This is the second sermon in our Lenten series titled, “Do Not Be Afraid.” We’re looking at people whom Jesus encountered on his way to the cross, and the ways those people overcame their fears to be with Jesus.
SCRIPTURE – Luke 8:43-48 – Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[l] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[m] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Do Not Be Afraid Sermon Series
#2 – Fear of the Future
Feb. 21, 2016
Do you remember when you thought you would live forever? When we were younger, we didn’t care about the future, because we assumed it was infinite. We could look at the horizon and see no end to our lives. But now we know differently. If you breathe, and you’re not Jesus, you have a 100% chance of dying. Do you remember the moment when you realized you weren’t immortal?
I do, very clearly. My great-grandma Wathen passed away in 1977. I loved her, but I didn’t really know her. I wasn’t close to her, so her death didn’t impact me. I remember playing with my cousin Dougie during the visitation. We were chasing each other, playing tag around the casket, making noise, being six-year-olds, until my uncle told us to cool our jets. We didn’t know why we were there. I mean, we knew Grandma Wathen died, but that didn’t have anything to do with us.
At the gravesite, I stood with my grandma Bonnie, a sweet, gentle woman who was always smiling. As we were walking back to the car, Bonnie was crying, so I asked her what was wrong, because my still-developing brain didn’t make the connection. She said softly, “She’s the kind of person I thought would live forever.” And I remember thinking, “Wait! You mean the people you really love don’t live forever?” I was dumbstruck. My six-year-old logic started connecting the dots. That meant someday Bonnie would die. And PawPaw would die. And Nana. And Mom and Dad. And then a few years later my cousin Dougie was hit by a car and killed, and then I realized the most sobering truth of all. Someday I was going to die.
That’s the moment when the future changed for me. It was no longer 100% unlimited possibilities. I now realized that, at some point, that light on the horizon goes out, and I started to be afraid of what the future held. For our Lenten sermon series, we’re talking about the fears that hold us back, that keep us from being the people God has called us to be. Today, we’re talking about our fear of the future and how it impacts our faith.
Dougie’s death was momentarily traumatic for me, but after some time, the shock wore off, my memories of Dougie faded, and I went back to believing the only people who died were really, really old people, like people in their 40s and stuff. I was blessed to have all of my grandparents until I was 26 years old, so I never had to face death again while growing up. The future once again became limitless and I once again became immortal.
Why is it that kids have no fear of what might happen to them? They can do the stupidest things without a second thought about the consequences. The rock group Weezer has a song in which they recount all the idiotic things they did as kids, like playing with their father’s samurai swords. The song is called, “Everybody Get Dangerous.” And when we’re young, we do! We bungee jump and put chemicals in our body and take overnight road trips and do all kinds of things that our adult selves look at and say, “My God, what were you thinking? You could have killed us!”
But then we get older. Ah, the curse of living, right? Things start to happen, stuff starts to break down, and we have this morbid epiphany that the horizon line is inching closer toward us. I remember when I was 30 years old, lying in a hospital bed and having a doctor tell me that my MRI showed “abnormalities in my brain,” to which my wife Leigh probably thought, “Duh! You needed an MRI to figure that out? You should have just asked me!” A few days later the doctor told me I had MS, and I remember wondering with great fear, “What now?”
The woman in our story today has been asking that question for 12 years. We don’t know much about her, not even her name, although I love the fact that early Christian traditions gave her the name Bernice. We know that Bernice has been bleeding for 12 years straight, probably as the result of a uterine or menstrual affliction. We’re told she’s seen doctors, who probably used leeches or tried bloodletting, but to no avail. The bleeding won’t stop. No one can help her. What now?
In Bernice’s time, this bleeding was no small thing. The Jewish purity laws were clear about the uncleanliness of blood, especially blood related to the female cycle. Women had to go through detailed purification rituals each month in order to be considered clean enough to enter back into society. For Bernice, she was never able to go through those rituals, because the bleeding didn’t stop. For 12 years she’s been considered unclean. For 12 years she’s been wondering, “What now?”
During this time, she has not only suffered physically, which is bad enough. The unclean in society where ostracized, isolated, forced outside of society. Anyone who touched a bleeding woman would themselves be considered unclean, so no one would come near her. Society dictated that she had to be alone, no hugs, no companion, no lover. She was reminded daily that she is broken. She suffered socially and psychologically. And she feared that things would always be this way. Things weren’t going to get any better. With dread, she wondered what the future held.
Let’s put Bernice on hold for a second, because I want to show you the beauty of scripture. Did you catch the line from Lamentations that Trish read for us? The author is offering courage to those who have to wait on the Lord, those, like Bernice, who are in difficult circumstances. He writes, “It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope).” Hear that? Even when our mouths are put to the dust, when we’re so weighted down we’re sprawled out on the street, when we’re so low we’re sucking gravel, there may yet be hope.
I believe it is that line that drives Bernice to her audacious act of courage. She breaks several purity laws as she pushes her way through the crowd, ritually contaminating everyone she touches, and reaches out to touch Jesus’ garment. Why? Why would she take such a risk? What would drive her to such a desperate act? In spite of her fear of the future, she knows in Jesus Christ, there may yet be hope.
I said last week that courage is not the absence of fear, but it is acting in the face of fear, not letting fear overcome us. In that case, I believe the opposite of fear is hope. Fear of the future fills our heads with all the bad things that might happen. Hope, on the other hand, sees the future through the lens of faith, releasing us from the grip of fear.
Once Jesus identifies Bernice, she steps forward, falls down at Jesus’ feet and, as Luke says, “she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him.” Could you imagine the courage it took to do that? And Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Now realize, she had been cured of her bleeding at the moment she touched Jesus. She felt it and he felt it. But it’s only after she steps up and testifies that Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well. Other translations say that her faith saved her or made her whole.
That’s an important distinction to make here, lest we think that if we just have enough faith, Jesus will cure us. Bernice had the benefit of a physical cure, but that doesn’t always happen, no matter how faithful you are. I pray every day for a cure, but my MS hasn’t gone anywhere. And we know that Bernice, God love her, is still going to die. If her bleeding doesn’t get her, something else eventually will. There’s a difference between being cured and being made well or made whole. This woman also receives healing from her psychological and social wounds; she is restored. We can experience the same healing through Jesus, whether or not we are cured of our afflictions. Our relationships can be restored, our faith can be restored, our courage can be restored. No matter the situation, there may yet be hope.
So how do we make that move from “What now” to “There may yet be hope”? It’s so difficult because I believe we are hard-wired to default to worst-case scenarios when something goes wrong. We have been conditioned to fear the worst, even if 99% of the time those fears never materialize. How many of us have had a bad headache and thought for at least a second, “Maybe it’s a tumor.” It’s not a tumor! Or seen a firetruck going the opposite way and thought, “Did I leave the stove on? Are they going to my house?” We default to worst-case scenarios without even thinking about it when something goes wrong. What now?
I believe the answer lies in Jesus’ last words to Bernice: “Go in peace.” The peace Jesus mentions here is the Jewish concept of “shalom,” which is more than the absence of conflict. It means tranquility, harmony, fullness, wholeness. It means a sense of feeling complete in God’s eyes. I believe we are called to move forward into the future with the shalom of God in our hearts as a reminder that wherever our journey takes us – the hospital room, the nursing home, the funeral parlor – that God is already there, offering us wholeness, offering us restoration. Jesus Christ knows what it’s like to suffer, to be in pain, to be rejected, even to fear the future. So wherever we are going, he’s already there, offering us healing and hope and shalom.
What now? I don’t know. I don’t know what it means for my MS, or for your affliction, or for our future. I know one thing: we’re not going to stop getting bad news. We’re not going to stop having headaches or getting middle-of-the-night phone calls. That’s the cruel reality of life. But that reality doesn’t mean we have to live in fear of the future. Because we know that whatever happens, good or bad, we can find wholeness and shalom through our faith – no matter how imperfect it is – in Jesus Christ, who is with us, who is ALWAYS with us. When we reach out, when we are willing to admit our vulnerability and fear, when we open ourselves to receiving God’s shalom in the midst of our fear, Jesus looks at us and says, “Your faith has made you whole; go in peace.” What now? There may yet be hope.