I have chosen to call our time together today "Standing Up from a Kneeling Position." If you'll listen carefully, I hope that you will understand this is not a contradiction. There's so many things we need to stand up to, and a humility that comes by kneeling in the presence.
Our text comes to us from Matthew's gospel, chapter 9, verse 18-26. It's also recorded in Mark and Luke, which makes it so valid and so important. It's that moment when Jesus is walking along and he sees Matthew and he calls to him, "Follow me." Matthew gets up and follows him, this tax collector, this one identified as a sinner. And then in verse 18, we begin a wonderful experience where a man comes to Jesus-he's a leader in the synagogue--and he kneels before Jesus saying, "My daughter has just died. Come lay your hand on her and she will live."
Jesus is always in the process of passing through, and our Lord always stops and pays attention. As he goes, this big crowd around him, suddenly he feels someone touch the hem of his garment, and he turns and he says, "Who touched my cloak? Who did this?"
We find out that it's a woman who has had a hemorrhage for 12 years. She feels in her heart, "If I can just touch his cloak, I will be made well." The story that takes place between this woman and Jesus our Lord is one that thrills me to death. It means that in the midst of her faith she has been on her knees in order to touch the hem of his garment, but she's standing up to the problems she has because of her faith. And then as we read on, we realize that Jesus goes on to this leader of this synagogue's home and there he gives this child her life.
A few years ago, I had an experience so similar to this unnamed woman that my ability to identify with her is genuine--not just those words we often say, "Ohhhh, yes, I understand," when we really don't have a clue. I have a clue. My experience of bleeding for months led me to a gynecologist. Her experience led her to Jesus. I hasten to share that all my life I have had a relationship with Jesus Christ that has kept me spiritually well, even as I acknowledge the need for an earthly physician. This woman, who as was true of so many women recorded in scripture, is not referred to by name, but I must tell you she is one of my sheroes. We have many wonderful heroes in the Bible, but we have for the last 25 years or more begun to truly see the women recorded there.
Just saying this reminds me of a time when I was speaking to some 600 United Methodist women at Lake Junaleska, North Carolina. And in my sermon on the women of the Bible, I pointed out that Jesus was a feminist. A woman caught me outside of the auditorium-her face was blood red-and I could tell she was furious as she screamed at me, "How dare you say our Lord was feminine? He was a real man!" I took both of her hands for fear she was going to slug me and I gently said, "No, I said he was a feminist."
Webster's dictionary defines this term as one who believes in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, one who organizes on behalf of women's rights and interests. I could use that definition because I had just shared it in my talk. She was so offended that she had never heard the explanation. Now her face changed color, as her blood pressure went down and she said, "Oh! Well, in that case, I love him even more." And she walked away.
The Jesus of Nazareth who physically walked this earth two thousand years ago saw everyone equally. After all, in this 9th chapter of Matthew, he has just chosen a tax collector to be a disciple-Matthew himself. And in verse 18, an official whose name is Jairus and is identified as being in charge of the Jewish meeting place in Mark's Gospel and in Luke's Gospel, comes to him-and we can be sure that this man was a member of the Sanhedrin-had great power and influence. As Webster again defines, he believed in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. As a pastor and theologian, I would add and religious equality.
I chose this time we have together on The Protestant Hour "Standing Up from a Kneeling Position" because Jairus comes up to Jesus and kneels in front of him even as his heart stands up in rejection to the idea that his only child is dying or is dead. The bleeding woman had to kneel in order to touch the hem of his garment, even as she was standing up to the neglect and prognosis of the doctors she had gone to who had not done anything but cause her pain and take her money. Mark is very clear about this in chapter 5.
In humility on their knees, this father of a dying child and this woman who cannot stop bleeding have come into the presence of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. He sees their needs, is thrilled by their faith, and becomes the answer to their prayers.
Where I worship we love to sing Bill Gaither's great hymn "He Touched Me"-Something happened and now I know he touched me and made me whole. Jairus begs Jesus, "Please come and place your hand on her. Then she will live again." Jairus already believed what Gaither affirms in his song, but look at the miracle that occurs next.
The woman with a hemorrhage touches Jesus. Reasoning with herself she believes, "If I can just touch the hem of his garment, I will be made well." Her faith is so powerful that Mark tells us Jesus felt power go out from him, and he turns and asks the crowd, "Who touched me?" She comes forward, trembling and frightened. Kneeling, she must have whispered, "I did, Lord." Then Jesus adds a second blessing, "You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace. Shalom. You are healed and you will no longer be in pain."
Can you imagine what it would be like to have the Savior of the world admire your faith? The very thought makes me tremble, and I struggle to experience what she experienced. But I realize that I actually have experienced her miracle. My hysterectomy 18 years ago-when I could not stop bleeding-was a total success. I went into that surgery with the physician telling me that I most likely had a serious malignancy because of the biopsy findings. When he came to me in the recovery room and said that there was no sign of cancer, I wanted to fall on my knees in gratitude or at least shout for joy. But I was too sore to get up and too choked with emotion to shout. So I just whispered, "Thank you," to my doctor and to my Lord, whose hand had guided the hands of doctors and nurses, whose hand had held the hands of my parishioners who had had a prayer vigil for 24 hours prior to my surgery. Jesus touched all of us, even my precious gynecologist who openly wept because he felt he had participated in a miracle.
When Jesus, who was just passing by in a crowd, continues on to Jairus' house, he sees the professional mourners in place weeping because the little girl has died. "Get out of here! The little girl isn't dead. She's just asleep!" And everyone started laughing at Jesus. There are a thousand sermons in that one line. Laugh if you must but get out of his way. He is the resurrection and the life.
Talitha Rumi, he whispers in Aramaic. "Little girl, stand up." And so she does. And so can you and so can I. We can stand up to anything that happens in our world that would deny any person equality, whether it's political or economic or social or religious, but we must always stand up from a kneeling position of humility and faith in the presence of the one who will touch us and make us whole-Jesus the Great Physician.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, we don't understand all the mysteries of life. I've never quite been able to comprehend why I lived through the frightening experience of the prediction of cancer, and why some other precious women in the world did not have the same experience. But I know in my heart I wasn't chosen over them. I know in my heart that the circumstances of life are such that all of us will die. That isn't what should make us afraid, Lord, it should be that we live and never really understand. We never understand that the touch he brings to us heals us in all levels of life-political, economic, social, religious--all those things that basically make us ill. Help us to stand up to the things wrong in our world that would keep anybody down. Help us to stand up to those things that need to be changed, but, O God, help us to do so with a humility of Christ, the One on the middle cross who prayed for forgiveness when no one had asked for it, the One who offers us wholeness, not because we deserve it, but because we need it. And like the little girl, help us to stand up, Lord, and change things that need to be changed. We pray this prayer, holding on to the hand of the Great Physician. Amen.