June 27, 2021 “God Knows Us Good, God Loves Us Better”
“God Knows Us Good, God Loves Us Better”
“A powerful prayer is one that does not let go. It does not quit. It is profitable and powerful because it is persistent.” ~ Michael Catt
“Who is of so little faith that in times of disaster or heartbreak has not called to his God?” ~ Og Mandino
“Fight you battles through prayer, and win your battles through faith.” ~ Luffina Lourduraj
It was Maya Angelou that once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I have found this to be true. For as many times as we might shout the word “hot” to a toddler who is reaching for the wood stove, it only takes that one touch to make everything perfectly clear. Or, to be truer to what Ms. Angelou meant here, I like to think of the great writers and speakers of the world along with the great builders and makers of all sorts of things. But you know, if all their greatness never manages to touch us where it counts – in the heart – then they are forgotten the instant the next “great one” comes along.
These two stories or parables of healing are like that. I’ve seen them analyzed every which way. I’ve been told that I should be fascinated by the coincidence that the woman on the street had suffered 12 years with her hemorrhaging which was the exact same age as Jauirs’s daughter. But I’m not even curious. I’ve also heard all the commentary that the scholars could offer. Yes, I get it that Jesus might have really goofed up here. Allowing himself to be touched by an “unclean” woman on the street could have gotten him in a lot of trouble, according to Jewish law. And likewise, touching a dead person, in the case of Jairus’s daughter, was a crime of the highest order. I get all that; but the fact that Jesus defied the law doesn’t get me all excited. This is nothing new. My confession today is that this particular scripture has always touched me on a different level. The details and the time and place don’t much matter. There’s something else; something far more powerful than what seem at first glance to be nothing more than the healing powers of the Son of God and the Son of Man. I swear that every time that I read these stories: the story of the woman who risked it all simply to touch the hem of his garment, and Mark’s telling of the very sick daughter of a very important man – every time, it just warms my heart. And for the life of me, I can’t say why that is so, but it does. But they do.
You know, they say that it might be time for a pastor to move on when they run out of stories, so if I have told this one before, please forgive. I was 19 years old trying to go to college and support my guitar playing habit at the same time when I had an opportunity to rent a little house in North Mansfield, Ohio – an area the locals called “Little Kentucky.” But it was cheap and the neighbors were far enough away that they stayed out of our business. The place was clean enough – I didn’t expect much – and I was going through the closets and dresser drawers trying to figure out where to put my stuff, when I discovered a Stevens 12-ga shotgun in the closet. It was my lucky day! The barrel wasn’t full of rust and the action worked fine, but when I held it up and sighted down the barrel, it was like looking down the length of a banana. I can’t imagine how a barrel could be bent that badly, but there it was. I was disappointed, to say the least. It was then that I noticed a hand-written note on the dresser top. The paper was wrinkled like it had been folded numerous times. It was a poem, I suppose. Looking back now, it was most likely lyrics to a hymn, but the moment I read the title scrawled on the top of the page, I had to sit down and study upon it. I believe the words were from an old hymn by George Root which read:
“In faith she touched the hem of his garment,/ As to his side she stole.
Amid the crowd that gathered round him/ And straightway she was whole.
I’ve touched the hem of his garment/ And now I, too, am free;
His healing power this very hour/ Gives life and health to me.”
I read through it a few times, and as I did I couldn’t help but wonder about the woman who had left this behind. What were her struggles? What pained her? What limits of poverty or abuse or neglect or loneliness might have plagued her? Of course, I had no way of knowing and I was a little embarrassed at this sudden outpouring of empathy and compassion for someone I’d never met in my life. A big, tough guy like me shouldn’t be concerned with such things. But it got to me nonetheless. Like Ms. Angelou said, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” It was years later that I started to get a clue as to why these two stories grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t the selfless love of the Christ who healed. No, what burrowed into my soul was these two examples of faith. They were examples of faith that had no limits. It was faith so desperate and total and unashamed that all I knew – all I could feel – was that I wanted a faith like that. With a faith like that, healing happens; miracles happen.
So how do we go about doing such a thing? One of my favorite Lutherans, David Lose, shed some light on the subject. He writes, “…the only way to trust God’s great ‘I love you’ is to first hear God’s equally important ‘I know you.’ Because as long as we think we’re fooling someone – a loved one, a co-worker or neighbor, or God – we can never really trust that they accept us for who we really are.” There is nothing like the love of our God – nothing. It is unconditional and unlimited. God’s grace would be meaningless without a love like this. But just as God loves us without limits, he knows our hearts in the same way. There is no deep, dark corner that can be hidden from his sight. And as long as we think we are fooling those we love and those who love us, as Mr. Lose says, “we can never really trust that they accept us for who we really are.” In other words, as long as we’re holding back – as long as we’re hanging onto our old nasty habits, he will never really accept us for who we really are. God knows who we really are but until we are willing to open up and offer it up, we are only fooling ourselves. That is the beauty of our gospel message today. The woman on the street had only heard of this Jesus of Nazareth. But with a faith born of desperation, she held nothing back and risked it all, and she was healed. Likewise Jairus, who was an official at the temple, had every reason to be cautious, but he didn’t hold back. His faith was absolute, if only just for the moment when he feared for his daughter’s life. But look what happens with a faith that is absolute. Healing happens; miracles happen. I want a faith like that. I’m living into a faith like that. God knows us: all our faults and foibles, he knows them all. But thanks be to God that he loves us even more.
Amen & Shalom