A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on March 16, 2014 (Second Sunday in Lent)
2 Kings 5:1-14
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
– Mark 5:21-34
During this season of Lent our worship services are based on chapters of the book “He Still Moves Stones”, by Max Lucado. The reference is to the massive stone that sealed the tomb in which Jesus was laid after his crucifixion – the stone that was found rolled away by the women who first visited the tomb on that first Easter morning. God still moves seemingly unmovable obstacles from the lives of people of faith.
The first chapter – which was the theme of the sermon last week – began with a text from the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath – much to the displeasure of the Pharisees. The text went on to claim that Jesus fulfilled a vision of the prophet Isaiah – that Jesus was a beloved servant of God who “will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.” (Matthew 12:20, quoting from Isaiah 42) The rest of the book “He Still Moves Stones” reflects on people – from biblical stories and from the author’s personal experience — whose lives were like bruised reeds or smoldering wicks – just hanging on to life and hope – until God worked powerfully in their lives through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
One “bruised reed” was the woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years whose story is told in Mark 5. Hers was a chronic condition that made her not only suffer from poor health, but made her a social outcast as well. Jewish religious law forbade contact with someone suffering from a flow of blood. Add to that just plain human revulsion and ignorance about the disease, her whole life was affected:
Sexually – she could not touch her husband (if she had one)
Maternally – she could not bear children
Socially – she probably had few friends or relationships and was not able to work
Spiritually – she was not allowed to enter the temple
She had tried every physician and every cure she could find; she had spent all her money, and was no better. Can you imagine going into debt to pay for your healthcare, and getting no results?
She was a bruised reed. And what did she do? She braved the crowd (she shouldn’t be among them or touch them). She approached Jesus and just touched his cloak – that’s all (she shouldn’t have done that).
It was an act of profound, desperate faith.
Faith – we hear that word in the Bible and in church a lot. But exactly what it means can be tricky to pin down. We sometimes equate it with “believing” something – in the existence of God, for instance. But it is more than that. Author Max Lucado suggests that:
“Faith is the belief that God is real and that God is good. Faith is not a mystical experience or a midnight vision or a voice in the forest… it is a choice to believe that the one who made it all hasn’t left it all and that he still sends light into shadows and responds to gestures of faith.” HSMS, p. 58.
This woman’s effort to touch Jesus’ clothing was a gesture of radical faith. She was willing to risk the criticism and disapproval of her neighbors; she was willing to risk even being rejected by Jesus. She believed that he embodied and transmitted healing power. And she was willing to try anything.
Jesus could have chastised her. After all, he was on his way to try to heal the daughter of a very important and wealthy leader of the synagogue. That girl was near death, so it was very urgent that Jesus get there soon. But instead, when he sensed he had been touched (how did he know that?), he stopped, and tried to find out who had touched him – who was in need. And he responded to the woman by telling her to go in peace and be healed (notice she was already healed – Jesus didn’t “do” anything). And he called her “daughter.” That was perhaps an even greater gift than the physical healing – she was cared for; she belonged; she mattered. Being a child of God is of greater value than being the child of important and wealthy parents.
The story of Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Aram is another story of radical faith – even if it was reluctant. He also was a “bruised reed” – suffering from leprosy. He sought healing from the prophet Elisha — a foreigner — thinking that he could obtain it with wealth or his powerful connections. Instead, Elisha directed him to do something humbling that required faith in the prophet and his God. He almost didn’t do it – it was beneath his dignity! But he was persuaded to wash in the Jordan seven times, and he was healed.
Both Naaman and the unnamed woman were healed because they were willing to do something that showed their radical faith in God and in Jesus. We can be reluctant to do things that show our faith. We may be disappointed; we may be afraid we will be ridiculed by family and friends; we may be thought to be foolish.
Author Max Lucado writes:
“Healing begins when we do something. Healing begins when we reach out. Healing starts when we take a step.” p. 59
Healing is a cooperative venture – a two-way relationship with God. Lucado writes, “Compared to God’s part, our part is miniscule, but necessary. We don’t have to do much, but we do have to do something.”
Are you a bruised reed? What do you need to do to seek healing in your life, and to demonstrate your radical faith in the God who created life and desires – above all else – for us to live healthy lives in relationship with God and neighbors? Max Lucado suggests a few possibilities to get us thinking:
Write a letter
Call a counselor
Visit a doctor
Feed a hungry person
Bruce was once a homeless man, a drug user, living on the streets of Philadelphia. For many years he didn’t want to change – he wanted just to be left alone. He may have tried going to some churches in search of help and a new life, but didn’t find what he needed. But he eventually reached out in faith to others who were reaching out to him, knowing he might be disappointed once more. Let’s listen to him tell his story:
(Play video of Bruce C., who found unconditional love in a UCC church)
This video was made by the United Church of Christ because Bruce found a community of love and support in a UCC congregation. It’s good to know we touch the lives of others, but I know that people can find real love and acceptance in other kinds of churches, and even among other groups of people who minister in the name of Jesus Christ – caring for bruised reeds and encouraging smoldering wicks.
God still moves stones. What stone needs to be moved in your life to bring some healing? What act of radical faith might you do to give it the first nudge?
Robert J. von Trebra