This sermon was preached at Asbury United Methodist Church in Livermore, CA on June 28, 2009. The lectionary texts I used in the sermon were Psalm 130 and Mark 5.21-43.[audio:http://www.pomomusings.com/wp-content/mp3/Grabbing-Jesus.mp3]
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…I’m not very good at waiting. I don’t know that the word “patient” is really the most accurate adjective that you could use to describe me. For those of you who are thinking to yourself, “Oooh, I think I’ll go and talk with Sarah about this…” – don’t get any ideas. I’ll just say…she would probably agree with this.
Waiting is just something that I’ve never been very good at – whether it’s waiting for the check at a busy restaurant, waiting for a package to arrive from FedEx or waiting on God – it’s just not something that comes very easily for me…so, when I read Psalm 130 and the passage from the Gospel of Mark – I figured these were probably the passages I needed to preach on – because they all deal with this theme of “waiting.” And both passages have very different perspectives when it comes to waiting.
The Psalmist begins with what seems to be a cry out of distress…“out of the depths…” The Psalmist cries out asking that God would hear the supplications and prayers being lifted before God…but while it begins in distress, there is a movement towards hope in this Psalm…while there are certainly Psalms of Lament – Psalms that speak of brokenness and despair…this Psalm moves toward Hope. We are told that is it GOD who will bring about redemption – that in God there is great forgiveness. The Psalm points to the redemption that God will bring to her people. As followers of Christ, we look toward the day of re-creation – when all things will be made new – when death will be defeated, when injustices will be wiped away…when faith, hope and love will rule over all of our insecurities and iniquities…we join in with the Psalmist and proclaim that our souls wait for this time…our souls wait for the Lord.
But we know it’s not easy to wait…and while we struggle with this waiting, we also know that this time of redemption, this time of re-creation is not here yet. We live in a world surrounded by injustices and death. Just this week three celebrities died: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. While the media wants us to focus on these celebrity deaths, we know that many others around the world have lost their lives to violence and injustice. We think of Neda Soltan – who has become an iconic symbol of the people of Iran – as they protest the recent election – and countless others have died in Iran, Thailand, Iraq, Palestine, Israel and around the world.
It is hard to live our lives “waiting” when we’d rather that God come down and redeem things now…when we’d rather God would bring about God’s kingdom sooner, rather than later. And yet…sometimes – for whatever the reasons – God asks that we wait…that we trust in God’s love and find our peace and hope in that trust and in the promises that God gives us all throughout scripture – like Psalm 130 – where the Psalmist offers us the hope that comes in waiting…
And then we have the passage from the Gospel of Mark – a passage that is really two passages sandwiched together. The story begins with Jesus by the lake – when Jairus – one of the leaders of the synagogue falls at his feet and begs him to heal his twelve-year-old daughter. Apparently she’s not well – and he has heard of Jesus’ reputation and believes Jesus can heal his daughter. So…Jesus goes with Jairus.
But immediately, we find ourselves in the midst of another story. While Jesus is following Jairus – a large crowd begins to surround him and we are introduced to an unnamed woman. The narrator of the story tells us that she been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 12 years. So for the entire life of Jairus’s daughter, this woman has been dealing with this health condition. Having gone from doctor to doctor…spending all of her money on treatments, experimental drugs and alternative therapies…nothing has worked. She continued to suffer. The word for “hemorrhages” is literally translated “flow of blood” and this is important to note. Because of the bleeding, she would most likely have been quarantined – or at the very least would have been viewed as one who was “unclean” – and her approach to Jesus would have been violating a taboo by even being out in public.
And yet she continues to approach him. After all, she has been waiting for 12 years…waiting for healing…waiting for redemption…waiting to become whole again. When I picture this woman – I picture her as someone who has tried to be patient…who has tried to “wait for the Lord…” – a woman who is at the end of her rope…standing on the edge of the cliff…and finally, she cannot wait any longer.
So she decides to do something about it.
And she grabs Jesus.
While the Psalmist encourages our souls to wait for the Lord – to trust and hope in God’s promises…the hemorrhaging woman cannot wait any longer. She has suffered pain, neglect, physical suffering, and the label of “outcast” long enough…and she believes that Jesus can do something about it…so she grabs for him. She knows that if she can even just grab ahold of his cloak – that will be good enough…that will bring healing and relief to her body.
Call it amazing faith…or perhaps utter desperation…but she does it. She grabs ahold of his cloak and immediately…she feels her body is healed. At that very moment, she knows that something miraculous has happened. While she may have wanted to silently sneak away after that…she is not the only one who has felt something…
Jesus turns around immediately and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples think it’s a ridiculous question – who touched his clothes? He’s in the middle of a crowd!? But the text tells us that Jesus felt that power had gone forth from him…and he wanted to speak with the woman…she knew she wasn’t going to be able to sneak out, and so she now comes and falls down before him, like Jairus, and tells him her story…
Interestingly, Jesus does not say, “See….you knew I had magic powers – and because you touched my magic cloak….you were healed!” Rather, he says “your faith has made you well…your faith has healed you.” While there was certainly *something* miraculous that happened in that moment…the woman played some part in it…her faith contributed to her salvation…
And then let’s not forget about Jairus…while the Psalmist encourages us to wait in the Lord, and while the unnamed bleeding woman could wait no longer and had to grab Jesus…poor Jairus is now FORCED to wait…and while Jesus is having a conversation with the woman – some people came from his house to let him know that his daughter is now dead.
Being forced to wait on God brought about the one thing he was trying to avoid….the death of his daughter. I can’t even imagine the frustration and defeat Jairus must have been feeling…after he had so much hope in Jesus’ ability to heal his daughter.
I feel like there may have been some who would have come up to Jairus and tried to remind him of what the prophet Isaiah said:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
While this is certainly true…and helpful to remember during times when we are waiting on God, I can’t imagine it would have brought him much comfort. Jesus picks up on the emotions and fear of Jairus and says to him, “Do not fear…only believe.” He says that he must continue on and persevere with the same strength of faith that brought him to Jesus at the very beginning of our story…that he must continue to have the same belief that Jesus only needed to come and lay hands on his daughter…and she would be made well.
And when Jesus arrives – he takes the little girl by her hand…tells her to get up…and she gets up and begins to walk about…she is given new life. Again – another miraculous event…but one that begins with the faith of her father…faith that leads to the salvation of his daughter…just like the faith of the outcast woman who Jesus then calls daughter when her faith makes her well.
So what do we do with these texts today? What do they say to us about waiting…? I think they can give us some helpful examples of how some people in scripture responded to the idea of waiting on the Lord…
How many times have we found ourselves like the Psalmist…crying out from the depths…asking God to hear our prayers…feeling desperate for God’s ears to turn to our supplications? Sometimes the needs may be urgent….sometimes the situations may seem insurmountable…and yet…there are times when we must allow our souls to wait on the Lord. There are times when we must place our trust and our hope in the Lord and in God’s word to us…
And then there are times when we are forced to wait…when we come before God, fall down before our Creator in anguish and earnestness and ask God to heal us…ask God to intervene in our lives and in our world. How many times have we watched the evening news…put down a newspaper or sat in front of our computer screen and just asked ourselves, “Why God? Why are these things HAPPENING in our world?” These are the times in which we fall before God and then…like Jairus…sometimes we are forced to wait. And then sometimes the situations get worse…and things seem even more out of our hands…out of control.
It is during these times that we must continue in steadfastness to place our hope and trust in the Lord….that we must hear Jesus speaking to each of us, saying, “Do not fear, only believe.”
“Do not fear, only believe.”
And so we wait…
But then…but then there are times when we cannot wait any longer. Times when we just get sick of waiting…when the injustices in our world are too great…times when we cannot bear to wait any longer…
12 years of bleeding.
12 years of waiting – and she could wait no more.
Can we really blame her for grabbing Jesus? Can we think that she would do anything else but reach out for Jesus in utter desperation?
Certainly there are times we must wait on the Lord…but there are also times when we must grab Jesus. Sometimes – when we see injustices both in our local communities and in our world – we must grab hold of Jesus…we must say that enough is enough, believe that Jesus can heal the injustices…and act on that belief. When we do this, we partner with God to bring about healing in the world…
I think it really is a grey area between waiting and grabbing Jesus…I don’t have any real clear sense of when we wait and when we take action – I think that’s up to each individual person and I think we have to be attentive to the way the Holy Spirit is working in our lives and seeing what directions she is pushing us in…
The catch is that even when we do stop waiting – and when we move towards radical action and move towards grabbing Jesus – we still need to listen to the Psalmist. Our hope must still be in God – knowing that in the end, it is God who will bring about complete restoration and redemption. We are certainly called to work with God to begin that process – and just as we saw with the bleeding woman and with Jairus – our faith and belief are key to what God is going to do in this world…but whether our souls are waiting in the Lord, or if we are earnestly reaching out and grabbing Jesus, our ultimate hope and trust must be in God, for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with God is great power to redeem.