Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ –
May grace and peace be yours in abundance (I Peter 1:2a). – ….. –
In February I began a series of brief articles on the Marks of a Missional Congregation relying heavily on Stephen P. Bouman’s, The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation & Community (© 2013 Augsburg Fortress). Thus far we have considered that a congregation in mission: is always listening…to God and to the neighborhood; mentors and trains its leaders; nurtures communal leadership; faces paralysis with courage; and, risks new things without fear of failure.
Each article includes Scripture, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer. Perhaps your church council, adult study, youth group, coffee group will use these monthly writings as a time to engage in learning, discernment and reflection together. Previous month’s articles are available on the synod website: www.albertasynod.ca
A congregation in mission reroots in its community.
Interruptions. We are all cognizant of interruptions: the cell phone ringing, the knock on the door, another email, and so on. Jesus knew interruptions too. In the healing story from Matthew 9:18-26, Jesus was in the middle of teaching his disciples when the synagogue leader (called Jairus in Mark’s and Luke’s accounts) interrupted Jesus: “While he was still saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’”
Interruptions. “And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.” But before Jesus could make this home visit with his disciples, there was another interruption: “Suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him.” Out and about with his disciples, Jesus made himself and his companions “touchable” for the life of the community. For twelve long years, this woman had been “untouchable.” She was barred from every table including the kitchen table of family. She had to keep her distance from everyone. She lived on the fringe of society, barren, untouched, alone.
Matthew tells us that, “[She] came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’” This took much courage. Her going out in public and being near other people was a violation of purity laws. Touching a man, even touching the fringe of his clothing was utterly forbidden. But she did it. She did not put herself in Jesus’ path, and she did not call out his name. She simply reached for the fringe, to touch…something. With one courageous step, this woman took a chance on Jesus, but everything depended on his response. “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’”
In these brief words, Jesus made three astonishing moves toward a relationship with this woman. First, Jesus turned and saw her. He saw her because he was there to see her. He was in her neighborhood. He was in her path. The fringe of his garment was within reach so that when she stretched out her hand, she touched Jesus’s cloak, not thin air. How can our faith communities locate their life and presence in the pain and hunger and life of their neighborhoods so that their neighbors can touch the fringe of the body of Christ? Jesus turned and saw her. Not a statistic. Not a stereotype. Not a label. Not a budget item. Not a stranger. Just her.
And he called her, “daughter.” There was no wall between them. No separation. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, as though she were his own flesh and blood. He recognized her pain as his own. When someone touches the hem of the body of Christ, they become kin, family. In calling the woman “daughter,” was Jesus also reflecting the desperate love of the father who asked him to heal his daughter?
Third, Jesus saw her giftedness, her human dignity, and said, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus saw her, called her “daughter,” and lifted up her giftedness, and she rose up, a witness to the faith. Rerooting the life of the congregation in its community is an invitation to reset its mission within the great giftedness of its neighbors, within renewed relationships where stranger become kin, within hopeful healing possibilities. It begins with noticing and listening and then fostering a communal leadership committed to grown and training in these arts.
Read and Reflect: Matthew 9:18-26
Discuss and Reflect:
- What in this reading leads you to say, “I wonder about…?”, or, “I noticed…?”
- Has there been a time in you r life when you felt you could only “touch the hem” of Jesus’ garment – that is, keep to the extreme edges of the church, the body of Christ? Where did you find the courage to seek help? Share your experience.
- Comment on the following: How can our faith communities locate their life and presence in the pain and hunger and life of their neighborhoods so that their neighbors can touch the fringe of the body of Christ?
- In what ways is your congregation involved in the community? Noticing? Listening?
Pray together: Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, but always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. (Commitment, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 86)
The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
In Christ Jesus –
The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada