Sermon, Proper 5, Year A 2023
Hosea 5:15-6:6, Romans 4:13-25, Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Please look at your bulletin cover. The device in the photograph shows a person in a wheelchair, and underneath the image is this statement.
“Press to operate door.”
I usually don’t use these devices, even when they are available, because I believe that I am self-sufficient enough to open the door myself.
But think about it. On some level, every one of us here today is that person who stands in front of a door and can’t get it open. The door isn’t stuck, we are! All of us need God’s help in some way or another. Maybe your belief system has you stuck, or you are devastated by grief and can’t get up, or you are physically sick and can’t stand. All of these ways of being stuck keep us from pushing open the door into the glorious freedom of life in God.
Give it some thought!
What keeps you stuck?
The Israelites in today’s passage from Hosea know that they have been disobedient to God. They are stuck in their guilt.
But God reminds them to press on.
“Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord!”
What we need to know about the Lord is that even when we are stuck in a place where God seems absent, God will appear to us, as sure as the dawn. God will come to us like showers, like the spring rains that water the earth!”
Press on to know the Lord!
Remember that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, freedom from being bound to guilt. When we press on to know the Lord, we remember that God is the one who will raise us up, that we may live before God!
In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds his listeners that the law is like chains we choose to wear even though we don’t need those punishing chains. All that the law can do is to remind us of all the ways in which we don’t measure up. When we honestly look at our lives in the light of the law—we all FAIL.
But when we remember God’s promise of love, shown most vividly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then we can have faith that God’s promises are true, and those chains of guilt we wear because we can’t keep the law will fall off, cut away by God’s grace.
Our love for God is so fleeting so much of the time. God’s undeserved love is that love that God freely offers to every one of us in spite of our imperfect love for God. Our job is to press on to receive that love, and then to live in gratitude for all that God has done for us.
We can go through that door that will swing open when we press on to know the Lord. God will free us, and God will raise us up!
In today’s gospel, we meet several people who are pressing on to know the Lord. They are looking beyond what they know to what they can only imagine! They each have a vision. They refuse to be stuck in their current reality. They refuse to accept the things that are and choose to press on to the things that they faithfully believe can be in the light of God’s promises.
Take the leader of the synagogue, whose daughter has just died. He knows that only God can change the reality of death. This leader of the synagogue somehow knows that he must go beyond the walls of the synagogue, beyond the walls of what he already knows about God into what he hopes about God. He takes a leap of faith, presses on, runs to Jesus, kneels before Jesus, and asks Jesus to lay his hands on his daughter so that she can be restored to life. This is a radical act on the leader’s part—turning to Jesus, taking a risk and asking for the impossible. Jesus does not say anything, but gets up and follows the leader toward the house where the girl is lying.
Talk about goodness and mercy following us all the days of our life! Here is literal goodness and mercy, in the person of Jesus, following after the leader of the synagogue.
And then, there’s the woman with the hemorrhages. In the religious system of her day, she seems to be stuck in her uncleanness because of her bleeding. No one would want to touch her because she is unclean. And she must be physically worn out too. The bleeding has surely taken its toll on her body. But this woman also has a vision. She refuses to let the perception of others that she is unclean define who she is. She refuses to let her physical condition keep her stuck and hold her back. She too, presses on, and goes into the street to follow Jesus. And when she gets close enough to him, she goes up behind him and touches him, an outrageous thing to do—an unclean woman touching a Jewish man. She has faith that even just touching Jesus can bring healing to her body. And Jesus turns, and instead of reprimanding this bleeding woman for touching him, he says to her, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” God’s goodness and mercy, like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth, pour over her, washing her clean and making her whole.
An aside here—we are all sons and daughters of God. We are reminded of that fact when Jesus addresses the woman as “daughter.” Sometimes, we have the strength to go to Jesus ourselves, but sometimes, when we are in such bad shape that we can’t press on alone, we need someone else to intercede for us, as the synagogue leader interceded for his daughter. Our prayers on behalf of one another are more important than we could ever know, bringing healing and new life for others in ways that may never be revealed to us. This is another way that we can press on to know the Lord and the Lord’s healing power—through prayer. So press on in prayer!
Now we come to two people who choose to press on and to follow, both leaving behind all that they have known in hopes of all that they will come to know in the light of God’s goodness and mercy.
Abraham leaves behind all that he knows to go to a new land when God asks him to do that. Abraham also has faith in God’s promise that even though he and Sarah are well past their child bearing years, they will become the parents of many nations. Remember, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham was a man of faith. God called Abraham to get up and to follow and Abraham got up and followed, and pressed on, believing that God would bring the unimaginable into reality.
Just as dramatic is Matthew’s decision to get up from his tax booth and to follow Jesus when Jesus invites him to follow. Imagine leaving behind your livelihood, your secure place within the power system. I can also imagine that Matthew could have felt unworthy to follow Jesus because of his unsavory occupation. Just getting up and going, but into what? Matthew didn’t know and maybe he didn’t feel worthy, but he decided to follow and to find out when Jesus asked him to follow. Matthew ended up pressing on as a disciple, never returning to his old occupation as a tax collector.
On the other hand, the Pharisees who saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners were stuck. They were stuck in their religious system that would have considered not only the woman with the hemorrhages unclean, but also all the sinners, including tax collectors. They couldn’t do anything but stand and judge. They couldn’t press on because they couldn’t budge from their positions of superiority.
Goodness and mercy couldn’t follow them because they weren’t going anywhere! They were frozen into place, stuck in their narrow belief system about who is in and who is out. But remember, God loves all of us, even the ones we have trouble loving!
In response to the Pharisees, Jesus quotes Hosea and reminds us that God desires mercy from us. God is merciful. When we press on to know the Lord, we will find that we ourselves will grow more and more merciful to ourselves and to one another as time passes. In our increasing mercy for one another, we come to know more and more about God’s unlimited mercy for us.
So here’s the good news for today. God loves us beyond measure. God encourages us to press on and not stay stuck. God follows us, hoping to flood us with God’s goodness and mercy. God is faithful to us.
God takes us as we are, wherever we are stuck. God calls us to get up and to follow.
“Press to operate door!”
Don’t just stand there. Don’t just sit there!
Press on to know the Lord!