The thing about a chronic illness
is that it’s always with you.
It is relentless, an uninvited guest we do not want
and probably fear.
Many once life-threatening illnesses
have become chronic in nature –
ones we can live with and manage.
Cancers that would have killed us sixty years ago
may be something we can manage for decades
and eventually die from something else.
While it may be something far less dangerous,
like a skin condition or an allergy,
most of us have some chronic issue
or will have in our lifetime.
And with the proliferation of pharmaceuticals
that cantreat but not cure,
I suspect more and more of us
will be living longer and longer
with multiple chronic conditions.
Living with a chronic condition
is made worse by stigmas
or the sense it must be kept as private –
a secret even.
and the co-dependency that haunts
its family members,
when kept a painful secret, is corrosive
and a roadblock to recovery.
Depression is funded
with even greater dark power
when forced to live inside a secret.
Anxiety or anxiety attacks
are more furious
when sealed inside the lonely envelope of Self.
Hiding things, keeping them secret,
for good or bad or silly reasons,
makes the impact of the hidden thing
more painful, debilitating, and powerful.
The power of hidden things
is the ability to isolate.
When we have a secret
and we do not want the people around us
to know it,
it forms a layer of distance around us.
We grow a second skin so to speak,
only it is dead skin
that human touch cannot penetrate.
Usually the thing we keep secret,
or hide away and do not discuss
or expose to the open,
is the very thing
for which we need tender loving care.
But we can’t get it
because the secret or the hiddenness
does not allow touch to penetrate.
I mention this because I suspect
everyone here today
has some secret or shame or isolated sorrow
we hold inside and do not,
will not, share.
We know it costs us dearly,
but for whatever reason we fear exposure
more than we dread the cost.
If we can get in touch with that tender spot
in our own lives,
then we can get inside this story Mark tells.
The woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage
is the poster child for chronic illness
with a stigma.
Her social isolation
is more severe than any shame or vulnerability most of us will ever know.
She has so many strikes against her.
In that society,
in that culture,
and in that moment of history
to be a woman
was to be totally vulnerable.
If you were an unmarried woman
without a family
you were destitute.
No social safety net.
You were nothing.
Now we do not know anything
about this woman
other than her chronic condition.
The fact that we don’t even know her name
and that we DO know Jairus’ name,
tells us what we need to know about this story.
Jairus was the leader of the congregation –
he had status.
As a male he had more status
than the nameless woman would ever have,
but then add onto that
he was the leader of the congregation,
and we know he had enormous influence.
His name was so meaningful
that Mark thought it important enough
to remember him by name.
This was Jairus, not some nameless nobody!
But the womanhemorrhaging blood
was a nameless nobody!
The contrast could not be clearer.
The nameless woman –
just think about namelessness for a moment –
and the man remembered by namefor 2000 years.
So this woman, even if she were married,
had probably been abandoned
because not only was she considered unclean
as the result of her chronic condition,
but she made everyone around her unclean.
To sit in the same chair she had been sitting in,
or even on the same spot in the grass
where she had been sitting,
was to make yourself unclean.
No one could touch her
without being made unclean.
Literally, she was untouchable.
Remember what isolation feels like –
how it makes touch from others
Remember how it feels
to be untouchable – to wrap yourself in a secret
that numbs you to the touch of others.
In her case, while she likely suffered
a high degree of self-loathing
because of her condition,
she was also forciblyplaced on the margin
by everyone else’s loathing as well.
She was untouchable.
She was nameless.
She was nothing.
Jairus’ situation is much easier for us to touch.
Anyone who has ever received that phone call,
the one about his or her child
who has been in trouble,
knows what Jairus knew.
Those parental moments turn us oldinside –
turn us old in an instant.
Jairus’ blood was turning cold,
and he was growing older inside
with each ticking second
that his twelve-year old daughter
struggled for breath.
All that pain and anguish –
the abject suffering of Jairus
and the nameless woman –
are really too hot to touch
for any of us that have ever known
the terror, the grief, and the pain they represent.
If we hear this story in the color of blood
that runs through our own lives,
it will be almost too painful to touch.
If we take the wraps off our own secrets
and pull the skin away
from our own hidden wounds,
we will feel the touch of this story.
It is not a 2000 year distance
if we get up close and personal
with Jairus and the nameless woman.
The place THEY touch
is the placed that touches us.
Just imagine the panic in Jairus
as he hurries with Jesus toward his daughter.
Just imagine the anguish of Jairus
when Jesus stops.
“What?” Jairus turns around bewildered.
“What? What are you doing, Jesus?
My little girl, she’s dying. Please, please,
we must hurry.”
But Jesus stops.
He looks around in the crowded street
to find the nameless woman
who has touched him deeply
and who he, without intention,
Now it would be easy to be judgmental
mostly because he is the powerful 1%
while the nameless woman is,
well, she is nameless.
But in all fairness to Jairus
he is desperate,
desperately loving his young daughter
and fearful beyond words.
Just imagine the place
where two awful anguishes like that
wreck into each other.
I like to imagine that your anguish and mine…
touch at this altar.
You bring your anguish here,
at least I hope you do,
and walk it up to Communion
where it meets with my anguish,
and together we share the bread of affliction
that is the same bread
our ancestor have eaten.
I cannot take away your anguish
and you cannot end mine – we are not Jesus.
But I can allow you to touch me,
and you can invite me to touch you.
We can remove the second skin
we wrap ourselves in
if we have created a safe place to do so
and muster the courage to do it.
The wounds that hurt the most are chronic.
They can be treated but not cured.
And the only way they can be treated
is by touch –
allowing others to touch our wounds
with their wounds,
and with the loving-kindness
born of shared woundedness,
we will know healing compassion.
In my mind that is what “church” is about.
Many imagine that church is somehow
supposed to fix the wrongs of society
or convey the right beliefs of religion.
But I don’t think so.
In my life,
when and where “church” has been powerful
is where it has been healing.
In the touching and being touched
our chronic wounds and illnesses
are made tolerable,
sometimes even healed.
When that happens, our compassion
in new and ever-increasing ways.
we can do some really big things.
But it all begins,
that we touch and be touched.
will indeed be a place for growth,
wellness, and healing,
if and when we touch one another
in the power of the holy
and in the love of community.
Our mission is to respect the dignity
of every person with whom we intersect
through Trinity Place,
and the way we do that
is by sharing our own woundedness –
by touch and being touched.
With that invitation evoked by Mark’s story,
let us take a moment of silence before
we share our prayers and thanksgivings,
and to touch those prayer stones
as we imbue them with our prayers.