Blessed Faith in the Face of Brokenness - Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost (June 11, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Genesis 12:1–9 | Psalm 33:1–12 | Romans 4:13–25 | Matthew 9:9–13, 18–26
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
It’s hard to feel blessed when all we see around us is brokenness.
Speaking just for myself, I know how easy it can be at times to fixate on even minor issues… to grumble and complain when things don’t turn out as I’d hoped… and to lose sight of all the things in life I should be grateful for… the many blessings that surround me each day.
Sometimes I think we all need those simple reminders to keep things in perspective. To focus on and give thanks for all that is good, and stop being so negative.
But of course… sometimes the problems we face are actually pretty big problems! Sometimes the answer’s not as simple as trying to stay positive, or adjusting our attitudes. Sometimes in life we come face to face with real tragedy… real suffering and even disaster.
Sometimes our world is truly broken in ways we can’t put back together.
I know that some of us here today have faced times like these, when everything seems to be falling apart. And all of us have people in our lives… family members, friends, neighbours… who have experienced serious struggles and haven’t known where to look for help.
The last thing anyone needs in times like these are pat answers and platitudes. We know words alone won’t put our world back together. We need something more.
So when all we see is brokenness… in our own lives, or in the world around us… where do we look for hope? Where can we find the blessings of wholeness and restoration that we need?
Our Scripture readings today invite us to see and experience this kind of blessing even in the midst of our brokenness; calling us to trust that the Living God’s healing hand is at work in our world and our lives, even when we cannot see it. Even when all hope seems lost.
In our first reading from the book of Genesis, we meet the patriarch of Israel and our own forefather in the faith: Abram, or as he is known later on, Abraham, who here encounters the Living God when the whole human story has just been shattered.
After generations of humankind rejecting God’s good ways, and violently pursuing power for themselves, Genesis 11 tells the story of how our ancestors once tried to create a unified society based on their own self-centered pride, embodied by the building of a city and tower that would reach up to the heavens. Seeking the security they thought they could provide for themselves, they were becoming ‘one’ by together turning their backs on the Living God, and defying His will. So, in Genesis 11: 8 we’re told that, “the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” And it’s in the aftermath of this great scattering that the story of Abraham begins… the story of God’s gracious blessings breaking into our broken world.
Genesis 12:1-4 “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
The rest of what happens in the Bible flows directly from this promise of the Living God. Everything that follows these words is the unfolding of this gracious gift, extended first to Abram, and through him to all the families of the earth.
The biblical scholar, Elizabeth Achtemeier spells out the significance of what is going on in this promise to Abram: “We are introduced here in these three little verses to the universal purpose of God for all people, and Abraham is called to leave his home in Mesopotamia not because he is especially privileged, but because the Lord God wishes to bring his blessing on every one of us. It is a long and complex story, this story of God’s working for us. It has its heights and depths, and it seems as if it will never come out right. But God has spoken his word to Abram, and God always keeps his promises.”
One is blessed, so that all might be blessed through them. United and restored not by pride, or self-centered power, but by God’s gracious gift, His blessings intended for all.
And this promise came to someone who was completely powerless to bring it about except by believing and obeying God… it was a promise built on trust. Abram was being led to a completely new country, a completely new life, far from anything and he had known before. And not only that, he could not make himself into “a great nation”… he and his wife Sarai were already old, and had no children. Only God Himself could bring about this promised blessing, but Abram chose to believe, to trust God… and I guess the rest is history.
Let’s turn now to our reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, where we find God’s blessings again breaking through to bring new life to some very broken people… in very different ways.
First of all, we see how St. Matthew’s own life was interrupted by the call to follow Jesus: answering the invitation to leave his old life behind, and take part in something new.
In many ways, Matthew’s old life could be called broken: he was cut off from his neighbours, by his life-choices… taking up tax-collecting, a despised career built on exploiting his neighbours in their need… and aiding the Roman enemies of his people. He had burned bridges to get ahead. Or at least, to avoid the crushing poverty and oppression faced by his neighbours. Serving his own security and selfish ambitions, he would be scorned by all those who took things like holiness and God’s good ways seriously.
And yet, just like God had sought out a seemingly hopeless case with Abram, Jesus comes up to St. Matthew completely out of the blue and simply says: “Follow me.”
And Matthew does. He leaves everything he had known before… his old broken way of life behind, and follows Jesus, trusting Him with everything. Little did Matthew know that he was being invited to share in the mission of Jesus… who had come to bring God’s blessings to our broken world in ways Matthew never could have imagined.
And no one else would have imagined Jesus would seek out someone like Matthew to join Him in God’s blessed work. In fact, even afterwards, some of Christ’s critics could not get over the strange people Jesus surrounded Himself with. The scholar Dean Leuking points out that, again and again, not just in St. Matthew’s story, but in ours too, “Jesus calls to himself people totally lacking in all ordinary qualifications of piety, rectitude, or deservedness… everything about discipleship is based on the radical grace of Jesus’ call: ‘Follow me.’”
Following Jesus Christ is not just for those who have their lives all put together. He draws deeply broken people to Himself, and loves to make them whole.
Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13).
“Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Asks the bishop and scholar NT Wright, “Because, while other religious leaders of the day saw their task as being to keep themselves in quarantine, away from possible sources of moral and spiritual infection, Jesus saw himself as a doctor who’d come to heal the sick. There’s no point in a doctor staying in quarantine. He’ll never do his job.”And as our Gospel passage today reminds us, Jesus has plenty of healing work to do: Not long after St. Matthew answered Christ’s call, we hear of two more people whose lives had been shattered in other ways, and had come to Jesus, seeking His help.
The first was a heartbroken father, the leader of the local Jewish synagogue, whose 12 year old daughter had just died. And yet, he still held onto hope. Kneeling before Jesus, the father pleaded: “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matthew 9:18). Setting aside his pride, and the opinions of his peers, many of whom were outright opposed to Jesus, this desperate father came seeking mercy, and help… and found Christ eager to bless. Jesus got up right away, and with His disciples, followed the father home where He would turn their sorrows into joy.
While on the way, we’re introduced to someone else seeking His mercy and help: a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 long years. Her burden was severe, more than just the physical symptoms, which would be bad enough: because of the purity laws of her people, she would have been cut off from her neighbours, and considered ritually unclean all that time. Imagine being an outcast from your whole community for over a decade. Imagine the pain, the shame and blame she must have felt… wondering why this was her cruel fate. Longing for someone to set her free from this misery… to bring her healing and wholeness at last.
What would we do if we were in her shoes to be made well?
But help it seemed was out of reach. She must have heard about Jesus… the one who had healed so many hopelessly broken lives before… and when she heard He had come to her town, imagine how excited she must have been.
But how could she get close enough to Jesus to actually receive His help? Because she was ritually unclean, she could not even touch anyone else without making them unclean as well. Wading through a crowd to get close enough to Jesus to be noticed by Him was out of the question.
And yet, she was desperate. This was her one chance! She couldn’t let it slip away.
Saying to herself “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” (Matthew 9:21), she secretly makes her way through the crowd surrounding Jesus and reached out and touched the fringe of His cloak.
How many of us have reached out to God like that from time to time? Desperately longing just for the slightest contact… the smallest ounce of His healing power to pour into our lives? Maybe we don’t think He notices our pain. Maybe we don’t think He cares. Yet still we reach out in hope that in touching Him we really can be made whole.
And the Good News is Jesus notices. And Jesus cares. And Jesus longs for God’s blessed life to reach out even into our brokenness and make us whole.
Matthew 9:22, “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” The theologian Stanley Hauerwas points out that: “It is not faith in general that cures her, but her faith that Jesus has the power to cure. She is at once cured and her isolation ended.” Despite her fears and secrecy, she could not hide herself from Jesus, who wanted her to have more than physical healing, but the healing of her heart… to know that God has seen her pain and isolation… and has sought her restoration… pouring out His blessing on her life through her faith… her trust in Him.
This is what lies at the heart of not only her story… but the whole story that St. Matthew and all of Scripture is telling us: that we can truly trust God… believing the Good News that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has come to save us… to bring God’s blessed life to our broken world… but to see this blessing as it truly is, we are all called to believe… to place our faith in Jesus, and find our lives draw into His story too.
Matthew the tax-collector believed and answered the call to leave everything and follow Jesus.
The grieving father believed Jesus to be the Saviour for his daughter, and found Him eager to restore her to life.
The woman believed that the slightest contact with Jesus would be enough to set her free, and she found herself fully seen and fully restored by His mercy.
He is the One through whom God’s blessed life is offered to all.
Jesus Christ the risen Lord who St. Paul tells us “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25) brings God’s blessed life to broken people in so many different ways, each one a unique story, and yet all find Him to be their Saviour through placing their faith in Him.
So… will we trust Jesus with our broken world? Will we believe that the Living God is still reaching out to you and I, eager to seek out and save sinners like us? Will we believe that as Jesus turned even the cross into God’s blessed gift of New Life, that Jesus can and does bring God’s blessed life today even in the midst of our darkest moments?
I’m not promising that if we just ‘believe enough’, all our problems will go away. Or that everything that’s broken in our lives will suddenly be put back together. Christ Himself walked the path of suffering, and called His followers to take up our own crosses too… facing all sorts of heartbreak and pain as we walk the path of God’s love with Him.
But we are promised that, even when we come face to face with life’s darkest moments, when everything seems to be falling apart, we can turn to Him and trust that Jesus our Saviour is right there with us! We can trust Him to be at work in our lives bringing God’s blessings to life in surprising ways. We can believe that He sees our pain, and knows what we need, and longs to restore us, and make us whole in Him forever.
We need much more than words alone when all we can see is brokenness. We need Jesus, our Saviour, who alone can put us back together.
So how can we look to Jesus when we feel discouraged, frightened, and alone?
We can take time to reflect on how God has already been at work in our own lives so far… especially in our moments of brokenness… inviting Him to help us see how He has brought healing and hope to us in our times of need, and asking Him to help us keep trusting Him if we can’t yet see His hand at work.
We can invite God to share more of His blessed life with us… actively seeking Him out and drawing near to Jesus our Saviour… through prayer, through studying Scripture, and gathering around His table in worship with fellow believers… and we can also draw near to Him through acts of mercy offered to others! We can encounter God’s blessed life when we share the love, and hope, and faith He has given to us with the people He’s placed in our lives.
All of us are just a small part in the big story of God’s great love for the world… and the blessings we have received are one portion of God’s gift to everyone. No matter how broken our lives or the world around us may seem, take heart! God sent His Son Jesus to bring God’s healing where it is desperately needed, and to call us all to share His blessed life with His broken, but still beloved world. Amen.
 Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 25.
 F. Dean Lueking, “Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 49.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101.
 Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 102.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School