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.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Plymouth Congregational UCC of Fort Collins, Colorado
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Will you pray with me this morning, Plymouth? May the words of my mouth (as fully inadequate as they will be) and the meditations and prayers of all of our hearts (as speechless as we are) be good in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there prayed.” Mark Chapter 1, Verse 35 is a moment of absolute stillness, silence, and deep loneliness in the middle of a chapter (a passage of Scripture) filled to the brim with over-activity: healings, expelling of demons, travel, and crowds of endless pressing need. This morning, friends, we are really living in a still very dark morning at the deserted place—and it is exactly where we need to be. It is okay.
Today was scheduled to be Jane Anne’s monthly Sunday to preach. I know that, like myself, Jane Anne treasures the opportunities she has to come before you in this pulpit and share a Word of Gospel and grace. All of the words this week of common prayer: The Call to Worship, our hymn selections, the Unison Prayers, and even the sermon title, “Ripples of Healing,” come from my colleague, The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson. She finalized this worship bulletin only hours before indescribable tragedy would touch the Ferguson-Chorpenning household.
The loss of a child at any age and for any reason is a source of grief and pain that stays with a parent in some form or another for a lifetime—with a brother, with a stepfather, with stepbrothers. Our work, brothers and sisters/ siblings in Christ, here in this congregation in the days, weeks, years to come is to allow the work of the Holy Spirit through grief and bereavement to flow through us—to be ripples rather than waves of healing. Ripples rather than waves because it requires patience, boundaries, awareness, and finesse.
Jane Anne’s original sermon title, which I retained, could not be a more accurate depiction of the way grief and loss process works. I know this from my time as both a hospice and hospital chaplain. Starting from a sudden and unexpected impact on the surface of the waters of life, the process of recovering equilibrium does not come in waves but rather ripples of healing. Continuing with the image of the ripple, we should also remember that ripples continue to exist in the system of the water well after they are no longer visible to the human eye.
This will be a long process for both Jane Anne and Hal—one that they will both define in their own way. We will need to wait for them to define their needs. So far, as a congregation, I want to commend you all for understanding the boundaries of space needed. You all have responded with so much love and care, and I know that they feel the ripples of healing your prayers are sending. Likewise, I want to thank the Leadership Council for providing meals for the family. We will let the congregation know if more are needed.
I also understand and need to name that for many of you, some have spoken with me and some haven’t and maybe won’t, the ripples of your own healing processes intersect and overlap (magnified) with the ripples of this event. Hal shared with us by email, vulnerably and authentically, that Colin probably took his own life. While brave and hard to say, it helps remove stigma and bring this conversation to the light.
I know that for many of you, this has brought up your own grief, fears, loss, guilt, and feelings of helplessness even decades old. The ripples of this event in our church family system have brought up a lot of things for many of you from your own families and histories. I want you to know that even as busy as I will be perceived to be “holding down the fort” in the coming weeks, your pastoral care, the conversations you need to have, the questions this might raise about God always come first for me, for Mark, for Mandy, and our team of pastorally-trained lay people. I want to be as explicit as I possible can be (no vagaries today): do not hesitate to reach out if you need to talk, or process, or grieve. This is true even if the triggering event is 50 or 75 years ago or even happened in your family system a 100 years or more ago. The ripples of healing are a promise from God, we see God’s great power of healing in this passage, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone or that it is easy. This brings me back to our Scripture (good news) even this dark morning:
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
The word translated from Greek here in our translation as “a deserted place” is hotly contested in different Christian translations. Other words frequently used in lieu of deserted include: secluded place, solitary place, desolate place, uninhabited, or most interestingly it can be translated as a vulnerable place… a place that is deprived of the protection of others—the rawness, realness, and pain of the human experience. In the early hours of a new day, when it was still very dark and dangerous, Jesus got up and went out alone to a place of vulnerability and there he prayed.”
One of my favorite theology books is called Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality. In this book, the author and father of son living with disability, Dr. Thomas Reynolds, argues that good theology starts with looking for the places in the Bible and in Systematic Theologies where strength comes from brokenness, wholeness comes from authenticity, where community/ church/ all of this Christianity business really is rooted in one word: Vulnerability.
This is entirely counter-cultural and is essential for understanding what a grief process, ripples of healing, means for us now. Christianity is not a normal religion or normal way of living where safety and comfort are the arguable norms. Normal life is life where we suppress pain. In normal life we ignore healing. In normal life we rush bereavement. In normal life, strength is the ultimate virtue, right? In fact, in this book, and I love this and reference it frequently because it is at the core of my belief in Christ, is that normal is a cult. The Cult of Normalcy dictates that we always need to be strong, always need to be progressing, always need to have it all figured out, always need to “get over it fast,” always look happy, healthy, and wise. This normal business isn’t Christian…heck it isn’t even possible. It is a false idol. The Cult of Normalcy.
Vulnerability, deserted places, lonely and hard are the source of our faith in a God who accompanied and accompanies all of humanity in the hard parts of life and death. God and Jesus Christ don’t end when things get hard, when we need to be vulnerable with each other, when healing doesn’t even seem remotely possible, but that is where faith starts.
In the early hours of a new day, when it was still very dark and dangerous, Jesus got up and went out alone to a place of vulnerability and there prayed.”
A couple of closing remarks: I want us to look to the last three words of this fascinating verse: “And There Prayed.” What Hal and Jane Anne shared in vulnerability with you by email, what many of you have since shared with me, what we do by worshiping God (mystery, universe, creator) together, sharing in admitting our own brokenness, admitting that none of us looks anything like normal (AMEN!) is dangerous, risky, and vulnerable.
It is, yes, all of these things, but it is never hopeless. In denying the power of normal and embracing the rawness and realness of vulnerability and finally turning to the source of life in prayer (even in the midst of the darkest morning in the scariest places of our souls)—we find hope eternal in a God who will not let us go, a God who accompanied humanity even unto worst. This is the importance of the cross even for progressive churches to understand. God accompanies humanity in even the worst circumstances.
While vulnerable in a deserted and lonely place, Jesus was far from alone. And there he prayed. Sometimes, like now, that is all we can do. Grounded in a calling to vulnerable places and spaces of life and death, we together come before God in prayer. There is no normal way to grieve a loss like the loss of a child, but we can come alongside in prayer, in knowing our own vulnerability is a gift that starts the ripples of healing from a core of hope.
Deserted (vulnerable) places have no map, no normal, no yelp, no timeline, no Google to tell you how to find them or exactly how long you will need to be there. They just are and need to be. Amen
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
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