Year B; FB.Proper 8; 6.27.2021
One morning last week, I went to a local bakery to buy some cookies. I was wearing my clergy collar. Sometimes that means people look at me with familiarity. I like that. I stepped to the counter and the man who waited on me was familiar to me because we had interacted at this bakery before. He smiled and said, “You’re Kathy, right?” I loved that, too. He took a chance on calling me by name. I smiled and said, “No. I’m Carolyn and I’ve come to buy cookies.”
He filled my order and I said, “What is your name? I have forgotten.” He said, “Matt.” He pointed toward Pleasant Street and said, “Are you part of that church…?” I wasn’t sure what church he meant, but I said proudly, “I’m the pastor of St. Paul’s Church in the shadow of the stone St. John’s Church on Pleasant.”
He smiled broadly and said, “I know your church. I go to the morning meeting there every day. We are so grateful to be able to meet under the canopy now. Thank you. We are all so grateful.” I said, “We’re grateful too that you can meet again at St. Paul’s. I love being back in touch with Peter and Kent and those who are our contacts for Sunrise Serenity.” I nearly wept for joy at his smile and his expression of gratitude.
Sunrise Serenity is one of several 12-step groups that has met at St. Paul’s for years. I’ve always believed that 12-step communities promote deep healing, gratitude and even joy. The acknowledgement of “always being in recovery” for so many people in 12-step communities, reminds us all that there are broken places in our souls and bodies that sometimes stay broken, and that we need the power of God to move in us for healing.
We can count on God’s never-ending desire to bring every one of us to wholeness, the wholeness we were born with. That’s not the wholeness that the world sees. But the wholeness of a beautiful creature of God, perfect in God’s eyes and born into a world that is broken and in which bodily disease, death, addiction, war and corruption seem to reign.
But, as the second step in the Al-Anon book teaches us, in the un-manageable and broken presence of a loved one living in the grip of alcoholism, God’s power can be trusted for healing. Step Two says: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” That’s Power with a capital “P.” “Power greater than ourselves…”
We just heard the remarkable back-to-back healing stories of Jesus. First, we heard the story of the woman who had had a 12-year chronic bleeding problem. A terrible health risk that robbed her of her community, sanity and health. No, she wasn’t in the grip of addiction. But she was in the grip of a deep sickness that went beyond a simple cure. She not only wasn’t able to be healed of this bleed. She had impoverished herself trying to find cures from every corner of her life. She was desperate to put an end to her unexplainable physiological disease.
She risked a touch. Touching was against all purity laws for a bleeding woman. But she surely must have been out of her mind having to live like that. Instead of locking herself up, resigned to the illness, she reached out. I don’t know what compelled her to reach to Jesus. Did she witness his spirit of healing and love? Did she see a possibility of being restored to sanity? She said to herself, “If I can even touch his coat, that will be enough to heal me.”
“When she touched his coat, her bleeding stopped. She could feel in her body that she was healed.” Jesus said to her, “Dear woman, you are made well because you believed.”
Yes, I believe in miraculous healings. We pray for them for our loved ones. And yet they are rare and are mysteries that can’t be explained. I believe in her miracle. I believe in the power of Jesus to heal. But I don’t believe that Jesus is saying that “belief” is transactional. “If you believe, then you will be made well.” This we know isn’t the truth. God’s love, grace, mercy and healing are not transactional. There are free gifts to us from birth. And they are from a Power greater than ourselves.
Even Jairus, the desperate leader of the local synagogue looked to a Power greater than himself to heal his dying 12-year-old daughter. As Jesus traveled through town that day, Jairus, the influential leader pled with him to come and heal his daughter. During his pleading, he was notified that his daughter had died. I can just see the cast down spirit of Jairus’s body accepting this horrifying news.
But Jesus, determined to demonstrate the Power of God, went to Jairus’ home anyway. He invited his inner group of disciples into the daughter’s room and ignored the mockery of the mourners he was exposed to. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know you are tempted to angrily mock hope of any kind.
The mockers were grief-stricken and laughed scornfully at Jesus. “Jesus entered the house and said to the people, ‘Why are you crying and making so much noise? This child is not dead. She is only asleep.’ But they only laughed at Jesus.”
He then touched her. There is that touch again! “He took hold of the girl’s hand and said to her, ‘Talitha, koum!’ (Little girl I tell you to stand up.) Then she stood right up and began walking.”
I return again to the second Step in the Al Anon book, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” These gospel stories tell us that Jesus understood his mission as demonstrating the power he had from God – power to still a raging storm, power to heal the sick, power to cast out demons, power to raise the dead and power to restore us to sanity.
This power with a capital “P” IS greater than ourselves. It IS restorative. It comes from Jesus. It is our Higher Power. It gives us peace, healing, sanity, and a glimpse into the eternal love God has had for us all along.
One of the concluding verses of Daily Morning Prayer is from the Letter to the Ephesians. Our Lay Worship Leaders and I sometimes say it before we sign off our Facebook Live prayers. “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine…” In both gospel healings this morning, God’s power, working in a desperate bleeding woman and a darling dying little girl, did “…infinitely more than anyone could ask or imagine.”
Is it even possible to try to imagine this infinite power? Of course!
Jesus is here for us, powerfully and compassionately. This power is in the presence and touch of Jesus. We sing out in the hymn today, “Heal me, hands of Jesus, and search out all my pain; restore my hope, remove my fear, and bring me peace again.”
What would it be like to call out for Jesus’s restorative Power today?