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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Hears Me When I Pray - 06/27/2021

We sang this song in Gospel Choir at seminary. It's a simple little song: God hears me when I pray … out of all the people in this great big world, God hears me, God knows my voice and God hears me when I pray.

As simple as this song is though, it can move me to tears swiftly.  I mean, really? My voice? … a pin prick of sound in all the noise of creation? My prayer? … surely offered to God my tiny, quiet place in this great cacophony while millions of others lift theirs too? God hears me when I pray? God hears me and even knows it's me?

I don't think I'm alone in wondering about this. Perhaps you've felt something like it. Maybe you've felt beaten down by unrealistic expectations or upset with yourself over your own wrongdoings. Maybe you've been moved to prayer by heartbreaking reality of how many people have been lost and wounded in this pandemic … prayers of thanksgiving and grief as we begin to feel freed from this cruel virus, while 14,000 people in the U.S. are still being diagnosed each day; 400 of God’s U.S. children are dying each day. My prayers for freedom from this pandemic are weary, hanging on by a thread, barely able to rise out of my heart some days. God hears them?

Maybe you are praying for a neighbor struggling in illness or for rain or peace. Maybe your prayer feels frozen in fear at the face of some unknown. Maybe you simply feel your prayers are not all that important or urgent compared to the needs of others. How can you give enough voice to your prayers to allow them to rise from underneath all this … heaviness? Let's face it, some days it can be hard to genuinely, honestly believe that your plea or thanksgiving or lament can rise above everything else and reach the ear of God.

It does though, right? That’s why we’re here, we might even say. We can’t know everything about how God hears, responds … what we do know, however is enough. It is Jesus, the Risen Christ … the great and perfect response to every prayer ever uttered and every prayer still to come. We are encouraged in our Christian identities to remember this, to return to that center pillar of our truth over and over again. Still, it can be hard to remember … Really? Are we sure God hears us when we pray? Are we sure God knows who we are?

I think the hemorrhaging woman knew exactly what that wondering felt like. I think if we had the opportunity to hear her perspective on her life and that day Jesus came to town, she might start off by telling us how thirsty she was … thirsty because she didn't go to the well in the morning anymore, at the time when the other women went, because of her condition. So, she would wait until later, when the sun was higher in the sky and others began to retreat from the mounting heat of the day. By then the thirst would drive her out of the shadows of her mostly invisible life for just a little while. Long enough to get some water and hopefully find what else she needed.

According to the law, she was ritually unclean. She was perpetually secluded from the community and hadn't shared a bed with her husband for 12 years. She was prohibited from sitting on the couches or chairs of her neighbors. Technically, she could go out among people, but her condition involved blood and she had been unable to bear children, so the other women believed she was cursed and didn't want to be around her. She understood really – if the tables were turned and she was healthy and trying to raise a family; if she were striving to be a good wife and mother; if her days revolved around what it meant to be a faithful woman of God – lighting the Sabbath candle, overseeing religious practices at home, helping with festivals and participating in funeral rites … yeah, if those tables were turned, she knew she would think and behave in the same way.

Every once in a while, a day came along when she woke up feeling like even the air and the light of the day were pressing down on her heart like a cold, heavy stone. She was as trapped and singular as a moth caught in a spider's web. She longed to walk through the cooler morning air to the well where she could talk with the other women about the coming festival, raising children, maybe even a little gossip … like had they all heard about this man from Galilee and the things he was doing and saying?

And she would quench her thirst with a long, early morning drink from the well.

This had been one of those kinds of days and although she made herself wait to go outside, the longing for companionship and conversation seemed to make her thirstier than ever, so by the time she did begin her daily trek to the well, her mouth felt as dry as the land beneath her feet, her head hurt, and she was acutely aware of the pressure in her abdomen.

As soon as she headed out, she could tell this was not an ordinary day for others either. People had not begun retreating from the growing heat of the day and soon she was hearing people talk about someone called Jesus – it was the man from Galilee who had reportedly been healing people, casting out demons and opening the scriptures in new and amazing ways. He was there among them, and people were rushing to get close to him, to hear what he had to say, to ask for his help or just to witness his presence. And so, the hemorrhaging woman was still incredibly thirsty when, without really realizing it at first, she began to follow the crowd, which was increasing and intensifying like the heat of the day.

And somewhere deep inside, she began to feel something else mount … something she hadn't felt since the days when she was spending all her money and all her hope on doctors. They said they could cure her – they could make the bleeding stop – and for the briefest of moments she would feel like her prayers could be answered – she could be restored to health and wholeness and community. In the end, the doctors failed and even made her feel worse. She didn't think that was possible.

But hearing about this Jesus was reawakening this hope, this prayer inside of her. Maybe in the crowd with her face hidden, made anonymous by all the people – neighbors and strangers who had followed Jesus there – she would go undetected and be able to get close to him. She wasn't even sure what she would do if she did get close, and then she began to hear the prayer rising up inside of her. It started out as just a whisper. “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” She was saying it to herself, and it was growing inside of her, becoming louder and more insistent. It became a mantra in her head, pushing her forward through the crowds that were pressing in on her from every side.

And then she could see him through the people just ahead of her. His back was turned to her, and her first impression was ... that he was an unremarkable looking man really, as small as she was in this throng of people. She knew it was him because of all the people trying to see him, reach him, speak to him. She got close enough to see a man fall and beg mercy at Jesus' feet and asked him to come to his home and lay hands on his daughter … she was so sick. It was Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. She began to feel that cold stone on her heart again. What if she did not deserve healing and restoration as much as Jairus' daughter? After all, he was an especially important man and his daughter … she just a girl with her whole life ahead of her yet. But the mantra in her head did not let her give up and just as Jesus agreed to follow Jairus, she heard it one last time, loudly and clearly. She let it push her forward. “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well,” … and she touched the hem of his cloak.

She knew immediately her health had been restored. The stone had been lifted from her heart, the pressure in her abdomen was gone, and suddenly she wasn't even thirsty. She could feel, maybe she could even see, the burden of the last 12 years vaporize and lift from her arms and shoulders, from the top of her head. She stood up straight and was reminding herself to breathe when she heard him speak: “Who touched my clothes?” She felt her body shrink back down. What had she done? How could she have presumed to touch him so covertly?

The disciples were clearly taken aback by this audacious question, responding as if to say, “Are you serious? Everyone in this oppressive mass of people who can touch you has. Do you really expect to be able to identify a single touch?” Apparently, that was exactly Jesus' expectation because he kept searching the crowd for the … one … who touched him.

Led again by the unseen force that brought her to where she now stood, the woman knew she must tell Jesus what she had done – the whole truth of what she had done. Again, she found herself pushing through the crowd, and this time she fell to Jesus' feet. She was trembling with fear as she looked up at him – fear for herself, fear for the little girl waiting for Jesus' healing touch. The noise of the crowd disappeared; the people seemed to fall away. It was as if they were the only two people there, her and Jesus.

She told him, … It was her, she touched him, and she was so sorry, she should not have presumed … But Jesus stopped her. “Daughter,” he said. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Daughter? Now the world was spinning around her, she was completely disoriented by this naming. Daughter? Is he talking to me?

A new commotion and activity brought her attention back to the crowd around Jesus. New people were pressing through the crowd and running up to Jairus. They told him it was too late; his daughter was dead. There was no need to bother the rabbi after all. Jairus looked like he had been punched in the stomach or like a cold, heavy stone had dropped out of the sky and onto his heart.

“Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus told him. And as Jesus turned his attention to Jairus and began to follow him again, a song rose up in the woman's heart.

A week later, after making the appointed purity sacrifices, and relieved and amazed that Jesus had also healed Jarius’ daughter, the woman shared her song with women gathered at the well in the cool morning air:

“God hears me when I pray. God names me daughter when I pray. When this world presses down like a cold, cold stone, God hears me. God knows my voice. God hears me when I pray.”

And then she took a long, early morning drink from the well. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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