From Fringe To Family

Sermon Text – 04.28.2019
[Luke 8:43-48 and Matthew 28:18]
About a year ago, I was called in for Jury Duty. I’ve never done Jury Duty before, so I showed up and sat in that little room. Out of the panel of potential jurors, my name was not chosen, so less than an hour later I was dismissed. Now, I thought that might happen – so I brought my computer and walked over to one of my favorite coffee shops in Marquette to do some work, over at Babycakes. Now, I don’t know if y’all ever travel up to the UP, but they have crazy delicious muffins and good coffee –but it’s a tiny place and it fills up fast. So I was all done with my coffee and I was just going to do some reading for a half hour while I waited for Sara to pick me up. Babycakes was getting a little crowded, and so I walked up the street to Donkers, another favorite place of mine, if you have to go all the way out to Marquette. I walk in, and I don’t want to order anything – I just spent money at Babycakes. I go into a little booth and pull out my tablet and start reading. Nobody else around, very quiet, very peaceful. There’s a gal working on the lower level, restocking the shelves. After ten minutes or so, she comes over and asks, “anything I can get for you, were you hoping for food or anything?” And I just said – you know, I just wanted a warm place to read, and she went back to working and I went back to reading.
      But on April 12th, of 2018, that same week a year ago, two black men were sitting in a starbucks in Philadelphia – maybe you saw the story. They didn’t order anything, because they were waiting for a friend to arrive. They asked to use the restroom, but were denied. Then the manager called the police, I’m sorry – not the police – called 911 for trespassing. They sent six police officers for two peaceful men. Eventually they arrested the men for trespassing, in a coffee shop.  I watched the video of them getting arrested, from multiple angles. One of the videos out there is like ten minutes long, it shows the police officers telling the black men to leave for a long time before they arrest them. And so I’m watching this video, and I notice in the corner this kid with his coffee cup, couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. And he’s sitting there with his little coffee cup up to his lips, but he’s not drinking. It’s very clear he’s not drinking coffee, he’s watching the conversation. The rest of the story is pretty predictable. Black guys get arrested. Protestors protest, company apologizes, police defend themselves, and we all walk away just a little bit more angry and unsatisfied, we all hate each other just a little bit more. This racism issue – whew, it’s been really bad lately, there’s so much anger and defensiveness and hatred in the conversation lately. And I think a lot of us just want to stay out of it – we don’t want to talk about it because it gets so heated so quickly. It’s a very sensitive topic. I keep thinking about that kid with his coffee, just sitting there watching. Afraid to engage the issue in front of him, but also afraid to ignore it. Just pretending to sip his coffee. I really hope that’s not a metaphor for the church.      
       Today is the final sermon in our series called Breaking Barriers – the miracles of Jesus. For the last three weeks we have been looking at the thing Jesus did to break down barriers. Today we are going to talk about how Jesus breaks down the barriers between people. How Jesus moves us from the fringe of our world, into the family of God.
          To get started, let’s talk about menstruation. Hmmm, that’s probably not a good place to start. Why don’t we start with the text, and I’ll explain as we go. It says, [read v.42a-44]. Now, a lot of people know the story of the bleeding woman who touches Jesus’ cloak – but there is a whole other level to this story that most people miss. Here’s the basics. Jesus is walking, he’s on his way to help someone else, big crowd around him. Meanwhile there’s this woman, suffering from a disease. We don’t know what the disease is, but she’s been bleeding for 12 years. She has spent every penny on doctors and physicians, but no one can help her. She hears about Jesus, and she believes in his power to change her life. So she squishes through the crowd and touches his robe and immediately she is healed. Pretty cool miracle. But there’s more to it.

To understand how amazing this miracle is, we have to talk about how they treated women at this time. Anybody here know the specific details of the Old Testament levitical code concerning unclean women? Of course, I’m sure that you all spend hours everyday pouring over the book of Leviticus, but let me refresh your memory, just in case you forgot. [read chptr 15: 19-23]. In case you got lost in there, in the Old Testament when a woman bleeds she is considered unclean. Even if you are the husband, you are not allowed to touch her for seven days. But even worse than that – anything she sits on is unclean, and anything she sleeps on is unclean, and anyone who touches her, or touches the things she sits on, or touches the things she sleeps on becomes unclean for the rest of the day. This is the law of the land. Women who bleed are unclean and nobody is allowed to touch them or they become unclean too.  

Now, I don’t know about you all – but when I read that I was baffled. And I only read a little piece, it goes on like that for a while. And I realized that over the years this law from Leviticus had been used to create fear of women and their bodily functions. God gave Israel these rules about ritual cleanliness and they grew into this system of control for women. It created a culture of ignorance where women who were unclean were cast aside. Like we see with this woman and her bleeding for 12 years. This is 1,000 years later in Jesus’ world, and society has built up these huge systems of oppression where they treat women as less, as untouchables. They are forced to live on the outside of society, on the fringe, because they are not accepted.


And so I was struggling with this, because it seems incredibly sexist to punish a woman for what her body does naturally – and so I did a little digging trying to understand this levitical code. Now, hang in there with me. Turns out, the limits in Leviticus are actually really cool. The word unclean does not mean dirty or lesser. Unclean was simply a designation that meant away from God. The original Hebrew word “tuma” has a relationship with the concept of death[1], and it’s part of the recognition that what happens monthly in a woman’s life carries the potential for life and creation. Women, in those moments are closer to God our creator, then men ever can be. And so the issue of blood meant that the potential for life, potential for creation; for connection to the creator was passing – so they were farther away from God. I didn’t know this, but the ritual cleanings were a celebration of what was happening in the female body – that life and death are possible with each cycle and the importance that comes with that potential. It’s an awesome power and responsibility that women have and we need to be reminded of how that ties us to our ultimate creator. So the ritual cleanings were meant to bring them back into contact with God. To reconnect them with God. No matter how they used and abused those laws in later years, the original intent was to recognize the incredible responsibility of life and death that a woman carries and how that connection of creation brings her closer to the ultimate creator. Now, I promise I’ll stop talking about it – but who knew there was a spiritual component to a woman’s cycle? And I just want you all to know how much I am trying not to say the word period.    


Now, remember the law of Leviticus about unclean women. If you touch her, you become unclean too – and take that rule and put in this story. She reached out and touched Jesus. Do you see how that action, that we thought was no big deal, is actually a really big deal? If she’s bleeding, she should not be touching Jesus – she might make him unclean. But what actually happens? The moment she touches Jesus, rather than her making him unclean, He heals her. In the Old Testament, it takes ritual bathes to reconnect a woman with God, but by reaching out and touching Jesus she IS reconnecting with God. Do you see the significance of what’s happening? This answers the question – how come we don’t do those ritual cleanings from the Old Testament. How come women are not considered unclean anymore? Because Jesus cleans us more than a bathtub ever could. But that’s how it works with Jesus, we bring our problems, our brokenness to Jesus – and when we connect with Jesus – instead of our problems breaking him, he heals our problems.


Now, I know that was a lot of head stuff – but I promise I have a point. God gave Israel this big list of rules in Leviticus which were designed to help women understand how amazing their bodies are and how what they go through connects them to their creator. But by the time we get to Jesus, those rules have grown into a system of oppression – an institution designed to keep women on the outside of society. To keep them on the fringe. So let’s bring this into the modern world. Let’s take a second and talk about institutional racism, and systemic evils. Are we familiar with this phrase? Institutional Racism? Basically, ever since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s we, as a group, have worked VERY hard to fight individual, overt acts of racism. We can honestly say, I am not a racist. I would never treat someone in a racist way. Right? This is something we have fought against for a long time. We try to love people, no matter what color their skin is. The problem is that sometimes evil goes underground. Sometimes inequality is built into the social systems we live in. Here’s my favorite example – I would never use the N-word, not even in a song, not even when I’m reading it. I just cannot bring myself to say that word. I would never treat a black person as less than a white person. Here’s the problem, when I go into a bank, I have no problem getting a loan, but a black person with my credit might. When I go into an apartment complex or a realtor’s office, I will get a home, but a black person with my income and my credit might not. Prejudice, which we have been fighting for decades, has gone underground, into the system – where it is a lot harder to manage. Slavery is illegal, Jim crow laws are illegal, and yet – nobody bothers me in a coffee shop when I don’t buy anything, and black guys get arrested. Despite all our progress, the world is still pretty messed up.


        Here’s the best part – Jesus, with the way he treats the bleeding woman who touched his cloak, gives us an answer and a way to work on institutional racism and sexism in our world. Let me give it to you in two words: Jesus stopped. It says in verse 45, [read v.45-47]. She touched him, he healed her – but it wasn’t enough. Jesus paused. Jesus said, something amazing happened here and I want to point it out. Jesus took her from the edge of society, from the fringe of the accepted world and brought her into the spotlight. Verse 48, [read it]. He called her daughter. Jesus Christ took the bleeding, unclean woman – healed her, and then brought her from the fringe into his family. The good news this morning is that Jesus includes the people on the fringe. Jesus includes you. Our problems, our sins never overcome Jesus. We touch Jesus and he heals us. And once we are healed, once we are a part of God’s family, we turn our eyes to the fringe of society, to the outskirts of our world and seek to follow Jesus by reaching the fringe and making a family. Jesus heals her, and then calls her daughter. Includes her in his family.
        And so the response should be easy. Jesus paused. Jesus listened, Jesus healed, and then brought her into the family – and as followers of Jesus we should do the same. But what usually happens? When we are faced with people on the fringe of society, with issues of racism and sexism – what do we usually do? We get defensive! I’m not a racist. I’m not sexist! I would never – it’s not my fault they are on the fringe. I didn’t put them there, I didn’t do it, so I shouldn’t have to fix it. We put up walls and barriers between people, and we get very defensive because we can’t handle the accusation. I am not a racist. I am not sexist. I am not a sinner. Defensiveness leads to division. When we put up our personal walls, we separate ourselves from one another. Defensiveness leads to division, division leads to weakness and weakness means that darkness thrives. I am not a racist. I am not sexist. I am not a sinner.


        Except, I have to confess something to you all. I realized it a while back. Guys, your pastor is a racist. America’s national shame lives in my heart. I’m a nice guy, and I would never say the N-word. But I live in a world where I am given the benefit of the doubt, while others are not. I live in the middle of the crowd, ignoring those on the fringe, benefitting from an unfair system. Not only am I racist, but I confess to you this morning – I am sexist. I have worked hard to cut it out of my actions, so it doesn’t show – but I live quietly in world where I sit on top. Inequality is a like an addiction of the soul. I don’t want it, I fight against it, but it has a place in my heart. I denied it for a long time, but if I keep denying it I’m just lying to myself. I realized that evil went underground – into the systems around me, and then I realized that I participate in, I benefit from those systems. I can’t live in a world this unequal, this messed up without it rubbing off on me. I am a racist. I am sexist. I am a sinner. There is tuma, unclean, separation from God in my heart. I am an unclean sinner, and Jesus is my savior. I am an unclean sinner, and Jesus is my savior. I AM AN UNCLEAN SINNER, AND JESUS IS MY SAVIOR. I reached out and I touched the hem of his cloak, and he healed me. I can admit the depth of my weakness, of my struggle – because I believe in the depth of Jesus’ grace. Maybe that’s our starting point. I know that there is a God who accepts me, and loves me as a sinner, who heals me and shows me a better way. He looks at me and says, “son, daughter – your faith has made you well.” So I don’t have to get defensive, I get forgiven instead.

And so now, when God has moved me from the fringe into his family – I don’t get defensive. I get angry. We have worked so hard to honor and respect women. We have worked so hard to honor and love and respect black people. And when I find out that the darkness we have been trying to banish for generations is still there but has taken on a different form – I am filled with a righteous anger. How do you feel when you realize that the world is still full of darkness? Still full of inequality? It makes me wanna flip tables like Jesus did. And I want to know how to fix it. What do we do to heal problems like institutional racism and sexism in our culture? If it’s in the system – how can I change it, what can I do about it? What can one man do? What did one man do? What did Jesus do with the system of oppression for women? Jesus paused. He stopped walking. He told everyone else to wait, so he could reach out to this woman. He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t worry about who turned off the light, who was to blame – he just stopped. He took her from the fringe and brought her into the family. He listened for her voice, he sought her out when she was trying to hide in the crowd. Can we do the same? In our lives, can we rip down the walls between people one by one, by pausing – by talking to one another and growing and learning. What if we admitted to our darkness, so that Jesus could turn on the light? What if we listened? What happens when we listen to black people? What happens when we listen to women’s voices? Can Jesus break the barriers between us? Can we move from fringe to family?

      I think about that video with the two black guys getting arrested in Starbucks. And I think about that little white boy in the corner, coffee cup resting on his lips. Is that who we are going to be? Watching from the sidelines? Not participating, but also not helping? Jesus Christ breaks down barriers in our world. Jesus moves us from the fringe into the family of God, and then pushes to do the same. And so I say in a world of hidden evil and systematic darkness, may you pause like Jesus did. Listen to the voices of those on the fringe. Don’t get defensive, get forgiven. Because if you listen and love like Jesus’ loved, the brokenness in the system doesn’t stand a chance. Amen.       


Leave a Reply