"The whole truth"-Sermon for Proper 8, Mark 5:21-43
Jonathans’ excellent sermon last week got me thinking about summer camp…and my time as a Session Director at Camp Allen in particular. So, without fail, in my 7 years directing the high school summer camp at Camp Allen there was always, at least, a kid or 2 for whom camp was going to be a challenge. Even though I was working with high schoolers, there was always at least one child who was at camp for the first time and had never been away from home or without their parents for an entire week. Most years there was a child who had special needs…who was differently abled from most of the other kids. There were sadly often children coming to camp who were living with significant, significant abuse in their households. And, once we had an exceptionally bright young man who was coming to high school camp because he was, indeed, in high school, but he was only 10 years old…and his parents choose to send him to camp with his grade level and not his, if you will, biological age level. And, it took only about an afternoon really to determine who these children…for whom a week at camp might be difficult…were. Sometimes, like with children who had special needs or the child who was at least 4 years younger than the rest of the children, it was visibly obvious…but for many…the wounds they were carrying, the anxiety or fear of being away from home, the profound abuse they were suffering through…was not so obvious in a physical sense. Nonetheless, an attentive adult with some experience in ministry with young people could notice that something was different about them. It showed typically in their behavior…whether it was attention seeking behaviors…or acting out disruptively…or not following instruction…or being overly aggressive with other children…or withdrawing into themselves and not fully participating…sitting alone during free time…placing an invisible cocoon around themselves.
Whatever the behavior and the causes behind it or however they were in some way unique or differently abled than the average happy go lucky camper…I made it my mission to identify them…connect with them…and literally do everything in my power to help them have as meaningful and fun-filled and love-surrounded a week as possible. But forming in a week’s time the sort of community in which these children could flourish, ask for the help and love they need and deserve, make significant friendships, and learn and grow alongside and with all the other children took real work…great intentionality…and not just from the adult leaders like me…but their peers as well…the other campers. My goal, each and every year, which I invited all the campers to share with me, was to create the sort of environment that everyone could flourish within. Though we were going to swim a whole lot in the pool and lake, I would tell them the waters we were going to swim in all the time and all together were God’s love alone. I told them that they were each loved by God infinitely and forever, and that we were all going to be expressions, walking, breathing incarnations, of that love for each and for all…all week. I told them that they would look back on this week as one of the very best of their lives if they could challenge themselves to make a friend with someone very different from themselves…that we were all in the boat together…that we were all dependent on each other…that our own sense of fun was tied to everyone experiencing joy…that filling someone else’s life with love and connection…makes your own life more full of love and connection. And I had to remind all of them of this every day and lots of times in each day…sometimes all together…like in worship…and sometimes in many, many private conversations when, for instance, I saw a situation where someone was left out or behind…asking those doing the leaving out to consider a different path…to circle back and join arms with those left behind. And each week at camp there were at least a thousand other small moments of quiet conversations, redirecting, and prayers that constantly reinforced the goal…that together and only together would we all thrive, flourish, and experience a life changing week. I was tired at the end of camp each year.
But by God’s grace, which was the glue that held us all together, that buoyed us up, that allowed love and joy to flow all around us, without fail, we always accomplished the goal together. At the dance at the end of the week, the child who was differently abled would be at the center of the dance circle…busting out their best dance moves…surrounded by dozens of children with smiles as wide as their faces. The 10-year-old boy slam dunking at the basketball court on the shoulders of the tallest senior with everyone cheering for him. The tearful embraces at our closing worship service…no dry eyes…all included…all feeling deeply rooted in the love of God as it flowed from camper to camper. Children at cabin time, the quiet time at the end of the day, surrounding cabin mates and praying for those who have shared deeply vulnerable things from their lives…sometimes offering those fears and wounds out loud for the first times in their life…for they really felt safe for the first time in a long time. And less lovely, but no less important, children sharing with trusted adults on-going experiences of abuse…allowing us the gift of getting them the help and support they need when back at home…and we would stick close to those kids to be sure they were safe long after the week at camp had ended.
And, here is my point in all of this. It is for the establishment of just these sorts of communities that Jesus came among us…the intentional formation and creation of communities of healing and hope and joy and friendship and connection…communities that embrace difference as opportunities to make us more rich and interesting and complex…communities that really believe, really believe that our own flourishing is all tied up in the next persons flourishing as different or similar as they may be to us. And, make no mistake…this is not how our competitive, tribal, self-interested, greed filled world typically works. Perhaps you have experienced that…been made to feel superfluous…left behind…having nothing to offer…cut off and cut out. I believe it was Norm in the sitcom Cheers who said, “It’s a dog eat dog world, Sammy, and I am wearing milk bone underpants.”
Now, I don’t want to devolve into economics or public policy here…but I do believe, in the simplest terms, that Jesus came among us, healed folk, taught us the way of love, in order that, we might live together differently than most of the ways the world offers…that we might pursue a different path that is altogether more wonderful…a fully alive, meaning making life…that can only be found with, through, and alongside each other. God is love…and love cannot exist in the solitary…love is something that by definition must be shared. And, as those created in God’s likeness and image, we too are made by and for love’s sake alone. I exist to love you and you to love me…and all of us to love each other. Our work then, as God’s beloved ones, is to create community in which the love we share can flourish…for everyone and without distinction.
And I think that’s what is happening in our Gospel reading today when Jesus heals the woman who has been hemorrhaging, or bleeding, for 12 years. Ongoing, unending bleeding, whether connected to a menstrual cycle or open wound, would exorcize a person from their community in the first century world that Jesus lived in. Thus, this woman’s suffering was surely not physical alone. Her disease would keep her cut out and cut off from her family, from her worshipping community, from all forms of communal life. She has perhaps then spent 12 years, a huge part of a first century span of live, isolated and alone. I imagine she suffered much abuse and terrible loneliness on top of any physical suffering her disease had caused. Thus, Jesus healing her does not just cure hear physically but restores her to the community…to her family and friends.
And, further, after she has been healed by simply reaching out and touching Jesus, Jesus then speaks with her. And, Mark tells us this…and I think it is so wonderful and so easily missed…Mark says that this woman told Jesus, “[T]he whole truth.” And, I don’t think Mark meant just the truth that she was the one who touched him in the crowd…but the whole truth…the whole truth of all of her suffering…the wounds left by being cut off and cut out of her community…the sadness that comes with isolation…the fear that she would die alone…the suffering and weakness that comes with blood loss…the experience at being held at arm’s length as dirty and unclean…the abuse she suffered by being told it was her fault…that God was clearly punishing her for some sin in her life…the whole truth.
You see, her body has already been healed when she tells Jesus the whole truth…but as Jesus takes the time to really listen to her…to extend to her compassion and empathy…Jesus is moving beyond her disease and is working on her soul…healing her heart…helping her just begin to put the pieces of her shattered life back together. And in this, in this Jesus is showing us, demonstrating for us what it looks like to live the sort of Christ-like communal life I have already tried to described…the sort of life we were trying to forge for those blessed children at a week at Camp Allen…the sort of life we are trying to forge together at St. Julian’s…communities of healing and hope and joy and friendship and connection…communities that embrace difference as opportunities to make us more rich and interesting and complex…communities that really believe, really believe that our own flourishing is all tied up in the next persons flourishing, as different or similar as they may be to us.
We get to form this sort of beloved community together, and it is the very thing we need and crave most…the very thing our world so desperately needs more of. We and all those we welcome into this community are the beneficiaries of our willingness to lean in and listen to each other’s whole truth…to make friends with those both alike and very different from ourselves…to find our own flourishing in the care of the other…and the other’s care of us…and then, surely, the kingdom of God has come near. Amen.