Scriptures 1 Samuel 1:1-18, Mark 5:21-43
*Melissa: Make note about Samuel reading - Our first text for this morning addresses a pain that many women and many couples experience - that of infertility. I know that this journey, as well as that of miscarriage and child loss, is not one that is talked about openly in many spaces - including the church, and so I want to honor and acknowledge that this story may touch a tender place for some of you. Likewise, the story of the woman who touched Jesus’s robe in our gospel text also deals with reproductive health, again, an area that can bring up painful feelings. If this is something you or a loved one have suffered or are suffering right now, please reach out to me if you need someone to sit or connect with. Know that I see you and that you are not alone in this.
1 Samuel 1:1-18 (New Revised Standard Version) - EmilyThere was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
Mark 5:21-43 (The Message) - Ed21-24 After Jesus crossed over by boat, a large crowd met him at the seaside. One of the meeting-place leaders named Jairus came. When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” Jesus went with him, the whole crowd tagging along, pushing and jostling him.
25-29 A woman who had suffered a condition of hemorrhaging for twelve years—a long succession of physicians had treated her, and treated her badly, taking all her money and leaving her worse off than before—had heard about Jesus. She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with.
30 At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”
31 His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”
32-33 But he went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story.
34 Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”
* * *
35 While he was still talking, some people came from the leader’s house and told him, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?”
36 Jesus overheard what they were talking about and said to the leader, “Don’t listen to them; just trust me.”
37-40 He permitted no one to go in with him except Peter, James, and John. They entered the leader’s house and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: “Why all this busybody grief and gossip? This child isn’t dead; she’s sleeping.” Provoked to sarcasm, they told him he didn’t know what he was talking about.
40-43 But when he had sent them all out, he took the child’s father and mother, along with his companions, and entered the child’s room. He clasped the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” At that, she was up and walking around! This girl was twelve years of age. They, of course, were all beside themselves with joy. He gave them strict orders that no one was to know what had taken place in that room. Then he said, “Give her something to eat.”
Where does it hurt?
Being a parent of two small children, I ask this question a lot. I joke that at Genevieve’s age, she has all of the mobility and none of the discretion, which, of course, leads to countless numbers of scrapes, bumps, and falls. Sometimes the source of the pain is obvious; sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes, the pain isn’t physical - it’s anger as I won’t let her do everything she wants to do, frustration as she can’t always figure out how to do the things she wants to do, sadness as she can’t snuggle with me or Ben or her brother.
As we grow, so do the places of pain. Michael, of course, still gets plenty of owies (some of which a kiss will still solve) - but also those places of hurt on the inside grow. I’m so thankful that right now, I have a kid who will answer the question “where does it hurt” when that hurt is on the inside, and who feels safe with Ben and I when talking about his feelings - even when it’s Mom or Dad who hurt them.
Where does it hurt?
I think sometimes, we don’t like to acknowledge that we carry pain inside of us. Or maybe we do acknowledge it, but we minimize our own suffering because it’s not as bad as what someone else is carrying. Or we try to put it in perspective by counting our blessings and by keeping our minds on all the good things in our life to cover up the parts we’d rather not look at - we oftentimes distract and deny our suffering - discounting it as not worth our attention.
Perhaps we hide our suffering and pain for other reasons - maybe we believe deep down that our pain is shameful, that other people really don’t want to hear about it (I mean, how many times has someone asked - even genuinely - “how are you?” and your response was “fine!” or “ok” - we all know that we do that, even with those we care about).
But we all experience pain - job loss, the medical diagnosis - or lack thereof - miscarriages or abortions or the death of a child, coming to terms with our sexual idenity and wondering if others will embrace us, being betrayed by friends or family, the loss of loved ones, the lingering experience of trauma - the list can go on and on. No one pain is more or less valid than another - all pain is legitimate and real - and as we bear witness to the pain of another, it helps us cultivate compassionate hearts that allow us both to be compassionate about the pain we experience ourselves and that allow us to be compassionate to others.
I see this dynamic played out in both of our stories for this morning - both of our stories center women with struggles related to reproductive health. Hannah’s pain is continually dismissed and mocked by Penninah. Elknah, Hannah’s husband, cannot understand why Hannah is upset, thinking that his love - the double portion of the sacrifice to God in the Temple - his affection and care and attention - should be the balm to soothe her pain. Even Eli the priest dismisses her prayers as drunkenness. Her pain is rooted in not being seen - she is whole just as she is - but those around her blame, mislabel, and misunderstand her.
Instead of turning away in dejection, she bravely addresses Eli, sharing that she has been naming her pain before God. And to Eli’s credit, he doesn’t try to fix or solve Hannah’s problem - because he can’t - but he is able to bear witness to her pain - to be present with her….and to be present with her before God. Hannah is able to trust God with her wounds - and from that, she is able to trust Eli with her suffering as well. Her pain has been noticed; she is not alone in her suffering. She finds peace in knowing that her pain has been noticed and she has not gone by the wayside.
Likewise with the woman that comes to Jesus for healing, after suffering for 12 years from doctors who wouldn’t take her seriously, who took advantage of her situation and left her destitute, who left her worse off than before - talk about dismissing and belittling someone else’s pain. (As a side note - as a whole, when men and women express the same amount of pain to a doctor, women’s pain is considered less intense based on gender stereotypes that study came out in April of this year in the Journal of Pain.)
Jesus doesn’t dismiss or deny her as she reaches out to claim healing. Jesus stops, is present to her, acknowledges her suffering and her story - even as the disciples try to dismiss the power of what has happened with the press of bodies in the crowd. Jesus listens to the outpouring from this woman - and even as her physical body was healed, her restoration also comes from being fully seen and known by Jesus, who in acknowledging her pain, also acknowledged her humanity.
Where does it hurt?
Friends, everyone carries hurt. We all have wounds and scars - some fresh and some faint with the passage of time. We’ve all experienced seasons when it felt like no one else understood what we were going through - perhaps even seasons when we’ve raged and shouted at God in the midst of our suffering. We’ve also journeyed through times of trial with people who have acknowledged and witnessed our pain - and we’ve known what a difference that can make. We all have that capacity within us to bear witness - to show up and be present - not to fix or to solve, but merely to hold space - for others in their sorrow.
As part of our faith, we believe God is present to us in those moments as well, that God draws close to us in our times of suffering - even when we’re feeling so hurt and abandoned that we rage at the divine. God sees us and knows us and loves us - so much so that God became one of us to experience our life - to know our joys and know our sorrows as an enfleshed and embodied being. We can be honest about where it hurts before God because God knows what that pain is like - not in a distant, far off knowing or in an empathetic show of solidarity - but because God physically experienced pain and suffering - hurt and betrayal, grief and shame, being misunderstood and denied, even the journey with death. With God as witness to our pain -- so too can we bear witness to the pain of others. In this we can know that we are not alone.
Bearing witness to the suffering of another means that we aren’t there to offer trite platitudes - the “it will all be OK” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” It implies that God is the cause of our suffering, or that our suffering isn’t truly valid at this moment because the end goal is this future without whatever is causing us pain right now. It means that we aren’t there to fix it either - unless that person wants us to help them problem-solve. When we move too quickly to the questions of “helping” or “fixing” which are good intentioned things to ask because we don’t like to see other people hurting...but if we skip to that point without allowing the other person to be seen or heard, what we inadvertently do is place ourselves at the center of the other person’s pain - it becomes about what we can do and not about what the other person is experiencing.
When we ask here does it hurt...and when we listen for their response...when we see and hear their pain...we do so with an open heart, with no agenda other than to be present. We can express our sorrow that whatever is happening is causing the other person pain and grief. We can express gratitude for the other person bravely sharing their story with us. Depending on the relationship, we can ask questions about where their experience of God has been in the midst of it all. We can say, “I can hear how difficult and painful this is for you - what of this might I be able to bring before God in prayer?”
Where does it hurt?
I invite us this week to carry that question with us - and to consider both that question for yourself and for others around you. Where does the world hurt? Where does our community hurt? What pain has been ignored, silenced, or unacknowledged - and what does it look like to acknowledge that pain - for individuals or for the collective - without trying to fix or solve - but simply to see and hold space for that suffering?
May each of us this week be challenged by God to go deeper with those questions us - listening to the hurt and pain of those around us...sharing and being heard and carried in kind...and may our courageous conversations lead us to glimpse hope, joy, and beauty -- and may our courageous conversations lead us to become the community God created us to be. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.