Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2022
Ephesians 2:4-10; Luke 8:41-56
Glory to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today in the account of the healing of Jairus’s daughter, we have a brief interruption. If you’re reading the whole chapter, it has a pretty fast pace. The Lord begins by telling the parable of the sower and the seed, then he and the disciples get in a boat and he calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee; they land in the region of the Gadarenes and he heals the demoniac; they head back across the water and we begin today, “When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, because they were all waiting for him. Then a synagogue leader named Jairus came up…” So it’s been a busy day or two already, and there’s a crowd waiting for the Lord, hungry for more miracles and teaching.
Then he stops and says. “Who touched me?”
Now from time to time the Lord asks questions not to gain information but to make someone answer. In Paradise, the all-knowing Creator did not wonder where Adam had got to; he called out, “Adam, where are you?” to get Adam to answer. “Who told you you were naked? Have you disobeyed me?” is the same as when a priest asks you what sins you’ve come to confess, because you have a need to say these things, and hear yourself say these things, out loud.
“Who touched me? …I could tell power went out from me.” Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.
She came trembling — why? Because under the Jewish law, a person who touched blood or a dead body was separated for seven days, and anyone who touched them was made unclean as well. That meant a Jewish woman on her monthly period, or immediately after giving birth, couldn’t enter anyone else’s home, or the Temple, and anyone or anything she touched shared her separation.
Now, to be clear, Jewish ritual impurity is not sin (how could anyone repent from what a healthy woman’s body does every month?) but under the Jewish law, ritual impurity visibly separated a person from their family and from shared sacred acts. And as long as this woman had this condition, anybody that this woman touched would contract a state of ritual uncleanness from her.
This woman is right to be afraid. If the crowd that’s been “pressing against” one another realize that she has just made many of them unclean by touching her, how angry are they going to be? And she’s not just bumped into however many people in the crowd, but she’s just publicly touched the Teacher Jesus. What is he going to say!?
But the Lord turns the tables on expectations. The touch of the woman doesn’t make him impure: Instead, He makes her clean.
He does the same thing in Matthew (8:3) when he touches a leper. Lepers were meant to live outside the camp, and aways call out “Unclean! Unclean!” so no one would come hear them and catch their disease or their ritual impurity (Leviticus 13:44-46). But when the Lord touches a leper, the leper doesn’t make him sick or unclean: The Life of God makes the leper clean and whole.
And when people were coming to John the Baptist to repent and wash their sins away, the Lord came with them. John was confused, because the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) has no sins to wash away: “I need to be baptized by you! How are you coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). But he obeys and immerses the Creator of the world in the water. When the sinless God incarnate enters the muddy Jordan river, it doesn’t make him clean: He makes the waters pure and holy.
Jesus doesn’t get wet — the water gets Jesus.
That’s why we bless water repeatedly throughout the year, and then we use that blessed water to communicate the power of God into our homes, our bodies, our vehicles and livestock and crops. We bless everything to visibly, tangibly invade this world with the Kingdom of God. “Let thy kingdom come. Let thy will be done on earth, as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
You can see in this a figure of the salvation of the world. The living God enters into the human race, unites himself to fallen Adam, and unites mankind to the life of God.
The root word in Hebrew for “impurity” or “uncleanness” is separation (נִדָּה niddah). In the incarnation, Christ wipes away our separation from the life of God by uniting us to his divine nature.
In this morning’s epistle, St Paul wrote to the Ephesians that “even when we were dead in sins, God has quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). That’s all one word: synezōopoíēsen, Made-alive-together-with. To make up a new word, God has co-quickened us with Christ. The light of Godhead that shone out in Hades, that raised the dead from all ages and led them out into paradise, is the life that God has put to work in us.
In John 15, the Lord gives us an image to put that in tangible terms. He says,
I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes, so that it may bear more fruit… Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and withers; these are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:1-6).
Saint Paul writes:
If the root is holy, then so are the branches… You have become a partaker of the root and richness of the olive tree (Romans 11:16-24).
One of the books I referred to in translating the Gospels into Cebuano warned translators against rendering “eternal life” as something like “life without end,” or “everlasting existence.” Because what the Gospel writers actually meant was “the Life of Eternity.” Everybody will already exist unto ages of ages in some state or place; but those who are in Christ, and bear fruit, participate in the nature and life of the Trinity. If you go back and read through St John’s three short letters in the back of your Bible, see how many times he says things like, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
And the more we abide in Christ, remain and dwell and practice the presence of God, the more we bear fruit; some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold.
Christmas is coming, and of course we all look forward to brightly-wrapped presents under the tree – each gift a thing that someone has made or picked out to give to us. When we see our sins and shortcomings we want to ask God to grant us wisdom, give us the virtues we lack, impart to us his righteousness.
But many years ago, I stumbled over 1 Corinthians 1:30, which says in its delightfully twisted King James grammar: “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”
Straighten out the kinks in that sentence, and we get: God has united you to Christ; and Christ is your wisdom, your righteousness, your holiness, and your reconciliation.
Banish from your mind the idea that our God intends to give you righteousness as a gift, a thing, apart from himself. It’s not an impersonal thing. When God the Word entered into our race he himself became all the righteousness we will ever have. If we lack holiness, wisdom, love, or perseverance, then remember those are attributes of God. Jesus Christ is wisdom in us; he is love and courage and perseverance in us. And as we become increasingly partakers of the divine nature, we increase in bearing the fruit that reveals who he is.
* * *
If you had a glass of water, and a clod of mud fell in, it would spoil the whole glass. A single drop of poison in the cup makes the whole thing bad.
But in Christ we have the opposite: a purifying, healing, life-giving Grace that makes the impure and damaged whole and alive and holy.
Don’t imagine that holiness is a synonym for strictness or compliance with commandments. A religion that majors on your performance can only condemn you.
Rather than a straitjacket and a list of foods to avoid, think of holiness as the opposite of a polluting, poisoning intrusion – as a clear spring flowing with pure, cool, refreshing water of life. Healing and reviving everything it touches and satisfying the thirst of our soul. We sing in the Paraclesis: “By the Holy Spirit, the streams of life are flowing, watering all of the creation, granting life upon it.”
So when the woman afflicted with uncleanness touches the Lord, he says to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you whole. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48)
“Your faith has made you whole.” The Lord will say that seven times before the Gospels are over (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:43), the same exact words in Greek.
In some places it’s translated into English “Your faith has made you whole.” And in other places translators render it: “Your faith has saved you.” Christ doesn't use different words; translators make that decision based on whether Christ seems to be healing a sick person or forgiving a sinner. The word “salvation” means healing, preservation, rescue, safety, wholeness.
A person who has been saved from their sins is one in whom the damage and compulsion of sins have been healed, whose heart and relationships are conformed to the love of God. Who’s been transfigured into the likeness of Christ. A person who has begun to be saved is one in whom the Holy One has begun to become “clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps 24:4kjv).
But us? We’ve been to confession for the sins that have plagued us for years. We’ve been to confession so many times, fallen and risen fallen, and we have felt like an unworthy, unclean leper in the midst of the worthy ones in the Temple.
Saint Ambrose of Optina told this story:
One ascetic woman was besieged for a long time with unclean thoughts. When the Lord finally came and cast them away from her, she called to Him: ‘Where were you before now, O my sweet Jesus?’ The Lord answered: ‘I was in your heart.’ She said then: ‘How could that be? For my heart was full of unclean thoughts.’ The Lord said to her: ‘Know that I was in your heart, for you were not disposed to the unclean thoughts, but strove rather to be free of them. And when you were not able to be free, you struggled and grieved. By this you prepared a place for Me in your heart.’
Struggle and pursue holiness. Fall and rise again, and have no shame, but come right to the throne of Grace and receive mercy. The Lord is not charting your progress, grading your performance, and you shouldn’t be either.
If you are prepared to receive Communion today, then come to the cup “with the fear of God, with faith and love.” This morning we are not merely going to steal a touch of the hem of Christ’s garment. With audacity we are going to trust the One who calls us and says “Never will I leave you, never desert you” (Hebrews 13:5), and “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest: (Matthew 11:28), and we are going to receive the Lord's present, resurrected, glorified, deified Body into our own bodies.
When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried out “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips!” But there was already a sacrifice offered on the altar, and
One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips. Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purified” (Isaiah 6:1-6).
When the priest and deacon receive communion, this verse is repeated. Today when you follow the woman with the issue of blood, and you dare in faith to receive the body of Christ and taste the fountain of immortality, remember the words of the angel: Behold, this has touched your lips, and taken away your sins, and purified your iniquities.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.