We Have Been Called Beloved: (a Pride sermon on justice and what’s next)

**Originally preached for the 8:00 service at Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago on June 28, 2015**

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘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.’ 24So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

————-

Once, long ago, there was a woman who lived near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We do not know her name. But we do know that, in a pivotal moment, she dared to believe herself worthy of love. We can imagine that she was born into this world with the same innocent expectation of love and belonging that we’re all created with. Perhaps the home of her childhood reaffirmed this conviction. Perhaps her parents held her and smiled at her and told her she was a gift as she grew.

But then, one day, she began to bleed. She began to bleed as all women do—and in the patriarchal custom of her time—she was set apart like all women were because her bleeding made her unclean in the eyes of her community. She might have had to endure only the occasional isolation and ostracism that her fellow women endured. Except that her bleeding never stopped. Week after week and month after month and on and on for twelve long years.

As long as she was bleeding, she was unclean—unwelcome in her community and in her world. And so she was isolated always. Cast out from her family. Looked down upon even by the other women who encountered her. She was denied safety and resources and dignity. The disgusted expressions that slid over her as she walked past, and the sharp whispers the mingled with the soft patter of her footsteps told her over and over again that she was wrong. Dirty. Broken. Bad. Nobody told her that she was good. That she was loved. Nobody held her in their arms. Nobody ever even touched her.

She tried every remedy she could think of. She spent every penny she had. And she prayed and she prayed. Nothing seemed to work. There was no relief in sight. No promise of reconciliation and restoration to her community. Only loneliness and bleeding and pain.

And then one day, in a busy marketplace, she sees a man moving through the crowd with his followers. She hears the whispers and for once, they aren’t about her. “It’s him,” she realizes. The rabbi she had heard about. They say he is a healer.

Driven forward through the crowd by desperation and anguish, and perhaps, too, by the tiniest lingering echo of the divine words that sent her into this life—words which not even 12 painful years of rejection and oppression could steal from her—she rushes toward the man. Maybe her path was made easier by those who moved out of her way for fear of touching up against her unclean body. Hand trembling with hope, she reaches for his cloak. In a single moment, everything shifts profoundly. They both feel it. Her bleeding ceases immediately. He turns to look for her and she approaches, shaking, fearing another dismissal. Another rejection.

Instead he looks deep into her eyes and praises her, saying, “Your faith has made you well.” He is not afraid of her touch. He does not tell her she is unclean or wrong or bad. Ringing out underneath the words he speaks is a deeper message. The same one that echoed through her as she dared to approach him. The same divine words that sent her into this life. In his touch and his praise and his welcome, Jesus tells the woman, “You are beloved.”

And then his disciples are moving him along and before the woman is even out of sight, the public space is overtaken by sounds of wailing and deep, unfathomable grief at the death of a beloved daughter.

——

Two thousand years later, there is a man. His name is Jim and he too dared to believe he was worthy of love. Jim dared to believe he was worthy of the love of his partner, John, and together they dared to believe that their love deserved to be called a marriage. Jim was not alone. He was joined by millions of other gay and bisexual and queer Americans who sought equality and acceptance. But like the woman long ago, Jim and his fellow LGB people faced a hostile world. A world that for many, many years told them that they were wrong. Dirty. Broken. Bad.

Many of these people were cast out of their families. They were isolated and ostracized from their communities. They were oppressed. They were denied safety and resources and dignity. And they fought. Driven by desperation and anguish but maybe also by the tiniest echo of the divine words that sent them into this life—they dared to believe they were worthy of love. They pushed against the crowd, they gave it everything they had, and they stood in the full truth of who they were. And then they waited, shaking with hope even while they feared another dismissal. Another rejection.

Then in one pivotal moment—a profound shift. One fine summer day, in a hall of justice in a busy national capital—5 Supreme Court justices looked squarely in the face of gay Americans like Jim Obergefell and bisexual Americans like me and said this:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

It is so ordered.

Ringing out underneath these words, resounding in the joyful cheers and tearful embraces of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people across this country—are the divine words that sent us each and all into this life: “You are beloved.” They are the same words that our own denomination sought to embody as it embraced a more inclusive understanding of marriage—a shift that also officially went into effect this week.

But even as celebrations began, there could be heard in the streets and in churches wailing and crying and deep grief at lives lost so recently in an act of terrible violence that painted in sharp relief our country’s sin of racism. On Friday morning, President Obama stood at a podium to celebrate a more just America. And Friday afternoon, President Obama stood at a pulpit and sang out Amazing Grace. He was there to eulogize Clementa Pinckney and to comfort his grieving widow and children.

There is much—so very much to hold this week—more than even this great instance of progress and equality and this devastating time of tragedy. This was a week of moments and we must hold them all as best we can. But moments also come and pass, and the question we must—as people of good faith—ask ourselves now is, “what happens next?”

What Jesus does for the hemorrhaging woman is profoundly important. He embraces her. He claims her in love. But then he moves on. He has more work to do. Others to heal. More examples to set. Miraculous as Jesus was, that single moment of touch did not undo all the years of pain and deep internal wounding that the woman experienced because of her isolation and oppression and ostracism.

Jesus leaves the community behind to do that deeper healing work because he knows that for that healing it is not the woman, but the community itself that must transformed. Jesus has told the woman “You are beloved,” but he leaves her community to live into that truth with her and prove it.

We are called to do the same. Jesus’ healing act on that day in the marketplace embodied the love that created us and the love we were created for. It is a love that will always stop in the midst of things to honor and embrace and lift up people who are marginalized and oppressed. It is a love that rejoices with the joyful and weeps with the grieving. It is a love that transcends our boundaries of division and brokenness and demands nothing less than justice for all people.

The love of Christ—shown to that woman and demonstrated to all of us and for all of us in his dying and rising again—that love is a love rooted in covenant. The same kind of covenant that God made and faithfully kept with the people of Israel. The same kind of covenant that Jim Obergefell and John Arthur sought to live into as a married couple. The same kind of covenant that we are all called into as a community of faith and as people of God. Covenant love does not assume we will be perfect, but it hinges on our commitment to seeing the face of God in one another and seeking to honor that sacredness.

The love that Jesus enacts to that bleeding woman and to us is a love steeped in grace. Amazing grace. And it is a love that we are called not only to receive, but to enact and embody. Jesus doesn’t leave the woman because he doesn’t care. He leaves her because he trusts her community to care as he does. To take up where he left off. To love her as he has loved her.

Jesus loves us enough to trust us to love one another. And that love can transform the world.

We have had a week of moments. We have witnessed grace. In the moves toward justice for LGB people. In the forgiveness offered by the families of those murdered in Charleston. But we can only honor the grace of these moments by committing to living out the sort of transforming love we’ve witnessed until grace and justice are not limited to historic moments but belong to every moment.

As President Obama said in his eulogy on Friday, “We act out God’s grace when we take down a flag that symbolizes racism, but God doesn’t want us to stop there.”

We must ask ourselves how to care for those whom Jesus has called beloved. Our siblings of color who are still weighted down with the deadly burdens of white supremacy and racism. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who still face workplace discrimination. Our transgender friends and family who face transphobic violence and prejudice. Queer people of color who face double discrimination. Immigrants who face detention and deportation and deplorable conditions.

Jesus has made it clear that these people are beloved. They are worth stopping for—worth immediate attention. They are worth embrace and inclusion and justice.

How do we continue where Jesus left off? How do we allow ourselves and our communities to be transformed so that the real and deep healing can begin?

Certainly we rejoice with those who rejoice. Absolutely we cheer and embrace when justice is done and moves toward equality are achieved. But we also grieve with the families of the nine murdered in the Charleston massacre. We also hold and honor the righteous anger of those who are persecuted by the very systems meant to protect them. We cannot be comfortable in a world that is broken. We must name our complicity and strive to dismantle it. We cannot go back to our work and our daily living while those whom Jesus loves—whom we are called to love and care for—continue to suffer. The work is not done. People are still bleeding.

We watch for the moments, the pivotal moments. They are all around us.

Once, there was a woman. A trans Latina immigrant woman. Her name was Jennicet. For many long years she suffered from discrimination and isolation. From lack of resources and lack of justice and care. She fought tirelessly alongside others like her, but their cries went unheard and unheeded. One day, she finds herself in the presence of a person of power, the president of the country she calls home. Driven by desperation and anguish, but perhaps also by the tiniest echo of the divine words that sent her into this life—she dared to cry out, disrupting a speech with calls for justice and healing.

Once, there was a woman. A young black activist. Her name was Bree. She watched with growing rage as the country around her showed careless disdain for the lives of black people like her. In the wake of unspeakable racist violence, she listened to talk of finally dismantling the symbols of racism still decorating halls of power. She knows that, likely, the talk will dwindle and fall away long before any real work is done. One day, she stands before a flagpole at the state house in South Carolina where the confederate flag still flies. Driven by desperation and anguish and the tiniest echo of the divine words that sent her into this life, she scales the pole and takes down the flag, calling out to those who wait to arrest her, “In the name of Jesus, this flag must come down.”

How will we receive these moments? These women? We know what Jesus would do. Stop and embrace them, and then charge us to do the deep, long work of healing.

The faith of these people dared them to believe they were worthy of love and justice. Our faith dares us to believe that we are up to the task. With God’s help—always with God’s help.

We have been called beloved. The bleeding woman, and Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, and the Charleston 9, and Jennicet, and Bree. And us.

We have all been called beloved. How will we live it out? Until we are transformed. Until the world is transformed. Until every moment is grace. Until the healing is done and, indeed, our faith has made us all well. Amen.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “We Have Been Called Beloved: (a Pride sermon on justice and what’s next)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s