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Sermon for June 28, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Text: Mark 5:25-34

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When all else fails, trust God for a miracle. On this rainy Sunday morning, you may have thought twice about coming to church. I know I did. Rare is the Sunday when I entertain for even a moment the thought that staying in bed under the covers, drinking an extra cup of coffee and reading the morning news would be heavenly. But I confess I thought about it this morning. It’s nasty out there. Millions of Americans at this very moment are no doubt doing just that.

         Then I remembered why we are here. Like emergency room workers, we quit the golf course, wipe the dirt from our garden pants, or lay down the New York Times and come to church because somebody is desperate to be here. What if the emergency room personnel all decided to skip their shift because at the moment THEY aren’t having a heart attack? We come and take turns giving each other Jesus. We make resuscitation available for the one who crawls through the door on hands and knees in need of it. We’ve all been there, desperate for the good news that God will bring us back to life, though not always in the way we expect it.

         Desperate times call for desperate measures. Eight years ago when our daughter-in-law- Amanda went into labor with our first grandchild, the day started early and had grown long by noon. Amanda had been in labor all night, and five of us took turns keeping her company, giving her comfort, wiping her brow. I was sitting on the floor in the corner praying and trying to stay out of the way while a team of nurses worked with her. Exchanging knowing glances, they finally hustled her off for an ultrasound, returning with the news that her excruciating pain was caused by the fact that this yet to be born child had wedged herself sideways with her head pressing down on a central nerve in the hip socket. Amanda, herself a nurse, knew then that this child could not slip sweetly into this world and the waiting hands of the midwife.

         Years ago, Amanda and our granddaughter would surely have died. It seemed to take forever, but finally the on-call surgeon showed up, wearing motorcycle leathers, helmet in hand. “Just give me a minute to change,” he said, “And we’ll get this little girl out of there.” Looking this kid up and down, I wasn’t sure I would trust him to change the oil in my car, let alone deliver my granddaughter. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There was nothing to be done but to trust.

         Today we read a desperate story from the Bible. A woman has been bleeding for twelve years from what my grandmother delicately called “woman troubles”. Even one hundred years ago, before modern gynecological surgery and hormone replacement therapy, little could be done to remedy many life-threatening illnesses. I shudder to think of the procedures this woman endured two thousand years ago. The story says simply: “she endured much under many physicians and spent all that she had, but only grew worse.

”It’s remarkable really that we even have this story of an unnamed woman in Mark’s gospel. In Jewish tradition, a bleeding woman was unclean and could not be touched - for twelve years. No man could have relations with her, there would have been no holding hands for dinner prayers. The hemorrhaging woman in today’s scripture was outcast, lonely, frightened, and desperate.

We understand how weary she must have been in her suffering. No doubt she sometimes lost hope that anything would ever change. She experienced daily loss in every part of her life. Sickness does that to us, even when we trust that all will be well. We know what it’s like to live with fear of loss:

We may fear the loss of control. Suddenly the body, rather than obeying us, has its own agenda and behaves any way it pleases. It's like driving a car on an icy highway. Suddenly our car hits an ice slick, and we are out of control. Hit the brakes, twist the steering wheel -- nothing helps. All we can do is hang on and wait for the crash. It is a sickening, helpless feeling.

This was the embarrassing condition of the woman. She "had been subject to bleeding for twelve years" (Mark 5:25). Her body was out of control.

We may fear the loss of identity. Sick people become defined by their illness. Isn't it interesting that the woman in the story is not called by name? Simply, "A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding." The same is true today. We speak of certain people and say "She has cancer," "He has AIDS," or "She suffers from manic depression." Sick people sometimes lose their identity in their sickness. One is no longer the person they were; they are the person, who has an illness, who is disfigured, who endures chronic pain, who is dying.

We may fear the loss of certainty. With a chronic illness everything becomes contingent upon the condition. Vacations are contingent upon the body. One will go to work if the sickness allows. Even getting up in the morning is stipulated by the sickness. What was once predictable is now provisional.

We may fear the loss of place in society. When sick, losses go beyond the body. Sickness often puts a strain on relationships, on jobs, on hobbies, on families. We worry that if we sit this one out, there may not be a place at the table for us when we return?

We may fear the loss of resources. The older woman in the story "had spent all she had" (Mark 5:26). She was financially bankrupt, emotionally spent, and physically weak. She reminds us that vast fortunes of time, energy, and money can be squandered in an effort to bring healing.

We may fear the loss of hope. Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this lady's life was that she had tried everything "yet instead of getting better she grew worse" (Mark 5:26). She was beyond human help and hope. She was at her wit's end. As a last resort, she comes to Jesus hoping against hope that He could heal her.

The unnamed woman came to Jesus looking for a miracle. Trusting in him, she found it and so can we.

The hemorrhaging woman was willing to try anything to bring healing to her body. No doubt this woman had heard about Jesus. A healer. Strangely, something awakens in her heart. Resolution gradually builds in her. I must find Him. I have to go to Him. He can heal me! She knew by Jewish law that it was forbidden for her to touch a man, yet she risked doing it on they sly. She didn’t dare walk up to him directly, so "She came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak" (Mark 5:27). Like a frightened, whipped puppy edging toward a bone, she wished to steal a blessing and remain anonymous. All she wanted to do is to touch His garment and depart.

         Jesus responds to trust with compassion. Turning to her he silently asks what she needs to live. As instantaneously as the woman touched Jesus, He sensed that healing power had gone out of Him. No one noticed her -- no one but Jesus. He turned around to see who had touched Him, who had just been healed and why. He asks aloud, "Who touched my clothes?" (Mark 5:30). He looks for her, but she does not wait to be found. She comes forward on her own and presents herself to Jesus. Jesus says to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering" (Mark 5:34). Jesus calls her daughter. She had been a daughter of death; now she is a daughter of life. In an instant, her body regains control, she is granted a new identity, she now has a certain future, she regains her place in society, she is restored to wholeness, and she discovers hope. In an instant, Jesus heals her sickness, eases her suffering, grants her freedom, and saves her soul.

         What have you got to lose? When we want to be made well, we spend desperate moments imagining what it would be like to live without something that we think is holding us back from life. We may want to get rid of depression, or fear, or a broken relationship. We may secretly be carrying around guilt or anxiety or shame. Our infirmity remains hidden. Though it is ever in our mind and we think everybody can see it just by looking at us, no one knows the depths of our silent suffering.

Sickness in the soul, like sickness or injury in the body is the Great Interrupter of life. It enters without knocking, thwarting all plans, mocking the idea of certainty, and diminishing hope for the future. It can intrude like a burglar in our home, touching every part of life.

Hear the good news of God in Christ for you and for me this day. When we turn to God in trust, God stops for us. God sees us. God heals us and restores us to the fullness of life when we trust in him.

         This requires risk on our part. Notice that the miraculous healing of this woman didn’t take place because Jesus walked through the crowd scanning for someone in need of healing. Like the motorcycle leathered emergency room doctor who showed up for our daughter-in-law, Jesus was on his way somewhere else when the bleeding woman stopped him. It’s not enough to throng Jesus. Though the healing we seek is miraculous, it isn’t magical. Showing up like spectators at a rock concert doesn’t heal us. We have to touch Jesus.

         How can I touch Christ? It is one thing for that woman long ago, but how can I touch Him today.

Suggestions for the Seeker

1. Give God a chance. Take your problem, what ever it may be, to Him in prayer. Tell Him about it. Hold nothing back. Dare to be honest.

2. Believe that God will hear you. Remember that He heard the woman who only touched the hem of His garment. Believe with all your faith that He cares what happens to you.

3. Be willing to wait patiently for the Lord. He does not answer every prayer on Sunday afternoon. You may have to wait until Friday. But wait. God will respond to your need.

4. When He speaks to you, do what He tells you. He may not tell you audibly. You may not hear His voice, you will not see writing on the sky, but generally through that still small voice or through the trusted counsel of faithful friends God will indicate a course of action. When He lets you know what you must do, do it.

The message of this miracle is that one woman, at the end of her rope, had the courage to step out of normal procedures to find healing and hope. More and more people in our country think that seeking Jesus is a form of quackery. We’re here this morning because we believe otherwise. We’ve experienced or witnessed miracles, God moments when in the midst of desperation God brought us back from death to life. That is the miracle of this story and the miracle of our life: that when we were dead, the God who raised Christ from death to life promises to do the same for us. She touched the Lord of the Universe. And He stopped for her.  Trust the Good News of God with us. He will stop for you, too.       Amen