Sermon from 5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2012
Who is God? We are here this morning to worship God, but who exactly is God? When I say that word – “god” – each of you conjures up a different images in your head. Some of you may picture an old, grandfatherly man. Others may envision a heavenly brute casting down lightning bolts on unrepentant sinners. Some may not see a person at all, but rather a cloud or a nebulous force or energy. And we can be honest – at times in our lives we struggle with the idea that there is even a god. So who is God? At our best we can offer an unfitting description, at our depths we don’t even know if we believe.
It might be easier, then, to start with this question: what does God do? Now we have something to bite into. In our creed we say that God created the universe. That God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and redeemed the world of its sin. We say that God continues to perform deeds of power by the Holy Spirit and through the work of the Church. From there we can jump off and describe God more fully: God is good, God is powerful, God is knowing. Again, each one of you here would find different words to describe God. And that’s okay, each one of us has a different experience of God. But I think there is one word that describes God that we can all agree upon – backwards. I believe that God is backwards.
Taking a brief tour through scripture shows how backwards God truly is. When a leader was needed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, each one of us would have picked the strongest, most eloquent person around. But not so with God; God chose Moses, a weak man with a speech impediment. Because God is backwards. When the people in Israel needed a monarch, we would hope that God would choose a wise, upstanding person. But not so with God; God chose David, a brash, arrogant young man. Because God is backwards.
The story of Jesus fits this “backwardsness” as well. God became flesh in Jesus so that the world would see and know God as a king. Usually, kings are given crowns and thrones. But God is backwards. And Jesus receives a crown of thorns at his coronation, and is placed on the cross as his throne. God is backwards.
The little story this morning about the woman who had been menstruating for twelve years is about our backwards God. In first century Judaism, this woman would have been considered unclean. What’s worse, though, is that anything or anybody she touched would also become unclean. Any stool she saw on, any dish she touched, any individual she wanted to hug or hold would immediately become unclean. And once being considered unclean, it took a whole ritual process in order to be cleansed again. She would be kept on the outskirts of the community lest she defile others. I don’t think any of us can imagine the ramifications of this woman’s affliction. For twelve full years nobody will allow this woman to touch them. She is an outcast. She is alone.
When this woman says to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well,” she knows what is supposed to happen. Jesus will discover that an unclean woman has touched him. Jesus will then have to undergo a ritual cleansing process to rid himself of her uncleanness. The instant this woman touches Jesus’ cloak, that cloak will become defiled, Jesus will become defiled.
But not so with God. Because God is backwards. Rather than the ritual uncleanness moving its way from this woman to Jesus, the power of God goes in reverse. The healing and wholeness and peace of God goes from Jesus and into this poor woman. Jesus does not become unclean. She is healed. She can once again enter the community. She can touch and hold and eat without worrying about who she is going to defile. All because God is backwards.
What’s more – this woman has no name. She is a faceless character who enters into the gospel briefly, and then is never heard of again. The beauty in her anonymity is that we are invited to put our selves into her place. We can step into her shoes with all of our own stuff, all of our uncleanness. Then we are invited to experience this backwards God. We approach Jesus and just touch his cloak. And instead of burdening God with our life’s baggage, the power of Jesus goes in reverse and takes our baggage. God is backwards. God is bigger and stronger and lovelier than any amount of brokenness that we can muster.
Now here’s the point when all the skeptics and the cynics should raise their eyebrows. Here’s the point when all of us, including me, who are afflicted with chronic diseases can stand up and say that this is all a bunch of nonsense. After I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, I brought all that agony to God. I touched Jesus’ cloak. I ate and drank his body and blood. I was anointed with oil in the power of the Holy Spirit. And still, still, nothing changed. I was, and still am sick.
All of us who have asked for healing from God and have heard nothing in response face a dilemma. Either God doesn’t exist or God is going back on the promise and choosing not to heal us. But we’re thinking of God as normal. We’re forgetting that God is backwards.
We don’t get this when we read the New Testament in English, but the word that means “healed” also means “saved.” So in this passage from Mark, when the woman is healed she is also saved. The concepts of healing and salvation go hand in hand. What I find so wonderful about this is that it brings together the body and the soul. As humans, we naturally want to divide the body from the soul. We think that the body is supposed to be healed and the soul is supposed to be saved.
But God is backwards. Body and soul are all bound up in one and God works on them together. So even though my body is not healed, I know that God has not abandoned me. Indeed, in many ways, I have learned much more about God simply because I’m sick. God is saving and healing me, maybe not in the ways that I expected, but then again, God is backwards.
When we worship this backwards God all sorts of incredible things begin to happen. We find that we can give more and more to the mission of God’s Kingdom without becoming broke. We find that no matter how awfully we behave, God continues to love us. We find that in the deepest and darkest moments of our despair, God is known to intercede in the most wonderful of ways.
Who is God? And what does God do? Humanity has wrestled with these questions for thousands of years. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that, this side of glory, we will never answer them fully. But we know one thing – God does not work like humans work. God does not behave like humans behave. God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts higher than our thoughts.
Next time you have a conversation with somebody about your faith, and I pray that takes place soon, talk about this backwards God. Talk how about how wonderful it is that God is God and we are not. Tell them how you thought God couldn’t bear all of your uncleanness, but it turned out that God’s healing and salvation are one and the same. Tell them that Jesus’ cloak remains pure, that power and grace and love flow freely from him. Go and tell the world that God is backwards.