Preaching again this morning…
First Reading: 2 Corinthians 8.7-9, 13-15, 24
Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’ Therefore, openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.
Gospel Reading: Mark 5.25-34
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
Both of our readings today are about compassion, and a couple of weeks ago I went to learn from someone who knows a lot about compassion, I went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Now, many of you know I’m not very good with titles or hierarchy, and so I was delighted when His Holiness the Dalai Lama laughed often, and said to us: “I don’t like formality.” Yet I still found myself wanting to call him, at least some of the time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, because he was such a holy man. The word ‘holy’ derives from the same root as the words ‘healthy’ and ‘whole’. It does not derive from the word ‘Christian’. His Holiness is a wonderful title for the Dalai Lama, for the word ‘holy’ is far more than just a label attached to a particular band of religious worshippers.
The Dalai Lama is of course, a Buddhist. And Jesus was a Jew. Not a very good one though considering he disagreed with pretty much everything the synagogues said and turned the tables in the temple over in a fit of rage. Bit of a rebel really wasn’t he? But regardless of the fact that he broke a lot of rules put down by those who were far above Jesus the carpenter, he was certainly a holy man, a holy Son of God. So it’s worth remembering that we do not as a Christian people, need to conform to all of the rules set down by Christian bishops. We don’t have to agree with them.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus was presented with a woman deemed unclean by her people. But she knew that he was different, that he did not judge people on the labels they were given.
The idea I’m trying to get across here, is that labels such as ‘holy’ mean nothing without actions to go with them. The Dalai Lama can have the title of His Holiness but if he had started spitting fire it wouldn’t have carried any weight. And the label of ‘unclean’ had no negative meaning to Jesus. What ‘unclean’ meant to him was that this person had been shunned by others, and was in need of love.
But of course Jesus did not go to her, she went to him. She touched the hem of his cloak, and was made well. By her faith, she was healed. The Greek word ‘sothesomai’, which is translated as ‘healed’ in our Gospel passage, can also be translated as ‘saved’. As ‘salvation’. And so if we want to ‘save’ our world, to ‘heal’ the divisions between us, we need to note that the miracle we’ve heard of today, whether it happened or not, whether it is a symbolic story or a factual account, serves to remind us faith must be present for miracles to occur. Hundreds of people were crowding around Jesus, but none of them had the faith that the woman had, and that was why Jesus knew that someone had been healed by touching him. Because of her faith. And to heal our world we must be faithful, and trust in one another, and in God.
All of us are called to earn the title of ‘Holiness’, to live healthy, whole lives, saving, healing others, and ourselves. We’ve heard in our first reading that St Paul wanted to test the genuineness of his people’s love. And now I believe God is testing ours. Can we put our faith into action? Can we live holy lives with Christ in our hearts?
How do we live holy lives, how do we heal people? By reaching out our hands to others, in faith, in trust. As the woman reached out to Jesus and was healed we can reach out to Jesus’ vision, and if we believe in it, we can make it a reality.
Jesus would have been termed as a bad Jew because he didn’t follow their rules. And so when the Church of England authority rejects the idea of women bishops because they might be unclean in some way, it’s worth remembering the woman who reached out to the hem of his cloak. And when the Church of England authority holds that gay people cannot marry because they are in some way unclean, it’s worth remembering that love is the source of life. And when the Church of England authority holds that we cannot share in Christ’s communion, that we cannot receive Jesus’ symbol of his ultimate sacrifice for us until we’ve passed through confirmation it’s worth remembering that all people are welcome in Christ.
True bishops and priests are leaders, guides; marriage is a coming together with a loved one before God and making vows to honour and to cherish; confirmation is a celebration as we affirm our faith before others and before God. None of these things should be done for titles or for law, for scoring points. And so that’s why our Church is a Liberal Church. We want the freedom that the conservative churches in the Church of England do not seek.
And so life in the Church of England may seem rather difficult and complex sometimes, for there is such a diverse range of people. And I’m afraid I’m not in the pulpit today to give you an answer as to how we change that today. But I am in this pulpit to share with you that I believe in our Church, and I know that we will communicate, and become the body of Christ we were always meant to be in this world.
All that life really is, is to love and be loved. What else really makes life worth living? I believe in the world that we will create. And if you’re an older member of the congregation now thinking, well there’s not a lot I can do now because I’ve not got all that long left, know that you are in fact very valuable! You’ve been through a lot that we youth haven’t, and I have learnt very much from many of you. You’re wise you older folk. You have a lot of stories to share, a lot of lessons learnt. And so keeping talking to us youth, because if you ever think that we aren’t all that interested, remember that there was a stadium packed full of 16-25 year olds there to listen to the 76 year old Dalai Lama, who doesn’t even speak perfect English.
In listening to one another, in reaching out to one another and believing in that vision that Jesus gave us, social differences may continue for a while but relationships will be transformed by concern and respect. And we will find as we reach out to difference that as we heal them, we heal ourselves in the process. We will have peace. We will bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Believe in that with me, reach out to that vision with me, and our Church, our world, our lives, will be healed.
The Lord be with you