Health Care – Epiphany 5


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Overview – Health Care

Focus Text: Mark 1:29-39

“And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases…”

Scripture Commentary by Denise Cumbee Long, Pastor, Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, Chapel Hill

“More than any other Gospel, Mark emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus. The point of these stories seems to be that Jesus heals all sorts of maladies in all kinds of environments for all sorts of people. Jesus proclaims and embodies the presence of the Kingdom of God not only through his words but by his acts of compassion and his inclusive care for all people in all walks of life.”

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Susan H. Harrison, Soapstone United Methodist Church, Raleigh

“While the world may value persons differently based on income, earning capacity, education, experience, race, physical ability, appearance, or socioeconomic background, there are none of these distinctions in Christ. All flesh and bones, all bodies, are God’s creation. We have all been gifted by God for God’s work in the world. The person who happens to be insured or who can afford the cost of medical care is no more or less important to God than the person who is uninsured or underinsured, no more or less important than the barren woman, the dying king, the wandering and hungry Israelites, the suffering Job, the blind and leprous men, the bleeding woman, the child on her deathbed.”

Personal Vignette by Stephanie Phillippi, Binkley Memorial Baptist Church

“When Doug’s neurologist told us he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, “Lou Gehrig’s” disease, everything in the exam room became white. My mind sped forward while everything else lagged behind in slow motion. The room grew smaller. I couldn’t breathe. No diagnosis could have been more devastating. My best friend, my lover, my 36-year old husband and father of our three young sons – then ages 3, 7 and 11 – was going to die.”

Key Fact

North Carolina’s estimated number of uninsured as of January 2009 was about 1.75 million. This translates to about 21.2 percent of all non-elderly North Carolinians.

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Focus Text – Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Additional Texts

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many… If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I Corinthians 12:14, 26-27

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58:8-11

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
I Corinthians 6:19-20

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.
III John 1:2

Other Lectionary Texts

  • Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
  • Isaiah 40:21-31
  • I Corinthians 9:16-23
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Commentary on Mark 1:29-39

The focus text for this Sunday, along with the preceding story of an exorcism in the synagogue, provide an account of a day with Jesus in Capernaum and his departure the next morning. After he publicly casts out the “unclean spirit” from the man with mental illness who shouts at him in the synagogue, Jesus arrives at the home of his friend and disciple, Simon, and heals Simon’s mother-in-law of an ordinary fever in that intimate setting. His reputation begins to spread, and after sunset, a crowd of sick and hurting people arrives at Simon’s house seeking Jesus’ healing touch. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of verse 33 reads: The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another.

The next morning, Jesus is sought out by his disciples when he is praying alone in a quiet place. They tell him that the town people are looking for him. Jesus reminds them that his healing ministry and prophetic work is bigger than one place, that he has come for everyone. The account ends with Jesus going “throughout Galilee,” reaching out to more and more people in an ever widening circle of compassion. Interestingly, the story immediately following these verses is yet another healing account: a leper approaches Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can cure me.” The text says Jesus felt sorry for the man, stretched out his hand to heal and said, “Of course I want to!”

More than any other Gospel, Mark emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus. The point of these stories seems to be that Jesus heals all sorts of maladies in all kinds of environments for all sorts of people. Jesus proclaims and embodies the presence of the Kingdom of God not only through his words but by his acts of compassion and his inclusive care for all people in all walks of life. We, too, find ourselves in a world where it often seems that healing is only afforded the privileged few, where there are many who ask if society wants them to be cured and whole. As the hands and feet of Christ, we must work for affordable, accessible health care for all. When the sick child without health insurance looks at us and says, “If you want to, you can cure me,” may each of us respond, “Of course I want to!”

By Rev. Denise Cumbee Long, Pastor, Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC

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Pastoral Reflection on Mark 1:29-39

We need only to look at television and magazines, to listen to our commercials, or consider the distribution of our income and time to realize that we live in a world that values mental acuity, power, military might, athletic and sexual prowess, and narrowly defined images of beauty. Illness, aging, disability, and death are hidden away from sight in hospital rooms and nursing homes, as if by hiding them away, we can forget the truth that we, too, will face a similar fate one day. In this world, it may be hard for us to imagine the love God has for our physical bodies in all ages, stages, health, illness, and abilities. As much as many of us would like to deny our own bodies and the bodies of those who are disabled or sick, our God cares about the incarnational aspects of our lives—our flesh, our bodies.

Our God is One who creates us as embodied beings and cares about the flesh of a brother who is killed. Our God brings floods upon the earth because of sin but restores creation and gives a promise not to destroy all flesh. Our God hears the cries of a woman and child, cast off and wandering in the wilderness, giving them water and proclaiming a promise to them. Our God cares about women whose wombs are barren and makes them fruitful. Our God provides for fleshly needs of hunger and thirst in the wilderness. Our God answers the deathbed plea of a king and heals him for God’s own glory (2 Kings 20). The biblical witness testifies that God’s judgment, testing, mercy, and grace are experienced through human flesh.

If the salvation history contained in the Old Testament is not enough to convince us that God chooses fleshliness for God’s creatures, and God cares about and works in and through human flesh, God made this even more clear by coming in the flesh to dwell among us and make God’s self known to us. God could have chosen any way to come to us, but chose the human flesh. In that flesh, God, as the Christ, healed those who were blind and lame, cured an elderly woman with a fever, calmed those tormented by mental illness, and reached out with compassion to the suffering crowds who pressed around him, desperate for healing. God fed the pangs of hunger and told us that we will be judged by how we care for the bodies of others (Matthew 25). And God makes our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit.

This stuff of which we are made, our physical bodies, clearly matters to God. Our body is the form we have been given to live in this world, and it matters how we take care of it. It matters because this body is God’s creation, God’s handiwork, and it reflects God’s signature and love. It matters because this body is needed for God’s work in the world. Our hands and feet, as well as the hands and feet of those who cannot afford medical care, may be the only way that someone will know God. The hands and feet of people who are elderly, disabled, poor, sick, those who have experienced the limits of their own humanity, are often the very best hands and feet to bring the good news of God’s steadfast love and mercy to those who are “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” as they can truly witness to what God can and will do in the face of our weakness and limitations.

Can we honestly say that the bodies of the insured, the bodies of the wealthy, are more worthy of healing and care than the bodies of the poor or uninsured? Can we say that it is right for those who are insured to have access to all of the medications that they need, while others with treatable illnesses go without medication and medical treatment because they cannot afford the cost? Is it right for insurance companies to negotiate lab fees of $2 to $6 while those who are uninsured are billed $40 to $50 for the same tests? Should a woman have to choose between heart medication and food or rent? One woman I met recently had $800 a month in medications. What kinds of choices would each of us have to make if we were faced with costs such as these in addition to our regular living expenses?

While the world may value persons differently based on income, earning capacity, education, experience, race, physical ability, appearance, or socioeconomic background, there are none of these distinctions in Christ. All flesh and bones, all bodies, are God’s creation. We have all been gifted by God for God’s work in the world. The person who happens to be insured or who can afford the cost of medical care is no more or less important to God than the person who is uninsured or underinsured, no more or less important than the barren woman, the dying king, the wandering and hungry Israelites, the suffering Job, the blind and leprous men, the bleeding woman, the child on her deathbed.

As the church, we have a responsibility to witness to the incarnational love of God by the way we care for the bodies of those who may not be able to care for themselves in our world, those whom the world casts aside as unimportant or of less value. We have a call and responsibility to listen to the stories of those who visit the doors of our clinics and crisis programs or who sit in the rooms and halls of our nursing homes, to open our eyes to the ways that our systems and society are leaving some without adequate health care, and to begin to make changes, through the way we care for those in our midst and through legislation and political advocacy. When we open our eyes and hearts to hear, we will hear the voice of God calling us to care.

By Rev. Susan H. Harrison, Soapstone United Methodist Church, Raleigh

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Worship Aids for Mark 1:29-39

Responsive Reading

We gather in the name of God, who was born among us,
the Christ who spent his earthly days healing those sick of body, mind, and spirit.
We gather in the name of the crucified and risen Christ,
Over whom death had no power and through whom there is life eternal.
We gather as a remembering and a caring community,
A community of faith and hope united by God’s love.
God calls to us:
To care for one another, to be compassionate and merciful.
We celebrate God’s goodness and grace,
In the love we give, receive and remember.
God bless those who care;
Bless and sustain those who care for the living and the dying: who search for cures, therapies and vaccines. Those who respond day and night to our tears, our desperation and our grief.
We are the creation of one Creator God;
The child who cries is every child. The woman weakened and tired is every mother, wife, sister, daughter. The man is every father, husband, son and brother.
We know Jesus identifies with all who suffer;
Through our faith in Christ, healing and wholeness take place.
We will care for one another and love one another. We will pray for God’s creation. We will be Christ’s presence in each other’s lives. We will be witnesses to God’s unconditional love.
Amen.

(adapted from Cathie Lyons and the HIV/AIDS Minisries Network (UMC), http://gbgm-umc.org/cam/memorials/goodness.html)

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, we confess that we have sinned against you and against one another. We name the name of Christ, but we do not make real in our lives his presence. We pay lip service to your truth, but we fear the truth about ourselves. We sing of your grace, but we cling to illusions that keep us from experiencing your healing power. We claim to live by faith, but we want to have our own way. We want to be free, but we avoid the discipline that would set us free. We lay claim to your promises in our need, but we feel no compassion for the needs of others. Forgive us and cleanse us, we pray, and give us new life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

(from the Disciple of Christ’s ‘Week of Compassion’ website, www.weekofcompassion.org/pages/resources/Gifts%20We%20Bring/Prayersofconfeesion.html)

God of Life

God of Life, we pray this day for those whose dying is hastened by lack of access to health care.

God of Love, we pray this day for the millions of people who do not have health care coverage, that their pain and anxiety will be relieved and that our hearts will be moved to help them.

God of Justice, we pray this day that our nation will work as one to see that all people have the health care they need.

God of the Weak, we pray this day for those who are too young, too sick, too ashamed, too discouraged to speak out for themselves and call for care.

God of Power, we pray that all who are in positions of leadership will work together to solve the problem of the uninsured.

God of Mercy, we pray for those whose suffering is unrelieved by care and for ourselves that we will work with others to assure care for all.

God of All, you have made us in your image. Help us to reflect your goodness. Amen.

(Written by Shannon Daley-Harris, www.CoverTheUninsuredWeek.org)

Suggested Hymns for Mark 1:29-39

Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song
Moravian Book of Worship 498

O Christ, the Healer
Presbyterian Hymnal 380
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ ) 175
United Methodist Hymnal 265

O God, Whose Will is Life and Good
Lutheran Worship 396

We Yearn, O Christ, for Wholeness
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ ) 179

When the Morning Comes
Baptist Hymnal 522

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Quotes about Health Care

So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health.
A.J. Reb Materi

In the future we’ll all have 15 minutes of fame and 15 minutes of healthcare.
Nicole Hollander

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Vignette about Health Care

Think Your Health Insurance Will Protect You?

When Doug’s neurologist told us he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, “Lou Gehrig’s” disease, everything in the exam room became white. My mind sped forward while everything else lagged behind in slow motion. The room grew smaller. I couldn’t breathe. No diagnosis could have been more devastating. My best friend, my lover, my 36-year old husband and father of our three young sons – then ages 3, 7 and 11 – was going to die.

Of all the losses this cruel disease would mean for us, few were more unexpected than the barriers to health care. Though still a medical mystery, the course of ALS was well charted from Lou Gehrig’s biography. What was uncharted for us, and many other families faced with health crises, was the maze of bureaucratic obstacles that made health insurance superfluous. It became clear that health care is a privilege – available to few who really need it. At age 36, Doug had just hit his stride. In a job he’d spent 20 years refining, Doug had done the “right things” by popular definition. Promoted to a professional position he excelled in and enjoyed, he earned enough for me to be a “stay-at-home” mom until the boys were old enough for school. He bought a good health insurance policy as well as dental and eye-care insurance. He bought life insurance and invested in retirement funds, including his company’s 401K. Beyond that he’d had the wherewithal to purchase both long- and short-term disability policies. With the exception of our mortgage, we were debt free. By all accounts, we were fortunate and had all we needed, or so we thought.

What we discovered was that health insurance is available only when it isn’t really necessary. Once Doug was disabled, he was unemployed and unemployable. Without a job, the clock was ticking on access to health insurance. The first six months of his disability, Doug received short-term disability benefits that helped us stay afloat while we awaited approval of his Social Security claim. Still, with the new expense of insurance deductibles and 20% co-payments, we were rapidly depleting our resources. The single ALS-specific medicine cost $1,300 per month. Combined with other medicines prescribed for symptoms of ALS, the cost quickly reached $2000 – more than our mortgage payment! At the seventh month of disability, Social Security began making payments which, when combined with private disability insurance payments, matched Doug’s income when he became disabled. Unfortunately, he would not be eligible for Medicare for another 18 months. The only available insurance was through Doug’s COBRA extension of his former employer’s group coverage, but that would be at full premium rate which we simply could not afford. Our church and extended family made that coverage possible until we reached the 29-month limit on that extension.

At 29 months, Doug was uninsured and uninsurable. What do you do when your body is dying but you are still intellectually alive and active, yet not allowed to work or pay for your own health care? What happens to the three children for whom you are still a hero, still a needed and meaningful presence? Does it become incumbent on the sick to die when they can no longer work? Although Medicare would ultimately cover durable medical equipment and doctor appointments, it would not cover his 14 prescriptions or private duty nursing necessitated by complete flaccid paralysis and ventilator-assisted breathing. Medicaid was, and is, the only available option; and its availability is contingent on financial destitution. We were not yet financially destitute. To meet that criterion, all of the resources Doug had so carefully set in place would have to be spent first. Having disability benefits meant we made too much money. In order to qualify for Medicaid coverage, we would be responsible for health expenses “spend down” payments until we had little enough to qualify for help. In our case, this means we have to “spend down” approximately $32,000 per year, leaving $645 a year after medical expenses for a family of five to live on. Only then would we be eligible for Medicaid coverage.

For all the moral outrage expressed by public policy makers, far too little has been said about the right to health care. Our story is not unique. People who have lost jobs for reasons having nothing to do with their own health are nevertheless uninsured and – with any “pre-existing conditions” (diabetes for example) – uninsurable. With cuts in benefits in all sectors of employment, it is particularly poignant that the very people who are our health caregivers are themselves likely to be uninsured. As a modern democracy, we are charged with protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Communities thrive only where everyone contributes what they are able. Taxation is supposed to be the community chest that provides for needs no one can meet alone. We owe each other this much because there is no “one” without another. There is no “life, liberty or pursuit of happiness” where there is no right to health care.

Stephanie Phillippi, member of Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, August 2004 (from NC Committee to Defend Health Care)

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Contacts and Resources for Health Care

www.nccouncilofchurches.org/programs/health-care-reform/
The NCCC has a decades-long history of working for universal health care. In policy statements dating back to the 1980s, the Council has expressed concern about the large number of North Carolinians without adequate health care and the high and increasing cost of health care. Many in the faith community believe reform that provides health care for all is a basic social justice issue. Substantial progress was made in 2010, but continued advocacy and vigilance are needed to continue the forward trend and protect against backsliding.

www.CoverTheUninsuredWeek.org
Cover the Uninsured Week is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Interfaith Advisory Board, a week each May is designated to mobilize thousands of business owners, union members, educators, students, patients, hospital staff, physicians, nurses, faith leaders and their congregants, to bring the message to elected officials that health care coverage is a right for all Americans. Free worship materials and sermons available for download.

www.hschange.org
Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization located in Washington, D.C. that designs and conducts studies focused on the U.S. health care system to inform the thinking and decisions of policy makers in government and private industry.

www.ncjustice.org/?q=node/25
The Justice Center’s North Carolina Health Access Coalition (NCHAC) works to “put people first” in an increasingly profit-driven health care system. We advocate for the expansion of publicly funded health services for low- and moderate-income families, and we provide research and analysis on the state’s health care system. In addition, NCHAC offers assistance to individuals trying to access public health programs, educates community groups about health care options, and empowers people to advocate for increased access to affordable care

www.nchica.org
North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, Inc. is a nonprofit consortium of over 235 organizations dedicated to improving healthcare by accelerating the adoption of information technology.

www.ncdefendhealthcare.org
Health Care for All North Carolina works to educate about and advocate for the “Right to Health Care”, so that access to appropriate health care on a regular basis is assured for all North Carolinians regardless of age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital or employment status, pre-existing medical condition or geography.

www.citizensforhealthcarefreedom.org
Citizens for Healthcare Freedom is a “grassroots organization dedicated to educating the public about health care issues.” Their mission statement is “to improve the health and well-being of our North Carolina community by empowering individuals and families to make freer and more fully informed health care decisions.”

www.everybodyinnobodyout.org
Everybody In, Nobody Out is an organizing effort committed to the support and advancement of state and local organizations working towards non-incremental universal health care. Project EINO also works to advance the discussion in states where no state UHC group presently operate, with the hope that new activist groups might arise.

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Key Facts about Health Care

1. North Carolina’s estimated number of uninsured as of January 2009 was about 1.75 million. This translates to about 21.2 percent of all non-elderly North Carolinians.

2. There are 269,000 uninsured children in North Carolina.

3. Of North Carolina’s uninsured, 14 percent are white, 21 percent are black, 49 percent are Latino, and 24 percent identify with other ethnic groups. Communities of color are suffering disproportionately in crisis of affordable health care coverage.

4. Almost 1 out of 10 children (0-17) are without health insurance in North Carolina.

5. Six out of 10 Americans in 2009 carried their health insurance through their employers.

6. Uninsured rates for the nonelderly 2009 in North Carolina:

7. Of North Carolinians, 83.1% either strongly agree or agree that “the State Legislature should make a plan so that all North Carolina residents can get decent health care on a regular basis.” This includes 73% of Republicans, 81% of Democrats, and 86% of those not identifying with either party.

8. The North Carolina Council of Churches, in an October 1996 Policy Statement, stated:

We continue to call for the establishment of universal health care coverage as the only way to ensure access to basic health care for everyone. Until this long-term goal is reached, we support the following interim measures:

• Increase the use of Medicaid, especially by increasing eligibility, improving outreach efforts to those who qualify, and making services easier to access.

• Expand the use of school-based health centers, especially in counties with high numbers of uninsured school-age children.

• Assure access to health care, especially for emergency services and deliveries, for immigrants.

9. Being uninsured increases a person’s chance of premature death by 25 percent. Nationally, this results in 18,000 avoidable deaths annually amongst uninsured nonelderly people.

10. In North Carolina, 43% of small businesses (less than 50 employees) offer health insurance, compared to 96.7% of business with 50 or more employees.

11. Estimates of citizens in North Carolina who are eligible for Medicaid but are not signed up:

  • 192,000 children under 18
  • 46,000 adults with dependent children
  • 13,000 uninsured pregnant women
  • 4,000 people with disabilities

12. The majority of health care dollars are spent on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes rather than infectious diseases. These can be cured in many cases by a healthier diet, lifestyle, and medical treatment.

Sources:

  1. FNC Medical Journal, “North Carolina’s Increase in the Uninsured: 2007-2009” http://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/DS_2009-01_UninUnemp.pdf
  2. State Health Facts, http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileglance.jsp?rgn=35
  3. State Health Facts, http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileind.jsp?ind=143&cat=3&rgn=35
  4. Action for Children, http://www.ncchild.org/press-release/number-uninsured-children-improves-north-carolina-mynccom
  5. Center for American Progress, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/05/insurance_loss.html
  6. State Health Facts, http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileind.jsp?ind=143&cat=3&rgn=35
  7. Health Care for All North Carolina, http://www.healthcareforallnc.org/legislation/index.cfm?temp_id=99999
  8. North Carolina Council of Churches, http://www.ncchurches.org/1997/01/a-policy-statement-on-health-care/
  9. Blue Cross Blue Shield, Uninsured Handbook, www.bcbsnc.com/pdfs/BCBSNC_Uninsured_Minibook.pdf
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