The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
This is one of many stories in the Bible with a nameless female character…of course, she had a name, but the writer of Luke’s gospel doesn’t convey her identity, except that she was “bent over” and “unable to stand up straight.” I can’t fully imagine what it must have been like to live life doubled-over like that. It must have been painful to walk, to sleep, to do anything. [demonstrate] Can you imagine what the world looks like if you are bent over in that position? It would certainly be difficult to look at someone during a conversation. What would you see? You’d see the dirt and the dust on people’s feet. You might catch a glimpse of the sun or the sky if you turned sideways. Suffice it to say that your field of vision would be severely different that if you were standing straight and tall.
Did you notice that the woman doesn’t ask Jesus to heal her? He simply says, “You are healed from your ailment.” Perhaps she had given up hope of being healed. Perhaps she felt as though she was not entitled to a healing by Jesus. Maybe she didn’t know his reputation as a healer. I wonder if, after eighteen years, she had come to accept her condition as “her new normal.”
What are the parts of your life that need healing? Maybe, like me, you have a physical illness that is holding you back. Or perhaps you have a personality trait that you know is anything but helpful, but it just seems to be part of you. Could it be that you are experiencing a way of living that you’ve come to accept when in truth it could possibly be changed? Healing can take many forms, whether curative or restorative, as it was for the woman in this healing story, or it can mean coming fully into relationship with God, with self, and with others.
One of the things that plagues our congregation is the sin of self-reliance. We are a church full of real doers who are used to making a difference, and we are successful and accomplished in many different ways. Now, you may say, “Hal, that sounds like a blessing, rather than a sin.” And I think that our Protestant work ethic would affirm your assertion. And I call it a sin because I know it so well in my own life. I am so good at keeping things together, at maintaining control, at doing the right thing. I do that to such an extent that sometimes I forget to rely on God…at least until things begin to fall apart. One of the things that having a recurrence of cancer has taught me is that there are parts of our lives over which we are not in control.
There is an old Dutch aphorism that says, “If your little boat is about to be dashed against the rocks in a storm, row with all your strength and pray with all your might.” So, it’s not just a matter of letting it all be in God’s hands – we have a part to play and so does God. And the serenity prayer, written by UCC minister Reinhold Niebuhr, in its original form says, “God grant me the wisdom to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” I love that prayer, which doesn’t let us off the hook – it demands courage to change things when possible – and it asks God to be present in the midst of the process.
But what if the doubled-over woman had accepted with serenity that her physical ailment could not be changed? I suspect that sometimes God knows what is possible when we have already given up hope. Are there broken aspects of your own life that you have come to accept too readily? If so, what would it look like to give God a chance to heal that?
I know that if you read, watch, or listen to the news that it is anything but hope-filled and that there are aspects of our culture and political discourse in which we want to throw in the towel. Today, we mark the four-hundredth anniversary of African enslavement in our nation, and every American is living its legacy. We experience mass shootings, and then the memory of them sinks into the background, becoming invisible like so many other shootings. We have unproductive vitriol and flaming tweets instead of honest political dialogue and diplomacy and statesmanship. Have we given up hope of ever experiencing something different? Have we come to accept institutionalized racism and gun violence and rancid politics as the new normal?
I am never going to encourage you to stop trying to use nonviolence to change the system, but instead I am going to ask you to open yourself to the possibility of God working within us and among us — changing the way we think, feel, and act. I invite you to open yourself to the possibility of God healing you and healing the world.
What if we could be agents of God and God’s healing? What if we open ourselves to the healing power of God’s love and the realm that Jesus proclaimed in order to do what we cannot do on our own? What if God can heal the world – tikkun olam is the Hebrew phrase our Jewish sisters and brothers use for this – but what if God needs us to be agents of love and transformation?
Last week I read a wonderful meditation by the progressive Franciscan, Father Richard Rohr about nonviolent transformation. And he offered this observation: “It’s when we come to the end of our own resources that we must draw upon the Infinite Life and Love within us to do what we alone cannot do.” And if we do not draw from that unfathomably deep well of love, then we commit the sin of self-sufficiency.
Our openness to working together with God and to healing can call forth within each of us as individuals and as a congregation the transformative power of love. Emilie Townes, a womanist ethicist and dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, writes that “Part of the gift of healing is that it can open the doors in the rooms of our lives, and healing encourages us to walk through these doors to discover the grace and hope and judgment that may be inside each room.”
Going Deeper means summoning the courage to open doors into rooms in our lives we wish we could seal forever. And Going Deeper means that we are not alone in any of those rooms, because even when we ourselves do not have the strength to face our brokenness alone, we have the healing power of God with us. And that is where we find humility as well as the grace of God.
If we are confined by our own brokenness, looking down into the dust all the time, it will be impossible for us to look forward, to envision what lies ahead, to blaze the trail that will lead us toward God’s realm of justice and peace and healing. So, let us open our hearts to God and to going deeper in the faith that binds us to reliance on the sacred.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Emilie Townes in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3. (Louisville: WJK Press, 2010), p. 384.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Healings of Jairus's daughter and the hemorrhaging woman
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and 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."
24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He 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?" 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40 And 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Did Jesus really cure these two woman of disease? Could he do that? It seems impossible to our 21st century knowledge of modern science and medicine, doesn’t it? What do we make of this? Considering the healing stories of Jesus to be historically true in some form or fashion seems dangerous....maybe even ridiculous to some. Is it best to stick with metaphorical interpretations of the stories? Ask questions about spiritual healing? Is our life force slowly hemorrhaging away, individually or corporately? Are we sleeping, moving through life comatose, waiting for the voice of God to raise us from the dead? Good questions, but do they skirt the real power of our stories today?
In his book, Days of Awe and Wonder, How to be a Christian in the 21st Century, the beloved and late Marcus Borg, encourages us to understand Jesus as one in the long stream of a Biblical tradition of Spirit-filled mediators who bridged the two worlds of tangible reality (our modern scientific world, world of the our physical senses) and the world of nonmaterial reality charged with energy and power, the world of Spirit. With his scholarly expertise and deep faith Marcus stretches our theological imaginations and our spiritual muscles to accept the historical man Jesus as a Spirit person and a charismatic healer. Marcus’s writing brings me hope in understanding our texts today.
Both the woman with the hemorrhage and Jairus’ daughter are brought back from the brink of death by Jesus’ healing. The woman was unclean in the eyes of her community. No one could socialize with her. Perhaps she had family, but they dared not take her in because of her impurity. She obviously had no male relatives willing to intercede for her with Jesus which would have been the proper cultural tradition of introduction. And she was out of money. Spent it all on seeking a cure. With no family, no finances, no community she might as well be dead.
Jairus tell Jesus his daughter is near death. Then a messenger from his house tells us she is dead. Then the mourners laugh at Jesus when he suggests otherwise. They know death when they see it. The spectral image of death is repeated here times. Does the girl really die? Or is she so deeply comatose that people believed she was dead? The only clue is that Jesus speaks against what the crowd says in tangible evidence of death, saying she is only sleeping. Sleep of death or sleep of coma? Either way she is cut off from family, from community, and they from her. And dead bodies were also ritually unclean. Like the woman, the young girl is as good as dead.
Yet these two woman, younger and older, both considered dead to community, dead to possibility of wholeness, are cured. By God’s power through the touch of Jesus the healer. Thanks be to God! These are miracles! And haven’t we all hoped for such miracles in our lives for ourselves or our loved ones?
We think of cure as medical wholeness, the banishing, repairing of disease medically. We often equate this with healing, the restoration of health. Healing is more that medical cure. It is restoration to wholeness. The stories of the woman with the flow of blood and Jairus’s daughter bring us to the intersection of curing and healing. Jesus never just cures. He also heals.
And yet....we all know the stories, we have all lived the stories, when curing does not accompany healing. Not everyone we pray for is cured. We have all experienced this. Where is the healing? I believe we take the example of Jairus who advocated for his daughter and the woman who advocated for herself. We begin the healing process by telling our whole truth. Both Jairus and the woman tell their stories. They tell the whole truth.
Jairus is a prominent man in the local village and surrounding area as one of the leaders of the synagogue. What is he doing throwing himself at the feet of Jesus, this itinerant, upstart teacher and begging, repeatedly and in front of the crowd? Telling the story, the whole truth, of his daughter’s illness? Unbecoming conduct for a man of his stature. To be so vulnerable about his personal needs. What would the other leaders of the synagogue think? Even if holy men who were charismatic healers were accepted in Jesus’ time was it appropriate for Jairus to seek out a healer so publically? Making a spectacle of himself? Surely he had the power to send a message and request privately that Jesus come to his house. Yet he falls at Jesus feet and begs....and which of us wouldn’t do that for a child on the brink of death?
The woman is audacious as well. She tries to remain hidden, doesn’t she? According to Jewish law the woman with the hemorrhage ritually unclean because of her unceasing flow of menstrual blood. Like a leper she could not be touched. And could not touch men in particular. Yet here she is in the crowd surreptitiously making her way through to touch just the hem of Jesus garment. To be healed and yet not contaminate him? And she is in the crowd that is moving toward the house of Jairus. She knows Jesus is on a mission. But so is she. She too, is seeking a last resort for healing. And it works! She is cured of her long, long ordeal of disease. What she didn’t know is that once you fervently seek the power of God, you can’t hide out anymore. Realizing this with Jesus’ prompting she finally comes forward and tells her whole story, the whole truth.
Jesus meets these two people right where they are. Jesus knew as he moved through the crowd that someone had been cured, God’s power had flowed through him. He also knew he was on a time sensitive journey to Jairus’ house. He could have rushed on knowing this miracle was accomplished. But he stops to personally interact with the woman. He is not doing this for show. Seeking her out allows her to come and tell her story....in front of the whole crowd. She becomes a witness, she testifies to the power of God she has experienced. Telling her story of faith heals and empowers her soul. Jesus affirms her with God’s love, calling her “Daughter!” He Acknowledges that she received God’s power and also that it is her faith, her complete trust, that empowers her healing. Her body is cured and her soul is healed internally. Publically brought back into community through her encounter with Jesus. If Jesus had not encountered her publically she might never have been believed by her community that she was cured. The community would have missed the power of her testimony. Healing is never just for the individual. It is always brings us back into the community.
Jairus daughter is brought back to life and also into community. While Jesus orders those with him not to tell anyone about her healing....how could this have happened? The daughter would be living in the house with the family. She continued her normal life. So those who were mourning outside the house would see her. They would know about the miracle. They would eventually be included in those “overcome with amazement.” This story did not stay contained long. The joy and celebration of the daughter’s cure surely spilled over into healing in the family and community. They had experienced the power of God’s love! That cannot be contained!
Jesus always brought healing. And it always affected the community as well as the individual. And healing always begins with telling and hearing one another’s stories, listening to the whole truth. Healing comes with the vulnerability. Think of it....authentic medical treatment cannot begin unless we are vulnerable in telling the doctor all our symptoms. This is true in mental health therapy as well. And it is true when we are completely vulnerable in seeking the power of God. Telling God the whole truth, the sorrowful truth, the angry truth, the despairing truth, the doubting, questioning truth opens the door to healing. Vulnerably telling the truth in our communities, the truth of sexual harassment, the truth of suicide, the truth of addiction, the truth of domestic violence, the truth of sexual and gender identity, the truth of oppression,.... you can add your truth to the list...leads to healing. We may not see a cure immediately. Or even in our lifetime. But I can guarantee that as we tell our whole stories to one another and to God healing will begin....healing will happen. When we are vulnerable we may not be cured, our loved ones may not be cured in the ways we envision, but we are healed into deeper community and communion with God.
Yesterday Hal and Christopher and I were with friends and family from my son, Colin’s, community. I had prayed for a cure for Colin’s struggles for years...and it did not come as I had envisioned. His release from disease came with death rather than with my hopes for new life in the treatment for mental illness and addiction. And while I am fully confident that he is now at peace, it hurts not to have had my prayers answered in the ways I had envisioned. And to heal I must tell that story. And as I encouraged his young adult friends yesterday....we must tell our stories of his life and love to one another and to others. We must tell the stories of his pain and struggle and of his joy in living, his joy in the creation of music and visual art. It is only in sharing our stories that we are being healed. My friends, I invite you on the journey with me. Tell your stories of struggle, of cure, of healing, to one another and to God. Tell your whole truth for there lies your healing and the healing of community through the power of God.
©The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, 2018 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.
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