Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Eve of St. James

The following is a copy of a talk I gave at a Ministry Area united service of Evensong at St. Gabriel's Church, Swansea. I include it not because I think it is good, but because I received a strong impression that it was what God wanted said. I acknowledge the arrogance of that claim, but can only say honestly how it felt writing it. It may well be more Mark than Master, more 'good idea' than God, but whatever the truth of it, here it is.

St. James—24th July 2016

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Mark 5:28

I just want to ask one question from our reading from Mark’s Gospel this evening and then draw one conclusion which I think it is important for us to grasp at this time.

The question is this. What was responsible for the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage? Was it Jesus’ clothes or Jesus himself?

The answer is of course, Jesus himself. I say “of course” but in some sense it could be said to be Jesus’ clothes. That was what the woman thought. Mark records her saying to herself:

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  

And reaching out she does so and Mark tells us:

“Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” 

So if we put those two things together—the woman’s faith and the touching of Jesus cloak—and a reasonable, logical case could be made for declaring that Jesus’ clothes were responsible for her healing. That all that was needed was a simple touch of the cloth of his garment was sufficient to bring about a release from suffering that 12 years worth of spending on doctor’s fees had been unable to achieve.

But as logical a conclusion that may appear to be, it is not the answer and Jesus’ response lays that misunderstanding to rest. Mark says:

“At once Jesus realised that power had gone out of him.” (verse 30)

So the answer is that although the woman’s desperation and need to keep herself and her ailment secret led her to touch Jesus’ clothes, it was not the clothes themselves that healed her. It was Jesus. He was the source of healing power.

What is the point I am trying to make? It is the danger that lies before us in the Church in Wales of thinking that we can have salvation without a saviour and power without the Presence. That Ministry Areas are themselves the cure, when it is what—or rather who—is at the heart of it all that really counts. In other words it is Jesus and not the clothes he wears.

Now that is not to deny the need or the benefit of Ministry Areas.

They are a way of pooling declining resources and ensuring that those with, can share with those who are without. They are a way of encouraging community and facilitating the release of the laity’s gifts. They can be beneficial in terms of communication and administration,
enabling more people to be brought into the loop about what is
happening across the Diocese.

They are a better way of handing dwindling financial resources and the declining numbers of clergy. And the list goes on. But—and it is for me rather a significant ‘but’. We must beware the danger of seeing Ministry Areas as the clothes rather than the real cure. Only Jesus can bring that to his bleeding and bankrupt church. And unless he is at the heart of it all we are in real danger of mistaking the means for the end.

In his book “Fear and Trembling” Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher said this:

“By faith Abraham went out from the land of his fathers and became a sojourner in the land of promise. He left one thing behind and took one thing with him. He left his earthly understanding behind and took faith with him.”

As we venture into the unknown future of Ministry Areas let us be careful that unlike Abraham we swap those two things around, and take our earthly understanding of what works with us while leaving our faith in Jesus behind. Don’t lets confuse the clothes for the Cure.

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