Many of us find it easier to help other people than to ask for help from others or from God.  Jairus and the woman who suffered from chronic bleeding remind us that we have a good God who desires to take care of our needs, and to follow Jesus’ invitation to be direct and “ask, seek and knock”.   It takes honesty and humility to live this out, but it’s a key to our own health and to healthy relationships with others.

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26; Matthew 7:7-8


Last week’s sermon title was really long—it was “Restoring Respect in a Pluralistic and Polarized Society: The Jerusalem Council”.  So I thought I’d make up for it by just having a one word title today.  But like last week, it begs to be sung, so here we go…

I’ll start, and you sing the next line.

Help!  (I need somebody)  Help! (not just anybody)  Help! (you know I need someone)  everybody: HELP!

We’ll skip a verse…now “Help me if you can  (I’m feeling down)                   And I do appreciate (you being around)   Help me get my feet (back on the ground)

Everybody: Won’t you please, please help me.  (We’re ready for Karaoke night, folks!)

It’s easy to sing along with the song, but is it more difficult to actually ask for help in real life when we need it?  I mean, when we need help, how often do we say those words
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground Won’t you please, please help me?

That can be hard to say, to ask, to admit, right?

In our scripture story today, there are two people who really need help.  There’s a synagogue leader, who other gospel accounts tell us is named Jairus, and his young daughter has just died, and he is desperate for a miracle.

So he asks Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter with the hopes that somehow she will be restored to life.

Then there’s a woman with a long history of bleeding who thinks, “if I can only touch Jesus’ clothes, I can be healed of this dreaded disease.”

And in both cases, healing took place.  Jesus stopped the woman’s bleeding, and he raised Jairus’ daughter back to life.

Jesus’ power to heal as well as his power to forgive sins were signs, evidence, that he was God in the flesh, and that the Kingdom of God had invaded the world.

So it makes sense that Jesus spent a lot of his time around people who needed healing, or people who were bruised or broken, or wrapped up in a life where they were being hurt or they were hurting other people.

These were people who needed help, they were longing for a healing touch, so they could get a new lease on life.

The beginning of this passage shows Jesus calling Matthew, a tax collector, he was despised and considered a sinner by most people’s standards because tax collectors in Jesus’ day ripped people off.

The passage says that Jesus broke bread with “tax collectors and sinners”, and when the upstanding religious leaders criticized Jesus, he responded by saying, “people who are well have no need of a doctor, but only those who are sick.”

Friends, for each and every one of us, there are times when we are well, and there are times when we are sick.  Maybe sick physically, or emotionally, or socially, or spiritually, very often we are sick, we’re broken and not whole in one way or another.

It goes with the territory of being human that there are times like these when when we are in need, because of the pain and suffering and fear we experience in so many ways.

And the good news is that when we’re honest about our needs, and we make them known, we can find healing or hope, or both.

I may have mentioned during sharing time a few weeks ago about a tragedy in my extended family.  I have a brother named Tom, and his wife Kelly’s sister was killed in a horrific car accident, along with her new husband.

Understandably, Kelly was devastated to lose her only sister, and also further devasted by the way in which she and her husband died.

I and my six other siblings sent text messages and emails to Tom letting him know that we’re thinking of and praying for him and Kelly.

He was grateful for our messages, but then he sent a group text to us and he said, “Kelly is really hurting right now and it would really help her if you could support her by reaching out to her directly.”

Tom was exactly right—she needed to hear from us, not just through him.   So in those next few days that’s what we did.  And it ended up really helping Kelly feel cared for and surrounded with love from her husband’s siblings.

But if Tom hadn’t been honest with us and asked for our help, it wouldn’t have happened.  We wouldn’t have realized it.

The Psalms give us a great model of what it looks like to be honest with our needs, in this case David being honest with God.

I think it’s noteworthy that even though David became King of the people of Israel, he didn’t let his position of power and authority keep him from being humble and honest before God.

I spent some time this week paging through the book of Psalms, and it struck me how many times I saw David crying out to God, praying to God for help in all kinds of different circumstances.  Here are a few examples:

Psalm 12:1  Help us, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.   (wow, maybe that’s how some of us are feeling right now, given recent events in our country).

Psalm 18:6  In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.  From his temple he heard my voice and my cry to him reached his ears.  (David after God delivered him from his enemies).

Ps. 109:22-27  (Message version)  “I’m at the end of my rope, my life is in ruins.  I’m fading away to nothing, passing away, my youth is gone, I’m old before my time…Help me, oh help me, God, my God, save me through your wonderful love, then they’ll know that your hand is in this, that you, God have been at work.” 

Time and time again David is honest with God, asking for help when he needs it.     He doesn’t beat around the bush; he doesn’t hold back; he just lays it out there, with his heart on his sleeve.

And through it all, he puts his trust in God, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, knowing that God will not abandon him forever, and confident that God’s steadfast love for him will carry him through even the darkest times.

We see David’s posture of trust, hope, and confidence in Psalm 121 which we said together as our call to worship.

Psalm 121:1-2:  I lift my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 

Now fast forward to the New Testament, and in Jesus we see the incarnation of a faithful and loving God.  We saw Jesus’ compassion and empathy toward people who need help, like Jairus and his daughter and the woman with the chronic bleeding problem.

Jesus is compassionate and empathetic not only because he is God but also because he is human— Jesus knew the suffering and the temptations and the weariness and the disappointments and the loneliness that we humans go through, because he went through these himself.

That’s the image of Jesus that the “He gets us” campaign is communicating.  But not only does Jesus get us,  he cares about us and loves us more than we can imagine, and he wants to help us in our times of need.

The writer of Hebrews says it so beautifully in chapter 4, vs. 16:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.    I just love this!

Jesus’ love and desire to satisfy our needs is the motivation behind his words  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

Our author friend Skye Jethani has some insightful things to say about these words of Jesus in his book “What if Jesus Was Serious?” which we looked at as a congregation a while back.  (We also went through his book “What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer?” after this one.)

Jethani points out how direct and simple this “ask, seek, and knock” approach is toward God.  He contrasts it with how we sometimes approach God to ask for things, by using bargaining or manipulation or deception.

“Oh God, if you solve this problem for me, I promise that I will read the Bible more and surf the internet less!” Or  “If you give me this thing, I’ll stop kicking the dog!” Stuff like that.

Instead, Jethani says “Rather than attempting to twist or manipulate God into blessing us, Jesus invites us to trust His goodness by simply asking for what we need.” 

Jethani has a nice little diagram to illustrate this in our relationship with God and with other people:  If Jesus is serious, then we will ask, rather than manipulate, others for what we need.

I like how Jethani connects this ask, seek, knock approach to our relationships both with God and with other people.  He points out that before Jesus calls his disciples to ask, seek and knock, he is warning them about being judgmental and hypocritical toward others, about wanting to take the speck out of someone else’s eye when we have a big log in our own eye.  He says:

Jesus appears to be juxtaposing two ways of motivating people to do what we desire.  The world’s way is through judgment and force…  We try to control people through manipulation and deceit.  The alternative method, and the one appropriate for life in God’s kingdom, is simple: just ask.  P. 131

Jethani says that asking others for what we need or want is difficult for two reasons.  First, it requires being honest and vulnerable about our intention.  We must risk exposing ourselves to the rejection of others.

Second, asking for help is hard because it affirms the dignity and status of the other person as our equal—or our superior.  In other words, asking requires humility.

He concludes by saying: If we learn to ask for what we need with honesty and humility rather than scheming for it, Jesus says that we will discover a far better way of life with both God and others. 

Friends, isn’t it true that honesty and humility are keys to a good life and good and healthy relationships with God and with other people?

And isn’t it true that being direct and straightforward when we need help is most often the best approach?

But if you’re like me, sometimes you have trouble asking for help when you need it.  If you’re like me, you’d much rather be the helper than the one being helped.

Like many of you, my career has been in what’s classified under “helping professions”.  I was drawn to teaching and then pastoring because I like to help people.

Are any of you familiar with the Enneagram?  It’s this ancient way of self-awareness that fits people into one of 9 personality types.  I have found it helpful because it reveals both our bright side when we are emotionally healthy, and our shadow side when we’re not so healthy.

I’m an Enneagram #2, which is called “The Helper”.  Here’s how one Enneagram website describes my type:

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing.  At their Best, 2s are unselfish and altruistic, and have unconditional love for others. But they can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed and they sometimes have trouble acknowledging their own needs.

Does this sound like me or anyone you know?

So I’ve got “helper” deep in my DNA.  And I would guess that even if you’re not a “2”, many of you love being givers more than being receivers; you feel more comfortable giving help rather than asking for help.

I’ve learned the hard way that repressing my own needs and refusing to get help when I need it can take a toll on a person—mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Yes, Jesus calls us to be servants, but we can’t serve others very well if we’re running around helping this person and that person, but neglecting taking care of ourselves or not letting others help us when we need it.

And in a way it’s being selfish, because by not accepting help from others, we are depriving them of their opportunity to serve us.

One of the first books I read by Henri Nouwen is called “With Open Hands”.  He uses the image of open hands to describe a healthy posture toward God through prayer, and I think a lot of it applies to our relationships with other people as well.

So I’ll close with these words from Henri Nouwen:

A life in prayer is a life with open hands where you are not ashamed of your weakness but realize that it is more perfect for a person to be led by the other than to seek to hold everything in his/her own hands.   P. 158

May we live with open hands, towards God and towards other people. May we have the courage and the humility to ask, and seek, and knock for help when we need it, from God and from others.

And as the song Will You Let Me Be Your Servant says, may we live to serve each other in the spirit of Christ, and may we also have the grace to let others serve us as well.  AMEN.  #778