Part 1 of the series “9 Lies You Hear in Church
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
September 9, 2012
Jeremiah 6:13-14; Mark 5:25-34

Jeremiah 6:13–14 • From the least to the greatest, each is eager to profit; from prophet to priest, each trades in dishonesty. They treat the wound of my people as if it were nothing: “All is well, all is well,” they insist, when in fact nothing is well.

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Mark 5:25–34 • A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed.  At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it. The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”


As a campus minister, I keep some weird hours.  And on occasion, I’ll find myself watching late night television.  One of the features of late night television is that they have commercials for products you never knew you needed.  From vacuum packing your leftovers, blankets with sleeves (for you and your pets), air purifiers, space age chamois cloth, to anti acne cream, there is a fix out there for whatever ails ya.

In fact, the question really only seems to be: what is the best way to fix what’s wrong?  There are all kinds of competing products and strategies out there to make your quality of life better.  There is the traditional route with medicines or procedures.  There is the holistic or homeopathic route.  There are those who swear by exercise and particular diets.

And of course, there are the old standbys that people have turned to for a long time: food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money.  The things that we crave and the things that we imagine will fix whatever is going on wrong with us.  It’s easy to scoff at such a notion, but there sure are a lot of people out there trying those strategies.  They’ve been around for a while and it seems like they’ve got quite a following.


But see, we in the church know that those things won’t make you better.  We know that money won’t bring happiness and contentment.  Alcohol and drugs provide relief for a time but cannot bring healing and wholeness.  Sex, power, success, possessions, status… none of those things can bring you happiness.  We know that.  All of those products are flawed.  All of those products fail to deliver on their promises.  You will not find fullfilment in any of the things of the world.  There is only one thing that can bring you fulfillment: God.

After all, isn’t that what the passage from Mark demonstrates?  Here’s a woman whose had a hemorrhage of blood for twelve years.  She had been under the care of a number of doctors with no improvement, in fact, with a a decline in her health.  She comes to see Jesus and if she can just touch his clothing, she’ll be healed.  She reaches out, touches Jesus’ clothes and sure enough, she is healed.  She feels the healing within and knows right away that her illness is gone.

She’d tried everything else, doctors, medicines, but nothing could bring her healing like Jesus.  All she had to do was reach out and touch his clothing and it works just like magic.

There are a lot of competing products out there vying for your attention and claiming to be able to cure what ails ya.  But not one of them comes close to what God™ can do for you.

God™ is the greatest product. You can almost hear the little trademark symbol after it. God is the best life strategy you can find to fix whever might be wrong in your life.  God is the ultimate product, and lucky for you, we have a lot of God on the shelves here in Church, so come on down! Because we have the ultimate product, don’t we?  We know that happiness and contentment won’t come from alcohol, drugs, and money.  And we sure as hell know it won’t come from a ShamWow or a Snuggie.  It can only come from God.

You know, for so long, we’ve been talked to about God in precisely that fashion.  The solutions of the world have been lifted up and then thrown down as incomplete, ineffective, and false.  We have been told that none of these things will lead us to happiness, wholeness, and peace.  And then we have been told that God is the answer.  In effect, the Church has become the ultimate Infomercial sponsor.

Because God™ is a fix-all.  Unhappy?  Get some God™!  Lonely?  God™’s all the company you need?  Sick?  God™ can cure that!  Short on cash?  Give a little money to a televangelist or pray hard enough and God™ will bless you with more money!  Whatever it is that you need, God™ can take care of it.  God™ is like Oprah, Apple Computer, Google, and Burn Notice’s Michael Westen all in one!  What more do you need?  You’ve got God™; everything is fine!


There’s only one problem with that approach: it’s a crock.

It has been said that the average person lies four times a day. It has been noted further that the most common lie is: “I’m fine.” And boy is this problem compounded in the church.   For so long we’ve been talking about God as the solution to all our problems, as opposed to the solutions offered by the world, that we have failed to see the great lie at the heart of that message.

Because things are not fine.

The verses we heard read from Jeremiah earlier are precisely on point:

Jeremiah 6:13–14 • From the least to the greatest, each is eager to profit; from prophet to priest, each trades in dishonesty. They treat the wound of my people as if it were nothing: “All is well, all is well,” they insist, when in fact nothing is well.

The biggest problem with the claim that because we have God everything is fine is that nobody actually believes that.  Oh, we say we believe it.  We sing it in our hymns, we read it in our prayers, we heard it said in our sermons and in our Sunday School lessons.  But there are people in the pews singing and speaking along with everyone else who know that everything is not fine. They know it because they’re living it.

And so, an even bigger problem begins to arise.  Here they are in this church, they have been given the greatest gift that could possibly be given—God—the end-all, be-all product of human existence.  The cure-all. And they’re still not alright.  Well, if the product is perfect, then there must be something they’re not doing right.  Perhaps the illness or unease that they’re feeling is their fault.  That woman with the hemorrhages, she just had the right kind of faith, I guess.  She must have done something right, whereas I am trying so hard and my life is still not right.  Everything is not fine.

What a cruel thing we have done.  Not only have we turned God into some cheap kind of product, the very kind of product that others might—and none too cynically—accuse us of using so as to remain relevant or in control.  But we have also then implicitly told the faithful that if their lives are not fine, then they must be doing something wrong. Or there must be something wrong with them, because there’s certainly nothing wrong with the product.

But the reality is: everything is not fine.  It is a theological truth that should have been obvious to us since the founder of our faith, the one through whom we come to know God, wound up on a cross and suffered to the point of death.  One who cried out “My God, my God, why have you left me?” —which is many things, but most definitely not a statement that everything is okay.  Ours has never been a faith that promised everything would work out okay. But somehow, our churches have a hard time admitting that fundamental reality.

At this very moment, someone on this campus, perhaps here in this sanctuary is suffering.  From depression.  From anxiety.  From crippling doubt.  From loneliness.  Scars that cannot be seen and that can be easily denied especially if someone should deign to ask, “How are you?” The cover-up answer is at the ready: “I’m fine.”

We feel okay in times of prayer praying for other people’s needs, especially those who aren’t here: friends and relatives back home going through a tough time.  But boy is it hard to say, “I need help.  I am not doing well.  I am doing everything right, and yet, I am unhappy; I am unwell, I am not fine.”

It is almost as if we have become convinced that to admit as much is to be a bad Christian.  To admit to brokenness is somehow to out ourselves as not doing this right.  That we’re not doing our faith well enough and that everyone will suddenly know what terrible Christians we are for our having failed.


But that’s only because we have forgotten what the Church is.  The Church is not the club of people whose problems have all be solved by a judicious and timely application of God™.

No; the church is the Body of Christ.  And the Body of Christ is broken. The body of Christ is wounded, suffering, and crucified.  The Church, then is not where you come to be told that because you have God™ everything is okay.  It is the place where you are able to come to say that everything is not okay, but that is okay. That is, it’s okay not to be okay.  The church should be a safe space to allow that to happen.  To allow people to embrace their brokenness.  To allow people to own the pain that they’re going through and to know that above all else, they do not go through this pain alone.

For in our sufferings, not only are we accompanied by the great Wounded Healer himself, Jesus, whose suffering places him in solidarity with us, but we are accompanied by every other person in the pews.  We are all of us broken. All of us hurting.

This is a truth that I know well.  I suppose in some churches, people need to know that their pastor has all the answers.  That their pastor is the model of perfect faith and knowledge of God.  If that’s the kind of church community you’re looking for, you may need to look elsewhere.  Because the pastor you have is one who is broken.  One who doubts.  One who experiences long dark nights of the soul.  One who has been wracked by anxiety and fear of loss.  One who has looked into the night sky and seen in the darkness a longing in his own soul.  I do not have all the answers.  And just because I am on God’s payroll does not mean that my life is devoid of pain or sorrow.  I know that everything is not fine.  Were I to stand up here in this pulpit and tell you that because we have God everything is fine I would be exposed as a liar and a hypocrite.

V.   END

There are a lot of people trying to sell us things in this life.  All kinds of cures for all kinds of maladies.  The church is not meant to be that kind of community.  This is not an Amway meeting.  You shouldn’t have to buy anything from us with promises of miracle cures.

The Church, rather, is a community that models an openness to the reality of the world, one that does not deny the brokenness that we feel but one that helps us to confront it and embrace it.  For when we do, when we admit that we are not fine, when we admit how broken we are, we find an interesting paradox is at work. Far from being removed from God’s presence, we suddenly find that we are connected to one another, and to God, in a new and powerful way.  When we admit our own wounds, we find ourselves accompanied in solidarity by the Wounded Healer of Galilee, by the one who himself suffered our sorrows, our pains, our death.  In brokenness, we are not cast out from God’s presence, but brought more fully into it.  And in so doing, in acknowledging our brokenness and pain, we open ourselves up to the possibility of healing in ways we could never have imagined.

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