Once upon a time there was a freshly-ordained deacon. She had been a convert to Christianity while she was in university, one who really dug in to understand the richness of the traditions that had been passed down through the ages, as the rich symbolism and language and ritual became tools which helped her understand the good news and the Christian life.
One Sunday at her new parish, she was assisting the priest in getting ready for the service when a life-long member of the congregation burst in through the sacristy door. “Is that incense?!” the older woman said.
The young deacon, having first met Jesus when she was enthralled by the rich sights, sounds, and smells of Christian worship looked up. She was always happy to dive in and point out the many aspects of our worship tradition that draw directly upon the scriptures and shape, form, and re-focus us towards the things of eternity. “Yes,” she said, “it’s a major feast of the church’s year, and we’ll offer incense to God at the altar, as the smoke purifies ourselves as an offering to God!”.
“I don’t care what day it is”, the parishioner said. “I have bad asthma, and I just can’t sit up front – in my pew – if there’s going to be smoke!”
The eager young deacon heard pain and frustration in the woman’s voice. She reached into her pocket, reaching for her stock of anointing oil.
“That must be so hard,” the young deacon said. “But we know God still heals, and he’ll do more than we can even ask or imagine. If it’s alright, I’d love to pray with you and anoint you, that God would heal you of your asthma.”
The parishioner turned beet red. “No!”, she snorted. “I don’t want to be healed – I just want you to put that smoke away so I can sit in my pew!”.
Do you want to be well?
We all need healing. We all will need healing as, by God’s grace, the scars, pain, and trauma of broken people in a broken world are bound up, anointed, and brought back to life as both our bodies and our hearts are made more fully alive, better able to receive and reflect the life and light that God desires to share with each of us.
But, no matter what sort of healing we require, step 1 is always acknowledging that we need it. Whether the ailment is physical, mental, spiritual, or in our relationships, we first need to realize when something isn’t as it ought to be, we need to realize that we need a power greater than ourselves to fix it, but most importantly, whether we want to heal our broken relationships, whether we want to soften and heal the calloused wounds of the past, or whether we need strength to deal with broken bodies, we have to want to be well, and be willing to make the necessary changes as we become more like God wants us to be, as even the worst afflictions that the world, the flesh, and the devil can dream up can be worked together for good, as we are conformed to the image and likeness of Christ.
Each of us here today are broken in one way or another, and the good news of Jesus is that the Church is meant to be a hospital for the afflicted, where imperfect people learn to trust in God to do what they could never do for themselves, and, where we learn to see ourselves, each other, and the world around us as they really are – creatures of God who are wholly dependent on grace.
God is not the source of our problems.
As our first lesson puts it today, and as scripture reminds us again and again, part of acknowledging our need for healing is remembering that God is not the author of death and decay.
I think the biggest lie, the biggest deception that keeps people from accepting the healing that God offers is the lie that says “your pain is part of God’s plan”.
Don’t believe it. “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
Anyone who says that the awful things of this life are God’s will has been deceived, and it’s the worst kind of lie because it keeps you from what God actually has in store.
“God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” He does not take any pleasure in the death of a sinner, but in his unsearchable patience calls all people to repentance.
God doesn’t make you sick; God doesn’t desire for people to hurt one another; God doesn’t send calamities out of nowhere to leave you scratching your head. Just as science – and common sense – tell us that “darkness” doesn’t exist (it’s just the absence of the energy of light), and “cold” doesn’t exist (it’s just the absence of the energy of heat), death and decay are the absence of the life-giving power of God. And while the realities of life in a sinful world mean that our bodies will die, we proclaim each and every week that even that is not the end. Our bodies – the flesh and bone sitting there in those pews, the faithful dead planted in the resurrection garden over there, even those lost to the deep or those innocent children buried without names or markers at the hands of too many unrepentant, proud sinners preaching the hopelessly twisted gospel of power and empire – all will have new life breathed into them at the day of resurrection, as the absence of God’s life-giving presence is overcome, and we stand before him, either humbly as our friend and Father or, full of pride, we meet him as our judge. And while our bodies await that day, the faithful rest in God’s presence.
God’s presence is life. God is not the author of death and disease; death and disease are the product of a world, of humanity that has found itself absent from God’s presence.
The Righteous One comes to the unrighteous.
The good news we read this morning is that God is not content to let us walk away. Rather, he comes and walks among us, the Creator among the creation, patiently reaching out to those who, often through no fault of their own, are suffering as victims of a world bent on removing itself from the care of the only one who can sustain it.
I don’t know if you noticed, but Jesus, in today’s gospel, breaks the law for the sake of those he came to save.
It was illegal for anyone to touch a woman who was discharging blood. For 12 years this woman had to live outside the city, and her own family, her own children could not come near to hug her or hold her hand, or they would be impure until the following day. Imagine the pain – imagine 12 years knowing not just the physical discomfort, but the mental anguish of knowing that anyone who comes near you risks becoming unclean, forbidden to worship, forbidden to take part in the life of the community. 12 years of feeling she’s worthless. 12 years of being forbidden to go to the synagogue or the temple, 12 years of being unable to go and pray with the priest and offer a sacrifice to God.
But Jesus, the fulfilment of the law, doesn’t come to bless the righteous, but to redeem the sinner. Jesus, the Holy One, is grabbed by that desperate woman. And does He become unclean? No, her faith makes her well.
And then there’s Jairus’s daughter. It’s illegal to touch a dead body – that’s the whole point of the Good Samaritan story: it’s not that the priest and Levite were being jerks, it’s that if he wasdead, they wouldn’t be allowed into the temple. Does Jesus leave the girl for fear of being unclean? No – if death and decay are the absence of God, His touch brings life – even in the midst of hopeless situations.
Healing pushes us out of our comfortable places.
But, though He comes to meet us, we need to seek Him out.
Notice from the lesson where these people meet the Lord. This woman has spent a dozen years condemned to the outskirts of town, certainly crying out to God for mercy. But does God meet her in that place of shame? No. In faith, she had to step out, to come boldly into the Lord’s presence, falling on her knees to reach out in hope. The Lord was near, but she had to leave what had become a comfortable place of coping and pity in order to receive the healing and new life that God could give.
And Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. He was a big deal, living in a mansion, with servants to do his bidding; not the sort of guy who came into the marketplace. Jesus didn’t come into his comfortable house and make an appointment on this man’s busy schedule. Rather, Jairus had to leave his mansion and meet the Lord among the common people – which, I’m sure, was costly and turned some heads.
My friends: God still heals, and deep down, each and everyone of us knows something is broken, we’re not yet as we ought to be.
The Lord, the giver of life, is seeking us out. But as comfortable – perhaps even as proud – as we sometimes become with our ailments, the first step is always acknowledging that there’s a problem, and wanting to be made well.
And then, unlike that dear woman with her asthma, we need to learn not to be comfortable with – or even proud of – the disease, death, and decay around us. We need to be willing to seek the Lord while and where he wills to be found, ready to take that humbling, costly step of faith to fall down before Jesus, knowing that His very presence – the same presence that burst the power of death and that the gates of hell could not contain – is like a candle dispelling darkness and the cold: going out to meet him isto invite life itself to overcome the power of death.
My friends, God still heals. The Lord comes to meet us, but not in our comfortable places. The question still is: do we want to be well?
 Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Jeremiah 29:11
 Ezekiel 18:23; 2 Peter 3:9