Sermon – June 27, 2021
Based on Mark 5:21-43
Let’s start this morning with acknowledging that June has been a tough month. Never mind the ongoing challenges and pains of living through a pandemic with the continued restrictions on our social activities and the yearning for those to continue being eased. We are now witnessing the continued revelations of the pain and suffering inflicted on children and their communities by Canada’s Residential School System. That is accompanied by a great deal of anger at the churches that participated in those programs.
So, no, this month has not been easy.
I certainly do not believe I can provide all the answers or solutions to these difficult times.
So, it is with that in mind I find myself turning to today’s scripture from Mark. Curiously, I was treated to a sermon on part of this passage a few weeks ago during the Festival of Homiletics. A well-known preacher from Chicago named Otis Moss III delivered a remarkable sermon on the story of the woman with the hemorrhage. He provided some interesting background and provided great many things to consider and managed to offer some reassurance.
That said, I am not about to replay that sermon. I am not about to replicate it. Never mind his intellectual property rights, I am not at all capable of doing his sermon justice. But I might share some of his insights along the way.
For example, he notes that the hemorrhaging woman has lived for those 12 years essentially apart from her community. Her condition, the only thing we know about her, has resulted in her community effectively exiling her. The Jewish religion of the time saw it necessary to remove people who were bleeding from the general community. The English translation usually used for this is unclean.
A noted biblical scholar, Dr. Wilda Gaffney, says a more precise translation of the Hebrew word used is probably restricted. This included people with skin conditions, lesions, and hemorrhaging.
It was a restriction both by the community and upheld by the people who were restricted. They saw it as part of their lot. It was so pervasive they did not resist this restriction.
Now, before anyone gets excited, I am not about to make a biblical case for resisting the pandemic restrictions. Note that the restrictions in question in this story affect one person in the text. This woman is, in this story alone in her restriction. No one else is sharing her suffering.
In any case, when we encounter this woman, Jesus and his entourage are hurrying to the home of community leader Jairus to heal his daughter. By this time, Jesus tends to draw a crowd as he moves about the countryside. As a result, his disciples tend to act as something of a bodyguard to keep Jesus safe from the pressing crowds.
So that sets the stage for this encounter. For some reason today this woman decides to set aside her restriction. To break the bonds that have restricted her for so many years. As Moss puts it, she has nothing to lose by approaching Jesus. Either she is healed or at the very least she gets some new scenery.
We know the story. She reaches out and touches the hem of his cloak. She does not even touch Jesus, just comes in contact with something that has been in contact with Jesus. To even do that, she needs to get past the people who are restricting access to Jesus.
That is the part of this story I find myself reflecting on the most this morning,
but maybe not in the way you are considering.
By this point in Mark’s story, the followers of Jesus should be pretty aware that Jesus is not too tied to tradition and questions of who is appropriate company.
In the story prior to this, Jesus confronts a man possessed by demons. Now he is on his way to heal a man’s daughter. The disciples are focused on fulfilling that mission; of getting Jesus to the home of Jairus. They don’t have time for any distractions. Time is of the essence. The girl is near death.
Have we ever been in that situation? Where we are so focused on a particular task; of meeting a rushed schedule that we don’t allow ourselves time and space to consider what is happening around us?
I can certainly attest to being in that state personally.
But I think we as a church need to sometimes reflect on the work we do. I have no particular examples or instances attached to Grace United Church. It is important to have goals; to have missions. But it is also important to review those goals and missions from time to time. But it is also important to never lose sight of what is happening all around you. To see the faces of the people in your midst; to stay attuned to the people in the crowd who may just want a glimpse of Jesus; the person who moves you, who gives you purpose. Who yearn to simply come in contact with someone or something that is connected to this remarkable person.
It is significant that Jesus does have time for this woman. A woman who is never named. She is only known by her condition. We rarely if ever learn the names of people who are that poor. The poor are never named. If you have a name in scripture, or really any literature from that age, it means you are at the least of upper middle-class stature. Or Jesus and his friends.
But in any case, Jesus has time for her. He understands someone reached out to touch him and he stops. He looks her in her eyes and hears her story. And calls her daughter. He says she is family. He knows her; he values her, and she is well.
Jesus does not forget the people all around him, reaching out to him. He reaches out past those who are guarding him and restricting access. Those focused on getting from one place to another and not taking time to see what is happening in their very vicinity.
Who are we in this story? Are we the woman, restricted and in pain, reaching out for healing? Or are we part of the official retinue accompanying Jesus but so focused on reaching a destination we lose sight of what is happening right next to us? Are we part of the crowd watching what is happening and marveling at the sight?
Or can we see this story as the precaution and the reassurance it can be. That we are following Jesus; not trying to guide Jesus to the next destination while avoiding the distractions along the way.
And let us remember, that sometimes those events on the journey are as fascinating and as important as the destination. Amen.
Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789