Text: Mark 5:21-43
It is hard to know where to begin this morning. The grief that still fills our hearts as we have watched this past week the families in Charleston bury their loved ones—our sisters and brothers in faith—is at times overwhelming. The pain of the Mother Emanuel Church shooting will linger in our nation’s soul for days and months and years to come, as it should. It is beyond imagination to think about how they will move beyond the atrocity that took place in their house of worship—a place that is to be sanctuary. And yet, in these last days, we have witnessed their courage, their will, and their commitment, even in the face of unimaginable hatred, as they have continued to be God’s people of love, grace, compassion and even forgiveness. Not a cheap forgiveness. But a forgiveness that holds accountable the systems within our society that perpetuate and propagate acts of violence of one race over another.
God, forgive us.
In these last ten or so days we have experienced the lowest lows and the highest highs. We have been challenged to hold the tension of deep despair and profound joy. In a victory for millions of Americans our highest court of the land protected affordable healthcare for all. Two days later, for advocates of marriage equality and specifically for the LGBTQ community, that same court upheld the basic principle of the 14th Amendment—equal protection of the law—and granted same-sex couples the right to legally marry in all 50 states. But yet, in the midst of those decisions, decisions that protected individuals who are so often the most vulnerable in our society, we read about more terror attacks that racked Tunisia, France and Kuwait. In the last week, before I could absorb one event another was taking place. With each new day I wondered, “Will the next event bring more despair or a bit of hope. Have you, too, felt that way?
And then I picked up my bible to read the lectionary texts for this Sunday. And how grateful I was for the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark’s gospel. For it was this nameless woman’s story that gave me a way to think about and process all that has happened in these recent days.
There are three main characters Jesus attends to in this story. First, there is Jairus. Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, the president of the synagogue, who comes to Jesus for help. It is important to remember that all of Jesus’ disciples and early followers are Jewish, and it’s probably also safe to assume that some Jewish leaders also found his message attractive, even as some didn’t. So it’s not that Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, that’s significant, but rather that he’s a leader of the synagogue. And leaders are trained to be competent, to get things done, to keep it all together. That is until your little girl gets sick, really sick, maybe even sick unto death.
If any of you have ever had a really sick child you understand why Jairus runs to Jesus himself, instead of sending an emissary, as a leader normally would. You can understand why Jairus throws himself at Jesus’ feet, rather than address him as an equal…why Jairus doesn’t inquire, or politely ask, or even petition, but begs Jesus to come. He’s desperate; his love for his daughter has left him utterly vulnerable.
The second character in this story is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. This nameless woman is nearly the exact opposite of Jairus. She is not a leader and has no social standing in the community. Moreover, she apparently has no advocate to plead her case to this teacher. She is also ill, hemorrhaging for twelve years. Mark doesn’t make a huge point of her impurity or isolation from the community, he simply makes note that she, too, has been rendered desperate; and for this reason braves the crowd seeking only to touch the cloak of this healer whatever the potential cost.
And then, third, there’s the little girl. It’s easy to forget about her. She’s twelve years old, vulnerable as well, though she is in no place to do anything about it.
Three characters that Jesus touches. Each in their own way vulnerable, each in their own way desperate.
Two things caught my attention about this story.
The Hemorrhaging – It feels like we are a nation hemorrhaging. We have been hemorrhaging for some time – people literally dying because they couldn’t afford health care, families sleeping in their cars and on the streets because of the lack of affordable housing in this country, young and old dying from gun violence because our nation refuses to enact sensible gun laws, hemorrhaging as politicians enact laws restricting voting rights, moms and dads working two and three and sometimes four jobs because our nation refuses to pay workers a living wage. But the hemorrhaging reached a critical point on June 17 at 9:05 p.m. as a young man walked into Emanuel AME Church and killed nine people who were studying the Bible just because were black.
Spiritually, we have been hemorrhaging as a nation and world—living in isolation from one another, from creation, from acknowledging our dependence on one another, withholding our care from each other, placing our trust in ourselves rather than in something beyond us that binds us collectively. Yes, like this woman, we, as a nation, have been/are hemorrhaging, bleeding from the wounds of racism, classism, homophobia, greed and now Islamophobia.
But the second thing that caught my attention in Mark’s story was the risk this woman took to reach out and touch the healer, believing that if she could just touch the outer hem of his garment she would be healed. And that is when I realized that we’ve become afraid to do the one thing that can break our isolation from one another and slow down, even stop the hemorrhaging—touch, physically reaching out and touching one another.
On Thursday, before going on to NPR’s State of Things segment to discuss the future of marriage, Frank Stasio and I were talking about the Charleston church shooting and the decisions coming from the U.S. Supreme Court. And I can’t tell you why but Frank started telling me about a book he had just read that talked about our inability to reach out and touch one another—to physically touch one another. He said, “We have so sexualized touch in our society that we no longer know the power, the healing power, of reaching out and touching those who are different from us.” At that point I almost came out of my seat. I said to Frank, who is a deeply spiritual and faith oriented person, “Do you know what the gospel reading is for this Sunday?” I didn’t wait for his answer. “It’s the story of the hemorrhaging woman who reached out to touch Jesus believing that if she could just touch his garment she would be healed.” Yes, yes, that’s it we both said. It is our willingness to reach out and touch one another that breaks our isolation from one another. And breaking isolation is another way of saying to be healed.
It was touch that broke the bleeding woman’s isolation—from her community, from her society, from her own illness. What courage she had. What prophetic imagination she risked to find her own healing and to break her isolation by reaching out and physically touching the healer.
I said there were three characters in this story. But there are actually four: Jairus, the nameless hemorrhaging woman, the little girl, and the Healer. Here is what I want to leave you with this morning. As Jesus’ disciples we are called to be the healers. Like Jesus, we have the power to heal—to help our sisters and brothers who feel isolated, who are hemorrhaging from a world that marginalizes them and tells them they are less than because they have the wrong color of skin, or because they love someone of the same gender, or because of where they live, or how they talk, or who they worship, or what privilege they have. We are not only Jairus in this story. We are not only the hemorrhaging woman. We are not only the sick little girl. We are the healer, too.
And I saw the healers this week. A sitting U.S. president who had the courage to sing in front of the entire world of God’s amazing grace. Healer. The U.S Supreme Court that ruled that all Americans deserve affordable health care. Healer. A Supreme Court justice who wrote: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.” Healer. A Bishop from the Republic of Georgia who called his pastor friend in the United States to congratulate her on her country legalizing same-sex marriage giving him hope for his own country. Healer. A church community who, in the midst of unimaginable grief, gave witness to the truth that love is stronger than hate and that the darkness cannot overcome the light. Healers. And this church community who nearly 25 years ago chose touch over isolation and blessed the love between same-sex couples. Healers. You are God’s healers.
My friends, don’t forget that we are God’s healers in our world. People are reaching out to touch us for healing. We must reach back with our touch. The next time you see someone hurting, someone being bullied, someone lonely, someone being marginalized because of their skin color, or their religion, or their sexual orientation, reach out and touch them, really touch them and allow God’s healing power to flow through you.
Healers. We are all God’s healers!