Monday, March 23, 2009

Press on! Press Through!

One of the things that scholars do when they read the Bible is ask questions. Many of the questions address the societal rules of Biblical times. This is an important thing to consider when we read, as it helps us better appreciate the impact of passages and how radical Jesus was and why the leadership reacted against him so strongly.

Some of these rules and certainly the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry runs through the passage I’ve selected for tonight. In biblical times women did not go pressing though crowds. Actually women did not gather in the same space as men and they certainly did not touch men particularly rabbis.
And if their “issue of blood” meant they were menstruating, then they certainly weren’t out because this meant they were unclean and they were to be removed from the group until they had a ritual cleansing and waited seven days after that.

Tonight’s passage generates a lot of questions and discussion much of which fascinates me. Some questions that jump immediately to mind are: was she unclean; had she been ostracized all those years; and the question I’d like to add to the mix is why does Jesus only feel her touch and no one elses? He was in a crowds after all. Can’t we think that others had illnesses, pains and disease?
The discussions also consider: what the bleeding was; why she couldn’t be cured; did the doctors con her or were they just baffled. All three gospels tell this story – they are parallel passages. Luke’s account seems kinder to the doctors and Matthew’s is sketchy on the details.

I am also fascinated by the challenge that women commentators add to the discussion. One important question they ask is: why have we made the assumption that the bleeding was menstrual ? Mark says the illness made her bleed. The others say she hemorrhaged. Women can’t bleed elsewhere? From the nose perhaps? Of course, if she were bleeding from nose or some other place, then all the discussion about purity codes, being considered unclean, marginalized and ostracized won’t fit. But I ask you if she wasn’t unclean and hadn’t been ostracized does this make her decision to press through the crowd less bold? Less dramatic?
The gospels tell us that the bleeding stopped when she touched Jesus and many of us focus on this healing... tonight though I want to point out that Jesus squarely places the focus on her faith.
Jesus’ acknowledgement of The woman’s faith in pressing through the crowd to touch his garment resembles very much when Jesus acknowledges the faith of the friends who pressed through to bring the paralytic to Jesus in earlier in Mark[1]. In both stories it was the faith, the pressing through that Jesus recognized and acknowledged, the healing was almost an afterthought.

I stop here to tell you what I am not saying. I am not saying that more faith equals more healing or even that faith is what will get you healed. And I am also not saying that less faith equals no healing either. What I am saying is that in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible what I see Jesus emphasizing is the faith and not so much what happens because of it.
Possibly then and certainly now, we humans want answers. We want to believe and receive. We want to decide how things should go and we want things clear and neat.
But life is not like this. We all know of wicked people living good lives and of good people living difficult lives and every combination in between.
Much like this woman we have torments and trials. We each have hearts with unaddressed desires. We also have waited. We also have paid and we also have prayed without ceasing only to look up and see another day pass without what we request.
Yet throughout the Bible we have evidence that we do not always receive our answers when we would like and in the manner we would like. I can say with some certainty that Abraham was likely more than a little puzzled as the years passed and he and Sarah still did not have an heir. The Bible tells us that the Israelites had been crying out for decades, before Moses was sent to lead them out of Egypt.
But truly we don’t even have to look back that far because many of us right here and right now have long histories of suffering from which we seek relief. Each of us I believe has something we want and need to be different, better, relieved, fixed, acknowledged, improved, healed.
We focus on the relief, the healing because that is what we need and that is what we want. Certainly,.we do. I do. But to me in this passage and others the focus is faith.

The focus is faith when we read in Hebrews chapter eleven about the great cloud of witnesses who are commended for their faith but did not receive in their lifetime what was promised.[2]
The focus is faith when we consider that in the 1800s Jarena Lee, the first African American female preacher in the AME church, walked 28 thousand miles to preach between Cape May and Canada. She was beaten and ignored... but pressed on.
The focus is faith when, even though Fannie Lou Hamer[3] was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” ...she pressed on.
The focus is faith when despite being in the midst of extreme poverty and plagued with her own questions and doubts Mother Teresa... pressed on.
The focus is faith when Coretta Scott King after the assassination of her husband... pressed on.
The focus is faith when any of us in the midst our struggles, presses on.

I do not know why so many suffer. I don’t know why any of us suffer. This will be one of the questions on my list to present to God when we meet. What I do know, what I have experienced, what is evident to me in the text and in a life lived long enough to look back, is that Jesus honors our faith however small. I believe there is a God. One who has revealed through Jesus. Some days like some of you my faith is large and some days like some of you it is just enough to press on. But this I know. This I believe. Jesus loves us.
I’m going to sum up what I’ve said by changing the words to a children’s Sunday School Song. And no I’m not singing it.

Jesus loves you this I know
Because my life has showed me so
Jesus loves you I cannot say
Why all suffering does not go away
Jesus loves this is true
Your faith is honored press on, press through!


[1] Mark 2:5
[2] Hebrews 11:39-40 “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
[3] American voting rights activist and civil rights leader

Preached - 6PM March 22, 2009 Broad Street Ministry, Philadelphia, PA
Sermonic Text: Mark 5: 25-34

Friday, March 6, 2009

YAY!!! It's March!

I'm really glad it's March. Yes I'm glad for all the obvious reasons --winter is almost over; spring is around the corner; Repeat's birthday is in two weeks is mine for that matter--these are all good reasons for me to be joyful that it is now the month of March. However, I have another reason to be glad it's March. ...I'm glad it's March because it means I've survived February! Whew!!! every year February is truly a mine field. a danger zone. the longest most hateful month of my life to that point. February taunts me. Eighty percent of the traumatic events of my life occurred in February (or some high percentage... do we really keep track!?)

I remember some years ago mentioning this to a friend of mine who was deep, deep, deep into astrology. She told me that 45-60 days before your birthday is an extremely tumultuous time....from the womb forward. In the womb she stated, the most growth and change is happening during those days and this growth-change cycle is repeated in our lives. Makes sense I suppose.

This year I kinda forgot about all this. In January I cautioned myself and then February hit. I was consumed with dissatisfaction. I complained and screamed out. Every morning (and I do mean every morning) I had to talk myself out of quitting my job. Seriously? What intelligent self respecting, don't-have-a-rich-uncle or a sugar daddy woman would do such a thing?! Yet there I was daily praying myself out of being stupid!

Now don't get me wrong. I do need to find another job. One that is fulfilling and meaningful and uses my skills and education. But I do not need to leave the one job I have before I find this meaningful, soul-stirring other job!

Even as the days and weeks marched toward March, I worried about being depressed. What was wrong with me? I promised myself that if it didn't stop soon I'd make an appointment with a counselor of some sort. Until then, I fell asleep each night promising myself to be more positive, to get through the next day without burdening family and friends with my anguish.

Sunday ( March 1st) I woke up and I felt better. Weird because I felt a LOT better! I made it through two conversations without maligning my job. (let's not completely overlook the fact that my daughter and a friend found two jobs that might be great for me!)
I'm happier. Monday I took a SNOW DAY!!! and got so much done I was a little scared of myself! The sun is higher in the sky ...the days are longer ( don''t forget to SPRING forward on Sunday March 8th), the forever lasting month of February is over!

I'm sure some of you may be thinking that I am possibly a victim of Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) ...possibly...but for now I am pass the Season of February and I am sooooooooooo glad!