The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Watch the sermon here.
“Nobody promised you tomorrow.”
That’s a quote from the black trans activist Marsha P Johnson. A simple, succinct, reminder of the uncertainty that is part of the reality of being human. A poignant reminder from someone whose identity put her on the margins of society, who knew better than most of us just how uncertain life could be.
As many of you know, we experienced a sudden and unexpected death in my family this past week. As I’ve spent the last several days with my family, much of the conversation has dwelt on the uncertainty of life. So uncertainty has definitely been on my mind this week.
The uncertainty principle, developed by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, states that the more you observe position, the less you can observe momentum, and vice versa – in other words, when you observe how fast things are moving, you can’t observe them properly, and if you’re observing them properly, you can’t tell how fast they’re moving. This is not only true in a science lab, but in life, as well. Sometimes, we observe something so carefully we don’t realize how fast it’s moving. If we’re attentive to the people, places, and things in our lives, we can’t accurately observe how fast they move – how fast children grow, how quickly the years lived in one city (or one apartment) pass. Sometimes life moves so fast that we feel we haven’t observed it properly. And if we stay still, noticing how fleeting everything is, watching life pass us by, we are unable to truly be attentive to it.
The past 15 months have been one giant experience of uncertainty. The pandemic has certainly forced us to slow down and be more attentive and observant to the things around us, and we’ve all experienced how removed that has made us from the passage of time. I haven’t talked to a single person who hasn’t blamed “covid brain” for being unable to accurately track the passage of time. (Do you know what year it is? how long its been since the last time you [fill in the blank]?) One great pandemic lesson we’ve all learned is that everything is uncertain; The only certainty is uncertainty. But uncertainty is unsettling; and an unsettled soul is a fearful soul.
Imagine the uncertainty that the woman suffering from hemorrhages must have felt. Living with disease for 12 years, her bleeding marking her as ritually unclean, rejected by society as an outcast, penniless and destitute over failed attempts to find a cure. Imagine her physical uncertainty, trying doctor after doctor, wondering if this one, finally, will have the cure, only to encounter, time and time again, the possibility that she will never find a remedy. Imagine her social uncertainty that she’ll ever be accepted anywhere, left to live on the margins. Imagine her spiritual uncertainty, deemed unclean and unable to enter the temple, with no possibility to offer her prayers and sacrifices to God, barred from upholding her spiritual obligations and keeping herself in right relationship with God. Imagine the fear and the despair that each day would bring, having to live in such uncertainty.
Maybe you’ve felt this way at some point; at the end of your rope, like just one more thing gone wrong will totally break you, grasping at straws in your search for hope. Maybe it’s not so hard for you to imagine the desperation that this woman might be feeling as she learns Jesus is coming through town.
It’s remarkable to me that in all her uncertainty, something compels her to reach out and touch Jesus. Something about this man makes her fearless. She says with certainty, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” She just knows this time, it’ll be different.
And when she touches Jesus’ clothes, something is different. This electric encounter ignites Jesus to turn around and ask who touched him.
Unlike everyone else in the crowd who rejects this woman, Jesus wants to talk with her. He wants to know her. He insists on personal contact with this ostracized, unclean woman.
And this woman courageously comes to him and tells him “the whole truth.” That somehow, miraculously, touching the hem of his garment has stopped her bleeding and healed her. She That she no longer has to live in uncertainty.
When she reaches out to him in faith, she is not only healed, but “made well.” The original Greek uses two distinct words, one which indicates physical healing and one that can be translated “made well,” “made whole,” or “saved.” Jesus’ interaction with her, and his blessing upon her, is a pronouncement that she is restored to wholeness of life.
Rather than facing each day scared, this woman is now filled with awe and wonder at her healing. She no longer has to live in fear of not knowing what her life will hold; she can now live in joyous anticipation for tomorrow. She still does not know what each day will bring, but that unknowing is no longer laden with the fear of uncertainty; now, it is filled with wonder, joy, and love.
She has moved from uncertainty to mystery.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, the modern Eastern Orthodox theologian, says: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”
All of us come here seeking healing of some sort. We all have our own uncertainties we struggle with. Many of us, including those who are LGBTQ+, have found ourselves on the margins in some way, shape, or form. What’s important about this story of healing is that it reminds us what the totality of God’s healing looks like. God’s healing moves us from uncertainty to mystery, to dwell not in fear but in love. When we reach out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, we are also fully known and are made whole. We might think we are seeking certainty, but what Jesus points us to is wonder, love, and the paradox that knowing God means ultimately resting in mystery.
The woman with hemorrhages reached out to Jesus and said, “this touch will be different.” We hear echoes of her confidence in the cries of Marsha P. Johnson in the Stonewall uprising. This time it’s gonna be better. I’m gonna break through. This time it’s gonna be different.
Nobody promised you tomorrow. It’s true, we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. And that can fill today with uncertainty. But I hope it invites you into mystery instead. I hope it gives you the confidence to push through a crowd for just a touch of the hem of a garment. I hope you know that something wondrous can still happen. Because Jesus is always making his way to the margins of uncertainty where we live, wanting to know us, inviting us not into uncertainty, but into the mystery of his love.