A house of cedar

The readings for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost include David’s desire to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant; the glorious description of the household God is building on the cornerstone of Christ in the letter to the Ephesians; and Jesus’ short-lived attempt to escape the crowds for a quick retreat with his disciples

Nathan the prophet got a little carried away in his initial endorsement of David’s half-spoken thought to build a temple. The next morning, he was forced to walk it back. That happens sometimes when we try to speak or act on behalf of God without asking first; without praying first … but I do not hear anger in God’s redirection of Nathan, and of David. This does not read to me as a rebuke, but as a reminder of God’s tenderness, God’s faithfulness, God’s generosity.

“Wherever you have gone,” God says, “I have gone with you. Whatever trials you have faced, I have faced beside you. Whatever dangers befell you, I stood before you. What makes you think that in order to keep me by your side, you have to build me a cedar box, store me like cloth in mothballs? No: it is I who would build you a house. It is I who sustains you. I am your Father. I am your Mother. I am your God.”

Do you remember the story from the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve found out that they were naked, and they tried to make clothes out of fig leaves, and to hide themselves from God in the cool of the evening? And God’s own self made for them clothing out of animal hides; which was such a sacrifice from one who had only just called those animals to life. God’s mercy, God’s tenderness, God’s faithfulness to the people whom God has called to be God’s children is almost beyond belief.

“Wherever you have gone,” God says, “I have gone with you. Whatever trials you have faced, I have faced beside you. Whatever dangers befell you, I stood before you. I am your Mother. I am your Father. I am your God.”

At this afternoon’s community meal, we will hand out invitations to next month’s 90th anniversary picnic and celebration. In the next couple of weeks, we are going to be asking you to distribute some door-to-door, if you are willing and able, to let our neighbours know that this house is open to them, that after 90 years in the neighbourhood, we are pretty committed to loving them as ourselves. We are pretty determined to share the love of God that we have encountered, which redeems and sustains and informs our life together. We have good news to share, and we shouldn’t, we can’t keep it to ourselves.

Ninety years ago, a group of people gathered in Euclid and decided to build a church. The bishop said, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” Fortunately, they had all prayed first. And of course, they knew that the church is not a cedar box in which to mothball God, only to be taken out on Sundays and special occasions, or worn as an amulet in case of emergency. This church does not need any walking back. Many of you know better than I the trials we have faced, that God has faced beside us; the dangers that befell, when God stood before us. Wherever we are, God is with us. This church does not need walking back. We do need to pay attention to God’s leading questions and sharp-elbowed nudges and tender whispers of encouragement about where we are called to follow Christ next.

Who is seeking Christ? Who is rushing ahead to find a good word? Who is desperate for good news? Who are the ones like sheep without a shepherd? Who needs healing, restoring, sustaining? Who needs grace, mercy, the love of God, the tenderness of a God who would sew clothes for sinners, and build a house for the over-emboldened king, only to show that God’s love is inexhaustible, and indescribable?

Who are we called to be a church for, a haven for, a crucible for in these days? We are not a cedar box for God, but God has built us into a house where the seeker can find solace in the Sacrament, and the weary can find good news to rest in for a while, and the eager can find work to do to further the reign of God recognized among us.

Of course, there is so much still to do; so many needs to address. Some of it is personal: the need for healing, for forgiveness, for strength, for a respite from sorrow, for solidarity in joy. We need a place to hear God say, “Whatever trials you face, I face beside you. Whatever dangers befall you, I stand before you. I am with you. I am your God.”

Some of the needs are societal. We are still, millennia after David’s era and nearly a century in the city, we are still struggling to place love before the law; to set mercy at a higher value than material, to prefer justice to judgement. Millennia after Hannah and Mary sang the Magnificat, with decades of prayer ringing in our own ears, we still require a revolution of kindness, of hospitality, that keeps families together for the sake of love rather than sacrificing them to our own divisions; a revolution of gentleness, which prefers to lay down weapons of war for the sake of peace on the streets. We need a revolution of dignity, to live without prejudice. We need a revolution of truth, to live and pray and love without deceit.

Those for whom God would build a house: these are our neighbours to love, and to serve, and to live with.

There are agenda items involved: like continuing to increase access to our building and its benefits to all sorts and conditions of people; like opening up our restrooms to all kinds and expressions and abilities and identities of bodies in need of relief. Next month, at our picnic, we will install a bench outside by the bus stop, inviting all who are weary to find rest, to be still for a moment, and know that God, God is with you. God has not left you behind, nor have you outrun mercy.

There are agenda items; and there are life goals, living into that glorious vision of the household of God which is described in the letter to the Ephesians, in which

you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone, [through whom] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:19-22);

letting the Spirit move among us and between us, in our families, between strangers, among one another.

Some of the needs appear almost eternal. The knowledge of good and evil informs our engagement with the world that God has given us to tend.

Some of the needs are the same ninety years on as ninety years ago, which could be disheartening. Others present in new and interesting ways. If we can’t quite keep up with it all, God tells David that there will be a whole new generation coming up behind him to complete the work he has not yet even begun.

There is freedom in that, not to having to save the whole world, or even ourselves, all at once (which is, after all, God’s prerogative, not ours). It also takes some humility, to accept that we have our limitations, that there is only so much we can do, in ninety years, or ninety more.

Most of all, we need to set God free to be the God that we need, rather than the God in a box that we too often want. That takes prayer, waiting sometimes even in the wilderness, in the desert places, rather than rushing ahead with our own plans, only to have to walk them back. We will find those whom God sends to meet us there, in prayer, in the wilderness, to share God’s healing mercies. Through it all, we remember that we are not kings by right, sovereigns of our own souls, but totally and utterly dependent on the providence of God. We do our own work, knowing that everything we have, everything we do, everything we are comes only from our Creator.

“Wherever you have gone,” God says, “I have gone with you. Whatever trials you have faced, I have faced beside you. Whatever dangers befall you, I will stand before you. What makes you think that in order to keep me by your side, you have to build me a cedar box, store me like cloth in mothballs? No: it is I who would build you a house. It is I who will clothe you with grace, with mercy, with righteousness. I love you. I am your God.”

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Swimming in prayer

my might is little;
my limbs weary quickly;
I am a child by the tides of eternity.

the womb of God is wide
with the fluid of life.
I will not drown

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Why pray

This morning’s Speaking to the Soul offering at the Episcopal Café


Does God need our prayers?
It is foolishness to Greeks, with their ideal sufficiency.
It is a stumbling block to our proud humility, and yet
isn’t it the nature of Love to desire some response,
some relationship, if only with a memory, if only
in another life?

Lord, you are in the midst of us, and we are called
by your Name.*
And if it is true that we learned this love from you,
what longing must abide in the heart of God?
How can we turn away, when love pursues us
with such glorious desire?

What is the point of prayer, if God has no need of it?
What its possibility, unless God desire us into speaking?


* From Jeremiah 14:9; Daily Devotion At the Close of Day, BCP 140

“The trouble with being a god is that you’ve got no one to pray to.” Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

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If compassion were king

The readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B include the story of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod

There’s a whole lot that could be said about King Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who left little greatness in his own wake. The little that we see of him in the gospels is instructive enough. He was the king, dancing in the footsteps of David; but at certain crucial points in his reign, he cared more for his own glory than for the glory of God, and followed popularity and privilege more closely than the prophets.

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The ruins of Herod’s palace, where John was imprisoned and beheaded

Herod loved to listen to John. Later, he was pumped to meet Jesus. He enjoyed spiritual celebrities; he wanted their glitter to garnish his reputation; he hoped that their righteousness might rub off on him and polish up his halo. Herod had the faith of his fathers (more of that in a moment), and he hoped for the best; but he failed the test of justice, and of love. He also failed to learn his lesson even from the regrettable death of John, because not too long after killing him, he sent Jesus back to Pilate to suffer a similar fate.

Herod, simply put, was selfish. He suffered, whether out of insecurity or over-confidence, from the obsessive adoration of himself. Perhaps he got it from his father, his father Herod the so-called Great, who massacred the children of Bethlehem in order to eliminate competition from the child of God. Herod, this Herod, Herod Antipas would rather cage and kill an innocent man than lose face before his fine guests. He saw and feared for the divine image only in himself. He made himself the idol of his own imagination.

Such selfishness binds people to ourselves, curbs our capacity for compassion, turns our hearts sour and makes our spirits bitter. Selfishness shocks the loving conscience. It is something to which we are all susceptible, as individuals, as families, as nations. But we know better. We know a better way.

As you know, I had the opportunity last weekend to travel to Texas to join in part of the General Convention of our Episcopal Church. It was quite the experience. There is something about gathering a few thousand Episcopalians into one tight city centre that changes the very air. And there is something about being packed into a revival service, preached by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, that makes the spirit soar, like the pigeon haunting the House of Deputies, sometimes suspected to be the Holy Spirit in disguise.

The opposite of love, Bishop Curry told us in his revival sermon last Saturday night; the opposite of love is not hate, which has its own passion. The opposite of love, he said, is selfishness.

Love is not selfish. Love reaches out from its centre, spreads its wings, puts forth branches, shelters the little ones in its arms, bears fruit to feed the masses, breaks open the cages that imprison us in a mess of our own making. Love looks a lot like Jesus, come to think of it. Or Jesus looks a lot like love.

And here’s why I need to tell you, not about Saturday night, but about last Sunday. I need to convey to you the love and the compassion that I encountered, that I witnessed, because it broke my heart, and it brought me to my knees.

IMG_1948You know the events that I attended. Some of you have already watched the videos on Facebook. We began, with a whole bunch of bishops, praying, and listening to the family of Carmen Schentrup, killed on Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, at her high school in Parkland, Florida. Carmen’s father and mother stood on stage in a small park in front of a large crowd, with Carmen’s siblings fidgeting beside them, and out of their grief, and out of their love, they wrung life.

It’s a scant five months since Carmen was murdered. Her father, Philip, described how in the earliest days he couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t talk; yet here he was, so early, so soon, on the stage in front of us, telling us that, whatever well-meaning people might say, it was not in God’s plan for Carmen to die that day. It is never God’s plan for murder to steal the life, the love, from a family. It was not part of God’s plan for Herod to murder John, it was not part of God’s plan for that young man to murder Carmen; God cries out from the heavens when such things happen. They are not part of God’s plan.

Selfishness, the selfishness of men, and women, whose lust for sex or power or celebrity or security blind them to the humanity, the image of divinity within those set before them, the selfishness that separates them from their own humanity; such selfishness has no place in the heart of God, who gave Godself freely, indiscriminately, in creation, in the Incarnation, whose selfless love, whose self-giving love is our salvation.

After the service in the park, we headed by bus out to a detention centre run by a for-profit prison company for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE. It houses over 500 women each day, most of whom are asylum seekers. About forty of the women are known to have been separated from their children at the border. As of last weekend, they had not seen their children since.

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What they did see, last Sunday, was about 1,000 Episcopalians descending from buses with songs, prayers, and signs, to let these women know that they were not alone, that they were not forgotten, that they are loved.

Compassion is the quality that allows us to enter into the prison of another person’s suffering. If Herod had practiced compassion, he would have seen the trap he had set for himself, pretending to know better than John, than Jesus. Compassion lets us see reflected in a mother’s tears the cycle of gun violence in which we are caught up, irresistibly, unless we choose resistance. Compassion lets us switch places with those women waving at the windows, to see the systems of alienation in which we have imprisoned ourselves.

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Compassion. There was a moment, in the middle of that very hot field under the Texas midday sun, listening to the prayers and the love poured out, melting; there was a moment when I chanced to look up at the tall man standing next to me, and he was Philip Schentrup, Carmen’s father, and he was looking at his surviving children, and his wife, and they were standing under the hot Texas sun, praying and bearing witness to these women whom they had never met, would most likely never meet. That was the moment when I realized how much was being asked of us as disciples of Christ.

Because if I were in their sandals, I do not think I would have made it. If I had suffered as they have suffered, and if I had somehow managed to muster up the courage to address our crowd that morning, by now, I would have been curled up in a dark and cool hotel room, hiding from the world.

The only reason I can think of for that family to be on that field was that their faith is a fuel that never runs dry, and that compassion, Christ-like compassion has courage beyond imagination, the courage even to face the cross; and that love, real love, the kind of love that we mean when we say that God is love; the kind of love with which we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves; that love makes all things possible.

Thoughts and prayers are easy to say and to send up, but love, love in action: that breaks down barriers, wrecks the walls that we selfishly set up between us. Love breaks hearts, and love lets the healing begin.

That’s kind of what April Schentrup told us back in the park; that with God, and with one another, together, even in the face of all that has beset us; when selfishness and the self-interest, the fear and trembling that it breeds is set aside; when love takes action, when compassion is king, all kinds of good news is possible.

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And never think that there is nothing to be done. Never imagine that your smallest gesture of compassion, your insufficient word of kindness, your little piece of love in action is wasted.

We got a message back Sunday night from the local grassroots advocacy group that helped set up our service outside the perimeter fence of the prison facility. One of the women inside had called them after we’d gone, to tell them that they had stayed at the windows, watching us, until the last bus was driven out of sight.

Love matters. Love makes a difference. Faith and hope are lost without love. But with love; the kind of love that we mean when we say that God is love; the kind with which we are called to love God and our neighbour as ourselves; through the compassion of Christ and the love of God, all things will be made new, and the world will change, will turn from the inside out, as God intended.

Amen.


Experience PB Curry’s Revival Sermon here
Watch April Schentrup’s address to the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Public Witness here; Philip Schentrup is here
Listen to Presiding Bishop Curry recite the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty outside T Don Hutto detention center here

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Outside the lines, by Mihee Kim-Kort

I received my advance review copy of Outside the lines: how embracing queerness will transform your faith, by Mihee Kim-Kort, from Fortress Press about a month before its recent release date. And I read it. … Since then, I’ve been trying to work out how to describe the book. This is a good thing. It means it’s given me plenty of food for thought.

I mean, it all makes perfect sense to someone who does not come out of a particularly conservative faith background (or whose views of Christianity have not been formed by a popular but skewed picture of church people as prudes). But there are still some “aha” moments, as by defining inclusivity (basically) as “queer,” the thread of the book untangles and frees up lines of engagement with scripture and spirituality in some new and inviting ways.

I can only imagine the joy and freedom of reading this book if one has never been invited to experiment with the theme and many variations of divine love. This could be life-changing.

 

Mihee Kim-Kort is generous with her own story, even inviting us into her family, her marriage, to make her theology personal and relational. She describes the all-too-familiar feeling of “passing” as a parent. She discusses the intimacy of friendships, and the extension of family in what she calls “queering kinship.” She critiques the “purity culture” which keeps too many Christians, especially girls and women, in thrall to an ideal of submission and suppression which is not healthy for many, which is not really about their purity but the power of those who define it. She notes, astutely, that

Purity isn’t just about sex or sexuality, or about gender identity and gender roles; it’s always about race and ethnicity, nationality, ability, and more. To define itself, it needs the Other. It needs those binaries of black or white, colonizer or colonized, father or daughter, male or female, chaste or defiled. These categories are necessary for purity to be useful as an instrument that propagates a certain system that gives power to some. (179)

 

There were a couple of sections of the book that brought me up short. One occurs early on, in a chapter title, provocatively, “Blessed are the promiscuous.”

The word “promiscuous” means more, Kim-Kort reminds us, than its popular definition.

It is rooted in the Latin words for “to mix” and carries with it a sense of bringing together various elements. This notion of promiscuity as indiscriminate mingling is a far cry from the negative cultural definition of promiscuous we use in a more judgmental way. … It’s an orientation outward toward others, and particularly the Other, to see and love with the indiscriminate excess of divine love. (47)

I won’t give the whole chapter away, but suffice to say that it’s a perfect example of how the author’s own story draws the reader along to examine her own closed doors and hidden sense of sin, that from which the gospel sets us free.

And despite my continuing (cultural, caged) discomfort with the language, I can’t help loving the last lines of the chapter:

When embodied lives collide and intersect with each other, a kind of bedlam of disintegrating categories occurs. In the unadulterated beauty of that promiscuous intermingling, we discover the ways God is incarnate among us. (65)

Beautiful.

 

I had more difficulty with the description of the woman healed by Jesus’ garment-hem of a chronic issue of blood. Kim-Kort’s suggestion that the woman was prohibited by her disease from every form of human contact – from touching her own children – runs up against the teaching of another wise woman, Amy-Jill Levine.

Kim-Kort writes

She experienced severe isolation because of the impurity of this persistent bleeding. According to Jewish tradition, she was unholy and unclean. And she knew it. She was deemed untouchable.

Jewish Jesus scholar Levine argues

Although no version of the story cites Leviticus, mentions impurity, expresses surprise at a bleeding woman in public, … or portrays Jesus as abrogating any Law, New Testament scholars import all this and more. … The end, the liberation of women today, does not … justify the means, the false portrait of Judaism. …

In this classification, Jewish tradition is always retrograde, and Jesus, or the church liberates people from it. The point is the opposite of multiculturalism: rather than celebrating cultural difference, theologians first misinterpret Jewish cultural practices then condemn them.*

It is a cautionary tale of how, while we are colouring outside of some lines, we might find that we have drawn up a few fences of our own. That section remains problematic to me, even as I found delight in the rest of the book.

 

This was my favourite moment:

One year, I played the angel Gabriel, and the thought crossed my mind that angels are neither boys nor girls. It was this ambiguity that oddly assuaged any stage fright as I sang my first solo. There was no expectation of whether I was a girl or boy or Korean or white. I focused on playing a messenger of God, which was what mattered the most. (122-3)

This summed up the message of the book for me: that our identity as God’s beloved, commanded to love one another, is meant to transcend and illuminate whatever other categories or cages we might fall into or break out of. It illustrated what Kim-Kort promised in her introduction, that

God, in Jesus, is oriented toward us in a queer and radical way. Through the life, work, and witness of Jesus, we see a God who loves us with a queer love. And our faith in that God becomes a queer spirituality – a spirituality that breaks boundaries and moves outside of the categories of our making. …

Queerness matter because we need to see all the ways that we ourselves are loved by God, and loved in so many ways. And then we see and feel this in the myriad ways people love each other, which deepens and widens the very love of God in the world. (5-6)

Now, that’s good news. That’s the message of this book that deserves to be shared widely: that God loves us, each of us, all of us, without discretion, without boundary, without regulation or reason. No exceptions.

 

Mihee Kim-Kort, Outside the Lines: How embracing queerness will transform your faith (Fortress Press, 1 July 2018) 

 


Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The church and the scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperOne, 2006), 173-5

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Mother of exiles

On Sunday morning, in a tiny park, a large crowd, heavy with bishops, gathered to pray for an end to gun violence. But we were challenged to do more than to stand still and pray.29391280_Unknown.JPG

First, we heard from Philip Schentrup, the father of Carmen, who died at the age of sixteen, at the whim of a gunman and his bullets, on Ash Wednesday, on Valentine’s Day.

As this father described his dangerous grief – “I was barely able to carry on” – his very presence among us screamed of resurrection. But of the kind which carries its marks, the hole left by the spear in the side, a heart never healed.

Well-meaning people spoke to him of God’s plan, he said. But,29391296_Unknown

“Carmen’s murder, and acts of much greater violence and cruelty are not part of God’s plan. …

Evil and violence happen in this world because we allow it, not because God allows it. God weeps for all the victims of violence. Every time we as Christians say, “That would be ideal, but that’s not realistic or practical,” we miss the opportunity God has given us to make the world He wants.

As daunting as this challenge seems, I have hope. I have hope in Jesus. I have hope in the hearts and humanity of people. …”

Carmen’s mother spoke next. Carmen’s siblings fanned her in the Texas heat and fidgeted close to one another and their mother. The love of this family, the care they showed one another was hard to witness. It brought home how much they had lost.

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A freshly-minted freshman about to embark on her high school career, Abigail Zimmerman – the Prophet Abigail, as introduced by her bishop – organized a walk-out at her school, seventeen minutes of civil silent protest at the deaths of those Parkland students and community members. She and her friend spoke at a March For Our Lives. She is organizing. She is activating. “Be the change!” she urged, and the crowd responded, “We are the change,” caught up irresistibly by her spirit.

Did I mention, she hasn’t started high school yet?

April Schentrup left us with the hope and the challenge that instead of struggling with a grief like theirs, we would fight to end gun violence.

“With God’s help, and with those here today, all things are possible.”

*

Several hundred of us left the park immediately for a fleet of buses bound for Taylor, about an hour away. We pulled up just past the fence bounding a for-profit detention center which ICE is using to incarcerate immigrants – more than five hundred women on any given day – many of whom are seeking asylum, some forty of whom, according to a local advocacy group, were separated from their children at the border and have not seen them since.
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We gathered in song in a baseball park adjacent to the prison. Our hosts advised us that the women inside could hear us rallying and praying on their behalf. Some few hundred people wanted to be sure, to be sure that the women knew that they were not alone – “No estas solos.” They walked back out to the baking midday street to stand outside the front gates, to wave, pray, chant.

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They saw women waving back, moving pieces of paper in the windows, letting them know they heard us, they saw us, they knew we were here for them. Later that day, the grassroots organization helping the women told us that they stayed at the windows until the last bus had left.

The group was invited to return to the field where our permit applied, instead of the street, where it did not.

Presiding Bishop Curry was speaking by then, pouring out the love that God has for all people, along with the better angels of America that inscribed the Statue of Liberty with its words of welcome, and the mission of us all to be God’s love for the people God has made. All of the people.

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He and President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Jennings led prayers

of the people in English and Spanish, praying to do better. “We will with God’s help,” we promised helplessly.

We were blessed, we were invited to turn and bless the women we had come to encourage with our prayers and presence. We turned back once more, boarded the buses, back to business.

*

Last night, late (or late enough), I found the Sunday sacrament finally at a Eucharist hosted by Integrity USA, The Episcopal Rainbow. Welcomed to the table by former exiles, one-time “illegals,” who still risk violence to body and soul, breaking the bread of resurrection and the spilt blood of Christ, it was a fitting end to a day of hurting hope.


An earlier version of this post appeared on the Episcopal Cafe

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Your faith

A sermon for hard times. The readings include Mark 5:21-43, in which a woman with a 12-year chronic condition sneaks up to the hem of Jesus robe to be healed, and a child is restored to her parents.


There is more than one miracle happening in this story.

First, there is this woman; this bold frightened woman.

This woman is afraid to come face to face with Jesus, not because she lacks faith in him, but because she has lost faith in herself. After so long, she has bled out all self-confidence, the assurance that she still carries the image of God within her body and soul seems to leak, ebb away. With every step she takes she feels diminished.

It is not a lack of faith in Jesus that holds her behind him, keeps her at his back, unable to face him. It is the erosion of her own ferocity, the uncertainty, any more, that she is worth healing.

She has visited doctors, yes, and she has heard doctors of the faith proclaim her disease a punishment, a test of character, a blessed burden chosen especially for her. She knows enough to sneer at them, and yet their words, like the hairs of a cactus, cling unseen to her garments and her skin, scratching at her, creating burrowing sores. She still knows better, but their superiority is wearing, and her condition wearying, and she is running out of hope.

She still believes, somehow, hope against hope, that Jesus might save her; but she dare not face him, in case she sees in his eyes the same lack of faith in herself that she cradles, like a child, against her body. In case he does not believe in her.

That is why he has to find her, to face her, to see her. How many others touched his hem, plucked at his sleeve, and went away with their hearts lightened and their stoops straightened and their coughs calmed? In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said that even the people upon whom Peter’s shadow fell as he walked by were healed. Surely the same must have been true for the people surrounding Jesus.

But this woman’s healing was not complete until she had faced him. It was not enough, Jesus knew, to stem the flow of blood. Healing is only just begun with the staunching of the wound; after that, attention is needed to sew it back together, to soften the scar, to smooth over the history of pain that the body otherwise wears on its skin.

She prostrated herself before him, in fear and trembling that she had stolen her healing from him, even now that she did not deserve his power. Jesus shook his head in disbelief.

Daughter, YOUR FAITH has made you well! Your faith in me! You! You have used your mind and your spirit and your body and your bravery to bring yourself before me (well, behind me) and by your actions you have been made whole! By your own actions! Do you not see? Your faith in me has restored my faith in you.”

Woman, your faith has made you well. Your perseverance, your resistance, your persistence. Your refusal to give up hope when all hope was lost. The feet that carried you closer to the hem of his robe even when you had said, you had thought, you could not take one more step. The hands that moved as though with a will of their own, reaching out in prayer, while you watched as though from some great height, and wondered at the boldness of your own body. Your faith has made you well.

Your faith has brought you, finally, face to face with your fear, and with your salvation. Your faith has driven out evil and restored you to health and to wholeness. Your faith. Your faith has brought you home to yourself. Will you now believe, not only in him whose power runs through your veins, but in yourself to wield that power?

It is a message, perhaps, for our own times; that when we are running out of faith in ourselves, Jesus still has the power to use our faithfulness, our closeness to him, our hope and even our desperation, our longing for God’s kingdom come, for his powerful purposes: to generate healing, when all other promises and panaceas have failed; to render life in the face of death.

“Do not fear,” Jesus tells Jairus only a little while later. “Do not fear only believe.”

Is he still thinking of that woman and her trembling faith? Is it her healing that gives him the courage to deny even death; to take the little girl by her hand and command her back to life?

I confess that there are times – days, weeks, months – when I am short on faith, of many kinds; and long, way too long, on fear. Those are the times when the faith of others carries me; the faithfulness of a community gathered in prayer. Only enough faith to come this close – that’s all that is needed in the darkest days. That is when the promise of Jesus to this woman, this brave, frightened woman sustains me; that all it takes is a shy stumbling toward him. The smallest mustard seed of faith can do great things. The very last crumb, small morsel of faith can bring us face to face with God.

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