Trinity 4 Sermon delivered at St John’s Lewisham Way on 27 June

Trinity 4 Gospel: Mark 5.21-end

Revd Jane Kustner

Let me start with a true story.  I am being driven home after a Deanery Synod where our speaker on supernatural healing has just stirred up a hornets’ nest of strongly held opinion. My driver said thoughtfully, “How can they say that God does not miraculously heal if they have never asked him to do so?”  What an excellent question!

During lock down many people have joined in online services.  Many of them do not normally come to church.  Now we could be cynical and say that it is just another piece of entertainment that I have found on the web and I have no real interest in God or church. Put it down to lockdown boredom.

You could say, it’s all very well these people joining in in an impersonal way without having to wear trousers, able to duck out at any moment without being noticed and not having to engage with anyone in the process. What happens when we come back to church; will these people join our normal congregation?  We say this with a level of humour and a touch of irony and maybe even a little anger.

But then we pause and reflect that the fastest growing churches are in Asia and Africa. The fastest growth of all is in Iran, where not only are there no buildings but also there is daily fear of persecution by male dominated culture. The disciples in Iran are predominantly women. One spokeswoman said: we are not converts, we are disciples and prepared for anything, even to die.

What many of these growing churches have in common is a belief in the miraculous.  Anybody  who has experienced a Korean mission to England will know what I mean. There is not just a belief but an expectation of miracles.

It is with this backdrop that I would like to explore the characters of our gospel drama.

What is happening in this story?  The crowd is a mixture of believers and hangers on.  People hung around at the Sermon on the Mount, in the Temple, in the Market square where Jesus was teaching – curious, bored, on their way somewhere and hearing something interesting, funny or provocative.  Some would be hungry for something, some may believe in his power to heal and cast out demons, some might just want to see a miracle in the flesh.

Many times I have lurked a respectable distance away from an evangelistic speaker in the shopping centre.  Wanting to listen but afraid of being targeted. I walk on looking busy or hide in the crowd.

Sometimes I join an internet encounter meeting on a Saturday, and when we start the actual business of encountering God, we turn off our videos and mute our voices. It is so tempting sometimes to do other things, drift off, write a shopping list, catch up with emails. Do not tell me that you have never done that!  We are so clever now that we can use a multiple Zoom license to multi-task meetings! How unproductive and actually rude is that?

The truth is that our expectations of encountering the risen, living, I am with you until the end of the age, whatever you ask in my name I will give you, Jesus, are sometimes so low that we are never disappointed.

Are you like me reminded of the time of Samuel as a little boy serving Eli in the temple:

1 Samuel 3.1Now the boy Samuel was attending to the service of the LORD under the supervision of Eli. The word of the LORD was rare and precious in those days; visions [that is, new revelations of divine truth] were not widespread.  (And I expect no miracles either).

Having said all of that let’s turn our attention to two very focused people who have nothing else on their mind but to make a connection with Jesus.

One is an unclean woman, the other is a leader of the synagogue.  Neither would want to draw attention to themselves normally.  She could be considered blasphemous and be stoned to death for violating the rules of ritual cleanliness. And bear in mind that Jesus is on his way with Jairus a leader of the synagogue when this woman touches him. He is right there and could have her arrested on the spot!

The man – a leader of the synagogue – might have wanted to avoid looking weak and needy.  Or worse, he also might be considered blasphemous, approaching one who is at least unpopular with the authorities, and will soon have the religious hierarchy out for his blood.

The woman dares to touch the cloak with poignant faith, hoping to remain anonymous.  ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’  The man is reaching out to the teacher whom he believes can and will heal is child – he wants to believe – Lord help my unbelief. ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 

The courage of these two people should not be underestimated. They are not bothered about rules, protocols, ritual, taboos, respectability or even death. They are driven by the belief that this holy man, this teacher can give them what they need, what they crave at that moment – a miracle of healing.  We are told that the woman has exhausted her own resources and both are desperate.

Now let’s turn our attention to the disciples who are acting as bodyguards, protecting Jesus from those who would get close to him, making it hard for people to encounter him. Yet again the disciples misunderstand what Jesus is about: but be fair, would we have been wiser and more reckless if we were them?

30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’  31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”

Jesus heals her.

He gets to the house of Jairus: Mark 5.39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 

40And they laughed at him.

So in two cases Jesus is questioned, and even laughed at. Jesus is ridiculed.

Jesus heals the child.

Now with this gospel backdrop let’s look at what is happening in our world at the moment.

The question is How do we know that miracles of healing do not happen if we do not pray? Why is the Church with a capital letter not more focused on God during our current pandemic?

May I share with you the other reading today from the Wisdom of Solomon.

Wisdom 1  13 because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
14 For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
15 For righteousness is immortal.

23 for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,

Now do not get me wrong, I am not speaking simplistically here about if you pray with faith you will get well. You and I know that God does not work in a black and white and yes and no way, but by weaving a complex pattern of healing and maturity through our prayers.

The more important question is: why is the Church not calling people to prayer as loudly and passionately as we are calling people to be vaccinated?  Are we afraid of ridicule? Afraid of sounding crazy? Afraid of being laughed at?  Is our modern church too sophisticated to get on our knees and reach out to the healing cloak of Christ?

What I am saying is where is our focus?  Who do we think God is?  Where are we putting our faith and trust? 

Psalm 14.1The [spiritually ignorant] fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Or at least not a God who can do anything helpful; a God of no power.

While the world is busy opening sporting events, concerts, public houses and idolising football, the churches are suffering unbearable restrictions in their worship. I know that football supporters are hugging, and singing in the pubs while they watcha match on the big screen. I know because I hear them 100 yards away!

Why are 20k people not meeting at Wembley to raise their hands in worship and prayer for the end of this pandemic? Why are we not praying with the same fervour as there will be for the Euros Final at 8pm on Sunday 11 July?

The trouble is we say little prayers, with little expectation.

This verse has haunted me throughout the last 18 months: 2 Chronicle 7.14 (and) if My people, who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and pray and seek (crave, require as a necessity) My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [them] from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.

I will heal their land.

How do we know that God does not answer prayers of healing with a miracle if we do not ask him?

(Bible verses from New Revised Standard and Amplified Bible.)