I preached this on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at a service of a trial phase of a new worshiping community that is being developed.  This is based on Matthew 9:20-22. If you are interested in attending of our services, please let me know.

I did not grow up in a particularly religious household, and the church I went to was one of the few progressive congregations in the Midwest. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I went to college and experienced Real Conservative Christians—who were terrified of women in leadership and the existence of gay people and the utterance of the word justice. Not that I am complaining about it, but it is a stretch for me to understand the baggage many others have from readings like the one we heard tonight.

I am aware of how this reading, and how so much of the Bible has been used to do real damage to people, and continues to be used in this way. I have heard of how people have been told that if they had more faith, and maybe if you gave money to the church or the televangelist on your screen, you could be cured from cancer, could quit smoking, could “cure” physical disabilities, could stop addictive behavior, could solve financial problems, could leave gayness behind. Essentially anything that you wanted to get rid of and couldn’t you could blame squarely on yourself—because of your lack of faith. The hemorrhaging woman we sung about tonight had a lot of faith, it appears, and that faith cured her and so if we were a bit more like her we would solve our problems. Indeed I have seen this kind of theology up-close-and-personal as well, as I have attended denominational meetings and have heard this argument by ex-gays as they approached microphones for testimonial times holding babies and marching forward with their new opposite-gendered spouses, as they explained how their faith in Jesus Christ has brought them out of their sinful past and has healed them to be in line with the Lord.

And so, I wonder what you bring to the table, if you have been told that any part of you needs healing and that you haven’t succeeded in that because your faith isn’t strong enough or because you rejected Christianity. I guess the way I can relate is in thinking about my first job out of New York that I quit a year and a half into—and upon my quitting was told that I just “wasn’t cut out for it.” I was devastated. Did it mean I wasn’t smart enough? Didn’t work hard enough? In the end I realized that if I wasn’t cut out for that job I was glad, and that it was unfortunate that anyone was cut out for it—because that job was sucking my soul and my priorities and sense of self-worth. And so, if you don’t have enough “faith,” meaning non-thinking adherence to one particular group of people’s beliefs that are far too ingrained in judgmental, capitalist ideals, to change your gayness, or to reverse death-wrangling diseases, then so be it. You don’t want that kind of faith anyway. It is cheap. Faith is much more dynamic and complicated and fluid than that.

So, let us leave this kind of death-dealing, brain-checking, magical thinking “if I believe in Jesus Christ all my problems will be solved” kind of faith at the back door and explore alternatives to interpreting this reading by looking at the qualities of faith this woman has, that has somehow cured her from her extraordinary sickness. Let’s explore this nameless woman who had been suffering from twelve years, bleeding, hemorrhaging, possibly out every open orifice she had. For twelve whole years.

The first miracle of this text was that this woman was alive. When explaining this story to a non-church going person who had never heard of it before her first reaction was: she should be dead! No one can do that for 12 years! And me, having heard this too many times perhaps in my life, hadn’t even thought of that before. But she is right, no one can survive that long losing so much blood. What was she doing alive?

So, let’s think about 12 years of this, in comparison to one season of obnoxious colds and flus that don’t seem to go away, and think about what that must have been like. Over the past few months my girlfriend has been suffering from what seems like an endless cold. It gets better and then worse. It sets off all sorts of other physical ailments. Recently she expressed to someone that she just couldn’t wait to feel normal again.

This is just a few months of yuck and she is pretty over it. Yet I cannot imagine 12 years of hemorrhaging. 12 years of worrying. 12 years of more than frequent visits to the hospital, or the homeopath or the botanica, except that it would have been highly doubtful for her to have health insurance. 12 years of trying to understand what is wrong or even knowing what is wrong and never being able to fix it. And so I wonder how fearful she was, and how close to death how many times she came, and how lonely she must have been.

Because she was bleeding, according to the holiness codes she was ritually unclean and anything she touched had the possibility of becoming unclean, and so she was no doubt avoided. I doubt she had family, no girlfriend to bring her chicken soup and rub her feet. No best friend to brighten the day with a bunch of flowers. Imagine the loneliness. Perhaps the only comparison I can come up with are gay men dying in the 80s with the extraordinary fear swirling around them, with too little governmental support, too little company, too few doctors willing to touch them.

And so then I begin to think about what an amazing or stubborn, or amazingly stubborn woman she was, and wondering what it was that kept her living for so long, 12 whole years like this, what passion or person or faith in something was it that kept her from giving up. For we read that Jesus told the woman that her “faith made her well.” But we don’t get a description of what that faith is or where its allegiance belongs or where it came from. Simply, her “faith” made her well.

The interaction though, the physical boundary-crossing and touching that occurs I think gives us an insight into the qualities of her faith.

She approaches Jesus, for she was sure that touching his cloak, just the fringe of the coat even, would make her well. And in the touching, or in the desire, or in the belief in something, he turned and he saw her. He saw her. She was seen. How long had it been since she was seen, in that “I was seen” kind of way that you know what I am talking about. My friend Pat was going through a divorce a few years ago, and before a whole lot of people knew, she found herself in church and ran into a colleague, her friend Andrew. He looked her straight in the eyes and asked how she was. She said fine. He continued looking and asked what was wrong, was it something with Steve, he could tell something was wrong, she looked so tired. She hadn’t been seen, her truth hadn’t been seen in so long, she told me later, and how refreshing it was to have Andrew see her. He saw her, and in the seeing, her faith made her well.

So there was desire, and there was seeing. And right before there was touch. There was some kind of energy transfer that happened for a brief, small, stilted moment, he might not have even felt her hand on his cloak fringe but clearly something happened, for he turned around. I don’t think I can express how radical this was, the touching. She was bleeding, she had no business touching anyone and Jesus had no business not rebuking her. Did she know that he wouldn’t? Was that what she had faith in? In the touch, though, there was some energy transfer, electric moment. Faith here is some  interaction between desire and being seen and electric-energy touch. She touches him and for the first time in the larger story, Jesus speaks.

The other night I went to a concert of a group called the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Next week we will hear a song that they have resurrected for fiddle and percussion. Sitting in the audience I felt the healing power that only music can give. You know what I am talking about, right? When you feel transported, invited, where you have your own particular experience of magic independent of all the strangers gathered around you and yet you need each stranger gathered for the experience to ring true. To take the words of the song we sang today…we ask for our hearts to be opened when we enter into such a space and when they do, oh the breath, how it is taken away. We, I venture to say, are seen. We desire and our desires are seen and our heart opens…until that moment comes when we learn again to close it to protect ourselves from the world’s reality. Was it kind of like that when the woman touched his cloak?

There is something else that I find fascinating about this reading…and that is Jesus’ participation in the process of the woman’s healing. Jesus doesn’t approach her. “Jesus often receives credit for touching a hemorrhaging woman and for touching a dead girl’s body…The thing is, Jesus initiates neither contact. He practices the art of following.” Working Preacher.org

From this story we could intimate then that our healing comes at our own initiation, helped along, participated in by God, but that our faith comes in our seeking and our desire. Until we are ready, it is not time, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. And yet when we are ready, when our desire for our healing is too strong than we can bear on our own, we have Jesus who will come to us through a friend or through a sister or a stranger even and feel our fingers tentatively reaching out to him and he will turn and look us in the eyes and see us and we will be seen.

Most likely this woman was very, very alone, and very, very lonely only with her own thoughts and her body that wasn’t doing a superb job at keeping her alive. She can’t heal herself, or be healed without others. What she had been doing for so many years wasn’t cutting it, it wasn’t working in the slightest bit. And so in her desire, through her being seen, through her touch, through her reaching out she was healed.

And perhaps that leads us to what her faith was, a combination yes of desire, being seen, touching, reaching, the interaction and intermingling of these, but faith, the verb of faith I preached about 4 weeks ago, the trust and risk of faith I preached about 2 weeks ago, cannot be activated alone. We need community.

So, going back to the beginning, faith isn’t “Trust Jesus and your problems will be solved.” It isn’t “give your allegiance to Jesus and you will be healed.” It is getting in touch with your desire, your deepest desires, and your need for healing in order to realize them, and the process then of trusting yourself and others, and God even, to reflect back to you who you are and who you can be and to heal yourself as you explore them, as you reach out and are seen. We can’t do it alone. Lucky for us, we have each other.

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