June 28, 2015 – Pentecost V – Proper 8
Reaching for Shalom
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
A wise Solomon said: “For [God] created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome.” God’s generative forces are at work in us and around us, calling us to healing and wholeness, calling us to God’s “shalom” of restoration and peace…
I cannot begin to imagine what life must have been like for the woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years…. twelve years in which she had known great weakness and pain… twelve years of searching for a remedy, enduring much from the medical establishment… and becoming penniless in the process… with no cure… Twelve years of frustration, despair, and worst of all, twelve years social isolation… for the woman’s physical condition had rendered her unclean, untouchable, and essentially abandoned by the community and society around her. The story of this unnamed woman daring to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, shows both total and utter desperation and great courage. She had nothing to lose and so, in an audacious act, the woman reached out for healing. She was down low, below the crowd, crawling along the dusty road… reaching, and reaching until she touched the source. And Jesus knew immediately, that the connection had been made, because he felt power go from him. The moment the woman touched Jesus’ clothes, her bleeding stopped and she knew that she was healed. In fear and trembling the woman fell down before Jesus and confessed the “whole truth” as the gospel says. And what was that “whole truth?” Was it that in her impurity she reached out risking making the great teacher himself impure? Was it that her action, whether she knew it our not, resulted in power being taken from Jesus? Did she take or steal from him without his consent? Was the whole truth that years of suffering and of being an outcast had worn her down to the point of desperation… bone weary from being a pariah? Was she flat out scared? The whole truth included a whole constellation of mixed feelings alive in her, touching the God-given generative force within that compelled her to dare to reach out for Jesus… to act for the sake of healing.
This story of the reaching woman is inserted directly into the middle of the story of a wealthy man of position named Jairus, whose daughter is gravely ill, and who begs Jesus to come to his daughter and save her. There was quite a commotion. The crowd pressed in on Jesus. And though the girl’s situation was urgent and dire, Jesus stopped to tend the outcast woman who had dared to reach out, and he blessed her with the words: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” The woman was able to stand up and walk away with from this encounter with Jesus… renewed… restored… healed.
When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home there was weeping and wailing… for it was too late, the girl was dead! …or so they thought. When Jesus tells them that the girl is not dead, they laugh at him. Jesus removes the doubters, takes the girl’s parents to her side and tells the girl to get up… and she does, now restored to life… and they were amazed. Jesus ordered them to tell no one and to give the girl something to eat. “Do not fear, only believe.” The encounter with Jesus stirs and reawakens the generative forces that inviting healing, wholeness and fullness of life.
This past week we have witnessed the depths of grief in the incomprehensible actions of a young man who reached out for a “solution,” in murderous deeds that were poisoned by the belief that “others” are the cause of his own troubles, and fueled by despair fueled and the disease of racism and white supremacy. Dylann Roof reached for a gun to fix “the problem” as he saw it and killed nine of God’s beloved in a sacred temple of faith, refuge of hope… a temple that has endured many assaults over time. What he did not do was reach out for healing for his own deep pain and despair. A young man reached out in murderous anger and a nation was stirred awake by grief and touched by a healing message from those close to their own raw pain and loss… a message steeped in the love of Jesus, a message not of revenge and retribution, but of forgiveness reconciliation and healing… a powerful message in the midst of great pain and loss. To them was given the call of life out of death… a witness of faith and forgiveness that tests the limits of understanding… a witness of resurrection. Out of the call for reconciliation came a societal ground swell of calls to remove confederate flags, and the division and oppression that they symbolize… another sign of healing and resurrection.
The actions of the Supreme Court this week spoke, too, of the generative call to life. The challenge to the Affordable Care Act did not prevail and a system that has the vision of making care accessible to all people, has not be jettisoned. Though it is an imperfect system, the Affordable Care Act has not been struck dead. The vision for health and well being for all is in place. The work to further the health of the system itself remains. Our reach towards this vision remains.
Friday’s news from the Supreme Court unleashed a tsunami of joy as same sex marriage was made legal in the whole of this nation. All are now welcomed to receive the full legal stature and recognition of love, commitment and family in the covenant of marriage. There are those who are greatly troubled by this action and who are sitting in fear. The waves of celebration and expressions of love and joy speak of God’s generative and healing power spilling over on us all, calling us to new life and recognition that we are all blessed and beloved and invited to share in the riches of God’s promise. The suffering has been long. The reach has been tenacious. Jesus says to us, “go, your faith has made you well.” Jesus’ healing breaks down barriers of marginality and exclusion. The great healer welcomes all into God’s circle of promise, possibility, and new life.
The woman who reached towards Jesus was restored to shalom, to wholeness… a restoration of grand proportion… yet she will most likely face further hardships as a lone peasant woman in first century Palestine. Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead. She is restored to life. She will continue to live her life out under the Roman occupation, and if she lives another 40 years, will witness the destruction of the God’s Holy Temple. Eventually she will die to this earthly existence and be restored to wholeness in the next life. The full meeting of heaven and earth has not yet arrived but it is coming. For now we celebrate the healing and restoration in our midst as we live more deeply into God’s generative, life-giving love that calls us to reach for hope and to seek glimpses of God’s reign on earth… and not only for our time, but the vision of shalom for future generations and for all of creation, until the meeting of heaven and earth is accomplished in its fullness.
The writer Susan Andrews has said:
…the purpose of healing in a biblical sense is restoration to wholeness – restoration and peace with oneself, restoration and peace with one’s God, restoration and peace with the community, restoration and peace with the important relationships in one’s life. Physical healing may or may not be a consequence of this larger spiritual healing. When we decide to ask God for healing, we better be careful about what we ask for. Because God’s healing will knock the life into us – in more ways than one.1
We are called to reach out for healing and wholeness. We are called to move beyond complacency with our pain and ill health… both our own and society’s. We are called to seek Christ’s healing love that does not promise an end to pain and death, at least for now, but calls us to transformation and new life in the midst hardship… a love that calls us to celebrate resurrection in our midst and to go forth as faithful witnesses and workers for the sake of God’s vision of ultimate shalom on earth.
Tomorrow is the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. As we celebrate our patron Saint Paul we harken to his words from today’s lesson in his second letter to the congregation at Corinth:
“As you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel in this generous undertaking” (2Cor 8:7)
And so we, as a people of St. Paul’s, as a people of Christ’s larger church, as a people beloved of God… are called to live into the reach of generous undertaking, in all that we do… to reach, with the whole of ourselves, for Christ’s healing that is not for us alone, but for the whole of creation.
I would like to end with one of my favorite vision poems, one you may well have heard before from this pulpit. The artist Judy Chicago offers us the reach and vision of these healing words:
And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind. And then both men and women will be gentle.
And then both women and men will be strong.
And then no person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and free and varied.
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many. And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth. And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.
1 Lectionary Homiletics, June 2000, pg. 8.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; Lamentations 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43