The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
Sometimes, you need to remember what’s important.
My daughter has a pair of sparkly shoes. We got them for to wear at a party. They aren't practical, they are very stiff and make her feet sore. But she loves them. They're no good for climbing or digging in the dirt, but she loves them. You can imagine my response when getting ready for nursery I look down at Iris’ feet and find she’s wearing them. Backing down isn’t always easy, but eventually after realising how important it was to her, and being given some way to save face, or at least parental authority, I relented and she wore the shoes to school.
Remembering what is important isn’t always easy. It usually requires we go back to first principles in some way. In Engineering, there was the concept of the solution neutral problem statement. Where you take away any assumptions as to the correct solution to allow a truly open consideration of possible approaches. On a big scale - not ‘we need a plane’ but rather ‘we need a way of getting people and their luggage from A to B. On a smaller scale, there is that old tale, I won’t claim what authenticity lies behind it, that when asked to develop a pen to write in space, NASA spent a vast amount of money to develop a pen that doesn’t rely on gravity, while the Soviet Space Agency asked the question, what can we write with in space, and used a pencil.
Basically, understanding where you are starting from changes the approach and that can be key. I do something similar when I am preaching on a difficult text. Say one that suggests something I struggle to accept - like God only heals those with faith! I ask myself a question which I think gets to the core of what I am meant to be doing: ‘What is the Good News here?’ That is after all what ‘Gospel’ means - ‘Good News’.
The impact when you go back to the basics, the solution neutral problem statement, and then start thinking through possible solutions, can be enormous. Instead of a plane you might develop a blimp, or a hovercraft or even some sci-fi transporter system. There are obviously limitations, some of those are unavoidable, but some need to be challenged. Even the fact that technology can’t deliver the solution is actually just an instigator to research the technology.
The haemorrhaging woman in today’s gospel is not somebody who would normally be mentioned alongside a jewish leader like Jairus. She would have known what she wasn’t to do. She would normally have avoided being too close to gatherings - knowing the rules about being ‘spiritually clean’ Can you imagine how she felt when Jesus asked who touched him - It’s like one of those recurring dreams where you show up to the wrong party and just hope you can sneak out before anybody recognises you, only just as you do somebody calls your name really loudly from the other side of the room. Only the woman hasn’t done anything wrong - she’s had faith in the Good News that God loves her, that Jesus wants to heal her, and know her personally. That her healing is as important to God as the life of the daughter of a Synagogue elder. Jesus has time not just to heal them both, but to spend the time to make contact with them. It’s not a story about faith that heals without Jesus even being there, it’s a story about Jesus being there to know those who are in need and to respond to their needs.
Making her decision to join the crowd, to reach out and touch somebody, even with the hope of being healed it was risky. But she had understood the ‘Good News’, the way Jesus understood what was important, not the rules and regulations about keeping clean, but the care for and love of every person made in God’s image.
The impact of going back to the question ‘What is the good news’ transforms the situation, much like human rights have transformed the situation beyond anything imagined by the creators of Magna Carta. But again and again through history, through individuals risking their own lives by challenging the assumptions others made, human rights have led to more and more in the way of respect, of dignity, of inclusion.
The Supreme Court’s ruling that Same-sex marriage is legal across the US is just the most recent example of these rights in action. Where the fundamental rights and meaning of being created in God’s image challenge the assumed norms in society. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. It’s there in the abolition of slavery, in the end of apartheid and the response to it, in the suffragettes, in the statements of Christian leaders after the end of the Holocaust. But it would be foolish to say that each of those things is sorted. How easy it might have been to say race was no longer an issue in the USA after Obama was elected or because a confederate flat was taken down. How easy it might be for society to demand conformity of the Gay community to a specific model of marriage or to claim there was no longer any form of discrimination based on sexuality.
And the Good News like Human Rights shouldn’t let us rest on our laurels, Because the Good News challenges us again and again to think about what is truly important, not simply what has been acceptable up to now. And for each of us in our own time it pushes us to challenge, to lead our own little rebellion, against what injustice we find in our midst. Going back each time to the basic, solution neutral understanding of what is important: What is the Good News for all creation.