5th Sunday after Trinity
St Andrew’s Indooroopilly
Fr Richard Browning
- First reading and Psalm
- 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
- Psalm 130
- Second reading
- 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
- Mark 5:21-43
Moving towards the threshold. Reaching out with empty hands.
O Christ for whom we search, our help when all help is nought; we come to you and reach out in our emptiness. Meet us there and give us what you freely share; wholeness, healing, life. Amen.
Of all the stories in our readings today, I will focus on the story within a story: it is the nameless, helpless woman. What she does is a practice we can follow. It is an answer to Suzanne’s question from last week: what is it that widens our hearts?
The practice is this:
In full knowledge of her lived experience,
in all its desperation,
the woman draws near to the Other,
and with empty hands, reaches out,
not knowing what she will encounter.
Story: a mortifying & restoration
May I ask you to consider for a moment a time in your life of great regret, an occasion where you acted in a way that was beyond embarrassing, mortifying even, shame inducing.
I do not ask you to consider this in order to reawaken you to a horror. I ask in order for you to consider who it was that saved you, who reminded you and others that ‘that’ is not who you are; the person who, by their presence called you back, and lifted your head and returned to you the recently stripped away confidence? Whether it be the table at home or the staff room at work, someone gave you back to yourself.
This person and that experience is near the heart of today’s story.
If I was to open the lid on myself, of the many I could choose, I go with February 1991. I was a new grad physiotherapist at PA hospital, full of bravado and low on insight into just how green I was and how complex is life in a huge public hospital. I made an error that had a material impact in the care of a patient. I was beyond mortified. But a colleague, gee I wish I could remember her name – her arms were like a wrestlers and her heart full of grace – she came alongside, tutored me through the patient’s treatment, correcting the care while lifted me up and brought me deeper into professional life, restoring me to my peers and to myself. I owed her a great debt.
We return to the Gospel. The nameless helpless woman is at her end. There is no number after twelve. The blood makes her unclean. She is an outcast, untouchable. Whenever you hear blood, we should also hear life. Our ancients understood blood to be the flow in which life itself was carried.
Our woman is at the end of twelve years of life draining away. What she encounters in Jesus is the power of life itself. Jesus calls out to identify who it was that touched him. The disciples state the bleeding obvious ‘mate, it’s a bustle out here, take your pick’. What follows is brief, but crucial – in the language of Sarah Bachelard, there is a short but distinct period of ‘undergoing’. In fear and trembling the still nameless woman pours out her story and the one she called Jesus is now the Life Restorer. The woman’s healing is complete, not just within herself, but within the community from which she comes.
In full knowledge of the lived
(and painful) reality
come to the threshold, and reach out, empty handed.
And despite the unknowing,
and through the encounter,
Finding a name
This woman is the very kind Jesus has come for and the kingdom is about: Jesus is for the least, the last, the littlest, the lost, the let down, the done to and betrayed. Even the dead. Allowing our reality to name us brings us, empty handed, to the threshold of encounter.
The ‘un-knowing’ is important.
James Alison writes of monotheism – it is a terrible idea but a wonderful discovery.
So too is the Trinity. Discover, not an idea but a reality, encounter a relationship to be formed through and into.
In a similar vein, Bachelard in her book on “Experiencing God in a time of Crisis” describes God to be more like nothing that one of the gods. That is to say, whatever ideas we contrive and whatever names we use, God is more truly like absolutely nothing.
The ‘God’ we imagine is far closer to the desires of our egos,
a function of our needs,
a reflection of our insecurities,
an instrument of our fantasies,
the terminator of our enemies.
So it is, the scriptures and the journey of Israel can be understood as the story of the rub between the images of gods we invent for ourselves and the reality of God we undergo* (Bachelard).
Jairus, despite his religious authority, does not own Jesus. His narrative is literally interrupted, and despite his power, he joins the woman, as one let down and to whom life has done to. He is not least or lost. As the messenger from the school of “how not to be a pastor” says ‘your daughter is dead, you quit troubling the teacher now wont you?’
God is like Jesus, but it is only when it is Jesus we encounter that Jesus can be named.
In Matthew he is the Messiah.
In Mark, the Wonder Working Teacher and Prophet.
In Luke, the Son of Man.
In John, the Son of God.
In Romans; the Justifier.
Corinthians; the Wisdom that sanctifies
Galatians; the Redeemer from the curse of the Law.
Colossians; the Cosmic Christ.
In John 1: Love.
John 2: Love
John 3: Love.
Each author has a name for this Jesus.
The Psalmist today, Mercy.
At the end in Revelation, this Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
For the still nameless woman, she discovers Jesus to be the Restorer.
For Jairus and his daughter, he is the untameable, distractable, laughed at, on-his-own-terms, Giver of Life.
But the question today is, what name describes your encounter? When we let go of our ideas and needs and projections, and reach out in vulnerability, and allow the Other to do what Perfect Love does, what is that name for you?
An example of a practice: Contemplative prayer
A month ago I was a part of a retreat, led by Sarah Bachelard with the theme “The Prayer of the Heart”. I am not an expert of contemplative practice. I am just a practitioner of two decades. Silent, contemplative prayer is similar to the movement described: it is a coming to the threshold, empty of hand and of ego, with a willingness to allow silence mediate God as God is.
The retreat centre is at Ormiston and sits right above the water. At the bottom of the yard the eucalypts swap out for mangroves. This remarkably fecund in-between place became a metaphor for what I am speaking of. A poem written while there describes it best.
is a space
not a line but a zone,
where land becomes tide
and fresh water
where soil meets sea
and mangroves reign:
the prayer of the heart leads
and undergoing is undertaken.
longing and fulfilled,
partial and complete;
shadows and plain sight,
being and fullness of being,
self and true self.
This is the place I come in contemplation –
the tidal rhythm is breathing
scored in consonants Yh Wh.
Here there is silence and beauty,
un-knowing without confusion,
an undergoing with the heart of Love
whose love lies at the heart of the universe.
In full knowledge of your lived (and painful) reality
come to the threshold, the in-between place;
and undergo this Jesus, the Restorer and Giver of Life;
And despite the unknowing, and through the encounter, discover your name for Jesus.
And through the encountering, discover the Whole You, the Restored You, and now, the sent You.
As the subject of God’s undergoing, we are sent into the world God made and loves,
a world that is warming;
a world over-run with posturing and plastic and over fed egos;
shot through with loneliness and anxiety;
fuelled by terminal consumption;
wracked with violence against women – even and especially in homes;
we are sent into this world,
to our homes and tables, neighbourhoods and work places
to be agents of God’s gracious presence, and there be named by others
as restorers, healers, life-givers.
* The Trinity Homily by Sarah Bachelard has been really helpful in framing somethings for this homily: https://benedictus.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Discovering-the-Trinity-290521.pdf
The names for God are apparent in the reading of the scriptures, but it is also riff off a classic by Oral Roberts homily on ‘the Fourth Man’: https://www.cfaith.com/index.php/article-display/105-featured-c5-articles/21533-the-fourth-man