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Sermon delivered on Village Day at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Based on Matthew 9:15-25

2008 June 15
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Gretchen L. Elmendorf, Associate Pastor

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 Back to topduring 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 Back to topdays 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 too?

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 twelve years."

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 society.

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. Back to topAnyone 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 grew worse."

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. Back to topIt'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 permission. to top


Parent page ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] [ Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon " With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ]

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