Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sermon: Facing our Failures -- Finding Forgiveness (August 2, 2015)

Facing our Failures – Finding Forgiveness
2 Samuel 11:1-2:13a
August 2, 2015[1]

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment…  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  (Psalm 51:3-4, 10-12).


David sinned.  The one who Samuel referred to as a man after “[the Lord’s] own heart,” (1 Samuel 13:14) betrayed the trust and confidence of his Lord.  In a story that would earn an R rating from the Motion Picture Association, David messed up--royally. 

·      He committed adultery—a violation of the seventh commandment.  (Exodus 20:14).

·      A number of people suggest that because Bathsheba had no power to say, “no,” David’s action amounted to rape.  Since women were treated almost like property in those days, you could say that David stole a wife that was not his—a violation of the eighth commandment.  (Exodus 20:15).

·      When faced with the consequences of an unintended pregnancy, David tried to cover up his responsibility by bringing Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefront so that the child would appear to be Uriah’s.  That was bearing false witness—a violation of the ninth commandment.  (Exodus 20:16).

·      When Uriah remained loyal to his duties as a soldier and refused to cooperate, David had Uriah sent to the fiercest part of the battle to be killed.  But all of these sins—breaking the commandments against adultery, theft, false witness, and murder—began with the tenth commandment that we don’t pay much attention to these days:  “Thou shalt not covet.”  (Exodus 20:17).

·      And to take this yet another step further, all of this came about because David forgot commandment number one:  “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3).

David’s sin seems so blatant, we wonder how could such a strong, powerful man, a man who could go up against a giant and take him out with a sling shot, how could such a man fall prey to an enemy that was only within himself?  Some people might try to make excuses for David—his men made him stay home during the battle.  He was restless, anxious.  Even worse, some try to blame the victim Bathsheba—what was she doing bathing out in the open, anyway.  But these excuses don’t change the facts.  David was the man in power, he made the choices, and he bore responsibility for his own actions.

There are lots of definitions of sin and lots of explanations for its origins.  We try to dress it up, explain it, make excuses for it.  “Mistakes may have been made,” we say in our corporate press releases.  “The King regrets the error.” 

But the Bible doesn’t bother explaining it; it simply describes David’s sin with these short and direct words:  “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”  (2 Samuel 11:27).  David, the man after the Lord’s own heart, forgot Who had given to him all that he had and all that he was.  David forgot God.

David had to face his failure before he could find forgiveness and restoration.


It’s easy for us to get smug about David.  After all, we haven’t done anything that dumb.  Oh, maybe our presidents and other political heroes have, but they seem to play by different rules.  Maybe our military and corporate leaders have messed around a little bit, but isn’t that all part of the heat of battle—military or otherwise.  Maybe our entertainment icons and sports idols have, but we don’t mind living with a little vicarious sin through them.  We haven’t done anything that bad!

But let’s look again at the root of David’s sin.  David forgot the One who had made David king in the first place.  David forgot the One who had spared him from the spear of King Saul when David sang for him to sooth his troubled mind.  (1 Samuel 18:11 and 19:10). David forgot the One who spared him from the sword of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:48-49) and from the jaws of the lion and the bear when David was a mere shepherd.  (1 Samuel 17:34-36).

How different would David’s story have been if he remembered, with gratitude, all that God had given him?  How different would David’s story have been if, instead of wanting a woman that wasn’t his, he gave thanks for the love and companionship he already had? What if David had chosen to thank God for the way he was made, and asked God to direct his desire and energy towards faithfulness?

We tend to make the same sort of excuses for our bad behavior.  If we are aware of our sinful behavior at all, we try to cover it up and act as if nothing happened, or we look around and find someone else to blame.

One classical definition of sin identifies it as “a willful transgression against the known law of God.”  If you break the rule, you deserve to be punished.  That seemed, inevitably, to lead to a faith that is built on law.  Grace is seen as a way that God forgives the law breaker.  Some branches of Christianity view sin more as a sort of brokenness—more like a disease.  We are broken human beings because of sin in our lives.  Grace comes along to heal us.  Both of these ways of thinking about sin have merit.  They both help us understand what is going on in our lives. 

This week, I learned another way of viewing sin.  Sin is anything that draws us away from God and God’s intentions for us.  Even things that are not inherently bad or evil can become sinful for us if they come between God and us.  When we worship these other things—even good things like family and friends and our jobs—they become gods for us.  We place our trust in them instead of the living God, and we forget that all that we have and all that we are come from God alone.  Do not underestimate the sin of ingratitude.  Ignatius of Loyola wrote that “ingratitude was likely the cause and source of all evil and sin.”[2]

Really?  What about things like greed and lust and pride? They certainly have their part in all of this.  But even if Ignatius overstated his point for effect, this much remains true:  when we focus on the things we lack rather than on the things God has given us, we push God further and further from the center of our lives.  We move further and further from the reason God created us:  to be in relationship with Him, and to be part of His plan for creating His kingdom of love in this world.  As long as we are focused on other things, we remain separated from God.

Like David, we too have to face our failures before we can find forgiveness and restoration.


There is grace in this story.  David faced his failure and found forgiveness and restoration.  But he didn’t do it on his own.  He had help.

The prophet Nathan enters the picture here.  Nathan had taken over for Samuel after Samuel had died.  We spoke about Nathan a few weeks ago—as the one who had to break the news to David that God had chosen someone else to build a Temple for Him.

Nathan has to confront David again with bad news, and I suspect that Nathan did not look forward to this task at all!  Rather than starting out with accusations, Nathan tells David a parable about a rich man that takes a young lamb from a poor man—the poor man’s only possession—and used it to entertain a visitor, sparing himself the need to take one of his own flock.  David took the bait, and immediately opined that the rich man who did this deserves to die.  Nathan then drops the bombshell:  “You are the man.”  Nathan goes on to spell out the indictment against David and pronounces the Lord’s punishment against the man who was after the Lord’s own heart.  Nathan forces David to face the reality of his own behavior that David could not see on his own.

David could have reacted badly to this.  We have seen David do this before, when his wife, Michal, told him that he had embarrassed himself with his wild dancing as he escorted the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.  David responded by shunning Michal—he never saw her again.  (2 Samuel 6:20-23).  This time, David’s response is different.  We see him confessing, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  By God’s grace, David was able to face up to his own failures and find forgiveness.


We too can face our failure and find forgiveness and restoration; but it takes awareness, humility and repentance.  Part of the problem is that we have a hard time seeing our own sin.

Have you ever had someone confront you with your own failures, or told you that you were heading in a dangerous direction.  If so, were you thankful?  That sort of advice can be hard to receive.  If you have had a friend who loved you enough to confront you with the truth about yourself, risking their relationship with you, give thanks.  [There is an entirely different sermon about when to take that risk of confronting someone else with their sin—but that is for another day.]

More often than not, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to confront us with our sin.  This means more than a quick reading of a corporate prayer of confession on Sunday morning.  This means taking the time to pray, as the Psalmist did, “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). 

We do this in a practice that Christians call “examination of conscience” or “examen.”  There often is an atmosphere of sadness to this process—after all, we are dealing with sin.  But this week I learned some ways to ask the questions of the examen in a more positive way that has changed my way of thinking.  I have learned the importance of approaching my self-examination with thanksgiving. 

1.    We begin with thanksgiving, by giving thanks to God for the benefits and blessings that we have received in life, that we have seen in others, and that we have seen in our world.  We recognize right up front that all we have and all that we are come from God.
2.    We ask for grace to recognize God’s presence in all the particular things that have happened—to us or to others—that we are grateful for.
3.    We review our day, hour by hour, looking first for the good thoughts, ideas and intentions we have had, for the actions that have been helpful to others, for the actions of others that have touched our lives, and we give thanks.  When, in this process, we see times that we fell short, we ask God for the grace to live more lovingly.
4.    We praise and thank God for all the opportunities we have had to make a difference in the world; and we ask God to help us recognize more and more the opportunities that come our way in the future.
5.    We thank God for all God has done for us, and we ask:  What can I do that would lead me to be even more grateful?[3] 

In this examination, the Holy Spirit will point out to us the missed opportunities, the times that we acted selfishly rather than lovingly, the times that we took credit for God’s work in our lives.  As those moments come to mind, we have a choice in how we respond.  We can ignore these prompts from God; we can defend ourselves, trying to shift the blame.  Or we can give thanks to God for revealing our sin to us and ask for the grace to do better.  We can try to hide our sin, deflect it, wallow in our sin, or seek transformation. 

The point is to change our focus from our weakness to God’s strength; from our selfishness and pride to God’s infinite love; from our strength to God’s forgiveness.  In this approach to self examination, we ask God to reveal those parts of our lives where we “need to be freed, liberated, loosened, healed, strengthened, and transformed.  Coming into this awareness is … a … grace from God, … uncovering what in [us] and [our] world is ripe for transformation.”[4] 

In short, we deepen our friendship with God.  There can be sorrow in confession as we face our failures, but there also is joy as we are restored in our relationship with God.   We can transform our time of confession from focusing on our weakness into a time to give thanks for God’s faithfulness. 

All that we have, and all that we are come from God.  Will you join me this week in using our time of examination to rediscover God’s faithfulness, with thanksgiving? 

Let us pray.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.  (Psalm 51:10-12).  Amen.

[1] Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost.
[2] Ignatius of Loyola, Letter to Simon Rodriguez, March 18, 1542, quoted by Louis M. Savary in The New Spiritual Exercises:  In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Kindle Edition, (New York: Paulist Press, 2010), location 1015.
[3] Louis M. Savary in The New Spiritual Exercises:  In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Kindle Edition, (New York: Paulist Press, 2010), location 982.
[4] Louis M. Savary in The New Spiritual Exercises:  In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Kindle Edition, (New York: Paulist Press, 2010), location 1079.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Sermon: I Am Weak but Thou Art Strong (July 5, 2015)

 I Am Weak but Thou Art Strong
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
July 5, 2015[1]

I love to watch baseball!  I am amazed at the talent, strength and skill that Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina (just to name a few) display on the field.  It all seems to come so naturally to these superstar athletes.  The power of a home run crushed to the deepest part of center field, the duel between the power pitcher and the hitter with the eye and the quickness to protect the plate and extend the “at bat” to ten or twelve pitches.  The intricate coordination and dance of a well-turned 6-4-3 double play.  The drama of the throw from centerfield to home plate to throw out the base runner trying to score.  The skill and strength of these players amaze me.  I wish that I could be as strong in my faith journey as they are in their baseball journey.  Sometimes, I feel so weak.  In today’s scripture lesson, I discover that I am not the only one.


Paul was having trouble with the church in Corinth that he had founded.  What we read as the Book of 2 Corinthians was actually one of several letters that Paul exchanged with the people in Corinth after he had started the church and then moved on to other mission fields. 
It is hard to put together the pieces of this story.  We are reading Paul’s letter (or perhaps fragments of several letters that were compiled into one document; we aren’t sure).  We are only reading one side of the correspondence.  Since Paul and the Corinthian readers both knew what he was talking about, he did not give us all the facts. 
From what we can piece together, it seems that one or more persons came to Corinth and challenged the credentials of Paul as an apostle.   During one of Paul’s earlier visits (before writing this letter), there was an ugly confrontation with these newcomers.  Conversations did not go well, and Paul left Corinth in a hurry.  In the correspondence with the Corinthians that followed, Paul wrote some very emotional words.  He said that “I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4).
Just what were these new “super-apostles” saying?  The text of our Pew Bibles understates the rhetoric.  To get a better sense of the emotional diatribes going on, I find it helpful to read from Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message:
Paul says, “I hear that I’m being painted as cringing and wishy-washy when I’m with you, but harsh and demanding when at a safe distance writing letters.  Please don’t force me to take a hard line when I’m present with you.  Don’t think that I’ll hesitate a single minute to stand up to those who say I’m an unprincipled opportunist.  Then they’ll have to eat their words.” (2 Corinthians 10:1a-2, The Message).  Later on, he compares these new apostles to the serpent in the Garden of Eden:  “I’m afraid that exactly as the Snake seduced Eve with his smooth patter, you are being lured away from the simple purity of your love for Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 11:3, The Message).
Paul goes on to accuse one of these new apostles of “preaching quite another Jesus than we preached—different spirit, different message,” but yet the Corinthians “put up with him quite nicely.”  Paul asks, “if you put up with these big shot “apostles,” why can’t you put up with simple me?  I’m as good as they are!” (2 Corinthians 11:4, The Message).
This is part of the context to today’s Gospel Lesson.  When Paul is “boasting” about the trials he has endured for the sake of the Gospel, or about his times of spiritual visions and ecstasy, he is boasting for a reason—to reestablish his credentials and authority as an apostle sent by Christ himself to preach the Gospel.  But his boasting begins with an acknowledgment of his own weakness.  Paul could truly say, “I am weak but Thou art strong.”
Is our world all that different?  I remember my days in the legal and corporate world. I remember watching the older, established employees struggling to understand how to react or respond when the “boss” brought in a younger “wiz kid” to turn things around.  We would see the drama played out between honoring the people who had brought you to where you were vs. honoring the creativity and talent of someone young, who may have had credentials in a given field, but did not have the experience of applying their book knowledge in the real world of business and relationships.

The long-term employees would question why the boss would rely so much on the advice of unproven newcomers.  Yet, in their heart of hearts, the long-term employees knew that they didn’t have the energy level or the spark or the creative edge that they once enjoyed.  They began to doubt themselves.  The newer employees would wonder why the boss would stick by the “old guard” who were past their prime and were out of touch with current trends, technology and business.  If the young employees were self aware, they might reflect from time to time that they were out of their league, but they didn’t dare admit to any weakness, at least not publicly.  But in their quiet moments, both the long-term employee and the young, up and coming talent would have to admit that they were weak, even though they wanted to be strong.

It happens in the church world, as well.  The so-called “mainline” churches worry about declining membership, and introduce the latest and greatest strategic analysis to turn around the decline.  We see tension develop between the old guard and the new wave of leadership on social issues.  Sometimes, the tension shows up in differences of preference in worship practices—with some people lamenting the loss of the “old songs” and others wondering why we still bother with responsive reading of the Psalms.  Sometimes, the stress shows up in the fixation with statistics we are required to report on church growth and participation in mission trips.  Sometimes, it shows up in our building projects and in our programs.  We try so hard to project an image of strength and power that we forget the source of our strength and power.

If it is true for the church, it also is true for me personally.  I grew up with a vivid imagination of my spiritual heroes, and I wanted to be like them.  As a kid, I grew up with what now seems like a really naïve and almost arrogant notion.  I remember so well on the long afternoons that I was walking my five-mile long paper route, thinking that I wanted to know God better than anyone else ever did.  I don’t know what ever caused me to think that I deserved such an honor; but that is what I hoped for.  I wanted to be strong; the reality was always a much different picture. 


Paul’s letter to the Corinthians hits me in different ways.  Sometimes, his description of himself as weak sounds self-deprecating, sort of a Gomer Pyle, “Golly gee, Sgt. Carter.”  Sometimes, Paul sounds arrogant and boastful.  Sometimes, he sounds whining.  But by the end of this morning’s Scripture Lesson, Paul has found his voice. 

The power in Paul’s voice doesn’t come from bragging about surviving shipwrecks.  His power doesn’t come from telling stories about daring escapes, like being let down in a basket through a window in the wall surrounding the city of Damascus.  His power doesn’t come from telling about visions of ecstasy and out of body religious experiences.  And his power doesn’t come from his stories of overcoming personal disabilities or “thorns in the flesh.” 

We never get to see the climactic moment in which Paul turns the corner in this struggle.  If this were a major movie or television production, at this point we would hear the music in the background getting louder and louder, and then we would see a spotlight shining on Paul, perhaps creating an aura or glow around his face, with a few glycerin tears escaping his eyes.  But this is no Hollywood production.  Real life does not come with a sound track.  We simply hear Paul bearing witness that it is only in his weakness, when he is at the end of his rope, that he is able to hear the voice of the Lord assuring him that “My grace is sufficient for you.”  It is only when Paul recognized that he would never be smart enough, strong enough, or good enough to make it on his own that he can hear the words, “power is made perfect in weakness.”  (v. 9).  It is only when Paul relies on the power of the cross, when he is able to plead for “just a closer walk” with the Christ of the cross, it is only then that Paul discovers the true secret of spiritual power.


It was true for Paul.  Can it be true for us today?  Is it possible for the church once more to discover that in our weakness, we can find strength?  Can we rediscover once again that God’s grace is enough?

I wonder what would happen if our churches were able to let go of the worries and concerns over church growth and rediscover the simplicity of Christ’s call to “follow me”?

What would happen if our churches were able to let go of the need to prove how vital it is and to focus instead on living vitally.  Would we as a church be able to remember that God’s grace is enough?

Remember that image of the boy on the paper route wanting to know God?  Well, he has tempered his language a bit.  He has realized that knowing God doesn’t always mean seeing visions or building mega churches or writing bestseller spiritual guides.  He has learned, instead, that saint-sized faith begins in weakness, when we realize that we are weak but Jesus is strong.  It begins when we are able to let go of the concerns about how others see us and cling instead to the cross-to its way of living and loving.  What would happen if we instead of planning for the big event, we were to focus on “daily walking close to” the one who invites us to take up our own cross and to follow Him?

“Let it be, dear Lord.  Let it be!”[2]

[1] Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia.
[2] Anon, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” in The Faith We Sing (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 2158.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sermon: Who Touched Me? (June 28, 2015)

 Who Touched Me?

Mark 5:21-43
June 28, 2015[1]

 “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
[Jesus] “said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34)
In the middle of responding to one crisis, and surrounded by the crowds, Jesus is confronted with another crisis.  A woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years touches the hem of Jesus' garment.  Healing energy flows, such that Jesus notices, stops, and asks, "Who touched my clothes?"
Let’s think for just a moment the obstacles that separated this woman from Jesus.
·      There was a large crowd following Jesus. 
·      Jesus was busy; He was occupied in a matter of life and death for a leader of the synagogue. 
·      There was the issue of gender diversity.  Jesus was a man; she was not.  In Jewish culture, that fact alone should have been enough to keep distance between them.
·      She was hemorrhaging.  That meant two things:
o   She was sick and tired.  We know today what they did not know about the role that blood plays in life.  To be hemorrhaging for twelve years is almost beyond comprehension.
o   Her bleeding made her ritually unclean under the law.  You can read in Leviticus 15 the strict codes that restricted the lives of women.  They could not be touched, their clothing could not be touched, the cushions on which they sat could not be touched—not until the eighth day after they had stopped bleeding and the women were required to deliver two turtle doves or two pigeons to the priest, who would “offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering …  to make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her bodily discharge.”  (Leviticus 15:30).
There were lots of things separating her from Jesus and from His healing touch.
Hemorrhaging can be literal; but there are lots of ways to bleed to death.  The past couple of weeks have been tough.  We have seen tragedies—as local as a father and grandfather, who had survived military service overseas and had been recovering from PTSD, being snuffed out in an automobile accident.  As tragic as a Bible Study being invaded by a young man filled with hatred, and leaving nine bodies plus his own soul in the rubble.  And then we see values that we have cherished being called into question by Supreme Court decisions.  We get upset, and we look to sources outside ourselves as the problem.  We point fingers, whether literally, verbally, or just in our heads.  And we wonder, where is God in all this?
But the hemorrhaging in our world can be found not only in the front-page headlines that grab our attention.  Hemorrhaging can be found in a story on the inside pages of today’s New York Times, in a story about a 24 year-old girl named Alex, a baby sitter, Presbyterian Sunday School teacher, living with her grandparents in the middle of nowhere, still suffering from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, which has left her with trembling hands, a persistent lack of maturity and poor judgment.  All of which has left her lonely, and turning to on-line friends she had never known as a source of friendship.[2]  Alex suffers from bleeding of a more quiet sort.  I am discovering that people like Alex are all around us.
So the woman reaches out to touch Jesus.  To her amazement, something happens. 
In the Gospel story, the woman was part of a crowd.  Don’t you think that the crowd must have been filled with broken people?  People who suffered from countless illnesses—both physical and emotional? I don’t think their brokenness stopped there.  I suspect that the crowd was filled with people who were suffering from broken relationships--from guilt, from anxiety about decisions to be made, from worry about the direction their world, their government, their religious leaders, and their culture were heading.  Among all of these, one woman determined to reach out and touch Jesus, to seek His healing.
Maybe some of the others thought that their problems were too small for Jesus.  Perhaps they failed to recognize how seemingly little problems can quickly escalate into huge ones.
Quaker pastor and spiritual writer Philip Gulley wrote a book on Living the Quaker Way.  Gulley speaks about a creek near his home that swells with water each spring—sometimes so much that it sweeps away large sycamore trees that line the banks of the creek.  One day, Gulley travelled upstream to examine the source of the creek—situated on a farm five miles to the north.  What gives rise to that creek that undermines and topples sycamore trees?  A tiny, insignificant culvert.  It doesn’t look like much; but under certain conditions, it gives birth to a torrent that wreaks havoc.
Gulley writes that “every war ever fought, every tyrannical government ever to rule, every system of oppression ever devised, every clash between neighbors, every divorce, and every schism has had as its source the slightest trickle of a broken soul …  What must be healed is the hateful thought, the intolerant rhetoric, the laws that demean.”[3]
But the woman was healed.  Her hemorrhaging stopped.  We actually see a couple different words used here.  The NIV translation that we have in our pews says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”  There is cure from the physical condition, but there also is freedom.  Sometimes freedom comes as a result of a cure; sometimes we discover freedom in the midst of illness—freedom of spirit, enabling us to sing, despite our external circumstances, that “It is well with my soul.”[4]
Our Gospel Lesson affirms to us the truth that God’s healing power surrounds us and is always accessible and available to us.  Maybe not always in the way would like to receive it; but it is there nonetheless.
But God’s healing grace is not just some fuzzy idea that is “out there” like gravity or magnetic force.  God’s healing force is something that God experiences, just as we do.
In our Gospel Lesson, we read that when the woman touched Jesus, “at once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.  He turned around in the crowd and asked, “who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). When we reach out to touch Jesus, He notices.  Not just in a literal, seeing way; but the faith connection is something that both we and Jesus notice and experience.  What does it mean to you when you realize that Jesus experiences what is going on in our lives?  
This week, we have had a lot to talk about in the news.  There is a lot of distraction in our world.  In the middle of all the noise and clamor, I need to connect with Jesus!
Healing doesn’t always come in the way that I want it.  Healing doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus will change our exterior circumstances, although He might.  Jesus’ way of healing doesn’t necessarily mean that He will cure our physical illnesses, although He might.  His way of healing doesn’t necessarily mean that today or tomorrow or even next week, He will change everyone else who is causing our problems, although He might.  The healing that Jesus offers us this morning is a healing of the human heart, healing the fear and brokenness that we suffer inside because of the broken world around us and in us. 
We need that kind of healing today.  Is there anyone here who is suffering from a broken heart that needs healing?  I invite you to reach out to Jesus this morning to touch the hem of his garment.  How do we do this?  We touch Jesus by reaching out in prayer—connecting with Him by faith.  Not looking for magic; just looking to connect with His love and His grace, knowing that Jesus has promised us that He is even more anxious to reach out to us than we are to touch Him!
Some people find it helpful to reach out as part of the community.  We will give you an opportunity, if you desire, to come forward while we sing our Hymn of Response, receive anointing with oil and pray with me.  As we pray together, I ask that the entire congregation lift you up in prayer, as well.  You can continue your prayer at the altar rail and return to your seat as you are ready. 
The oil is not a magic potion; its power comes as a symbol of God’s healing grace, grace which is available to all. 
Jesus said to the woman, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (v. 34).  He offers the same to each of us today.  Won’t you reach out in faith, touch him, and be healed?

[1] Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
[2] jSee Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS and the Lonely Young American,” viewed on the Internet on June 28, 2015 at
[3] Philip Gulley, Living the Quaker Way (New York: Random House, 2013), 85.
[4] Horatios Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul,” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 377.