My husband, the youth pastor, cringes when folks laud his students as “the future of the church.” They are the church. Right here and now. Need proof? Below is a sermon on Luke 8:40-57 from my high school friend, Alice, who has got the itch to preach, to speak, to teach. School’s in session.
I am a mosquito magnet. And I love the outdoors. It seems like every time I go outside, even to check the temperature, I get bitten. I also have a terrible habit of absentmindedly picking at scabs. If you know mosquito bite scabs, you know that when you pick them they bleed and bleed and bleed.
I was at a fancy dinner once, when the mosquito bite I picked gave way to blood that ran all the way down my leg. When I looked over at the hostess, she was staring with a slightly appalled and mostly disgusted look on her face. She said rather bluntly “You should go get that cleaned up”.
This is kind of like what the hemorrhaging women in Luke 8:40-57 experiences every day. Except, she has a severe physical problem. Except, the bleeding has been going on for twelve years. Except, the awkward situations and disgust of others is in the rules of her society. It’s scriptural.
Leviticus lays out rules for what is clean and unclean for the Jews. Blood is unclean. Anything unclean is to be put out of society. “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.” (Lev. 15:31)
Not only is something unclean unworthy, it defiles God.
The woman in Luke has been told for twelve years that she is unclean. That she is unworthy. That she defiles God’s dwelling place. She cannot touch anyone. She cannot be around her loved ones. She cannot participate in society. She has been ostracized by her community, her family, and seemingly by God.
And yet, we see this woman in a crowd of people, touching a strange man because she believes she can be healed.
Contra dancing is a type of English Country dance that is popular in Chapel Hill, NC where I live. A few years ago my parents began contra dancing. After they went a few times, I decided to tag along. Contra dancing attracts a multitude of different people. In the same room are brilliant socially-handicapped nerds, athletic teenagers, along with country club grandmas, elderly hippie men, and me, a suburban teenager who had never seen all these people together in one room.
The first time I came, the old hippie men in skirts attracted my eye. Not kilts mind you, skirts. My entire life I had seen and been told that men wear pants, never skirts. Immediately I felt better than them. I knew the rules, and they didn’t.
This is kind of like Jarius the synagogue leader in Luke 8. Except, he is rich. Except, he has a high place in society. Except, him being too good is in the rules of his society. It’s scriptural.
Leviticus also outlines rules for priests. What priest can and cannot do. It calls priests to be set apart for the service of the Lord.
Jarius has been told his whole life he is better than others.
And yet, we see Jarius prostrating himself in front of a strange man.
How did Jarius and the woman get there?
They defied a social norm within themselves, first.
Both Jarius and the woman stepped outside a rule they had been told their whole life. They looked at all they had been told about life and themselves, they looked at all they believed, and then believed there was something better. That this was not all there was.
Both Jarius and the woman believed in a feeling, a push, an idea, that happened inside themselves. They didn’t write themselves off because what they saw inside was in stark contrast to the world around them.
How often do we hope for something in the Kingdom of God, and yet don’t truly believe it and live it out within ourselves and our communities here and now?
What social norms have we conformed to in our own hearts, in our own communities that don’t have a place in the Kingdom of God?
Who have we written off?
These questions often don’t have answers that are black and white. That are right from wrong. That are clean from unclean. And yet, it is our invitation and duty to live fully in this tension. To ask the hard questions, to discern the hard answers, and to act on what may be a little off center.
And even when we act and are standing in a world of “What was I thinking?!?” God says to us “daughter, son, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
And maybe you’ll get healed. Maybe others will be healed. Maybe this world will be healed. The woman did. Jarius’s daughter did. And once I let go, I found out I loved contra dancing and the men in skirts.
I pray that through our questions, actions, and discernment God’s Kingdom will come to dwell here on earth. I pray the lines we have drawn will give way to a world, a love, and a hope bigger than we could ever imagine, the way God dreams and gives us the ability to dream, too.