Finding Your Power: Listening for Healing
March 31, 2019
Emmanuel Baptist Church; Rev Kathy Donley
Albany, New York
We don’t know her name, this woman who dares to approach Jesus. She is a woman in a male-dominated culture. She is a woman, marginalized because of her sex and also because of her disease, her disability. She is last and least in the social hierarchy and she knows it. Somehow she has heard of Jesus. Somehow she has made it to where Jesus is and she says to herself that if she can just touch the fringe of his robe, she will be well. For 12 years, she has been ill and increasingly alone and somehow on this day, she gets herself to the crowd and she starts to make her way to Jesus. “If I can just touch the fringe . . . If I can just put one finger on it for just a minute.”
She may have been afraid, but she found the gumption to get out of bed and get to Jesus. After 12 years of heartbreaking disappointment, she found the courage to let herself hope that it might just be different this time. And to believe, that she was worthy of being healed.
On Thursday night, I went to church. I don’t mean I came to this building. I mean I had a spiritual experience. If anyone was shadowing me on Thursday, they might have said I went to a concert. That was what it looked like. But it was a folk music concert. Folk is the music of my soul, so on Thursday night, I went to church.
It was Carrie Newcomer. If you’ve been here on a World Communion Sunday in the last few years, you’ve heard her song “Room at the Table”. One recent November Sunday, we listened to “Sanctuary”. And I have shared other songs of hers on occasion.
On Thursday, Carrie’s first song was “Lean in Toward the Light”. It made me think of Luke. Fifty years ago, Luke was barred from ordination because he is gay. That was a serious wounding in his life, but he refused to accept the message that it offered. He refused to believe he was not worthy, that his life and gifts did not matter. Instead, he started a ministry for people like himself whom the church had marginalized because of sexual orientation. For decades, he offered a place of hospitality, of truth-telling, of healing. Luke lives in California. We’ve never met in person, but we’ve exchanged lots of stories and questions and answers on-line. He encouraged me when I was a fledgling pastor. I thought of Luke, because I introduced him to Carrie’s music some years ago. Recently, he wrote to tell me about this new song “Lean in Toward the Light” and how much it meant to him. And then, probably because it was a Thursday and today’s sermon was not yet written, I heard the rest of the concert as if every song was about healing, which it kind of was.
When Mark’s story starts, the woman has been slowly losing her life. In the Hebrew way of thinking, life was in the blood. This woman has been bleeding for 12 years. Her life has been slowly draining out of her. She has been dying by degrees.
As human beings we are generally fearful of death. We fear it for ourselves and for those we love. The woman is afraid that her living death is going to be all there is. Sometimes we die by degrees in another way. We die a little when we keep silent when we should speak up. We die a little when we tell ourselves that it’s not a big deal, that it didn’t matter that much anyway, when it really did. We lose the abundance of life
Frogs are going extinct and polar bears are dying and that matters. Children in America think that lock-down drills are just part of going to school and that’s not OK. Three survivors of mass shootings have died by suicide this month. That matters. Border patrol is now containing hundreds of migrants under a bridge, behind razor wire, in El Paso. Have you seen that? It is not OK.
The woman touches Jesus and he knows it. He looks around for her and in front of everyone, she has to speak up, has to confess. She is afraid, even trembling, but Jesus stops everything for her. The whole truth. Maybe that means her plan to touch him and be cured. Maybe it means her story, about 12 years of suffering and loneliness. Whatever her whole truth is, it is important to her healing, because Jesus pays attention to her, treats her as someone worth his time. Telling our own truth can be part of our healing as well. Being able to name what has gone wrong, what has wounded us and the ways that we have failed to fix it, that’s important.
When the healing comes, Jesus says that her faith is the source . He doesn’t take credit for healing her himself. He doesn’t give God the credit. He says that her faith has made her well.
The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that the best interpretation of what the Bible means by faith is our word, "courage." Faith is not about the brain, it's not about knowledge, it's about the heart, it's about where passion lies in your life. "Where your treasure is, there is your heart." Where your heart is, there is your courage.
Carrie Newcomer’s songs have memorable, beautiful lyrics. It was not surprising to learn that she also writes poetry. This is one of her poems about everyday courage. It’s called “Singing in the Kitchen”
My mother sang with full abandon
With the kitchen radio
When she was washing dishes.
She liked the old songs,
And she’d swing her hips,
Sashaying as much as a woman can
When elbow-deep in soapy water.
I would sit on the hardwood steps
Filled with pride and wonderment,
Whispering into my dog’s ear,
With sage five-year-old assurance,
“My mother has the voice of an angel.”
As I recall, my dog agreed.
Standing side by side on Sunday morning,
I was horrified,
In the way only a teenager can be horrified
When her mother is singing
Loudly and confidently,
Completely and consistently
In front of her friends.
But now I understand
That my mother was a cautious soul,
Private and intentional,
And so I am grateful
That she taught me how to hold my little sister’s hand
And look both ways before I cross the street.
But I am also thankful
That either she did not know,
Or she did not care,
That her voice was not smooth or perfectly pitched.
She sang anyway,
Because some things just have to be
Exactly what they are,
And a song must be sung
One way or another.
Following Jesus takes heart, takes courage. Telling our truth, laying bare our deepest needs before God takes courage. Giving ourselves a real opportunity for something different takes courage. May we have the heart, the courage to be open to the healing and wholeness God has for us. “Take heart, be courageous,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world.” Amen.