Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2015
+In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.
Do you ever feel like the bucket of your life has a hole in it? That it leaks faster than you can fill it up? No matter what you do, how hard you work, what you try, you just can’t stop the drip. The outflow is greater than the inflow.
You are left, tired and weak, frustrated and disheartened, angry and resentful, sorrowful and grieving, fearful that you will never have the life you want. If you know what that is like, perhaps you can relate to the saga about the hemorrhaging woman in today’s gospel.
We don’t know her name or where she came from. She’s anonymous; another face in the crowd who was curious about this man Jesus. What we do know is that she is sick, desperate, and in need. She has been bleeding for 12 years and no one has been able to help her. She’s spent time, money, energy and only gotten worse. She’s losing more than blood. She’s losing her life, its warmth, vitality, and fruitfulness.
This is a story of an individual woman who lived in a specific time and place in history but it is also the human story, our story. It is about men and women, young and old, married and single, gay and straight. When we are drained by some circumstance in life, we feel detached, isolated, and alone.
These miracle stories in the Gospel can be as disturbing as they are reassuring. The trouble with miracles is that it is difficult to read about them without wanting one for ourselves. I would wager that every one of us knows someone who could use a miracle. Maybe you’re looking for one yourself.
The fact is that miracles are not easy to come by and everyone who prays for one doesn’t necessarily get one. Then there are some who get it without even asking. It all seems rather random and can be the source of great frustration, even despair. Why do the Gospels include certain miracles? Was it to make us envious of those who were as fortunate as the two characters in today’s Gospel? What’s the message for us?
Jesus didn’t perform miracles to show off or to entertain the crowds. He offered signs—the more correct way to describe this part of his ministry—to show us that the way things are in this world are not the way God wants them to be nor the way they will always be; that God does not delight in our sickness or misery or death for God created all things that they might exist. All of creation is wholesome. The healing stories in the Gospel teach us that God does not want us to live in turmoil but rather in wholeness.
Each event is an opportunity for God’s kingdom to break through time and show us—if even for just a moment—how things will be when God’s realm, not the world’s economy, reigns. Miracles are the stuff of the thin places in the world where we get a glimpse of the heavenly.
There is diversity in the two stories we hear today beyond just the principal character’s gender. One was a wealthy leader of the Jewish community and one was a woman who, because of her condition would have been an outcast, living in poverty. Who would employ her? Give her housing? Marry her? She was unclean and must be shunned.
The healing they received was not something to which they felt entitled. It was a free gift. And that gift is offered to both the well-off and the rejected members of society. There is no litmus test for receiving God’s grace, nor are there any outcasts in the household of God.
Many of us may have learned at the hands of well-intentioned but misguided religious people that if you just believe hard enough, your prayers will be answered. If you don’t get what you’ve asked for, it is because your faith is not strong enough. That’s just plain cruel. It also suggests that miracles are something we can control and, if you happen to be ill or have some misfortune or crisis in life, it must be your fault. You did something bad and this is your payback or you just didn’t pray hard enough.
Faith does not make miracles happen. God does. Accrediting a miracle to the power of our belief—that we can make it happen by believing enough—is magic not healing. Real faith is acknowledging that we are not in control, recognizing that God loves us with a radical and reckless love that we cannot fathom, that God is with us in our pain and our pleasure, our sadness and joy, our faith and doubt, our hope and our despair. These two stories are about God’s desire and power to revive our lives, to stop the leak in our buckets, to seal the perforation.
What is the shadow in your path today? What in your life seems like a dead end? Where do you feel confined? What is pulling the life force out of you? Whatever it is, God knows it and feels your longing for healing, peace, and restoration. We may not be able to reach for and touch the clothes of Jesus or fall at his feet to get his attention, but we can touch one another and we can ask one another for support and help.
Perhaps the real miracle is that two thousand years later, there is still a community of people like us who believe that God works through us—through our welcome of the desperate, our willingness to walk with one another in times of suffering, our offering of a sacred space in which to find and be found by a God who wants to restore us to wholeness.
This one, anonymous, desperate woman, had the courage to step out of the crowd to find healing and hope. She touched Jesus—a huge taboo for a sick woman in first century Palestine—and he stopped for her. Jesus will stop for us, too. He will mend the leak in our bucket and fill it to the brim. We just may need to look a little harder for him in the crowd. He may be right around the corner. Jesus, you see, wears many disguises.