Storytellers All

Another of my assignments for my bioethics class was to write a preachable text.  So here is mine.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;

Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

…………………

I will be the first to admit that in my head my life is narrated and comes with its own soundtrack.  Sometimes it’s in the cultured tones of David Attenborough or the soothing bass of James Earl Jones and sometimes it’s the guy from the Outback Steakhouse commercials…  Regardless whether it’s an action movie, documentary, mystery or science fiction, my life is one big movie script or novel.

We as humans tell stories all the time and we have stories for everything.  There are fish stories, bedtime stories, sob stories, inspirational stories, short stories, mythical stories, horror stories, and histories.  We narrate our own lives every single day.  These stories we tell give meaning and order to the facts about our lives; they give us identity.

Even as we live the story of our own lives, we are a part of larger plot lines; stories which define our communities and the ways in which we view and live in the world.  Every community has its own stories and these shape its traditions which shape us in turn.  We as the Christian church come with our own codex of narratives, the Bible, and we are called to continue to write new chapters in the story of God’s people.

The Christian narrative is that of both God’s Kingdom that has already been inaugurated through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that of the Kingdom that is yet to come when all will be resurrected.  The party’s already started, but we are still out on the front lawn.  We can hear the music, but the good stuff is inside.  This not-yet-but-now story shapes the way we live our lives, how we suffer, and how we heal.

Today’s reading from Mark is a story about the healings of Jesus.  While on the way to heal the young daughter of the local synagogue leader, a woman is healed through her faith, by merely touching his robe.  She thinks, “If only I can touch his robe, surely there must be some relief for me.”  As she brushes the hem of his robe, power flows out of Jesus and heals her bleeding.  But she gets more than just physical healing.  Jesus turns around and asks “Who touched me?”  Terrified, the woman confesses, but Jesus, seeing what happened, justifies the woman.  He gives her affirmation that her faith has not been misplaced, that faith in God and the works of the Son will indeed provide relief for the suffering.  She lives in the Kingdom-not-yet while she is physically sick, but she lives in the Kingdom-now through the healing of Jesus.

Such glimpses of the Kingdom-now can be seen throughout the healing and resurrecting actions of Jesus and so all of Jesus’ followers are called to offer the world glimpses of the coming Kingdom by enacting Christ’s radical love in a Kingdom-not-yet world.  We are to be, like Jesus, healers, teachers, and sufferers.

As a healer, Jesus understands that healing involves more than just physical healing.  He heals in hope and faith.  In the passage from Mark, Jesus heals a woman with a hemorrhage saying “your faith has made you well.”  This echoes an earlier passage in Mark, when Jesus says to a paralytic seeking healing “your sins are forgiven” before healing him.  This makes the point that healing is not just physical, that it involves an embodied person whose deepest wounds won’t always be tangible.  Even if there are physical insults plainly visible, the insult to the soul may be much greater.

This is not to say that physicians, who are commonly perceived as being the healing authorities, are doing anything wrong or not doing enough.  On the contrary, much praise is to be accorded to the physicians, nurses, and scientists who work tirelessly to alleviate suffering and delay unnecessary death.  They are the finest examples of the Christian ministry of physical healing.

But without communities and the stories they bring, physical healing is only a fact.  Another disease cured, another bone set, another lymphoma in retreat.  Sickness, suffering, and healing never happen as isolated events and it requires the whole community to write these events into a story and give them meaning.  Instead of simply being a chart on the door of a hospital room, the story proclaims that this is another person healed.  Jesus heals in public so that the whole community might share in the suffering of the sick and the relief of the healed.

But what happens when healing seems impossible?  Or when healing will take a long hard road that might get the better of us?

We’ve all been there, at the bedside of a loved one with a one of those rare or unexplained diseases, or perhaps they are passing into the night of death.  Or maybe we’ve been there ourselves, when a cure seems a long way off and relief can’t come soon enough.

We suffer.  We suffer because it seems to us that body and soul have gone to war against each other.  We suffer because sickness and death threaten to tear us from our friends, our family, and our community.  We suffer because we feel distant from God or as my professor says, we no longer trust God so we no longer have God to lean upon.

But we do not suffer alone.  Most obviously for us as Christians, Jesus comes to us as Jesus the sufferer, as the one who bore the cross.  But the Psalmist serves to remind us that throughout history, God’s people have suffered.  His lament is timeless in its emotion.  How often have we felt as though we were in the depths crying out to God?  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O lord. Lord hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to my… supplications.”  When we cry out, we cry out in company with all of God’s people, with the whole community of the faithful throughout history.

The Psalmists offers us hope in faith.  “O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love and with him is great power to redeem.”  Jesus in Mark teaches us of further hope.  You see, there is a second part to today’s story.  Jesus was on his way to heal a young girl, the daughter of a synagogue leader, when he heals the woman with a hemorrhage.  As Jesus continues his trip to the synagogue leader’s home word reaches him that the girl has died.  “Why trouble the teacher any further?” people council the understandably distraught parent.  But Jesus rolls up his sleeves and says “Do not fear, only believe.”  He then goes to the house and raises the girl by saying “Little girl, get up!”

Jesus teaches us in this passage that faith redeems us even from death.    In this story, he offers a glimpse into the future resurrection in the New Kingdom of God in which sins are forgiven, sickness and suffering are no more, and all are close to God.  The act of raising the little girl from the dead and the subsequent raising of Lazarus are the first acts of new life in the Kingdom of God.  It is as if Jesus says, “Look, you might not be resurrected again into this world, but if God can raise these people here and now, surely he can raise you into the coming Kingdom.  Do not fear, only believe.”

Through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, death has lost its grip on us.  We have cried out to God and he has heard us.  We may find healing on this earth, but there is a greater healing to come.  We may find redemption in this world, but we will not only be redeemed in the coming Kingdom, but resurrected, perfected in body and spirit.

It is through this story that we as a community declare that health and life are great goods, but they are not the greatest good.  Suffering and death are great evils, the enemy to be resisted, but they are not the greatest evil.  For God is the greatest good, and to walk without God is the greatest evil.

What then of suffering?  Are we to believe that in this story, there is no “real” suffering?  That our suffering is merely an illusion? Or perhaps an artificial construct of our bodies?

No.  Suffering in this broken and imperfect world is as real as the promise of resurrection.  Death is the great enemy.  Sickness still needs a cure.  But, when our powers of healing fail us, or when there is no healing to be found, the Christian story assures us that God has our backs.  The resurrected Christ declares that neither sickness, nor suffering, not even death will separate us from God.

So, what story will you tell?

There’s a story about an older gentleman who was out for his morning walk along the beach.  He came upon a boy who was absolutely frantic.  The boy would run up to the high tide line, grab something, run down to the water and toss it in before running back up the beach.  The older gentleman realized that the boy was tossing stranded starfish back into the ocean.  The previous night had been a full moon and the lunar tide had been higher than normal.  Tens of thousands of starfish had been washed ashore.
Suddenly the older gentleman felt angry.  He marched up to the boy.  “Boy what are you doing?”  he asked.
The boy replied “I have to save the starfish.  I have to get them back in the water.”
“Why bother?” shouted the old man.  He gestured to all of the thousands of starfish.   “You can’t save them all.  There are too many of them.  What you’re doing doesn’t matter.”
The boy stopped, picked up a starfish and said, “It matters to this one.”
We want to be like the boy, frantic in our attempts to throw starfish back into the ocean. And it is good for use to struggle on behalf of those who are stranded.  But, lest our pride get the better of us, we are reminded we aren’t called to heal the whole world, the world has already been healed through Christ.  We aren’t called to save the world, the world has already been saved by God.

Most of the time, though, we’re like the starfish.  We need to be tossed back when we get washed up.  It’s not about saving starfish, it’s about recognizing the difference between when we can help those in need by tapping into the power of God and when we have needs that can only be met by God.

One of the more illustrative endings to this story is that the older gentleman after some thought joined the boy, the two of them running up and down the beach to save the starfish.  Passerbys on the beach saw them and joined in.  And the folks up in the village on the hill above the beach saw this and they ran down to help and tens became hundreds became thousands.  And all the starfish were saved.

We can change our own lives; we can live our story instead of just telling it.  And when we have our story straight, we can tell it to other people.  And we can build our community around a story of faith, hope, healing, and dignity.  Then we can tell the whole world that whenever we are washed up, stranded, God tosses us back into the sea of life.

We are called to not be afraid and to struggle.  Struggle against sickness, struggle against death, struggle to tell our story, struggle to touch the robes of God.  We all have our part to play.   The whole community is called to bear witness, to comfort, and to support those who suffer and those who seek to relieve them.

We won’t win all of our struggles, that’s just human nature.   But we remember that our story says “Do not fear, only believe.”  Amen.

(c) Brad Kern 2012

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