On The Move
Emily Williams Guffey
All Saints' Episcopal Church,
Chicago June 28, 2015
• 5th Sunday after Pentecost • Proper 8B
In the name of the living God,
whose love is breaking every barrier down. Amen.
As a friend of mine said yesterday, "This week has been a better week for God."
Last week was very stormy, in the wake of the massacre in Charleston. This week I've been so glad to see some justice trickling down – as in Amos' prophecy, "justice rolling down like a river, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (5:24).
If last week the weights of racism and violence felt particularly acute, particularly unbearable, this week I'm so glad that there's been some joy, some hope, to buoy us up.
Last week's Gospel took place on the water; Jesus and his disciples were all in a boat, and a storm came upon them. Today's Gospel takes place on land; they have just "crossed again to the other side".
Last Sunday's Gospel was about a storm and we were in one. Today's begins on a shore and we have just arrived on one: the long-awaited shore of marriage equality in this country.
But notice in this Gospel that Jesus does not stay on the shore. He is on the move. He is on the move toward others who need healing, he is on the move toward others who demand recognition of their inherent wholeness, he is on the move toward others who are demanding salvation.
It is a gutsy thing to demand salvation. In this Gospel we meet two people who do so. First is a man, a leader in the synagogue. His name is Jairus. Amid the big crowd of people gathering around Jesus, he comes right up to Jesus; he's in his face, falling at his feet, and asking for healing for his daughter. Jesus agrees, and they start heading toward Jairus' house.
On the way, another person demands salvation: a woman, who remains nameless in this story. She doesn't approach Jesus face to face, but sneaks up behind him. She's one of my favorite characters in the Bible, because I've always been intrigued at why she does this.
In part, it's because she knows she shouldn't even be out in public. In the social and religious milieu of that time, to have a bleeding disorder as she did, or a skin disease (like leprosy), or to have recently touched a dead body meant that you were ritually "unclean". To be unclean meant that you could not touch others and they could not touch you.
It is interesting to me that in today's Gospel, Jesus touches and heals this woman who is bleeding and the girl who has died – and a few chapters earlier he has touched and healed a man with leprosy, thus systematically breaking down these barriers.
This woman has had these hemorrhages for twelve years, but we're probably meant to think that it's been even longer than that. In the Bible, twelve is a number that symbolizes fullness, completion. For example, there were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples. She has been ill for twelve years, and Jairus' daughter has been alive for those same twelve years. These numbers are not coincidental.
We're meant to understand that for altogether too long, she's been excluded. She's been on the margins. On the outside looking in. It's been forever since she even felt human touch.
But she's heard about Jesus; this man about whom people say, "When you're with him, it's like you're with God"; this man who can heal. She knows it'd be against the rules for him to touch her, but she also knows she cannot wait any longer. She can't continue like this for another day.
So she crouches behind him and reaches for the hem of his coat thinking, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be healed." She has guts.
She was in South Carolina yesterday. She climbed a pole outside of the statehouse and took down the Confederate flag with her own hands. She knew it was against the law, too, but she did it anyway, because she "couldn't wait any longer". She "couldn't continue like that another day."
She, the activist Bree Newsome, said, "It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building true racial justice and equality."
She was arrested for defacing public property and she knew she would be, but did you notice that while she climbed up the pole and while she climbed down, and even when she was led away in handcuffs, she was praying. She was reciting psalms of trust in God in the face of fear and opposition. "The Lord is my light and my salvation," she said, "Whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1) "Even though I walk through the valley of death," she said, "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)
I believe that yesterday in South Carolina, as well as in our ancient Gospel story, she heard Jesus say, "Daughter, go in peace. Your faith has made you well."
For a long time, I thought that faith was something of the mind. Something with which I either agreed or disagreed, either embraced or dismissed with my mind. So if that is faith, then what does it have to do with being "made well"?
So we're getting to know each other, right? One thing you should know about me is that I love to play with languages. It is fun for me to read not just the English Bible but to dig into the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures, too, to pursue mysteries just like this.
I realized that the Greek word for "made well" (it's called sodzo, isn't that a cool word?) means more than to "be healthy" or to "be free of disease". It means these things, but it has more layers of meaning, too.
It also means "whole", it means "safe from harm", it means "free".
It also means "saved".
"Saved". I know, I know, that's a churchy word. I don't usually like churchy words, and I certainly know that Episcopalians don't say things like "saved" – but actually, we're all about it.
Because biblically speaking – even if you just look at the Greek word for "saved" / "made well" or its Hebrew counterpart – you see that salvation in the Bible is never just an individual condition.
It's not just about you being saved and me not being saved, or whatever. It's about us being saved with each other, all of us being saved together. Salvation doesn't mean much if it's accessible to only a few. Or as our President put it so well the other day, "Our Christian faith...is about more than just our individual salvation; it's about our collective salvation."
We know this at All Saints', yes? We know that it is a good and joyful thing to gather around and feast at this table today, but how much more is it to gather in this space again on Tuesdays to feed and talk with our neighbors. It is a good and joyful thing to love Jesus, but how much more is it to, in the words of Bree Newsome, be "sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building true justice and equality." It is a great and joyful thing to celebrate the fantastic shore we're on – that of marriage equality in this country – but how much more is it to continue to pray and work for marriage equality in our church and for freedom from discrimination for all people. We celebrate well our shore today, knowing that there also are many other shores to reach.
Jesus is on our shore but he is on the move. Can you feel the momentum? As we move, too, I wonder: What is standing between you and the freedom you need? To whom are you reaching out, even just for the hem of their clothing – yet perhaps it seems just out of your reach? Who is coming up to you, in your face, begging you to recognize their wholeness? And who, in the large crowd of our lives, our city, our world, is coming up behind you – out of sight, perhaps out of mind – but nevertheless yearning for connection?
Let us follow Jesus in loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, seeing the invisible, daring the unthinkable, and breaking every barrier down.