St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral
The Woman With the Flow of Blood
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In our Gospel today, Christ meets a woman that had had a flow of blood for twelve years. She had struggled with this problem, and, in spite of all her attempts even to the point of spending her entire living - she could not be healed by anyone. Rather, as some versions put it, she grew worse. None of the doctors of the area could not touch or heal her illness. We can only imagine this womans state of mind, seeing doctor after doctor seeking to be relieved of this ailment, and finding nothing but frustration each time. We can only imagine her weariness, her exasperation, and even her desperation as she repeatedly found that this problem could not be addressed.
What we observe in this woman, however, is that no matter how desperate her situation was, in spite of how exasperated she felt, she never concluded that she was a lost cause. She never became convinced that she had been forsaken by God and should just give up. There she was, out on the street that day when Christ came by, still holding onto the hope that maybe where all the physicians of this earth had failed her, the heavenly physician could touch her and relieve her of her illness. And then, reaching out and touching the hem of Christs garment, she received the blessing that she had sought for so long. God had indeed not forsaken her during those twelve years of suffering. Her healing had been planned all along.
Its sometimes easy, my brothers and sisters in Christ, when the trials and tribulations of life become intense, when adversity has the upper hand, when tragedy strikes, to feel we have been forsaken by God. We may wonder where, in the midst of our difficulty, is the God who promised to be always with us.
I think most members of our congregation are aware that one of our parish families was almost completely wiped out this past week by the flood in west Wichita. Youve heard the story, Im sure. But this family, in the midst of this tremendous adversity--when I walked into their house I saw the total destruction, the mud, leaves, and filth everywhere had not been forsaken by God. The water had reached up to five feet high in their living room. It had overturned a huge roller desk. The piano was tipped over, bookshelves were knocked over, furniture upended. And yet in that very same room, there was a little table, maybe about one by two feet, with a single pedestal, on which were several prayer books, two bottles of holy oil, a couple of little laminated paper icons, and several wooden crosses, standing completely and perfectly untouched - not even damp. Where the rest of the room was a scene of total chaos, this table was perfectly undisturbed. The bottles of oil didnt even tip over. It was an amazing thing to see. As I looked at it, I told the family that this certainly is a sign that God has not forsaken you in the midst of your tribulation, in the midst of this terrible tragedy and adversity. He is with you even in this moment. He has given you this token that he has not abandoned you.
The Apostle Paul, my brothers and sisters in Christ, talked about this in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. He personally had endured some pretty tough situations. He described his apostolic work this way: "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed. We are perplexed, yet not in despair. We are persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of the Jesus may also be manifested in our body." His point was that no matter how difficult the circumstances became, God was still with him. And so it is for all of us. When we allow ourselves to imagine that God has abandoned us, we have lost perspective. Just because we dont understand what God is doing, just because we dont see how his will is playing out at that moment, does not warrant the conclusion that he has forsaken us. Because the truth is that God will never forsake us. Yes, we may be hard-pressed. Yes, we may be persecuted. Yes, we may be struck down and be down for the count, but God is always there. We are "struck down but not destroyed." It is only when we see things from a worldly point of view, with the flesh instead of the spirit, that we can conclude that God has forsaken us. In truth, the danger is not that God will forsake us, but that we will forsake him.
Permit me to illustrate this point with a little story about St. John the Merciful. After completing the Liturgy one day, he once noticed that a woman was crying bitterly in a corner of the church. He told his deacon, "Go and bring that woman so that we can find out why she is so grieved, whether her husband has died, whether her children are sick, or whether some other misfortune has befallen her." So the deacon went and brought the woman to the saint. And when St. John asked her why she cried so inconsolably, she said, "How can I not cry, holy father, three years have passed and no sorrow has come to us. There is no sickness in the home. It seems like God has forgotten us completely. No ox has been lost, nor has a sheep died, and my family has begun to live carelessly. I am afraid that we will perish because of our easy life. That is why I am crying." The saintly bishop marveled at this answer and praised God.
This is undoubtedly an unusual perspective. I dont know that we should wish for adversity or difficulty just so God will keep us on our toes that way. But she did have a very good insight. It was that when the living is easy, our standards can begin to slacken. When prosperity reigns, as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows, thats when the tendency to idolatry begins. When the times are good, thats when the thought of God and his kingdom often begins to recede into the distance, into distant memory. So there is a threat, not that God will forsake us, although she felt God had forsaken her because he wasnt sending her any difficulty. No, the threat is that in times like these, we would forsake God. Did you hear the warning in our epistle? "Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, (to the teachings of the faith, to the Gospel), lest we drift away. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord and was confirmed by those who heard him?"
"How can we escape?" Those words have been the subject of innumerable sermons. "How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" There is a great danger today, my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a great danger in us drifting away just as the epistle to the Hebrews describes it. Do you know what it means to drift? Do you know what a boat thats adrift does? It just floats along with the current.
At our home beach in California there was always a current that traveled along the beach. Youd go out body surfing and swimming for twenty minutes or a half-hour or so, and when you came out of the water and attempted to find your towel, youd never be able to recognize where your place was. This was because the current always carried you down the beach without your being aware of it. You wouldnt know you were moving, but you would be carried along in the current.
The same thing can happen, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in this culture in which we live. It is easy to drift away from the ways of Christ. You can be carried away without even being aware of it. Why? Because our attitudes can subtly begin to be molded more by what we receive from the media, more from popular culture, that from what the scriptures teach and from what the Church holds. Our minds and our attitudes begin to be formed more by the ways of the world than the ways of God. And then our actions follow suit. Then, after weve been drifting for awhile, we might wake up and see, all of a sudden, that that which we thought was close is far away. Were far away from God. Were far away from the way of life taught to us in the scriptures. We need to repent and return.
God has not forsaken us, but we have to consider the possibility that we may have forsaken him. It can happen in a society where weve lost the concept of sin, where we think that sin is not really serious anymore. Our society often sends the message that there are really no serious consequences for much evildoing. So we begin to imagine that God is the same way. We start to think that we can abandon him, forsake him, and drift away from him and there will be no consequences. It really wont matter if we sin or if we dont. But it does matter. It is serious. Thats why the Scriptures give us the warning, "how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?"
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a sure, certain promise from God that no matter how far we drift away from him, no matter what life brings us, no matter what the difficulties or the trials and tribulations, he will not forsake us. The only danger that exists is that we might allow ourselves to abandon and forsake him. Let us then "give heed to the things that we have heard." Let us hold steadfastly to what we have been given in the Gospel and remain faithful, that we might be found at the judgement seat of Christ hearing those blessed words, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral
7515 East 13th Wichita, Kansas 67206-1223
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