A Change Agent
There's been a lot of talk about change lately. Whether Democrat or
Republican, no matter who you are for, you have to admit there's a lot of change
in the air. We've witnessed together the first first lady ever and the first
woman to fight for the presidential nomination. We witnessed an historic moment
of change this week, with the first African American ever in history to become
the Democratic Presidential nominee. We have our first POW nominee who, after
Obama based his platform on change, gave his own change speech this week saying
he's the one for the right change. He purported to be a change agent. And well,
this week we saw also that you can never be too sure about predictions. For
Hilary Clinton, the one labeled by many pundits as a shoe-in at the beginning of
the race, well, things have changed.
We're changing seasons too, that's for sure. Today feels like spring has
dramatically changed to hot summer.
There's a lot of talk about climate change. Just two days ago, around the
corner, there was a big conference at Andover Newton Theological School on
climate change, with Christian colleagues who are leading national initiatives
-- environmentalist Bill McKibben and your very own Episcopal sister in the
faith, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas.
Getting even closer to home, some of you may have come today expecting
Gretchen in the pulpit, and while indeed this is true, Gretchen is in the
pulpit, it might not be the Gretchen you are expecting to see. [Note to readers:
The other pastor co-leading this ecumenical service was also named Gretchen.]
And of course in the pews and choir rows, the good people of faith from the
United Church of Christ, Congregational are sitting, singing, and praying with
the good people of faith from the Episcopal tradition.
Yet, with all this change, how about the most intimate change you could ever
imagine -- the change not out there on a political stump, or in the air, or even
in the pulpit or pews but rather the change that's really, really close up.
How about the change that begins in our hearts when we dare to believe what
many in our secular society might think of as absurd: that if we could get close
to Jesus, what's broken in our lives can become whole, what keeps us stuck can
be unblocked, what hurts can be healed.
Have you ever heard the expression, "God loves you just the way you are,
but God loves you too much to let you stay that way?"
I think of the children in our church who have changed. It's visible that
they're getting bigger and stronger and older, sure, but have you heard them
pray? Not too many years ago, I saw children who were too shy to say a prayer
out loud. Now I see many of them competing to say their prayer first. I see them
teaching us how to pray through their own examples, as they did last month during Kid's
Sunday at NHCC.
One brave boy says during worship:
Dear God, You need our help every day. You want us to not fight and to have
peace. You want us to take care of the earth and recycle. You want us to help
other people who are sick and hurt. You want us to give money to the poor.
Help us to do these things.
Says one brave girl,
Dear God I praise the Lord today.
I must say what I must say.
Dear Christ, help me all through the day.
Angel above and Earth below
But remember that we're not very low.
Dear God I praise the Lord today.
I must say what I must say.
Whispers of God from these children have turned into praise. Reluctance even
to say the name Jesus has turned into a desire they expressed during our
Children's Annual Meeting to have a statue of Jesus in our church. What's more,
I have seen them learn to care deeply not only for their pets and their family
members but for children in Peru and elders in nursing homes and a very disabled
child in a hospital far away.
Holy transformation is not only for children, of course, it is for grownups
too. We are capable of being wonderfully, blessedly changed.
Now is the season for graduations in the Boston area. High school
graduations are beginning, and many college and university graduations have
already taken place. And what's so notable when someone moves on from senior
year of high school to college or college to the real world is that he or she is
going through a lot of change. She's wiser, maybe has a more mature personality.
All those many days of showing up in the classroom deepen his or her intellect.
We see how people are changed by spending days in the
classroom, but this isn't the only place.
How about all those many days of showing up in the pews? All those days of
entering through the church doors, coming through rain and snow and sunshine and
heat. Isn't it possible that the more we put in our time, the more we pray, the
more we sing hymns, the more we listen to holy scripture and reflection, we grow
Look around you, you just might see a neighbor in the pew who loves God more
since when you first met her, who serves his or her neighbor or stranger in need
more, who prays more, who doesn't hurt as much and lives with more hope and
song, who is kinder, more compassionate, empowering of others, not belittling of
them. There might not be pomp and circumstance here in the church, no diplomas
given out, no graduation caps hurled into the air, but maybe there are Amens
sung in heaven by angels every time you or I, sitting in our pews, get real
humble, have a change in our heart, and are healed. Maybe you and I are
changing, learning how to reach out to the stranger a bit more, drawing in
nearer to God, close enough to reach with open arms for a savior.
Humble enough so we're like that woman we just heard about in the gospel of
Matthew, not standing tall, broadcasting all we know to the world, but getting
real low, like we're kneeling in a crowd, real low so as to reach the tassel on
the hem of Jesus' garment.
"Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for
Here is a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. According to
Jewish law (Leviticus 15:25-27), she was declared to be unclean. That means she
was to be cut off from attending the synagogue service of worship and also cut
off from her friendships. She was to be ostracized from being part of Jewish
The Levitical codes stipulated that if a woman hemorrhages for many days, she
shall remain unclean. Every bed on which she lies shall be treated as the bed of
impurity; everything she sits on shall be unclean. If someone touches anything
the unclean woman has touched, he or she shall also be unclean and will have to
wash his/her clothes, take a bath, and be unclean until the evening. Anyone who
touched her, or even touched the chair upon which she sat, would be dirtied.
This poor woman must have been thrust into isolation for a long, long time.
She must have been an outsider of the first order.
She had also exhausted any possible resources. We learn from Biblical
historians that the Jewish Talmud describes eleven different cures for this
common disease. Imagine going to such lengths to be healed that you've tried 11
different cures. No second opinion would suffice. She must have been frantic
with anxiety and grief about what was happening to her physically and socially.
To top it off, there must not have been any kind of security left. Did she even
have a place to rest her head?
The author of Matthew writes: "She had endured much under many
physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather
Have you ever had a problem in your life that no matter how much you worked
on it, it only seemed to get worse? Yet this woman persisted. She had heard
about Jesus. She had that spiritual instinct. What she did took great courage --
while Jesus was on his way to see the leader of the synagogue's daughter, the
woman cut through every kind of possible code of religious mores to interrupt
him, to get to Jesus, to touch him. She had reasoned with herself, "If I
only touch his cloak, I will be made well." Jesus turned to find this
person who had touched him, and perceiving the great faith stirring in her
broken heart, he said to her, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made
you well." And instantly the woman was made well.
Keep this story of the brave woman in your heart, and you might convince
yourself that change is gonna come, not just for the woman living in the first
century who touches Jesus' hem, but for you, who says a prayer in the pew,
"Turn around and see me Jesus, I need you. There's a big crowd around, and
even though it seems like there are more important people to be attended to,
leaders of synagogues, and I feel so insignificant amidst the multitudes of
people who need you, I need you. I'm broken. It's been a long, long time. But I
believe change is gonna come. I believe you can make me whole. It's not too
late. It never is."
Kathleen Norris writes in her book, Hands Full of Living, "None
of us knows what the next change is going to be, what unexpected opportunity is
just around the corner, waiting a few months or a few years to change all the
tenor of our lives."
If any of you are fans of the soulful singer Sam Cooke, take a look at his
album, Sam Cooke, A Portrait of a Legend. I checked it out the other day
and saw that this story in Matthew is the basis for the very first song on the
album, a beautiful gospel tune which he wrote -- Touch the Hem of His Garment.
"If i could just touch the hem of his garment," Sam Cook writes in the
first song, "I know I'll be made whole, she cried, Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord,
oh Lord, I know I'll be made whole."
But that's not a song he's most famous for. The song about touching Jesus was
a precursor for a song he wrote later which comes at the end of his album, a
song he wrote while racism was at a fever pitch. A song he wrote while
sitting in a bus after spending the day with sit-in demonstrators in Durham,
North Carolina in 1963, a song he wrote not too long after he and his friends
were denied rooms at a motel in Shreveport, Louisiana because they were black.
This song was released as a single a few months after Cooke died. It became a
great source of hope for Americans and an anthem of the civil rights movement,
even during a time when it was hard to believe that things would be different, a
song that was rated #12 on Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Songs Of All
Time, a song so very simple, but when you hear it, see it performed well, see
what happens to your spine. A change is gonna come.
"It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
I don't know what's up there beyond the sky.
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come."
Believe it, for yourself, and for this world which God so loves.
Copyright © 2008
Gretchen L. Elmendorf. Used by