Monday, August 4, 2014

Crossing Boundaries ...a path to a stigma free society Luke 8:40-56 (August 3 2014)

OK you all know I was in Melbourne last week for two conferences.  The first Conference was “Stepping up in faith!” This was put on by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance which is “an international network of churches and Church related organizations committed to helping member organizations and partners strengthen their capacity and engagement to help us all be more effective in speaking out and acting for Justice and Peace”[1]  This was a gathering of religious leaders from all over the world.  Most of us living with or affected by HIV.
The common topic of not just this pre-conference but throughout the WORLDAIDS2014 conference was the end of stigmatization and discrimination. This is why I choose this passage for our reading today.
This Gospel holds, in contrast, two stories that are riddled with the concept of stigma. When you hear the word stigma what thoughts does it bring about? According to the Oxford dictionaries synonyms for the word in the US are “shame, disgrace, dishonor, ignominy, and humiliation”[2] Simply put it is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or Person.”[3]  People are being judged, ostracized, and discriminated against due to something they have no control over.  Yet in these stories those boundaries are crossed again and again.
In the opening we hear of this man named Jairus an official of the synagogue. This was the man who picked the readers and teachers and he made sure all things were done in accordance to the laws.  So what is this saying when a man, in charge of keeping all traditions runs up and kneels before Jesus? In Luke’s Gospel at this point we already know that people are plotting against Jesus.  We know that Jesus is bastard born so he is not one to be seen socializing with.  As matter of fact we have heard in other stories that one from the temple usually sneaks at night to speak with Jesus.
Jairus is willing to cross all boundaries, maybe even break a few laws to save his only daughter. This is a direct contrast to a story in chapter 7 where a widow lost her only son and therefore her only means of support. For a man to lose his only daughter usually was not that important.  This is not a healing of necessity but of love, of compassion. But as Jesus is making his way to Jairus’ house there is an interruption.
A woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years reaches out in faith and touches Jesus.  He is walking with the official of the synagogue when a woman, who has been considered permanently unclean for 12 years now, is brave enough to walk through a tight crowd and touch Jesus. According to Leviticus rules this would make Jesus unclean.  He doesn’t seem concerned about that but he does want to know who touched him.  Peter points out that there are so many people pressing up against them that it could be anyone. Yet Jesus says I felt power leave me.
This woman, an unclean woman, a woman who could not go to temple to pray or make offering, had enough faith that she drew power from Jesus.  Her need to be whole allowed her to receive what she needed without even asking…the first universal healthcare program if you have a need you shall receive care!  Technically this touch, as I said, made Jesus ritually unclean.  Yet this did not concern him.  Jesus proclaims to the woman that her faith has healed her.
He not only announced that her faith had healed her but he took this moment to continue to speak to her and maybe teach and preach. I assume this because the passage says “while he was still speaking someone came from the leader’s house to say “Your daughter is dead: do not trouble the teacher any longer.” (Luke 8:49) 
So Jesus doesn’t just heal and run but minsters to the woman.  During that time of getting to know the unclean woman for scripture says that even after the bleeding ceases there is a period of 7 days until one can return to the temple and make a sacrifice.  Jesus continues to cross those prescribed boundaries.
Jairus’ servant refers to Jesus as teacher. Again this says to me that Jairus must have had a huge amount of respect for Jesus for even those of his household referred to him as the teacher in spite of the rules and stigma of Jesus’ heritage. Then Jesus walks into the Leaders house still ritually unclean and takes the hand of the dead girl. Now Numbers 19:11 says “whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.” So again he ignores ritual laws and crosses the boundary of that stigma and he is laughed at.  Not for crossing a boundary for simply stating that what all believe to be true is not true.  Once her spirit has returned to her he orders them to give her something to eat. 
“Give her something to eat.”  A simple enough command and it makes sense since she had been sick for a while so she probably had nothing to eat for a while.  But this simple phrase marks the end of the events.  Everyone is in awe and he orders them to tell no one but the finality of all the boundaries and laws that were crossed, crossed again, violated and ignored for the sake of compassion and faith, ends with a meal.
Here at this table as we gather for our sacred symbolic meal, which we understand means something different for each person as they come forward, yet each and every one is welcome to come freely.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.  Yet as we know from just watching the news there are so many places where this is not true yet.
Yet we ourselves probably hold certain groups of people as less than.  Not because we think we are better but because it has been so ingrained in our society that certain people and their choices which place them at risk for HIV/AIDS are less than.
Can you think of any group who we here in the US still criminalize?  Who we, as a society, consider to be okay to marginalize.  I met sex workers, IV drug users, Transgender men who have sex with men.  All who live on the margins of society?  All because of who they are have limited if no access to literature, counseling, or medical care.
There are places in this world where it is punishable by death to be gay.  There are 81 countries that have anti-homosexuality laws still on the books and that includes the United States.  As of May 16th we knew of 102 people who were in prison for being gay and 75 more awaiting trial.
There are faith based organizations who infiltrate countries pretending to promote God’s love and yet fuel hate.  They teach abstinence, faithfulness and, maybe, condom if one can’t be faithful this method called ABC has proven to be a complete failure... The belief if you have AIDS it is Gods punishment even if you are born with it is still being taught in some places.  Children denied access to medication and/or school for the belief that it was their mothers own fault that they contracted HIV.
I have become part of an organization known as INERELA+.  This “is an international network of religious leaders - lay and ordained, women and men – living with, or personally affected by HIV.”[4]  They have an education tool kit on their website that uses a more empowering program.  The acronym is S.A.V.E. which means Safer Practices, access to treatment, voluntary and confidential and regular testing, and empowerment.[5]
At this moment I wrote this activists were fighting Uganda’s anti-gay laws in the constitutional court.  They have won on a technicality. The man who promoted such a law, Scott Lively, has been brought up on human rights violations by a Ugandan civil rights group and is awaiting trial in a Massachusetts court. In Ibiza Spain the sex workers have formed a union which allows them “to obtain work permits, pay taxes, reap the benefits of Healthcare, pension and get their first credit cards.”[6]   This allows them access to testing not just for HIV but all STD’s as well as hep c and TB.
I heard stories of how IV drug users who were in recovery due to a wonderful program had gone back to work and were supporting their families in Crimea but when Russia came in all the programs stopped. You see due to ignorance, stigma and fear, Russia outlaws the very drugs that help addicts to recover and move away from addiction.  According to Bloomberg report; “Among the top 20 global economies, only India, with a population almost nine times bigger than Russia’s 143 million, has more people living with HIV.”[7]  All because of Ignorance and stigmatization.
The future of HIV reduction and a better world is if we can teach everyone that there are no need for boundaries.  If the world could only say no matter who you are or where you are on life’s Journey you are welcome here.  Then to look into our neighbors eyes, the most marginalized, the most scared and frail and say what can I do to help you make your life better. For these lessons, these lessons of love and acceptance can only come from within their own culture and their own community otherwise it is just the west imposing their liberal beliefs upon them.
 So From her all we can do is continue to cross the boundaries we can.  Reach out to the homeless, the less fortunate and offer care and compassion.  Offer our resources to empower a place to improve its facility so that it can make better use of its resources.  Become involved in any one of the many ministry opportunities throughout the UCC.  Whenever you get a chance in the Name of Christ…Break a boundary.  Amen.

[1]. Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, about, (accessed July 30, 2014).
[2]. Oxford dictionary, US synonyms, (accessed July 30, 2014).
[3]. Oxford dictionary, Stigma, (accessed July 30, 2014).
[4]. Inerela+, INEREALA+ Positive Faith in action, (accessed July 3, 2014).
[5]. Inerela+, SAVE Toolkit, (accessed July 3, 2014).
[6]. Nadja Sayej, Ibiza's sex workers have formed Spain's First Prostitution union, -union (accessed July 30, 2014).
[7]. Simon Bennett and Stephen Kravchenko, HIV Epidemic Plagues Russia, www.russia-hiv-surge-shows-sochi (accessed July 30, 2014).

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