The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 28, 2009
Mark 5: 21-43
St. Francis, Norris
What a week we have had. We lost Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Ed was the only one of the three who had at least lived a full life expectancy. Farrah died of a terminal cancer and we don’t yet know the cause of Michael’s sudden death. Our prayers go out to all three families.
On any given day in the United States somewhere around 6500 people die of varied causes. Keep in mind this is just in the U.S. The vast majority of these deaths are from heart disease or cancer. Also, keep in mind that no one dies of old age any more. I feel like a death is more tragic when it occurs at an age significantly short of a person’s life expectancy. That being said, even when a person dies well past their life expectancy, it is very painful for those who loved that person. Less tragic, perhaps, but not less painful.
All of the attention given to these stars of society will no doubt upset some people who have also lost a loved one in the last week. They won’t want to hear all of the eulogizing of people they never knew as they mourn their own personal loss. My only point in all of this is that people all over the world lose loved ones. When we hear “our prayers go out to the family” when talking about Ed, Farrah or Michael, keep in mind there are other families that need our prayers just as much as the famous.
Michael’s death was so dramatic that Farrah is a minor headline to the media. Not that it makes one bit of difference to her now. I watched a thirty minute newscast Friday night and all but one minute of the time was dedicated to Michael’s death and life. But it is her death that I want to talk about today. She grew up Roman Catholic and was given last rites in the hospital. I have heard a great deal about her strength and willingness to fight her dreaded cancer, in spite of extremely poor historical odds for her particular type of cancer. I was able to find something that truly strikes a chord with me and almost anyone who has faced the death of a loved one or of one’s own self. During an interview not long ago she said, "I do not want to die of this disease. So I say to God, 'It is seriously time for a miracle,’” It is seriously time for a miracle.
Our Gospel from Mark is very familiar to most of us. There is not one but two miracles told of here. Actually, there was a miracle performed on the way to perform a miracle. All of the healing attempts of Jesus are successful. We read about them all of the time. One, Lazarus, tells of a healing of someone who had been dead for three days. The point is that there are no stories of failed attempts of healing.
So, it is only natural when we or someone we love is given a diagnosis of something terminal or when someone is stricken with something that there may be no hope of recovery, we hit our knees and begin to pray. We ask that others pray diligently on behalf of those we love. Sometimes our prayers are answered, sometimes they are not. The point is that biblical healings we hear of are always successful.
We never consider the fact that many people died during Jesus time on earth with us. Why did Jesus not just go ahead and save everyone? How did he make the decision to save one person as another died? I can’t find that explanations in any of the commentaries for this dilemma. No one seems to want to address this issue. All we can say about it for certain that is that it is a mystery. That is always the answer, when we are too proud to just come right out and say I don’t know. It is a mystery. Tell that to the next door neighbor of Jarius or Lazarus whose child die because Jesus wasn’t around that day. It is a mystery.
So, how then should we pray? Is there a better more effective way to pray so that our loved ones are miraculously cured? Is there some way that we can better get Jesus attention than some other way? Some people think so. I was once told by a mother that she wouldn’t have lost a child to cancer if she had only known how to pray. She was told that by a pastor.
I know what it is like to pray without ceasing. When our son was diagnosed with cancer we prayed without ceasing. I fell asleep every night for months in prayer; I woke up every morning with prayer. I asked complete strangers to pray. I was in chapels every day, praying. We asked our child be put on every prayer list we could imagine.
At some point, God’s will enters this occasion of desperate prayer. That’s another term we use when we have no explanation for the seeming injustices of this life. Another one of the things said when the real answer is, “I don’t know.” I would hate to think that the horrific things that the human race has done to one another is somehow God’s will.
We say in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done”, but do we really mean it? Not when it comes to tragic occurrences in our own or our loved one’s life we don’t. Not most of us. We pray for healing. We pray for the pain to stop. We pray for the situation to go away. And we pray constantly when the situation gets desperate. We pray for our will be done not God’s. We pray for our own miracle.
Again I ask; how shall we pray? What shall we pray for? I can go into an instructional methodology of prayer. There are such things that exist that tell you how to construct a prayer. Jesus gave us the instructions of how to pray using the “Our Father” method, but sometimes you need a more personalized method. I told you I prayed constantly. There were many things going into the prayers but as I look back, those prayers were my feeble attempts to keep my worst fears from happening.
When we look at the Gospel of Mark, today, we can glean a prayer methodology that I find to be more befitting than most. At least in the case of prayers of desperation. We have a story in which both the person praying for themselves and praying for another fall down at Jesus’ feet. This signifies that they are not worthy of the request they are making and they realize that fact. This should be the case with us also.
Praying constantly is a good thing but not something any of us are going to do for the rest of our lives. Not even if we become monks or nuns. As I am able to reflect on my attempts at constant prayer I wonder if I was showing a lack of faith in doing so. I wonder if my prayer should have been more to the point and less repetitive. My understanding of God is that God hears everything I ask, so my constant pleading was unnecessary. I have no doubt that God heard me the first time. If my faith was really strong, perhaps I may have realized that I was exhibiting a lack of trust. I was asking that my will be done. I am not ashamed at all for doing that.
It has always been that some people are healed and some people are not. I don’t know why that is and I will never find out in this lifetime. Over the last ten years, however, I have come to the realization that I don’t have to know why or how it works. I pray differently as my relationship with the Trinity has matured. I remember to give thanks for what I have, more often than I ask for more. I have learned to sit in silence from time to time and listen for God. I try to pray for God’s will to be done but I still ask for my own will in matters of life and death. I know God understands that too, because God made us to love.
I have a distinct feeling that our prayers are often answered in ways that we cannot understand. That’s because we understand our own will but not God’s. My prayer is that all of us might learn to fall at God’s feet and give thanks for everything as we realize just how unworthy we are to even ask for anything. Once that is learned go ahead and ask for whatever it is you feel you need. Leave your prayers at the foot of the Lord and trust in God.