Are We Healed Yet?

Mark 5.21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.’ So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
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?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

What do you make of stories like this one in the Bible? Do you believe they are true? Do you think they’re false? These are two of the more unbelievable stories of the gospels. In fact, they’ve caused Christians, and especially biblical scholars, fits over the years. Some scholars say that because they defy the laws of nature, they can’t possibly be true. Others insist that they are true, and the evidence of their truth is that they defy the laws of nature, showing that Jesus was someone completely different from other great religious figures.

What do you think about these stories and about Jesus’ miracles in general? Did they really occur? Were they lies written by people with a religious agenda? Were they misunderstandings of what really happened? Were they just something of Jesus’ day? What you believe about them actually may determine, to a great extent, what kind of miracles are possible in your life. It’s not that if you don’t believe in the possibility of miracles that God punishes you by withholding miracles from your life. It’s more basic than that. God doesn’t withhold miracles from our lives. We withhold them. The possibility may be all around us, but our lack of belief turns us off to them.

I think it’s much like having a cell phone. Do you own a cell phone? If you do, are you able to receive phone calls on it? Unless there’s a problem with the phone the answer is yes. Now, what if you owned a cell phone and refused to believe it could receive phone calls, and so left it off? And what if others continually told you that you could receive calls, but you disbelieved and never turned on the phone? From your experience you would be convinced that you were right because you’d never receive a call. But that doesn’t make you right. It just makes you closed to possibility. God’s miracles are much like the miracle of the cell phone. Radio waves carrying phone calls move through the air all around us, but if we don’t have phones to receive them, or if we refuse to ever turn them on because we don’t believe in them, we become like people who refuse to believe in the possibility of miracles. What we believe determines what we experience.

The story of our passage, of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage, shows this. Both stories are stories of people who perhaps shouldn’t have believed, but because they did they had healing experiences. Take the woman with the hemorrhage. We don’t appreciate what this woman went through. She had gone through twelve years of having a constant period. Imagine that today. What would it be like for you as a woman to bleed constantly for twelve years? While this illness would have been terrible for any woman today, for this woman it was many times worse. You see, back in Jesus’ day, women were considered unclean during their period. During that time they were not allowed to prepare food, touch their husbands, children, or anyone else. They were not allowed to be in close contact with others. They were set apart. Imagine being set apart and shunned for twelve straight years. That’s twelve straight years of never hugging touching your husband, child, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, and more. How do you maintain a marriage, raise children, and have friends under those conditions? It meant eating by herself for twelve straight years. It meant never being able to shop in the market place for fear of touching someone else. It meant twelve years of being ostracized for something she couldn’t help.

Imagine what she would have had to do just to touch Jesus’ cloak. She would have had to crawl on the ground so that no one would see her, all the time trying her best not to touch anyone else and make her or him unclean. She would have had to stretch around the feet of the disciples, who were acting like bodyguards, protecting Jesus’ back. There was a tremendous amount of indignity that she would have had to overcome to touch Jesus’ hem as she crawled through the dirt and grimy feet. Yet she believed. She reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, and Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jairus also had to overcome disbelief. Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue, which means that he had the most important position in the synagogue. He was not the rabbi, who was responsible for teaching and preaching. The synagogue ruler was responsible for organizing everything from picking the rabbi, to choosing the music, to orchestrating the rituals, to leading the congregation in decision-making. Everyone looked to him for leadership. For him to ask Jesus to heal his daughter, despite Jesus’ reputation for being a law-breaker because of his healing on the Sabbath, would have certainly stirred the gossip and threatened Jairus’ leadership. Jairus had every reason to doubt and shun Jesus. But he didn’t. He might have had doubts, but he overcame them and begged Jesus to heal his daughter. According to scripture, Jesus didn’t heal her, but when she died Jesus raised her from the dead. He, his daughter, and the hemorrhaging woman experienced miracles because they believed.

So what gets in the way of our praying for miracles? Even when we believe, what keeps us from praying for healing, for changes in our lives, and great things to take place? I think that a major part of it is that too many of us have a realistic view of life. Wait,… shouldn’t we have a realistic view of life? What I mean is that we have a view of life rooted in what humans see as “realistic.” This view is based on conventional human thinking, perhaps based on science and philosophy, but a kind of thinking that denies the possibility of anything that isn’t humanly “realistic.”

What the Bible teaches us is a spiritual view of life. This is a view that is open to possibility, that’s open to healing, and that’s open to miracles. It’s also my view, and not just because the Bible says so. I tend to be much more skeptical than that. I believe because of my experiences. The Bible opened me to the possibility of having those experiences, but it was my experiences that sealed my belief.

I had some experiences before I came to Calvin Church. My first experience of personal healing came in 1990, when I was an associate pastor. Some members of our youth group and I had been talking about healing, and I kept thinking about the power of healing and whether it was a possibility. Then one very cold, snowy winter night I woke up with a completely stuffed nose. I realized that I had no decongestants or nasal sprays in my apartment, but I didn’t want to get out of my nice, warm bed. What to do? I remembered our conversations about healing and decided to try healing prayer. So I held out my hand and asked God to fill it with healing power. Then I touched my nose and prayed for God to open it. An amazing thing happened. My nasal passages cleared within seconds. If that had happened to you, what would your reaction have been? Mine was that I immediately became afraid. Isn’t that odd? I had a healing experience, and it scared me. I think that sometimes direct experiences of God are scary. It’s one thing to believe in God who seems distant. It’s another to experience God first-hand doing something miraculous. My whole body got the shakes, and pretty soon my nose started to clog up again. I then got out of bed, got into my car, and went to a 7/11 to get some nasal spray. But the experience stayed with me. It’s one of the reasons I really believe in the power of healing prayer.

I have been further convinced of the power of healing prayer through members of this church. For instance, I spoke about Jo Jones several weeks ago in a sermon, talking about how strong her faith was. That faith extended to her prayer life. When I first met her in 1996, she had cancerous tumors in her neck. I had asked her what her treatment was. She said that she was combining alternative medicine, radiation treatments, and prayer. She used to walk around with a jug of green juices—pear, apple, grape, and others—that she would drink at regular intervals. She also prayed diligently every day. She was about to undergo radiation treatments, and was told that if they were successful her tumors would slowly start to shrink within six weeks. She started the treatments, and after two weeks they were discontinued because her tumors had shrunk completely. Over the ensuing years she was diagnosed with brain tumors. She combined prayer with here regular medical treatments, and in all cases her tumors were killed. She ended up dying from the tumors, but only because the dead matter put pressure on her brain, causing her body to slowly atrophy. Still, prayer definitely had an impact on her illness. Perhaps you can look at her death as proof that miracles don’t happen, but I don’t think that would be fair. Eventually we all die, but she managed to eke out extra years through prayer that might not have been otherwise possible.

I’ve also seen the same kind of impact on prayer on other members of our church. LaRue Craig, who died two years ago, told me that whenever she visited the doctor she would chant and pray on the way while driving. She was convinced that the combination dramatically reduced her blood pressure. Betty Alexander, who died this past year, also believed in healing prayer, and it led her to be a cancer survivor from breast and bone cancer for over twenty years.

Also, back in March of 2005 I told the church in a sermon about Judy Kerkovich’s experiences. Here’s what I said, “One of our members, Judy Kerkovich, has experienced God’s healing. Judy was diagnosed with lymphoma six years ago. The doctor had told her that the lymphoma was a slow-moving one, but that it would get progressively worse. The cancer would grow, and in three years she would experience the symptoms of the cancer as it progressed. She had a choice of whether to start chemotherapy right away, in the hopes that it would slow the progression, or wait for three years and have chemotherapy then. Either way it was her choice. Judy decided to wait. But she also decided to make prayer part of her treatment. She prayed for herself, and regularly has met with our prayer ministers. Here we are six years later and Judy still isn’t on chemotherapy. She has met regularly with her doctor, and the doctor has told her that he has no explanation for what is going on, but that she should keep doing what she is doing. At one point he told her, ‘Whatever church you are going to, keep going.’” Judy still prays with one of our prayer ministers once a week, and her lymphoma still hasn’t progressed. It has stumped her doctors, but not me. I know that God is a big part of her health.

Even though I believe in the connection between healing and prayer, I also believe in more than this. I believe that if we are willing to bring prayer into every part of life, we can experience miracles big and small helping us throughout our days. For instance, I believe that in our work lives, family lives, and lives in general God is willing to help us if we are willing to pray.

Let me give you an example of this in an experience my daughter, Shea, and I had last week. It was her birthday, and for a present we got her and her sister, Erin, new bicycles. Erin’s bicycle turned out to be okay, but Shea’s was just too heavy, and when we rode she couldn’t keep up. So we went back to the store to trade it in for another one. The problem was that Shea couldn’t decide between two bikes. One was a boy’s bike in blue, her favorite color, that was light. But it also had skull stickers on it,… not the kind of symbols you want as a girl. The other bike was a girl’s bike, but it was not as light. She couldn’t figure out which bike to get, and was paralyzed by her indecision.

I told her what I often do when I can’t decide. I told her that when I can’t decide I ask God to guide me, and that whenever I do God always seems to answer. I could tell that she wasn’t buying what I said, so I continued: “Shea, you don’t have to say it out loud. All you have to do is to ask God to tell you which bike is the better one for you.” She got very quiet. Then, before she could say a word, the manager came around the corner and said, “The blue bike is much lighter and would probably be a better fit.” Her prayer was answered. But what to do about those skull stickers? We had an answer. We went do Dick’s Sporting Goods and found Steelers stickers, which we stuck over the skulls. Now she has a wonderful blue, Steelers bike.

I believe that if you pray, God answers. You may not always get the answer you want, but with prayer there’s always the possibility of miracles great and small. If you pray for healing, is there a guarantee that you’ll be healed? Nothing is guaranteed. God works as God works. Sometimes when we pray for physical healing, God gives us spiritual, mental, or relational healing. Sometimes God gives us physical healing. What we have to remember is that God has God’s own purposes, and at some point even death fits that purpose.

Ultimately this is the point: miracles do happen, but we have to be open to them to experience them. The question for you to reflect on is this: how open are you?