Pentecost 4, Year B
June 28, 2009
The Rev. Dana Corsello
Our Gospel this morning has Jesus crossing back over the Sea of Galilee into Jewish territory and coming ashore only to be mobbed by people who all want as piece of him. The leader of the local synagogue, Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Jesus to follow him home because his daughter is minutes away from death. Jairus doesn’t command Jesus to follow him as a man of authority but as a desperate father who believes that Jesus can perform healing miracles.
What is notable is that when this wealthy, privileged man wants Jesus to heal his daughter, he must wait for the healing of a destitute and shunned woman. These stories, though, at their most basic level are the very same story. The story of a person whom Jesus resurrects from death.
With Jairus’ daughter this is easy to understand. Jesus goes to the corpse, reaches out, touches her, takes her dead limp hand in his and tells her to get up. And she does.
The movement from death to life is a little harder to grasp with the hemorrhaging woman. The Bible regards blood as the vital element of all living things. For the Hebrew people blood was a sacred, precious and dangerous force in belief and practice. This is why they were prohibited from consuming the blood of animal flesh, sacrificed or otherwise. So when a woman bleeds for 12 long years – she has been in the Jewish sense, not only ritually unclean but, “losing her very life.”
So when she sees Jesus with his entourage she squeezes her way through the crowd and impetuously, audaciously touches his cloak. The bloods stops seeping out of her and she is healed. Instead of calling this unnamed woman “unclean’ and a “trespasser,” Jesus names her “daughter,” a daughter every bit as precious as Jairus’ beloved little girl. I believe that the miracles, like those in this passage, are God’s way of saying that the little 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, who died, is you and me. And that the woman who had the very life draining out of her for 12 years is you and me, too. The Gospel of Mark is telling us is that all of us are left for dead, all of us are dying, all of us are having the life drained from our bodies. All of us are corpses waiting to be carted off – until – we encounter Jesus! Until we are touched and we touch.
These two stories point to the posture of the Christian life and they point to my experience here at St. James’s these last eight years: Christ with his arms outstretched reaching to us, and our arms outstretched reaching right back. In this embrace we discover our identity as beloved, redeemed, and holy children of God.
Let me tell you how I know this to be true. When one reaches out – often in blind vulnerability – especially from this pulpit – one faces the possibility of rolled eyes, heavy sighs, rejection. I know that when I have gotten emotional over the years and cried in the pulpit, it has made a good many of you uncomfortable. I do apologize for that. But for some reason the Holy Spirit has nudged me to tell you my stories, whether they were about my mother’s angel who followed Andrew and me home from West Texas to Virginia after she died, or my father’s lifetime struggle with alcoholism, or my older brother, Jeff, who is paralyzed and still remains a thorn in my side, God bless him. I could go on and on. What I have discovered over the years is that when I put my struggles and my successes out there you responded in kind with yours, and you trusted me to understand and not judge you.
This touch of Jesus shows us that we must graciously allow ourselves to be touched by other broken arms to be healed and to feel truly alive. If only I had hours to share these stories with you. Allow me to share a few.
When my mother died of cancer just three months after my coming to St. James’s, I was lost and wounded – how could anyone here know how integral my mother was to my life – that she was my life – apart from my husband. And I was worried about my return just before Christmas. How would I survive it? Did I have a home to return to? I will never forget a message I received on my mother’s answering machine the day of her memorial service. I pressed play and heard her Texas twang asking the caller to leave he a message, and what I heard was this strange Mechanicsville twang saying to me, “Dana, Elizabeth and I want you to know that we love you; we’re so heartbroken for you, and we want you to get back to Richmond so we can take care of you.” That voice, belonging to none other than Jan Harris meant that I did have a new home here in Richmond, really my only home, and that people at St. James’s had the capacity to love me as my mother did.
There are some humorous ones too. I’ll never forget coming back from maternity leave after I had given birth to Casper, and I was to preach on Ash Wednesday. As you can imagine I was sleep deprived and hormonal. I don’t remember the sermon exactly, but I do remember getting choked up and emotional and having to stop, and Ron Cain calling out from the pews, “You can do it, Dana, we’re here for you!” Ron Cain? Part of the problem was that Andrew had brought Casper, who started to cry during my sermon which meant that I began to lactate – like mad. Yeah, I know. Here you go again: TMI. Well buck up! You can take it! And I do mean you, Brewster Rawls. So after the service Randy and I go up to the clergy robing room and I take off my cassock and he looks at me and my shirt and declares, “Wow. That’s not something I ever expected to see as a rector!” Just another day at the office
Does anyone remember the Chimes article I wrote about Andrew nit wittingly having a six-foot satellite T. V. dish installed in our tiny front yard in cement, and thinking this was “all good?” The story goes: I come home after a 12 hour day and see this thing and start to cry. I ask myself, “How could he? Doesn’t he know any better?” I can’t possibly gather myself and go inside. I sit in the car and pray, pray for at least 20 minutes. Pray that God can give me the strength to be calm and loving and not squeeze his neck so hard that his head pops off. It was in this Chimes piece that I wrote about the struggles of marriage and how the Spirit can miraculously keep us all afloat. I can’t begin to tell you how many men responded to that article. For one, they saw themselves in Andrew’s shoes (it was “all good”), and two, it was almost a revelation to them that prayer before a marital eruption could calm things and restore one’s sanity.
I have written in the wrapper this morning that one of the things I’m most grateful for is that you’ve always allowed me to be me. It’s almost impossible in this role as your priest to really be anything else. What I have been amazed by is your capacity to forgive me all the times I have disappointed you and let you down. In so many ways we’ve lived in a marriage over these years, and have had our ups and downs and survived to be better for it. It is as if you gifted back to me what I preach in many a wedding homily – you gave me the freedom to fail. I am also grateful for the fact that you have loved and accepted Andrew just the way he is too. For better or worse baby! Sound familiar?
Before I close let me thank all of you who trusted me to lead you to Honduras, to Alaska and to Africa. And to you who allowed me to perform your weddings, baptize you and your children, and bury your loved ones. I am eternally grateful for all the women in the parish who supported WomanKind and devoted countless hours to its success, and I especially thank the women of my Bible study. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, it takes a village of women to raise a woman-child. I speak on behalf of Andrew when I say we’ve both learned an invaluable lesson from you. We have close friends who believe politically and socially absolutely the opposite of what we believe, but who have come by their faith and beliefs the hard way: with hard-won experience, great debate and keen intellect. You’ve made me a better priest and you’ve forced us from being complacent and self-satisfied about what we believe and why.
And I must thank my colleagues, the staff of St. James’s. They are all more than colleagues. They’re family. They were there when I gave birth to my sons and they have been there every day of their lives. Sifting through drawers while packing we have come across 50 photos of different people holding our children. I have learned so much from all of you. I am a better wife, parent and priest because of you. You know St. James’s is really your life when your children are in this building six days a week! I have to thank Geraldine and her staff for her watchful care over our boys these last past years.
And finally, I must thank my rector, my friend, my brother, Randy. There may be some of you who will find it hard to believe that Randy is only seven days older that I. When I arrived in September of 2001 we both had dark brown hair. Thanks to Robin Price, I still do. Poor Randy. It was the events or fallout from the fall of 2003 that turned his hair gray. Think back to that time and you’ll know why. Randy is an incredible leader. He trusts one to do one’s job and to do it independently, creatively and to think big. I’ve always admired the way he steers the beast that is St. James’s right down the middle and on an even course. He keeps a remarkably disparate group of people under one big tent, energized and engaged in ministry. I think Randy is the perfect kind of leader. He runs a tight ship. We respect his authority, yet he never screws the lid too tight so that the Holy Spirit cannot get in and stir things up. The reason why I was called to be rector of St. Luke’s was because of Randy’s mentorship. There is none better.
So you see, it really is all about God’s touch. We have touched each other’s lives in ways that we can’t even imagine. We are, in fact, shaped and made God’s children in relationship to one another. Beyond even the physical healing, acceptance, and intimacy, touch can make us whole and give up peace. I know that in your embrace of these last eight years I’ve discovered my identity as a beloved, redeemed, and holy child of God. If Randy is a brother and mentor, St. James’s has been like a loving parent, demanding but fair. I feel like you’re joining me down at the River Jordan as I am about to be baptized and commissioned for ministry, and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Now I am not comparing myself to Jesus, of course, but I possess the feeling of a guiding and beautiful nearness to God – illuminated with an awareness of God’s well-pleased love. It’s your hand that has rested in the small of my back all these years and now we can all let go.