I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to Sunday’s sermon from Mark 5:21-43, the passage where Jesus heals the woman with the hemorrhage and raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. It seems that everyone has prayed for someone who was sick or dying, and while some of them tell stories of miraculous healings—like the ones in Sunday’s Gospel reading—most of them do not.
And there’s the problem.
They want to know what it takes to get results from their prayers, the right kind of results. How can they pray in a way that guarantees healing? When their prayers don’t work they tend to assume:
a. They didn’t have enough faith.
b. They didn’t pray the right prayer.
c. They didn’t say enough prayers.
d. They didn’t have the right people praying.
There is biblical support for each of those assumptions, but behind them all is the idea that if we could just learn how to do it correctly our prayers for healing would be answered.
It reminds me of that commercial I saw years ago where a man is trying to get a vending machine to accept his wrinkled dollar bill. He puts it in and the machine spits it out. He puts it in again and it spits it out again, over and over, until right at the end of the commercial when the machine finally accepts the bill and he says, “YES!” and pumps his fists in the air. And then, if I’m remembering correctly, he pushes a button only to find that his brand of soda is sold out.
That’s the way it is with some of us, isn’t it? We bow our heads and clasp our hands and offer up prayers like wrinkled dollar bills, hoping that one of these days God will accept them, but worrying at the same time that if and when he does the answer we are looking for may be sold out.
Is that really how it is? Is that really how God works? Like a vending machine in the sky from which we can get the answers to all our prayers if we can only figure out the secret?
I’d like to think God is more than that, and prayer more than a way to get what we want. I concluded Sunday’s sermon by saying that these healing stories in the Gospels are reminders that God loves the world, and that he loved it so much he sent his only son, who ladled out God’ s healing power on any who had need. If God really does love us like that then we don’t have to “trick” him into hearing and answering our prayers. And if God really is God then there is no way we can force him to do what we want. Instead we can talk to him like a child might talk to loving parent, telling him exactly what we need or want and trusting him with the answer.
For example, when I used to ask my dad to buy me a Coke he usually said no. If I asked him why he might say that he didn’t have the money or it wasn’t good for me, or he might just repeat his answer: “No!” But once a year, when we went on vacation, he would stop for gas and reach down into his pocket to bring out a fistful of quarters. He would give one to each of his sons, and we would go over to the Coke machine, drop a quarter into the slot, pull out a frosty bottle and pop open the top. Ahhhh. Did my father love me? Of course he did. He showed it any number of ways. And I came to trust his love so completely that even when he said no I could accept his answer.
Last Sunday night, after preaching that sermon, I had occasion to pray for someone who was very sick. Sitting there beside his hospital bed I found myself saying, “Dear Heavenly Father, I know you love this child of yours. I know you have loved him all his life. I ask you to do for him whatever is most loving, and I trust you with the answer to this prayer.”
It’s not easy, leaving things in God’s hands, but there are no better, stronger, or surer hands than those.