Sermon by The Very Rev. Tracey Lind
Proper 8B 2021
And when this ends we will emerge, shyly —
and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace
loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those
it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for
laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in
to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different,
although a time will come when we’ll forget
the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh
of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues;
a time when we may even miss the old-world
arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps,
the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open
all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices
reaching out, holding each other till this passes.
For months, I’ve dreamed about standing in this pulpit and sharing these words from the Irish poet John O’Donnell. How good it is that we are here, some of us dazed and long and grey haired as we emerge from a long COVID season, coming together to “embrace loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those it gathered in its shroud.”
We have lost friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances and loved ones. We have longed for hugs and kisses, handshakes and high-fives. We have read the morning papers and watched the evening news in both horror and hope. We have sanitized our hands, our groceries and nearly every surface of our homes in an attempt to protect ourselves and our families from a deadly virus. We have worked and worshipped on zoom, visited with loved ones on computer screens, and had cocktails on FaceTime. We have applauded first-responders, health care professionals, restaurant workers, and delivery people. We have protested racism, police violence and criminal injustice, And, we have prayed that “now things would be different.”
But are they? What’s changed since this chapel was last open in the summer of 2019? Whats changed since that fearful day in March 2020 when we were all told to stay at home, wear masks when we go out, and wipe down packages when they come in? What’s changed since that awful day in May 2020 when a black man was murdered by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds? What’s changed since that unbelievable day in January 2021 when angry mobs, incited by an outgoing president, rioted and attacked our nation’s capital? What’s really different since we last gathered in this sacred space? A whole lot and nothing at all. One thing is for certain: our individual lives and the life of our church, our nation and our world has been interrupted, and we’re all in need of healing.
The gospel reading appointed for this morning (Mark 5:21-43) speaks of both interruption and healing. Jesus, with a crowd gathered round him, was interrupted by a leader of the synagogue, begging him to heal his dying daughter. On his way, a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years – for as long as the little girl had been alive – interrupted Jesus by reaching out and touching his cloak.
Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus was interrupted by people in need of healing: a leper, a paralytic, a demonic and a blind beggar: an impoverished woman begging for crumbs, a Roman centurion, and a rich young ruler; disciples, soldiers and crowds. And at the end of Jesus’ life and ministry: a woman with a jar of costly ointment interrupted his last meal, and two men hanging on near-by crosses interrupted his execution.
Did Jesus ignore or refuse these interruptions? No, he saw God’s people as an interruption to be welcomed and as an opportunity to teach, heal, and proclaim God justice, love and mercy for all creation.
Moreover, Jesus was an interrupter himself. He interrupted fishermen, tax collectors, and unclean spirits as well as corrupt politicians, clergy and religious institutions. He even interrupted mother nature herself. As recounted by tradition and understood by faith, both the incarnation and the resurrection were divine interruptions in the earthly realm. Christianity really is a theology with interruption at its core, asserting a different, unexpected and unpredictable future that is not under human control.
This morning’s gospel reading reminds us that we can’t claim this theology of interruption without encountering and confronting the powers and principalities that seek to silence it. The bleeding woman couldn’t be healed without having the audacity to break convention, push through the crowd, and touch Jesus’ garment, believing that in doing so, she would be made whole. Jairus’ daughter wouldn’t have been healed had her father not interrupted Jesus, begging him to stop what he was doing and come to his aid.
The same is true for us. We can’t get sober if we don’t admit we have an addiction; we can’t repair a relationship that we don’t acknowledge is broken; we can’t get out of a professional rut that we can’t face.
Moreover, we can’t heal what ails our nation and our world without the same desperate and hopeful audacity. We can’t rid our communities and institutions of racism without acknowledging the racism within ourselves; we can’t eradicate COVID without listening to the science; we can’t alleviate climate change if we don’t accept our part in its cause; we can’t end gun violence without gun control; and we can’t be a democracy without voting rights.
The confluence and intersection of recent events – a multi-layered pandemic, if you will – has served as an alarm clock, perhaps, even a divine interruption, telling us to stop and pay attention. On the one hand, the COVID shut-down offered a pause that allowed many to rediscover what’s important in our lives – a chance to re-set, re-prioritize and re- calibrate. On the other hand, as Dr. Anthony Fauci recently observed, “COVID-19 has shone a bright light on our society’s own failings.” A friend of mine put it this way: The intersection of COVID-19 and its economic fall-out, the murder of George Floyd and the response that Black Lives Matter, the presidential election and insurrection at our nation’s capital gave us the gift of sight. As she said, “We needed to see the ugliness of it all.”
What some have termed “a double pandemic” has awakened us to become aware of our surroundings and has challenged us to look around and engage – really engage the reality we face in order to be agents of healing. Mahogany Browne reminds us in her preface to Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice, that, “The idea of being aware of your surroundings, especially in a time when we are taught to be quiet and not rock the boat, can be difficult to embrace…” As the woman who stopped bleeding after twelve years and as the father of a twelve-year-old girl who “got up” out of a sleep perceived to be death, “this is where freedom begins.”
Like Janice Joplin once sang, “Freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose.” When you have nothing left to lose, you’re free to be brave and daring.
As I’ve learned in dealing with the interruption of early onset dementia, and as anyone in a 12-step recovery program will attest, we can’t undo the past. We can’t go backwards; that is wishful thinking. We can’t deny the damage we’ve done to our environment and our own bodies; nor the damning truth of American slavery and Jim Crow. We can’t deny the injustice in our criminal justice system or the inequities in our educational system. We can’t deny the shrinkage of our churches or even the increasing irrelevance of organized religion in American public life. We can only go forward, step by step, examining the root causes of our individual and collective dis- ease and considering radical (that is, root) changes in our individual and collective lives.
For many of us, especially white people of privilege, it would be comforting to go back to the way things were. As Morgan Parker writes in her poem entitled “If You Are Over Staying Woke,” we can choose to sleep in, avoid the news, water the plants, complain about the weather, and “remember what the world is like for white people.” Many of us learned in the early days of COVID that the temptation to stay in bed with the sheets pulled over our eyes can be very tantalizing. It can also lead to a really lonely death by isolation.
At President Biden’s inauguration, the poet Amanda Gorman offered an alternative vision when she proclaimed that we can “raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.” Like the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and the man who pleaded for his daughter’s life, we can bring about good news into this world by claiming the healing power of interruption.
When we choose to awaken from our collective sleep and interrupt the status quo with our God-given power, Gorman tells us that from “every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country…a people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.” She reminds us that, “When that day comes, we will step out of the shade of flame and unafraid. The new dawn balloons as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Yes, like Jesus, if we’re brave enough, we can interrupt the seemingly endless cycle of disease, disengagement and death and help build a world filled with reconciling, repairing and redemptive love.
In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College, Dr. Martin Luther King insisted that, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.” He went on to speak of a great, social revolution, with the winds of change blowing, “sweeping away the old order.” Dr. King told a hopeful and enthusiastic audience, that the challenge facing every individual is to remain awake through such a revolution.
This morning’s gospel invites us to emerge from isolation with our eyes, minds, hearts and hands wide-open, and ready to serve. We are called to wake up, rise up and remain awake as we join the great revolution taking place today so that in the words of Amanda Gorman we might “leave behind a country better than the one we were left.” Beloved in Christ, as we come back together this summer, I invite you to ponder two questions.
Where do you need healing in your life; and how can you be an agent of healing in the world? Where do you need healing in your life?
And how can you be an agent of healing in the world?
Having considered these questions, may you have the courage and faith to live into the answers.