Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sermon: "Six Months Wages"

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
July 29, 2018 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:1-21

“Six Months Wages”

What would you do with 187 million dollars?
I didn’t just make that number up - it’s the current jackpot in the national Powerball Lottery.
Even if you’ve never purchased a Powerball ticket, you may have at one time played the game in your head where you ask yourself:
“What if I won the lottery? What would I do with all that money?”
Of course, we only seem to ask ourselves this question and may only consider buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot gets up to 187 million,
or 420 million, or 750 million.
But if it’s only 40 million? 
Eh, chump change. 
Not worth the effort.

So, what would you do with 187 million dollars?
Pay off your credit card debt, your kid's student loans, your mortgage?  
Buy a bigger house, or a vacation home?
Buy a new car, or several cars? If one is not enough.
Perhaps travel? – to Europe, Africa, Asia, or South America.
Be generous with friends and family members – well, at least the ones you want to be generous with.
And of course, give a good portion of it to charity - 
to hunger relief, to cancer research, to your church –
to give back to God what you’ve been given.

The “what if I won the lottery?” game is one we like to play because there’s some satisfaction in imagining what we would do in the face of abundance.
If we finally had enough.
Enough to meet our needs, and the needs of those around us.

Of course, when it comes to the lottery, there aren’t many who are blessed with this particular kind of abundance.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 292 million to one.

In the last Powerball drawing, which took place last night, nobody won the jackpot.
To win the grand prize you have to match six out of six numbers.
If you match five numbers, but miss the Powerball number, you win a consolation prize of 1 million dollars.
Not bad.     
One person won that prize last night.

If you match 4 numbers plus the Powerball number the prize drops down to $50,000.
Still not bad. $50,000 is a lot of money even in today’s world. 
In last night’s drawing, 20 people won that prize – out of the 22 million tickets sold in the nation. 

The next prize drops all the way down to $100.
To give it a local perspective, in NH only 10 people won $100 last night.
The better odds are of course with the lower prizes.
Last night, 360 New Hampshirites won $7 and 5,223 won $4 – just slightly more than what it cost for the ticket.

But ya gotta be in it to win it.

There was one time when the odds of winning increased unexpectedly.
On March 30, 2005, the Powerball folks had to pay out almost $20 million dollars in consolation prize winnings when 110 people correctly chose five of the six numbers.
Typically there are only 1 or 2 winners who manage to do that.
While fraud was initially suspected, it turns out the only connection between the 110 winners was they had all played numbers they found in a fortune cookie on the day they bought the ticket - 22, 28, 32, 33, and 39.
The cookies came from the same distributer in Long Island City, NY.
And the fortune on the other side read:
"All the preparation you've done will finally be paying off.”

Now, there are times when one or two people beat the astronomical odds, and win the jackpot of 187 million, or 400 million, or 750 million.
Which is why given even these very slim odds, we’re tempted to imagine what we would do if we ever happen to be gifted with such abundance. 

The story of the Feeding of the 5000 that we find in all four of our gospels helps us to imagine that as well.
Yet typically we look at this story not as a story about abundance, but as a story about generosity.
As we imagine Jesus taking the five loaves and two fishes and multiplying them through the selfless giving of those gathered around him.
We may picture the disciples passing the baskets among the crowd, with each person sharing something they brought for themselves and adding it to the communal table – an extra loaf of bread, a few additional fish, until miraculously there is enough to feed everyone present.

This is a valid interpretation, and it works, especially if we’re a little uncomfortable accepting the story of Jesus’ miraculous multiplication at face value.  
The story becomes more real, and more relatable, if there’s a tangible example that we can follow – such as: the true miracle found in the face of scarcity is that we become the hands of Christ, and God feeds the world through our generosity - our willingness to share what we have with others.

But the story as we find it in John’s gospel is about so much more.

While the other gospel writers have Jesus blessing the bread and fish and handing it off to his disciples to pass amongst the crowd, in John’s gospel Jesus passes the blessed meal to the crowd himself.
There is no middleman.
It’s a minor difference, and we might say – “Why should it matter?” – once the crowd had the fish and the bread they still could have added to it from their individual stores.  The theme of generosity remains the same.

It matters because John wrote his gospel with one over arching agenda in mind:  To tell the world about the miraculous and powerful presence of God that is revealed to all of humankind through Jesus.

John doesn’t give us the wiggle room to explain away the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 with a multitude of imagined picnic baskets being present and opened for all to share.
Instead, while the disciples busy themselves trying to figure out how much it might cost to feed so many people, Jesus blesses the five loaves and two fish and feeds the people with the abundance that God has to offer through him:

The loaves and fishes are a symbol of the abundance of God’s love and grace that nourishes and feeds us in much the same way as Jesus fed the masses in the gospel story.
All were fed, without question, and no one was deemed as less deserving than another.
The love and grace of God is given abundantly to show us that each and every one of has value and worth…
and that we are so much more than the mistakes that we make,
and so much stronger than the fears that rule our lives.

We can tap in to this sense of abundance at any time, when we carry Jesus with us in our hearts.
Not in the “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” kind of way.
But rather in the “God lives in us because God lived in Jesus” kind of way.

We may be followers of Christ, and see him as a wise and great teacher worthy of emulating in our words and actions, but sometimes we’re reluctant to give him the power over our hearts that we so willingly give to others.

We may get into passionate and sometimes heated discussions with others over a particular sports team we follow,
or business or brand that we’re loyal to,
or a politician or political agenda that we support,
but rarely are we so moved to speak or act with such passion about issues of justice, or grace, as they relate to our faith,
especially when they collide or conflict with the “real” world in which we must live.

Jesus said "Love thy neighbor" – and we say, “Who is my neighbor? Surely not the one who seeks to do me harm or take what I have.”
Jesus said "Welcome the stranger and the foreigner" – and we say, “Certainly not the one who crosses borders and doesn’t follow the rules that everyone must follow.”
Jesus said "Feed my people" – and we say, “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. We can only feed as many as our budget allows.”

We think so small at times. 
We take what we know about how the world works and try and fit our faith into that limited framework.
Like a child trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.
We take God’s perspective and overlay our human perspective and miss the spaces that God is inviting us to grow into.

And that was John’s point when he wrote his gospel.

John loved to tell the miracle stories –
where Jesus turned water into wine,
healed the sick with touch of his hand,
and walked on water to calm the storm.
For John, Jesus was the presence of God in the world, sent here to show us that as powerful as we think we are, we don’t have the ability to do it all.

But God does.

When we think we don’t have enough to go around, God will show us that we have much more than we believe.

When we think our love should be limited to those we know and trust,
God will challenge us to love bigger.
When we think our space is limited and can only accommodate so many, God will challenge us to see bigger.
When we think our resources are limited and can only be spread so far,
God will challenge us to give bigger.

If you carry anything with you this week from our gospel reading this morning carry this:

When the disciples said to Jesus, “There’s not enough.”
Jesus said “Make the people sit down.” And he fed them.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the rising sea and were terrified.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” And the seas calmed.

When we hold Jesus in our heart we hold within us the power to feed the people and calm the storms.
But that power doesn’t come from us, it comes from God.

When we take this understanding that God’s love and grace is abundant and offered to all – and we hold it in our heart – we can’t help but see beyond the limitations that our human perspective places on our God perspective.

When we see the world through the lens of abundance we begin to see the spaces that God is calling us to grow into.

It may be satisfying to imagine all the things we could do and all the needs we could meet if we won 187 million dollars in the Powerball lottery.

It’s even more satisfying to imagine all the things we could do and all the needs we could meet if we carried our God of abundance with us in our hearts.

If we’re looking for power to change the world, we won’t find it out there.
We’ll find it, right in here.

Thanks be to God, and amen. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sermon: "Walls and Bridges"

Intro to Scripture - Ephesians 2:11-22

While this letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus, the earliest copies we have contain no greeting for a particular church, which means it was likely a circular letter – one that was sent to many churches and meant to be circulated as a common teaching.
The focus here is on Christian unity.
In the mid to late first century, as the first Christian churches were forming, Jewish and Pagan converts to the faith were struggling to find common ground and a common identity for their new and distinctly Christian communities. 
Jews and Gentiles were separated by a painful and often violent history,
by divergent cultures and convictions, and by mutual hostility and suspicion.
Initially, Gentile Christians were expected to convert to Judaism –
to submit to circumcision and follow the Jewish kosher laws –
in order to be considered true followers of Christ. 
Paul and Peter worked together to negate this requirement, teaching that Jesus had intended the gospel to be brought to all nations.
What had begun with Judea was now open to all.
Gentiles do not become Jews; but conversely, Jews do not become Gentiles.
Rather, both Jews and Gentiles become united in Christ as Jew and Gentile.
God in Christ has made one humanity of the two.
For Paul, it is not our differences that divide us, but our hostility, and our inability to see the other as part of the Body of Christ. 

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
July 22, 2018 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22

“Walls and Bridges”

Over the last few days, many of you have made your way over to Souhegan High School to visit the Moving Wall – a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that has traveled around the country for over 30 years - moving from one small town to the next, allowing people to pay their respects and remember those who lost their lives in the war in Vietnam.
The replica may be only half the size but it has solicited some full sized emotions in those who’ve had a chance to see it. 
 If you’ve ever visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC then you know what a moving experience it can be.
Standing adjacent to the National Mall, the nearly 500 foot-long slab of black granite rises up out of the earth, reaching 10ft in height at its apex, before gently sloping back into the earth at its completion.
Over 58,000 names are etched into the wall.
Each standing as a remembrance of a fallen soldier from the not-so-distant past, as the polished surface of the granite reflects the faces of those standing in the present.

Visitors to the wall are often seen touching the names in tearful silence,
or putting paper and pencil to one particular name to create a rubbing to take with them, or like many, leaving something behind in tribute –
a photograph, a letter, a dog tag, a military patch or medal, or some personal item that would have meaning only to the one it was left for and the one leaving it behind.
A baby’s sweater, a book of poems, an engagement ring given as a promise of a life together that was never to be.

In Hyattsville, MD, about a 30-minute drive from the Vietnam memorial, stands a massive warehouse, where storage bins stacked from floor to ceiling house the items that are gathered up each night from the foot of the wall.

Since the walls completion in 1982, over 400,000 items have been reverently collected and cataloged.
One of the more personal items in the collection is an unopened care package addressed to US Army Specialist Charles Stewart Jr.

Stewart was a 19-year-old from Gladstone, MI, who began his tour in Vietnam in March of 1972.
In October of that same year, Stewart’s infantry unit was disbanded as part of the plan to begin withdrawal of American troops from combat areas, and he was reassigned to a position in the Aviation Brigade.
While en route to his new assignment, the helicopter that Stewart was riding in was hit by a heat-seeking missile and crashed into a flooded rice field just south of Saigon. 
There were no survivors.
The care package, sent by Stewart’s parents, arrived in Vietnam a few days later.
The package was returned to his parents and was stamped KIA 10-31-72 – marking the date Charles Stewart Jr. was killed in action.
The still unopened package was left at the Vietnam Memorial in October 1993, nearly twenty years after it was originally mailed.
On it was a hand-written note:
“Charles Stewart, Mom & Dad want you to have these cookies & Kool Aid.  It’s time they gave these to you. They send all their love.”


One name, one story, one war, one wall.

The walls we build to remember those we’ve lost as a result of human conflict stand in contrast to the walls we build in the midst of conflict.
The walls we build to keep our enemy at bay.
To prevent another from encroaching on our land or taking what we value.
To keep us and our loved ones safe.
To keep those we don’t trust or understand or want to associate with at a distance.

We human beings are extraordinarily adept at building walls.
Give a child a pile of blocks and they’ll have them stacked one upon another in no time,
building block walls around block houses, imagining what dangers might be kept out and what of value might be kept in.  

Walls are of course not innately a bad thing.
They do have their purpose and are at times a necessity.
As they hold in livestock, and hold back floodwaters,
and hold up the roofs over our homes and our churches,
keeping our spaces safe, and sound, and sacred.

But it’s not the physical walls that we build that concerned Jesus, and later, Paul, as much as the spiritual walls.

The walls that we erect between God and us.
And the walls that we erect between God and those who are not us -
Projecting all of our human biases, ignorance, and failings onto our Creator, as we build a wall around God, placing some of us safely on the inside while others are left standing on the outside.

This desire to build walls that divide us rather than focus on what unites us, is not a creation of our modern politically charged world.
We may blame social media, and fake news, and foreign bots for planting the seeds of discontent and unraveling the thread of civility that once kept us from labeling each other as friend or foe – and there is some real blame to be placed on all of the above – but those seeds were not planted by outside forces, as much as they were watered and nurtured.
The seeds were already there.

Wall building is in our nature.

While some may revere the early church, and at times long to return to the days when the Christian faith was pure and uncorrupted by the influences of modern morality and the powerful trappings of empire,
the truth is, there never was a time when unity reigned and the followers of Jesus all gathered around a table breaking bread in harmony.
Judaism was and always has been a diverse religious tradition with many different expressions and interpretations of the Abrahamic faith,
and the followers of Jesus sprung up out of that diversity, marching to the beat of their own drummers as well. 

The early church attracted converts who were Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and members of other Jewish sects too numerous to count.
The church had Greek gentiles and Roman gentiles, and Ethiopian gentiles each with their own portfolio of pagan beliefs and practices that they couldn’t help but weave into their newfound faith.

Even Jesus’ disciples, the ones closest to the source of the gospel stories, birthed their own distinct communities – with James and Peter, and later Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each putting their own spin on the Jesus story and presenting their own interpretation of how he intended his message to be lived out in the world.

There’s an internet meme that has Jesus standing on a hillside looking out at his disciples while saying, “Okay guys, I’m only going to say this once so listen up. I don’t want four different versions of this floating around.”
It’s funny because it’s true.

And then there’s Paul.
Paul’s letters to those early Christian churches have come to be revered as much as the Gospels themselves, and regardless of what we may personally feel about Paul and his influence, there is no denying that his letters stand as a testament to the diversity of the early church  -
and the age-old struggle that we human beings have with living and working and worshiping with those who are NOT LIKE US.

The word diversity has itself become a controversial term in our time.
With some celebrating it and calling for more of it – in our social structures, in our media and entertainment, in our institutions, and employment practices.
While others claim the focus on diversity is divisive, because it emphasizes and separates us by our differences rather than lifting up and uniting us in our commonalities.  

For some, acknowledging our diversity brings all of our gifts into the mix and strengthens us as a whole. 
For others, acknowledging our diversity reduces us to individuals, fragmenting us, and weakening us as a whole.  

I can say with some certainty that among those of us in this sanctuary this morning there are those who fall on either side of the diversity dial – with some wanting to dial it up and others wanting to dial it back.
And yes, some would argue that calling attention to this diversity of opinion on diversity is in itself… divisive.

Our denomination, the United Church of Christ prides itself on being a "diverse" body of believers. As we say at the beginning of worship every Sunday,  “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Yet the United Church of Christ logo also contains the phrase:
“That They All May Be One” – 
words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John.

How can a church be diverse and united at the same time?
How can we be "many" and "one"?
Is this even possible?
Will our differences always divide us and keep us from finding peace based on what we hold in common?

Is it possible for us to be "Jew and Gentile, male and female, captive and free," as well as rich and poor, gay and straight, native born and foreign born, conservative and liberal, black and white, and every color in between….
and still gather at the same table and break bread together?

Unity and Diversity may seem to be conflicting ideals but as we see in Paul’s letters, and in the many different gospels we have, Jesus seemed to think we were capable of seeking and celebrating both.

The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Jesus and the Canaanite Woman,
our gospels are full of stories of people reaching across the divide and making peace with one another while still remaining who they are and without denying the God given differences that make their story uniquely their own.

Wall building is in our nature.
But bridge building is in our nature as well.

Just as a child may feel compelled to build a wall out of building blocks,
once the wall is completed they may feel equally compelled to knock it down, and build a bridge instead.

It may take a little more effort and creativity to build a bridge rather than a wall, but as we know, we human beings love a challenge.
God gave us that as well.

If you need a tangible example of diversity found within unity, I encourage you to head over to the high school and visit the Moving Wall memorial, even in the rain. I believe it’s there one more day before they pack it up tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.

And as you look at the names etched on the wall notice that none is bigger than any other, that each name is uniform in its size and depth and color.
But each represents a unique story, a unique human being,
in life and in death, that is evident in the diverse collection of items,
and tears and prayers, that the living leave behind.

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,
were without Christ, being aliens and strangers to the covenants of promise.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by Christ.
For he is our peace; he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two…
So then we are no longer strangers and aliens,
but we are members of the household of God."


Sermon: "Healing Hands"

Intro to Mark 5:21-43

This morning’s gospel reading contains a story within a story.
This in itself is not unusual when it comes the sacred stories we find in our Bible. As Jesus tells his own story he embeds it within the story of the ancient Israelites.
Giving it roots and purpose in the process.
The Gospel writers in turn embed their stories within the story of Jesus. And we in turn embed our story within the stories we find in the Gospels.
Always looking back for connection and meaning.
Always looking ahead for hope and healing.
In this particular story within a story told by Mark,
Jesus has just returned from a journey he took to the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee – and as soon as he steps out of the boat and back onto Jewish soil he is surrounded by a mob of people.
One of the first to approach him is the leader of the synagogue, a man of great status, who begs Jesus to come and save his dying daughter.
But on the way Jesus gets waylaid…
when a woman with no status, who is in desperate need of healing herself, pushes through the crowd and reaches out and touches him.
Suddenly, her story intersects with the story of the dying young girl,
and both become part of the Jesus story.

In the end two healings take place, two daughters are made well,
and in the juxtaposition of these two stories we find a common theme.
Those who seek healing, will receive it – but perhaps not in the manner nor on the timetable that we expect it.

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
July 1, 2018 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5:21-43

“Healing Hands”

How many of you have ever held a newborn baby in your arms?
How many of you have ever reached out your finger to touch a newborn’s hand and marveled at how the infant instinctively wrapped its tiny fingers around yours and squeezed with all its might, as if it were holding on for dear life?

If you’ve had such an experience it may be difficult to fathom that there was ever a time when we human beings did not understand how important the touch of another is in our earliest years of life.

In the 1920’s, John B. Watson, one of the originators of the behaviorist school of psychology, actually urged parents to maintain a physical boundary between themselves and their young children.
He warned, “Never hug and kiss your children, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead at bedtime, and shake hands with them in the morning.”
A pat on the head when a good dead was done was more than enough to show one’s approval.
Watson believed that excessive touching would make children overly clingy and create “mawkish” or sickly adults.

Sadly, it took a large-scale human experiment to demonstrate that the opposite is actually true.
In the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the government of Romania sought to increase its industrial workforce by increasing its population.
It restricted the use of contraceptives, banned abortions for woman who had less than five children, and levied a 35% income tax on any man or woman who remained childless between the ages of 25 and 45. 
The result was a population explosion in which hundreds of thousands of children from birth to age 3 were abandoned and left in the care of woefully understaffed institutions.
Most of these children would be left alone in their cribs all day long,
never being picked up, or held, with only the most incidental touching if a diaper needed to be changed.
Over time, the children in these institutions were shown to have impaired cognitive abilities, lower IQs, stunted growth, flat affects, an inability to read social cues, and a reduced sense of empathy for the suffering of others.

Thankfully, once the plight of Romanian orphans became known in the early 1990’s, thousands of children were rescued from these institutions,
and we now know that some of the negative effects of the lack of human touch and attention in those early years can be reversed, gradually, over time, once the child has been placed in an environment where love and affection are given freely and abundantly.

The power we all possess, literally at our fingertips is truly amazing.

In 2009, an Indiana University psychologist named Matthew Hertenstein, demonstrated that we human beings have an innate ability to read and respond to emotions via touch alone.
In a series of studies, Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate specific emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch.

Initially, he found that many of the volunteers were naturally apprehensive about participating in the experiment.
We live in a “touch-phobic society," Hertenstein concluded,
"We're not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily."

In colder climates and more reserved cultures, such as here in New England, a discomfort with touching is even more evident.
If you ask your average Congregationalist to name their least favorite part of the Christian worship service, they will inevitably say, the Passing of the Peace.
All that hand-shaking and moving in and out of the pews is just too uncivilized for some.
But the results of Hertenstein’s experiments suggest that for all our reservations about touching, we human beings come equipped with an innate ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by skin-to-skin contact.  

Participants in the University study were able to communicate eight distinct emotions through touch alone — anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness - with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.

Hertenstein admitted that the results surprised even him.
He expected the accuracy level would be about 25 percent, the same as chance or taking a wild guess.
We might think cultural influences would play a role in our ability to perceive emotions through touch, with those with fewer inhibitions possessing greater abilities, but Hertenstein was able to duplicate these results in multiple countries and multiple cultures,
demonstrating that we humans are more alike than we often think.

For those who don’t require a University study or social experiment to comprehend that God created us to crave and need human contact, it comes as no surprise that we find evidence of the power of human touch in the ancient stories of our Bible.
In our Gospels, we see Jesus repeatedly reaching out and touching those who were deemed untouchable by the prevailing culture.
Lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors.
Those who were considered ritually unclean under Temple law,
those who suffered from all manners of physical, mental, and spiritual illnesses and deformities that pushed them to the fringes of society –
often leaving them on the outside looking in.

In our gospel reading today – Mark’s story within a story –
we find Jesus touching two very different daughters of Abraham,
connecting them through his healing presence.
A 12-year-old girl born into privilege with access to the best physicians of the time who still could not save her,
and a woman with a 12-year-old hemorrhage who had lost her footing on the social ladder long ago, if she ever had it to begin with.
One was perpetually bleeding and the other no longer had blood flowing through her.
One actively and urgently reached out to touch this man of great power,
and the other was a passive and peaceful recipient of his touch.

And in that moment of contact both were made well.

In both, Jesus brings forth healing – hope - life - where previously none of the above seemed possible.

That’s all we really need to know.

When we try to pick apart these intertwined stories we often get lost in the details.
We get caught up in calling Jesus a revolutionary and a radical in his time for stepping outside religious rules that rendered a man ritually unclean if he touched a bleeding woman or a dead little girl. 
We rally around the audacity of the marginalized woman for her "stealing of a healing," for taking something that she did not properly ask for –
and most in the crowd would agree she did not deserve – but nevertheless she persisted because she knew that Jesus offered himself freely and fully to all.
We attempt to explain away the resurrection of the dead little girl – because we know that can’t be literally true - by calling it a resuscitation or a reawakening, or a metaphorical rebirth made possible by faith.

Because in these two stories that weave in and out of one another we keep looking for an entry point to embed our own story.

The time we felt like we were dying and no one came to save us.
The time we felt like we were hemorrhaging and no one reached out to heal us.
The time we felt like we were untouchable and the world was conspiring to label us as unclean – unworthy – unredeemable.

While reaching into these stories and finding a radical rabbi, a persistent woman, and a little girl given a new lease on life gives us many entry points into making this story our own, I suggest we simply focus on the healing.
The healing that is given and received through the very human act of touch.

When Jesus was moving through the crowd being jostled from every angle, we’re told he was aware that power had gone forth from him, and he said,
“Who touched me?”
And his disciples looked at him incredulously saying,
“What do you mean who touched you? Everyone here is touching you!”

But Jesus knew this particular touch was different.
Like the experiments that demonstrate our very human ability to read emotions through touch, Jesus noticed the difference between the desperation of this woman’s touch and those who reached out to him because they were curious,
or those who pushed through the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on what they’d heard others had experienced,
or those who simply wanted to be able to say “I touched him” in much the same way people reach out to shake the hands of celebrities and politicians, to have a good story to tell, or to raise their own status in the eyes of others.

Jesus publicly acknowledges the woman’s touch and her healing,
not to shame her, but to bring awareness of the healing that has taken place before the community.
Those in need of healing are often isolated.
Illness, grief, addiction, abuse, despair – can cause us to want to keep our distance from others, while at the same time others fall into a pattern of keeping their distance from us, because we remind them of the ways that they need healing as well.
But Jesus invites us all back into community.
Community that is meant to heal – to restore – to redeem. 

That is when we know it is of God.
If we as a community find ourselves doing the opposite –
harming – isolating – separating –
then we know we are not following in the footsteps of Jesus.  

We human beings have been given so many gifts by God,
some of which we’re not even aware of.
From the instinct that causes us to reach out as an infant and grasp the finger of another, holding on for dear life,
to the compulsion we feel to reach out to another when we sense they’re in pain, or feeling isolated, or in need of comfort or healing.

Jesus isn’t the only one who has the power to heal with just a touch.
The good news of the gospels tells us so.

Thanks be to God, and Amen.