Sermon by Elizabeth Rowlandson 27.06.2021

Sermon by Elizabeth Rowlandson 27.06.2021

Psalm 130

 

Gracious God, by the power of your Spirit, as we open your word today, would you use it to reveal to us your living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

 

When I was little we lived in a stone cottage with thick thick walls and cut into them were window seats.

When someone went out, our dog, Ben, an English Setter, would take up position on the window seat in the sitting room and keep watch until they returned when he would greet them with a waggy tail and lots of joyful jumping.

Waiting can be an exciting and joyful thing, a time of anticipation and delight.

 

But so often waiting is much harder.

Sometimes we wait and don’t know what the future will bring – perhaps that’s familiar here as you wait for Gareth to join you.

We may wait in hope – for a change of heart, a return, a new opportunity

Other times we are waiting in dread – for a diagnosis, a departure, a decision.

We may also wait with others – friends and family - not quite knowing how to be a support through anxious times.

We may ask ‘Where is God?’ or, like the Psalmist, cry out ‘Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.’

And waiting can go on and on for many years, a lonely road to travel.

 

Twelve years of haemorrhaging would be just such a road.

Twelve years of shame and isolation.

Twelve years of hopelessness and exhaustion.

Where was God in that?

 

And on the day when Jesus meets that woman, nearby, others are looking back over twelve years – twelve years of a joy-filled childhood – as a young girl lies close to death.

Where was God in that?

 

It’s easy for the horror of the situations in Markto be dulled by the familiarity of their stories and the joy of the healings they experienced.

But both the woman and the girl’s family would been all too familiar with the psalmist’s picture of crying out to God from the depths.

So what encouragement and hope can we find in their stories as we wait in whatever circumstances we face today?

Can they help us to wait with others?

Can they help us make some kind of sense of God’s seeming absence?

 

Perhaps the first thing we notice in each of these interwoven stories, is the extraordinary faith of both Jairus and the haemorrhaging woman.

We can imagine that both have waited as long as they can bear and are at the point of desperation when they come to Jesus.

The woman has tried every possible medical treatment and has no money left.

Jairus knows his daughter cannot recover from her sickness and that this is the end.

By the time they encounter Jesus, neither has any other way forward, anything left to lose.

We, of course, can’t physically reach out to Jesus, either for ourselves or for others, but we can know that that’s okay, because he has already reached out to us.

Through countless witnesses, from the characters we meet today through to the widowed and royalty, his promises and their fulfilment reverberate through Scripture.

Those witnesses announce the faithfulness of the God who has power over nature and humanity, death and life, and challenge us to allow those promises to speak into our waiting.

It’s not difficult to find those in scripture who have to wait in faith – or often with very little faith because, of course, our doubt doesn’t stop God - and there is so much treasure in their stories.

From the Israelites waiting in fear as the angel of death passed over, to Paul waiting in prison.

From the fleeing Hagar to the remorseful Peter, time and again God comes to those for whom all hope seems lost, offering healing and renewal.

Let’s mine these stories for the nuggets of hope they contain - the truths they tell about our God - and store them up to inspire both ourselves and those around us.

Keeping a journal or highlighting passages can quickly create an extensive catalogue of his faithfulness.

And the reason that we can draw on the hope Scripture offers is also apparent in these accounts, because our God is a God who is present among us and who notices us.

He concerns himself with our problems and makes himself available to those in despair.

He walks with us, sometimes silent but always watching with us.

Are we ready to do the same?

Are we present with the people around us, noticing their waiting, concerned with their problems and available to those in despair?

It’s interesting to contrast Jesus’ response to the haemorrhaging woman and Jairus, to that of the other players in these scenes.

The woman’s shame is evident in her anxiety to hide herself away – she knows she is unacceptable.

And the length of her wait is surely a sign that God has also rejected her.

That same sense of worthlessness plagues our society today – people live with criticism and judgement, waiting to be found out and condemned by the prevailing cancel culture.

We see in this story that God does not write people off but he does choose to work in his own timing – are we ready to stay with people and watch for God to act?

Or do we interpret God’s silence as his absence and rejection and give in to the temptation to look on others with disapproval or even to behave as if they aren’t there?

And if we are ready to stay with people – perhaps like the those who come to tell Jairus that there’s no pint in bothering Jesus – are we too quick to offer opinions and advice rather than simply upholding them in prayer?

Recently I was asked to take on a big new role at work and I asked a friend to pray for my decision.

She replied – Is this the point at which I tell you not to take on anything more or do you just want me to pray?

That’s a hard judgement call but we simply must be willing to take everything to God before we start drawing our own conclusions.

I’m glad to say she she did just that.

 

Finally, something which comes through loud and clear in these accounts is the need to be ready and watching, rather than getting bogged down in our waiting.

We mustn’t stop crying out to God, we must be ready to take every opportunity to be proactive rather than passive.

Psalm 130.7 contains the command ‘O Israel, hope in the Lord!’

This is a confident hope, a hope which spurs us to action because it is based on the assurance of our salvation.

It’s a determination not to give up but to wait expectantly for God to act:

My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning.

We see that same expectation in Jairus:

‘Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live’

And in the haemorrhaging woman:

‘If I but touch his clothes I will be made well’

There is power in this expectant hope:

‘You faith has made you well’ and ‘Do not fear, only believe’ says Jesus.

Has our waiting beaten us down?

Or do we have the courage to approach God this boldly – to put all our trust in him and live as if there’s nothing left for us to lose?

 

I wonder where we find ourselves in these stories today…

Do we recognize the desperation of Jairus?

Do we identify with the exhaustion of the haemorrhaging woman?

Has God brought to mind those of whom we disapprove or try to ignore – like the crowd?

Or have we been too quick to assume we see things as they really are rather than praying and leaving a situation in God’s hands?

Are we able to draw on the accounts of God’s faithfulness that we find in scripture to sustain us and those around us in our waiting?

Are we alert to those in our lives who are waiting and ready to keep watch with them?

Can we be faithful in our prayer for them rather than jumping in with advice?

And can we fight the resignation that so often accompanies a long wait and instead anticipate the Lord’s action?

Can we boldly proclaim with the Psalmist:

‘For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.’

May God bless us in our waiting.

Amen