reflection cum introduction to storytelling by Carrie Eikler
Mark 8:31-38 Mark 5:21-34
As we were driving to and from Indiana this week, I found myself taking in the billboards. I filtered out the predictable fast-food, gas station, and chain restaurant advertisings that dot the interstates, first, towering above the trees on the hills around Wheeling, then Barnesville, Ohio, then Zanesville. Then, the terrain flattened, trees gave way to fields, and the messages stood like solitary beacons of rest, refreshment, and opportunities to renew weary travelers on the road. They still zoomed by me, unaffected. Like each of the restaurants they were advertising, their message was the same over the miles. These Cracker Barrel biscuits will taste the same in Columbus, Ohio as they will in Richmond, Indiana. And the billboards will be the same as well. It can all be rather dull reading.
But as we got off the interstate and began taking US Highways to Northern Indiana, I found the billboards change, or at least, I found that I was paying more attention. Here are some of the ones I saw
“You wouldn’t say to someone ‘It’s just cancer, get over it.’ www.depressionisreal.org,” “Pregnant and scared? Call 1-800-Get-Help”
“You don’t have to have to do it alone. Gamblers Anonymous can help.”
“Mother, Teacher, Cancer Survivor—Reid hospital”
It was almost as if there was a connection between the roads and the messages. The big, impersonal, wide interstates had big, impersonal billboards attempting to satisfy immediate needs: the munchies, gas stops, etc. But as the roads got smaller, and the boards were closer to the roads, not so big and imposing, they reached out to the personal needs—the intimate struggles of our daily lives.
On these small roads, these messages were reaching out to people who need help. Real help. These billboards know us. They know our dark secrets. The vulnerable places in our lives. The need for healing, so fast, that it would take billboards on the longest stretch of highway possible to encompass the our hurting and broken places.
For Jesus it seems like no billboards were necessary to convey the needs that affected the people around him. As the saying goes, there were “walking billboards” all around. But unlike many of us, who would rather hide in the darkness of our brokenness, not wishing to share it with anybody but trained professionals who assure us they can fix our problems…unlike us, these people came right up and asked for healing. In his face. At his feet.
At times, it seems like the world’s brokenness is in our face, at our feet. Even though we struggle without our own need for help, most of us can still muster enough energy, or time, or money, to help others. We want to take up Christ’s cross of service, even in our brokenness, and help heal: our friends, our neighbors, the world. We want to be the billboards along the road, offering help, giving answers to problems. We don’t expect the healer that Christ was, but we do expect we can do a little something to help.
But what happens if we function simply as billboards? We assume we know people’s problems. We loom above the hurting, giving answers to fix it. Jesus healed in a different way. If you read the healing stories of Jesus, you will rarely find one where Jesus simply fixes the problem without first asking what the people need, or listening to them speak of their condition.
In our haste to be people of service, we can quickly rush to respond without taking the time to listen. Jesus-healing involves first listening and then responding. First listening to our friend who doesn’t know why she is thinking sad thoughts all the time and doesn’t want to get out of bed. First listening to the person in our congregation who feels alienated because they are, for whatever reason, not quite like the rest of us.
The work of Global Women’s Project is not simply to help poor women in poor countries. It is a service of listening. Of hearing what women in various circumstances face in their daily lives, and supporting the work the women decide need to be done. As affluent Western Christians, it may seem like the needy are in our faces, and at our feet. But, they also must be in our minds, our conversations, our decisions. We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, as the saying often goes. Everybody in need has a voice—Jesus’ healings gave witness to this. They all vocalized their needs. The difference is, that Jesus listened. Instead of being simply a voice, we need to first be ears that hear, receivers of stories, discerners of how we each can speak with women and men around the world, not speak for them. How we can be healed alongside them, not simply heal them.
But it is true, that we can’t hear the voices of women in the far reaches of the world…giving them voice in some way in order to share there stories is needed. I've invited some of our steering committee to share with you the stories of women around the world, and how listening have opened Christ-like healing in these women's lives.
Listening and hearing are very difficult things to do. In many ways, our culture is not very good at sitting, and taking in the stories of another, and letting them guide our actions showing us the best way to help. And it is difficult to hear stories, when we know they will nudge us to somehow act in ways that are different from our everyday motions, or give in ways that are extravagant, or confront the stereotypes and assumptions we have in our own minds.
I invite you to join me in a prayer of confession, as we lift these places in need of healing up to our merciful God.