life whole. Go in peace, and be healed from your disease.” First, her life is made whole. Then, in peace, she is healed from her illness.
There is more to this story than the simple healing of an illness. What this woman got from Jesus was not just an end to her bleeding—it was an end to her broken life of suffering. It was an end to her poverty. It was an end to doctors and physicians who couldn’t relieve her suffering. It was an end to her ostracization and ritual uncleanliness. Her life was now made whole. She was saved.
A disease is never just a disease. An injury is never just an injury. Sickness and injury often radically change the lives of the persons they inflict.
It’s a shame that we don’t take Jesus or the Greeks to heart. I am constantly surprised during my visits to the hospitals to discover that the person I had seen yesterday has been discharged. Our health care, for a number of reasons, is based on the ideals of cost- and time-efficiency. We’ll do the absolute minimum of care in the shortest time.
We can do a pretty good job of taking care of diseases, but what about people? Hospitals often have social workers and chaplains (though resistance to chaplains can be high in some areas), but they are considered secondary. Keeping a body alive takes precedence over letting a person die with comfort and dignity. When our focus is narrowed in on just the illness and injury, the people suffer.
Jesus didn’t just remove sickness. He took the broken lives of the people he met and rebuilt them. The woman who had been healed of her bleeding had a whole new life, or better yet, a new whole life ahead of her.
And take Jairus’ daughter, the other person healed in our story today. At twelve years old, her death was truly an unmitigated tragedy. Not only did her early death end her life, it radically changed her father’s and her family’s.
Almost all of us here have experienced the death of someone close to us. Months, years later, that death is still felt. That person is still missed. Our lives are never the same after the loss of that person.
I’ve never felt the pain of losing a child. I know that there are some of us sitting here today who have, and I can only imagine the way in which a tragedy like that rips life apart. The healing that must take place is not medical or surgical. It is a “making whole” from the bottom up, from the inside out.
So when Jesus comes to Jairus’ house and utters two simple words, “Talitha koum”, his healing is not simply directed at the daughter. With those simple words, “Little girl, get up”, he made whole the lives of her family and friends. Jesus knew that just as sickness never only affects one person, healing, too, must reach all those who suffer.
Today, we’ll be offering prayers for healing. All of us in some way are affected by brokenness. It may not be physical. With the words of Jesus, you are invited to participate today in these rites of healing. With the words of Jesus, I invited you to begin or continue a process of being made whole, of restoring to fullness what has been broken.
“Talitha koum”–”little girl, get up”. It’s not just an invitation to one person, it’s an invitation to all. Talitha koum.