Sermon ? June 28, 2015
Yesterday morning I woke up and sort of had to look around me to see if the realities of Friday, June 26th had really happened?! Most of us truly believed that the gig against equal marriage was finally over. But, there was no way to know for sure until the Supreme Court under the leadership of three women and two men gave us the push up to the summit and we have now been to the mountain top and we have finally seen the other side. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Our faith goes marching on.
When I had adjusted to the reality of equal marriage yesterday morning I then opened my iPad to the morning news and my heart leaped for joy to see a black woman named Bree climbing the flag pole in Charleston, South Carolina to take down the flag that has long served to promote racism and was still flying high after Friday?s funeral for the Rev. Dr. Clem Pinckney at the Mother Emmanuel AME church. It brought to my mind?s eye that there ought to be a mass of white folks miles long waiting to climb the flag pole to take down that flag. We ought to so overwhelm the police and court system with our civil disobedience until the legislature and the governor of South Carolina in shame take down the flag. I?m just saying, ?I might be gone for the rest of the week.?
On Friday I could scarcely wait for President Obama to bring words of hope and grace to the funeral of Dr. Pinckney The death of Dr. Pinckney and the eight others while at a Bible Study in the church just over a week ago at the hands of an unemployed 21-year-old white man armed with a .45 caliber pistol (which was a compromise for him, for he has said that he wanted something more destructive but was unable to afford the assault rifle that he wanted as he went hunting for black people to shoot). It is about hunting.
I was hunting for something Friday afternoon at the funeral. I?m hesitant to say it after the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality but I attended the funeral by television because I was hunting, I was wanting, I was desiring even more healing than the equal marriage ruling provided.
I read the Bible passages from the Revised Common Lectionary for today, I read them last Monday. I cringed when I read the material from Mark?s Gospel. Both stories are about women and we get so few of them. But, both stories are traditionally presented as magical medical miracles which in our postmodern lives means that as hearers of those words we simply discount them very quickly.
Long before Jesus was ever thought of as the Hebrew Messiah or in the Greek/Roman context, as the Christ, Jesus was known deeply and intimately by those who knew him as a healer, as one who brought healing to circumstances that were an open wound, a problem.
Repeatedly in the religious professional material a significant line is drawn between one who cures diseases and one who brings healing. There are charlatans in every age who claim that they can cure arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But, I would like to seriously suggest that Jesus brought healing to personal and social situations not medical cures. It is not really such a fine line of distinction when we bother to think about it but so often when it comes to our common language use we can get very sloppy and centuries of sloppiness have rendered stories such as these this morning nearly meaningless.
We can today with well learned medical science and practice cure any number of diseases and we have extended life expectancy in ways that are astoundingly wonderful. But the human body condition remains one in which if the brain is without oxygen for two or three minutes, our heart might get restarted but in most cases, in reality, we are functionally dead. Please pull my plug in such a scenario.
Jesus did not cure a dead 12-year-old girl of death. Neither did he stop the bleeding and cure a woman who had been bleeding internally for 12 years. What we are told is that he healed two situations and we are left to have to ponder, without ever knowing, what the circumstances actually were.
Indeed, these two, the young girl and the woman, and those closest to them, at many points must have despaired — not believing that life in all its fullness would ever be theirs again. How this must have been especially true for Jairus once he received news that his daughter had died. Oh, how we are like them — for we — all of us in small towns and cities, in our communities where we all look alike and most certainly in those places where the colors of our skin are more diverse. How we are like them. And yes, it seems to me, we have been hemorrhaging for a whole lot longer than twelve years. And I myself wondered for at least a moment this week if all hope of anything different had finally died.
Didn?t you? I have to combine the two groups right now. Please add in any situations that you want to add into the mix. Just going back to Matthew Shepherd who was brutally murdered out in Wyoming, how many gays kids have been killed, bullied and horribly treated since and before Matthew. If we want to add in the T?s and the B?s and every imaginable combination thereof?..how many trans people have lost hope in our society and more often than not, we don?t see trans people directly murdered, we see them commit suicide because like Jarius? daughter, they are dead before Jesus? healing arrives.
Do Black lives matter? They matter a whole lot to overt white racists. Perhaps they matter more to the overt racists than they do to those of us trying to rise up out of our racism or to those of us who don?t want to admit how much racism is in reality part of our lives.
Do we need metal detectors inside the church doors now? Armed guards? Should only the known be allowed in? Shall black churches ban white people (God knows, white churches banned black folks for long, long years, perhaps this would be a macabre justice).
I think we need to re-read the stories of Jesus and the rabbi?s daughter, Jesus and the bleeding woman, not for the miracle we love so much, but for the survival, and for what it requires of all of us to survive terrible events. Survival is not free, nor is it easy. There is a price to be paid, every survivor of every kind of disaster knows that. Nobody comes through unscathed, not really. We are all marked by what has transpired and will continue to transpire. Marriage equality has come for most but we have all been scarred on the way to this week?s Supreme Court decision. President Obama and the African American community of Mother Emmanuel Church have brought great hope in the midst of that searing tragedy but the horror and the trauma will mark them and us for our lifetimes.
In the Jesus stories this morning I would love to read them as a proto-feminism in the Jesus movement. I doubt it is valid but I can hope. Both stories have issues with blood. A typical 12-year-old Jewish girl would just be having her first menstruation and is ready to be shunned as one who is now dirty, unclean and unfit to ever enter the holy places or serve as leaders in the temple, in the synagogues reserved only for men. As Jesus said to her, ?Young woman, arise!? was he admitting her into wholeness and leadership and saying, ?You need to go on to law school, medical school and be whatever you want?? Perhaps the healing of the story is about how young girls are called to be proud of themselves and certainly not punished and used by patriarchy for simply being their God-given selves. Perhaps that is the healing Jesus was bringing and it has been rendered down through the centuries to being a mere body miracle.
The woman who has been bleeding for twelve years has been shunned, shut out and made a public spectacle for 12 years because of her natural condition. She has probably never married because of her condition, which some would argue could be advantageous except in a patriarchal society where one only has status and value in marriage. There have been many well-penned articles over the past many years questioning why gay men and lesbians would want to be part and parcel of patriarchal marriage arrangements. Was this woman healed by Jesus and readmitted to her society or was she always whispered about, wondered about, not trusted and held suspect. Did she become a leader in the growing Jesus movement whose name and place in the early Jesus movement was conveniently forgotten? I fear that the little girl and this older woman were both saved by Jesus and then eventually forgotten, thrown back away by the men who took control after Jesus? death. I don?t know any of this. I?m just guessing.
Dr. Clem Pinckney was buried yesterday in the warm and red South Carolina soil. I?m sure there were a lot of folks who were glad once he joined his ancestors in the bloody soils of our country. People who do bad things know that we have a tendency to forget, to want to forget horrible tragedies.
In the wake of the Mother Emanuel shootings, will someone step forward, as Lyndon Johnson and Thurgood Marshall did after the deaths of Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as President Obama did to lead us into the kinds of significant changes that mark a new day? Obama has made it very clear that real change, which he supports, starts and happens from the American people. He knows better than most that Congress responds to the leadership of the people, and sadly and tragically Congress takes its cues mainly from the lack of focus of we the people.
Will South Carolina stop flying the Confederate flag, the flag of racism, the flag whose purpose is to remind people of color that they are still not white, and that they have not always been considered fully human?
Will there be more of an effort to identify white haters, or will it be left up to African Americans to try to protect themselves, in church from no-account, angry white men, and on the streets from the police?
Mother Emanuel?s Bible Study and Prayer evening had the same kind of dismal attendance churches are getting all over America ? ten folks came, four of whom were clergy, so six laity came, and then Dylann Roof walked in. Bible study is considered by many a snore, an old ladies? support group. Most clergy struggle with frustration over this modern lack of interest in adult spiritual education. And the numbers are not likely to increase after the Charleston shootings.
Faith without deep study is no more than a longing for miracles, a prayer for protection from storms. How shall we pass on the tradition of faith as the way through fear? Shall faith grow new hope in us, new imagination for who we can become together, in the name of the United States of America and for God?s sake?
How many more GLBTQ and black Americans must die? I fear that we are all too comfortable with their deaths and our lives. Jesus identifies and holds especially close those who have had to die as he did?.unjustly and cruelly. Jesus? life begs us to step up and live most fully so that others can have justice and just enough to survive.
I felt the healing touch of Jesus? robe during the funeral of Rev. Dr. Pinckney on Friday. I felt the rush of God?s love coursing through me who wondered, ?How long, how long? and I heard the refrain, ?If you hear this and act now, Not long.? We have been to the mountain top of awareness not only in regard to equal marriage but also in regard to the horrid reality of our continuing racisms and it is time to walk boldly toward making real the dreams of God through our very real lives.
There should be two toasts at minimum when we leave this sanctuary and go down to glasses of champagne and sparkling grape juice. One in celebration of equal marriage. And then, a second, held perhaps just a bit longer in silence and then taken as a drink of commitment to right the continuing wrongs against people of color in our lives. A third, perhaps, in memory of the lives lost?, centuries of lives lost and our promise that enough is enough and that we will continue to cry out Holy Anger if any dare kill one more child of God because of the color of their skin.