Where do you keep your brave? You know, you wake up in the morning, shower, apply deodorant, you style your hair, brush your teeth and then put your brave in your pocket before you head out the door to encounter a day that has never been lived before. Lots of brave getting packed in back packs this week as students and educators are off to school again for a year of unknown adventure. It’s a sweet, albeit stressful, season for most. The social medias (is that like interwebs?) nearly crashed with all of the adorable back-to-school pics. Here’s the Briley trio on their way to the same school for the first time in the history of our family. Ready to take The Bix by storm. We went to the Meet-the-Teach event at school which took us a good two-and-a-half hours as we made our way from end to end, meeting teachers, running into neighbors and church friends and last year’s teachers and this year’s PTA president and the meal ticket folks and on and on. A little extra brave required this time of year. And our teachers – Lord knows they need a little dose of brave right now. We would run into folks at the school and many would ask, “Did you get a good teacher?” and I couldn’t help but think about the pressure that comes with being one of those teachers whom everyone is sizing up in the hallways of the school. Just put that pressure in your own work place with crowds standing in the hallways of your office asking each other – “Did you get a good minister?” or “Did you get the good accountant?” or “Did you get a good Teller?” Where do you keep your brave?
When the challenging moments come and you’re desperate for power, where do you find it? We see this panic when it comes to our many technological devices. Do you have a little anxiety when you’re out and about with your smart phone and no charger and the green battery life makes that dreaded shift to red? Maybe you can’t even let it get that far. “What kind of charger are you?” Could be a whole survey linked to this question. Do you re-charge when you’ve still got 70% charge left on your phone. Some of us can hardly operate if that battery isn’t just flying high all the time. Some are fifty percenters. “Eh, might as well charge it. Might need it for that next NPR podcast dropping soon.” And then there are those who live on the edge. You scoff at the red battery icon. You laugh. You mock it’s 5% battery life notification, saying, “I can do more at 5% than most can do on a brand new battery.” You also tend to be the people that call on us to push your car to the closest QuikTrip because you ran out of gas. The reality of life has always been this: we have limited energy. Just like our tech gadgets, we all have physical, mental and spiritual limitations that require a charge to keep us moving forward with strength. As we celebrate this new season in our city and promotion Sunday at church as students ceremoniously move up to their next grade level classes, it seems like a good time for all of us to consider where our charge comes from. Where do we store our brave? Where does our spiritual energy come from? We’re asking these questions in this three-week sermon series, “Where’s my Charger?” … a question that is raised in my home at least twenty-seven times a day.
Today’s installment? Desperate for Power. We meet a woman in our scripture focus this morning who is beyond desperate for healing power. She’s been dealing with “the issue of blood” as it is often called for twelve years. Twelve years! In twelve years, I will nearly be an empty nester. That is insane! I dropped my youngest at Pre-K this morning and for the length of time this woman dealt with this ailment, my son will have nearly completed his primary and secondary education. Three Olympic cycles have come and gone. Twelve years. She’s not named in Luke’s account which is fitting because she would have been a non-entity during this time of bearing the label, “Unclean.” This would have cost this woman everything – her faith community, her friends, very likely her family. She was without name because her “issue with blood” deemed her an outcast. It’s not that she hasn’t tried everything. The doctors couldn’t help her. This story is told in all three synoptic gospels. The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – all tell this story but Mark adds that she spent all of her money on doctors to fix this issue but not only did they fail but after seeing the doctors her condition worsened. Luke may leave that detail out because, remember, he’s a physician himself. She’s tried it all for a dozen years – and you’re thinking, well why wait that long to give Jesus a shot at it? Well – to keep our school theme going, Jesus, or JC as his buddies called him, was dabbing at his high school prom when her issue first presented itself. But now, Jesus has begun his public ministry and word is out about the ways he can re-charge even the most-dead of situations to full power. She had endured incurable illness, social isolation, constant pain, financial poverty, and personal humiliation. She was among the living dead for twelve long years but she puts on her brave, and hits the jam packed narrow streets for, at last, Jesus has come to her village.
Jesus was kind of a big deal by this point. The disciples ushered him through places like this village like body guards might for some A-list celebrity. People are tugging at him, stretching to touch him as he passed by. It would have been a noisy walk, easy enough for our scriptural friend to go unnoticed. She would have to have enough ‘brave’ to touch him. That was her plan. It’s a little superhero-ish, “If I can just touch his cape…” or cloak we should say, “then I can put this issue behind me and get some sort of life back.” So there she is. There’s the crowd. There are the disciples playing guardian. And there’s Jesus. She may very well see this as her last chance. Have you been there? I know many of us, or those we love, have dealt with chronic issues with our bodies or spirits for a long time. From depression to cancer, bad knees to leaky valves, we know the pain of, more than anything, the hindrance to living life as we imagined it would be. She makes a move like Moose Johnston to bust through the crowd and grazes the tassel of Jesus’ garment and healing floods her body. It must be like those new chargers that promote their ability to take you from zero to full charge in just a couple of seconds. It’s amazing how we can sense these things in our own bodies. You know when something if off without fully being able to describe what or why. You know when relief replaces the pain – the instant is memorable. And for this woman, it must be the freedom of graduation. Twelve years of study and consults and efforts and hardship but she turns the tassel on Jesus robe and throws her hat in the air – she’s free. She turns to go, not ungrateful but out of fear that she might be noticed by those who know she shouldn’t be out in public. She may also be one who feels Jesus has greater work to do. She must not bother him. With a smile on her face – perhaps the first real smile to span her face in a long, long time, she turns to enter a life she thought might never come again.
But the plot thickens. With Jesus around, it always does. He stops. This wasn’t the easiest thing to do given the energy and push of the crowd, one powerful man in particular who was pulling Jesus along in hopes he would come to his home and heal his daughter. But Jesus stops and says, “Who touched me?” Peter must have shaken his head as he often did. “Jesus – pull it together, brother. We’re marching through this high-five line – everybody’s touching you, dude. C’mon. We’ve got to get.” And really, what difference does it make. A touch is a touch is a touch. But Jesus insists. He knows the difference. Even in the Gospels, we see three kinds of touches. The touch of hostility. Jesus would experience this at the hands of the religious leaders later on. The touch of curiosity. The touch of the crowd milling around that day. And then there’s the touch of this woman – it is the touch of faith. Jesus senses the difference, well, because Jesus. He insists, “Who touched me?”
Still in earshot, the woman knows and even hears Sara Bareilles singing in her ear, “I want to see you be brave.” She turns to find Jesus looking at her. And she heads to him, blurting out her story; what she’s been through, the hope of Jesus’ touch and her subsequent healing. She’s even moved by her bravery. And Jesus says, “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well. Live blessed.” The word used for daughter here is a bit unusual – only time in the Gospels using this particular form of the word. It is a word of deepest affection. When Jesus sees the deepest hurts… one where your pain is deep and the rejection you have experienced uncalled for and inhumane… Jesus makes clear in front of his disciples and the crowds – “You are mine. I love you. You are as good as they come.” What a word we may need when we’re running low on brave. When our charge is run down. When the bullies do their thing in the hallways or in our office buildings or online… we need to hear Jesus’ voice say, “You are the best, I love you so much.” For all the amazing things Mother Teresa did for others, she had some of her own personal struggles with self-worth and value and once said, “I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Sometimes we have to be the voice of Jesus for others who need to know they aren’t alone, they aren’t outcasts, they can be healed. Every year, we strap these back packs on our kids and release them from our hands into the world with hopes that they’ve got enough reserves to make it through the tough stuff; they’ve got enough brave to survive the cruelties; they’ve got enough charge to sustain the comments they’ll encounter that say they aren’t enough. They are so uniquely brave and gifted and wonderful all on their own but they, just like you and me, need that voice in their corner that can heal even the deepest wounds and issues of a dozen years.
Because here’s the truth, I think. Lean in, won’t you? Sometimes we can’t reach the cape of Jesus. Sometimes the pain remains. Do we not have enough faith? Did we not reach to him the right way? I don’t know. It’s not that easy, it seems. And the conclusion we may jump to is that, “Yep, it’s just me. I’m never going to be accepted. I’m never going to be healed. I’m never going to be loved. Thanks for the cape story but that’s not happening for me.” And we can find ourselves in that dark struggle. This reveals that common, unspoken, and inaccurate assumption: Christians are not supposed to struggle like this. But look at the biblical all-star team who had these moments too: “Isaiah called it being “undone.” Jeremiah said he wished he’d never been born. Moses asked God to blot him out of the Book of Life, and Jonah said that for him, death was better than life. Job’s struggles are a continuing saga throughout the book that bears his name. Even Jesus, entering into a time of intense prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, was in ‘great despair.’”1 Paul had the thorn in his flesh that he prayed would go away but never did. So what do we do? We put on our brave, keep plugging into God, into each other, into serving others in need and we move forward. Sometimes we don’t have a better option of choices than that. We get bitter or we get better.
A friend was traveling for business and had booked with a small airline to make his four-hour flight. He got on, settled in and the flight attendant asked if he would like to have dinner. “What are my choices?” he asked. The flight attendant replied: “Yes or no.” During our toughest seasons of life, the only things we have to hold on to are the disciplines, wisdom and relationships we have already built into our lives. We will be restricted by, or released to, what has already been established in our souls. Where are you storing your brave? Is it in your soul?
Jenny Simpson was long Jenny Barringer to my wife’s family. The Anderson and Barringer kids grew up showing horses together. Carrie’s mom, Carolyne and Jenny’s mom, Janet, were best friends. They were both nurses, both horse training enthusiasts, both with a personality that somehow has just clicked between the two of them for all these years. Janet and her husband, Bruce, moved to Stillwater the year my family moved to Tulsa. Bruce is the head of the department of the School of Entrepreneurship at OSU. Can I get a “Go Pokes!” (I can’t ever get an “Amen!” but you ask for one “Go Pokes!” and half the congregation erupts). The Barringers being so close to Tulsa has worked out great for my mother-in-law who always visits both of us when she makes a trip to Oklahoma. The whole family went over to see them a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving when their other daughter, Emily, got married in their home. Their brother is in ministry and officiated the ceremony. It was great. Jenny Barringer was Jenny Simpson by this time and though her name had changed, most things about her had not; one being that she was one of the fastest people on planet earth. If you watched the Rio games on Tuesday night, you saw Jenny do something no American female has ever done. Ever. She won an Olympic medal in the 1500M race. A bronze medal. We were so excited! Her sister, Emily, a U.S. Army fire chief in Fort Steward, Georgia fueled Jenny with some inspirational lines before each race in Rio. The first was simply, “Bravery is moving forward.”
Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. Last year at the World Championships in Beijing, Jenny was running the 1500 medal race and was neck and neck in front of the pack with the world record holder, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba when a runner behind her stepped on her heel which not only pierced her skin in multiple places but ripped her shoe to the point that in came off with about 700 meters left in the race. She did all she could to stay with the group but at that elite level, having a bare and bloodied foot is a real disadvantage. She finished 11th. This isn’t the only disappointment or set back she’s ever had of course. There have been a number of injuries, of course. She had asthma as a kid and struggles with athletic asthma still today. Even last week, she was coughing up a lung with a cold as the prelims were starting in Rio. But Tuesday evening, in her third Olympic Games, she lined up with the best in the world for the medal race. She came in ranked seventh among the 12-woman field in best times this year and fifth in career-best times. Neither The Associated Press nor Sports Illustrated picked her to make the podium. But… races aren’t won on paper. You have to run the race in front of you. And she did with the words in her heart: “Bravery is moving forward.” Here’s how it ended.
So much fun! Jenny is always so gracious in her interviews. She was so excited, of course, and often talks about running not to prove the naysayers wrong but to prove those who believe in her right. In one of the interviews following this week’s race, she said, “I want to be someone that this country can be really proud to cheer for. I didn’t decide that I wanted to be that person this week or this year. I decided I wanted to be that person eight or ten years ago. It’s been a long ride of highs and lows. Hopefully,” she added, “every American watching my race tonight feels like they can take a small piece of ownership in this medal.”
Bravery is moving forward. The woman brave enough to reach for Jesus finally found respite from her twelve-year battle. “Go in peace,” the text says Jesus offers to her. A closer translation would be his invitation to her to “Go into peace.” Move into peace. Live into peace. Her healing wasn’t a once and for all. She would need more ‘brave’ to build life again. Where do you store your brave? Is it charged? Can you re-charge the ‘brave’ of another? We need to reach to Jesus, and then to each other… for we move forward from here with that same invitation to “Go into peace.”
1 Wayne Cordeiro. Leading on Empty. Bethany House Publishing. Minneapolis. 2009.