Readings: Mark 5:25-34 and “The History of Bleeding” by Katie Manning; Psalm 103:1-6 and “First Blood” by Katie Manning
Sermon by Kayla Berkey
A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched his clothes in hope of a cure. Jesus turned to her and said: “Fear not. Because of your faith, you are now healed.”
Then spoke the Pious Politician: “But teacher, is that wise? When you cure her, she learns dependency. Then the poor won’t take care of themselves, knowing that you’ll always bail them out! You must teach them personal responsibility!”
They were interrupted by 10 lepers who stood at a distance and shouted, “Jesus, have pity on us.”
“NO!” shouted the Pious Politician. “Jesus! You don’t have time. We have a cocktail party fund-raiser in the temple. And don’t worry about them — they’ve already got health care access.”
Jesus turned to the Pious Politician, puzzled.
“Why, they can pray for a cure,” the Pious Politician explained. “I call that universal health care access.”
Jesus turned to the 10 lepers. “Rise and go,” he told them. “Your faith has made you well.”
This is from a column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof that went viral several months ago. He uses a specific politician’s name. I think there are plenty of people whose names could be filled in there.
We’re here this morning with our lovely bodies that are created in God’s image. Some of our bodies have health challenges. Many of us take medications and get regular care for our bodies. And several of us in this congregation are doctors, nurses, therapists, healthcare workers who have spent time dedicated to healing others. Our bodies are beautiful, and when we come into this church space, we are always bringing our bodies with us.
So we have healthcare–the system that cares for our bodies. I work at a nonprofit called Consumer Health Coalition. I started there in 2014 as a Health Care Navigator, right at the beginning of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare/ACA). My job was created by this law to ensure that there would be people working on the ground to implement the new policy and help translate it into people’s lives.
I started this job in a time of excitement to see a step forward in making health care more accessible for more people. And like many of us who do work in health policy and advocacy, we hoped (and still hold out hope) that this would be a step toward universal health care.
The Woman with the Issue of Blood
Let’s look at the woman in the Bible who was bleeding. It says that she spent all she had on doctors. To relate this with current times in 2010, healthcare was the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in this country and responsible for more collections even than credit cards.
This woman who was bleeding had suffered a great deal. Instead of getting better, she got worse. Because she was bleeding, the Jewish legal code of the day would have considered her unclean and untouchable.
She bled for twelve years. Bleeding is an experience that many of our bodies know in monthly cycles like in the poem read earlier (by Katie Manning):
A dark tide pool
from the center–
a red sun rises
where life begins.
But this woman started bleeding and didn’t stop. Biblical scholars assume she had a hemorrhage of some sort, a fancy word to say she had an abnormal flow of blood.
And when she touched Jesus, he paid attention. He started looking for her. He looked around the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?”
The disciples were all like “It’s crowded. You see all the people. Why would you even ask? It’s just the crowd.”
But Jesus insisted on looking through the crowd until he found the ill woman who no one in society was supposed to touch.
He called her “daughter.” He said “you are healed.” And he never even asked for a premium or a copayment.
If we look at modern-day women’s health before the ACA, we had a system that would have labeled this woman who was bleeding as having a pre-existing condition and being a woman and insurance companies could refuse to cover her care and doctors could refuse to see her without insurance, and even in 2013, she might still be bleeding too long.
Women’s Health Before the ACA
In my work as a Health Care Navigator, I recently helped a woman get a kind of free health coverage from our state Medicaid that exists specifically for lower income women who are pregnant. This was a lovely woman who visited me several times and gave me updates on the baby’s progress. This woman came back to me with the devastating news that she had experienced a miscarriage–a truly sad loss. Her pressing question was–when are they taking away my health insurance? Will they even cover the hospital bills?
This shouldn’t have to be anyone’s primary concern, let alone someone grieving such a loss from her family and her body.
Before the ACA, only 12% of individual insurance plans covered maternity care. Just to point out what seems obvious, literally every person benefits from maternity care.
Before the ACA, insurance companies used underwriting to deny women coverage or give them high premiums for “pre-existing conditions” like having had a cesarean delivery, a history of breast cancer, or medical treatment for domestic or sexual violence.
This happened not just for women, but for anyone who had ever been treated for all kinds of conditions.
We Need Just Laws
Together with the other Health Care Navigators I work with, we’ve sat down with thousands of people who need health coverage, and each person has an important story. It might be someone starting their own business. It might be someone seeking to go to drug and alcohol rehab. It might be someone with a child with a disability who requires in-school treatment that private insurance plans don’t cover but Medicaid does.
There is so much variety in the needs we have for taking care of ourselves. In doing this work of helping people navigate the broken healthcare system, I have met people who are still getting lost in the crowd. We are called to heal people, and to heal this system.
So l must say–though it is the reason I have this job, I don’t endorse the ACA as perfect. It’s not.
But when executives and corporations and politicians are prioritizing profit over people in our health care system, where our bodies and well-being should be the focus, it becomes just to work for laws that interrupt these unjust practices. It becomes just to protect our bodies, each one made in the image of God.
The ACA is the first time that federal law broadly prohibited sex discrimination in health care. This includes women and it also protects people who are transgender, ensuring that the law protects them for getting appropriate care whether or not it aligns with the gender written in their records.
These protections are vital to extending healing with equity to all.
Certain populations have historically experienced discrimination and exclusion in the health care system. This includes people of color and people with low incomes, who, studies show, often face increased barriers to getting care, receive poorer quality care, and experience worse health outcomes.
A Parable of a Canoe
Last week I borrowed a friend’s canoe and went out with my sister on the Allegheny River. Having been on a larger boat before, I noticed that there are some considerable differences in being on a canoe.
In a small canoe on a large river, you’re far more subject to the conditions around you. All you’ve got is this little paddle, and if you want to move forward, you have to work pretty hard. When it rains, you get wet. When a large boat goes by you, you get hit by their wake. It might splash you, carry you away, maybe even tip you if it hits at the wrong time.
While we were on this little canoe, it started raining. The rain was cold, so we paddled as hard as we could to get beneath the 16th St. Bridge. This kept us dry for a bit, but the current kept pushing us back into the rain.
We paddled up next to one of the pillars under the bridge that was built from textured stone blocks, and we grasped onto the grooves in the stone with our fingertips. We stayed clinging there for probably about 15 minutes until it stopped raining. And when a big boat came speeding toward us, we were scared. The people in that boat had their roof keeping them dry, their motor making them fast, and their large boat that elevated them above the water so we didn’t even know if they could see us.
The current of our health care policies and laws are important because they impact people in all positions, but they can sure can hit the people in the canoes a whole lot harder. This disconnect in healthcare is when some who are ultra wealthy and have power, speed by on their giant boats and–I really haven’t figured it out–they are either not seeing the people clinging to the side getting hit by their wake, or they refuse to recognize those people as important.
And I’m pointing at the wealthy and those in power and saying “they,” but whenever we are in positions of privilege, we also must pay attention to the wakes that we make, impacting others.
The GOP Health Bill
The health bill that was recently passed through the house is now in the senate with so many different versions that even the Republican Senators are confused, but they still plan to vote on a bill this week. With these bills, thousands of people would die, 22 million would lose coverage, everyone would lose protections, and billionaires would get tax breaks. $700,000 billion to the richest. Reverand William Barber is one of the current faith leaders in health care advocacy who I truly admire so I’m using his phrasing here:
This would be one of the largest transfers of wealth on the backs of the bodies of the poor since slavery.
Health care is not a right vs. left political issue, it’s a right vs. wrong moral issue. We are not being partisan when we demand justice and healing for the sick. We are listening to the call of Jesus.
Our Call in Health Care
The political pundits often focus on questions like “how will this effect the next election?” And “Which amendments will convince certain legislators to pass this bill?”
These are interesting questions, but they are not our fundamental questions as people of faith and moral commitment.
Our starting point is different. We begin with the task of taking care of each other, especially the poor and vulnerable. We come to politics with these questions (suggested by faith leader Jim Wallis): “how will these decisions impact real people?” “Will this legislation mean there are people who are too poor to be healthy?” “How do we change a mindset that views health care as a commodity and not a human right?” “How do we follow the example of Jesus who spent time healing the people most cast-out by society?”
We work to accept each other, love one another, and heal one another. We continue the task of those who came before us toward building the beloved community.
What Can We Do?
So what are some things we can do? That’s always the question in advocacy. I’ve got some practices to suggest. They come from Sister Simone Campbell, the leader of a group called Nuns on the Bus who toured the country for years committed to preaching social justice.
If we spend too much time watching the news and on Facebook and getting upset and feeling hopeless, and then we tell people to join us, why would they want to? Practice focusing on the positive places, the hopeful vision that our community is working toward. We have an inspiring message to contradict the negativity.
Have a holy curiosity.
When people want to tell their stories, listen. It is a holy discipline to hold back when you have something to say and instead really listen to someone else’s point of view, especially when it’s very different than yours. It is holy work to show someone that they are heard.
Use sacred gossip.
Share what you’ve learned. Share your own story. Talk about issues like health care and how they impact people as a tool for creating empathy and attention in yourself and in others. We can’t all know everything, so we have to learn from each other.
Do your part.
You can’t do everybody’s part or tell someone else what their part shoule be, but you probably should do something. Figure out what that might be. Perhaps a ritual of calling your legislator at 9am every Tuesday morning, maybe 9pm if you would rather leave a voicemail. Trust that others are doing what you can’t. If we’re working in community, it will get done.
And I ask you to do this:
Continually question any wakes you might be making for others, and devote your prayerfulness and mindfulness to those whose bodies are on the line, those who have the most to lose in this legislation, the very people that Jesus loves: people with disabilities, children with disabilities, people with acute or chronic illnesses, people of color, people who are LGBTQ, people with low incomes, people who are elderly, people who have addictions, people who are women, people who are immigrants, the intersections of identities, people who I haven’t named.
We are all people with beautiful bodies made in the divine image of God. May we commit to the sacred work of healing one another.