This sermon was delivered to ST. John’s MCC, Raleigh, NC – Sept 19, 2010
Title: Broken, Bleeding, and Blessed
Text: Mark 5: 21-34
“We have not abandoned ‘traditional values,’ we are merely recovering and reclaiming an essential piece of the foundation of classical Christianity! We claim it every time we bring all of who we are to the altar in praise and thanksgiving of the God who created us, redeems us and calls us good.”
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
In Jesus’ time a lot of things were considered unclean. The list is long and it is found, not surprisingly, in the book of Leviticus, Sometimes referred to as the book of abominations. It says that to be unclean is to be unholy, unfit to enter the temple and therefore unfit to be in the presence of a Holy God.
To be unclean was to be untouchable. To touch someone deemed impure, such as a bleeding woman or a corpse is to defile yourself and make yourself impure, or unclean. In this system things were clear and everyone had an identity. But Jesus messed the whole thing up. Which is just like him, Jesus the rabble rouser.
Today’s gospel text is about Jesus touching people he should not be touching. It is a picture of Jesus defiling himself and breaking society’s rules about purity. Jesus made all the wrong people worthy to be in the presence of a Holy God.
This is an appropriate text for this Sunday, the Sunday before the ‘Feast Day of the Unclean,’ otherwise known as Pride. It is fitting that we read THIS text as we sit here today in anticipation of the Pride Parade next Saturday.
It is appropriate because the parade will be made up of today’s unclean: transvestites and drag kings and queens, transgenders, and all stripes of the rainbow people. This is a parade of people who, our society treats like bleeding women and dead girls.
Our culture needs to have the clean and the unclean. We need it – to know who we are.
Now I’m not a fan of “The Simpsons.” I’ve never really watched the show, but I understand there is well known episode of the Simpsons titled “Homer-phobia.” In the story, Homer’s wife Marge befriends an interior decorator voiced by gay film director John Waters. He and Homer become friends until Homer finally suspects his new friend is gay. The John Waters character tries to tell Homer that he is gay for most of the episode until finally Waters finally says, “Homer – I’m queer.” Homer replies, “You can’t call YOURSELF queer. That’s our name to make fun of you and we need it.”
We need “those people,” whoever “those people” are to you, to point to and make clear our own identities:
- intolerant conservative or the immoral liberal
- the filthy poor or the filthy rich
- the atheist or the Evangelical.
We live in a world of binaries:
- good and bad
- black and white
- sane and insane
If you are familiar with the gospel stories, you might remember Luke telling that Jesus comes upon a naked homeless man in the wilderness. A psychotic man who in his day was considered demon possessed. Jesus heals the man and people from the city come out to see what has happened and they find the demon possessed man clothed and in his right mind.
You would think that the people would be happy that the homeless psychotic had been healed, but Luke tells us they were furious and asked Jesus to leave.
As long as that man was insane, the townspeople did not have to look at their own insanity. Jesus comes and turns their binary system, their system of purity on its head and they were angry and fearful. They needed that person to be what is un-holy, so they could feel right about themselves and feel right with God.
Jesus took something precious from them. He took away their identity in relation to who they proclaimed unclean.
But Jesus, the rabble rouser that he is, would have none of that. He purposely touches everything we deem impure, defiling himself again and again.
Jesus is about showing us the Commonwealth, or the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ promise of abundant life brings healing and that healing disorders our identities. To be healed is to be changed and to be changed by Jesus is to be changed forever. The change that comes with healing can create its own wound. Change can create its own wound.
For twelve years, that bleeding woman was untouchable. That must have been a very sad and lonely existence. However, that is who she was, the untouchable bleeding woman, unworthy of even worshipping God.
I wonder what her life looked like after her encounter with Jesus. I wonder if it hurt to be healed. Like frostbite, when a patients blood rushes back into the extremities it is excruciatingly painful.
It is actually more comfortable to allow parts of ourselves to die than to feel them have new life. It is actually more comfortable to cling to the identity of being unclean because it is what we are used to, it is an identity.
While everyone else needed to call this woman impure, they needed to call her unclean, to call her unholy, Jesus called her daughter. In that one word Jesus tells her who she really is and even if that word caused pain as it surged through the parts of her that had been deprived of love and life– child of God is what she is.
Any old identity we cling to, after we have encountered Jesus, becomes nothing less that an idol for us to worship. It is not the word or will of God. Let me repeat that. Any old identity we cling to, after we have encountered Jesus, becomes nothing less that an idol for us to worship. It is not the word or will of God.
The radical Commonwealth of God that Jesus ushers in destroys the systems that say who is clean and who is unclean. In the radical Commonwealth of God anything that I have used to define who I am, and anything I used to define everyone else is, other than the gospel is going to be taken away.
It’s hard to loose your identity, it hurts!
To loose whatever it is you cling to: money, status, education, marginalization, victimhood, political correctness, moral superiority, career, what ever it is, to loose it hurts. However, that old and comfortable identity can never offer what Jesus offers; it can never love you like your God loves you.
As a matter of fact, an identity can not love you at all.
These things we choose to keep us safe and comfortable they will never confirm the only identity that really matters…the only identity that brings us healing, wholeness and salvation.
When our impurity and isolation touches even just the garment of God it all falls away. We no longer remain who we say we are, or who society says we are, or who our families say we are. We are, as the Apostle Paul tells us, a new creature in Christ. You have a spanking new identity.
Then what? Where do you go!? What do you do!?
The formerly unclean know who they are, but society takes some time to catch up: the world still sees them as unclean. So where do they go?
I like to think that the bleeding woman got together with the lepers, the prostitutes and tax collectors, and all the others who had an encounter with Christ. I like to think that they gathered together, much like we do, here at MCC, gathering to eat together and sing of God’s love, and God’s grace and salvation and remind each other that we truly are new creatures, worthy creatures, new to the understanding that God calls us good.
Like you and me, they had a new purpose, a new calling on their lives to speak to those others that did not yet know that God also loved them. I think God’s love gave them the same sense of Pride we have.
It gave them a sense of pride that allowed them to get together and march right down through the center of town as a witness to both, those who judge, and those who are judged.
They lived in a world that wanted them to remain the identified problem. They lived in a world that wanted to give them an identity based on something false, and small, and insignificant to God. In a world where it’s feels safer and easier to cling to marginalization and victimhood like a warm sweater.
So, they probably felt drawn back every day to being what they had been because it’s familiar and comfortable. And don’t we all want comfort when we are the object of scorn and ridicule? Don’t we all feel put down when the most commonly used insult in America’s schools is “Oh, that’s so GAY.” And don’t we find it sad that LGBTQ people can not openly serve in the military. And are we not enraged when teenage children are bullied to death because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and the authorities watch and do nothing.
Our culture continues to consider its LGBTQ citizens expendable. And how do the vast majority of Christians around the world react?
They inform us that we are sick and in need of healing, some even say we are deserving of death! They say we are abandoning the Church’s ‘traditional values.’
Yet, when I look back across the history of the church, Christ’s church, it seems to have made a wrong turn somewhere. The Church, while in search of righteousness, has lost its humanity.
As far back as the second century AD, Iraneus of Lyon, one of the revered Fathers of the Church, and one of the first great systematic theologians, said: “THE GLORY OF GOD IS THE HUMAN PERSON FULLY ALIVE”
“Fully alive” … isn’t that what we are when we embrace rather than deny our sexuality? Isn’t that the Good News we offer in counter-point to a culture that tells us we are unclean, untouchable”?
We have not abandoned ‘traditional values,’ we are merely recovering and reclaiming an essential piece of the foundation of classical Christianity!
We claim it every time we bring all of who we are to the altar in praise and thanksgiving of the God who created us, redeems us and calls us good.
Yes, LGBTQ people do need healing, just like the broken and bleeding woman needed healing. Healing of the belief that they are less than clean and holy. Our people need healing of the shame and guilt that has been heaped upon us for God only knows how long.
So, yes the bleeding woman and the lepers and the maniacs, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the others who encountered Jesus, they felt out of place in their new identity. Therefore, I believe they became a community, a community of the broken, bleeding, and blessed body of Christ.
It is in being broken, bleeding, then blessed that we understand and can share the tension between the sorrow put on us by the world and the joy of God’s healing.
It is in being broken, and bleeding, that we are finally blessed. It is in being broken and bleeding that we remind each other of the Gospel which rings with both joy and pain as it rips away that unhealthy stuff to which we cling.
A poet wrote:
I carry a notebook in my mind.
It has a black cover, the pages are
brown with coffee stains and if
you were to taste the paper, you
would find it infused with the
salt of tears; Whole chapters
written in tears that come in waves,
briny truth from beneath the musk
folds of my inner being, truth that rises
from the eternal source I call God.
I listen often, breathing long,
slowing down, letting go,
going deep through the constant
buzz and hum of my mind that is
thunder next to the quiet whisper of truth.
Sometimes, for a brief moment in
the silent space between my
thunder, I catch a piece of God
that reveals itself in tears of both
joy and sorrow, the invisible ink
that salts my notebook.
I hope that the bleeding woman and the other healed freaks got together on a regular basis because it is only in this way that we remember who we really are. No longer unclean and impure, but beloved children in the presence of a Holy God who made us and calls us good.
When Tears of joy and sorrow come together like a hot and a cold storm front and creates thunder, this is where we most often meet God. This is where healing takes place, in the broken places.
And we have the opportunity to be part of that healing ministry: today as we claim our proper place as sons and daughters of God, and next weekend as we participate in Pride, be joy to someone’s sorrow, let the thunderclap of God create a storm that heals the broken, stops the bleeding and blesses others.
Go out and counter the sorrows of the world with the joy of Christ. Amen