A Sermon about Healing, Subverting Boundaries, and the Promise of Restoration to Community

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Edgebrook Lutheran Church, Chicago
1 July 2018 + Lectionary 13B (Pentecost 6)
Mark 5.21-43


“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…” Those are, of course, Judy Garland’s, aka Dorothy Gale’s, famous words from The Wizard of Oz as she takes her first steps in Munchkinland. Those words have also become somewhat of a rallying cry for anyone who finds themselves all of a sudden in a strange and different place.

“I have a feeling we’re not in seminary anymore…” I’d like to imagine I said to myself, as I walked the halls of the Cleveland Clinic during one of my first overnight shifts as an intern hospital chaplain in between my first and second years of seminary. Suddenly, this was real life ministry. Suddenly, this whole being a pastor thing wasn’t some far-off idea I only read and studied and talked about in classes. Suddenly, I was doing it.

During my summer internship as a chaplain, it was not an infrequent occurrence to be on my way to one call to visit a patient when another page to visit someone else would come in. In a way, you might say I could relate a bit to Jesus in our gospel reading today, being on his way to see Jairus’s daughter on her death-bed, already stressful enough, as this other woman comes up to him suddenly, and all of this in the midst of a tremendous crowd that just won’t leave him alone. It’s like the chaplain’s pager just won’t stop beeping.

“Jesus, I have a feeling we’re not in the parables anymore…” Suddenly, this is real life in Jesus’s ministry — not some theoretical parable or abstract teaching, but an actual story with actual people with actual needs for healing — all pressing in on him at the same time. No wonder the disciples respond to him sarcastically: “Who touched you?! You’ve got to be kidding us! Literally everyone! Literally everyone wants in on this healing thing you’ve got going on, that you can’t even get to one person without another coming after you.”

Suddenly, we’re not in the “safe” world of parables and stories anymore — the “safe” world of abstract concepts and textbooks and seminary classroom and bible study discussions. These are real people, coming to Jesus with real problems, real brokenness, real needs for healing.

It’s easy to fall into the dangerous trap, when talking about healing stories in the gospels, of putting our focus on the physical healing. A trap because it’s not really the point, dangerous because it only leads us to question why healings like that don’t seem to happen anymore.

In this pair of healing stories, the emphasis is much more on what the healings mean. Jairus is deeply grieved over the very real possibility of losing his daughter, being separated from his family. The hemorrhaging woman is exasperated, having exhausted every attempt for medical treatment for a condition that has left her as an outcast, cut off from her own community. When Jesus offers healing to them, he restores them to community. That’s what healing in the gospel is all about: restoration to community.

Healing restores people to community.
Healing brings wholeness to a woman plagued with an alienating, debilitating illness.
Healing brings a little girl back to her family.
Healing brings life where life seems to have died.
Healing brings wholeness where there is brokenness.
Healing brings restoration to community.

Where life seems to have died… where there is brokenness… where there is community in need of restoration…

Healing on these terms is desperately needed if we just look around at our world:

An immigration policy that separates children from their parents.
An executive order that claims to stop family separation but only ensures that parents as well as their children can be detained indefinitely. (Oh, but it’s okay, at least they’re together, right?)
A Supreme Court decision that allows for our country to deny entry to people simply because of their religion.

We desperately need this life-giving, wholeness-seeking, community-restoring healing.

This is the healing that Jesus offers in the gospel. And just as important is where this healing happens. Time and again, Jesus stands on the cusp of boundaries. After the stormy sea adventure last week, Jesus crosses over into the land of the Gerasenes to heal a man possessed by demons. In our reading today, Jesus crosses back over to the other side of the lake. And on his way to one family, another woman approaches him in the in-between place from starting point to destination. Crossing over, on the way, in the midst of the journey — Jesus is perpetually found at these boundary places.

Boundaries, or borders, we might say, keep some people out and other people in. There’s a certain security about borders, an alluring sense of protection, but at what cost?

Borders separate.
Borders divide.
Borders exclude.
Borders alienate.

But Jesus chooses to subvert borders and boundaries. He crosses over to one side of the lake and back again. He doesn’t let one healing get in the way of another. Instead of letting borders and boundaries have the final say, Jesus stands in the midst of them and offers healing that unites, that restores community, that promotes inclusion.

One of my favorite religious icons shows Jesus as an immigrant, his hands holding on to a barbed wire fence. It’s a powerful image that promises Jesus’s presence with those who suffer, those who are separated from their loved ones by borders and boundaries of all kinds, those who are in need of community-restoring healing. But the most intriguing part of this image is the unknown: We don’t really know what side of the border Jesus is standing on. And that’s exactly how Jesus subverts boundaries, by dwelling in the midst of them, offering healing and wholeness and restoration to community, revealing the absurdity and insecurity of the ways we divide ourselves from each other.

In the midst of life drained of itself, in the midst of irreparable brokenness, in the midst of isolation and severed community, Jesus stands at the boundaries, and reaches across with healing, with wholeness, with life abundant, with the promise of community.

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A Sermon about Keeping the Sabbath (and Why It’s So Hard)

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This Sunday, I had the opportunity to worship with the people of God at First Lutheran Church, a neighboring ELCA congregation not far from Augustana. You can read more about the ministry FLC is up to in Omaha on their website.


First Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE
21 August 2016 + Lectionary 21C
Luke 13.10-17



Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it, staying at Home—

So begins the poem by Emily Dickinson. Exchanging a choir for the song of birds, a vaulted ceiling for the covering of trees, and even the preacher in favor of God herself. For Dickinson, sacred space is more out there than in here.

I suppose it’s probably a good thing I didn’t take Dickinson’s advice this morning—or else this would be a very quiet ten minutes… not to mention that I’d probably be going into the wrong line of work.

calmBut I must confess, even as a seminary student who deeply loves all things liturgical, some of my most sacred Sabbath experiences happen outside the four walls of a sanctuary. Living in Chicago for the past eight years, I have come to relish any sliver of urban nature I can find. Walks along Lake Michigan are my favorite, where in the mugginess of summer heat I can actually dip my feet in the cool water, or just sit along the shore and gaze out over the seemingly endless waters.

These sacred moments spent in the midst of urban beauty more often than not organically lead me to prayer and reflection on the day.

But then, I have thoughts.

Thoughts about my to-do list: There’s laundry to do, a sermon to finish, groceries to buy, meetings to attend, bills to pay.

Left alone to our thoughts, distractions creep in. It’s inevitable. And quite frankly, it makes any notion of Sabbath downtime hard to come by.

Barbara Brown Taylor traces a brief history of Sabbath-keeping in her book An Altar in the World. Growing up, Taylor recalls that the Sabbath was a day of could not: you could not wear blue jeans, you could not play ball, you could not ride bikes, you could not go to the movies. In other words, she quips, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it boring.” [1]sabbath-sunday

But even for the most devout Sabbath-keeper, changing times brought changing attitudes toward Sunday mornings. By the 1960s, the majority of homes had TVs, and many of them would be tuned to Sunday football. More and more, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues began to open their doors on Sundays. Suddenly, there was a newfound liberation as Americans could fill their Sabbath day with a multitude of activities.

Of course, liberation for some meant just the opposite for others. Lower-wage earners would have to choose between keeping the Sabbath or keeping their jobs to meet the demand of added business hours.

Meanwhile, for churches, all of this has meant ever-decreasing attendance, no matter the reason for a churchgoers’s absence. To be sure, Sunday worship is certainly not the only way to keep the Sabbath, but the constant swirl of activities to choose from, to-do items to check off, and smartphone notifications to respond to seems have left precious little time to just be.


To counteract this “war on Sabbath,” Taylor suggests the spiritual practice of “saying no.” She explains that those who practice Sabbath, those who say no, are more able to resist our cultural emphasis on productivity, consumerism, and consumption. Saying no insists that you are worth more than what you do or how much you produce. Saying no allows you to just be, and rest, and recharge. (And no, I don’t just mean your smartphone or tablet.)

In our gospel text this morning, I suspect Jesus is practicing what it means to say no. To heal or not to heal on the Sabbath? That is the question.

The law, it would seem, is clear: no work on the Sabbath. But hear again what Jesus says: “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie your ox or your donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?”

Your ox or your donkey. I don’t think Jesus’s word choice is coincidental. Those words appear among a litany of persons and animals in Deuteronomy’s version of the Sabbath commandment, underscoring that the Sabbath is for everyone. And it goes on to remind the Israelites of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, rooting Sabbath rest in liberation.

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To heal or not to heal? then becomes something more like To allow a restrictive religious law to continue to oppress this woman and prevent her too from enjoying Sabbath rest, or to say no to all of that?

As one biblical scholar explains: When Jesus chooses to heal the bent-over woman, “his touch represents fellowship for those whose ailments may have denied them human contact; Jesus’s touch is their initial welcome back into community.” [2]

Jesus’s healing touch is indeed a liberative act. It frees the woman who has been healed so that she might praise God.

Our text reminds us that the Sabbath is about being made free. Free to be and to rest and to delight in God’s beauty. Free from distractions, and free to say no.


The Sabbath, as one blogger writes, is a gift of freedom, and it is a gift as old as creation itself. The first Sabbath, described in Genesis, is the capstone of creation, a gift from God so that we might be able to embrace all that has been created. [3]

Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to experience Sabbath rest when I’m wading in the waters of Lake Michigan in Chicago or walking down the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood here in Omaha. Because there is an intimate link between Sabbath and creation.

Creation reminds us of God’s good gifts to us and our interconnectedness with all things and all peoples. And the freedom of the Sabbath calls us to reconnect with God, with ourselves, and with the whole of creation.

When the woman who was once bent over for eighteen long years was suddenly able to stand up straight, her perspective quite literally changed. One pastor calls this text “a story of expansion, revelation, [and] vision widened by grace.” [4] Indeed, the healed woman sees more than just sunshine and fluffy clouds, but also a world in need.

Sabbath is a gift but also an invitation:

An invitation to a new way of life that says no to the things that make us bent over.

An invitation to the kind of justice-seeking Sabbath-keeping that Isaiah envisions, where the hungry are filled and the needs of the afflicted are satisfied.

An invitation to the freedom to be and to rest in God’s grace.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 127.

[2] Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., “Luke 13:10-17: Exegetical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 385.

[3] https://journeytopenuel.com/2016/08/14/proper-16c-the-sabbath-is-calling/

[4] http://christiancentury.org/article/2016-07/august-21-21st-sunday-ordinary-time