[Given on the Sunday, June 28, 2015, by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, Missouri]
Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Reigning Savior.
I want to frame our time together this morning around a singular question: When is the last time you touched the Lord?
A hymn in the 1982 hymnal says:
Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,
Here would I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.
This hymn suggests that it is in the moment of the Holy Eucharist that we see God “face to face” and “handle things unseen.” Now that I’ve given you the answer, I want to ask you again: When is the last time you touched the Lord?
Let me see if I can make it plain. I remember when I was growing up, we lived in a small city in North Carolina and would often take road trips up the East Coast to visit family in New Jersey. I am sure that my two brothers and I in the back seat drove my mother and father in the front seat absolutely out of the their minds because there we were, three growing boys in back seat of a two door, burgundy, early 90s Pontiac Grand Am. And invariably, somewhere around Raleigh, North Carolina one us of would begin complaining, “Move over! You’re touching me! Mommy, tell him to STOP TOUCHING ME!” They were fine so long as they didn’t come in my space, but the minute they came too close it made me uncomfortable and I responded defensively – “Move over! You’re touching me!”
Are you listening?
Christianity isn’t meant to be simply theorized and postulated – it is meant to be touched. It’s meant to come into our spaces and touch us at our deepest levels. Jesus never said – “believe this.” He said – eat, drink, and love. Christianity – faith in the Risen Christ – is about touching, close, face-to-face, intimate contact with one another and with God. You cannot be a Christian unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. Christianity is not merely meant to be believed, but it is meant to be felt and engaged, lived and tasted, shared and savored.
When is the last time you touched the Lord?
The seven Sacraments of the Church make this abundantly clear. We hear the water in the font, we taste the bread and the wine, we feel the hands laid upon us, we smell the oil marking us a Christ’s own forever – the Sacraments remind us that faith in Jesus Christ is a tactile endeavor because it is through contact with the Divine that we have our lives changed.
One of most fascinating stories in the Bible is the story of the healing of the Women with the Issue of Blood. She must not be a woman of great rapport because she is not given a name. She joins the many other nameless women in the Bible who exist as objects to make a point – the Syrophonecian Woman who critiqued Jesus’ narrow focus of ministry, the Samaritan Woman who had been victimized by a series of men and a patriarchal society but who found in Jesus a bottomless well of living water, the Woman caught in Adultery who liberation was written in Feminist Manifesto in the dirt. And now Mark 5 introduces this Woman with the Issue of Blood. The Bible says that she has suffered from a hemorrhage – an uncontrollable flow of blood that has been passing from her body – and she’s been suffering from this hemorrhage for twelve years. Try as she might – the blood keeps flowing. She goes to St. Luke’s Hospital and the physicians are unable to mitigate her bleeding. She leaves there and goes to KU Med and those doctors are unsuccessful in stopping the flow. She leaves there and drives way up north to Mosaic Life Care and they too are unsuccessful in getting the bleeding to cease. There was no Affordable Care Act or Medicaid to cover the mounting medical bills and the doctors and physicians had bled her dry and yet she was still bleeding.
And so here is the woman having expended all of her financial resources trying to stop her bleeding, and had spent twelve years isolated from the community because society had told her that because of something you cannot control you are not a part of us. If I was in a Baptist Church I would tell you turn in your Bibles to Leviticus 15 and read along with me to discover what happens when a woman bleeds. According to the plain reading of scripture she is unclean. Everything she touches is unclean. Everyone who she touches is unclean. Whoever touches that which she touches is unclean. And she shall be unclean seven days after she has ceasing from bleeding.
But something happens in our story. Outside of her window she hears that Jesus was passing by. He was on his way to visit the house of the religious people, the very people who had probably proclaimed her as unclean. In one act of faith she presses her way into the crowd. According to the Law of Leviticus she was unclean, and as she pressed through the crowd everyone whom she touched became unclean, and even when she reached out to touch Jesus, according to the Law of Leviticus Jesus himself became unclean.
But something happened when she touched his robe – she stopped bleeding. Jesus felt that something extraordinary had happened. He turned around in the middle of this crowd and asked who “touched” him. His disciples scratched their heads and said, “Lord, all these folk and you asked who touched you?” Jesus said, “Yes. These folk are brushing by me, but someone touched me with intentionality. Someone touched me with purpose. Someone touched with expectation? Who touched me?” He turned around, saw this woman trembling on the ground, and said to her, “daughter your faith has saved you.”
He didn’t condemn her. He didn’t write her off. He didn’t throw her away. He brought her in. He restored her. Because she had come into close proximity to the He that is Love himself, her life was forever changed.
Beloved, something happens when you touch the Lord. When you dare to reach out and touch Divinity, when you dare to pass through the veil of eternity and to grasp that which is eternal, when you stretch forth your hand to handle things unseen – your life changes. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, what wrongs you may have done, and who people might say that you are not – when you touch the Lord, something happens. Stigmas collapse. Walls disintegrate. Barriers cave in. New families are created. New communities are formed. New life is born. When we dare to touch God, God enters into our hearts and extends through our hands, God takes on flesh and again, through you, God loves this broken and dying world.
When is the last time you touched the Lord?
When we leave this building and go out into the world, we ought to go out with a testimony that we have touched the Lord. We ought to be like Isaiah who said, “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filled the temple… [and even though] I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, here I am, send me!”
You know there is much ado about how to engage a Church in decline – shrinking budgets, waning influence, and falling attendance. It strikes me that a Church in decline may be a Church becoming leaner and more equipped to run the race that God has set before her. Instead of fearing tomorrow, what would it look like for the Church to walk boldly into tomorrow having been set on fire by a close encounter of the Christ kind?
What would the world look like if Christians became conduits through which the electrifying love of God empowered those around us?
What would the world look like if Christians overflowed with rivers of living water that quench dry places?
I’ll tell you what it would look like – a world where we didn’t care who is clean and unclean, who is in and who is out, who is acceptable and who isn’t, because we’ve all touched the same Divinity and been brought into new relationship with one another and with God.
Jesus’ ministry was all about bringing new life to God’s covenanted people who, in turn, would bring new life to God’s world. It’s all about proximity and relationship. And every time we approach this table and receive the body and blood of Christ, in those moments we are being drawn closer into the mystery of a God who is ready to overthrow our souls with the overwhelming love and power of the Holy Spirit.
The Eucharist should really come with a warning label: “Danger! Electrocution Hazard! Death of New Life will occur if you come to close. So come, with your hands and hearts open, and your feet ready to run.”