Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Warm-up Question: Do you ever wonder if your family can pay the bill when you are sick enough to need a doctor?
With just over a month until their August recess, Congress and the White House are working on what seems like an impossible ask: to compromise on a plan to provide health insurance to most, if not all, citizens of the U.S. (Currently, an estimated 47 million U.S. citizens do not have health insurance.) This issue is challenging for many reasons, including these:
- Medical providers, insurance companies, and lawyers have very different opinions regarding lawsuits and penalties for medical malpractice.
- Hospitals and doctors are worried about decreased payments for providing services to people who have government-supported health care (Medicaid, Medicare, etc.), and adding more people to these programs (or programs like them) will be very costly.
- Business leaders worry about the rising cost of providing health insurance for their employees, as well as the losses associated with employees getting sick.
- Churches and non-profit organizations who try to help people who have no health insurance are running out of money to do so, especially as the number of uninsured people continues to increase.
- Some people worry about adopting health care programs similar to those in other countries (throughout Europe and the Americas), because these programs will likely require increased taxes for some, if not many, U.S. citizens. Some people see this as the growth of a kind of “socialism” — a word with a long and difficult history in the U.S.
- Medical technology and research costs are very expensive, which accounts for much of the increased cost for health coverage. Many argue that these costs are necessary as an incentive for inventors and researchers.
There are many more challenges and opinions standing in the way of a compromise on health care reform. Very powerful people with lots of money are involved on all sides of the debate, and the members of Congress and the President are always worried about re-election. This conversation has been going on for a long time, at least since the early 1990s, but key leaders and the President are committed to finding an answer. Time will tell if that answer is available, but it will certainly be an interesting summer in Washington, D.C. And in the meantime, millions of Americans are deciding which is more important, groceries or medicine? Doctor visits or the rent?
- How do you feel about the 47 million of our neighbors who don’t have health insurance? Who is responsible for their health? Who should pay for it?
- What are you hearing — from parents, pastors, teachers, peers, media — about the health care crisis?
- What do you think are the most important questions that Congress and the President should ask about this problem?
- Do you think health care (getting to see a doctor or getting medicines you need) is a “right” or a “privilege”? Why do you feel that way? [For example, the U.S. believes that voting is a “right” for all citizens (which means you can’t lose your right to vote except under extreme circumstances), but getting to drive is a “privilege” (you can lose the privilege of driving legally if you drive drunk or lose your ability to see clearly).]
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 28, 2009.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Jesus has many titles: Messiah, Christ, Lord, to name only a few. But it is clear that everywhere Jesus went, he earned the reputation of being a healer.
Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to heal his little daughter because he has heard that if Jesus would only lay his hands on her, she would be “made well” or “healed”. And sure enough, even when everyone believes the girl has died, when Jesus takes her hand she stands up and walks.
In the middle of that story, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years pushes her way through the crowd, believing that she only needs to touch Jesus’ clothes and she will be “made well.” Just a touch of the Healer’s clothing, and she is cured — even after spending every last dime on doctors and getting nothing but worse.
Healing stories always raise more questions than answers (see the discussion questions below). Nevertheless, we learn from these stories that it is impossible to separate God’s mission of saving the world through Jesus from God’s mission to do something about the real, physical pain and suffering that human bodies experience. We know that because in Greek, the language Mark wrote in, the word that is translated “made well” or “healed” is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “saved” (This happens in English, too: “salve” is a healing ointment, which obviously shares its root with the word “salvation.”). Health and salvation are inseparable in the mission of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, health and salvation are inseparable in the mission of the church of Jesus Christ as well. Our church (the ELCA) calls for “equitable access to health care for all” (See http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Health-and-Healthcare.aspx for more information on what this church believes about health care.). How we achieve that is a matter of debate, but the end goal is clear: we cannot proclaim the message of salvation in Jesus Christ without also caring for the basic, bodily needs of our neighbors.
Getting there is a difficult and costly endeavor. But faithfulness has always been costly. Paul reminds the Corinthians of that in today’s second reading: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a questions of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). That is, being the church means being willing to share so that everyone has enough. Paul was talking about sending money from Corinth to help those who were poor and hungry in Jerusalem, but fairness and equity are concerns that extend to all needs — physical, spiritual, emotional, or otherwise.
That sounds like an impossible task — and on our own, it is. Greed and need are sicknesses that are just as deadly as any other disease that Jesus encountered. But we believe that with Christ, all things are possible. Jesus the healer is Jesus the Savior, and God’s mission to save and heal the whole world will not stop until every corner of creation has felt the healing touch of Christ Jesus our Lord. And thanks be to God for that! Amen.
- How do you understand the difference between healing and a cure? What do you think God is able to do when people are suffering from physical illness? Does Jesus still heal people? Have you ever felt the presence of Jesus as a healer?
- What do you think is the connection between health and salvation?
- What does “fairness” mean when talking about health care, food, or other things that are necessary to sustain human life? What would fairness look like? How possible is it?
- What would Jesus think about the current debate about health care? How would Jesus feel about the 47 million people who are uninsured? What would he do about it? What should the church do about it?
- Check out the ELCA Social Statement on Health Care (“Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor”). Summarize some of it in language that your youth will understand. Write letters to your representatives and the President about how you feel about health care reform.
- Arrange a conversation with a health care provider (nurse, doctor, etc.) who is also a Christian, or a chaplain who works in a health care facility. Ask them how their faith is connected to their work as a healer, to tell stories about “healing” or “cures,” or to discuss how they relate to people who are in need of health care but can’t afford it. Bring this person to youth group, or, better yet, take your youth group to the hospital chapel.
- Write “HEALTH” horizontally on a piece of paper, and “SALVATION” vertically, connecting either the “Ls” or the “As” to form a cross. Write a poem using these letters as starters, or make a collage/drawing/word picture about health and salvation. Discuss these pictures or poems together. Sing a hymn together about healing (e.g., “Healer of Our Every Ill,” # 612, Evangelical Lutheran Worship).
Jesus, with a touch or a word, you healed the sick and raised the dead. Surround us with your healing presence now. Help us to make your healing power known in every corner of creation, especially among those who cannot afford a doctor or life-saving medicines. Invite us and strengthen us to spread your healing and saving Word, until all people know about your grace, love, health, and salvation. Amen.