Sermon July 30, 2017: A little bit from God can go a long way

Posted in Sermons
[Dr. Benjamin Valentin]
  • Presenter: Dr. Benjamin Valentin
  • Date: July 30, 2017
  • Location: Congregación León de Judá, Boston MA

Matthew 9:20 “Then, suddenly, a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, came up behind them and touched the fringe of His cloak, for she said to herself: if I can touch His coat I will be made well. Jesus then turned, and seeing her, said: “take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well”.

Now before I begin my sermon I will like to ask you to repeat a few words after me but I want you to do it in a loud voice, I want you to say these words: “a little bit from God can go a long way.”

Now, if you don’t remember anything else about my sermon but you remember those words you are in good shape, that’s both the title of my sermon and it’s main point. So are you ready to hear God’s Word? I wanna heart it! alright.

So early this year I found myself teaching a course on historical Jesus at the university where I teach, and as part of the course I had students read many different kinds of writings. We read books on archeology that spoke about artifacts from the time of Jesus, we read ancient jewish and christian text that illuminate what Jesus’ world must have been like, we read modern history books that deal with a variety of aspects of the world of Jesus, and we of course read the New Testament’s Gospels. We did all of this hoping to arrive at a better picture of the context of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Now, because my practice is to read everything that I assign to my students I read all of these books and articles with them, I always forget that, so I assign a lot of stuff and then I end up having to read it all, this meant that I had to read the Gospels again. I had read the Gospels in their entirety many times before but there is something beautiful about reading the Scriptures repeatedly. When you do this, you often find that you tend to discover new things and stories in the Bible, sometimes you stumble upon new details in the stories. I don’t know if this has happened before to you but sometimes you find that things you knew before grab your attention in a different way and they end up carrying new meaning and speaking to you in different ways, that is exactly what happened to me when I read this story of the woman with the issue of blood again.

But what caught my attention this time are the four simple words that the Gospel of Matthew uses when telling the story of this woman, and the words are: if I can only. Now I have to admit that I not only became fascinated with these four words, but that I even obsessed with them for a little bit.

Now, my wife is here so she knows that I can be a little bit obsessive, but basically I wondered: why the Gospel writer felt compelled to include these words in his story? After all I noticed that the story could be told without these four words in it. Matthew could have told the story without these four words and the story would have made complete sense, but instead Matthew has this woman thinking to herself and then saying to herself: if I can only touch the fringe of His cloak, I will be made well.

And it was the first four words of this statement that picked my attention and curiosity, if I can only. Why the importance of these words? I thought to myself, why include them when the story could be told without them? what was the Gospel writer trying to communicate to us when he decided to include these words? why, why, why?

Now in my search for some answers I turned to Bible commentaries and Bible encyclopedias, and I did this to see if these four words included appeared in the early versions and translations of the New Testament, and sure enough, I found that they appeared there, and since then I have become more convinced that these four words are important to understanding one of the main points of this story.

I want to share that point with you today, but before I do so, I want first to reconstruct the story of this woman by sharing some details about it, I think these details may make it even more interesting and more memorable to you, and I will begin with the observation that the story of the woman with the issue of blood is told in three of the four Gospels we have in our Bible, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story, and this tells us that the early christian community considered it a significant story in the life of Jesus.

I also find interesting that the christians of the second century felt that this heroic woman of faith should not remain nameless and so, they gave her a name, they called her ironically Veronica, any Veronicas in the house?

But here is the interesting thing, you probably have noticed that the Bible’s story doesn’t provide the name of this woman, it simply refers to her as the woman who had been suffering from the hemorrhage problem, and so, the reason for this is that in the time of Jesus the culture was highly patriarcal and sexist, and women therefore weren’t granted the same status as men, for that reason you will find that their names are not always mentioned in the biblical stories, but I love it that early christians felt that it was a shame that this woman of great faith had remained nameless in the biblical text, they felt she should be given a name.

Now, I think that this admirable, tenacious woman of faith is certainly deserving of a name, and so, in the spirit of honoring this woman and in the spirit of these early christians I too will take to call her “Veronica” today, say that name, “Veronica” okay, remember that name, Veronica.

So let me tell you some things about Veronica. The Gospel tells us that Veronica had been suffering from a debilitating hemorrhage problem for twelve years. Historically, scholars of the Bible had tended to believe that the woman suffered from a unceasing menstruation or an ongoing menstrual cycle which means that she had to deal with a continuous bleeding. The Gospels of Mark and Luke add that she had to spend all she had to look for a cure, she probably spent all of her money consulting false healers and religious healers known to have healing powers.

Back then there were no mass general, there was no Boston medical center, no Obama Care (audience laughs), but there were false healers and religious leaders who had powers for healing. Veronica did this but instead of getting better she grew worse.

This little detail about her having spent all she had is significant because she tells us that Veronica may have been a widow. In biblical times it was extremely rare for common women to own property and to possess large amounts of money and those who did often inherited their property of money if their husband had died, so the Gospel story doesn’t mention the name of the husband possibly because he had died, the Gospel story doesn’t mention any children so it’s possible that Veronica didn’t have any.

So the picture one gets therefore is a picture of a woman who may have been touched by tragedy early in her life possibly through the loss of her husband, and she doesn’t have any children, so with regards to her immediate family therefore it seems that Veronica was alone in the world and without any kind of help whatsoever.

So as you can see it’s already a tough situation that Veronica had to deal with, and if that wasn’t enough she is touched by tragedy again, this time with a debilitating and stigmatizing disease that would make her lose all she owns, and the illness that she came down with was especially cruel, it came with great consequences economically and socially. Basically speaking, we must imagine a woman who was anemic, we must imagine a woman who was weak, who could hardly walk because of her constant loss of blood, people who lose blood consistently often also have to deal with dehydration and fevers, and the reason this happens is because the body reacts defensively to the consistent loss of blood.

At the same time we must keep in mind that people who deal with such blood conditions as hemophilia and hemorrhage have to live with a constant fear of dying at any moment if their loss of blood becomes severe, and this was during a time when blood banks and getting blood transfusions weren’t available, these weren’t an option. On top of this I want us to think about the discomfort, the inconvenience and the possible embarrassment that Veronica had to live with. Veronica’s life was most likely a constant routine of washing and drying rags to catch and redude the flow of her blood, it was a constant routine of washing and drying clothes to clear them of any stains that may have gotten on them. Furthermore her condition may have emited odor so most likely she had to deal with the possibility of embarrassment constantly.

There is something else I want us to consider, it is the social and religious isolation that Veronica had to deal with every single day of her life during those twelve long years, what we have to understand is that because of her continuous bleeding Veronica would have been regarded in jewish law as ceremoniously unclean.

According to jewish law and practiced in antiquity a woman who experienced a discharge of blood for many days or beyond the normal time frame of a usual menstruation could be considered impure or unclean, we can read about this in Leviticus chapter 3 verse 25 to 27, and any person who would have come into contact with her would also been considered impure and unclean, and what this means is: because of her constant bleeding Veronica most likely lived in a continuous state of uncleaness which would have brought social and religious isolation.

Her condition for example would have excluded her from worshipping in the Jerusalem temple, her condition would have excluded her in the village’s synagogues, and her condition would have excluded her from most forms of community life, so Veronica’s life was a life of isolation and loneliness, this was Veronica’s difficult situation.

And I hope that by now you know enough about her situation to be moved any time we sing that song about her here in the Church, the level of her suffering should move us. I imagine Veronica’s life as one without hugs from friends, children and parents, as lacking normal human contact, as the embarrasment in marital life with her meaningful duties and priviledges, as full of labor because of the need of constantly washing everything, she is poor and without income not only because she spent all her money but because her condition has made her unemployable, and because she was left poor and without income it is likely that she could not afford to eat adequately, all these factors lead to this reasonable conclusion: Veronica was a lonely, isolated, empoverished, ill, anemic, weakened woman who was probably dying and desperate.

But, but, but, she had hope, and she wasn’t without hope for this reason: she was a strong woman of faith who was about to have an encounter with Jesus. Now as you might imagine, things are going to start looking up for Veronica in the sermon now, that is what could happen with some determination, faith and an encounter with Jesus. But before we move to the happy and inspirational part of the sermon, before I get to the happy ending of the story, I want to highlight Veronica’s tenacity and faith. We should know that Veronica could have stayed home when Jesus was passing through, she had many reasons to be discouraged and depressed: she was sick for twelve long years, she had spent all her money looking for a cure, she had tried different things and was not better, she felt weak and tired all the time, so the thought of having to go to Jesus and having to fight through the crowds to get to Jesus must have been overwhelming to her, but there was not only the threat of embarrasment but even the threat of being stoned to death for putting those around her in risk of being declared impure and unclean, but the truth is that she had no one who could help her.

She had no one who could do the favor of going to Jesus with a message of supplication, she was alone and didn’t have influential advocates that could go to Jesus on her behalf, she wasn’t able to ask the jewish elders to go to Jesus on her behalf, she wasn’t a ruler, a centurian or a leader of the synagogue, she wasn’t someone who had people to do things for her, so yeah, Veronica had plenty of reasons to feel sorry for herself, she had plenty of reasons to wallow in pity and to remain home feeling helpless, but despite all of this she had not lost her spirit, she had not lost her sense of hope, she had not lost her faith in God and that’s what we have to learn.

Veronica knew that if she wanted a chance at a miracle she was going to have to get her weakened body to where Jesus was, she was going to have to overcome her fear of embarrasment, her fear of being recognized, her fear of possibly being stoned to death, she was going to muster every remaining ounce of energy on her body to pierce through the crowds once she got to where Jesus was, and you know what? this is exactly what she did. She overcame all of these inner and outer barriers and made her way to Jesus believing that the opportunity for a miracle lied within her reach.

It seems that Veronica had heard of the miracles of healing that Jesus had performed, listened to His resume, she had probably heard that on one occasion Jesus had commanded an evil spirit to leave a man and it did it, Veronica may have heard that in another occasion Jesus had healed Simon’s mother simply by taking her hand, and she probably had heard that in another occasion Jesus had told a paralitic to take up his crutch and walk home, he walked home having been forgiven of his sins.

Veronica must have heard that in another occasion Jesus ordered a legion of demons in a man to leave him and they did, she may have heard that Jesus had visited the tomb of Lazarus and had raised him from the dead, and she may have heard that yet in another occasion Jesus had healed a blind man by putting some mud in his eyes and then cleaning it off, so Veronica told to herself: why not me? Why not me? can you say that? why not me?

If all these people could be healed by Jesus, she thought, then why not me? But the level of Veronica’s faith is quite amazing and I want to highlight it even more, as my dominican friends might say: esta tipa está pasada (this woman is over the limit).

Now here is the thing: I find it interesting that Veronica was convinced that if she could only manage to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak she could be healed, she was convinced that all she needed to do was touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, if I can only touch His cloak I will be made well she says, and this brings me to the main point I want to express here. The reason why the Gospel writer Matthew included the four simple words: if I can only is because he wants us to know that minuscule encounter or contact with God can produce miracles, do you believe that?

All we need is a small encounter with God, all we need is some small contact with God, all we need is a small touch by God to be changed forever! that is the faith that we need to have and that is the faith that Veronica had. And look at what it did for her.

The Gospel story says that Veronica got up, she left her home and she made her way to where Jesus was, she probably thought to herself: I don’t care if everything or nothing has worked, I don’t care that it has been twelve years of suffering with this disease, I don’t care that I’ve only gotten worse in that time, I don’t care that getting to Jesus and making my way through that crowd is going to be difficult and risky, I don’t care and I don’t care because I believe that this encounter will be different! I don’t care because I think this time things will be different. I don’t care because this time it will be the very embodiment of God’s Presence I will touch! and this time I will be made well. Can we give Veronica an applause? (applauses by the crowd).

Admirable isn’t she? admirable, and then Veronica outdid herself convincing herself that all she needed to do when she got to Jesus was to just touch the border of His clothes, just the border, she felt that was all she needed, she believed that the Power of God that was in it from Jesus would enter into her body and heal it from the inside out.

So I imagine that Veronica disguised herself in order to not be recognized by her neighbors, she probably put on a lot of her clothes and then she spent every ounce of remaining energy on her body to get to Jesus, and when she arrived she pierced through the crowd, and then probably falling to the ground as she approached Jesus she reaches out and touches the fringe of His cloak and she was instantly healed.

Now here is the thing: Veronica fought the good fight of faith, she kept her focus on Jesus and demonstrated her faith in Jesus through her determination to touch Him. Now I want to emphasize that I like that Veronica didn’t allow herself to think that she had to plan out some elaborated scheme to be healed by Jesus, she didn’t allow herself to think that she needed to throw herself to Jesus’ feet and beg for His mercy and prayer, she didn’t allow herself to think that she needed to scream at the top of her lungs to get Jesus’ attention, she didn’t allow herself to think that she needed to persuade Jesus to come to her house for a visit, she didn’t allow herself to think that she needed to come down from some roof or some sort of wire to come face to face with Jesus, she didn’t allow herself to think that she had to squeeze Jesus in a bare hug in order to partake of His healing powers, no! no, no. She just thought to herself: if I can only, if I can only, if I can only! can you repeat that with me? if I can only, if I can only touch the border of His cloak I will be made well.

And here is something to consider: if Veronica may have tried to accomplish all these other things she may have failed, it is possible she may not have been able to do all these things and she may not have attained her healing, if she had allowed herself to think that only a grand gesture would work she may have impeded herself from attaining her healing, but Veronica believed that a simple touch of Jesus’ clothes would make her well and there was a big lesson in this for us.

Sometimes we think that to get God’s attention, sometimes we think that to gain God’s favor, sometimes we think that to receive God’s blessing, sometimes we think that to gain God’s help we have to carry out some big project, a big agenda, when a simple deed might be enough.

Sometimes we think that we need to pray for long hours at a time, that we need to live almost perfect lives, that we need to be like saints or angels walking on the face of the Earth, and sometimes we even put such enormous pressure on ourselves to comply with such impossible expectancies and ideas that all we do is set ourselves up for failure.

Now I want to be clear with something, I don’t Pastor Miranda to call me aside later on, I want to be clear that all these strivings, all these things I have mentioned have their merit, but we must also remember that God’s Grace surpasses our merit, that God’s love and compassion surpasses our virtue, that God’s power surpasses our comprehension, that God’s blessing surpasses our deeds, we need to learn, in other words, that simple encounters with God, brief moments with God, that brief contacts with God, that a little bit of God can go a long way.

And that is the meaning and the reason for those four words in the story, if we could only believe that a little bit of God can go a long way we might free ourselves to see more of God, to experience more of God and to live more complete and care-free lives, that is one of the main points of this biblical story.

But there are two more important points I want to mention and don’t worry, I’m gonna be quick, the main point of the story in my sermon is that the most minuscule encounter can produce great results, or in other words like my title says, that a little bit from God can go a long way. But another thing that Veronica’s story teaches us is that we don’t need to let life’s difficult circumstances define us, we need not let our imperfections, our illnesses, our physical limitations, our psychological scars, our limited economic means to define who we are and what we can accomplish. Veronica did not allow her difficult circumstances to define her and neither should we.

And a third important lesson that we can learn from the story is that no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, we should never lose our hope. We should live life believing that God’s Grace, that God’s healing activity, that our well being is just one touch away and just a touch away, just a touch away, do you believe that?

What is your challenge? what is your illness? what is your condition? what is your hemorrhage? what is your need? I think Veronica wants us to know that Jesus’ mantle is still waiting to be touched by us, she wants us to know that God’s gracious and healing Presence is here right now waiting for you to touch it, she wants us to know that you can be made well, you could be made well, you could be made well if you simply reach out to His mantle.

Do you have Veronica’s faith? we need to remember her words: if only, if only, if only, if only I can touch His clothes I will be made well.

God’s cloak is here, God’s coding is here upon us, God’s border is here waiting for you to touch it, God’s cloak is here waiting for you to touch it so go ahead, touch it, touch it, touch it, you will see that you will be changed.

If you are in some sort of need and if you believe that a simple touch from God can do you well I invite you to stand where you are, you don’t even need to come to the altar if you don’t want. If you want to you are free to come forward, but right there where you may be God’s cloak is long enough to touch you, God’s cloak is there ready for you to touch it, God’s cloak is long enough for you to touch it so you can reach God, reach out to Him.

As the musicians are playing in the background and I’m waiting for you to come forward we will conclude the service with an intercession, we will conclude with a prayer of a healing, we will conclude with a prayer for deliberance, with a prayer for guidance, and as you pray, I want you to remember these words: a little bit of God can go a long way, so reach out and touch it.

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