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COPPER COINS AND THE JESUS MOVEMENT

COPPER COINS AND THE JESUS MOVEMENT

 

REV. JODI BARON – November 8, 2015 – Pentecost 24, Year B: Mark 12:38-44

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” In the name of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Has everyone adjusted to the Time Change yet? I think all of our clocks have been updated by now, but this time change thing takes weeks for the kids (and me) to adjust to, and the morning end of it is usually the tougher part. I think every morning this week I woke up in a panic thinking I was late, which was going to make my kids late, and on and on and on.

I didn’t feel that so much this weekend thought, which was a good thing.

I felt more like I was in a space suspended by time.

That’s kind of what our Diocesan Convention ends up feeling like, to me, each time I go. The rhythm is different than the business I take care of during the week, the prayer is different, the worship is different, and the company is different.

You see, our convention is a time when once a year we get together, as a Diocese, to talk about the work of the church in our area. We elect members to serve on particular committees to carry out the work of convention in between conventions.

And all of the sudden the body of Christ which is The Episcopal Church in Western Michigan becomes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than this assembled body here present. There are delegates from every congregation from Niles up to Petosky.

This year we met in Grand Rapids.

I won’t share with you all the details of what happened, but I encourage you to seek out your representatives or any of your clergy and ask us about what we did.

I will share with you, however, a few highlights, because there was a lot said, a lot done, at convention.

Our guest speaker this year was +Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky. +Stacy and his wife were the ones who developed the Reading Camp program that has made its way into a few different congregations within our diocese, as a way to carry out the mission of our church.

(To learn more about our Diocesan Reading Camp click here)

He was invited, however, to speak to convention because of his unique take on the sacraments. Specifically a sacrament many of us may have felt in our hearts but rarely has it ever been talked about in the way sacraments are.

I’m talking about the sacrament of the poor. (To read about this concept in more detail and what +Stacy says about it specifically see here)

Our diocese, indeed the Episcopal Church in general, has a built-in reaction to hunger in our world that manifests through various feeding programs all over the world. In our diocese alone there is everything from daily breakfast and lunch meal programs that serve free meals to anyone who is hungry.

We have food pantries for families and individuals who need a little extra help to get them through the month.

We have baby pantries to help low-income moms with diapers, clothes, books, food, formula, and car seat safety checks!

I could go on and on and on…

Our own parish, as you know, is deeply committed to this issue of hunger in our area, through our food distribution program on the second Thursday of every month, Feeding America.

And let’s not forget what we do every Sunday in virtually every Episcopal Church everywhere…

Eucharist.

The Great Thanksgiving.

Mass.

Communion.

What we are doing today isn’t the end of what we do and who we are as a part of the body of Christ.

But it is where we receive the instituted sacrament of God’s body and blood in the form of a meal, bread and wine.

This sacrament, set within the context of a liturgy that moves us from the collected body to the sent body, is the sign God has given us to reflect the inward and spiritual grace given to us once and for all on that hill 2,000 years ago.

The sent body.

Not the stay-put body.

Not the do-nothing body.

The sent body.

Because at the end of the service, as +Stacy pointed out to us, we are dismissed to go out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, or to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, or to go forth in the name of Christ.

In our prayer books, there’s a little word next to the liturgical minister who is to do the dismissal.

In our bulletins it reads “Priest” because that’s who you have, but the prayer book intends for this job, the sending out into the world part, to be done by a Deacon.

The order within our church who is charged with having a particular care and passion for the poor and needy of our communities, who brings those needs to us, proclaims the Gospel for the context with which to read these needs, and then pushes us back out there…to be the body and blood of Jesus…out there!

That particular passion for the poor is what + Stacy was addressing to our convention.

And he equated it with a sacrament because he said that in the poor, we are graced with the spiritual presence of Christ.

That the poor are outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace, just like eucharist.

Just like baptism.

And the poor, in this morning’s gospel, was also a widow.

In both parts of the reading we heard Jesus draw attention to the particular circumstance of the widow. In the first part we heard Jesus tell the crowd to beware of the Scribes who like to wear long robes and say long prayers and they devour widows’ houses. In the second we heard him draw a contrast to the “large sums” being given by the wealthy and the two copper coins given by the widow, which was all she had.

In both parts, Jesus seems to be drawing attention to something that is not seen on the outside of the person, but is a matter of the heart.

That it’s the intention behind the giving that matters not the amount.

He is drawing attention to an inequity in the sacrifice offered by the rich vs. the poor.

Now I am quite aware of this topic being one of great uncomfortability. Money is not something that most people like to talk about. And yet, money is addressed in scripture more than any other topic facing the human condition.

Why is that?

I have a suspicion that the reason Jesus takes on money is because of how important it is to know where your heart is about it.

The religious leaders, in Jesus’ story this morning, were the worst offenders of promoting an unjust system that capitalized on the plight of the poor, specifically the widows of the community.

And the wealthy temple goers were making a big notice of how much they were pouring into the alms boxes.

I picture them bring large jars filled with their offering and then slowly pouring the coins out so that each one hits the ones below with particular attention drawn, proving they are generous beyond measure, right?

And then the poor widow quietly, unsuspectingly, puts in her two copper coins, which together amount to a penny.

What can you do with a penny, is what most people say, right?

But that’s the thing that this Jesus movement is trying to counter!

When we all put our two copper coins (meaning the giving of our full tithe, which is the percentage that scripture teaches is the sacrificial threshold) together…we’ve got some serious resources to do some serious mission in the world!

So, Grace, who might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to be for Holland?

Who might be the widow that Jesus is drawing the attention of his disciples to take note of?

Who might Jesus be warning the masses to beware of due to their exploitative practices?

Who might she be inviting us to be for this bigger thing we’re a part of as a diocese, global church and worldwide anglican communion?

+Whayne told convention this weekend that the Jesus Movement, ++Michael Curry is talking about, is like a dance that we’ve all been invited to join in with.

All of us, with our two copper coins giving our all to participate in the sacraments of the church and help to change the world.

We’ve got work to do, Grace. So let’s go!

The gritty, incarnational, completely provocative Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Mark.

Sermon by The Rev. Jodi L. Baron -September 6, 2015 -Pentecost 15, Year B: Mark 7:24-37

When I was in high school (or maybe even middle school), we were required to take some sort of public speaking course; either debate or maybe shakespeare?

 

I believe those were my two choices.

 

Being the shy, introverted young woman I was at the time, I almost got physically ill contemplating having to “debate” another human being!

I hated arguments, disagreements, anything that involved one person winning and another person losing.

 

Anyway, over the years I’ve had to rethink what “debate” means, in its context of oral traditions and speaking styles.

 

While you still won’t see me sign up to become Holland High’s Debate coach, I have grown to appreciate a well developed argument. One that is civil and organized and has a clear outcome, not necessarily win or lose, but maybe.

 

This morning’s gospel had an epic debate scene.

Did you hear it?

Everything introducing it was setting the stage to highlight how out of place this woman was for even speaking to a Jewish man, let alone the Son of Man, who came for Israel.

Everyone knew this.

 

I like the account given us in Mark about this woman because it’s clean and simple and direct.

We don’t hear about the woman being overcome with emotions and wailing about causing a ruckus to win an audience with Jesus,

but instead, we see this very simple, confident, witty mom approaching this man whom she’d heard heals all sorts of ailments.

 

So unencumbered by social customs and thoughts of what her elders would think of her if they knew she spoke to this Jesus, she fell at his feet, we read. Desperate for healing for her daughter who was far away and had an unclean spirit.

Both of them unnamed. Both of them whom had no place in that room.

 

When she approached Jesus and began to beg him to heal her daughter, what happened next was unnerving.

I find myself, each time I hear this story in the context of Holy Eucharist, being very unsettled with how he spoke to her.

 

Calling her a dog.

 

This, the Jesus we proclaim as our God and Lord.

This, the Jesus we come to the table to receive his gift of bread & wine.

This, the Jesus who is all God and all Human.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I read about Jesus being a downright Jerk, that gets me a little edgy.

I don’t want to think about Jesus being a jerk. Do you?

 

And yet, Mark gives it to us. Right there, in black and white.

 

Jesus calls this desperate woman…a dog!

“Let the children (Israel) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (Gentiles).”

 

Just incase you were tempted to soften this exchange, like I have done, from what I could find, the word Jesus used in this passage could not have been mistaken as a dearly beloved house pet.

 

In fact, I read that this same word was used in six other places throughout scripture (both in the Hebrew text as well as the Greek); 1 Samuel 17:43, Proverbs 26:11, Ecclesiastes 9:4, Isaiah 56:9-12, Matthew 7:6, and Philippians 3:2). In all of these other places, this word was used to insult someone, to denigrate those to whom it was used.

 

Jesus was rebuking this woman for daring to ask for healing of her daughter when he was clearly sent to the children of Israel first.

 

Wow!

 

Some scholars have called this episode a miracle. The miracle of “the overcoming of prejudice and boundaries that separate persons.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)

 

Jesus. The Son of Man. Fully Human in this scene, not yet transfigured. (That happens in Chapter 9).

 

But right here. In this pericope. We see Jesus subjected to the same prejudices and boundaries we find ourselves amidst to this day.

 

And this woman. This woman with no name. She dared to go toe-to-toe with Jesus in this argument.

 

And she won. She jolted Jesus from his complacency, apathy, and prejudice; “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

 

Indeed, this woman, this unnamed woman is being elevated for her ability to stand up to Jesus and say, “Do you hear what you are saying? I, too, have come for healing. Even if it’s only a crumb!”

 

Wake up Jesus, “the dogs under the table are within the household; the are not strangers to the family.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)

 

The next scene is equally provocative, in my mind. We read that Jesus was again brought to him someone in need of healing. “A deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.”

 

Jesus, we read, “took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.”

 

This morning we have in one story Jesus performing healing from so far a distance that no one, not even the person requesting the healing for someone else, is touched. They merely exchange words, they debate, she wins, daughter is healed. end of story.

 

In the other we see Jesus taking that same energy, that same audacity that he learned from the woman, and performing a healing that is profoundly, uncomfortably, physical, close, human, tactile.

 

Some translations use the word “thrust” instead of “put” when describing how Jesus’ fingers wound up in another person’s ears!

 

And again we hear Jesus speaking an Aramaic command “Ephphatha” (ef-fath-ah)…Be opened.” as he did with Jairus’ daughter “Talitha cum” “Get up.”

 

“Get up, be opened.”

 

I like the gospel of Mark’s portrayal of the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s gritty. It’s messy. It’s incarnational; fleshy and divine. It starts in the middle and ends with an empty tomb.

 

I wonder if this morning’s gospel is inviting us to be more bold. To be bold in how we approach Jesus, our faith, our story, and our song.

 

I wonder if we are being invited to “be opened” to the ways in which the spirit is moving about going toe-to-toe with prejudices and biases that lead to divisions among persons, in our lives.

 

Let us pray.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

 

I’ll have a Markan Sandwich, hold the meat.

The Rev. Jodi L. Baron –  July 19, 2015 – Proper 11, Year B: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about sandwiches this week.

 

I love a good sandwich.

 

Right now, my favorite has been smoked turkey with avocado, lettuce, tomato, a little aioli on multi-grain bread.

 

The kind of bread that has flecks of seeds and grains embedded right into every bite.

 

The kind of bread that makes you hungry smelling it bake.

 

Judging by its central role in our sacrament of Communion, I think Jesus must have liked bread a lot too.

 

There are two parts about this mornings text that have to do with bread.

 

One part is the giant void of one of the greatest stories in Mark (the feeding of the 5,000) that we didn’t read (verses 35-44). The one where his disciples beg him to dismiss the people so they can go get something to eat and he says to them, “You feed them!” (I love that part)

 

So they manage to gather up 5 loaves and 2 fish and Jesus turned that into enough to feed all who were gathered, so much so that there were 12 baskets of leftovers.
I bet that bread tasted amazing to those folks gathered on that hillside to hear Jesus teach.

I bet their tummies rumbled in anticipation when they heard Jesus give God thanks.

 

 

Then there’s the other part about bread. It’s not actually in the text but more about the text.

 

 

Mark is well known for his literary style of “sandwich” stories. We heard one a few weeks ago with the Temple Leader and the Hemorrhaging Woman.

 

Today’s reading is also one of those sandwich stories. Only without the turkey and avocado and all the fixin’s.

 

Today’s story was just the bread of the sandwich.

 

I like to look at in context of what is coming down the pike in our lectionary over the next 5 weeks.

 

You see, after today we’re taking a little break from Mark. Well, not really a break…more of a zooming in on the contents between the pieces of hearty bread.

 

Over the next few weeks our lectionary will move us into John where we will hear about the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on water by Jesus, but told for the community that were a part of John.

 

And, oddly enough, Mark’s version of these two miracles doesn’t actually get read when we’re together on Sunday. Not once in all three years.

 

I invite you, therefore, good Gracians, to take up your bibles at home and read verses 35-52 about these two miracles and then come back and see if you notice anything when it’s read from the Gospel according to John.

 

But back to today’s daily bread.

 

There is a lot in these two pieces of bread, even without the fixin’s.

 

Take, for example, the two words that leaped from the page for me;

 

Compassion and Touch.

 

Compassion he showed first to his disciples in seeing their need for refueling and second on the massive crowds that continued to swarm them desperate for healing.

 

Touch recalling the same desperation and faith of those reaching their hands toward Jesus as the woman who was hemorrhaging in the story we heard a few weeks ago.

 

The text tells us that Jesus had invited his disciples to “Come away” for a while to a deserted place so they could rest. Catch their breath. Maybe even catch a few fish.

 

But they couldn’t. As soon as they got on the boat, we read that they were “recognized” and the crowds hurried on foot to meet them.
Word was spreading about Jesus and his disciples. People were hearing what he was doing; touching people and allowing them to touch him.

 

They figured they could use some healing too.
In fact, in this story, the people seemed to be so determined to meet him that they forgot to bring any food with them, and they stayed there all day long, so long that the markets had closed.

 

But Jesus, seeing the great crowd had compassion for them.

 

Sympόnia.

 

It means sympathy, charity, fellow feeling, or commiseration.

 

This is the introduction we are invited into to prepare our hearts for the miracles about to take place.

 

And then the begging comes in. The masses keep bringing their sick on mats to wherever he was so that they might just touch “even the fringe of his cloak” and be healed.

 

“Just a touch, Jesus.” A father says. “I’m not asking you to come with me to where my daughter lies. I’ll carry her to you because I recognize you! You’re the one who heals people even if they only touch the hem of your clothing. I know that if my daughter touches just the hem, she will be made well.”

 

What faith!

 

What courage!

 

What strength these people showed!

 

“And all who touched (the fringe of his cloak) were healed.”

 

 

The God of all of creation, became vulnerable to take on our flesh, so that we might touch the hem of the clothes that he wore and experience healing.

 

The kind of healing that no human can provide.

 

The kind of wholeness that only comes from a relationship with God and in community.

 

The kind of healing that comes from showing up and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through your brothers and sisters so that together we can heal the world.

 

May we be those places where the crowds can bring their wounds to be healed by the balm of Jesus. In the breaking of the bread, in the sipping of the wine, in the prayers of our people.

 

May we have the strength and courage to bring our own wounds and fears and hopes and dreams to the God who has compassion on his creation.

 

Strength in Need

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams-  July 12, 2015 – Proper 10, Year B: Mark 6:14-29

So I have managed through over twenty-one years of preaching in this place to have never preached on this gospel passage.  And I consider that one of my greatest scheduling victories.  Now this story only comes up in this form once every three years so I’ve only had to avoid it about seven times, but I’ve managed until now.  This congregation has heard Tom, Bill, Henry and Dennis preach on this gospel at least once each and this morning I offer my apologies to both Jodi and Christian for not offering either of them this “learning opportunity.”  Somehow in the midst of General Convention’s calendar and the Barons’ vacation timing, I slipped in what I’ve relied on as my scheduling mastery.  And so here we are with John the Baptist’s head on a platter and me here in pulpit, praying with hopes of avoiding a similar fate.

It is without argument a horrible story. We’d all avoid it if we could. It’s a horrible end to a powerful prophet’s life. But often stories like John the Baptist’s do end this way and I actually think that’s what we need to wrestle with this morning.  Prophets’ stories, at least in a temporal sense, rarely have a happy ending.

And this theme of the lives and deaths of prophets has been in the air now for a couple of weeks.  Last Sunday we heard our Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry preach his closing sermon from General Convention, but the gospel passage that day was about prophets and it was about how prophets can’t be heard in their hometowns.  Even Jesus “had no power” when he preached in his own family’s synagogue, the gospel said.  He was stripped of something there.  And then this week we heard about the death of John the Baptist who had already been stripped of his freedom.  He was in jail the story recalled.  And then from there John was stripped of his life.  Now he was killed for complicated reasons, the gospel said, but they all had to do with John’s speaking the prophetic truths that he’d been given to speak.

So prophets are powerless at home and they’re often destined to meet a painful end. But we need prophets and they play a critical role in the unfolding of the story of God’s people. And so this morning I want us to ask two questions about prophets:  First, if you’re called to be one, what keeps you grounded and strong?  What keeps you going if you’re a prophet?  And then second, how can we be open to receive prophets in our church, in our world better than we tend to do.

First the question about grounding and strength.  What (given other attractive options like “keeping quiet”) what keeps a prophet going?

Well remember that there was nothing about John the Baptist that was overly attached to the things of this world, to put it mildly.  He wore camels’ hair.  He ate locusts.  He hung out in the wilderness.  So, no fancy house.  No overstocked pantry – probably not even a hidden stash of honey.  And obviously, no extensive wardrobe. John the Baptist clearly did not seek his comfort, his grounding in any of the potential trappings of this world.  He wasn’t in this world to fit in it – he was in it to change it and so he didn’t get lost in the temptations that can suck us in.

John was preaching repentance and forgiveness for a living, or maybe better put is that he was preaching repentance and forgiveness to be alive, truly alive.  Remember John was out there at the river every day offering new beginnings for those who had never been offered new beginnings before.  And John knew in his heart and in his soul that he was preparing the way for the one who came after him, preparing the way for the one who would be the way for many.

And my guess is that John got his strength from a couple of places.  First from God, from faith in something larger than himself.  (Perhaps this is a given, but it’s worth noting.)  Remember that it was clear that John had a calling from his very beginning.  He was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah when they were well beyond childbearing years and no doubt John had heard the family story endless times about how he’d lept in his mother’s womb when Mary, the Mother of Jesus had come for a visit to their home.

So John knew all along that he was called by God and so he had a lot to lean into when he hit the tough patches.  Faith was woven into his very bones and he undoubtedly found strength there, even when the walls were closing in around him.

But in addition to his faith, I bet John also found strength from the people he met down by the river. And I think this is an essential dimension in the work of a prophet.  John kept going not only because he’d been called, but because that calling was continually inspired, and re-inspired by the people whom he encountered every day.

Those people down by the river were the kinds of people who were hungry for what the world could be, because the world as it was, wasn’t feeding them.  They weren’t fitting in either, either because of their own sins, or because of something more broadly systemic or both.  And remember that the River Jordan attracted an incredible diversity of folk – there were “the outcasts” and “the sinners,” but Pharisess, religious leaders who had questions came there too.  Even Herod was listening to what John had to say!  I find that an intriguing part of this gospel story: “When Herod heard him he was greatly perplexed,” the gospel said, but Herod “liked to listen to John.”   Herod was even moved in his own limited and lacking way to “protect him.”

So what happened was that over time, John got to know the stories of the people who came to the river. He knew their pain and he knew their hopes; he knew what pulled them out there, or what had pushed them out there.  John knew what they longed for and he knew what the water revealed in them.

And so I think John probably found strength in their need; he found strength in “them” as prophets do.  Prophets come to realize that they have nothing to lose themselves but they also recognize that there are people in this world for whom truly gaining is nearly impossible.

And so John spoke prophetic truth first to them – the truth of God’s forgiveness and the promise that there was more to come.  And then he spoke the same truth on behalf of “them” to those whose power was stifling the world, rather than loving those in it.

I believe that in the hearts of prophets like John the Baptist live the stories of those who long for more.  And within those stories, and in God they find their strength.

Which brings us to the second question I wanted us to ask today:  How can we receive prophets better than we do?  Well, I think the answer is clear; in order to receive the prophets, we need to carry the stories too.  We need to know the stories of the river people, those who hunger, those who thirst, those who question, those who doubt, those who are on the outskirts due to their own searchings or their own sins or the sins of others or some of all of the above.

We need to know the stories, because when we carry those stories in our hearts and then we see or hear prophets speaking on “their” behalf we become cheerleaders rather than threats.   We become the ones helping to clear the way, rather than those who are blocking it.  When we carry those stories, those people in our hearts, we become the ones who dance at the breaking in of the new day rather than those who fear what we have to lose when it happens.

And so one final piece for this morning.  I think that we can be the river, or at least a place that the river runs through. I think this is the collective calling that we share.  We can be that place where prophets meet hurts, meet sins, meet Pharisees, meet questions, meet forgiveness, meet new beginnings, meet God.  We can be that place that helps weave faith into our very bones, however young or old our bones happen to be.

In this place we’ll see not only the needs of the world, but our own needs too and through a grace bigger than any of our callings, the stories will come together and be held as one.  And in these moments of story telling, water sharing, vision bearing, and prophet making –  a new day will begin to take hold.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith & Action

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 5, Year B Mark 5:21-43

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen.

 

This has been an incredible week. For me, it has been a roller coaster, filled with ups and downs. A time of great sadness about the human condition and at other times, I felt some of that hope restored. It has been a time of extremes for sure. We are still mourning Charleston and the nine human beings who were killed because of the color of their skin. There has been a raging national debate on race and racism and whether we should reasonable gun restrictions or whether individuals should arm themselves to the teeth for personal protection.

 

Should government buildings be allowed to fly a flag that for many is a symbol of heritage and pride and for most others a symbol of oppression and institutional racism. A racism that has built this nation on the backs of black men and black women and black children. A racism that still affects this country to its core. A racism that is difficult to notice if you happen to be Anglo and a racism that is a constant reality if your skin is not the same shade as mine. A racism that built the Episcopal Church in America and that oppressed and prospered from the slave trade.

 

Absalom Jones was an abolitionist and Episcopal priest that led a black congregation in a white church. The group refused to sit in the balcony and wanted to be treated as equal and as baptized followers of Jesus. But the Philadelphia Church refused and so the black members walked out giving birth to the black church…  The same denomination, The American Methodist Episcopal Church that was the site of the newest nine martyrs of the Christian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. . For those of you that didn’t know this story, I’m sorry to tell you. I’m sorry that the Church that you love has black eyes and that the body of Christ has an ugly and broken past.

 

Though it seems like last Sunday was weeks ago, a few of the members of Grace sat with the community at Maple Ave Ministries and heard some speakers and sang lamentations for the nine who were killed. One of the speakers talked about the birth of the black church and told the congregants about Absalom Jones made them aware that the need for the black church in America was due to the racism of the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he didn’t know that there were Episcopalians in the pews. I felt ill. I was angry.  I wanted to stand up and say, “Yes!  But we aren’t like that anymore.” I’m glad I sat and remained silent. I sang with and wept with those in the pews. And I felt helpless. I had no idea what to do. This isn’t something that many of us feel very often. I knew that I couldn’t fix anything but i knew I wanted it to be fixed as soon as possible. I felt like I had no agency. I felt desperate.

 

And then three black churches were burned in the south, presumably by Anglos because of hatred and racism and sin. Last week Jodi preached about Jesus calming the storm. The disciples cried out “Jesus, don’t you even care if we perish?”  I could have just read that sermon today.  You there Jesus? Do you care about what is going on? Do you care about what we’re doing to ourselves and to your children?

 

And if we’re waiting for the kingdom of God that the apostle Paul speaks about… These are the parts of the Kingdom that are not yet finished.  Not yet redeemed. Not yet realized.  Not yet arrived.

 

The text for today is one of my favorites.  I love Mark and I love how he writes. I can see things in the text and can imagine being right with Jesus. It isn’t difficult for me to put myself in the sandals of Jairus. A man whose daughter is deathly ill. A man with no hope. He has exhausted all of his options. tried everything.  Feels like he has no agency and no other place to turn. “God do you care about my daughter? Do you care if she perishes?” HIs idea seems crazy and at best a longshot. He has heard about Jesus… a man who can do things that are almost magical. He can heal people and calm storms.  “If he can command the storms, surely he can heal my daughter simply with his touch.”

 

And now we get one of Mark’s sandwiches. Mark’s gospel is full of stories within other stories and this is one of the best. In the middle of the Jairus story, Jesus is in a crowd of many people. In Mark, the crowds signify chaos and anxiety and tension.  In this crowd, Jesus feels power leave him. A woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches his cloak and is healed immediately. What?  Magic clothes? Surely desperate… this woman would not have been permitted in worship because of a strict purity code for men and women.

 

But the Markan sandwich offers us two distinct kinds of people. A wealthy and powerful leader of the synagogue. A man.  And a woman who would have even less agency than a Jewish woman living in the first century. An outcast. Both helpless… both dependent. Both desperate for healing.

 

And the woman receives healing. Not because of Jesus magic or because of magic clothes. Jesus says that it is her faith that heals her. And that, in and of itself is perplexing.  Her faith has healed her. Because we need to get back to Jairus and his dying daughter.  The text says that as he is speaking the words of healing to the nameless woman, a messenger arrives to declare that Jairus’ daughter has died. The tension has mounted… now what?  I can imagine hearing this the first time and thinking “How tragic. What will Jesus do now? No Jesus… don’t tell everybody that she is just sleeping.. that isn’t going to work.”

 

And then he touches her, just as Jairus had asked… similar to the touch of the nameless woman… and says “Talitha Cum”. Get Up!  He resurrects her and tells them to feed her… It is a great story. Filled with twists and turns and pithy statements and dozens of theological nuggets. It is in fact good news.

 

And, we could use some good news couldn’t we?  Is there good news in this gospel text today that can speak to our racism in America?  to our racism in the Church? We need a task list don’t we? Well, I think there is good news for us and for our context. I think there is healing in this text.

 

Both Jairus and the nameless woman, took matters into their own hands.  Their faith in God pushed them to action. Jairus certainly could have sent a messenger to find Jesus and beckon him to help. He could have sent several. But he was desperate. He was all in and much more committed to the task than a messenger. This was his last shot and didn’t want to risk leaving it up to somebody else. He got his hands dirty and got to work.

 

And the nameless woman… she also was desperate.. she sought her own healing. She yearned to be well.  And she had to break the purity code to do it. Because of her ailment she was not supposed to touch others. She wasn’t supposed to be in public. But when you’re desperate, you are willing to risk. You are willing to do whatever it takes.

 

The powerful must take action on behalf of those without agency. The action must come from Jairus because his daughter cannot. Her problem has become his problem. Both are relying on his action.

 

Faith and action… Faith and action… This is our problem… What will we do Grace? What will we do as individuals and corporately? What action must we take on,  on behalf of our black brothers and sisters? For our healing and for theirs.

 

May I offer a couple of suggestions?

 

Sit in uncomfortable places. Put yourself out there and be willing to be vulnerable. Find where the conversation is… and lean into it.

Listen to real experiences about how people of color feel on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, not much of this work can be done on the internet.

We must go to the places, like Jairus and the nameless woman, crowded places…

Places that will not be easy to get to or go to.

We will need to sacrifice our schedules if we want to experience this healing.

It will take work and the work will be slow.

It will take intentionality and patience.

 

That is how we begin our journey to healing.

Small but Mighty

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 14, 2015 – Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34

I love a good mustard seed parable.  Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of that little necklace I had as a child that was popular among some church going crowds right up through the seventies.  It was a sort of globe with a very, very small seed in the middle of it – some of you can probably picture what I’m talking about.  Besides necklace nostalgia, I’m also just drawn to things that start out small but have the potential or promise to be strong – seeds, kids, congregations, hope.  Not to mention that 5’1” soccer player, a defender (and shortest player) on the US Women’s team, who on Friday saved a goal (and the game!) against Sweden with a header on the goal line!  (There, I managed to work in a World Cup reference for those of you who were wondering how I’d do it. And there are still three weeks left in the tournament, so look out.)

OK, back to mustard seeds.  Here’s some detail to remind you of just what we’re talking about here:  mustard seeds are very, very, very small only about 1 or 2 mm in diameter.  And, just for comparison sake, in the world of seeds they’re slightly bigger than poppy seeds and dandelion seeds, but smaller than pumpkin seeds, watermelon, apple or coconut seeds.   Color-wise, mustard seeds can be black, brown, yellow or white.

In terms of the gospels, mustard seed references appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it’s interesting to note that in inter-faith terms, mustard seeds are also used in Buddhist teachings, and appear in both the Koran and various Jewish texts.  So across gospels and across faiths, the mustard seed is that very, very small thing that either grows up into something much larger than would initially seem possible; or it is that very, very small thing that is all we need in order to be faithful people.  The author of Mark put it like this in today’s reading: “It is [almost] the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  So the mustard seed is a small thing that not only grows much bigger than one would expect it to grow, but also within its very own branches it creates space to nurture others too.

And so in some ways the message this morning is very simple:  the kingdom of God has been planted and it will continue to grow among us.  It’s a done deal.  It’s gonna happen because the sower (capital ‘S’) has done his work.  The seeds are here and they’re already taking root, and holding on, and poking through the surface and beginning or continuing to breathe of the air and drink of the water and reach out into this world with God’s mercy and grace.  The kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  Today’s gospel reminds us that that is very simply, a given.

But this also means something else that’s very, very important.  This parable tells us that if we’re willing to look for the kingdom of God, we’ll see it.  That’s the other part of the good news this morning, and this is the piece that’s our work to do.  The seeds have been sown and the Sower will ultimately make this kingdom happen, but we have work to do too.

We have to notice. And we have to tend.

This parable reminds us that we have to take responsibility for how we look at, and therefore engage God’s world.  Do you look out into this world and see something like a garden that’s going to grow big and lush and abundant for all?  Are you willing to see the seeds taking hold and offer yourself to their care?  Are you able to look out into this world and notice the branches reaching out to you, to those who are other than you and tend the growth and expanse of that reach?  Truth is we can be those who see the kingdom breaking through or those who wonder if the seeds were ever planted at all.  And while it’s a leap of faith that we probably have to take over and over again in our lives, the invitation is to believe that the seeds are everywhere. The call is to live and work as if they are.

Know that in their very essence the seeds contain things like forgiveness, hospitality, justice, mercy, grace, and peace.  The seeds contain love and they contain faith and hope.  The seeds were sown in all colors, in all places and reconciliation lives in the core of their being and runs right out through the very tips of all of the branches.  The seeds actually want to grow out into those mighty bushes and trees whose branches provide food and shelter and shade and home and a resting place for all the creatures of this world.

The seeds contain the ability to make the vision of a diverse, peaceable, blessed, loving kingdom a reality right here in this world.

So that 5’1” soccer player (whose name by the way, is Meghan)? When she was asked how she did what she did, she said this, “I was just doing my job on the team.”  And that was that.  I got the sense the reporter was looking for some big explanation when really, her response was about as simple as they come.  “I was just doing my job.”

Well, we all have one – in the church and in the world – a calling or several that are related to helping the kingdom come.  And no matter your height, your size or the amount of faith you’d claim to have – you have enough to do what our post communion prayers calls “the work we’ve been given to do.”

So come on team! Small but mighty seeds have been sown in our midst – mercy, hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness are all longing to break through the surface where they haven’t yet and to reach out more broadly into this world where they’ve already begun to take hold.  So open your eyes.  Open your hearts.  Somebody go get some water!  Somebody make more room for the light to come in!  May God grant us the courage and humility to notice the seeds planted, and the vision and the love to help them grow.

Amen.