(Note from Max: Last month on December 13, 2018, I participated in the GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment held at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. What follows is an adapted version of my comments).
My name is on the list of grateful participants in today’s conference. I, too, am a survivor. I was sexually abused by a member of our community when I was 12-years of age. Being here, reminds me of the great healing the Lord has done in my soul.
Listening to the presentations today has alerted me to the occasions in which I have underestimated the impact my words and actions have had toward female friends and co-workers. Whether it be locker room jokes in high school athletics or a dismissive attitude toward female colleagues, I’ve been made aware of my mistakes. I’m sorry and I resolve to do better.
“Lord, may your mercy be upon as we seek to treat one another with more respect. Grant a greater sense of kindness and self-control. Let there be healing among the wounded. In Jesus’ name.”
Among the many benefits of being a grandparent is the abundance of fresh sermon illustrations. We have two grandkids. Rosie is three and Max is one year old.
Rosie has a rush of red hair, eyes as blue as the Caribbean and an independent spirit that makes me think of her grandmother. She can be a handful.
Last week I went on a walk with her and my faithful, steadfast dog, Andy.
Andy loves to explore a dry river bed near our house. And Rosie loves to follow right behind him. She thinks she can go wherever he goes. And when I offer to help her, she waves me away. Again, she can be a handful. So, Andy led the way. Rosie scampered behind him and I tried to keep up.
Andy spotted a thicket of bushes and dashed into them. Rosie thought she could do the same. Andy ran straight through, but Rosie got stuck. The branches scratched her skin and she began to cry.
What did I do? I got into the middle of it with her. I stepped into the thicket, extended my hands, and she raised her arms and let me lift her out.
Is that not a picture of the Gospel? Do we not, on many occasions, find ourselves trapped in the thickets of life? We get hurt, scratched. We get stuck. We need help. And when we call out for help, guess who shows up? Read these verses and see what I mean:
Jesus went with Jairus. Many people followed along and kept crowding around.
In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.
The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. She had said to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.” As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.
At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
His disciples said to him, “Look at all these people crowding around you! How can you ask who touched you?” But Jesus turned to see who had touched him.
The woman knew what had happened to her. She came shaking with fear and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story.
Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain.” (Mark 5:24-34 CEV)
Has a sadder paragraph ever been written? Look at these descriptors: “bleeding for twelve years,” “gone to many doctors” “they’d not done anything,” they “caused her pain,” “she paid all the money she had.” She was “getting worse.”
She suffered from a perpetual issue of blood. Such a condition would be difficult for any woman of any era. But for a first century Jewess, nothing could be worse. No part of her life was left unaffected.
Physically exhausted and socially ostracized. She had sought help “under the care of many doctors” (Mark 5:26 NIV). But “they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain.” I hear overtones of negligence in those words: a violated trust.
I envision her crouched against a wall, head hooded and lowered so as not to be noticed. A throng of people are coming her way, dozens of villagers. Christ and Jairus lead the crowd. She ponders her options. “If I can touch the hem of Him…” Risky decision. To touch him, she will have to touch the people. If one of them recognizes her . . . hello rebuke, good-bye cure. But what choice does she have? She has no money, no clout, no friends, no solutions. All she has is a crazy hunch that Jesus can help and a high hope that he will.
She makes her move. She creeps up from behind and wedges her way between the people. She spots the seamless tunic that will someday serve as a gambler’s reward at the foot of the cross. She gulps and threads her hand through the crowd.
“As soon as she touched [the garments], her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well. At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” (Mark 5:30).
She felt it. Instantly. Powerfully. Emphatically. She knew something had happened.
So, did Jesus. It is as if the divine Christ was a step ahead of the human Christ and the healing happened before the first could alert the second.
Who touched me? He asked. The disciples might’ve thought he was kidding. People pressed from all angles. Who hasn’t touched you? They might have asked.
But there is touching by happenstance and, there is touching by providence. And the faithful, risk-taking touch of the woman was enough to stop Jesus dead in his tracks.
It still His. Lest we miss this point may I state it clearly?
When you reach for Christ, He stops everything for you. Victims of sexual abuse desperately need to know this. I know I did.
The stormiest season of my life occurred when I was twelve years of age. I was old enough for baseball, football and bike riding. I was old enough to have a crush on a girl, own a bottle of cologne and memorize the Periodic Table of Elements. But I was not old enough to process what came my way that year: sexual molestation at the hands of an adult man.
He entered my world under the guise of a mentor. He befriended several families in our small town. I remember him as witty, charming and generous. What I did not know, what no one knew, is that he had an eye for young boys.
He would have us over to his house for burgers. He would take us on drives in his truck. He took us hunting and hiking and offered to answer all our questions of life and love and girls. He owned magazines, the kind my father did not allow. And he would do, and make us do, things that I will not repeat and cannot forget.
One weekend camp out was especially perverse. He loaded five of us in a van and drove to a campground. Amidst his pack of tents and sleeping bags, were a few bottles of whiskey. He drank his way through the weekend and worked his way through the tents of each boy.
He told us not to tell our parents, implying that we were to blame for his behavior. He was keeping us from getting into trouble, he said, by swearing us to secrecy.
What a scoundrel.
I came home on Sunday afternoon feeling disgusted and shame-ridden. I had missed a communion service at church that morning. If ever I needed communion, it was that day. So, I staged my own communion service. I waited until Mom and Dad had gone to bed and I went to the kitchen. I could not find any crackers, but in the fridge, I found some potatoes from the Sunday lunch. I could not locate any juice, so I used milk. I placed the potatoes on a saucer and poured the milk in a glass and celebrated the crucifixion of Christ and the redemption of my soul.
Can you let your imagination conjure up the image of the pajama-clad, red-headed, just-bathed, freckle-faced boy as he stands near the kitchen sink? He breaks the potato and sips the milk and receives the mercy of Christ upon his fragile soul.
What the sacrament lacked in liturgy, it made up for in tenderness. Jesus met me in that moment. I sensed Him, His love, His touch. Don’t ask me how I knew He was near. I just did.
Healing begins by accepting the limitless love of Jesus.
“Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death? … in all these things we have full victory through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 NCV)
Oh, the healing love of Christ. Would you receive it? Would you invite it to seep down into the wounded parts of your soul? Let Jesus do for you what he did for the woman in Capernaum. “…He kept looking around to see who had done it” (Mark 5:32 NIV).
He kept looking. He stood there, waiting, looking. He refused to budge. The crowd, no doubt, wanted him to press forward. Jairus, for sure, wanted him to hurry. Yet Jesus stood stone-statue still. The moment grew quiet, so quiet that from the back of the crowd a soft voice was heard. It was me. It’s been a dozen years since she has spoken up. But now, emboldened by the power of Jesus, she does.
And now, dear sisters in Christ, you have done the same. By virtue of #metoo and #churchtoo, you have spoken up. You have moved out of the fringe into the center. You, prompted by faith, have risked everything and come forward.
My prayer is that we, the body of Christ will follow the example of Christ.
“She came, shaking with fear, and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story” (Mark 5:33 TEV).
The whole story! How long had it been since someone took time to listen to her story? Jesus did. He didn’t have to. Healing the affliction would have been enough. Enough for her. Enough for the crowds. But not enough for Jesus. He wanted to do more than heal her body. He wanted to hear her story. The miracle restored her health. The listening restored her dignity. And what he did next, the woman never forgot. He called her “daughter.” This is the only time in the Gospels that he did so with any woman. “Daughter be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48 NKJV).
This precious story provides us with the initial steps toward healing.
For the church, now is the time to listen. And men, in case it needs to be said, let me say it. Now is the time for us to listen to women. This is the occasion for across-the-table conversations that begin with this question:
“Help me understand what it is like to be a woman in this day and age.”
Help me understand what it is like:
-to never go on a jog without carrying a canister of mace
-to overhear guys chuckling about weight or bust size
-to be outnumbered in the boardroom
-to be hugged, chest-to-chest, and unable to break free
-to fear filing a workplace complaint because supervisors are male
-to be the brunt of catcalls and whistles
Help me to understand how the church’s response needs to change.
We need to listen. No mocking, dismissing. We need to try to understand.
Church, can I urge us to listen?
And, then, can I urge us to act?
Is repentance needed? Then repent.
Are apologies in order? Then apologize.
Do policies need to be addressed? Then, let’s address them.
Healing begins when we do something. Healing starts when we take a step in the direction of Christ.