This morning I feel as if a long trial has ended. This may or may not be so. It could be so, if all eligible Americans would put aside their fears and get vaccinated, if not for their own sakes, for the sake of their neighbors and friends. The Covid-19 vaccine may still kill some of us, but the vaccine will not kill nearly so many of us as the Covid-19 virus. If we cannot convince people to do the right thing, the pandemic may continue. New variants will be hardier and spread quicker, and this return to normalcy that we are now experiencing may prove nothing more than a slight remission, not a cure. There may be more disease and death on the way.
Our Gospel lesson is not about remission—it is about a cure. The woman with an issue of blood had struggled for twelve years. According to the Revised Standard Version she had “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.” She had “spent all she had and was no better, but rather worse.” She was losing her tenuous grasp on the little hope that remained to her.
Then she heard about Jesus and what he was doing for people who were sick and infirm. And she said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” And she heard Jesus was nearby, and she sought him out, and she found him surrounded by a crowd that pressed him from every side. With determination born of desperation, she slipped through the crowd and managed to touch his clothes. Immediately her hemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
The nameless woman knew she had been healed. Jesus knew that power had gone forth from him. So, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” The disciples did not understand it, but Jesus could distinguish between touches. Jesus could tell when people touched him by accident, or because they were curious, or joyous. He could also tell when someone touched him as an unspoken cry for help. So, he looked all around to see who had touched him. And the woman who had been healed came to Jesus, perhaps in awe, and she fell down before him and told him the whole truth about herself. Often, it is only after we tell God the whole truth about ourselves, that we can see the truth about ourselves. And when the woman had finished, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
How sweet it is to be healed of a disease. Way back in the mid 1980s, when I was in my mid-thirties, my doctor found I had two black moles. Dr. D. was concerned because the moles were black, not brown, and because there were two of them, not one. He sent me to a specialist who said that the moles had to come off. We scheduled the procedure, and the specialists did it. For several days thereafter, I waited anxiously for the pathology, praying hard. Then, in that long-ago time before cell phones, on the appointed day, I stood at a payphone on Hawthorne Road, just outside Baptist Hospital, put in my dime (Or was it a quarter?) and dialed the doctor’s office. When I got finally got the doctor on the line, he said, “Mr. Green, those two moles were as close to cancer as I have ever seen, but there was no cancer. You are okay.” I thanked him and hung up the phone. Immediately I belted out a favorite song:
Sing Hallelujah, praise the Lord, sing with a cheerful voice,
Exalt our God with one accord, and in his name rejoice!
Then I let go a “Yeeeeeeehaaaaaaa!” The author of Psalm 30 says that “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” For me joy came washing down at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, but it was no less intense.
Now, perhaps you remember a time when you went to the LORD with a request of your own. If you are more than 11 or 12, I have no doubt that you will remember times when your prayers were answered, and you celebrated. Maybe you even sang a little song or did a little dance of your own. Of course, there were other times, too, times when your prayers were answered, but in the negative, or, perhaps, went unanswered, and your sorrow lingered. How long did you have to wait?
You know the story of the Oriental potentate who put all his wise men in a room and told them to come up with one “wise saying,” one “rule,” that would cover any circumstance. After a time, they returned with the words, “This too will past.”
In bad times, if we just hold on, and wait, and pray, “This too will pass!” Unfortunately, the same thing is true of good times. The wise person knows that even in the best of time, “This too will pass!” Someday, we must all face “(a) last cloudy day after which the sun will not return.” This life has its outer limit, and eventual, each of us will reach it. However, we are hopeful that before that last cloudy day arrives, we will pass through many cycles of bad times and good times and bad times and good times.
As Christians, we have different tasks in different times. In the good times, we celebrate God’s goodness. We sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. We rejoice with those who rejoice and share the good times with friends and neighbors. The opening stanza of Psalm 103 provides us with a wonderful model for the good times. The psalmist writes:
Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (verses 1-5)
In the good times, we celebrate God’s goodness, and in the bad times we celebrate God’s faithfulness. According to the Lamentations of Jeremiah the prophet, when God places his yoke upon us, we ought to sit alone in the silence that God has imposed. We ought to bow down to the dust in prayer. We ought to listen to our suffering and to the insults that some would have us bear, and learn from them all we can. Nevertheless, we endure the yoke that God places upon us in hope, for though God causes (or at least permits) the suffering we often bring upon ourselves, God will eventually “have compassion upon us according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love.” As the prophet says, “the Lord will not reject us forever!”
It is when we patiently and silently “bear the yoke” in hope that we grow in two different ways:
First, we become stronger. Nietzsche was right: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. As we read in Romans chapter 5:
We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through he Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Second, we grow in our ability to comfort others. As we read in 2nd Corinthians chapter 1:
God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Thus far, Elayne and I had a pretty good pandemic. We saved a little money. We did things around the house we had been putting off for years. We walked in our neighborhood almost every day and we made a number of wonderful day hikes. We discovered the joy of “talking books” and (between the two of us) we listened to more than 200 of them.We entertained friends under the open sky, and we got to know neighbors we had never really known before. On Fridays we enjoyed takeout, and once a week we ate pinto beans, onions, and cornbread. We never ran out of toilet paper. Above all, we enjoyed our health, and we made time for each other, and for God. We “bore the yoke,” each in our own way, and we bore it mostly in silence. We also learned some things about Church and community. Mazda says, “Zoom! Zoom!” Margaret says “Zoom!” As I told our final Fries at Five gathering, from my perspective, preaching on Zoom is like trying to kiss your best girl through a picket fence, but it is better than not preaching at all.
I sincerely hope and pray that your pandemic was as easily bearable as ours was.
I know others were less fortunate. To date, six-hundred-thousand Americans and countless people around the globe have lost their lives to the virus. Each of them left behind numerous family and friends who still feel their loss. Many others went hungry and otherwise did without necessities. Many lost their jobs, automobiles, homes, and credit. Some struggled, alone and lonely. Some lost all hope and others grew weary with waiting. Others went to work every day while I sat at home because they were on the frontline, in healthcare, and as first responders. As we return to church, and in-person worship, and in-person fellowship, I am quite sure it is our task to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort that we have received from God. We who have an abundance of hope must share what we have.
We cannot end a sermon about, “Quietly Bearing the Yoke (In Hope),” without remembering how, in the gospel, Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” But what does easy mean? William Barclay says that Jesus might have had an ox yoke over the door of his carpenter shop inscribed with the words, “My yokes fit well.” Not only does the yoke that Jesus offers fit well, but it is also a double yoke. He is yoked to us, even as we are yoked to him. And the burden we must carry is lighter because he always helps us to bear it.