Our deepest longing

Rev Sue gave this sermon on Sunday 27 June at St George’s Church Simister. You can read it again here:

The woman had heard that Jesus was coming to town. From somewhere she dredged up her last little bit of hope. For 12 years she had been trying every remedy under the sun. It wasn’t just a question of being drained and anaemic from the continual loss of blood. It was also the shame of being unclean. What most women endured for a few days each month she had to live with every day. It wasn’t something she wanted to shout about – best to keep a low profile and blend into the background.

Now she was in a quandary. How to attract Jesus’ attention without having the gaze of the whole town on her. Imagine the gossip as her condition became public knowledge. But Jesus was passing through. It was now or never.

Jesus was in the middle of a scrummage, trying to make his way through crowds that were jostling and pushing him. The woman saw her opportunity. Maybe she could worm her way towards him and secretly touch him without attracting anyone’s attention. Perhaps just a tiny corner of his robe would be enough to heal her, and then she could quietly return home with no one any the wiser. She silently gave thanks that she had this chance of being privately healed.

She reached out her hand, and straight away she knew. She felt whole. But at the same time everything was going horribly wrong. Jesus had stopped dead and was declaring that someone had touched him. And she knew that he meant her. Keep quiet, don’t say anything, slip away. There will be that awkward moment while Jesus is looking about him, but she is an expert at being unnoticed. But instead, she heard herself blurting out the truth. As she did, she became aware of horrified glances and a sudden space opening up around her.

Wasn’t it rather unkind of Jesus to put her through that? Couldn’t he have caught her eye, let her know that he knew, and left it at that? He must have known how excruciating exposure would be.

God longs to heal us, to take away our pain and make us whole, but he wants more than that. He wants a relationship with us. It’s not just a one-way thing of God giving and us receiving, incredibly, God wants something from us. He looks straight into our eyes and invites us to look back. Moses longed to see the face of God but was granted only the privilege of seeing the back of God as God passed by. Jesus invites us to do what Moses couldn’t – to come face to face with God.

Physical health is a very precious thing, but one day it will pass. To be able to hold up our heads and not be ashamed is also a great gift. But the healing of the soul the ultimate wellness, comes from being face to face with God. It is the deepest desire of the human heart. Psalm 130 puts it like this

“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,

more than the night watch for the morning”.

The night watch on the city wall waits for the dawn to break. The exhausted nurse on night duty watches the minutes tick by until she can go home and go to bed. But the longing of the human soul for God is more fundamental than even these.

At the start of the reading the woman says, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well”. She is talking not to Jesus but to herself. She whispers in her own heart. God overhears the wishes we only breathe to ourselves and treats them as prayers. He invites us to make those unspeakable requests, even if we dread their shame. God asks nothing from us but our total honesty. God challenges our hesitancy, our shyness, and separates the wheat of humility from the chaff of self-loathing. We must discard our fears and approach with a bold confidence, not in our own worthiness, but in God’s grace. God will not allow us to imagine that we do not matter to God.

We begin by reaching out our hand and hoping to touch his garment, ultimately our prayer is seeking the face of God. We give ourselves to God, for this is what he wants, for now and for eternity. When we stand face to face with God we will know as we are known and at last will know our own true selves.

I’ll finish by reading George Herbert’s poem Love which beautifully expresses the timid approach of the penitent who fears to look on God.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

With thanks to Henry Martin whose book Eavesdropping inspired this sermon.

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