Sunday, June 28th, 2015 – The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Psalm 30, Mark 5:25-34
Hymns: “Everlasting God”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “All the Heavens”, “Be Still My Soul”, “He Touched Me”, “Break Thou the Bread of Life”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
This week, I have included the communion meditation, which I do not ordinarily do. You can read it after the end of the sermon.
Some Kind of Miracle
Almost thirty years ago, the fourth Star Trek movie came out. Called The Voyage Home, it featured James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and their famous crew, on the run from the law, having stolen and subsequently destroyed the starship Enterprise. Through a bizarre turn of events, they ended up using another stolen starship to travel backward through time to the year 1986, where they planned to abscond with a pair of humpback whales and return them to the 23rd century, where they would be expected to communicate with an orbiting probe, tell it that all was alright, and save Earth.
Endless hijinks ensued, including Scotty having a rather confused interaction with an Apple IIe personal computer, Chekov and Uhura beaming aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to harvest radiation from her nuclear reactor, and bizarrely enough, Mr. Sulu doing a remarkably good job of using a Vietnam-era Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter to fly massive sheets of Plexiglass from a plastics manufacturer in Oakland to where their stolen starship was hidden in Golden Gate Park. But perhaps the best moment featured the crew’s doctor, Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy.
While onboard USS Enterprise, Chekov had been captured by a group of US Marines who were less than pleased to find a Russian on the ship (bear in mind, the Cold War was still five and a half years from its end). He managed to escape from them, only to take a tumble onto the pier below, causing a skull fracture, subdural hematoma on his brain, and massive bleeding throughout his body. Dr. McCoy, unwilling to leave a member of his crew in the hands of what he called primitive twentieth century medicine, insisted on going to the hospital to rescue Chekov and heal him himself.
Admiral Kirk and Dr. McCoy managed to get inside the hospital and retrieve Chekov, but while so doing, Dr. McCoy came across an older woman who was suffering from kidney failure. When she told him that she was preparing for dialysis, he muttered, “Dialysis? What is this, the Dark Ages?”, and gave her a lozenge out of his medical bag – a lozenge from some three hundred years in the future.
A few moments later, while the intrepid space explorers were making their escape from the hospital, we saw the same woman, clearly in better health, excitedly proclaiming, “The doctor gave me a pill and I grew a new kidney!”
If only it were that easy.
In our context, Dr. McCoy’s lozenge that caused that particular San Francisco dialysis patient to grow a new kidney would be thought of as impossible. In fact, in the movie, you can overhear a doctor referring to it as a “miracle”. The thing is, we don’t see much in the way of miracles. Sure, there’s things that we refer to as miracles, but they’re almost always based in science. Every so often, though, things occur that are completely inexplicable. We have no practical, earthly way of saying why they happened.
Those, however, are the exception, and not the rule.
It doesn’t seem like that was always the case.
Look throughout the Bible, and you will see miracle after miracle. From the seemingly impossible conception of Isaac in Genesis through Paul’s survival of being bitten by a venomous snake in Acts, there are numerous miracles within the narrative parts of our Scriptures. Now, admittedly, some of what the Bible views as miracles probably have perfectly rational twenty-first century scientific or medical explanations, but obviously such explanations were neither available nor reasonable to the people of the Bible, and so they viewed them strictly as acts of God.
And then there are the miracles in the Bible that we still can’t explain. Take, for instance, the woman in today’s passage who was healed by the touching of Jesus’ cloak. After bleeding continuously for years and years, and having had no luck with the medical experts of her time, she decided to take a leap of faith and touch Jesus, believing that just doing that would be enough to heal her.
Now, we have a better understanding of her ailment today. She likely suffered from hemophilia, a genetic disorder that prevents the blood from creating sufficient platelets to clot and stop a bleed. There are numerous modern ways of controlling hemophilia, but none of those existed in the time of Christ. So this woman, viewing as her last resort this rabbi about whom she had likely heard a great many things, snuck up behind him and touched his cloak.
BOOM. The bleeding stopped, just like that. Years of suffering terminated in an instant.
And Jesus knew, because He stopped too. “Who touched me?”
I can only imagine that that question put the fear of God – no pun intended – into a whole bunch of people around Jesus right at that moment. Some said that He was the Son of God, and that He had powers unbeknownst to human kind. All they knew was that He had worked many signs and wonders, and for Him to just stop, look at all the people around Him, and demand to know who had touched Him had to have been a little disconcerting.
Well, that was true for everybody except His disciples, at least. I have to say, it takes a whole lot of gumption to patronize Jesus, but that is EXACTLY what the disciples did at this point. “How can you say ‘Who touched me’ with this many people pressing in on you?” one of them asked. It’s like he was saying, “Hey, man, stop being stupid, it could’ve been anybody.” To Jesus.
When one of my friends does something like that, that’s the point at which I step back lest I be caught in the lightning strike. Jesus, however, didn’t smite the mouthy disciple, but rather just kept looking around to figure out who had touched Him.
You know how when a little kid has done something wrong, they try to hide at first, but sooner or later, they feel convicted, and they come forward – usually tearfully – to let you know that they did it? Well, that was the case here. The woman was, under Jewish ritual law, unclean because of her continuous bleeding. For her to have touched a Jewish man, and a rabbi at that, was unheard of. She could have gotten into some very serious trouble for doing it. However, she clearly felt that the right thing to do was to confess that she was the one who had touched Jesus, because she came to him – terrified, but she still came – and admitted the truth.
A lesser man probably would’ve been angry. A lesser man would’ve demanded punishment. But Jesus was not a lesser man. Jesus was God incarnate as man. And Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”
That’s some powerful stuff. Given the context, this man not holding it against this woman, this rabbi forgiving this unclean person, is astounding. Then to add to that that Jesus is basically telling her, “I didn’t do anything; it was the fact that you had such faith that has healed you” – well, that’s just on a whole different level. Here Jesus is, turning the societal norms of His time and place on their heads to empower this woman who has spent her entire life as an outcast. It’s some radical stuff indeed.
And that’s something else we don’t see a whole lot of these days.
It’s true, it would be hard today to justify the idea of faith physically healing a person. And perhaps it’s because our faith isn’t strong enough today. But in this day and age, it’s just not something that we really consider.
But what if, instead of healing us physically, we allowed our faith to heal us and perform those radical acts of empowerment and societal healing that we saw in Jesus’ empowerment of the sick woman?
Think about it. Think about the country we live in today. We live in a country where, when a male pastor commits infidelity, we blame the women who tempted him. We live in a country where, when a woman is raped, we say she was asking for it. We live in a country where our legislative leaders have decided that it’s more important to gain points with the obscenely rich who bankroll their elections than it is to actually guide our country.
We live in a country where people think it’s okay to openly make threats against the life of not just our President, but of his wife and his teenage daughters. We live in a country where people think it’s okay to openly discuss how many police officers they’d like to kill on any given day. We live in a country where people think it’s okay to defend the battle flag of a group of rebels that not only committed treason against their own country, but did so in the name of enslaving other human beings and perpetuating a racist system of oppression.
We live in a country where a young terrorist can walk into a church and murder nine people in the twisted, despicable name of so-called racial purity, and then a South Carolina legislator who served in the state assembly ALONGSIDE THE LATE PASTOR OF THAT VERY CHURCH will blame not the homicidal thug who perpetrated these acts, but instead the pastor and his flock, saying that they “waited their turn to be shot.”
Oh, and by the way, he then defended the aforementioned flag.
We live in a country where, in the recent words of a high school friend of mine, “so many believers [can] be so accepting and loving of Christians from other ‘camps’, while at the same time, those who aren’t accepting and loving are getting meaner and meaner about their opposing opinions.”
I’d say that we could use a little radical faith right about now. We have ignored so many of the teachings of Christ for so long, bleeding ourselves dry in the process, that right about now I fear that the best Christians in this country can do is drag themselves down the road to Christ and reach out to touch his cloak. Honestly, when Muslims in Phoenix, people who are routinely degraded by the country they are trying to call home, can invite a young man wearing a t-shirt casting a profanity against Mohammed into their mosque, show him hospitality and have a meaningful conversation with him, while meanwhile people who claim to follow Christ and enjoy the privilege of the majority religion in America turn around and cast aspersions on the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney for not allowing guns into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, that’s a pretty pathetic commentary on the spiritual health of Christians in America.
It is time, then, to let our faith rise to the surface once more – to allow our faith to be like that of a child. Certainly, a child’s faith exists in a very primary sort of naiveté, but at the same time, it is pure. The faith of a child looks up to Christ for answers and guidance. The faith of a child is not shaped by the whims of the world, but by the innocence of that child’s soul. The faith of a child is what believes in miracles.
We need a miracle right about now. And so maybe, just maybe, we need to let our faith be like that of a child. We need to reach out to Jesus, grasping for the hem of His garment, believing that if we are but able to touch Him, that perhaps, by our faith, we shall be made well.
That would be some kind of miracle.
As we come to this table, there is one more issue that I believe needs to be addressed, and that is the issue of the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision in this case has granted equal marriage rights to all persons, regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
I know that a great many people in this country cheered this decision, and I know that a great many people were disappointed by it. I also know that both camps are well represented in this congregation, and that right there is a significant part of why this table that we come to right now means so very much.
You see, when we come to this table, we do not come as conservatives, for this is not the conservatives’ table. When we come to this table, we do not come as liberals, for this is not the liberals’ table. No, when we come to this table, we come to it as followers of Christ, for this is Christ’s table, and in His unwavering and perfect love, He has invited each of us to His table.
Let us always remember that when Jesus Christ went to the cross, He did so to demonstrate His love for all of us. And so, as we come to this table, let us remember that whether we are supporters of gay and lesbian marriage rights, or instead hold a traditional view of marriage, we all have a common calling: to love one another, as Christ has first loved us.
Let us prepare ourselves to partake at this table, given to us in love, through the singing of “Break Thou the Bread of Life”, hymn 175, verses 1 and 3.