Presiding Bishop preaches at June 28 General Convention Eucharist

Posted Jun 28, 2015

[Episcopal News Service — Salt Lake City] “Talitha, cum.  Get up, girl – and boy, and woman, and man – get up and dance!” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the gathering in her June 28 sermon to the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

The following is the text of the sermon.

General Convention
June 28, 2015

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

“Talitha, cum.”  Get up, girl, you’re not dead yet.  Jesus might just as well be speaking to this church.  This event comes after an aging woman is healed of her hemorrhage when she finds the courage to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe.

Can we hear these remarkable healing stories as speaking to the body of Christ often called Mother church?  The story is told twice to drive home the point – if we don’t understand the child’s healing, perhaps we will recognize the woman made whole.

We have lived for too long like that shamed and bleeding woman.  She’s had to endure finger-waggers blaming her for her own illness.  Anger and anxiety over membership loss in this church has frequently prompted finger-waggers to use that image of unstoppable hemorrhage – and it’s been going on for almost exactly 12 years, since we began to tell the truth about who we were and are and are meant to be.  We have consulted plenty of ecclesiastical doctors, without much relief – until we began to find the temerity to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe.  It’s the same Temple-filling hem we heard about on Friday.[1]   The bleeding began to be staunched when we found the courage to reach out and touch the face of God, to see God at work in new contexts, and to have the confidence to claim our experience of the divine presence.

We don’t know why the woman in the gospel story was bleeding, though we are learning plenty about how women are mistreated and abused all across the world.  Part of our healing as a church has been the willingness to tell the truth about that.  Teaching about human trafficking and rape as a weapon of war has begun to restore bleeding women to wholeness.  Tending the rainbow bruises and wounds from all sorts of violence has brought new life into this body.

Like too many girls in the world today, the daughter of Jairus is not referred to by her own name.  She is known only in relation to her father, whose name means “God enlightens.”  He pleads her cause, asking Jesus to lay hands on her, so she might be healed and live.  Many have prayed similarly for this Church, and this gathering is a sacramental expression of that plea.  Girls and boys at camp in the Diocese of Dallas get it – they’ve made a video for us, with illustrated prayers in Spanish and English:  “guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it.”  They finish it by saying, “we believe in you!”[2]

This gospel story begins[3]  with Jesus crossing the sea to the other side.  Jesus has just left Gentile country where he’s delivered a man from near death – a man who has been living in the graveyard, possessed by a Legion of demons.  Jesus comes back to the Jewish side of the lake and heals this girl and woman.  The good shepherd is at work healing everywhere – and everyone.  The story cannot be contained, even when he tries to shush people.

The healing and enlivening of this body have come in the same way, by crossing over into new territory.  We saw it in the aftermath of Katrina, as people from across the spectrum of this body went to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to muck out houses and build new homes.  We’ve seen daughters rising and growing in Brazil and the Philippines and elsewhere, as relationships change to ones of greater equality – we are now sister churches, interdependent parts of the body, rather than parent and child.

We are beginning to see new life in the bleeding one as we confront the violence around us, particularly the war that guns are unleashing on the innocent in these United States.  We will see the body rise as we address the death and violence that continues to be perpetrated here and around the world.  The grassroots peacemakers in the West Bank are finding the courage to reach out and touch the robed image of God in their neighbors; the same thing is happening in war zones where churches are teaching healthy and life-giving images of manhood. [4]

Like the unnamed daughter and the shunned and bleeding woman, this church will find new life by crossing old boundaries and exploring new territories.  It may be in small, rural congregations that discover the Spirit already at work around them, like St. James, Cathlamet, WA, who have been supporting the life and healing of children, youth, parents, and domestic violence victims for 30 years.[5]   Their 25 members have leveraged their gifts to touch most of the households in their county.  St. James, Cannon Ball, ND, is rising from the ashes of arson to continue their hope-giving ministry with youth on the Standing Rock reservation.  The Heimkehrer ministry of Christ the King in Frankfurt serves deported German-Americans by bringing hope for new life out of the loss of home and country.[6]

The spectrum of healing is as wide as the wounding.  Rainbow Village, in the Diocese of Atlanta, just received a large United Thank Offering grant to continue its exceedingly successful ministry with homeless families and children.[7]   The United Thank Offering is 125 years old, but simply reading the list of grants made at this Convention will give you a sense of how the life of this old girl is being revived by work with the least and lost and left out.  The number of lives touched by United Thank Offerings’s work tells us the ministry of that venerable dame is surprisingly fertile!

There are some other venerable bodies celebrating jubilees this year as well.  Seventy-five years ago, in the midst of war in Europe, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief emerged in response to the growing need to aid and resettle refugees.  Some 90% of such displaced people are women and children.[8]  Crossing cultural and language boundaries to meet the face of God brings new life to resettled migrants – and to those who welcome strangers.  Episcopal Relief & Development and Episcopal Migration Ministries are the offspring of that work, and they’re showing us the supple vigor and greenness of youth.  Did you see the refugee tent? Did you get to see a virtual reality glimpse of how its inhabitants are finding new life?  Go explore Episcopal Relief & Development’s photo exhibition of vigorous and abundant life emerging from devastation and death and despair!

Mother Church will continue rising from the dead if we keep crossing into new territories, in our back yards, prisons, city parks, and pockets of despair, here and across the globe.  If we believe, if we’re faithful, we know that the ancient truth remains, and resurrection is always emerging from death.  That healing may cost plenty of blood, sweat, and tears – but it is rooted in the firm belief that God does enlighten, heal, and deliver.

Pay no attention to the finger-wagging.  Turn around and look for the hem of Jesus’ robe.  Go searching in new territory.  Reach out and touch what is clothing the image of God.  Give your heart to that search and you will not only find healing but become healing.  Share what you find and you will discover the abundant life for which all God’s children have been created.  And indeed, the Lord will turn weeping into dancing.[9]   Talitha, cum.  Get up, girl – and boy, and woman and  man – get up and dance!

The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is meeting through July 3 in Salt Lake City, UT (Diocese of Utah). The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is held every three years, and is the bicameral governing body of the Church. It comprises the House of Bishops, with upwards of 200 active and retired bishops, and the House of Deputies, with clergy and lay deputies elected from the 108 dioceses and three regional areas of the Church, at more than 800 members.

The video services of the daily Eucharist during General Convention 2015 have been produced by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.