A Time To Heal

“A Time to Heal”

Preached at Wolcott Congregational Church on 9/9/18.

Note, this sermon is the first of a four-part series about “Transitions”

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, Luke 8:43-48

Church, I have a confession to make.  I am a nerd. But not just any type of nerd: I am a word nerd.

When I was a kid, being sent to my room as a punishment was no good- I could just read and be in my happy place. One time, my sister and brother in law that I grew up with had to actually take the lamps out of my room and make me sit there in the dark. After that, they thought better of that strategy, and began to use other forms of discipline on me.

To this day, I probably listen to and read something like 75 books a year; many of them fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, but a fair number of weighty history and theology books as well.

Part of why I love reading so much is the chance to hear voices, words, and stories that are not my own.  Ones that call out to me through differences and the vastness of time and the boundaries of reality and fiction.

All of that is to say that there is a reason I chose the story of the bleeding woman as my first sermon here; to reinforce across the importance and power not only of our voices, but also our words, and our stories.

Our voices matter:

This story is one of my favorite healing stories in the Gospels; it’s one of the few stories that gives us a deep insight not just into the nature and personality of Jesus Christ and God, but also to the struggles and faith of a regular person and how they encountered Jesus Christ during his ministry.

This story gives voice to a person more like you or me than someone like one of the superstar disciples like Peter or John, who seems almost mythically faithful.  I also love that this story puts into the center not just any person, but a woman cast out by polite society, possibly homeless, made poor through a medical debt, and because she was considered religiously unclean by the same people who should have helped to take care of her, mostly abandoned.

The bleeding woman had been suffering for 12 years from what we today call a chronic illness. A chronic illness is not something like a cold, which affects us acutely, makes us feel bad for a while, and goes away, but a longer-term health problem.  These are diseases like Lupus, like HIV, like addiction, that people deal with for long bouts, sometimes even the rest of their lives. One of the most insidious parts about chronic illnesses is that they attack our souls as much as our bodies.

So imagine the courage, the leap of faith it must have taken, for this woman who had no money to spend, no place to go, to rush forward touch the hem of Christ’s garment.

Jesus, for his part, was walking along a busy street with his followers and friends, alongside the leader of the local synagogue, Jairus, a man of power and influence in the town, to help Jairus’ sick daughter. Jesus could have ignored her rushing to his next appointment, or had her punished, but does neither.  He stops and acts puzzled, but was the son of God truly puzzled? I don’t think so.

Here’s something that’ll put it in perspective.

Who here has a dog at home?

And who has ever come home to see trash on the floor, and has asked, “Who got into the trash?” When you darn well know who got into the garbage can.

But unlike us dog owner, Jesus is not trying to shame or guilt this woman.

No, Jesus is drawing her story of faith out, getting her to proclaim with her words, the truth that God knows and she needs to learn, that she is a person with a voice who has the same right as the leader of the synagogue to proclaim her faith. Jesus wants her to know that her words mattered.

Our words matter.

They matter for our children, and they matter as we age; for small children, having the right words means the difference between being able to tell your parents you want a toy and a temper tantrum. As we age and get more words, having words is often the difference between doing well in school or not, between finding meaningful relationships, or not, and between being able to make sense of the world around us, or not.

And Jesus knows this.  There’s a reason that the Gospel of John begins with calling Jesus the Word of God. Because words are important, because God did not think the world into being, God spoke the world into being with God’s words. The act of speech made it real. For this same reason, Jesus Christ wants us not to believe solely in our private hearts and thoughts, but to proclaim the gospel publicly with our words and speech.

But it was not only her words and speech that Christ desired her to proclaim. When Jesus Christ asked for the woman to come forward, she came forth while trembling, and declared her faith not through a formula of words or a right intellectual conception of God, but through her story.

Our stories matter.

She proclaimed to the crowd and to Jesus Christ the story of her struggle and desperation and fear, and yes, faith. She told her testimony, and that was enough.  And you know what Jesus did?  He didn’t interrupt her, he didn’t ignore her, he didn’t correct her.  No, Jesus listened to it fully her story without judgement, or commentary and accepted it.

His response to her was simple and short, but in doing so, he does something remarkable; he doesn’t try to overshadow her or make the encounter about the mighty power of Jesus, but instead integrates her story into his story. In saying “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Jesus makes her a symbolic member of his family, a radical move which confers a powerful social benefit to someone who was so recently considered ritually unclean.

But even more powerful than that is his farewell to her.  Although his blessing for her, to “Go in Peace”, was something of a set phrase, it also, taken literally, applies just as much.  The Greek word that is translated as Peace- eiréné (Iraynay), does not mean that she will be without conflict, rather that she will continue the process of being made whole. Just as touching the hem of his garment made her whole in body, so did the telling and listening of her story, make her soul whole. In addition, with the public social rehabilitation of this women that Jesus started, now could her relationships with her community be made right, moving away from pity, disdain, or apathy to empathy, reconciliation, and wholeness.

So yes, our voices matter, and our words matter, but most of all, our stories matter:

As your interim pastor for the next year to two, one of the things I will be doing is drawing out and listening to the stories of the church.  In listening to these stories, and helping you to put voice and words to them, together, we are going to learn about who the church is, who our neighbors are, and most importantly, who God is calling us to be in the future.

These stories, your stories, will help us to evaluate where we are and where we want to go, and what changes we need to make to have that happen.  These stories will be the foundation for the church profile that your committee writes which will help to match this church with the pastor who is called to lead it for a longer term.

These stories will be the way we begin to tenderly approach old wounds and begin to reconcile.  They will be the healing balm on broken relationships that we might have not have realized had even been broken.  These stories will guide us closer to Jesus Christ in not just as individuals, but as a church.

So over the next weeks and months especially, remember that your story matters.  Your story matters to me as your interim minister, because it will help us tell the story of this church.  Your story matters to me as your pastor, because you are a beloved child of God who I am called to serve, guide, and sometimes lead.  But most of all, your story matters to God, who is just waiting to draw you in, call you his child, and make your story his own.