As we have been spending time in Luke’s gospel, we have seen repeatedly that Jesus’ ministry is one of setting people free, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and this morning’s lesson is no exception. For, in this lesson, we will see in quick succession three healing stories, involving the Gerasene Demoniac, the woman with the flow of blood, and Jairus’ daughter. As you listen to these stories, notice the different ways that Jesus interacts with these three people. For, this observation can help us to understand how Jesus interact in our lives today. So, listen now to our reading of Luke’s gospel, the eighth chapter beginning at the 26th verse...
A man possessed by demons, a woman with a bleeding condition, and a dead girl, what do these three people have in common? Well, certainly we can see that all three of them need help. All three of them need to be set free. The man needs to be set free from his demons, the woman needs to be set free from her disease, and the little girl needs to be set free from death. That is the common denominator of these three people, they need the help that only Jesus can bring. Yet, that is as far as the similarities go between these three people. For, nothing else in their stories is the same. They are three different people, with three different problems, and Jesus responds to them in three different ways, and it is these three different ways that Jesus responds that I wanted to focus on first.
We know that these three people had a common need for help. So, we can pretty much assume that, had we been able to listen to their prayers, we would have heard pretty the same thing: “Jesus help me; Jesus help me; Jesus help my daughter.” This is the kind of prayer that we would have expected to hear, because this is pretty much how we pray when we need help, or when someone we know and love needs help. When we or someone we love gets sick, we pray, “Jesus help me,” or “Jesus help my mother,” or “help my friend.” When a crises arises in our lives, we pray, “Jesus help me.” When we can’t find a solution to our problem, we pray, “Jesus help me.” Though we all have the same basic prayer, we find that Jesus responds in different ways, and that is important for us to remember.
When encountering the man in Gerasene, Jesus spoke a word of command, and the man was set free from the demons, who were driven out of the man. When Jesus encountered the woman with the flood, it was the woman who actually did something. She reached out and touched Jesus and then found herself healed. When Jesus encountered the little girl, he reached down and took her hand, and commanded her to get up, and she was alive. Three different encounters and three different ways of responding to that common need for help. If there is one thing that we can learn from these stories, as well as, all the other healing stories in the gospels is that there was no one, single way in which Jesus responded to the needs of the people. There was no one single way in which Jesus healed people, and this is important for us because too often when we ask for Jesus to help us, we also include in our prayers, certain expectations of how Jesus has to help us.
I know from my own experience, that when I pray for myself, or for other people, I also have certain expectations about how God is supposed to answer my prayer. For example, when I pray for someone to be healed, I have in mind how I want God to do the healing; and, if it does not happen the way I want, I find it easy to think that either it is not God’s will to heal, or simply that God does not want to heal. I think that is a feeling that all of us experience from time to time in our prayer lives. Sometimes we pray for someone to be healed and if nothing happens after our first prayer, we just assume that it is God’s will not to heal, or that God does not want to heal. Yet, perhaps the problem is not so much God’s will, but one of our expectations. Perhaps the problem is that we make the assumption that we know how God is supposed to heal; but, we could be wrong. Maybe God desires to heal in a way that we have not expected and because we are not willing to put aside our expectations, we miss seeing the way that God wants to bring healing in our lives. I once heard a joke about a small town where the rain had been coming down for days upon days. Well, the waters were beginning to rise and so one day at the home of Mr. Johnson, there was a knock at the door. “Come on Mr. Johnson, we have a truck here to take you to safety,” said the Police Officer. “Don’t worry about me,” replied Mr. Johnson. “I have faith that God is going to deliver me.” Well the waters kept rising, and by the next day, the first level of the house was under water. So there was a knock on the second floor window. “Come on Mr. Johnson, we have a boat here to take you to safety.” “Don’t worry about me. I have faith that God is going to deliver me.” The waters kept rising and the next day, they found Mr. Johnson up on his roof. “Come on Mr. Johnson, we have a helicopter here to take you to safety.” “Don’t worry about me. I have faith that God is going to deliver me.” Well, Mr. Johnson did not make it. So, when he got to the pearly gates, Mr. Johnson asked Saint Peter, why he wasn’t deliver by God. Saint Peter replied, “Well, God sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter, what more was he supposed to do?” Sometimes we make up our minds as to how God has to work in our lives, or how things have to be in our lives, and what we may miss is that God desires to interact in our lives in a way that is different from our expectations. I have read stories about people who, when they were sick, would not go to see a doctor, because they had their minds made up that God was going to heal them in a certain way. More often than not, they got sicker. They were not willing to accept that God could heal by different means. On the other hand, I have also read stories of people who, when they were sick, would not go to God and ask for healing, because they had their minds made up that healing could only come through medicine, and when they were told by their doctors that there was nothing that could be done, they simply assumed that there was no help for their sickness. The were not willing to accept that God could heal by different means. One of the things that we learn from these three stories of healing is that we cannot put God in a box and say, “God you have to do things my way.” Because God will not be limited by our assumption of how things are, or, how things have to be.
Our assumptions can be a barrier to experiencing God’s interaction in our lives. Think about this with me, with respect to healing, since that is what these stories are all about. One of the things that we say about God is that God is the creator. Therefore, as Creator, God has made and therefore, given to us everything that we have in our world. The trees and shrubs and lakes and rivers, God has created. The animals that walk upon the ground and the minerals that lay beneath the soil, God has created. Our own human bodies with minds that think, hearts that love, and spirits that reach out to God, God has created. If God has created everything, then everything in all creation is at God’s disposal to bring healing. Can God heal through a mixture of plant extracts or a compound of chemicals that we call medicine? Of course God can because he created them and therefore can use them. Can God heal through a piece of metal honed to a razor sharp edge that we call a scalpel? Of course God can because he created the metal and the dextrous hand of the surgeon, not to mention the thinking intellectual mind of the surgeon. God created them and therefore can use them to bring healing. Can God heal through the natural recuperative powers of the body, or through the use of positive mental images? Of course, God can because he created the body and the mind. Can God heal through the touch of another who lays hands upon a sick person? Of course, God can because he created those hands, not to mention the caring heart of the one who reaches out. Can God heal through a word spoken in prayer? Of course, God can, because he created that word and can direct it to his purpose. There is no one way that God has to respond to our prayers for healing. Thus, if there are a variety of ways in which God can heal, then when we ask God and do not get a response we want; instead of giving up, we must set aside our assumptions, and pay attention to God’s ways. It takes faith to allow God to answer our prayers as he sees fit. Yet, it is by such faith that we will experience the interaction of God in our lives in ways that perhaps we have not even dreamed.
Once we are able to set aside our assumptions about how God must work in our lives, the next challenge to our faith is allowing God to work on his own time schedule. Just as we have certain assumptions about God must work in our lives, so we also have certain assumptions about when God must work in our lives; and, more often than not, that assumption is immediate. When we pray for God to do something in our lives, whether it is to heal us, bless us, guide us, or speak to us, we want God to do it now. No doubt, when Jairus asked Jesus to come and heal his daughter, he wanted Jesus to come right now. It is only when Jairus is ten yards ahead of the crowd does he realize that Jesus is not with him anymore; but instead, Jesus has stopped to talk to some woman. How frustrating it must have been for Jairus, when he realized that his daughter’s need was so much more pressing than the need of this woman. After all, she had been sick for twelve years, another hour wasn’t going to hurt. Meanwhile his daughter was dying. Yet, here Jesus had stopped to encourage this woman to give her testimony. As far as Jairus was concerned, time was wasting; and yet, Jesus does not seem to be in a hurry. By the time they finally get to the house, it is too late, or so it would seem.
One of the hardest things that we have to do, when we pray, is to wait on God, to wait for God to move according to his own schedule, and not ours. Whenever I think about this, I recall that story in the book of Daniel, that we heard this morning. For twenty-one days, Daniel had to wait to hear from God. That is a long time to wait, that is a long time of silence. It is because waiting is so difficult that more often than not, when God does not answer our prayers right away, we simply assume that he won’t or can’t. Yet, what we fail to realize is that when we pray for something, certain other events might have to take place before God can answer our prayers, and that requires waiting on our part. I recently came across the story of a woman who was estranged from her daughter and son-in-law, and she wanted that estrangement to end. Yet, she found that she had to wait while God brought about small steps of healing in all three of their lives. Past hurts and misunderstandings needed the healing touch of God before the lines of communication could be re-opened. This woman found the answer to her prayers; yet, it took several years for the answer to finally come. Waiting is hard. Perhaps that is why Jesus sensing the frustration in Jairus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
One of the most wonderful things about God is that he does not interact with all of us in exactly the same way. God knows that we are different and he works in our lives in different ways. Of course, it is the fact that God works differently in our lives that places a test upon our faith. Our faith is challenged to allow God to answer prayers as he sees fit, and challenged to allow God to work on his own time schedule. Yet, we can meet that challenge when we set aside our assumptions and simply follow God’s leading in our lives, and seek to understand his ways. May we listen and learn from God.