And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56)
We go to the doctor when we are sick. We don’t go to hang out with our doctor and follow him on his rounds. We’re looking for a treatment to make us feel better. He’s supposed to give us some medicine that will bring us back to normal, and then we really don’t need to see him until we get sick again.
But what if following the physician around all day were the only treatment that worked? What if the relationship with the doctor were the cure to what ails us? That is one of the lessons in today’s Gospel.
We’re sick, and the only cure is being with Jesus.
Sometimes we approach Jesus as if we just want a prescription to get us back to normal, and we take normal to mean doing all that other stuff that’s so important to us. We figure we need some Jesus time and then we’re set for life as usual.
But the point is that what ails us is precisely our disconnect from God in life as usual and only following Jesus—in everything, every day—will bring the healing we need. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me explain what I mean by addressing three questions:
What sort of sickness do we have?
How does Jesus heal us?
What does a life on the mend look like?
Divine Disconnect Syndrome
Let’s start with that first question. What kind of sickness do we have?
Imagine for just a moment the scene reported by Mark the Evangelist. Scores, hundreds of people limping, stumbling, and crawling to see Jesus. Some even had to be carried by friends.
Some are lame and some are blind. There are lepers and people with bleeding disorders. Others have seizures or cancer or chronic pain. But at the very bottom they all share a single ailment. It’s the same disorder that besets all of us to this day.
Our fundamental sickness could be called Divine Disconnect Syndrome. We suffer from a deep disconnect from our Maker.
In fact, we are so disconnected that many of us do not even realize that being disconnected is our problem.
We just assume that we have to push through obstacles with whatever strength we can muster on our own, protect ourselves with our own wit and resources, contrive our own solution to meet the problems that puzzle and confound us.
Even many who believe in God and regularly sit in pews on Sunday assume that God only gets involved in life at the very end. They know him only as the judge of our moral and spiritual character, sort of Heaven’s Gatekeeper.
Something is missing in their life, but they don’t really realize that that something is someone. And that someone is God. In point of fact, God designed us to rely upon him every step of the way. We yearn for his company. And when he seems distant, life has a big hole in it.
We all suffer from this syndrome, and we experience its symptoms more or less acutely at various times. Here are some of those symptoms:
We feel like we have to achieve something or we don’t matter. We’re nobody if we don’t get the best grades, have the most sex appeal, or boast the most impressive resume.
We’re afraid that others will reject us if they really find out what we’re like.
We exhaust ourselves to please others so that we won’t lose their approval.
Old wounds and slights don’t seem to go away. On the contrary, they keep generating bitterness and resentment.
People keep disappointing us over and over again because they can never seem to provide what we demand of them.
We feel lonely in a crowded room, unaccountably sad at joyful occasions, and afraid that the other shoe will drop just as our fondest dream comes true.
If you’ve never felt any of these things or something similar, lucky you. Adam and Eve were not your great-to-the-thousandth-degree grandparents. But as for the rest of us, the Garden of Eden—that seamless closeness with our Creator—is the family story of what we once had but lost.
The rest of us suffer from Divine Disconnect Syndrome. But there is a cure, and it’s a cure we can begin to experience right now. And that cure is Jesus Christ.
That brings us to our second question. How does Jesus heal Divine Disconnect Syndrome?
The first thing we have to get straight is that Jesus heals it. And only he heals it. Christianity is not a self-help program. We cannot heal ourselves by being super moral or praying just right or reading scripture more often.
Don’t get me wrong, loving your neighbor as yourself, praying regularly, and being steeped in scripture are marks of the Christian life. But these marks do not heal us. They are signs that Christ is already doing his healing work in our lives.
Let’s return to this morning’s Gospel for a moment to see what I mean. The crowds came to be healed. The Greek word translated for “to heal” is rich with meaning. It conveys not only physical and mental healing, but it also refers to being saved, being made whole, and being set free.
The crowds were looking for a savior. Not just someone to let them into paradise at the end of life. And not just a superior physician to take their pain away. They wanted to be made whole.
Being whole is more than being pain free. It is walking boldly in the certainty that you will be loved no matter what, and that the love you give away like some prodigal son comes from an inexhaustible store. You’ll never run out.
It means never having to be afraid that you don’t count, that some tragedy could ruin your life, that some slip on your part could undo all the good you’ve ever done.
Strictly speaking, they were looking for a lot. And so are we. And then, oddly, just as they got close to Jesus, they were afraid to ask.
They said, “Could we just touch the fringe of your cloak? We know you’re too important for us and we don’t mean to take your valuable time. Let us just get near enough to you so that something of who you are will rub off on us. We don’t expect you to actually care, to linger over us, to embrace us.”
But you see, embracing us is just exactly what Jesus came to do, because that is precisely what we need. His embrace is the only thing that will make us whole.
And so he forsook the glory and the grandeur of heaven and descended to the mean and dirty streets of Bethlehem to wrap his arms around each of us in all our messiness and clumsiness and sore-headedness.
He did so knowing that it would cost him his life. Of course he did. That’s because we can have the eternal life we so desperately yearn for only through his death and resurrection. He died for us, and rose again, just because that’s the way he is.
Jesus won’t settle for an anonymous touch of his cloak. He came all this way because he wants to touch us. No, he wants to grab us in a passionate embrace and never let us go.
In that embrace he wants to shield us and guide us and comfort us through whatever life throws our way.
When we’re working or playing, in the carpool and classroom, sorting clothes or doing homework, chasing a deadline or laying our weary head to rest at day’s end.
Jesus wants to walk along with us, arm around our shoulder, every small step of the way.
Whether we’re running or stumbling or shuffling or struggling to pick our selves back up from a fall, Jesus wants to be right there with us. His presence changes everything. Right here. Right now.
As long as you insist on making Jesus your constant companion, you are already on the mend.
On the Mend
And that brings us to our third question. What does a life on the mend look like?
Notice I said, “on the mend,” not “completely healed and whole.” We are followers of Jesus. We haven’t arrived yet. Followers of Jesus face just as real and trying a life as those who could care less.
But there is a remarkable difference. We followers of Jesus are perceptibly on the mend. Life’s hard times make more of us, not less. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Someone hurt you long ago. Jesus did not make the hurt go away or make you forget it. The echoes of that pain still can resonate in your heart.
But instead of being a source of bitterness or resentment, instead of that pain diminishing you, that pain became the source for your lifelong practice of forgiving, it made you work hard to find the humanness in the very ones you would rather judge and write off as inhuman.
Here are some more examples of what life on the mend looks like:
We are not afraid to make mistakes. We know that in the power of Jesus’ love, each misstep is just one more draft toward the amazing story Jesus is writing with us.
We have deep, nurturing relationships because we don’t expect other people to save us or heal us or set us free. Jesus is already doing that for us. That let’s us love our spouse and children and friends as the imperfect gifts they are.
We’re not afraid to let others know us and love us just as we are, precisely because we know that Jesus has already accepted us as in imperfect gift.
We don’t expect other people to see us as the picture of perfect moral fitness or muscular spiritual health. That’s just not who we are. Not yet.
But we are on the mend through the healing power of Jesus’ love.
Don’t settle for just touching the fringe of his cloak. Look for Jesus in everything, in everybody. Just look. You’ll find him. He has already come looking for you. And he’s closer than you think.
This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Shreveport, LA.