On Sunday, February 2, I preached a hard reality for me. I shared a portion of that sermon on Facebook, and I am sharing it here in its totality. It’s based on Mark 5:21-43.
They were all looking for a miracle. Every last one of them who was following Jesus wanted to see a miracle, an exorcism, a healing—something. They’d heard of the one who could do such things, and they were all clamoring to see it for themselves. Which is why they were all there when Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet begging for help for his near-death daughter. You can almost hear the crowd thinking, “This is it! Here it is!”
And so, they follow Jesus—jostling for position, trying to get as close as they can to the One who heals. And in the chaos, as they’re bumping up against each other, Jesus feels a Divine spark leave him. It was quick, but he was sure he felt it. It wasn’t the kind of thing that happened every day. It was something that took belief, that took faith.
We don’t know the name of the woman who touched him, the woman who’d tried everything to heal her bleeding—who’d spent all of her money and visited every doctor around trying to find a solution. Mark doesn’t give us her name. He just tells us of her desperation, of her desperate need for healing and of her desperate belief that if she just touched the hem of his clothes, that she would be healed.
So she crowded him, along with the others, but down toward the ground where the others couldn’t really see, and she reached and stretched. Just a bit further, she was almost there. She almost had him. Then, finally, she felt the rough weave brush against her finger and gave the fabric a quick tug. And in an instant, she could tell it had worked, that something was different, that she was healed. She had pulled on his cloak like a child trying to get her parent’s attention. Jesus spun on his heel. It wasn’t anger, more shock. “Who touched me?” he asked.
His disciples, ever stating the obvious, rolled their eyes and replied, “Uh, Jesus? There are lots of people around here. Lots of people have probably touched you.” That’s the Jon Chapman translation.
But the woman, the one whose name we don’t know, knew what had happened to her. She approached Jesus in fear and trembling, Mark tells us, and she told him the whole truth.
And after hearing it, the story of her pain and exclusion, the tale of how no one wanted to touch her impure body, of how no one thought she was good enough to be a part of their faith, much less their community. Jesus looked in her eyes, into the eyes of the woman who had tugged his clothes like a child, and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
Not many saw it, the miracle that happened there on the street outside Jairus’ house. Everyone was looking for something bigger, something showier. Sometimes, we miss the important stuff that’s right in front of our eyes when we’re too busy looking for what we think is important.
If they’d paid attention, if the crowd had kept their eyes on Jesus, not where they thought Jesus was going, but on where Jesus was, they would’ve seen three miracles. They would’ve witnessed a woman afflicted for twelve years with menstrual bleeding healed. That’s the first miracle.
And they would’ve seen that woman who, for so long, had been considered ritualistically impure because of her condition, made clean so that she would be reconciled with society. She could be touched again. Can you imagine not being touched because of religious law? No hugs, no pats on the back, no comforting hand on the shoulder. In healing her, Jesus restored her to her community—to right relationship—which is really what Jesus is all about. That’s the second miracle. He gave her a way to belong.
But the third miracle, that’s the one that gets me. Jesus gave her permission to tell the whole truth, everything, all of it. And he loved her still. And he healed her still. That’s the third miracle: The whole truth.
We, of course, think of the whole truth as in the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God as a precursor to sworn testimony. We expect it in courtrooms, but we fail to expect it in church. What I mean is, so often people feel like they have to segment out their lives, like they should leave bits and pieces of themselves at the door of the church because those bits and pieces, those parts of them won’t be fully welcomed or understood or loved in church. Too often, people feel like their whole truth—the messiness of their human condition—makes them unlovable, unwanted, and unholy.
I believe in transparency—in telling the truth. So while we’re on this topic of telling the truth—the whole truth—I’ll confess that this has been a difficult week.
I came back from the Holy Land ready to go, ready to take on the next challenge. And the next challenge is a doozy. For months now, we’ve been working on answering a single question: How do we care for each other? How we have been caring for each other doesn’t work as well. as it used to. That’s a challenge that’s come with being a growing church. We’ve been wondering and figuring at our Board meetings, working to find the ways we could keep people from feeling like this woman we encounter in today’s scripture. That is, distant, uncared for, unloved. Months of figuring and praying and hoping have led to these simple little pads in your pews. And the Casserole Crew I mentioned earlier. And even more that’ll be introduced in the coming months.
I knew that in tackling the issue of how we care for each other wouldn’t be easy. For one, the scale is a challenge. But also, in introducing the topic to the wider congregation, I knew that we were giving people the much-needed permission to tell the truth about the ways we’ve let them down—the ways we, as a church, didn’t show up for them when they needed us; the ways, *I* didn’t show up for them.
People were kind, even in their disappointment. And genuine. And I’m so grateful for their generosity of spirit in telling the truth about some hard things and looking toward the future despite them. Not many churches have that embodied grace. But we do. Westfield does.
In this flurry of revelations came two days where I was made aware of individuals who had left the church because of some of those disappointments—some of them very real. And I feel horrible for most of it. The truth is it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to get distracted and lost. We all need the saving grace of Jesus—me chief among them.
But what came to me didn’t just include the missed opportunities for connection or the perceived unfair expectations. Twice in as many days, as part of that litany of disappointments I fully own, I was told that worship at Westfield was “too gay.”
“I don’t judge,” it came to me, “But I don’t want to hear about it every week.”
The truth—the whole truth, that is—is that the rest I could handle. It wasn’t fun, but I could deal. People disappoint people, and I’m certainly no different.
But that bit—twice—in two days—gutted me. Because the truth is that over the last year and a half, I’ve worked to tone it down—whatever “it” really is. What I mean is that I know things are hard and that they’re divisive—in our world, in our country, in our community. And I want our church to be a place of solace and respite from that craziness. So I don’t lug those rainbow doors out as often (in fact, they haven’t been out in more than 6 months) and we didn’t put the rainbow wreaths up this year—all in the name of toning it down. I know we’re all at different comfort levels with that kind of thing—and everyone, everyone, everyone means those who are lighting up wreaths and those who cringe when they ride by—not for the message, but for it’s public nature. I get that. I don’t hold that against anyone.
By my calculations, I’ve preached about 280 sermons in my time here at Westfield. Bless your hearts—that is a whole lot of listening to me. Y’all are troopers!
Out of those 280 or so sermons I’ve preached from this pulpit, fewer than 10 have directly addressed LGBTQ issues. I share that with you because those singular lines of objection—that worship is too gay—can’t be about those big things—sermons, doors, wreaths—because they just aren’t present every week. Not by a long shot. I’ve wracked my brain about what it could be, just what’s too gay that folks don’t want to hear about every week. And I’ve realized, it comes down to me; it comes down to my life. I crack jokes about my life, I talk about my family and what my husband and I have been up to. I work hard to normalize my existence because comments like those show me I’m not yet.
Here’s the truth—this isn’t just about me. In our congregation, we’ve got others who are LGBT—some of whom you might not realize. We could have children that will identify that way. We have parents of grown LGBT children or siblings or you name it. Saying something is “too gay” or that you “don’t judge, but don’t want to hear about it every week” is belittling their existence because it’s not an option for us. It’s our life. It’s my life.
I know. That’s heavy. I’m sorry.
But there are just some things I can’t be silent on. The truth is that the church across the street won’t ordain me. Nor will the church at the end of Main Street or dozens of others in the Quiet Corner. The fact I’m standing here is a political act—one that has taken years of healing, personal healing, to get to. My existence isn’t an option.
Earlier this week, I was processing this whole thing with someone who said, “Well, you certainly are more confident than you used to be…” And I thought, “Yeah. I am. And I’m not sorry for it.”
Here’s the truth: I’m not trying to be any more gay or less gay. I’m just trying to be me. And that’s all I want for you, too.
I want you to tell the whole truth about who you are and who you love. I want the good, the bad, and the ugly. And don’t just want you to tell the whole truth, we want you to know that your whole truth won’t exclude you from anything in this church.
In our statement of welcome, there’s a particular line I love. It says, “We welcome everyone as full participants in the life and sacraments of Christ’s church.” I remember the conversation around the table when we added it—very intentionally. We added that line in—that everyone was welcome as full participants—because too many of you, of people sitting in this very room, have been excluded, not just from the day-to-day life of the church, but from the very cornerstone of our faith—the grace we share around this table—because your marriage didn’t work out or your family doesn’t look like some think it should. We added that because we don’t believe anyone in this room, regardless of who they love or who they used to love, is unclean. We believe you are loved and holy and whole. And what’s more, we believe Jesus believes you are loved and holy and whole.
And that’s the whole truth.
The first time I preached to you as your new pastor seven and a half years ago was on the first Sunday in October—World Communion Sunday. I had just moved nine states away from everyone I knew and loved. I was homesick and lonesome and scared I’d blow it.
Here’s the whole truth about that day: I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Here’s the whole truth about today, seven and a half years later: I still don’t. I try to show up and be kind and love. And I do. I do show up and I am kind (most days) and I do love. But, if we’re speaking the whole truth, then I’ll confess that I’m awful at it, too. I get irritated and impatient. I don’t visit our shut-ins enough; I spend entire weekends worrying about six lines exchanged with church members on Facebook messenger.
The whole truth is I’m flawed, which is to say, I’m human. And so are you. But the good news is that God’s grace isn’t dependent on our success—on our goodness and faithfulness. God loves us because of who God is, not because of anything we did or didn’t do—that’s the whole truth.
So, we gather around this table—and tell the story not of our own goodness, but of God’s goodness. And we tell the story of how God makes plain, everyday things holy—not just bread and juice, but people, too. And we tell the story of his love for us, not just as some feel-good tale set a millennia ago, but as the whole truth that beats in the heart of this congregation that has been through so much and has come so far.
And so, when it’s time for us to share this feast, I don’t want you pass the bread to each other afraid that you aren’t good enough, and I don’t want you share the cups—those hundreds of little cups—fearful that who you aren’t holy enough for the task at hand.
You are good enough. You are holy enough. You are enough. And so am I.
That’s the whole truth.
Wow, Jon. That truth, your truth, needed to be shared. And you did so with dignity and grace. May you be wrapped in the loving, healing arms of Jesus. And may God continue to bless your ministry and your truth.
Again, no one is better equipped to live genuinely and lead genuinely. The truth is you are good at it- not perfect, but really, really good. We need to hear these truths. Much love and peace to you, Jon. Keep up the good work.