A Wound That Won’t Heal
John P. Feagins
28 June 2015
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it.33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
On Tuesday of last week, I had the privilege of traveling to North Georgia to participate in the ordination of a former student intern and long-time friend from Monterrey, Mexico, Rodrigo Cruz. Rodrigo is now one of a handful of Latino elders in the very large North Georgia Conference. He is being appointed to open a new church, and was also elected this year to serve on their delegation to Jurisdictional Conference. While I was only in the Atlanta and Athens area for a day, it was a very joyous occasion, with family and friends from the church he has served celebrating prior to the service.
Our celebration, however, would be short-lived.
My friend Rodrigo is also a Doctor of Ministry student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Like many people, his life was touched by the inspiring friendship and ministry of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as you likely heard, was one of 9 precious souls who were brutally betrayed and murdered by someone they had welcomed into their weekly Bible Study. According to the murderer, 21 year old Dylan Roof, a young white man who used his birthday money to purchase a handgun, he killed them because they were black.
Because they were black?
The hate. The conspiracy. The deception. The betrayal. The horror! The profanity!
Such evil, such wickedness, such grief – it opens up deep wounds. For me, those are wounds that just don’t want to heal. They just keep bleeding.
You see, when I look at those photos in the media of Emanuel AME church, I don’t see something distant, foreign and removed from my experience. I don’t see people who are different. I see a congregation standing together in their Sunday best, assembled in unity both today, and in black and white panoramic photos in front of their historic temples, one made of wood, one made of brick, another more modern. I see a place where faithful people gather not only on Sunday, but on Wednesday, to encounter God’s Word. I see a place where a proud, saintly, people were born and given power and authority to stand up for their own dignity. I see a mother church. I see a church like La Trinidad.
I see home. I see my family of faith.
I also see precious brothers and sisters, not unlike the African American members of our own conference and of my former parish, Chapel Hill UMC, intelligent, virtuous, beautiful, loving, generous, wise, leaders who I hold in my heart, and it is there, in my heart that the wound has been opened again.
It is not the only wound.
When I see the image of Dylann Roof, posturing with a Confederate Battle Flag and his brand new birthday present pistol, plotting to bring evil into a holy place and death to a holy people, unlike many of you here today, unlike the brothers and sisters of Emanuel AME church, I do not have the privilege of seeing someone who is different, who is strange, who is alien.
No. I have to see ancestors, relatives, a family of origin. I have to see a white person from the South.
I have to see a great-great grandfather who fought for the Confederate Infantry in Tennessee, taking up arms to defend the same twisted ideology represented by that flag. I am forced to hear again, in my childhood memories, the voice of my paternal grandfather, speaking in that near unintelligible Tennessee accent, telling us not to trust, not to respect, not to associate, and not to love our black neighbors, teaching us to hate. I am forced to remember my own mother’s tears, struggling to keep that indoctrination from continuing at home. I am forced to remember a Confederate flag that hung not over a state capitol, but in my brother’s room.
You see, one of the many wounds that opened up in Charleston is my wound.
It is also the wound of our society.
Call it what you want: bigotry, hate, prejudice, racism – it’s a wound that keeps bleeding.
It is the bleeding sickness of a society that was born through conquest, colonization, extermination, and exploitation. We can rewrite history all we want. We can create hagiographies of our nation’s founders and myths about our manifest destiny, but the evidence shows we have a genetic sickness, and this sickness keeps on bleeding.
It bleeds every time a person of color becomes a victim of poverty, prejudice, bias, discrimination, profiling, oppression, brutality, zero tolerance, three strikes you’re out, mass incarceration, broken schools, broken families, broken neighborhoods, toxic substances that break bodies and minds.
It bleeds when we detain families seeking refuge in our country, when we deport mothers away from their children, when we expel young people we have raised who love us.
It bleeds with our indifference. It bleeds with our escapism. It bleeds with our elitism.
It bleeds when we think hate is only something related to race, or gender, or sexuality, that its not systemic, that its not about privilege and power, that its nothing more than mere prejudice.
It bleeds when we feed the mother of all bigotry, ideological loathing, the very form of hate that nailed Jesus to the cross, a work of the flesh that the Bible calls “heresy” in the Greek language, “party spirit” – the very basis of war, undermining civility, dividing friends, family, and our nation, causing us to become more partisan, polarized, political.
It bleeds when we prefer propaganda instead of seeking truth.
We’ve been to the doctors. Oh yes, we have been to the doctors. We’ve paid the doctors.
Our doctors of philosophy, of academia, of psychology, of sociology, of political science, doctors of the media. They’ve described it. They’ve analyzed it. They’ve deconstructed it. They have diagnosed it. They contradict each other. The compete with each other. Many have promised, but none have cured it. Nine bleeding bodies in a Church in Charleston and a racist flag flying proudly in the aftermath can tell us that.
So now what?
Let us go to the Gospel. Will you come with me? Today’s Scripture is about an interruption. It is an eruption that comes between two other things. Jesus is interrupted.
It begins with an encounter between Jesus and a man of power. His name is Jairus. He is the head of the synagogue, and he is desperate. Jairus daughter is near death. He loves his daughter. The prospect of her death has Jairus acting like a fool. No longer is he skeptical about Jesus. No longer does he care what those watching him think. He’s anxious. He’s in a panic. He falls on the ground and begs Jesus. Come, Jesus, lay hands on my daughter so she will live. Come heal my daughter!
And Jesus responds to his plea. Jesus loves him. Jesus goes to his house.
Before Jesus can get there, however, he is interrupted.
25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Twelve years, bleeding. Bleeding that wouldn’t stop. Bleeding that left her unclean, shameful, unworthy, outcast. Outcast from the synagogue. Outcast by Jairus!
Useless doctors. Money wasted. A wound that wouldn’t heal.
But she had heard about Jesus. Did you catch that? She heard about Jesus. Someone told her. Someone shared with her. Someone probably told her where to find him. And she didn’t just hear. She believed.
If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. You see this isn’t about teaching. This isn’t about pleading. This is faith in the Holy Spirit and the very love of God for her soul.
And she touches him. And she feels, inside, from her tip toes to the top of her head, power, dunamis, Holy Spirit healing, restoration, deliverance, liberation!
And Jesus feels it also. He asks, “who touched me?” Trembling, fearful, she tells him the truth, and he responds.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Daughter! Do you hear that? Out of her family of origin, into a new family, a spiritual family. Jesus calls her daughter. She is adopted. Next stop for Jesus, raising the dead.
Our society is like that woman. We have a wound that won’t heal. We need Jesus. We need to touch him, to grasp his clothing, the clothing of our baptism, the clothing of his righteousness. We need to reach out, to be filled by his Spirit, the transforming power that comes out of him, healing our bleeding wound! And when we stop bleeding, we need to be washed, washed free of the shame of hatred, bias, the legacy of racism, and to find power to tear down the systems that open those wounds!
Christ has the power to stop this bleeding! Christ has the power to wash away its filth! Christ has the power to heal it at its source, the human heart! Christ calls us sons, daughters, to unite us.
Precious church, it is not by mere coincidence, irony, accident or entitlement that my life, my family, my ministry, are surrounded, immersed in the beauty of diversity, of color, of language, of thought.
I am the product, the beneficiary, of the same grace, mercy, hope and hospitality that the sweet Christian sisters and brothers of Mother Emanuel AME extended to Dylann Roof, their last act on earth. I have received unmerited love from people different than myself. Like many of God’s people, before I could serve God as a missionary, I had to become a refugee. Those who adopted me also delivered me.
The healing begins with each of us. Do you bleed? Do you need to reach out and touch the garment of Christ? I invite you. Come. He is here. Enter your spiritual family.