“A Touch of Transformation”
Mark 5: 24-34; Romans 12:1-2
Rev. Don Ludwig, May 3, 2020
Change and Story of Transformation
“Change alone is unchanging.” That is wisdom from the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. We know that change is inevitable — in our personal lives and in the world. And whether we like the change we are dealing with or hate it, we know, at least intellectually, that change is constant. We are advocates for change — we yearn for transformation toward justice toward all, and yet we also want things to be predictable, knowable, and controllable. We desire change but we also want to be in control. We want both — envisioning a model of the universe that welcomes the new, the different, the creative — yet is not strange and does not make us feel uncomfortable.
It has been quite a year of change for me. I can’t recall any other year having so much drama and crisis and change. As the school year began for me in September 2019, I once again decided to volunteer for my son’s 8th grade 3-day outdoor school camp which was to occur in late October. To be truly honest, I was not looking forward to this experience — in fact, I was dreading it and for good reason.
Two years ago, I volunteered for Tony’s 6th grade OMSI outdoor school — or as I like to refer to it: an outdoor school from hell! I’m not kidding. I have worked with kids and youth for over 30 years now, and this group of 6th graders was the absolute worst I have ever been with. One kid was sent home for urinating on the bus in front of all of the other students — the foul language and disrespect for adults was off the charts — no one followed the rules — two more kids were eventually sent home and subsequently suspended…
In fact, the OMSI camp leaders said that they had never seen anything like it before. Without using so many words, their faces gave it away–these kids were the worst kids they have ever seen. I almost pulled Tony out of Raleigh Hills school because of this experience.
This brings us to last October. They were having trouble finding other adults, so I volunteered for “hell week” once again. This time I knew most of the 60 kids by name because they had become close friends with Tony and I have had about 20 of them over to our house for one reason or the other. Still, I was bracing for the worst. Then it happened — I could not believe my eyes — these were not the same kids from two years ago — something changed — I have never felt more respected and appreciated and included than this group of students made me feel.
My cabin of 10 boys went out of their way to be helpful and resourceful and encouraging. The OMSI camp leaders even— two of them were the same from two years ago—commented on how this was the best group they hosted that year. In two years’ time, this group of kids transformed from the worst to the best!
The Christian Way of Transformation
Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter. As Easter people, we are called to bring down our self-constructed walls and delusions and doubts and believe that transformation is possible. Our Christian way has always been about transformation. When Jesus preached in the synagogue, as we discussed last week, as he came to bring good news to the poor, as he proclaimed freedom to prisoners and released the oppressed – he declared that transformation is possible.
Breaking down social barriers, forgiving our enemies, loving without limit – and even the ultimate story about resurrection – all center around transformation.
And today we have this peculiar story about a bleeding woman who found Jesus in a crowd of people – believing that his touch would bring healing and transformation. And it did. Jesus finds her and says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” We don’t know the cause of her physical bleeding – but we do know what it means to bleed and yearn for wholeness — we know the suffering found in grief and loneliness and despair, we know the deep sadness from a world of injustice and violence and oppression – and like the woman, we seek a change—we seek transformation for ourselves and for our world.
In his book, The Heart of Christianity Marcus Borg writes, “The Christian life should be relational and transformational.” According to Borg, there are really two transformations needed and they are twins. He posits one is personal and spiritual and the other is communal, social, and political. Let me take a brief look at each of them and how they might apply to our lives.
Personal and Spiritual Transformation
This last year of constant change and uncertainties and deep searching in my life have taught me a lot about myself — namely that, transformation begins with me – just like it did for the woman – it wasn’t some miraculous power that Jesus had that healed her – it was her faith in his touch. It was her deep longing and belief that healing was possible – it was her steadfastness and patience and commitment to fight through the crowds to find Jesus – to see God — to risk everything she had in order to become transformed into something new.
Perhaps now is the time to make personal transformation a priority — to commit to journey inward and discover faith anew. Perhaps now is the time to make a change in your life.
- Perhaps you need to let go of some grudge against another person.
- Perhaps you are harboring guilt feelings for some mistake that was made in your life.
- Perhaps you need to expand your horizons and incorporate a new spiritual practice.
- Perhaps you need to go outside of your comfort zone and reach out to someone new or do something you have never done before…
Where do you need a touch of transformation? In what ways are you embracing the change that is all around you? On one of the hikes at Tony’s Outdoor school in October, I had a conversation with one boy named Johnnie. Johnnie was a hellion two years ago – but now he is the sweetest kid that you will find. I asked him what made the change in his life? He said, “well…to be honest, my teachers and people like you, Mr. Ludwig.” He continued, “After what happened two years ago, I would have expected you to never volunteer again. But you never gave up on us and have always been patient and kind no matter what.” One touch — many touches — transformed Johnnie’s whole life. Where do you need a touch of transformation in your life?
A call to Faith that Trusts
As progressive Christians, we also seek communal, social, and political transformation. I not only know all of Tony’s classmates by their first names, I know all of the teachers in his middle school as well. How could a group of 60 sixth graders be transformed from the worst kids to the best kids in just two years? Part of the answer is the teachers and staff who made them their priority. I have been very impressed with how committed they have been to provide a “touch” for every kid they work with and how they developed structures and systems that were inclusive and far-reaching and promoted collective change.
Our world needs those kinds of inclusive practices. We need far-reaching change in our structures and systems that promote justice. Some have suggested that the social and political landscape of America is beyond repair. Maybe it is. But we won’t know if we lack faith.
What I do know is that if we had given up on that group of 6th graders, most likely they would have remained unchanged today!
You’ve probably heard the story of the Chinese farmer and his son. They go into the mountains looking for wood when they find a stallion and capture it. They take it home and the whole village comes to see the wonderful horse. The people of the village congratulate the farmer on his good fortune but the farmer will only say, “maybe good fortune, maybe not.”
One night the stallion escapes. The people of the village all come to console the farmer on his misfortune. Again the farmer only answers, “maybe bad fortune maybe not.” A few days later the horse returns with many other horses. The poor farmer now has many horses. The villagers come by and praise him on his good fortune. But the farmer will only answer, “maybe good fortune maybe not.”
Later that month, the farmer and his son are breaking the horses when one of them throws the son. His arm is broken and he can’t work the horses. He might not be able to work the horses for the rest of the season and the farmer can’t do it himself. The people of the village come and offer condolences on the farmer’s bad fortune. The farmer answers, “maybe bad fortune maybe not.”
Finally, a few weeks later the Emperor’s soldiers come to the village to conscript the young men of the village to serve on the front-lines of war. The farmer’s son is passed over because of the broken arm. The villagers come to the farmer to share his good fortune. But the farmer would only say, “maybe good fortune, maybe not.”
Being passed over from serving on the front lines of war because of a broken arm. We can always count on change in our lives and in our world, but we can’t always know what will be good fortune or what will be bad fortune. We don’t always know if the transformation will be positive or negative. But staying in that place of openness—of not knowing for sure what the outcome will be—yet still moving forward is what faith looks like. It is the kind of faith that trusts. Some of us can look back on a given situation that, with time and perspective can look very different than it did at a time when it was all getting sorted out.
Time of Uncertainty
We are living in times that can feel particularly unsettled. It seems like every day some new challenge surfaces and we are left wanting to sort out truth from lie, hype from reality. And sometimes we find ourselves lost. It may not be at all clear what the way forward looks like. And in these times especially, it is easy to want to respond with cynicism and despair, or perhaps to simply withdraw. But it is at these times, when our lives are most out of order, that we need to trust in something larger than ourselves—it is at these times that we can meander our way through the crowds and touch the cloak of Jesus—and be healed.
Friends, Heraclitus reminded us: “Change alone is unchanging.” Yes. But change, as scary as it might be, can be the source of Christ’s touch of transformation on our lives—and on the world. And for that reason alone—I am learning to welcome change. Just like my son’s group of 60 classmates and his friend Johnnie, and the woman who fought through the crowds to receive Jesus’ touch, we can be transformed too—and by God’s grace, it will be our good fortune.