July 1, 2018
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
This week we got a lot more evidence that our world is still as broken as it’s ever been. And so, as I thought about what to preach, I thought a lot about the ways that we idolize our institutions, about how we look for God’s healing in the wrong places and pour so much love and care into the structures we have built, only to discover that those institutions cannot love us back the way we need them to love us. That’s always devastating news regardless of how many times we’ve heard it. I know it has been for me. But I’m going to put a pin in that and get back to it, because what I also realized is that this will be the last sermon that I will preach with Pastor Nadia in the room, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of her leaving without hearing just ONE more story from my childhood. So, here it goes.
Once upon a time, in a land far away called Tennessee, Pastor Reagan was in third grade and back then he was painfully shy. Therefore, the thing he wanted most in the world was to not stand out, to go unnoticed and so he worked hard to do everything right, to wash begins his ears, brush his teeth three times a day, finish his homework without being asked, get straight A’s on all his tests and run just fast enough in PE that none of the bouts would notice just how unathletic he was. But then one day he got to school and immediately realized that his zipper was broken on his shorts, like it was completely broken so that his fly was just wide open. And while this fashion emergency would have been easily resolved by walking up to the teacher and asking if he could call home and get some more clothes, this easy solution felt a lot less attractive given the one thing Pastor Reagan wanted most in the world was to not stand out. So, rather than take the chance of walking across the classroom with his fly unzipped, he decided to do the most normal thing: which was to stretch his shirt down over his knees and spend the rest of the day walking around absolutely inconspicuously like a penguin. That is until he got to PE, where it wasn’t running laps that foiled his plan-that part as simple. He just ran like a faster penguin. But the hard part was when they got to the jumping jacks. So, he would jump and then as he came back down towards the ground, he would grab his shirt and pull as hard as he could to stretch it back down. And that didn’t look weird AT ALL!
Although it’s been 30 years, I still think about that day all the time. Because I still haven’t found a way to stop pulling my shirt down over my knees. I still haven’t learned to truly trust I can call home and ask for a new pair of shorts. Because I’m still afraid of what the “crowd” will think. I’m still afraid about what all the other kids in the class, about what the Church is going to think, about what everyone on Facebook is going to think if they see me walk across the room with my fly open. Because I’m afraid that that’s the thing that’s going to stick. I’m afraid that if I let down my guard for a moment, all everyone’s going to see is my brokenness, my uncleanness and that’s because I know deep down I way too often feel that way myself–that the things which are unzipped, untidy and unclean in my life are the things that are going to stick and can never be washed away. And so I try to blend into the crowd, hoping no one will be able to see that my shirt is stretched out over my knees.
Which brings me to today’s gospel where we have two stories of healing where in order for the healing to happen, Jesus has to kick the crowd to the curb. At the beginning of this gospel, having just calmed the storm at sea, Jesus is met at the shores by a crowd. Jairus, the Jewish High Priest, is among them and begs Jesus to go and heal his 12-year old daughter who he thinks is dying. This would have been like asking Jesus to go and heal Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy. And so, I cannot imagine that the crowd was happy, when on the way to Beyonce’s house, Jesus stops and asks, “Who touched me?” In fact, even his disciples get annoyed and scold Jesus, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus isn’t interested in the crowd. In fact, he’s never been very fond of crowds to begin with. Crowds bother Jesus. They distress him. And so, throughout the gospels, we see Jesus leaving, dispersing and ignoring the crowd so that he can connect with what really matters, like this woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. Jesus doesn’t see the crowd. He doesn’t see the angry temple leaders, furious that Jesus seems unconcerned that the clock is ticking on the dying rich girl. Jesus doesn’t see the power of our institutions, the power of the patriarchy or the will of those who occupy the white house or sit on the Supreme Court. Because Jesus sees her and her need. Not the crowd. And Jesus sees us and our needs, not all the kinds of crowds where we so often place our trust. Jesus isn’t interested in what they think. He only cares about what we need.
And what we need, what all of us need, is to be pulled out from the mob mentality and the ways we get so twisted up from trying to blend in, by trying to hide our brokenness and need for healing. Like a bull in a china closet, we need Jesus to elbow his way through all the crowds, through all our churches, political parties, Facebook groups and cliques so that our hearts will break open just enough to feel the com breeze of Jesus’ swagger as he brushes by us and then stop, turn to us and ask, “Who touched me?”
Which makes me wonder if that is what faith actually is. Like, what if faith isn’t really a synonym for belief or even for those moments when we have the courage to act. What if faith is that moment when Jesus busts through all the thoughts, feelings and people that crowd our hearts, and our paths cross with Jesus and in that encounter we come to the knowledge that who we are is not what they think and it’s not what we fear. That we are not what the world tries to shape us to be. That we are not forever stained by the brokenness projected onto us or onto others. Because we are children of God and the only thing that ultimately sticks to us is the light and power of Christ, not the voice of the crowd.
But so often we feel like we can’t live without the crowd. And so we pull outs shirts down over our knees and hope that someone else will come walking in with toilet paper stuck to their pants so that no one will notice what’s wrong with us. Which makes me wonder how many others were in the crowd that day and wanted to reach out and touch Jesus too, but felt they just couldn’t live without the anonymity of the crowd. How many worried that they’d be branded as needy? How many were afraid that the crowd shout back that Beyonce’s daughter was more important? Just like I wonder how many are here today in this room and think they can’t ask for healing about their breast cancer, their depression or the fact that they hate their job because right now there are children locked up in detention and Supreme Court justices stepping down? How many were afraid to ask for help because of how it might make them look? Meanwhile in our gospel today, Jesus shows us he’s got time to stop and heal the bleeding woman and make it to Beyonce’s house in time to get her daughter a snack.
This week I got some bad news that someone I knew from my days on campus ministry died in a opiate drug overdose. And it happens that this friend was someone who had a really hard time when I came out of the closet. I remember our conversations well and how consumed he was with what the church thought, with what the majority of society thought at the time. For him, God was about strength. His death hit me pretty hard this week because we shared the same struggle with addiction to opiates. Which just as an aside, I don’t share that enough, that I wasn’t just an alcoholic but that the addiction which really brought me to my knees was my addiction to pain pills. And the reason I don’t share that often is because I still feel shame and because I’m afraid of the crowd. I’m afraid that once you hear is, that this is all you’ll ever see again. And yet, my friend died this week because he didn’t think he could live if people knew the truth. He died not knowing that who he was had nothing to do with what other people thought or what the church thought or any other group in this world. That the only thing that matters and that the only thing that sticks is the love God pours into us.
And so, if you’re here today and you think you’ll be better off just by blending into the walls, in hiding who you are, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to suffer this lie any longer. Because Christ is among us right here, right now, and is waiting to raise you from the dead. Amen.