Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists (Final draft)
For March 21, 2015
Last Tuesdays I got to hang out with a couple of God's favorite daughters, Jackie and Lisa, at a place called Aurora Commons. Aurora Commons is like a family room for people on Aurora Avenue who have no family. It's a living room for people who have no house. (Aurora Commons was the organization that received the offering at this past season's Candlelight Christmas Concert.)
Jackie and Lisa are pretty. Their attractiveness is all the more striking when they are at Aurora Commons. On Tuesdays, most of the people who come in are men. They're a rough crowd. Drug addicts, lost souls, people with mental illness. They are not clean. Some people come in just to hang out. If they're tired they may fall asleep on the couch, knowing that for a couple of hours they are in a safe place. If someone needs need help filling out an application or finding information on the internet, the women help them. If you need a clean shirt or new socks, you can find that, too. Jackie and Lisa are skilled at helping people connect with resources that make their lives a little more bearable. But what strikes me most forcefully, dazzles me even, every Tuesday is the welcome these daughters of God extend to everyone who who comes through the door. These beautiful women touch every person. The prostitutes, the men who look like lost puppies, the tough guys with tattoos and swagger. Lisa and Jackie are very deliberate. They work the crowd, stopping to visit with every person. They look them in the eye and touch them. Touch their shoulders, hug the women. They are like angels of God. I think God must be very proud of them.
Watching them challenges me. Am I taking time to really see people? Do I extend the welcome of God to everyone? Do I give this kind of rich attention to the people I live with? When you see your kids first thing in the morning, do you greet them before you mention how late it is and the school bus will be here soon? At work, are the people there first persons to you and then employees or coworkers or bosses?
The daughters of God at Aurora Commons set a very high bar for seeing the face of God in every human being.
Now a Gospel story about two daughters:
Jairus was the synagogue ruler, which in a small town in Galilee in the time of Jesus was probably the most prestigious position a person could hold. I'm guessing it was like being the mayor and the doctor in a small town in Nebraska.
The light of his life was his twelve-year-old daughter. And he thought she was the sweetest, prettiest, smartest girl in the world. Part of that magic, of course, was that she adored her daddy. He could come home from difficult meetings to the smiles and hugs of his little girl and life was perfect.
Then she got sick. The first day or two he didn't worry. His wife made chicken soup and applied other customary remedies. Surely, this was a passing thing. But it wasn't a day or two later, Jairus' daughter was deathly ill. Jairus' was frantic. He watched her in terror as the disease wracked her body.
Then he heard Jesus was back in town. He hurried out of the house. When he arrived where Jesus was he pushed through the crowd. He was an important person, people gave way. Reaching Jesus, Jairus fell on his face. “Sir, please, I beg you. Come heal my daughter. She is about to die.”
The crowd is astonished. Jewish people do not bow to each other. They do not even kneel in worship. Kneeling is a rare thing. When this important man knelt in front of Jesus, a murmur rippled through the crowd. Did you see? He's kneeling. Those who were close could hear the catch in Jairus' voice. Please, sir. Please. Please. Come. Come now. Please hurry. I don't think she has much time. Please, will you come?”
Every dad in the crowd got caught up in the drama. They imagined their own darling daughters. They remembered the times they had stood by their own girls when they were sick in bed, had stood there helpless, angry at God for taking their beautiful girl.
Every dad in the crowd who has heard Jairus' words becomes his ally. Hurry Jesus. Hurry. Don't let her die. Jesus and Jairus begin moving toward Jairus' house. But the crowd is thick. Their movement is slow. Even with the help of his new allies, the dads who heard his request, who now share his urgency, it is impossible to move quickly through the crowd.
Then about the time they manage to get Jesus out of the very center of the crowd and begin making good progress, Jesus stopped.
He looked around him in the crowd. “Who touched me?” he asked
Apparently, Jesus said this fairly strongly, maybe even sternly. It was not a rhetorical question. And people answer him, all denying that had violated his space. After a minute, Peter gets a bit impatient with Jesus. “Master, we're in the middle of a mob. It's like a Japanese subway at rush hour. What do you mean, 'Who touched me?' All kinds of people have touched you and each other. Why are you asking 'Who touched me?'
“Somebody touched me.” Jesus said. “I felt healing power leave me.” Jesus searched the faces around him again.
At that point, a woman comes out of the crowd. Like Jairus, she kneels—or more accurately, she falls on her face. “I touched you.”
Jesus draws out her story. She had been bleeding for twelve years. She had endured physical pain and weakness. Far worse, for twelve years she had been untouchable to her husband. She had been excluded from all social events—weddings, funerals, religious events, parties, dances.
She had been a pariah. She had spent all her money on doctors, chasing a cure without success.
Then she had heard about Jesus. He could cure anything. Leprosy, blindness, epilepsy, lameness. He had even raised the dead. Surely he could cure her. But, her problem was unmentionable in public.
I remember in the early days of AIDS, a young man in our congregation was diagnosed. When the disease became debilitating, he went back to his parents' home in another state. They urged us to never mention the real diagnosis. If their friends knew their son had AIDS they would be completely cut off. As far as I know the silence was never broken, not even after he died.
This woman's bleeding problem would have been something like that. Maybe in the small town everyone knew, but no one, certainly no man could admit they knew it.
She was imprisoned in an unbreakable pit of isolation.
But Jesus could help her. That much she knew. If only she could get to him. Then she had the brilliant idea. If she could just touch the edge of his garment, that would be enough. She wouldn't embarrass herself or the Master. She would just sneak through the crowd and touch him.
Probably she knew the story of the centurion's servant who was healed just by Jesus speaking the word, even at a distance. Surely a touch would be enough.
So she threaded her way through the crowd, imagining that everyone knew her secret, imagining that everyone was watching her. She tried to make herself smaller and smaller.
Then she was there. She reached between Peter and John and managed to brush his robe with her fingers. She pulled her hand back. Already there were two or three people between her and Jesus. But she could feel it. Something inside was fixed. She was healed.
As she was telling her story, the men in the crowd are growing disgusted. How could this loathsome woman dare contaminate this public space with her disgusting presence? The dads in the crowd who had become the allies of Jairus and were trying to help rush Jesus along to heal the beautiful twelve-year-old girl were angry. This loathsome woman was putting that beautiful girl's life at risk. Jesus needed to hurry. He did not have time to waste on a repulsive woman.
The woman was completely vulnerable. It was all out there now. She had broken powerful taboos by wading through this crowd—a crowd comprised mostly of men. She in all her ugliness had interrupted a mission to save a beautiful daughter. There on the ground in front of Jesus perhaps she already imagined stones landing on her back.
Then Jesus says the most astonishing word, “Daughter.” Or as the one translation puts it, “My daughter.”
“My precious one, my beautiful one, my dear one, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
Before she began telling her story, this woman was invisible to the men in the crowd. She was a nobody. Then Jesus causes her to become visible. As she tells her story, the men see a loathsome, sick woman. They saw ugliness, disease, impurity. They see an interruption in their plans to act as heroes and help save a beautiful girl.
Then Jesus speaks. “My daughter. My precious one. My dear, God is very pleased with you. You are, indeed, healed. How could you not be, with such a magnificent faith.”
Go in peace. Walk out through this crowd knowing you are safe and clean and whole and beautiful.
As the woman turns to move back through the crowd, messengers arrive from Jairus' house. It's too late. Your girl is dead. No point in bothering Jesus further.
Jesus overhears the messengers and says to Jairus, “Don't worry. Just believe. Your girl, too, will be made whole.”
The mob finally arrives at Jairus' house. Already the place is full of people mourning. Jesus chases them all out. He asks Peter, James and John and the parents to be with him in the bedroom.
He takes the young girl's hand and says, “Young lady, get up.”
The parents and the disciples watched the heart-breaking corpse become again a beautiful daughter. Joy rippled outward from the bedroom. The beautiful girl was alive! Mom and Dad were happy. The crowd was happy. Jesus was happy. The daughter lived.
Go with me back to Aurora Commons. I told you about two beautiful daughters of God, Lisa and Jackie. I didn't tell you about Patricia.
Patricia graduated for University of Oregon, moved to Seattle and got a job. Life was good. Then mental illness began to warp her life. She had a psychotic break and was hospitalized.
Her story wandered. One of her best jobs involved travel to exotic places. Places she still dreamed of visiting again, not that she thought she actually had much chance of doing so, but it was nice to remember and to dream.
The clientele of Aurora Commons is a pretty rough crowd. Patricia was different. Her body language agreed with her story of education and successful work. Her face hinted, but just barely, at the truthfulness of her story of mental illness.
After she learned that I was a pastor, she mentioned that she had been filled with the Holy Spirit. I asked her to tell me about that. Her telling took her back to mental illness. It had wrecked her life. She could no longer work. She had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She had even been to jail. Life was hard.
The first time she had been hospitalized, she had been devastated. Sitting in her room at the hospital, staring out the window, she realized life as she had known it was over. She was insane. The future was completely black.
Then completely out of the blue she was enveloped in an ocean of warmth and light. She sensed God assuring her it would be all right. She would make it through. For a little while the fear and dread, the grief over her lost life, was all gone. She was perfectly at peace.
This divine visitation did not heal her, but it has sustained her through 12 years of craziness, in and out of psyche hospitals. Even in and out of jail.
Through all this chaotic darkness she has hung onto the assurance God gave her in that sweet vision. It's going to be all right. You're going to make it. For these twelve years she has been able to come back again to this assurance: God is with her. God will be with her. The disease is not the last word, the ultimate word. God will not condemn her for her disease. God will heal her.
Patricia is an only child. An only daughter.
As I listened and watched her face, I began to see a daughter. I felt the ache of her mother's heart.
If you just walked into Aurora Commons and just took a quick glance around you would see a lot of ugly people. People with addictions. People who cannot hold jobs. People who have problems. People who ARE problems.
But if you had the privilege of sitting and hearing their stories, these misshapen, loathsome forms would slowly morph into beloved sons and daughters. To your astonishment you would find yourselves looking with the eyes of God and you would find yourself in the presence of radiant beauty.
May God give all of us the gift of seeing with the eyes of God. May we see every woman—even ourselves—as a precious, beloved daughter.