Name Your Fears

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 1, 2018. The gospel reading was Mark 5:21-43. I’m in the midst of a sermon series called “Words, Words, Words.”

The second commandment says this: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Or, as an older translation had it: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

We’re talking about words this month. What we say, and how we say it. And so it’s appropriate to talk today about the second commandment, because this commandment is about how we should use God’s name, and how we should not use it. I grew up learning that this meant I shouldn’t say, “Oh, my God,” but rather, “Oh, my gosh.” Many of us have learned euphemisms, milder words to take the place of God’s name. Things like “Gosh darn it.” Things like “Jiminy Crickets.” And one of my favorites, “Cheese and rice!” Get it? Jesus Christ – cheese and rice. I knew a woman who often said, “Son of a beech nut spearmint gum.” Now that one isn’t really a euphemism for God, but the second commandment is sometimes thought of as the potty-mouth commandment. “Thou shalt not talk like a sailor.” But Martin Luther wrote that the second commandment is really about something much more.

You may remember from a few weeks ago Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Luther said this means not only refraining from gossip, but also that “we are to come to [our neighbors’] defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Luther explained all the commandments not only in negative terms, but in positive terms. And here’s what he said about the Second Commandment: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.” Use that very name in every time of need.

There are examples of this in today’s gospel. A leader of the synagogue, a very important and powerful person, falls down at Jesus’ feet and begs him. “Please! My little daughter is dying! Please come and help her!” I imagine the rest of the crowd backing off a little, and giving him the side-eye. Come on, man. Have a little self-respect. A little decorum. But he doesn’t. He just falls at Jesus’ feet and begs. And Jesus goes with him, and brings his daughter back to life.

And then there is the woman with the hemorrhage that has been bleeding for twelve years. Well, she is not important or powerful. In fact, her illness made her ritually unclean, made her an outcast. So she sneaks through the crowd, and touches Jesus’ cloak, and is healed. But she can’t just sneak off then. Jesus stops in his tracks, and says, “Who just touched me?” And she kneels before him and tells him everything. And I imagine the rest of the crowd backing off a little, fear in their eyes. “She’s unclean,” they think. “What if she touched me too? That means I’m unclean!” But Jesus says to her, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

The man poured his heart out to Jesus, and Jesus healed his daughter. Jesus healed the woman, but then called on her to pour her heart to him. The order of events was different, but in both cases, someone told Jesus everything, and Jesus healed them.

Luther wrote: we are to use God’s name “in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.”

Oh, but so often we are hesitant to do that. I can do this myself. I don’t need other people. I don’t need anyone’s help. I’m not supposed to need anyone’s help. If I need to ask for help, then it means I’m weak. It means I’m vulnerable. It means I’m a failure.

Well, if we ask for help, it does mean we’re weak. And it does mean we’re vulnerable. But it does not mean we’re a failure. In fact, it means that we are doing exactly what God calls us to do. God knows we are weak. God knows we are vulnerable. God made us, after all.

And God wants us to ask. Not so that God can lord it over us, and say, “bow down, you weakling!” No, God wants us to ask, to beg for help, so that we can see, so that we can truly see, where all our help comes from. For we all carry these burdens. The man in the story, the leader of the synagogue, carried fear and grief. Fear for his daughter. And fear of what his future would be like without her. We have fear as well. Fear of our future. Fear of what the next doctor visit will bring. Or fear for the safety of our own children. Or fear of immigrants. Or fear of the Trump administration. Fear of guns. Or fear of gun control. Fear for our money. Fear of losing someone. Fear of the consequences we’ve done, or something we know we have to do. If we are honest, truly honest, every one of us in this room is scared of something right now.

Jesus tells us, I know your fear. Don’t hide it from me. Admit it. Accept it. Name it. And I will heal you.

And perhaps we have ancient wounds, like the woman did. Perhaps an injury or a disease continues to cause us pain and distress for years. Or perhaps it’s an emotional wound that just won’t heal. Or perhaps we’re unable to forgive someone. After all, what is a grudge if not an old wound that continues to fester and bleed for years, like a hemorrhage that bleeds for twelve years? Or perhaps we’re unable to forgive ourselves. Whatever our pain, Jesus tells us, I know your pain. I know it very well. Don’t hide it from me. Admit it. Accept it. Name it. And I will heal you.

This is one of the things Jesus calls us to do with our words. To use them to come before him, bow at his feet, and name the things that scare us. The things that hurt us. To use his name “in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks.” The healing Jesus brings us is not always exactly the healing we ask for. But it is always healing. Always.

Pastor and author Michael Lindvall wrote, “I have a friend, a man of deep faith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was still in his fifties. He and his wife prayed that he might be healed. Twenty years later, he is in the last debilitating stages of the disease. Nevertheless, he once told me that his prayers had been answered. He said in all sincerity, ‘I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease, but I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease’” (Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, p. 188.)

Name your pain. Name your fear. And God will work healing within and around you. Always.

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