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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: Love Is Only Love When You Give It Away

Mark 5:24-34

If you’re looking for an example of a life built around tightly ordered schedules and firmly directed activities, then don’t look at the life of Jesus. His life was surrounded by swirling chaos. He was buffeted continually by unrelenting pressure. Every day was punctuated by seemingly endless interruptions. In fact, I have often thought that you could almost write a life story of Jesus based on nothing more than the interruptions. People were constantly breaking in upon Him—breaking in upon His rest times, His meal times, His teaching times, His travel times. He was being interrupted continually. Why, even His dying moments on Calvary were interrupted by the cries of the repentant thief on the adjacent cross. His life was one long series of unscheduled interruptions. Today I want us to focus upon one such interruption.

Jesus was attempting to make His way along the crowded streets of Capernaum. Mind you, the streets were crowded simply because Jesus was there. People began to press in around Him. The New English Bible puts it quite dramatically: “He could hardly breathe because of the crowds.” They were hoping to watch Him work one of His miracles, or failing that, hoping to catch some pearl of wisdom which He might choose to impart as He walked. At the time, Jesus was on His way to see a little girl who was critically ill. Suddenly, He was interrupted and this mass of teeming, streaming humanity ground to an instant halt.

You see, in the crowd that day was a woman who, the Bible says, had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. Today, of course, she would undergo surgery to stop the internal, infernal bleeding, but in those days she was condemned to a life of lingering suffering as her lifeblood and strength slowly, ever so slowly, ebbed away. She tried to find a cure; she visited many doctors; she had spent all her money; and all she had to show for it was a pain which would not end and a medical file labeling her as “incurable.”

The agony of her physical pain was exacerbated by the emotional pain inflicted upon her by those around her. Because her condition resulted in the loss of blood, she was labeled “unclean.” She was considered dirty, impure, contaminated. The people shunned her. They laid guilt and shame upon her by the bucketful. They wouldn’t let her go to parties or to weddings or to the marketplace or even to church. They wouldn’t let her go anywhere where she might touch someone else and contaminate them. Think what that would do to you emotionally, mentally, spiritually. This woman was in desperate need of a little compassionate love. In fact, she was so desperate that she quietly slipped into that massive crowd of people. Remember please, that she was not even supposed to be in that crowd touching other people.

Slowly, carefully, she wormed and twisted her way through the tangle of people until she was within arm’s length of Jesus. Then tentatively, carefully, surreptitiously, fearfully, she reached out and touched His robe with her fingertips. Right then, the Bible tells us, her bleeding stopped. Her pain vanished. She thought she had gone unnoticed, so she tried to lose herself in the huge crowd. But Jesus stopped, straightened, looked around and said: “Who touched me?” The disciples cried out in response: “Lord, what do you mean ‘Who touched me?’ Everybody’s touching you. In this crowd, everybody’s touching everybody!” At that point, the woman timidly stepped forward and told Jesus everything that had happened, and Jesus’ heart went out to her and He said: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Yes, Jesus’ heart went out to her. Do you know that the word compassion literally means “with heart”? It means to reach out to other people with your heart and that kind of active, compassionate love is one of the most powerful things in all the world.

Rising on the best-seller list is a book entitled Titan by Ron Chernow. It is the biography of John D. Rockefeller, who a century ago, was the richest man in America. In that massive account of Rockefeller’s life there is a fascinating subplot involving a preacher, a man of God named Washington Gladden. When I read the story of Rockefeller and his encounter with Gladden, I am reminded of the Old Testament story of King David and his encounter with a man of God, Nathan, the prophet. You see, John D. Rockefeller, like King David, was a man of both great good and great evil. In both cases, it took the man of God to pierce through the evil and to find the good. So what Nathan was to David, Washington Gladden was to John D. Rockefeller. Washington Gladden was militant, forceful and fearless in his belief that the Gospel required holy living and compassionate service in order to impact the social, political and economic life of America. In the face of withering criticism and opposition, he turned the laser light of the Gospel message upon Rockefeller and everybody else, demanding that they give themselves and their resources in compassionate love, like Jesus, to the poor, the sick, the needy, and the downtrodden. In the midst of that time, when everyone turned on him and against him, in order to maintain both his courage and his compassion, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote a prayer in the form of a poem—and ultimately that poem became one of the great hymns of the faith:

O Master let me walk with Thee
In lowly paths of service free,
Tell me Thy secret, help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.

Washington Gladden lived with the compassionate love we see in Jesus as He healed this woman who interrupted Him in the crowd. That leads me to note a couple of characteristics we see in the compassionate love of Jesus Christ.

Notice, please, that Christ’s kind of compassionate love is sensitive in ascertaining the needs of others.

Here in the story we see a vivid illustration of Jesus’ sensitivity. Notice how tender and gentle and loving Jesus is with this woman who touched Him in the crowd. He didn’t question whether she should be in that crowd; He didn’t fuss at her for interrupting Him. He didn’t critique her theology or superstitions or expectations. He didn’t write her off as unclean. He didn’t chastise her for trusting Him. Rather, He was amazingly alert to and aware of her needs and He lovingly, graciously, sensitively received her. Sensitivity is an obvious mark of truly compassionate love.

Some of you will recognize the name of A. J. Cronin, a physician turned writer. In his autobiography, he tells the unforgettable story of the family who lived next to him in Connecticut. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, two teenage daughters and a small son, Sammy. Mr. Adams, Harry was his name, worked as an accountant in New York City, but he enjoyed every free hour with his family and he particularly took pleasure in working in his garden with his son, Sammy. When World War II ended, the family decided to adopt a war orphan—a boy who desperately needed a home. Dr. Cronin went with them when they picked up this refugee child. He came from central Europe and his name was Paul Piotrostanalsis. He was gaunt, undernourished, completely withdrawn. They got him home and began to feed him a good diet and take care of his basic needs. He began to respond—only not in the way they had hoped. He began to learn the language, but he used it to manipulate the truth. He had no sense of property rights, and stealing seemed second nature to him. He was difficult to relate to and for all practical purposes, he ignored Mr. and Mrs. Adams and the two sisters. The son, Sammy, was the only one he seemed to care for. One day, in violation of the rules, Paul went swimming in a polluted pond nearby and contracted a serious infection. He was placed in quarantine in order not to spread the illness to the other children. The next morning when Harry Adams went to call his son to breakfast, he discovered that Sammy was not in his bed, but in fact, had gone into Paul’s bedroom to sleep that night. Tragically, within a matter of days, Sammy was dead from the virulent infection.

Dr. Cronin was out on the West Coast for an extended time when he heard what had happened back home. He wrote a letter expressing his sympathy and urging the family to have Paul returned. Six months later, Dr. Cronin returned to his home in Connecticut. He was surprised to see Mr. Adams out working in his garden with a young boy—it was Paul. Dr. Cronin pulled his friend aside and he said: “Do you mean to tell me you still have that boy?” Mr. Adams replied: “Yes, and he’s really doing well now.” Dr. Cronin stood there shaking his head and then he turned to the boy and said: “All I can say to you, Paul Piotrostanalsis, is that you are a lucky boy.” Mr. Adams quickly said: “Oh, Dr. Cronin, you don’t have to worry about pronouncing his name any longer. He is Paul Adams now. We have adopted him as our own.”

C.S. Lewis once wrote these words: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in a casket of your own selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, and airless, it will change. It will not be broken … it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable … ”

To love as Christ loved is to be sensitive and gracious in ascertaining other people’s needs.

Notice also that Christ’s kind of compassionate love is selfless in addressing the needs of others.

One of the really beautiful moments in this story is found in the verse which tells us that Jesus was “aware that power had gone forth from Him.” This means that you can’t help and serve other people apathetically or half-heartedly. It means you have to give something of yourself.

Several years ago now in Braithwaite, England, there was a fire in a home occupied by a father and his son. The mother had died some years before. The father was left to care for the boy. Fire spread quickly through the house—the father was killed. The boy was trapped on the second floor. A man by the name of William Dickson happened to be passing by and he heard the boy’s cries for help. Dickson realized that the home was so engulfed in flames that his only chance to get to the boy was to crawl up the drainpipe on the outside of the house until he reached the second floor. Then he could grab hold of the windowsill and pull himself in. He did that and he then carried the little boy to safety. Understand, please, the fire was so intense that the drainpipe was red-hot so as William Dickinson climbed up that pipe, he burned his hands horribly, leaving them hideously scarred. The little boy, now alone in life, was made a ward of the state and spent several years in a foster home and then he was put up for adoption. Three people petitioned the court to adopt the little boy. One was the boy’s schoolteacher, who was very impressed with the boy’s intelligence and wanted the chance to help him develop. The second was a distant cousin who stressed that blood relationship ought to take precedence over all other concerns. The third person to petition the court was William Dickson. He took the stand and the court awarded custody of the little boy. On the stand, William Dickson never uttered a word. He simply stood there and held up his hands. Compassionate love always involves self-giving. As Christians, we ought to know that better than anyone else because we serve One whose hands were scarred for us.

Well…

Let me try to bring this home by telling you an interesting legend about this woman in Mark 5. The Bible doesn’t mention her again so far as we know, so we don’t know if there is any truth to the legend. But according to some early second-century historians, this is what happened to her. Her name was Veronica and she wound up becoming a wealthy and powerful woman. In her city, in fact, she commissioned the construction of a statue in honor of the Christ who had touched her and made her well. It was a statue which stood for many years. Also, it is said, Veronica was present the day Christ was forced to carry His cross along the Via Dolorosa. And when Christ fell under the weight of the cross, it was Veronica, so the legend goes, who with a handkerchief reached up and wiped the blood and the sweat out of his eyes. Because He had touched her, now she could touch Him. That’s how it goes, my Beloved. If you’ve ever been touched by the power of Jesus Christ in your life, then you can touch others, with that same healing power. Washington Gladden’s words ring so true:

Help me the slow of heart to move
By some clear winning words of love,
Teach me the wayward feet to stay
And guide them in the homeward way.

Home—yes, all the way home- home to Jesus …

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