The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached at Grace, Holland on July 22, 2018 – Proper 11, Year B: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)
What if that were true? The healing part. What if everyone who touched even the fringe of the cloak of the Body of Christ experienced healing?
It’s a high bar, isn’t it? People were rushing around the whole region and they brought the sick on mats to wherever Jesus was. And there were crowds. “In villages and cities and farms,” the gospel says. “They laid the sick in the marketplaces and “all who touched even the fringe of his cloak were healed.” Everyone. “Even the fringe.” “All were healed,” the gospel says.
What if it’s true?
And what if we very 21st century, intelligent, reasonable, grounded, modernly-faithful people expected it to happen? Now. And what if we presented in such a way as to confidently communicate this expectation? What if we, as Body of Christ, made the very bold statement that everyone who touched even the fringes of this place would be healed?
It would mean that we believed in that kind of power. It would mean that we allowed ourselves to believe that healing happens. It would probably also mean that we’d experienced healing in some ways ourselves. And it would mean that we as Body would honor and respect even the power of the fringe.
All of which is a lot to ask, frankly. Because (realistically speaking) we already do just fine in this place. Our list of accomplishments in any given year is really quite incredible. We have committed clergy and lay people, a community that is changing and working to be attentive to our growing edges and our weaknesses too. We offer good care here at Grace. We strive to welcome all. We pray together well, and we manage projects relatively well too. We even give beyond ourselves!
But maybe as Body of Christ, we’re capable of more than we think we are. According to this gospel, we’re called to believe that everyone who touches even the fringes is not only welcomed but healed. And those are two very related but different things. This gospel says to expect that everyone who touches the fringes experiences not only welcome, but also a new form of wholeness.
I was thinking this week that that would make for quite an Annual Report wouldn’t it, as we looked back over the year and shared our experiences of it? Perhaps a new slot could be added to the Parochial Report that we send into the Diocese annually: Parking lot completed. One hundred twenty home Eucharists shared. Twenty-five new members incorporated. Youth mission trip a success! Roof raised. And EVERYONE who touched even the fringes of this place was healed!
According to this gospel that should be our vision, our goal. According to this gospel, we can carry people into this place on mats, or be carried in ourselves when we need it and healing will happen, if we let it. I think we focus in on so many other dimensions of church life that we sometimes forget the power that is already here. And I can own that, I can focus in on so many other dimensions of church life that I sometimes forget the power that is already here. Which is the power to heal.
In all of our faithful busyness which is not bad in itself, but it can get in the way. Because we can forget to tend to and foster the power that exists among us simply by virtue of our being the Body of Christ. Even if we are “the fringe” of that Body which sometimes we are, God’s power is here. And people who might not be able to reach or grab ahold of anywhere else, will reach out to us and healing will come to them! And probably to us too.
The Body of Christ is capable of more than we think we are.
And to keep that from feeling overwhelming, or perhaps a bit intimidating for we modest Episcopalians, it might help us to remember where and how these miracles begin in the gospel, because it’s a starting point that can be ours too. These miracles begin with compassion. I’ll point to that in the text in a minute but the good news is that compassion abounds in this place! Honestly, I think it’s one of our strongest ties to each other and this world. Grace doesn’t tend to be a people who agree one hundred percent on anything, really. But I do think that we are a people of compassion, one hundred percent. And so maybe that high bar for healing is one that is within even our fringy reach.
Note that the gospel didn’t say that “only those without doubts” were healed or could heal. Or that Jesus met with each person to discern whether or not they had faith enough to experience transformation or to offer it. It didn’t say that only those who were devoted members of the community of faith were healed or could share in the healing. In fact, Jesus and the disciples were constantly “crossing over” in this gospel, moving among Jews and Gentiles alike to the point that it didn’t even matter who the crowd was, or how it was made up. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul event went so far as to talk about one humanity, where the divisions that existed among the various “thems” were abolished. None of that mattered anymore.
What mattered was that people were hungry. And what mattered was that people were hurting. Jesus looked out over the crowds and at various points in this gospel “he had compassion for them.” Compassion was his very first reaction. It was his guiding instinct, leading principle, perhaps one of his greatest powers. And you can bet the crowds felt that.
Before anything else happened in these stories, Jesus communicated compassion for them. Whoever the “them” happened to be, Jesus showed concern for their suffering, he communicated empathy, and then God did something. Miracles happened. Teachings transformed people, bread multiplied, mass feedings filled deep and hungry places, storms were calmed, and bodies, minds and souls were healed.
In Greek, the word for compassion is splagnizomai and it means something felt deep in your gut. It’s work to say it, and often it’s work to allow that dimension of ourselves to surface, and let alone lead us. You know how sometimes compassion can actually feel like your stomach is turning? I think that’s what this is about. “Splagnizomai,” is a deep movement inside that turns us, opens us to the suffering of another. It is perhaps itself a miracle, a bit of grace, maybe part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Jesus had it. And we do too. It’s not as gentle sounding as compassion but it is what opens our hearts, and our doors, and our very selves to the power of God. It is perhaps God’ power working in us.
So let your splagnizomai flow, Grace Church! It’s where miracles begin. Share your stories of healing – how it’s come, where you need it in your life, how healing has surprised you. And listen as the stories come our way. God will do something with our compassion if we simply take the risk of letting it flow. Healing will come in ways that pass our expectations and our understandings too. According to this gospel passage, we can trust that healing will come.
The Body of Christ is capable of more than we often allow it to be. Among us lives the power to transform. The power to feed. The power to calm. The power to heal. And everyone who touches even the fringes of this place, will be healed. May we help it be so.