Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites, because I can empathize with the woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. For most of my adult life, I suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome, which, among other things, involved the kind of hemorrhaging that this woman may have suffered from. For most of my adult life, I went to doctors in search of relief from my suffering, and the doctors were able to help relieve some of the symptoms I was having with medication, but since there was no cure, I was never completely healed and I never felt completely well. When I would ask the doctors if they could perform a hysterectomy, they would always say that I was too young and that I might want to have children someday. It was frustrating to me because I wanted that healing—I wanted to feel well so badly that I was becoming desperate—and I wished that I could sign an affidavit saying I wouldn’t sue the doctors if they did the hysterectomy and I changed my mind later. Finally, two years ago this week, a doctor listened to what I was telling her and performed the hysterectomy. And through that doctor, and through the caring and kindness and help of members of this congregation—and my mother!—God granted me the healing that I was so desperately searching for. Two years of freedom from that particular suffering, and I am still so very thankful for that healing!
Many of us long for that healing. I know that several of you are in that stage where you are desperate to feel well again, frustrated because the doctors, while doing their best, can only relieve symptoms or give a treatment for the disease that causes as much pain as it is supposed to relieve. We cry out to God, we plead with him, we ask him how much longer until the kingdom comes to fulfillment and we are all completely well and healed. And not only do we ask this in relation to our individual, physical illnesses, but we ask this in relation to our societal illnesses. How much longer, Lord, before each person is treated as beautiful not only in your eyes, but in ours as well? How much longer, Lord, before we stop killing one another because we fear the differences between us and the possibilities that we might have to change how we live? How much longer, Lord, until death and crying and pain will be no more? How much longer, Lord, until you will come and wipe every tear from our eyes?
Lest we focus exclusively on the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak, let us remember Jairus as well. Jairus knew this urgency. His daughter was ill to the point of death. His whole manner, when he comes to Jesus, is one of “Hurry, Jesus, please!” He had to be frustrated that the crowds were hindering Jesus from walking more quickly. He had to be even more upset when Jesus stopped to ask who touched him. Perhaps he was asking the same question as the disciples did, but adding silently to himself, “Oh, come on already! Would you stop asking stupid questions and hurry up?” As much as we are the hemorrhaging woman who was so desperate for healing, we are also Jairus: urging Jesus to hurry up, wondering why he delays for things that we consider to not be important, and impatient for the healing that only he can bring.
Into all of this mess Jesus speaks peace. Just as he tells the hemorrhaging woman to go in peace, and just as he tells Jairus not to be afraid, Jesus speaks peace to us. And not the superficial kind of peace that covers up arguments and keeps them under the surface until they erupt later. That kind of human peace is the kind that would remove all of the Confederate battle flags and then do nothing to address the issues surrounding racism that lie underneath of that powerful symbol. No, the kind of peace Jesus brings is one that all of our attempts at peace cannot match. The kind of peace that Jesus brings is a peace that brings us complete harmony with all of those around us, complete harmony with the creation. It is a peace that banishes all fear and helps us to extend the hand of welcome to all of those around us, as the nine people who died in Charleston extended that hand of welcome to the person who ended up shooting them.
How can we experience this peace and healing that only Jesus can bring? We can always begin with prayer. We often have this idea that it’s okay to pray for other people, but that somehow, it’s not okay to pray for ourselves and the needs that we have. The woman who was suffering from hemorrhages had no such reservations. She knew what her need was, and although she may have originally had a magical understanding of how Jesus heals—by only touching his cloak—Jesus transformed that understanding into a personal relationship. When the woman saw that Jesus wasn’t going to stop looking for her, she drew close and told him everything, and why she had touched his clothes. Jesus responded by calling her daughter—this nameless woman is now called daughter, child of God. When we come boldly to God with our own needs, as well as those of others, we make the claim that we are God’s children and that we want God to listen to us. While God may not always bring about healing in the way we think we need it, God will always call us his beloved daughters and sons, and God welcomes that personal relationship with each one of us. And being named as God’s children will bring us the peace and the wholeness that Jesus gives.
After beginning with prayer, we can open our eyes to the miracles that we see taking place around us in our daily lives. Miracles are not necessarily dramatic acts of healing, or other kinds of supernatural events. A couple of weeks ago, when we had the parables of the seeds, we heard Jesus telling us that the kingdom comes slowly and gradually, until finally we look up and we see that it has overtaken everything in its path, just as the mustard plant starts out as a small seed and then takes over the field. Let’s define a miracle as those small signs of the kingdom of God coming into our midst. One of those signs of the kingdom of God, a miracle, is the family members of the victims in Charleston forgiving the young man who shot them. Forgiveness doesn’t always come easily, but when it does come, when it is genuine, and when it comes so soon after such a horrible event, then that is a miracle, a sign of the kingdom of God. The peace that Jesus brings not only infused these nine people so much that they invited this stranger to Bible study with them, it also infused their family members so that they could offer forgiveness to the man who first sat with the group, and then shot them. The kingdom of God, and God’s peace, has come among us.
Besides prayer and besides looking for miracles, we can also work for reconciliation. Reconciliation is more than just saying “I’m sorry,” to one another, although it does include that. Reconciliation is more than just a touchy-feely, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” response to an argument. Reconciliation is working to understand the other person’s point of view, and it is working to help the other person in proactive ways. Reconciliation does not always mean that you will agree with the other person, but it does mean that you can work to see that the other person is treated as you would want to be treated. We still have much work to do as we reconcile with those who are different from us, those who, as minorities of various kinds, have experienced discrimination, disadvantage, and dis-ease in our society that those of us who are white cannot comprehend and have not always made an effort to understand. In our Gospel story today, the woman who was hemorrhaging had been considered “unclean” for much of her life, and would not have been able to have physical contact with others in her community, unless they were willing to become unclean by touching her. By getting her to admit what she had done and why she had done it, Jesus is reconciling her to her community; restoring her to full membership. Our call as Christians is to reconcile with those whom we have hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, and, with them, be restored to full communion, harmony, and peace with one another; to be a community.
Healing is not an easy thing, and, until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, we will not be completely healed. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should give up and stop seeking that healing. Through prayer, looking for the miracles that indicate the kingdom of God is among us, and through reconciliation, God can bring us a measure of that peace and that healing that we seek. And peace is not simply the absence of conflict. The peace that God brings through Jesus is that peace that means restoration: a restoration of community, a restoration of family, a restoration of living in harmony with one another and with God’s creation. And so healing may not always come in the way we think it will. Let us work with one another towards that healing peace, and let us pray that God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.