I think that I have told at least some of you about my friend, the one who used to pray during the Lenten season, “Lord, during this season let me feel the wounds, let me know the sufferings of Christ.” The problem was,she said, the Lord answered that prayer. Her children got sick, her husband was laid off. She said, “You would have thought I would have learned, but no, I prayed that prayer a second year in a row, with the same result. You would think that I would have learned.” But the whole point of prayer as I have understood it from the scriptures, is that you don’t think. Prayer is not calculating. Prayer is not a weighing of alternatives in a self conscious way. Prayer is bring God the deepest desires of your heart and in a very unselfconscious way, just asking.
So I want to talk with you about prayer today and I want to talk with you about prayer next week, too. Next week, Independence weekend, I want to talk with you about praying for our country. But today, I want to talk with you about prayer out of this strange Gospel lesson. Not so much that I want to reason with you about prayer as to hold up this woman,and this man who is the other part of the story, as models of those who pray.
You will remember that the story of the woman with an issue of blood is really a story within a story. There was this man who came to Jesus begging Jesus to come heal his daughter well, let me read the whole story to you.
Mark 5:21-4321 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Now, if you have never read that story before, if you just wandered in here off the street with your skeptical attitude on this morning, that’s a very strange story. If you are going to listen to it at all, you have to suspend your rational faculties or you have to screw up your mind to read it as some highly symbolic allegory. The whole thing smacks a bit of magic doesn’t. This woman who says to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes!” That sounds
more like what you would expect from some groupie at a rock concert. “If I can just touch one of Michael Jackson’s sequins I will never wash this hand again.” Or it may sound like something you used to hear from those border stations, “Just send your dollar to ‘prayer cloth’ XCLO, Clint, Texas.” Or, “we will send you this beautiful life sized statue of Jesus Christ that glows in the dark, and if you send today, we will have it autographed.”
His disciples scoffed at the idea too. You see all this crowd of people surging around you and you ask, “Who touched my clothes?” Come on, now. If you wandered in here this morning with your skeptical attitude on….
But if you wandered in here off the street because you were as desperate as these two must have been desperate,then this story makes a lot of sense. Look at the story and the story within the story with me, not from the perspective of the skeptical disciples but from the perspective of these other two.
In those days Jesus was attracting great crowds. As soon as he got off the boat they came running to him, all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. “Excuse me, let me through, please. Please, let me through to see him. This is an emergency. My little daughter.” He carried the title, President of the Synagogue, lay leader or Chairman of the Administrative Board, or maybe mayor of the town, but titles did not matter. He was just a father this day. He neither showed Jesus his credentials nor asked for any. He simply took him by the sleeve. “Hurry. My little girl. She is at the point of death, but if you will come quickly maybe you can save her.” So they hurry down the street toward his house, all the crowd pressing around. Suddenly he stops. “Who touched me?” “Never mind that,” come quickly, my little girl,” and the words choke in his throat. But Jesus is suddenly tending to another need. It takes only a few minutes but that is long enough. When they start toward the house again they come to tell him, “Never mind. It’s too late. Your daughter is dead.” What do you suppose, desperation turned to anger at the interruption?And Jesus says, “Come on. It’s never too late.” At the house the scoff at him again,but he puts them outside, takes
the little girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” And she gets up and he says, “Why don’t you ever feed this poor thing. She looks half starved.”
The woman’s story is really the same story, except her desperation is described differently. She never intended an interruption at all. She intended to slip up behind Jesus and just touch his clothes. Now, you may think the story is a little hard on doctors, and it is, but read it as a description of her desperation. Imagine if you ha;d been ill for twelve years. spent all that you had and were none the better but worse for it. Does she have this conversation with herself or with her closest friend, “If I can just touch him.” When she does she feels it in her body, and Jesus feels it too. “Who touched me?” The crowd has
covered her for a moment, but with fear and trembling she comes forward and tells Jesus the whole truth. Isn’t that a marvelous phrase. Prayer begins with telling the whole truth, keeping nothing back. Prayer begins and ends with telling God what is in your heart,the deepest desires of your heart. Jesus tells her that she has been healed of her affliction and the word describes something more than her physical condition. All these years she
has been outcast. She has been ritually unclean, so that she could not even practice her religion. There is even something of a note of punishment about her condition and Jesus says, “That’s all behind you now.”
Put yourself in the place of these two, a woman who for twelve years had tried everything. She was ready to give up. “If I could just touch him.” A man whose daughter was at the point of death. Is there anything you wouldn’t do if your daughter were at the point of death?The whole countryside turned out to look for the little boy lost in Garland last week.
Oh sure, prayer raises a lot of theological questions. Does God really answer prayer? Can Jesus really do this? How do you ask correctly? Lord, if this is your will let my daughter be
well. But none of these questions means anything. Prayer is what is really in your heart. “Come quickly, my daughter….” “If I could just touch him.” How do you do it? Just ask, just ask. Sure that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but if you wandered in here off the street today as desperate as these two it doesn’t matter, does it.
But I must warn you. Prayer ought to come in a container with a label clearly marked: “This stuff may be hazardous to your health.” Remember my friend who prayed to feel the wounds of Christ? And remember this even stranger story of the Ark of the Covenant.
2 Samuel 6: 1-15 1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah[a] in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name,[b] the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it,[c] and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets,[d] harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals. 6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. 9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the LORD to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household. 12 Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
The ark was a kind of trunk where the holy things of Israel were kept, the two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments, for example. On top of it was carved a little seat that stood for the place where God sat. It was the holiest thing that Israel had. They were moving it to David’s new capital at Jerusalem when the oxen stumbled and Uzzah put out his hand to steady it, and the Lord smote him on the spot and he died. “If I could just touch him.” It could incinerate you. It could burn up your old way of life. Francis of Assissi had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Albert Schweitzer had to leave behind two great careers, organist and theologian, and become a medical missionary to Africa. The Seminaries are full of second career people. I don’t know what it could do to
you if you really open up the deep desires of your heart to God. He could heal you or he could slay you. But maybe if you wandered in here as desperate as these two today it doesn’t matter. “If I could just touch him, if I could just touch him.”
This sermons was preached by Bill Crouch on June 26, 1988, at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas. If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page.