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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Touched by Jesus

Jesus heals, saves, and overcomes barriers that exclude people from community.  Because Christ has touched and saved us, we are called as the body of Christ to welcome all people into community and faith together with us.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 13, year B; text: Mark 5:21-43

Yesterday my partner Scott decided it was time for a road trip and a hike. So we drove south to Nerstrand, to Big Woods State Park, and hiked a trail. We thought we were prepared, but it was pretty hot even under the forest canopy, and as we hiked back up the hill from Hidden Falls, ducking the clouds of mosquitoes, and bearing in mind how my Aunt has been dealing with lyme disease from a tick, I thought to myself, “I don’t mind being out in nature as long as it doesn’t TOUCH me.”

Today’s Gospel shows the care Jesus has to touch and heal a whole community, Jesus’ care for insiders and outsiders, unclean and clean, and about the power Jesus has to save everyone, regardless of category. These texts are about the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which is so strong it overcomes sickness, restores the outcast to community, resurrects the dead, then calls upon Christians to share. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. With Jesus, every person is called into community, into faith, into extending that same care to others. With Jesus we get called into that same work of welcome, of touch, of breaking down barriers of exclusion, for the healing and salvation of the whole world.

There IS a danger in today’s texts, and it is this: that we will read this Gospel lesson as a story of a miraculous healing for two individual people a long time ago; and if we apply it to our own lives we will say the lesson to be learned is, “If only I have enough faith in Jesus I will be cured of my diabetes, my high blood pressure, my HIV, my cancer. This Gospel’s about a personal faith, and if I’m not cured it means I just wasn’t good enough and didn’t believe hard enough.” That is dangerous territory.

I tell you that is dangerous territory, because it plays into some of our favorite sins - first, the sin of making everything about the self, about me; and second, the sin of putting ourselves in the place of God, claiming we know why healing happens to one person and not another. It’s worth noting, against that “I just need to believe harder,” thinking, that immediately before this story Jesus was on the other side of the lake, casting out a whole army of unclean spirits from a guy who definitely did not profess faith in Christ. It may be consequences of your actions that make you or keep you sick - but lack of faith is not a reason we can diagnose.

Our Gospel has two desperate people coming to Jesus. One is a man, an influential religious leader, who wants his twelve-year-old daughter to be healed. He goes through the proper channels of access to power; we could say he follows the correct liturgical method. And Jesus responds and starts to go with him.

Meanwhile, a woman who has had “a flow of blood” for the entire twelve years Jairus has raised and loved his daughter - it seems likely this woman had continual menstrual bleeding or some such thing-- who because of this bleeding is ritually unclean according to the laws of the Torah, and she cannot be part of the religious community that Jairus himself leads - this woman is desperate too, and the channels of access to power are not available to her. The proper thing for her to do is stay a long distance away from society, from any crowds, and to make sure she doesn’t touch anyone, lest she make them ritually impure.

But the desperate, outcast, excluded, ritually unclean woman hears of Jesus; feels a wild hope; says to herself, “If only I can touch his garment, I will be saved.” And that’s exactly what she does. She sneaks up behind Jesus through the crowd, and touches his garment. And she is immediately saved. The bleeding stops, she knows in her body that she has been healed and saved.

And Jesus, from whom the work, the power, has come, stops in the middle of a crowd like the one you walk in at the State Fair or maybe on the sidewalk in a busy city or a crowd in front of the stage at a concert - where you cannot move any direction, where you are jammed in like sardines - Jesus asks the ridiculous thing, “Who touched my clothes?”

And his incredulous disciples answer, “Are you crazy? Look at all these people!” Because of course, EVERYbody touched his clothes! But Jesus knew, and so did the woman; so she comes, fearful, because she knows she shouldn’t have been in a crowd in the first place. She tells him everything, and Jesus listens to the whole story. And then he tells her that her faith has saved her, and she should go away and exist whole. He says this IN THE CROWD. IN FRONT OF Jairus and EVERYONE. According to Leviticus 15:25, he ought to rebuke her for being in a crowd, for touching people, especially for touching HIM, a rabbi, a man, for making everyone in the crowd unclean. But the power of Jesus is stronger than any uncleanness, and the sort of Messiah Jesus is not only saves people, but overcomes the traditions that exclude others. Jesus heals her publicly so everyone knows she’s healed, saved, and part of the community now. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person.

Even while Jesus is speaking to this woman - who has now been publicly healed, saved, and restored to community - messengers come for powerful Jairus, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any more?” But Jesus, who had listened to the outcast woman’s entire truth, her whole story (while Jairus stood there, perhaps impatiently) -- Jesus will not listen to claims of death. And besides, Jesus is much, much more than a teacher. He ignores the messenger and says to Jairus, “Fear not. Believe.” They go on to the dead girl, through loud crowds of mourners, through mocking laughter when Jesus says he will wake her.

The bleeding woman was healed very publicly; this time, it’s very private - Jesus and a select few disciples and a couple family members. Jesus “takes possession” of the dead girl’s hand - grabbing onto what is the ultimate in “unclean”, a body which death has taken, Jesus now claiming that child under his authority - orders, “Little girl, stand up!” And she rises. The power of Christ is greater than the power of death. But Jesus says, “No one should know of this, give her something to eat.” As though the word would not spread?

Jesus comes to the powerful elite man to raise the dead; and Jesus restores, heals and saves the desperate bankrupt poor woman. Jesus disregards all the barriers that have separated and excluded. Jesus is the living power and love of God for them, stronger than our prejudice, stronger than any illness, and when we die (as we all will die) Jesus takes us, too, by the hand and says, “Rise up!” and we will rise. That’s the best news ever, for each of us - that death is overcome by the power of God in Christ Jesus. That we will be raised to life by the power of God in Christ Jesus. Alleluia? Alleluia!

..... But in the meantime, on a “green Sunday”, after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is loose among us, what does this mean for our lives as a community of faith?

With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. That means we should be thinking about who our own community excludes. A lot of us here look a lot alike. A lot of us here think a lot alike. We’ve successfully broken down barriers in this religious community; there are others we struggle with still. Mount Olive welcomed each of you; what radical welcome; what hospitality, what work of healing and what welcome to community is next for this congregation? Are we as welcoming to our neighbors as we could be? Are we too comfortable in our sanctuary? A little odd to ask on a hot day like today, but still - what if we took our liturgy to the streets, processed around a few blocks for festival days, did faith in public view? What if we welcomed Latino people who love the faith and are very comfortable crossing themselves and bowing, to live faith with us? That there is an MCC church down the block has not stopped us from welcoming GLBT people; our welcome is not contingent upon what other people are doing nearby. Is God calling us to squirm a little bit with our next level of welcome?

When you hear “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” my friends, that is a call to you who have been welcomed and saved to go out and welcome all people to this place, to bring everyone in to gather ‘round this altar, to continually work in the power of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to undo the barriers we find we have built. We are called to hold the hands of those whom death or illness or shame claims, to be community within, and to share the grace of God with all who drive or walk past this corner, all who we work with and live with in daily life.

And that is what Paul says in our second lesson. “You have begun to share,” he says, “Now keep going, don’t stop; finish doing what you say you’ve begun to do. There are poor people? Well, share with them, so that you have enough and they have enough.” And I would say, “You have a welcome at this church? Great! Share that welcome with those who are outside the boundaries. Think of the grace you have found here, the good it does in your life that you have a community of love and support on which you can depend when times get tough. Each of you - each of us, me too - are here in the city not just to do good works but to invite people into community, that they may get sandwiches and diapers AND ALSO so that they may share their gifts with this community, that all of us together may be saved and healed and restored to community, all of us together may have a little something to eat; all of us together may encounter Jesus disregarding whatever would keep him from extending the holy power of God to all the world, through you and me.

Beloved, we will be raised from death by the power of God, at the call of Christ. Here we gather in a beautiful church with a fantastic liturgy, music which carries good news, and a community that works to do good things. Today we are called to reach out, to share all of that bountiful good which God has done here, with those who do not have it, those who are not part of us or who have been excluded. I do not promise you it will be comfortable. But I tell you I believe it is what we are called by God through these holy texts to do.

The good news of Christ, of healing and restoration and community and resurrection, is good news to be shared generously, as it was shared also with us. Let it not be said that we are a church that’s OK being on the corner of 31st and Chicago, as long as the neighborhood doesn’t touch us. We as the body of Christ are called to hold the hands and listen to the stories of the desperate ones in our congregation, and also those who are our neighbors. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. We have been welcomed while we were just as untouchable, and Christ has saved us, by his own blood, to serve and welcome, build community and bring hope both within this holy space and to the world outside our doors. Do not doubt, Christ says; only believe. You faithful ones of this community: Imagine what Jesus will do next.

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