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Healed for the Journey

Mark 5:21-43

June 28, 2015

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the 2015 ABC Biennial Mission Summit in Overland Park, Kansas.

When I was asked to bring the last message for this weekend more than 18 months ago, I have lost many hours of sleep. It has been a burden on my life. I might say it’s been a cross to bear.

I have wondered how a little Chinese man like me would have anything worthwhile to say to all of you tonight. I was born in Boston but I’m no blue-blooded Bostonian whose family came over on the Mayflower. I may have been baptized at the 4th oldest Baptist church in America founded in 1665, but my father only owned a Chinese laundry in Grove Hall after World War II. I may have graduated from Gordon College and Andover Newton, but I also attended a junior high school in Roxbury with the initials, “PTC” that we students refer to as “prison training camp.” Like Ben Franklin, I flunked out of Boston Latin School too. I may have been the ABC President for the past year, but there has been many more articulate and more accomplished presidents who have stood before you tonight. So, what then might an Asian American person like me has to say tonight?

One thing I do know is that after this evening, I might be able to remove this cross so that I can sleep tonight. But tonight, the most important thing I wish to say to you is that as American Baptists, we need healing.

Some years ago when I served in Educational Ministries and learned from the late Rev. Bud Carroll about conference planning, I came to value the 4 phases of any event: Beginning, Developing, Maturing, and finally Closing. Tonight, we are at the “Closing” phase. As we are gathered here, the ABC staff and exhibit hall workers are taking down the Hall of Ministries. Big crates and boxes are being filled and perhaps you are beginning to pack your own luggage for your trip home. I know some have had to leave yesterday to get back to their pulpits this morning. Pretty soon, we’ll all be bidding one another goodbyes and farewells until we meet again in Portland, Oregon in 2017. We are experiencing the fourth and final phase of Closure of the Mission Summit.

And while our eyes begin to turn toward home or the next destination from here; while our hearts begin to feel the tugging toward our loved ones at home; or while our minds begin to sort out what’s on the agenda for this week, we ask ourselves: Have we been “transformed for the journey”? What difference has this weekend made in our lives as Baptist disciples? Are we healed for the journey?

Many of us have been on trips whether to a national park or overseas. Sometimes we called them pilgrimages like visiting Jerusalem, Rome or Iona or someplace that has significant meaning for you. Have we not been to our Baptist revival under a big tent? Every two years, we come to attend the plenaries, pastors get a free lunch at MMBB, we eat convention meals, meet old friends and make new ones. Now that we have done that, are you at all healed and transformed for the next journey?

Healed and Included

The lesson for tonight and the Gospel lectionary text for this Sunday in Mark 5:21-43 is a healing within a healing. There’s a story inserted into another and we see a wealthy man who wants Jesus to heal his daughter, but he must wait until Jesus heals a destitute woman.

Life is like that—complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative.

Jesus has been making his way back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. After healing a demon-possessed man in the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the sea, Jesus has once again crossed over into Jewish territory. Amid the “great crowd gathered around him” (v. 21), he is approached by a frantic leader of the synagogue named Jarius, who falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Jesus to visit his daughter, who is at the point of death, believing Jesus can heal her. Jesus does not respond with words but demonstrates his compassion for Jarius by his action of immediately following Jarius home.

They don’t travel alone, however, but with the ever-present crowd that awaited Jesus when he stepped from the boat. Despite having been run out of town by the Gerasenes, word of the miracle on the other side of the sea must have traveled by means of the testimony of the healed demoniac and those who were amazed by his story.

Out of the “large crowd” that follows Jesus to the place where Jarius’ daughter lies near death rushes another desperate petitioner, this one “a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years” (v. 25). Thus begins the story-within-a-story, a healing within a healing. Despite the urgency of the condition of Jarius’ daughter and Jesus’ determination to reach her, Jesus acknowledges the ill woman who has the faith—not to mention the audacity—to reach out and claim his healing power.

Both victims of illness are female and ritually unclean, one as the result of death and one as the result of hemorrhages; both represent the significance of the number twelve in Jewish tradition (the twelve years of hemorrhage and the twelve year old girl); and both are regarded as “daughters.” The healing within a healing restores both women to new life. Their healing transformed them for the rest of their life journeys.

ABC Healing

Like in every healing miracle, they raise the personal question for us, “Will I be healed?” Questions of healing are common to all of us as human beings. Almost all of us must confess some ailment—be it physical, spiritual, psychological, or interpersonal—in us and in our communities that aches for restoration.

Life is like that—complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative. We need healing within healing.

I pray for healing for the ABC to restore our beloved community. Isn’t it ironic that we can find more in common with people in our workplaces who don’t share our faith than with other American Baptists? How about people who have a totally different religious tradition from us and in a miraculous way we can find enough in common to sit down for respectful dialogue than we can with our own American Baptist people?

When it comes to being with Baptist sisters and brothers, we become suspicious and cynical. We become distrusting and our human ability to communicate shuts down. How can we be like Jesus who goes back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, in the country of the Gerasenes and then into the Jewish territory to bring about healing and restoration in our community?

We all know that when we pray, some are healed and some are not. The synagogue leader’s daughter was raised, but other children die. A desperate woman plagued by years of illness was restored, but equally desperate men and women are not. Perhaps we may have a more nuanced understanding of what asking for healing is and what healing may mean.

We all know about someone in our community who is deeply in faith but is diagnosed with a debilitating disease. He and his wife prayed that he might be healed. Twenty years later, he is in the last debilitating stages of the disease. Nevertheless, he tells the pastor that his prayers had been answered. He said in sincerity, “I have been healed, not of this disease, but I have been healed of my fear of this disease.”

Are we as American Baptists willing to go back and forth across the seas from one country to another territory to bring about healing and restoration in our community? I have been actively involved in the Asian Alliance and previously the Asian Caucus for 45 years and while I celebrate the fact that we can have a convocation at every biennial as Asian American Baptists, why is it so hard for others who are not Asian to open the doors and to come in? Why do most white American Baptists still feel that they are not welcomed to come to one of the many racial/ethnic caucuses that just met two days ago? We must do the hard and difficult work to open up these doors and to welcome all to enjoy the rich diversity that we have claimed as American Baptists.

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I think that as long as we are in this world, we will always be challenged by human needs and problems that would plague our American Baptist life. How I wish that as President that I can heal us. But I can’t. But we may come to understand that in our prayer to God that we may become healed over our fear of being God’s holy people.

Remember that prayers for healing are not simply utilitarian. That is to say, prayer is not simply a matter of bending the ear of God’s will toward my will, my needs, and my hopes. More profoundly, to ask something of God is to edge into a deeper relationship with God. God’s mind may or may not be changed, but I—my mind and my heart—may be. Might each one of our hearts be healed tonight?

Just as Jarius, the ruler of the synagogue, highly esteemed and often well-to-do, recognizes Jesus as healer and King, “falling down at his feet,” may we who recognize only Jesus Christ as King, fall down at his feet too? I pray for forgiveness and grace for one another just as Christ forgave us.

Life is like that—complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative. We need healing within healing.

ABC Inclusiveness

The lesson teaches us about the importance of being together—the miracle of touch and the power of inclusiveness.

We have all heard about the benefits to a newborn for her to thrive. My wife and I have been wonderfully blessed with two beautiful children who met just as beautiful spouses who have blessed us beyond words, 6 adorable grandchildren. They got that way because of the importance of being together when we can give each other the miracle of touch.

The infant needs to be held and caressed. Without the touch of another human person, the baby is stunted from growing up well.

Psychologists long speculated about how children utterly cut off from human relationships might develop. Their speculations were tragically confirmed in the 1980s when the numerous orphanages of Ceausescu’s (Chou-SHeskoo) Communist Romania were opened to the world’s eyes after the fall from power. This dictator had mandated bizarre social policies that had resulted in thousands of unwanted children. Many of them ended up in vast, underfunded state-run orphanages where they were completely isolated, often receiving no love, in fact no human touch at all. Tragically, although the children grew into physical human creatures, they did not become human persons. They could not speak. They could not relate to others. They could not give or receive affection.

Both the twelve-year-old girl and the woman who has been ill for 12 years are called, “daughters.” An act of touch restores both women to new life even as those surrounding them lack understanding.

We see that in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) raised two boys from the dead. No women or girl receives such treatment in the Hebrew Bible. But here, Jesus takes the child by the hand and in his native Aramaic commands, “Talitha, cum…little girl, get up!”

At this Mission Summit, we have tried to include all persons who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior and wish to be a part of the American Baptist family to be welcomed. We have had table conversations to share our ideas and pray for them to become realities. We have eaten a lot of convention meals when we got to know people for the first time. Men and women in ministry along with local church leaders have treated each other as equals in the sight of God. And we have as good American Baptists do—have held hands, hugged, given each other our warm cheeks for we know how the miracle of healing happens.

The healing power of God is made available to this woman through Jesus when she touched his garment. The healing power of God came when Jesus takes the child by the hand and immediately the girl rises and walks around.

It seems to me that it takes both initiatives: First, like how the woman reached out to touch Christ the Healer and, Second, to wait for Christ the Healer to come and touch us like he did with the little girl. Healing within healing takes place from both directions.

Beyond physical healing, acceptance, intimacy, and touch can make us whole again and give us peace. We are, in fact, shaped and made human in relationship to other persons. Our relationships—in the community, in friendships, and in our denomination—are not just something extra added on to life for distraction and entertainment, as if we would be complete human beings in individual isolation. Our relationship with one another is not extraneous. This is the reason why the Table Conversations are so powerfully meaningful. You didn’t come to the Biennial Mission Summit to be isolated individuals, Lone Rangers or soloists. You came to sing in this mass choir!

When you elected me to be your President in 2013 for this biennium, I said to you that, “I am President for all American Baptists and not just for some.” It has been my commitment that all who claim to be American Baptists are welcome to this party and I am so happy that our family is closer today than before. Thank you, American Baptist!

Relationship, “touch” if you will, makes us human and whole. Growing up at First Baptist in Boston, we always sang, “Blest be the Tie that Binds.” Now at First Chinese Baptist in San Francisco, just like it was in Boston, we hold hands so that we can touch and welcome everyone to the Lord’s Table. In fact, most of our ABC churches sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” and we sang it last night.

We need one another to become the American Baptist family. An independent Baptist is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. As the contemporary Scottish philosopher John MacMurray once phased it, “I need you in order to be myself.”

Journey On

It’s easy to be discouraged and we are tempted to give up and give in. We are tempted to resign from the pressing issues that keep us from sleeping well at night. And when death of a child or the death of our churches or the death of our hopes and our optimism dies, we want to turn off these convention lights and go home.

When Jesus’s power healed the woman who touched his garment and while he was still speaking, some people came from Jarius’ house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” Indeed, this is often how we feel about the insurmountable difficulties in our lives, especially when these troubles are of our own making. When we find ourselves in a hole that we ourselves have dug, we think, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

We obviously have not listened to Jesus too well. To be fair, our troubles whether they are personal or in our churches pile up around us and we are reluctant to trouble God.  In response to the question the people put to Jarius that Jesus overheard, Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). We have a false assumption that we are bothering and troubling Jesus. Our troubles are no trouble for God. We should not fear to bring our troubles to Jesus. We should only believe. If we believe in the Living God, we can bother God!

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Life is like that—complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative. We need healing within healing. We can bring our troubles to a Living God.

If we have the trouble of racial and cultural mistrust, Paul writes that in Christ, there is no more Gentile or Jew, no more free or slave, no more male or female but we are one in the Lord. We must no longer just give lip service to seeing the other in the room, we must go deeper, crossing the seas of fear and indifference in order to truly relate with each other as we would with our own immediate family. Jesus wants to hear our troubles.

If we have the trouble of gender discrimination, Jesus heals both the woman and the little girl and they most likely told about their healing miracles and everybody were overcome with amazement. God has given the effective gifts to women in ministry to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. If you have trouble with this, Jesus wants to hear from you.

If we have trouble with people’s sexual orientation, believe that it is God who created each one of us in God’s own image with love. Jesus commanded us to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves. If you have trouble with this, talk with Jesus about this.

If we have the trouble of being impatient and frustrated about waiting, notice that Jesus helps those who are first marginalized and vulnerable like the woman before addressing the needs of the celebrated and powerful. You can complain and trouble God with your frustration but know that God’s timing is not necessarily ours.

If we have the trouble of generously giving back your resources to God, know that while God would appreciate your giving, God is already transforming lives of people whether you come along side of God or not. You might prefer to not trouble God with this but unless you give, God’s kingdom work will go on with you or not.

If we have trouble in declining churches, perhaps the Living God is telling us to go back and forth across your Seas of Galilee to find where healing and miracles can take place.

If for whatever reasons that you are troubled by our denomination, believe that Jesus has time for us as we fall down at his feet and beg for reconciliation and the vision to be the hands and feet of Jesus today.

If you have trouble with your health, Jesus the Healer is working on it and as you pray for wholeness, you may become restored because you will be healed from the fear of that disease. Go ahead and trouble God because God is mighty to be troubled.

If you have trouble with anyone here tonight, Jesus calls you by your name, “Talitha, cum.” Get up, you are neither dead nor asleep to not offer apologies and receive forgiveness because that is the only way we can become a restored and beloved community once again.

The Lord wants you to trouble him because there’s nothing in your life that is that troubling that he can’t bring you life and wholeness.

Closure

Pretty soon when we receive the final Benediction for this year’s Biennial Mission Summit, workers will come in and probably work overnight preparing this place for the next event. And we will be packing up our bags to immediately go home or to our next destination.

The word, “immediately” or “straight-away” is found more than 40 times in the Gospel of Mark. The word appeared three times in the lesson we read. “Immediately” shows us how we may serve as Jesus’ disciples. There is no tardiness about Christ’s service, but “immediately” Christ was about his Father’s business. There was no delay, but “immediately”, he performed the work given him to do.

This word tells us about the urgency of Christ’s mission work on earth. There is no holding back, no reluctance, no tentativeness, but an “immediateness” about all of Christ’s work in the world.

We have work to do immediately. We are transformed for the journey to heal our fractured cities and towns and to protect all lives but especially black men. For all of us are created in the holy image of God.

We are transformed for the journey to heal the suffering experienced by Christians around the world and particularly in Thailand, Burma and Northeast India from those who won’t respect the free practice of religion.

We are transformed for the journey to assist in the establishment of a new Christian University in Northeast India because the mission endeavors that we started 180 years ago is still unfinished.

We are transformed for the journey because we like the woman who suffered for 12 years and the twelve-year-old girl are now healed and we need to get up, walk around, get some food for God has a purpose for us American Baptists.

Yes, life is complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative. We need healing within healing.

Are you transformed for the journey? Are we healed well enough to journey on? We are because Jesus has healed us. He has restored our place in community. He has commissioned us to proclaim Good News.

Here in Overland Park, we are in the plains state where most everything is level and you can see for miles and miles. Where I live in the San Francisco Bay area, there are many hills. You can’t just walk down a level street without climbing up and down. In some ways, we have done this this weekend. We have all reached the Mission Summit where we have found that Jesus is healing us and as our only King in life, we are transformed for the journey.

But being on this rather level ground, we believe that as American Baptists, we are all equal in soul freedom and the priesthood of all believers. We affirm that the only authority we support is Jesus Christ. Jesus is saying to us, “Daughters and Sons, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Now that you have heard all the messages, go and speak out!

Now that you have eaten convention meals, go and feed the hungry!

Now that you have enjoyed this fellowship, go and meet the stranger!

Now that you have heard about missions, go and do mission!

Now that we have all reached this mission summit, we need to come down to where the world is.

This little Chinese man is telling you tonight that while life is complicated, complex, convoluted—a story within a story that makes life challenging and creative, we need healing within healing.

Don’t you worry about troubling the Living God. God is mightily ready to be troubled. Let us be healed and transformed by Christ for this journey. Tonight, I too have been healed and I plan to finally sleep well again!

Closing Prayer

Let us hold each other’s hands as if Jesus is holding our hands as the beloved community as we pray.

Gracious Lord God, transform us for this journey of faith to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in your world. May we become whole and healed once again so that we may become your faithful disciples in word and in deeds. Teach us to trouble you with our concerns for surely you are ready to listen. Show us to welcome everyone who professes you as Lord in order for us to truly reflect your Kingdom on earth as we know exists already in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. Go in peace!

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