s125o00 Somerton Park Sunday 13 2/7/2000

" It is good ... to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one's mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope) ... " Lamentations 3:27-29

But one seems almost compelled to add: "but precious little ..."

The theme of today's lessons might be summed up in the part of the Collect: "give us courage to expose our need ..." which makes a virtue of confession of need. By implication and taking the example of Jairus, even greater virtue is gained making a public confession of need. We assume his request to Jesus was heard because we are told : he "begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death."" in the presence of the crowds. (Mark 5:23). And when the woman with haemorrhages managed to touch Jesus surreptitiously, it seems Jesus goes out of his way to bring the matter to public attention.

There is of course no difficulty in bringing our requests before God, either privately or publicly (though I should immediately add that it is an criminal offence to interrupt a service of worship - there are appropriate forums to do this - but public worship is not one of them).

But is our faith that God rewards only the most abject and desperate of persons? C. S. Lewis, in his fourth book in the "Chronicles of Narnia", "Prince Caspian" - he writes of the debate about when to sound Susan's magic horn to summon help. ""If your Majesty is ever to use the Horn," said Trufflehunter, "I think the time has now come." ... "We are certainly in great need," answered Caspian. "But it is hard to be sure we are at our greatest. Supposing there came an even worse need and we had already used it?" "By that argument," said Nikabrik, "your Majesty will never use it until it is too late."" (p85)

Ultimately the belief that God only helps the most abject and needy can be turned into an argument against social welfare. If we were ever to eliminate poverty and discrimination, there would be no room in society for God to help!!! It sounds very much an argument someone rich enough to pay taxes might use. Unfortunately it is the experience of many in the helping professions that it is often those with most money who "plead poverty" and expect things for nothing. Those for whom life has been or is a continuing struggle are quickest to "pay what they owe", because they know the livelihood of someone else is at stake if they don't. This is to suggest that God has already blessed the rich, and has no more help to offer them.

I want to suggest that if our "faith" is that God only helps the most publicly abject and desperate of persons, then this is actually not faith at all, and like Caspian and his friends, will lead us only to unproductive mind games.

Actually in both of the gospel snippets Jesus is surrounded not so much by belief but by unbelief. Jairus certainly believed that Jesus had the ability to heal his sick daughter, but it would have been likely that he shared the opinion that once the child had died there was no point in troubling Jesus any further. And the faith of the woman with the haemorrhages was little indeed. When she had been found out she was in fear and trembling. So when Jesus says "your faith has made you well" that faith is tiny.

But small though this woman's faith is, it is enough to make her well. Perhaps it is this reason that Jesus confronts the woman, not to highlight his own abilities, but to acknowledge and encourage the woman's faith, small though that faith might have been.

And it is her faith, not Jesus' power, that makes her well. It is interesting just how often Jesus credits a person's healing not to himself or his power but to the faith within the person healed (or his or her emissary). So the centurions servant (Matt 8.13) the Syrophoenician woman (Mat 15.28), Bartimaeus (Mk 10.52), the woman with the ointment (Luke 7.50), the leper who was the Samaritan (Luke 17.19) are all credited with faith to make themselves well. Indeed taking the words of Jesus' at face value from last week's gospel, he expected that the disciples could have stilled the storm themselves and Peter could have walked to Jesus on the water had he had faith enough. And that other saying springs to mind: Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matt 17:20).

I can't think of a single instance when Jesus uses the phrase, "my power" or "my faith". Certainly the words are never used by Jesus, but I can't think of any time when Jesus highlights his own faith or power. Indeed in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus does it, not that people might acknowledge his power or authority, but "so that they may believe that you sent me." (John 11:42).

So I think that I would want to say that I disagree with the author of Lamentations for my text for today: "It is good ... to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one's mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope) ... " and say it might be better to look rather to ourselves and our own faith for healing. For Jesus sees the faith, little though that might be, within us, as powerful and effective for our own health and salvation.

The faith that is within us is not magnified by us ever looking for assistance from God and nor is it magnified by sitting "in dust and ashes" bowing and scraping to some essentially alien and capricious deity. God is concerned that we look at ourselves as people with gifts and abilities, to be used for our own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of others. If we hate ourselves and think that we are of no worth, how can we love our sisters and brothers? and if we hate ourselves what use do we think our friendship will be for others even if we were to proffer it?

For if Jesus were to have really been interested that everyone came to acknowledge the power of Jesus' faith, it makes an absolute nonsense of the last verse in our gospel reading for today: "He strictly ordered them that no one should know this" (Mark 5:43).

I suppose that there is a point to "exposing our need", though not necessarily to God but to our doctor. I wonder how often people go to the doctors and actually never describe the symptoms which are actually worrying them? How often we look to pills when a doctor would really like to prescribe a regular walk around the block, knowing that this would do more good? I bet many a doctor is hamstrung, not by the available technology but by a patient's unwillingness to face a problem realistically, their lack of faith in themselves. That the woman had "endured much under many physicians" may well not have been the fault of the doctors but of the woman herself. The woman may not have had the courage to tell the doctor of what she was really suffering. Perhaps the woman came to Jesus and touched him surreptitiously to avoid telling her doctor the problem. There have certainly been times when I have thought that a person would have been better consulting a doctor, rather than asking me some things.

We find our healing then not in God's power, but faith in our own ability and worth, as well as faith in the abilities and worth of humanity around us, which, of course stems wholly from God anyway.

There is the lovely story of the man on the roof of his house during the flood. He prays to God to be rescued, but when a boat comes along, he refuses help. "God will rescue me" he says. Still the rains continue and the water rises. Along comes a helicopter but again he refuses help. After he drowns, the man asks God why he didn't help him - to be told of course that God sent the boat and the helicopter ...

God has given doctors and medical specialists gifts and talents that we might benefit from their expertise. These should be utilised not shunned.

And there is much power and comfort in plain, old fashioned, company, which it is just as much in your power, as it is in mine, to provide.

The gospel story bids us encourage each other in our own and in our shared abilities, whoever calls themselves "Christian" or not. Jesus' words to us are not there to magnify himself or to put us down, but to acknowledge the faith that we have and encourage us all to use that faith to see and use the abilities others, God has put around us, have to offer us.


Links to other sites on the Web:

About the author and links.

To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.

To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.

Back to a sermon for next Sunday.