Lord make us masters of ourselves, that we may become the servants of others: take our minds and think through them, take our lips and hands and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen. 

I want to thank Dean Chris, Rupert Lang and the Cathedral choir for pulling together a full complement of voices for today’s service. We’ve missed this. Welcome back servers, greeters, readers, and intercessors---it is so good to see lay leadership filling back in as we return to in-person worship. And hello to everyone tuning in to the sermon from home. 

Yvette Flunder, a bishop with the United Church of Christ---she has a book called Where the edge gathers. It’s about radical inclusion in the church. She talks about what happens when people are forced by the dominant society to live on the margins. She observes how people develop community there “while exposed ---naked, with their marginality in full view---often learning to celebrate [in places of exclusion] the very thing that separates them from the dominant culture.” 

She describes a trip to South Africa where she was invited to attend a gospel music concert. A “pastor joined the singers and danced in traditional Zulu dress, with his full torso and legs completely exposed.” She writes that “It was a powerful moment of identity for the largely Zulu audience. They had found renewed life in the very thing the colonizer [had] called heathen, primitive, and barbaric.”

There is beauty and there is power, according to Bishop Flunder, in those places where the edge gathers. 

Just before the pandemic began, I was planning for my wedding. I had gone to a seamstress to see about altering a dress that a dear friend had given to me. My friend is tall, gorgeous, 6 ft 2, and she had given me her lace wedding gown made by a New York designer. Wanting to make use of this extraordinary gift, and knowing that I wasn’t about to be 6 ft 2 anytime soon, I took it to this seamstress to see about shortening the length. 

The seamstress, Fatima is her name, she looked at me, she looked at the dress, and she said, “I’m so sorry but I cannot alter this dress.” And she went on to explain how the shape of the dress came from the bottom up. Changing the hem would alter the whole structure of the garment. It was where the bottom of the dress gathered that was important. This is where its wearer would draw the dress’s beauty and form. 

There is beauty and there is power where the edge gathers.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus and his disciples have gone to a deserted place. They’ve gone to a place on the edge of town, away from the centre, away from the action, to rest. But when they get there, they find that a whole crowd of people have gone ahead of them and are waiting. They’ve gathered there on the fringes and the text tells us that “Jesus had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Clearly there was community in this crowd. Clearly there was something that was binding them together like a herd of sheep, but the resources that were benefiting the dominant society somehow weren’t finding their way into the lives of these folks. The leaders and policy makers, the shepherds of this dominant society, had neglected to tend to this flock. So while they are living at the heart of the city, while they are showing up in marketplaces and in religious centres, they are being treated as though they belong on the margins. So they make their way, they have no choice but to make their way, out of the centre to the place where the edge gathers.

And here’s the really beautiful imagery in this story: Wherever Jesus went, people laid their sick before him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe, even the edge, of his cloak. And all who touched it were healed.

The people who come to Jesus have faith, that, if they who have been pushed to the fringes, can touch even the fringe of Jesus’ robe they will be healed. 

Let me say it again.

The people who come to Jesus have faith, that, if they who have been pushed to the fringes, can touch even the fringe of Jesus’ robe they will be healed. 

What are those places, people of Christ Church Cathedral, where your edges gather? Where is it that you have been pushed to the fringes? Where is it that you are pushing others to the fringes?

There is beauty and power where the edge gathers. There is real community on the margins. There are sheep without a shepherd on the fringes. And sometimes, when we try to just remove the fringes, hem the edges, bring the length up, we risk ignoring the way people who have been marginalized contribute to the beauty and structure of the whole.

Now, because I know y’all well I’m going to say this next piece. There are some of us who will think immediately of “those on the margins” as the people out there. Make no mistake, there is a lot of work to do in raising up shepherds, recognizing leaders who are already at work in communities and neighbourhoods that have historically been pushed out. And, I’m talking about the fringes ‘out there’ as much as I’m talking about the fringes ‘in here.’ What are those fringe places inside of you? Those parts of your life that leave you feeling pushed to the edge? Is it that time seems to speed up on the other side of 70 and all of a sudden your mortality is a current event? Is it that you’ve worked your whole life to master a career only to realize that if you want to connect with the next generation, you might have to take a seat as a student and learn from them? Is it that when you walk into a church these days, you don’t see anybody your age and you start to realize pretty quickly that if you want to be in community, your friendship circles might have to include elders? 

What are those places where you find yourself running for the margins, pushed out of the centre? Do you have faith to reach out and touch even the fringes of the community in front of you? You might just experience healing.

Oh, there is beauty and there is power where the edge gathers. Oh, there is healing when our marginality is in full view and we learn to celebrate the very thing that separates us from the dominant society. 

Jesus is a ‘fringes’ kind of a God. So we ought to be a ‘fringes’ kind of a people.