Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Power to Heal

Gordon Wilson and his wife Joan
This has been a busy and life-changing week. The Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage and declared that sexual orientation should no longer define who can and cannot get married. In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Charleston the Confederate Flag has been removed from sale at major retailers as well as some State Sites. It is difficult to overstate what a seed change these two things are for this nation, but is would be easy to understate how much healing is still needed.

Within our own denomination General Convention is meeting in Salt Lake City and we have a new presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who is currently Bishop of North Carolina. His election will likely herald a time where telling the story of Jesus becomes a priority for our Church – mission and revival will stand center stage in our work together.

As with all change it is important that those who were oppressed do not become the oppressor. That those who have been angry do not continue in anger. That those whose hearts were always here do not forget those whose hearts are broken. This is what healing really means, that we not only take what we are given but that we also give what we can, and this requires enormous discipline and restraint, but this is the way of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians Paul says,

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus chose poverty, but he only could choose poverty because of who he was in the first place. Those who are poor, disenfranchised or down trodden will have trouble choosing poverty because they have no choice. It is a hard lesson for us, who have choice, that we must turn ourselves over to the needs of others, even when those others are deliberately hurtful.

This will make some of you angry, and it might not be something you can do today. A heart that is ready to forgive is an enormous blessing.  The folks in Charleston, of course, spoke immediately about forgiveness. Their Christian conviction gave them no other path to follow but the story I want to tell comes from Northern Ireland during the time when the Irish Republican Army was wreaking havoc both in Northern Ireland and on the Mainland in Britain.

There is a town called Eniskillen and every year, in common with most town across the United Kingdom, they held a Remembrance Day parade. Here it is called Veterans Day. It was 1987. It is the day when the guns were silenced after the First World War, a day of remembering the dead and praying for peace. As a parade formed an IRA bomb went off Gordon Wilson was injured, his daughter Marie died. I will not tell you more of the story, it is too sad but when Wilson was interviewed shortly afterwards this is what he said,

"But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life……... She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night."

After this Gordon Wilson dedicated his life to working for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He died in 1995 but his work led to a formal apology for the bombing in 1997 from the then head of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA.

This is a hard story, but I tell it because I remember it well. I remember my parents seemed angry when he said he wanted to forgive, how could he do that, how did that honor his daughter. Gordon Wilson was a committed Christian and I remember arguing that I did get why he said that, that although it was unfathomably hard there was nothing else to be done. At the same time I felt that I would never be capable of that myself. How could you really be so forgiving?

The story still brings tears to my eyes. Over the years I have learned that true healing only comes when we forgive. I am still not sure that I would be able to turn around and forgive so quickly, but I hope I would come to it.

The Gospel today is about healing. I told you a few weeks ago that Mark writes in patterns. This is a classic ABA pattern. Mark starts with the story of Jairus, then flips to the story of the woman and then goes back to Jairus.  Mark draws a stark contrast between the upright ruler of the synagogue and the unclean woman. Both come to him. Jairus simply comes and asks. The woman, who is without voice in society reaches out and touches Jesus.

He immediately knows, my guess is he knew who it was too, but he asks her to come forward, to declare her faith and her healing. There is an open end to the story. Jairus daughter too is healed but in this case Jesus commands silence from her parents. It is a strange turnabout – the woman who was rejected publicly states she touched Jesus, but the devout Jew is not to say how he was touched by Jesus. It is another Markan reversal in an ever emerging upside down world.

It is to this upside down world which we are called. To a world of a God of all power, giving up power and offering forgiveness to his persecutors, even as he died. Right in this world is framed in our ability to see the other, in our ability to act with gentleness and self-giving. This is a tall order when we have been hurt in one way or another. And it is not just about the Supreme Court or the removal of a flag it is about our day to day living, our being.

In order to forgive at the hard times, in order to give up our indignation we must practice reconciliation in all that we do. We must become a healing presence and not simply return hurt in equal or extended measure.

The woman and Jairus reach out to Jesus for healing from their own places of hurt and fear, from their own places in society. Both are received and to each is given the gift of wholeness. There is that phrase, what would Jesus do but the reality is we are asked “What has Jesus done?” When we look at this and work towards it we will find healing for ourselves and four our world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Hymn for Unity (Kingsfold)

O God the calm of all the earth
The source of every breath,
The one who held us at our birth,
Who cradles us in death.
You weep when get lost in hate,
O light, help us to see,
Your face in those who challenge us,
In our diversity.

You are the door that's open wide
Inviting each to you
You are the guest who waits inside
To help our love grow true,
You are the stranger at the door
You are the ones we fear
Lord give us grace to see you more
And know that you are here.

In all our difference give us strength,
To love as you have loved
Let hurt and pain be put to rest
In body and in blood.
Where hatred and division stand
Let each the other see,
That all may find, in every land,

Our true humanity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nativity of John the Baptist

Zechariah thought he had God pegged. He thought he knew how things were going to turn out. He and Elizabeth were childless and that is how it would be. He was a priest and probably had some sort of idea about political revolution and the restoration of a sovereign state in Israel.
And then God showed up and spoiled things.
Yes, they would have a child. Yes, this child would be a prophet and yes, God’s promises will be fulfilled. The Song of Zechariah, or as it is often called, the Benedictus, is a song of promise and hope.
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, He has visited and redeemed his people.” It is a song of light and redemption – but it is in response to a very different set of experiences than Zechariah would have imagined for himself. I wonder how often we are like Zechariah – we write the story of our lives before we even give ourselves a chance to live them. We come up with endings before we have even given God a beginning. Zechariah was struck dumb, he lost his ability to communicate easily and was only released from this burden when he made it clear that he had begun to understand by writing the name on the tablet.
But what about us, we do not lose the ability to speak when we wander off into our own narrative, so what does happen. Well, we might not lose the ability to physically speak, in fact we might make a whole lot of noise as we move away from God’s narrative, but we do lose our ability to communicate where it matters, and that is with God. When we move ourselves away from God’s presence, from God’s story, it is like shouting across a room, or talking underwater.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
“And what does the text inform us about the content of discipleship? Follow me, run along behind me! That is all. To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after. It is not a cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion, even the devotion of ourselves…..the disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead.”
This is what Zechariah did. In order to return to himself, to regain his voice, he simply wrote a name on a tablet, but it was an unexpected name, a name which did not conform, a name from God. He believed in promise but could not know where that promise would lead.
Even in the face of terrible things, times when being a disciple seems hollow and even stupid, we are invited simply to let go of everything we think should be, everything we have carefully built for ourselves and follow, simply run along behind Jesus. As Zechariah says,
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”