Good morning, thank you Fr. Jered for the invitation to bring the sermon today as part of St. John’s Summer Series. It is so good to be with you all and I’m excited to be preaching in my home church for the first time.
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank You for Your glory, Your justice, and Your Love. Give us tender hearts and open ears so that we might hear Your voice in the words of this message. May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, oh Lord. Amen
“If I but touch His clothes…”
I never realized how much I needed touch until we were thrust into a pandemic that made us hide from each other. We knew that touch was important for babies, but now we know it’s important for all of us. It’s been especially hard to see hospital and hospice patients deprived of the loving caress of their spouses and children this past year. As a Chaplain and along with the personal care attendants, nurses, and doctors, we have often had to fill in for the families who were now forbidden from visiting. Eventually, the vaccines rolled out and now it has been such a joy to see the reunions of patients and families. To see people hug instead of talk through a window or on zoom.
In our gospel reading, Jesus has arrived after crossing the sea for the third time. He had been going back and forth, maybe seeking a quiet place to rest, but only finding people in need of a miracle. And as soon as he arrives here, He is surrounded by a great crowd again. An important man, one of the leaders from the synagogue, asks Him to come and heal his daughter. He agrees, but His journey is interrupted by a woman who gathered up all her faith, hope, and courage and said, “if I but touch His clothes, I will be made well” and she touched His robe.
The scripture is plain that she had suffered from these hemorrhages for years, that she had tried every option, been to every doctor, and spent all she had trying to get well, and she kept getting worse.
What isn’t so plain in our reading is how all of this made her an outcast among outcasts.
In his book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Richard Beck writes about the phenomena of disgust. “…Disgust is a boundary psychology. Disgust monitors the borders of the body, with the aim of preventing something dangerous from entering.” It’s part of the hard-wiring of being human, a mechanism to keep us from being contaminated by things that might hurt us, even kill us.
People who lived in the time of Jesus didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have today and they were afraid of things we know are normal and good today. They would send women outside of the city gates during their monthly menstrual cycle because they believed this made the women unclean. The woman who approached Jesus had a condition that likely made her constantly unclean in the eyes of her community. She likely lived with shame, loneliness, and poverty because of this disgust/contamination/contagion phenomenon. There in that crowd, approaching Jesus, she knew that if she was discovered, she would have been quickly expelled.
“If I but touch His clothes…”
It’s easy for us to sit in judgment of her community for the way she and other women were treated, but I have to wonder if we are any different in this day and age….
I remember the anxiety I had going on the ICU ward that day last year, knowing that we had multiple COVID-19 patients. We had all the Personal Protective Equipment, head to toe, we were protected, but the possibility of accidental contamination, of becoming sick, or worse – putting others at the risk of exposure, was a lot to hold. I feel like I was bathing in hand sanitizer, and if you’re wondering, it does not taste good. I nearly had panic attacks going into a store or being around groups of people.
If we remember that disgust/contamination/contagion is a psychological phenomenon and is about protecting our boundaries, we can begin to reflect on the boundaries we’ve protected and patrolled.
We’ve patrolled the boundary of race in so many ways in this country. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to red-lining, to racial covenants in our neighboroods, to the indigenous boarding schools, to the school-to-prison pipeline, to police killing our Black brothers and sisters, to separating immigrant parents from their children.
We’ve patrolled the boundary of class and wealth. From inequitable school funding, to white flight, to killing labor unions, to gerrymandering legislative districts, to allowing a lack of equal access to healthcare.
We’ve patrolled the boundary of gender and sexuality. From outright homophobia and transphobia, to the gender wage gap, to domestic violence.
And we know that we have done all of these even in the Church. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out how Sunday was the most segregated day. Our church can now celebrate that we ordain women and LGBTQ clergy, but we know that our global Communion still has a long way to go in these areas. We know that some traditions are wrestling with who they allow to receive the Eucharist.
These are all devastatingly painful behaviors. They are particularly devastating ways to see other people, people who are indeed children of God. And they are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If I but touch His clothes…”
You see, Jesus turned this dynamic on it’s head. The religious leaders were worried they would be contaminated by sinners or by sick and unclean people, but they never imagined that instead of Jesus being contaminated, that healing would flow FROM Him. Jesus is stronger than any contaminant, any sickness, any sin, any impurity. Contact with Jesus purifies, heals, and redeems. Jesus shows us that only Love can dismantle the boundaries we create.
And Jesus knew this woman didn’t just need a physical healing. She needed the wounds of expulsion and traumas of rejection she suffered to be healed. She needed to be seen as clean, as worthy, as human by her community. Knowing this, Jesus called her “Daughter” and He blessed her.
I wonder which of our neighbors is suffering due to one of these boundaries? Are any of us here even now being wounded by these practices? What are the boundaries that Love is calling us to heal?
I pray two things. I pray that we, when we are wounded by these human boundaries of fear, that we would be filled with the faith and hope of the woman who said, “If I but touch His clothes…,” that we would press in, believing God for a miracle of healing and reconciliation.
And I also pray that we answer Jesus’ call to tear down these boundaries with the Love of God. That we would have the courage to call the outcast, friend; to call the rejected, family; to call the broken, beloved. I pray that we could help build the Beloved Community in such a way that no one has to have a mountain of faith just to risk being accepted or loved here.
May we hold His words in our heart as we go from here, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”