Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sermon for October 20, 2013: Luke 8:40-56, belovedness & baptism

Children's message
For the children's message, we read the book The Crown on Your Head.  If you haven't read it, I very highly recommend it.  

When we finished, I handed out crowns for each kid to wear... and then a lot of extras to pass out to the adults.


Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you." But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me." When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace."

While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer." When Jesus heard this, he replied, "Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved." When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, "Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, "Child, get up!" Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. 

Message  (click here to listen along)

It is worthwhile to notice when sometime in the Bible doesn’t have a name.  Everyone has one.  When a name gets forgotten, when it isn’t written down, the writers turn to descriptions instead.  “Do you know so-and-so?  You know, they look like this, they work at this place...”  When we forget names, we turn to descriptions.  So whoever they may have been, these two women of our story, whatever names their mothers whispered to them as they sang lullabies, whatever names their fathers called out in joy when they came home from work, they are now for us "an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying" and "a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years."

Women's names are often forgotten, in the stories of old.  Women couldn't be rabbis, they couldn't be priests, they had very little value until they were married and had children -- male children, specifically.  Their stories weren’t told.  The little girl of our story -- I've been calling her Chloe -- is only valuable because her father is powerful, because she is a well-loved only child of the leader of the synagogue.  The woman of our story -- I've been calling her Geraldine -- only gets what she needs because she advocates for herself, because she gets in the way of Jesus and a crowd.  Without someone to advocate for them, or a crowd to push through, they matter very little in this society.  Devalued, pushed to the edge, names forgotten.

And they are both sick:  Geraldine for twelve years, Chloe now to the point of death.  Geraldine has been sick as long as Chloe has been alive.  Two women, two sick women, in the same town on the shores of the country of Galilee.

They probably don’t know each other.  Chloe is an insider, the only daughter of a powerful man, a child of a wealthy family.  She would be well-known in this little village.  Jarius would not have to push his way to the front of the crowd; they would have spread aside for him.  But Geraldine?  Geraldine is poor.  Geraldine has to sneak up behind Jesus, pushing her way through the swarm of people around him.  The kind of sickness that she had, how much she had spent on physicians -- people would have known that something was wrong with her, and likely they would have known exactly what.  And in the first century, just as the culture didn’t value women, they didn’t understand illness.  When a woman was sick like Geraldine, she wasn’t allowed to go to worship.  She was considered unclean, and the synagogue was closed to her.  Chloe and Geraldine are two women, two sick women, in the same little town in Galilee but on opposite sides of society.

They reflect us, in a way.  Sometimes we are Chloe.  Sometimes we feel dead.  We are too tired, too hurt, too sick, too proud, too broken to reach out for help.  Sometimes we are too dead inside to ask for the life we need.  And God shows up, whispering, “You’re not dead,” and takes us by the hand.  And as far as I can tell, in the stories of the Bible, this is true.  When we can’t reach out, God does.  In the story of Moses, we start out in the wilderness.  Moses flees there after standing up for one of his own people, the Hebrews, and killing an Egyptian who was beating him.  So he has taken off, in shame and guilt, to shepherd in the desert and keep a low profile.  And suddenly there’s a bush on fire and a voice saying “Moses, take off your sandals, because God has just shown up.  Your life isn’t over; it’s just begun.”

And sometimes we are Geraldine.  Sometimes it feels like we are looking at the back of God.  Like we have blown all the money we have on things that have not cured us of our pain and suffering.  Like we have to shove our way through the crowd to get just the fringe of Jesus’ clothes.  And as far as I can tell, when we read the Bible, we find out we are not alone in this.  The psalms are a beautiful place to find this, because the Psalmists have no problem grabbing God by the collar and saying “I am hurting and you promised me better than this.”  And in that moment of anger and frustration there is finally a sense of healing and release, because after years of chasing after false cures we have come to the place where we admit we need something more than ourselves to get us through.

I call them Chloe and Geraldine.  But remember that they have no names. Luke didn't know, didn't remember, just calls them daughter and woman.  Chloe is a Daughter because she has a powerful father to advocate for her.  Geraldine is a Woman because she is alone and unsupported and poor.

And into that, Jesus speaks.  Luke calls them Daughter and Woman.  But Jesus calls them Child and Daughter.  Jesus doesn't stick to their value as determined by their powerful parents or their total poverty.  He calls Chloe "child".  Not daughter of the powerful, not dead, not even her name, but Child.  Child of the world.  Child of God.

Jesus doesn't call Geraldine "woman" but "daughter".  Not "woman who was bleeding" or "woman who touched me" but "daughter."  Daughter of Abraham.  Daughter of God.

See, this is what happens when God comes among us.  God knows our names.  Even when the storyteller forgets, when two thousand years later we do not know who they were, God remembers.  God sees us.  Not our sickness, not our wealth, not our importance or the lack thereof, but us.  And when God comes among us, God speaks that name.  God says Neil.  Dana.  Peggy.  Jeremy.  Anna.  Son.  Daughter.  Child of God.

When Jesus walks into this little unnamed town in Galilee, Jesus sees them.  Not as Daughter of the Synagogue Leader or as Woman Who Has Been Bleeding but as Child of God.  Jesus recognizes the crown on their heads.  He remembers it.  Publicly claims it.  Jesus sits down in the midst of them -- and us -- and opens up a book that says:

Your existence, and nothing more, puts you into the goodness that is creation.  This is a universal birthing.  It applies to everyone.  Every single child, and that means everyone who had ever been born, is part of creation, of this world that God looks upon and says "This is good."  The storybook says "Your crown means that you are MAG-NI-FI-CENT."

So there is this beautiful universal declaration of the value of each of us.  Of you.  Of you.  Of you.  This is the crown on your head:  that God sees you.

Jesus sees the crown on the heads of Geraldine and Chloe.  And then he goes further:  then he saves and heals them.

We miss this, in English.  Jesus says to Geraldine “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”  To Jarius he says “Do not fear; only believe, and Chloe will be saved.”  The word for "made well" and "be saved" is the same.  Sodzo.  Be made well.  Be healed.  Be saved.  Be whole.  Geraldine and Chloe, both women, both unnamed, both sick, both on the outskirts of society -- are both sodzo'ed.  Healed and saved.  Scrubbed clean, sudsed up -- suds of grace.  The soap of God that washes us clean.  We're made whole from what is physically and emotionally and spiritually breaking us down.

See, this is what happens when God comes among us:  we do not stay the same.  God does not just see us and know us and call us by name.  God changes us.  God reaches out to heal us, to bind up the brokenhearted, to restore those pushed to the edge of society, to raise up everything that is dead in us.

In baptism God claims us.  Says yes, I know you.  You are Debby, Joanna, Mitchell, Anna.  I know you in all your good and bad ways, all your goofiness and messiness, all your joys and sorrows and everything in between, and not only do I love you exactly as you are but I love you far too much to let you stay that way.  In baptism God reaches out for us and says “You.  I know you.  You are mine.”  This is why it is beautiful that we bring children to baptism, that we will baptize Anna Jensene today before she can walk or talk or do anything that merits it, because God’s love is totally unmerited.  God’s desire to save, to heal, to scrub us up with suds of grace, has nothing whatsoever to do with how good we are and everything to do with God’s love for us.

This is what baptism does:  it is a place where God knows our name, knows all that is sinful and messy and bleeding and dead in us, and then raises us up and calls us clean.  God does not only see us.  God wants to claim us, to wash us, to free us from all the dirt and mess that comes with being human and start us anew every day.  God reaches out through us and touches the crown on your head -- and then draws a cross on your brow.

You are a beloved child of God, so much that the only way God can show it is to double it.

Hear that when you are Chloe.  When you are a child.  When you are too sick to ask for what you need.  Hear it because you were brought to the font by parents and family who loved you, who gathered around you, who begged Jesus for a good life for you.

Hear it when you are Geraldine.  When you are older.  When your suffering has burdened you for too long.  When you are out of money and energy and time.  When you feel like just one more face in a bustling, jostling crowd.  Hear it when you think you are too tired to reach out for help one more time.

Hear it:  You are loved.  Doubly.  You are seen.  Your name is known.  You have a crown on your head and a cross on your brow.  Be loved twice over.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Flying home.

Spent four days in Chicago with the Organizing for Mission cohort this week.  Learned a lot, made new friends and connections, got invigorated.  Also did not get as much sleep as I would like, and felt exhausted and over-peopled a good chunk of the time, too.  I was sad to leave and also glad to be on the plane.

As our place descended to the Cities, I wondered which of my many homes we might fly over.  Would it be my parents' house in Maplewood?  My dorms at Saint Olaf in Northfield?  The old apartment in Minneapolis?  My seminary apartment in Saint Paul?

All of those places are writ hard upon my heart, and yet none of them feel like home.

We flew from the southeast, and so we crossed none of them; we crossed, instead, the place that has been most home to me this year; Cedar Ave and Pilot Knob and the church-that-is-an-elementary-school.

I have lost much, this year, and none of what I lost were things I was prepared to lose.  I don't have a home, not the kind of place I used to have, where my heart felt settled and my mind clear.  

I do not have a home now, and I will not, for the next few months; I am entering approval and assignment, and I do not know where the ELCA will send me.  This year I am learning, and not very quickly, to be a turtle:  to pull inside when the world is stormy, to ask for help when I am on my back, to give myself a little extra time to learn, and most of all, to take my home with me, no matter where I may be going.

Perhaps this is my wilderness time, the exodus, a wandering in my life; there was so much of the Hebrew way of life that had to die, there in the desert when God dwelt among them.  Idolatry, and theft, and fear, and piling up great wealth and self-protection.  All of it God longed to release them from.  Perhaps that is this time in my life.

For now, I pull into the shell of me that is becoming my home, and I hope for a little rest.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

And the valley was full of bones.

I got my paperwork back from my mission developer/redeveloper interview.

Mission developers and redevelopers are pastors and potential pastors, who are approved by the ELCA to start new congregations (developers) or revitalizing dying congregations (redevelopers).  The paperwork is a culmination of a personal inventory, a pre-screening, and a 3-4 hour interview on fifteen competencies of ministry which are strong predictors of a developer/redeveloper’s success.

I have been on the developer/redeveloper track since I began seminary in 2010.  I have read books, taken classes, attended lectures and conferences.  My internship site is a mission start congregation, just barely six years old this month.

And I got my paperwork, and I wasn’t approved.

I knew, during the interview, that there were questions I wasn’t doing well on.  There are competencies that I am not strong in.  I am, in particular, not good at sharing ministry; I tend to do everything on my own rather than asking for help.  This is a perfect recipe for burnout in a mission pastor.  So the results were not a total surprise.  I still wept.

I am tired.  I am cut down.  I am scraped raw.  I have been stripped of more things this year than I ever thought I could let go of.  I sit in my apartment, staring at the books that have borne me since I was in high school and the borrowed kitchen chairs I am not certain I fit in yet.

I feel skinned down to the bone.

Which is, of course, where God loves to start.

This is the annoying thing about Jesus, or at least one of the top five:  that my actions, my beliefs, my faith, even the fact that I have accepted being called to a life of ministry does not spare me from losing almost everything.  A few Christmases ago I preached that the baby Jesus is not a magic medallion that protects us from all evil.  This is stupid and frustrating and maddening, that I can be scraped down to my most raw; that God even wants me to be, wants to peel back all the carefully shined-up layers, the precision cut corners, the smokescreen of I Have It All Together and get down to the very raw and real me.

But this is where I am, and there is no question that God is here, and wants to be with me in all of it; that God is weaving gentle hands over the dried marrow of my life.  That Ezekiel is standing at the desert of my heart, while God whispers, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

This is where God likes to begin; down at the rawness, the barren essence of things.  Jeremiah the prophet tries to shut himself up and speak no more of the LORD, and his bones start to burn with the weariness of holding it in.

This is not the year that I had planned, in any way, and I am skinned down to the bones; but there is a freshness in being this open, and a beauty in the desperation, and I will let that hold me.

I passed understanding a long, long time ago
And the simple home of systems and answers we all know
What I thought I wanted, what I got instead
Leaves me broken and somehow peaceful
I keep wanting you to be fair
But that's not what you said
I want certain answers to these prayers
But that's not what you said
- Sara Groves, “What I Thought I Wanted”
What I Thought I Wanted by Sara Groves on Grooveshark