The woman who is the focus of our story today enjoys at least one advantage that most of those thronged around Jesus do not: she knows that she needs healing. Most of the people crowded around Jesus need guidance, need direction, need to experience redemptive power, need to marshal their energies in response to the call of God, but most of them do not know it. Most of them are there because they have been caught up in the excitement of the social scene. But this woman has been suffering a hemorrhage of blood for twelve years, and she knows that physically she needs healing. But she knows she needs more than that. Because of her particular medical condition, she has been condemned by her religion as unclean, as profane, regarded as unfit for social contact, so not only is her body diseased, but her soul is scarred. She needs the healing of her body, but she also needs the healing of her soul. So she approaches our Lord surreptitiously, seeking to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment.
This woman’s presence in that crowd around Jesus provides an answer to a very important question that we often do not ask ourselves: why are we here? Why have we risen out of bed and come to this place that we regard as sacred for the purpose of worshipping? Have we done so out of habit? Have we come so that we can see our friends? Have we done so because we would feel guilty if we did not? Why have we come into this sacred place this morning? This woman’s pursuit of Jesus provides the optimum answer to this question. For she has come because the depth of her soul cries out to answer the profound call of God. The depth of her soul cries out to come into contact with the healing power of the divine. We should always come into this sacred place with an expectation to respond to God’s profound summons with an answer from the depths of our soul. We should come because we realize that the deepest impulses within us can only be satisfied by the deepest call of God. We should come because we realize that our energies and talents can only find their greatest fulfillment when placed in the service of the Kingdom of God. This woman is amidst that crowd thronged around Jesus because being around Jesus is the only place that can satisfy the deepest impulse of her entire being.
Of course, there are those who say that those who answer a divine summons that directs our lives toward One who will give us ultimate meaning and purpose are doomed to disappointment, because there is no reality corresponding to God. The famous biologist Stephen Jay Gould opined: “We may feel an urge toward some higher meaning and purpose, but there is none.” Of course, that particular scientist spoke from the perspective of an atheist. So he was only half right – and thus all wrong. He was half-right in this: to be a human is to feel an urge to connect with a higher meaning and purpose. The human soul feels the impulse to direct existence toward fulfilling a profound purpose and answer the deep summons of the divine. To feel such a divine summons is what it means to be human. The truth is, even those who say that they don’t believe in God tacitly and unconsciously acknowledge that all of life bears a divine and sacred imprint.
Some years ago, a mentally disturbed young man obtained a powerful weapon and went on a rampage on the campus of the University of Northern Illinois, killing several and gravely wounding many others, one more event in a long string of mass shootings. A few days later, the student body gathered in the gym for a basketball game. But before they could cheer for shots and steals, they first knew they had to acknowledge the sacred importance of those lives that had been lost. They observed a solemn moment of silence. Why? If life is meaningless, if our existence is purposeless, how could those murders really be considered tragic? Why would people pause in silence to underscore the fact that those lost lives mattered? The truth is, everyone in that gym knew that something horribly wrong had happened, and they as a community had to acknowledge that wrong. They knew they had collectively to mourn those losses and honor every life. Even those students who claimed not to believe in God were unconsciously engaged in a spiritual exercise. Whether they realized it or not, they were acknowledging that there is a divine imprint upon every life and upon the entire cosmos. The whole universe bears the imprint of the reality of God. The depth of God summons us to respond with the deepest impulses and commitments of our being.
There is a theological corollary to this fundamental truth. If we do not direct our deepest energies and ultimate allegiance toward the profound call of the true God, then we will direct our deepest energies toward lesser deities. If we do not direct our attention to God’s ultimate reality, then we will direct our energies toward pursuits that are ultimately shallow and superficial. You don’t believe me? Then turn on your television. Look how we have turned our every single pursuit into its own religion, requiring its own form of faith. You like cooking? There’s a tv network that will let you sauté and soufflé your way to happiness twenty-four hours a day. You like shopping? There are networks that will cater to your acquisitive passion all day and all night. You like sports? There are sports networks airing twenty-four hours, constantly replaying the same highlights. You like golf? There is a golf network that runs twenty-four hours, mostly spent hawking products promising instantly to turn us all into Tiger Woods. You like politics? Then you are one sick puppy – but there are a half-dozen networks willing to scratch your every itch to learn all the latest intriguing political developments. My point is this: every menial pursuit has been turned into some kind of game, and every game has been turned into some kind of faith. In so doing, we are trying in the feeblest fashion to satisfy our urge to touch the fringe of the garment of that which is highest and most profound. When we do not channel our deepest allegiances toward that which is highest, then we will compensate by directing our energies toward that which is shallow. Deep calls to deep!
My daughter is worshipping with us this morning, and throughout her youth she was (and still is) a big Harry Potter fan. I must have watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with her a hundred times. But there is a scene in a Harry Potter movie that has made a deep impression upon me. There is a scene where young Harry is facing a basilisk, a huge snake with deadly eyes and a poisonous bite. In this dire moment, facing a grossly unequal battle, Harry remembers something that his headmaster Dumbledore said to him: “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” Sure enough, in Harry’s hour of need a phoenix flies in from nowhere to blind the basilisk. Out of a floppy hat comes a sword with which he can battle the beast. When Harry kills the beast but suffers a deadly wound in the process, the phoenix returns to cry healing tears upon his wound and redeem him from death. Harry realizes that his environment is truly a place designed to provide him help in times of need. So, too, that is why that woman enters that crowd and reaches out to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment. She realizes that the God who fashioned the universe has constructed a world where help is provided for those who need it. Jesus commands us, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you.” Our Lord articulates a Good News that asserts that the God who created this world has fashioned a universe where if you ask for help, God will provide it.
The Psalmist declares, “I look to the hills. Whence cometh my strength? My strength comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth! This woman who reached out to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment and the Psalmist, they both know that our ultimate strength comes from the deep call of the divine – if only we ask for it. But the woman and the Psalmist are not only saying something profound about the nature of humanity, they are also saying something profound about the nature of God. There is not only something in our nature that makes us look to the God who made heaven and earth. There is also something about our God who has constructed a world where if we ask for help, God’s Spirit will provide it, if we seek God’s truth, God’s Spirit will answer our search, and if we knock upon the door of understanding, God will open our minds. God has constructed a world that satisfies our deepest needs.
How often do you allow the deep call of the divine to touch the deepest heart of your being? How often do you allow your being to be connected to the vitality and enlivening energy of God’s Spirit? How often do you feel yourselves summoned to embody the values of God’s Kingdom, which are, in fact, the great themes of life? The very desire of our God who sends out signals able to reach the deepest parts of our personality and priorities, this God beckons, ‘Come, give your life to me. Come, let me direct your talents in the most positive direction possible. Come, allow me to make you a new creature through the power of Jesus Christ.’ How often do we allow the Spirit of God to expand our imagination of what we can accomplish?
In Mobile, Alabama, beside the old World War II ship, the USS Alabama, there is a military museum that houses all manner of sophisticated multi-million dollar fighter planes and weapons of every description. But my attention focused on a crude little craft less than forty feet long, and no more than forty-eight inches high. For you and me, it would have been like crawling inside a tire, and I daresay that if you and I crawled inside that tire, we could not have stayed in it more than ten minutes. If someone closed us up inside that tire, most of us probably couldn’t have stayed inside it more than a minute. Yet, nine men crawled into that little craft, less than forty feet long and four feet high, staying there not minutes, but hours. It would have been a ghastly place to sit. Even more, it would have been a ghastly place to die. Yet the nine men inside this vessel knew that such would probably be their fate. The first two prototypes of this craft had sunk and drowned all their crews, and those boats were not carrying a bomb. This one was. Yes, I’m talking about the Confederate submarine known as the Hundley, pedaled by eight people and steered by one. It made its way into Charleston harbor and became the first submarine in the history of warfare to sink a ship. Yet their bomb sank not only the ship, but also their sub in the process. Can you imagine what the horrifying last seconds of those nine men’s lives must have been like, their sinking little crypt slowly filling with water? What a horrible way to die!
Why were they willing to do it? Because there was something in their souls that challenged them to do something that had never been done before! As some of you know, that little crypt remained hidden and undisturbed in the silt of Charleston harbor for over a century until a few years ago, when it was located and raised, and the remains of the heroic crew interred amidst pomp and circumstance. Why did people turn out in great numbers to commemorate their achievement? The war in which they fought had long been lost. The cause for which they died had long been discredited. Yet people turned out by the thousands to honor these men, because these men represented the human instinct to answer the call to expand our imaginations as to what might be possible! They represented the innate human instinct to do something that had never been done before. That same impulse runs in all of us. God has placed it there. The Spirit of God has given us the impulse to stretch the bonds of the possible and break all conventional notions of what can be done.
To what degree do our souls remain open to the summons of God to explore the spiritual frontiers of our lives and attempt ambitions that we never imagined could be possible? To what degree are we wiling to allow the deepest impulses in our lives to answer the deep summons of the divine and be energized by the power of God’s Spirit? To what degree are we willing to allow our priorities to be shaped and impelled by the values of God’s Kingdom, which are the fundamental themes of a meaningful life? Our ambition should be the woman’s ambition, to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment. We should want to hear Jesus say to us daily, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you whole.”