Sunday, February 4, 2018
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

"The Questions We Ask"

The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika

Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39

I heard about him from others. I never met him but the stories were remarkably similar. He was, by all accounts, a kahuna la‘au lapa‘au, a practitioner of Hawaiian herbal medicine.

Among his many patients was a kupuna or elder of our church. It was the kupuna who told me about what I heard from others - that he was a compassionate and generous man with a sense of humor.

He did not have a fee schedule and was not one to ask for money to compensate him for his time and knowledge. He was a practitioner, a healer and as such, he was not motivated by money but by a conviction that he must exercise his gift with great humility.

“One day I wen go see him,” the kupuna said. “I no wuz feeling so good. He already knew I was diabetic and that my ‘other’ doctors told me I had sleep apnea.”

“When I wen I walk into the room for my visit, we wen talk story little bit before I told him why I came to see him. I thought for sure he was going scold me and tell me I no was taking care of myself.”

“He look at me and said, ‘Uncle, you know what pilikia you get?’ Not in a mean way or anything like that. And then he wen ask again, ʻYou know what kind humbug you get?’”

“Wen I nevah say nothin’, he ask me again, ‘You know what kind trouble you get?”

“Then he wen answer the question he wen just ask me, ‘You know what kind pilikia you get? Number 1 – fork; number 2 – spoon; number 3 – chop stick. You eating too much and you not exercising.”

It was hardly a miraculous revelation for uncle. Uncle knew what we all know that maintaining a balanced diet and good exercise are the keys to good health.

I do not know if the kahuna laʻau lapaʻau was able to cure all who came to him who were sick with various diseases. It was not likely that he was able to cast out demons. That was better left to a kahuna makani – a practitioner who was able to induce “spirits to possess a patient so that he (sic) might then drive the spirits out, thus curing the patient” (Hawaiian Dictionary, Pukui & Elbert, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 1986, page 114).

What I do know is word of his healing work spread throughout the island of Maui.

Throughout this season of Epiphany we have discovered that our readings from The Gospel According to Mark have been open and clear in the announcements of “who Jesus was and what he was doing. After all, that is what Epiphany means: manifestation or revelation” (Preaching Through the Christian Year B, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1993, page 96).

But as Jesus’ own “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28) it became more and more apparent that Jesus wanted to conceal his identity. In our reading this morning, Mark tells us that many searched for him. They find their way to the house of Simon and Andrew where “the whole city . . . gathered around the door” to their home (Mark 1:33).

When Jesus went out the next morning to a deserted place, away from the rush and crush of people to pray, Mark tells us that Simon and the other disciples “hunted” for Jesus. They are caught up in the fervor of those longing to be healed of their various diseases.

Jesus insists that they go to neighboring towns and it is then that we begin understand that the proclamation of the message of God’s love is what he came to do.

Our reading makes clear that Jesus cured many who were sick. But it is also makes clear that he did not cure everyone. We are inclined to assume that “many” meant “all.” They wanted and we want Jesus to cure all of them and all of us of our various diseases and to cast out demons.

But what happens when a cure or a healing is not forthcoming. Thomas Jay Oord teaches theology at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. In his own reflections on the reading from Mark, he invites us to consider “a woman who has been praying for health and healing for other people and for herself. She knows other Christians who testify to God’s healing in their own lives. She knows the Bible describes Jesus as an amazing miracle worker.”

She prayed all through her life. After she married, she continued to pray.

However, after suffering four miscarriages in six years, she began to wonder if her prayers to God were falling on deaf ears. Friends at church meant well. “This is part of God’s plan,” some said. Others added, “It will make you appreciate your children even more once you have them” or, “God is building your character by allowing this.” Some simply attributed the miscarriages to demons.

It was not until someone said to her and her husband: “You just don’t have enough faith” (Christian Century, January 17, 2018, page 16) that she became angry and began to see God in a different way. The questions she asked are not unlike the questions some of us have asked from time to time: “Does God heal? If so, why doesn’t it happen more often? Is God fickle, preferential, or just mad at some people? And if God doesn’t heal, why would so many people claim to have been healed? If God really is loving, why wouldn’t God intervene occasionally? Is God just watching from a distance?” (Op. cit.)

We feel like we need to respond immediately with answers and insist that we should not question God’s presence the world and in our lives. But the questions we ask are important.

There will be those who may feel such questions should not go unanswered. Sadly, our compulsion to respond with quick answers often exacerbates the pain and suffering of others.

The book “Why I Left, Why I Stayed” carries the subtitle “Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son.” The dust jacket of the book provides information about the book and its authors.

It reads, in part, “Over a Thanksgiving dinner Bart Campolo announced to his evangelical father, Tony Campolo, that, after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, Bart no longer believed in God. The revelation plunged the Campolo family into an increasingly common spiritual dilemma and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith. Yet it also allowed for a new opportunity: to openly discuss religious questions across their differences.”

Bart recounts how, as a young convert, he eagerly accepted an invitation to join other college students in running a Christian summer camp in the inner city of Camden, New Jersey in the late 1970s. It was during that summer that he met the mother of one of his 10 year-old campers.

“Shonda had grown up in a Christian family,” he said, “and loved everything about church until one day, as she walked home from school as a nine-year old, a group of young men dragged her into a vacant house and gang-raped her. A few days later, when Shonda asked why God hadn’t rescued her, her Sunday school teacher explained that because God was all-knowing and all-powerful, he (sic) could have stopped the attack, which meant that he (sic) must have allowed it for a good reason.”

“The real question, the teacher went on, was what Shonda could learn from the experience that would enable her to better love and glorify God. In that moment, Shonda ... rejected God forever” (Why I Left/Why I Stayed, Tony Campolo & Bart Campolo, HarperCollins Publisher, New York, New York, 2017, pages 14-15).

Shonda’s question was real. If our faith is to have any meaning and if we are to grow up into him who is the Christ in any way, the questions we ask are more important than the answers we may offer.

Often when we find ourselves in times of trouble, we need to ho’olohe, we need to listen and in listening we will discover the power of God’s presence to heal. The questions we ask; the questions others ask do not always demand or require \immediate answers.

Too often our answers mask our own discomfort and desire to avoid the difficult and hard questions that come our way. Perhaps more often than not, it may be best to temper our compulsion to provide quick answers.

Perhaps, we need to ho‘olohe, to listen.

A young man sits down on a bench to mourn the death of a loved one following a memorial service. One of the guests who attended the service approaches the bench, sits down and proceeds to talk offering what he feels are words of comfort. One moment he is reassuring him that everything is going to be okay. In the next, that God does not put us in situations we cannot handle. As he gets up to leave, he reassures him that things will get better.

A moment later, another young man approaches the bench and sits down. Nothing is said. They sit together and in the silence, in the quiet, in the stillness and it is enough.

As he gets up to leave, the friend reaches out and lightly touches the knee of the young man mourning the death of his loved one. The story concludes with a “voice-over.” We “hear” the young man in mourning say of his second visitor, “I wish he did not have to leave so soon.”

When Jesus insisted that he and the disciples go to neighboring towns, we begin understand that the proclamation of the message of God’s love is what he came to do. Shonda rejected that proclamation but given the trauma of her own experience would we dare to chide or condemn her?

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