"Faith looks like..." Sermon by Vicar Sarah Kretschmann
Image reference: "The Encounter" by Daniel Cariola, a Mural in the Encounter Chapel of the Duc in Altum Spiritual Center, Magdala.
Read Mark 5:21-43
When I used to hear this story, the unnamed hemorrhaging woman was just that for me, unnamed. She was a distant character from long ago plagued by loneliness in addition to her health condition.
But since beginning my work at Lutheran World Relief, this unnamed woman is no longer without a name, without a living example of her healing story, for me. When I hear this story, I think of Trufena.
Trufena is a mother of six living in the Lake’s region of Tanzania. At age 35, she experienced profound bleeding just like the woman in our Gospel text today, and she didn’t know where to turn to for help. She did not have the money needed to pay for a doctor’s visit and worried how she would continue to provide for her family and care for herself.
Like the hemorrhaging woman in Mark’s Gospel, Trufena was desperately hoping and praying for healing and a path forward. She worried about becoming isolated from her community due to her condition. How would she make the money necessary for her kids’ school fees? How would she get the care she needed to survive?
But just like in our story from Mark, God showed up. Not in a holy garment this time, but in free screenings for cervical cancer at Bugando Medical Center near her home.
Cervical cancer is the leading cancer in the region where Trufena lives and doctors at the medical center see three to five new patients each week with advanced cervical cancer, a leading cause of death among women in Tanzania. It is generally caught early in the rest of the world and, in its early stages, is entirely treatable. Yet many women suffer and die from cervical cancer in the Lake’s region because they did not have access to screening for early detection or could not afford the necessary treatment.*
Trufena has received treatment and is no longer bleeding, but I shudder to think of what may have happened to her and her family had free cancer screenings not been available near her home. Or if, like the unnamed woman in Mark, Trufena had been discriminated against because of her condition, not been heard by her medical providers and received poor treatment.
I would imagine that there are some of us who know what it is to struggle with chronic illnesses whether that is mental illness, chronic pain or something else. And I would imagine there are even more of us who know what it feels like to not be heard when we try to advocate for our health or wellbeing.
Maybe you or someone you love is struggling with a disease or disorder which you are afraid to talk about for fear of judgement from others. If so, I urge you to look to Jesus as an example. He does not shy away from those living with mental illness or diseases that cause fear. The ostracism and segregation portrayed in Mark’s account and still experienced in our society are not Jesus’ vision for the world.
Throughout the book of Mark, Jesus refuses to play by society’s rules. God’s kingdom in Mark takes root in the marginalized, the ostracized, the unwell. Jesus shows up as the great physician in often surprising ways, even when we think he may not be listening.
For twelve years, the woman with hemorrhages had been suffering, her physical, social and financial condition worsening each year. She came to Jesus, not ever expecting to have an audience with him, or to be heard. She came to Jesus with a last hope that simply being in the physical presence of God embodied in the world would make her well.
She reaches out, taking a significant risk, and touches his cloak. We hear one of the thoughts that goes through her head, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” But I wonder about all the other thoughts that must have been swirling in her mind.
“Will someone from the community recognize me?” “What if I am caught around so many people in my state of uncleanliness?” “Could they take more from me?”
“What if this doesn’t work?”
But it does. Her risk of faith does work. Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was cured of her disease.
Just like that, she was cured. But Jesus knows that full healing doesn’t stop at just being cured. When Jesus calls out to the woman and invites her into conversation, he is moving from curing to healing. The disease itself was only one dimension of the suffering for this woman. She was also suffering from separation from her community.
In the time when she lived, her condition labeled her unclean and unable to participate in the daily life of the community. This is why Jesus’ public declaration is so important. Instead of reprimanding this suffering woman for touching his cloak, an act which would have labeled him unclean as well, Jesus declares her faithfulness and healing to the large, gathered crowd.
Through this action, not only is the woman’s health restored, but her dignity, status and ability to participate in society are as well. Jesus shouts for the world to hear, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Now it can be easy to use this verse in some harmful ways. We have to be especially careful about how we interpret this passage. When Jesus says, “ Your faith has made you well,” what does he mean?
Well let’s look at the context of this passage. What does faith look like in the life of this courageous woman?
Faith looks like persistence.
Faith looks like holding hope no matter what.
Faith looks like courage to do difficult things, like reach out for help.
Faith looks like believing in yourself, even when others don’t.
Faith looks like taking risks and telling the truth, even when you are full of fear.
So have faith.
Our God of Compassion through their Son, the great physician, made the broken whole and healed the sick. He continues to treat our wounds through compassionate care providers, protect our bodies through miracles like vaccines, relieve our hurts through caring healthcare workers, and restores us to wholeness through loving community.
Just as God was present with the unnamed woman, just as God was present with Trufena, God is present with you granting you peace on the journey to healing, whatever that looks like for you.
*Adapted from blog post: www.imaworldhealth.org/blog/2020/her-life-saved-cancer-survivor-sets-sights-new-dream