I don’t know how you’re feeling lately, but my soul is in need of healing. I realized this the other day while watching the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It explores the life and philosophy of Fred Rogers, who hosted Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1967 to 2001.
Fred Rogers was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania which is South East of Pittsburgh, my hometown. Therefore I, along with everyone else who was born in the area, have a special connection to Mr. Rodgers because he is one of our own. When Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on our local television station WQED, I was 5 years old at the time. It quickly became my favorite show. A year later it was picked up nationally by PBS and the rest is television history.
Now, I haven’t thought about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for a very long time. However, as soon as I heard the theme music from the show, the tears began to flow. Now, these were happy tears. Tears of fond memories. Tears of a time when life seemed a little bit simpler. Tears of gratitude for a man who extended the invitation for ME to be his neighbor every week.
The magic that Fred Rogers wove was that every kid who watched his show felt like this was a personal invitation. It was almost as if he could see you through the TV screen and was speaking directly to you. As I saw clip after clip from the TV show, I found myself crying again and again.
I thought about why it had this effect on me. The answer is quite simple: Mr. Rogers was a kind soul. He cared deeply and compassionately about everyone he met, both on screen and off screen. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I NEVER head anyone say anything negative about him. Not even once! The reason for this is that he was the real deal. He was as Christ-like as a man can get. His ability to make you feel like you were loved was remarkable. Although he was gentle and kind this did not mean he stayed away from controversial subjects.
In fact, one of my favorite clips for the show, involved him sitting with his feet in a kiddie pool, gently swishing the water around. Officer Clemmons, who is African-American, stopped by to say hello and Fred invited him to join him in the kiddie pool. The two of them had a delightful conversation, about how refreshing the water was on a hot summer day. The genius of this clip is that African Americans were not welcome at all public swimming pools when this was filmed. Fred Rogers found a way to address the issue that invited conservation and build community.
And so I cried. A little bit here, and a little bit there. The reason why this documentary touched me so deeply, is that Mr. Rogers reminded me of the power of kindness, to change our world for the better. He reminded that I need to remain strong, and not let the hate which surrounds us, get the best of me. There is another way to interact with people. It is the way Fred Rogers chose to engage the world around him. The gift he gave all of us children, who watched his show every week, is the knowledge that we didn’t need to change anything about ourselves in order to be worthy of love. Love was the starting point in our relationship with Mr Rogers. I have the sneaking suspicion that he hoped we would treat others the same way he treated us.
As the end credits of the documentary began to role, I realized how weary my soul had become. I realized how much the vitriol and hate that passes for conversation these days, has taken a toll on my ability to remain compassionate, kind and empathetic. Somehow Mr. Rogers woke up that little kid in me this past week. He inspired me to make a connection with that kid and see what lessons I can learn from him.
I cannot recommend this documentary enough. It’s like going to church. It will be a healing balm for your soul, if you, too, are feeling a bit weary these days. It will remind you that love still has the power to change the world. Therefore, we cannot lose our ability to be the compassionate, caring people Christ has called us to be. We cannot give up on his command to love one another, as he has loved us; including those we perceive to be our enemies as well as those who persecute us. We cannot give up the fight to let Christ’s light shine in the darkness our world has become.
This is why I said at the beginning of my sermon, that my soul is in need of healing. I don’t feel like I’m as strong as I need to be, at this point in our nation’s history, to do the work Christ has called me to do. Perhaps you feel the same way. Thankfully, Jesus is strong enough for all of us. What I see in our gospel lesson is good news for those who are in need of healing, who may have given up hope. This is what I hear in the two stories Mark tells us this morning.
The first story is the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus is one of the leaders of a local synagogue. He is a respected member of the community. He has lots of connections and many resources at his disposal. However, none of these connection or resources did him any good because they could not help to make his daughter well. I’m sure he exhausted every resource he had to find a cure for her, but nothing worked. Finally, he hears that Jesus is in town. So he goes to him, falls on his knees, and asks Jesus to heal his daughter.
Mark tells us that Jairus’ “begged Jesus repeatedly” to heal his daughter. I’m not exactly sure what to do with this detail. Does it mean that Jesus is ignoring him? Or are there so many people asking Jesus for something that Jairus’ voice got lost in the crowd? Or is Jairus simply babbling on and on? The text is not specific. We can only infer that Jairus is persistent in his request for Jesus to heal his daughter. We know from the story that Jesus eventually goes with him.
This is where the first story pauses and Mark inserts the second story of a woman suffering from hemorrhages. The contrast between these two people who are in need of healing is clear from the get-go. Jairus is named. The woman is unnamed. Jairus has lots of power and influence and is respected by everyone. The woman is a social outcast and is not welcome in the temple because of her chronic bleeding. Jairus approaches Jesus directly. The woman steals a blessing from Jesus.
The interesting thing for me is that the woman is healed first. She has faith that if she can just touch Jesus’ clothes, it will be enough to heal her. And so she sneaks up behind him, touches his cloak, and is miraculously healed. Jesus then turns around and asks the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?” But I have the sneaking suspicion that he knew the answer already. The woman confesses what she did. But notice that Jesus does not scold her because she didn’t follow the rules. He simply tells her, “Daughter,” which is a beautiful word of relationship and family, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
This is such a beautiful story that should give us great hope. For those of us whose souls are weary and in need of healing, it tells us no one is unworthy of being healed. Jesus is an equal opportunity healer. Amen? We don’t have to say any magic words. We don’t even have to be good little girls and boys and follow all the rules. Like Mr Rogers, Jesus sees everyone as a beloved child of God. Others may make us feel like we’re unworthy of love. Others may make us feel like Jesus hates us because of who we are. But Jesus will have none of this. And so, the woman, who suffered for twelve long years, is healed of her infirmities. This should give us great hope that Jesus desires to heal us, too.
As story two reaches its powerful conclusion, story one goes downhill quickly. Some people from Jairus’ house find him and deliver the bad news: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” I’m sure Jairus is absolutely devastated. But Jesus does not leave him to wallow in his grief. He turns to Jairus and says “Do not fear, only believe.”
Then the two of them walk together until they reach Jairus’ house, where everyone is weeping and wailing loudly. Jesus tells them “The child is not dead but sleeping” and they make fun of him for being so insensitive and clueless about what they perceive is a hopeless situation. Yet Jesus is undaunted. He goes to where the child is lying, takes her hand, and says “Little girl, get up!” Immediately she gets out of the bed and begins walking around the house.
It’s interesting that Mark tells us this girl is twelve years old, because that’s the same time period the woman in the second story was bleeding. Perhaps this is here to remind us that sometimes healing occurs quickly and miraculously. Other times we are in a perpetual state of suffering for a very long time before healing happens.
I find the first story to be just as powerful as the second one. As someone who, like Jairus, is the leader of a faith community, it reminds me that Jesus brings healing into our lives in many different ways. We aren’t the ones who get to dictate the terms of that healing. Jesus will heal as Jesus will heal. It will come in its own time and in it’s own place. Meanwhile, Jesus reminds us, “Do not fear, only believe.” Trust the one who healed both women in the story to bring about healing in our lives as well.
So, Friends in Christ, this is my plan. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as you seek healing for your lives as well. Like Jairus’ I’m going to keep begging repeatedly for Jesus to heal my weary soul. I will trust him and walk with him, armed with the knowledge that healing often takes some time to happen. So I’m gonna be patient, and wait hopefully and expectantly for it to happen.
But I’m also going to be like the woman in the story. I’m going to ignore those who shun me, exclude me, or say demeaning things to me. I’m going to ignore the hate and keep my eyes focused on Jesus. I know he’s the one who has the power to heal my weary soul. I know I don’t have to pass some kind of “righteousness test” in order to be considered worthy enough to be healed. Like Mr Rogers, Jesus loves me just the way I am. I am going to trust that the One who promises us grace upon grace, will shower some of that grace on me. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck