SERMON PREACHED AT CHRIST CHURCH, WHANGAREI
TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
(19th AUGUST) 2007
I cannot imagine the pain of the woman of our story. I have had moments of my life that have been dark and filled with relative pain, but hers is a story of degenerative and crippling pain. There are many such in our society, and some will be known to you. For some there seems to be no healing touch of God. For some the healing touch of God is to be seen not in miraculous healing, but in the equally miraculous ability and God given ability to live on through pain, suffering yet still finding a place in their lives for the miracle of faith and prayer.
There is, incidentally, no miracle in conceited and doubtless faith. For some that is the journey of life: some never find room for darkness or doubt in their life-journey. Yet despite the attempts of some callous atheistic barrow pushers to turn it into a proof of the absence of God, the news that so great a Christian as Theresa of Calcutta experienced dark nights of the soul, pain-filled periods of doubt, is not a diminution but an increase in the testimony of their faith. To believe as Theresa did, surrounded by the deepest degradation of humanity, is to testify to sainthood. To cry out, as Jesus himself did, ‘My God my God why have you forsaken me’ is to enter in to the deepest darknesses of existence, and yet to testify eventually, perhaps even retrospectively, that even there God was to be found. To continue to believe when every horizon is black is the greatest testimony and miracle of faith imaginable. I am no fan of the Roman Catholic processes of canonization, but I have no doubt that in all we know and even more in what we now newly know of Theresa we have seen the life of a saint.
But the story of our lady of the gospel is also a story of an outcast. Her doubts may well have been myriad. The gospel vignettes tell us little of the interior journeyings of the characters we encounter. But here is no doubt that in first century Palestine a widow was cast upon the slag heaps of society. One of the reasons for the rapid impact of Christianity on the Roman Empire was the love and Theresa-like, Christ-like compassion the Christians showed to those on the slag-heap of the Empire. A widow was an encumbrance.
But this woman was worse. She was crippled by the collapse of her body. In her society she would be seen as a dreadful sinner, receiving justly the wrath of God for her or her relations’ sinfulness. Jesus cut through the religious holier than thou pomposity: this woman was no sinner but a hurting human being made in the image of God. Those who stand and pass judgement on the ‘can’t be helped’ aspects of human life, on those whose life circumstances or lifestyles don’t fit a presupposed moral correctness, need to be very careful that they aren’t recreating judgementalism in the image of the Pharisees.
Jesus, though, reaches out. If we are to be a centre for urban mission* we need to see who it is that we are called to reach out to likewise. Who are the vulnerable in urban Whangarei? Some will be at the low end of the socio-economic spectrum. The street people who may make our church dirty if we let them in. Many of these are the rejects, the flotsam and jetsam of callous government Mental Health policies. Others will be the overworked and overstressed executives working longer and longer weeks for less and less return, frustrated by policies of successive governments which seem to do nothing to keep them and their circumstances afloat. Some will be assets rich, some will be broken poor. But they will be the people to whom we are called, Sabbath or not, to speak words of hope and healing.
May it be our prayer this week that each of us may touch such a life with Christ love in the week to come.
* The Parish centred on Christ Church Whangarei was for a period badged ‘centre for urban mission.’