Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2023 – The Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

allsaintsadmin Sermons

(2 Kings 5:1-4,9-14)+Psalm 30+Acts 16:16-24+Matthew 9:18-26

An army commander who scoffs at Elisha’s healing methods.

A psalmist who affirms God’s healing powers, writing: Healing ONE, my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me. (Psalm 30:2)

A couple of enslavers who are enraged when their money-maker is healed.

A woman who has suffered for years seeking healing surreptitiously.

A young girl who has died who is an unknowing participant in a healing miracle.

There is a whole lot of healing going on in our readings today, and I think that maybe this message came just in time.

Because God knows our world is in need of some serious healing.

The funny thing is that we don’t always get to control how that healing happens or even to seek healing in the first place. Sometimes it just happens over the course of time or in some unexpected way until we wake up one day and whatever it is no longer causes the same pain or suffering or weight.

Neither the enslaved girl in Philippi nor the synagogue leader’s daughter in Matthew ask for anything to be done to them or for them. They are merely pawns, or actors, in the drama swirling about them. For the poor girl in Acts whose masters earn a fortune off of her ability to tell fortunes, she was unlucky all the way around, because if she could no longer produce income for those who enslaved her, what options might be left for them to earn money from her? It’s a scary thought, and one we can’t answer because we never hear anything about her again. Perhaps Paul and Silas’s new friend and financial supporter, Lydia, took the girl in, but we simply don’t know.

The girl in Matthew, identified as the daughter of Jairus in Mark’s telling of this story, is not enslaved, she is privileged, at least in her family situation. The word for “girl” that Jesus uses has a root that means the “apple of one’s eye.”[1] We have talked many times about the low status of children in the time of Jesus, but this does not mean that within families children are not treasured and loved, and it is clear that Jairus loves this girl because he risks public shame and humiliation by prostrating himself in front of this itinerant preacher, this Jesus. Even when he convinces Jesus to come into his home the professional mourners gathered there laugh when Jesus says that she is just sleeping.

I have often said that it’s important to observe what comes before a particular reading to get a bit of context, and that is especially so here, when this part of Matthew 9 begins with, “While Jesus was speaking…” (9:18). What, you may ask, was he speaking about and to whom?

Jesus had just been asked about fasting by the Pharisees. They fasted, so why didn’t Jesus and his followers? Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is part of many religious traditions as a way of acknowledging dependence on God, of self-denial, of drawing one’s focus onto our Creator. So, why didn’t Jesus and his followers do that? And just before our reading begins today, he says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved’” (16:17).

Jesus is doing a new thing, proclaiming the nearness of God’s reign, and that includes an ability to heal our wounds with or without our cooperation. The woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years had likely already lost everything. What did she have to lose by creeping up to touch the fringe of Jesus’s robe? The synagogue leader had everything to lose by throwing himself at Jesus’s feet, and yet he did it anyway. Jesus was the last chance for the unnamed woman to be restored to community and the only chance for the young girl to be brought back to life.

At our Episcopal 101 group last Sunday, we talked a bit about living out our faith by doing what we can do right in front of us. We don’t always have to go off looking for folks to serve or issues to address. Sometimes the need shows up right on our doorstep, and that is where sharing our gifts can help the most.

This was Jesus’s way, too. He dealt with those he encountered right in front of him, whether it was the questions of the scribes and pharisees or a beggar calling to him from the outskirts of the village, a synagogue leader bereft with grief or a woman who had been shunned for years.

I truly believe that the most important thing we can do as followers of Jesus is to simply show up, to love those who are right in front of us, to do what we can to ease whatever need they have. Often these efforts lead to healing and wholeness beyond what we might have imagined. For so many people, just knowing that someone sees them, someone cares what happens to them – sometimes that is enough.

So, keep showing up, All Saints. God has done – and still can do – miracles through such a simple act. And you may be surprised to discover that the healing comes your way at the same time. Jesus was doing a new thing and still is in our time and in this place. Thanks be to God.

[1] See Gafney Year A lectionary, p. 56.

allsaintsadminSermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2023 – The Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas