Last Sunday I chose to be a bit braver and tackle a relevant issue, a timely topic. The scriptures of the lectionary were: Mark 5:21-43 and II Samuel 1:1-2, 17-28. I accidentally was confused and used I Samuel 1:1-2, 17-28, and had that in mind when I did the message, so that is what I read, and I explained what had happened. We were all good with it, or so I thought. I really focused it all on the gospel of Mark verses.
The title was: “Healing Powers/Healing Love,” but there was much more to it than that. It should have been the title that is listed above. And, I was quite happy that for once, I was able to speak from the heart and not lose my composure. Perhaps I am getting a little bit better at the delivery part. I hope. Well, here is what they heard, or at least what they were supposed to hear.
For some reason I wasn’t able to work on this message early this week. For a couple of weeks I have gotten disciplined and finished the message by Thursday night. Not this week somehow, I just wasn’t sure where we were supposed to go. Something wouldn’t let me sit down and get to the task at hand. I think it is because I am pretty much a chicken when I stand up here. I don’t really like to open any cans of worms if I don’t have to. But apparently the can opened up for us this week when the Supreme Court handed down their decision on Friday.
And whether we want to or not, we will have to have the discussion at some point soon about where we stand as a church. We will all have our right to an opinion and a say, and in the end we will work together to decide the position of the church. And, we will do it in a loving, prayerful and supportive way with each other. We may not all agree, but we will all respect each other’s opinion. We are too small to let this divide us.
But one thing I want to be careful of is a lackadaisical attitude. I would like to stand here and assure all of us today that it isn’t something we will ever have to face. I would like to say, “Look around, we are not likely to have a wedding in our church again, let alone one that meets the marriage equality standard.” Instead, as I was pondering this message, I kept thinking be careful of Unexpected Places.
Unexpected Places was the theme of our annual conference meeting that was held at the beginning of June. Unexpected Places is also the theme of the 30th UCC General Synod meeting that is taking place in Cleveland, Ohio as we worship here today.
Besides the worship sessions and regularly expected business meetings and workshops, they are holding a blood drive, putting together back packs of food to distribute to those in need, sharing a meal with the homeless, picketing a large grocery store about fair pay for farm workers, marching about immigration and celebrating marriage equality. And then there are all the booths to purchase books and t-shirts and souvenirs, and there are places where children can play and people can dance in celebration and workout in order to promote healthy bodies in a spiritual way. Let’s just say from the website, it looks like there is more to do than time to do it.
The address of the national offices in Cleveland is 700 Prospect and apparently is an entire 9 story building with a hotel attached and is fairly close to a baseball stadium. Reports are that the building and hotel have been sold and are being leased back in an effort to reduce costs. I don’t know my way around Cleveland, Ohio, though I was there once upon a time when I represented the North Dakota Conference sometime in the very early 1990’s at a meeting called Towards the 21st Century.
My main memory of the event was all of the scuttle about how those of us in attendance were chosen. The clergy in North Dakota were upset that our three representatives were lay-women, me and two Native American women who were not even on any of the boards. The white clergy men were left out. When I got to Cleveland, I ended up sharing a room with a young white woman who was in seminary at Harvard. All she could talk about was her boyfriend in seminary in California. I kept thinking that we were there to do a specific task, yet was astounded by the flack I kept hearing about how many white men were in attendance and that there weren’t enough women of color on the various task boards. I was confused about why it mattered, but from that time on I learned to pay more attention to the balances of power and who held it.
This weekend as the 30th General Synod of the UCC is meeting, those in attendance have heard from the candidate for the new General Minister on Friday, and the delegates will vote to accept him on Monday morning, much like we elected a new conference minister in Sioux Falls at the beginning of June. Yes, I said “hear from him.” The candidate is “gasp” a white man. Rev. John C. Dorhauer a straight, white man was nominated to the position of leader of our very progressive denomination at a time when the Supreme Court has just ruled that marriage equality is now the law of the land. Unexpected Places or perhaps Unexpected Events?
In looking over a press release on Rev. Dorhauer’s speech to the assembly I found a few things to share with you. First off: He addressed the idea of white privilege in America today. I understand that we perhaps don’t see the racial issues here in Eureka as other places do, but as descendants of immigrants, and for most of us we probably feel the closeness to our ancestors here more than some places do, I don’t think the German-Russians were always so welcomed or thought so highly of when they first arrived here. If you have ever read the book, The Land They Possessed, which is about Eureka, about End of Track, you see first-hand how the German-Russians were treated. Not so well.
He also spoke of mission and how we need to work together to clarify our mission. I agree we need to do that in the wider church and in the local church and I hope we here are moving closer to doing that. One other thing he said that I want to share with you is a quote from an Emily Dickinson poem. He asks that the church commit itself to “a little toil of love.” The poem is actually titled: “I had no time to hate, because”
I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample
I Could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.
Rev. Dorhauer noted we should, “Overcome the impulse to hate and learn to love.”
Another speaker up for re-election of our Global Ministries, Rev. Dr Jim Moos, a native of Streeter North Dakota who has connections to Zeeland, spoke of Unexpected Places around the world where we as a church provide ministry. He explained that we often find ourselves in out-of-the-way, almost secluded areas. Because that is where the need is, and that is where God needs us to be to share his love and mercy. We go where God leads us, where God needs us whether it be in a far away country or here in our own community doing what we can, when we can and how we can.
Jesus while he was on earth preaching and teaching and being about the mission that he came to fulfill ended up in some unexpected places. The story that we read in Mark today also had some fairly unexpected people and events as well.
We could, maybe should just look at this story as another miracle or two performed by Jesus. Really, he has just come from a place where he cast out not just a demon, but a legion of demons. In other scripture we learn that Jesus heals the lame, the blind, lepers and any number of ailments. Isn’t this just another story about his healing powers? In today’s society, in our culture, this might be just another story of someone being healed by Jesus, but not in Jesus’ day. The healing in this passage in Mark is for a woman and the child raised from the dead is a child and a girl child. Neither of these people is worth the time of someone like Jesus. Neither is someone who should be considered important enough to bother someone like Jesus, yet he takes time for both of them. He restores both of them to a full life.
Looking at them individually, I want to start with the woman. She knew that she was insignificant. She didn’t feel worthy of asking Jesus for help, but she had so much faith that she felt if she just touched his robe, she would be healed. What faith! This woman has been doctoring for her ailment for 12 years. She has tried everything, and nothing has worked. She has been hemorrhaging, bleeding in a female way for 12 years, as long as the girl has been alive.
In most primitive cultures, and in hers, she should not even be around others. She is considered “unclean.” She shouldn’t be talking to a man such as Jesus for help, and she certainly should not be touching his clothing. It just wasn’t proper. There she is in the middle of a crowd that is pressing around Jesus, and she reaches out for help, and she gets it. Unexpected places. And Jesus doesn’t just let the touch of his robe be her healing force; he stops and takes the time to talk to her, to show compassion to her, to share his love and mercy with her. He expects no less from us.
The other story in this passage is not about healing, but about restoring the life of a little girl. Maybe some of us might read this story as being about an important man, a leader in the community. Maybe he deserves to have Jesus take a look at his child. But then again, he is a religious leader. Aren’t they always the ones causing trouble for Jesus and the disciples? And this isn’t a boy child, this is a girl. Girls and women are not that important on the social ladder in that culture, why should Jesus be bothered?
In fact when the servant comes to announce that the girl has died, it seems that Jesus doesn’t need to bother. It seems that the girl wasn’t worth the time or the effort. If we are to know the truth, most parents in Biblical days didn’t get as emotionally attached to their children as we do. Not many survived childhood so it was just easier to accept their deaths if you didn’t get so attached. I have been told that even today in some of the war-torn countries the attitude about death is much different from ours because it is so prevalent, so in your face. Such a greater part of life than what we know.
Jesus takes the time, even when the servant says don’t bother; Jesus goes along with Jarius, through the throng of mourners to see the child who has died. Again, he goes to where it was not common to go. Touching a dead body was considered against the wisdom of the time. Burials were quick to avoid diseases. They don’t know what she died of, he could have gotten something. Jesus had compassion for the child and for the family. Jesus went to unexpected places to show the world that “little toil of love.”
Jesus helped the woman and the girl with his healing power, with his healing love. Jesus gives us that same love. Jesus not only gave us that love by coming to earth and dying for us, but each and every day as we turn to him in prayer and devotion, he meets us where we are, in all sorts of places. The least we can do is share his love and mercy with others. Remember that this week as you go out to any number of places, all he asks of us is to share his love with the world. Even if it is with someone who might seem just a little different. Amen!