When We Need Him Most
ne of the main things that our New Testaments teach about Jesus is that it is never too late to call out to him. Jesus can change situations and conditions in our lives even when it seems as if there is no hope. He can bring newness to damaged relationships, freedom from addictive behavior and even forgiveness and healing of past emotional scars. He offers hope when there is no hope; oftentimes, just when we need him most.
Our gospel reading for this third Sunday after Pentecost is what we might call an interrupted narrative. There are six movements back and forth between three different events that are interwoven. Those of us who have been reared on television situation comedies and dramas have no problem with this fast paced action taking place because that is really the way life happens day by day. I did have a church member who upon retirement planned to do only one thing per day. If he needed to go to the bank, that's all he attempted to do that day. He waited until the next day to go to the mall. Of course, it did not work out because he was married, and most days his wife had a multifaceted agenda all of her own that included him and usually the mall.
Today's story begins with Jesus calling a sinner to repent, and to become his disciple. Matthew, the author of this story, is relating the story about the day that he came to Jesus. He tells it all, as it happened. Jesus was busy that day and much more was going on than his calling Matthew. He had been a rich tax collector who was despised by his fellow Jews because of his conspiracy with the Roman occupiers, and for the common tax collector's practice of overcharging citizens and pocketing the proceeds. Jesus invited such an unlikely candidate to become an Apostle: "And he got up and followed him." (v.9). Years later, Saint Matthew became the author of the Book that records these stories of hopeless persons finding new hope.
Jesus also encountered a man on that same day who waited until his daughter was already dead before he came to him. What an enormous amount of faith it took for him to come asking for his daughter to be raised from the dead. However, he had been listening, and watching, Jesus' preaching and had come to believe that the long expected Messiah could do anything. Note that when he came up to Jesus he, "knelt before him," as a symbol of submission and reverence. Although he had been an administrator of the local synagogue he found a new focus to his faith, and a new hope. Matthew 9:19 records that, in response to the man's request, "Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples."
As the small group was walking toward the man's home the third story within our drama begins to unfold. A desperate untouchable woman came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his garment. She had no doubt been listening to Jesus' sermons and had developed faith that he could heal her. She had been hemorrhaging for twelve years and according to Jewish law had been unclean all that time. She had seen him heal others and reasoned that if she could only touch the lowest fringe of his garment she could be cured. "Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, 'Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.'" (v.22, NRSV).
For two thousand years readers of these three incidents have asked, "Can it be that quick and easy? Can new life be had this simply? Can desperately ill persons still find healing through faith in Jesus Christ?" Just as it was on the day that these interwoven stories took place, people of faith believe, and people who have not yet come to faith still doubt. Even after witnessing the healing of the untouchable woman, seeing the young girl raised from the dead, and two additional healings that Jesus did that day, the Pharisees still doubted. In fact, verse 34 says that they accused Jesus of healing by the power of Satan. The point is that there will always be people of faith, and people of doubt.
In this Sanctuary we probably have some who are able to believe the miracle stories about Jesus because you have great faith in him. You have possibly experienced miracles in your own life, and you have been following him for many years. It is not that we who believe are gullible, but it is because our faith in Christ has been affirmed by our experiences with him over the years. He has never failed us, and we know that he never will. It is not because all of our prayers have been answered according to our request, but all of our prayers have been answered according to what we came to experience as God's divine will. We have learned to live our lives in the center of his will and to trust him.
But others have a more difficult time believing. It is not mere intellectual doubt because many brilliant and highly educated people have deep experiences of faith in Christ. I think that the main problem that most people have that keeps them from believing is kneeling. They are not willing to give control over to him. We must be willing to submit to a higher power than ourselves. We must listen to Jesus' words and read the many stories about him.
Yet another element often brings resistant believers to Jesus, adversity. Sometimes folks have to get down before they can look up. Think about it. The leader of the synagogue was desperate in that his daughter was dead. The humble woman with the twelve year hemorrhaging was at the end of her rope. And that's when many folks find Jesus, just when they need him most.
These selected stories from the many encounters that Jesus had during his few years of ministry are here to tell us that we too can reach out to him in our lostness, our hopelessness, our sickness and pain, and he will answer--- and then we will know.
One thing more,
"And the report of this spread throughout that district."
(v.26). This is still the most effective means of drawing persons to
Christ. "Have you heard about the great things that are happening
at old First Church?" "Come with me this Sunday and you will
hear a sermon that offers Good News!" "Let me tell you about
the great things that have been happening in my life since I found the
Lord!" Go tell your story!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor