“Just One of the Crowd”
Listen to the sermon here.
Many of us might have given up hope, given up any thought of change in our lives or our situation. But, then she had this one last idea. She refused to remain isolated from the community, and threw herself into God’s story…
This traveling rabbi, was her chance, but there would be many people in the crowd trying to reach him, would there be room for her? Would her suffering be of any consideration? and Look there’s one of the leaders of the synagogue—Jairus, he’s pleading his case, maybe she should turn back? Maybe it’s not worth it, what if she was discovered? Would people shame her?
We do this thing in our heads—sometimes— where the voices of doubt and possibilities of failure overcome our intentions and goals. A friend of mine calls it head trash. We let that head trash talk us out of things, and tell us we’re not good enough, not worthy of success, or love, not worthy of full relationship with our community, with God.
A couple of weeks ago, I told a story about hiking with my volunteer group in Peru, and I admitted that the hiking wasn’t my favorite part of the trek…
A big part of the challenge for me when trying to accomplish the hike, was myself, and that head trash. I was walking up the mountain, not keeping up with the rest of the group, not being able to take deep breathes because of the altitude, and I got into my head. you’re too slow. the rest of the group is up there. I’m falling behind. everyone else is already so far ahead of me that I’ll never catch up, this is the worst. and that head trash made me doubt if I could even make it to the top.
But then our guide, hiked back down to me, met me in the path, and walked the rest of the way up to the 14,000 ft summit. He lived his life in the mountains, he was so accustom to the terrain that he wore sandals on his feet, not your typical hiking shoes. hiking this was like second nature to him, but as i fell behind, on the outside of the group, he sought me out and encouraged me to the top.
When I think about this woman’s situation, I can’t even fathom what her head trash might have been…
By the laws of Leviticus, her illness made her unclean, and anyone or anything she touches will also be made unclean. In the dramatization, Carol so powerfully highlighted her sense of isolation from the whole community. Her inability to participate in the life of the community. And all the physicians she sought who couldn’t do anything for her. We don’t know if she had been married or had any children of her own. but certainly 12 years later, she would have been cut off from them. she had no one. I can’t even imagine what that lack of physical touch would do to a person. Not a hug or a handshake. as Each year passed, she would feel less and less a part of something, and perhaps even less and less human. We are social beings, and interaction within a community is important. When we are pushed aside, or when push ourselves away it changes us.
But she wasn’t the only one who sought Jesus that day. Jairus is a leader of the synagogue which is the very heart of the community,
while she lives her life on the margins, the very barriers regulated by Jairus and the other leaders of the synagogue. yet there is this incredible leveling affect in the story. Social status becomes irrelevant as they both fall at jesus’ feet.
There is a sense of vulnerability for both of these individuals— Jarius, who is usually a powerful person, in charge of what takes place in the synagogue and surrounding community. He comes forward and places his story into Jesus’ hands, as he kneels at his feet.
Jesus hears him and goes on to heal Jarius’ daughter, but not before he encounters a woman at the other end of the spectrum.
She took a great risk to involve herself in the story of God, her courage is clear as She wraps herself up in a shawl, overcomes her fear of discovery… pushes herself through the crowd, and reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak.
Jesus senses her presence, her faith. To the disciples she’s just one of the crowd, of the many pressing in towards Jesus. But he turn, asking, and then sees her. Truly sees this woman, not just one of the crowd pressing in, but an individual, with a story and a past and a need for love and his blessing. She tells him her whole painful story, and he doesn’t back away or let the pressure of other commitments keep him from connecting with this woman. He tells her that it is ultimately her faith that saves her, that brought her this far. But he still does something for her that no one else could do: in his compassion for this woman he calls her daughter.
There is a familiarity in daughter, not woman, not even sister, but daughter signals to the community that she is welcome.
The very man who Jairus sought is the same one who welcomes this woman back into the community and both daughters are restored to the life of the community. Neither are pushed to the margins of society. This story reminds us that all of us no matter what end of the spectrum, are worthy of relationship with God, worthy with the community of God’s people. After both daughters are restored to new life, Jesus and his disciples continue on, back to his home town and then village to village.
We don’t know where her story goes… I like to think that she might have been one of the women who continue on the journey with Jesus. Eventually leading her to stand with Mary and the other women in Jerusalem as they witness the crucifixion, remaining long enough to see where they laid his broken body in the tomb. But that’s just because I like to know where people’s journeys take them.
We are made for relationship, as children of God, we are CREATED to be in relationship. But this story is not simply about 2 individuals whose stories intertwine with one another, as they encounter Jesus. This story is also about community. about the synagogue and the rituals of life, how those rituals unite a community, but also how those rituals might isolate people from the community. How does this story shed light for us in our church? Od our rituals and activities serve to unite us, to bring us together? Or do they distance us? What would it look like if we were to welcome people as if they were truly sons and daughters? The children of God?
A community is made up of individuals, but as a church we are called to break down the barriers that keep us from knowing one another and knowing God. Each of our stories are important and makes the community more vibrant, more whole. like a tapestry, each thread is vital to the whole.
Sometimes we don’t have the courage to involve ourselves without a little help, or a push from a friend. Maybe there are physical things that keep us from full participation in the church community. Or it’s mental, we don’t really feel like we belong. That’s why it’s important for people who are a part of something to reach out to to invite us in, to include us in a real way.
Last Sunday I met with a few folks who shared a similar story. They had each been members of the church for over 15 years. But for about a decade, they remained in what they called ‘the audience’ they came to church, they worshiped, they listened, were edified, and they left.
They participated on the margins until someone in particular invited them in. And then they began to be involved on another level, a deeper level. And from that point of invitation on they became more deeply integrated into the life of the community, and in a variety of fulfilling ways.
What I learned from listening to their stories, is that we can try to be more like my guide was for me on the mountain trek. Going out of our way to reach out and walk alongside someone, to invite them in, as we encourage each other to accomplish things in our journey that we couldn’t do on our own.
This Lent we will set aside some time as a community to know one another more.
Next month you’ll have the opportunity to share your ideas for how you might like to connect with others at Bradley Hills, and later in the month you’ll be able to sign up for a small group that will begin meeting for the duration of Lent. It’s going to be fun! Seeing where we will go together, in our faith in our journeys! So this is my invitation to each one of you. Like Jarius and the woman, share your story! Refuse to be just one of the crowd! Each one of our stories help us to see how God is working, how God is healing and moving in our world. Take the risk to reach out in faith and journey throughout lent with one another.
I’ll close with an excerpt from a poem I came across this week by a Methodist Minister entitled The Healing That Comes, A Blessing.[i]
that lives in a story
that has been
the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves away
with fingers clutched
around the fragments
we think are
See how they fit together,
we have been carrying:
how piece to piece
they make a way
we could not
Let us piece our stories together, here at Bradley Hills, so that we might find new ways to be a faithful community of spiritual friends. I invite each one of you, into this journey, that connects us and strengthens us to trust in God’s healing and restorative power which frees us to truly, Go in peace. Amen.
[i] Jan Richardson. The Painted Prayerbook.