Friday, July 24, 2015

Postcards from Detroit, Part Two: Racism – The Struggle is Real

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#blacklivesmatter #racism #riseupelca
(Part One of "Postcards from Detroit: Let's Tell the Rest of the Story" can be found here: )

Prior to my trip to Detroit for the ELCA Youth Gathering with the teens from the congregation I serve, United in Christ Lutheran in Lewisburg, PA, we completed a preparatory session on racism.  We learned about the levels of individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism that we encounter in our relationships and in society.  We discussed the term “white privilege” and the stereotypes we have about certain races.  As a seminary student, I had gone through anti-racism training, and as a pastor of Spirit and Truth Worship Center in Yeadon, PA, I had the honor of serving an African American/African native congregation who taught me a great deal about the challenges of racism.  But I encountered something in Detroit that showed me just how embedded my stereotypes are about non-white people.
On our walk through center city Detroit one day, my youth and I came upon an open-air plaza where tall tables and chairs were lined up and eleven young black boys and girls sat across from each other playing chess – competitive speed chess, complete with timers.  

These girls and boys were upper elementary and middle school-aged, and they had an adult male mentor with them.  We watched, mouths gaping, as they made their moves, slapped the timers, joked and laughed, and whizzed through their games.  One boy, seeing his opponent make a good move against him, shouted out, “The struggle is real!” And we all laughed together. (For more info on the Detroit City Chess Club:

As I was taking pictures of their group, one little boy called out to me, “You want to play?”  While I knew how to play chess, we were on our way to the next event for the Gathering, so I had to politely decline.  “It’s okay, I can teach you!” he offered.  It was an “Aww,” moment – but I felt convicted in my soul.

Why is it that we were so shocked to see young black boys and girls engaging in a game that requires incredible mental skills of logic, strategy, pattern-recognition, and intellectual speed?  Did we not think their brains capable of such feats of intelligence?  Did we succumb to the stereotype that black children are only troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells, training for gang life and criminal activity, and incapable of higher thinking skills?  Were we so caught up in the assumptions that black males are lazy, violent and only interested in sports, and girls only destined to pre-teen unwed motherhood, that seeing them peacefully and joyfully engaging in chess just blew our minds?  And did we think them an exception to the unspoken rule that black people simply don’t have the capacity or interest to engage in demanding brain-training activities?

One of the speakers at the Gathering, Marian Wright Edelman, was a Civil Rights activist and is a lawyer who founded the Children’s Defense Fund.  As she spoke, I pictured those young black girls and boys at their chess boards.  And I began thinking about the millions of minds we wasted in this country by relegating them to slavery, then segregation, then the new Jim Crowe, and the ongoing instances of discrimination in education, housing, jobs, ecological racism, and economic access.  Not to mention the growing instances of violence by police and citizens against unarmed blacks in this country. She has fiercely advocated for policies that enhance the lives and educations of America’s poorest children, noting that the economic and racial inequalities in this country actually hinder all of us – not just the ones denied access.  (The video of her full speech can be found here: 

Yes, chess-playing child, you have taught me.  We all need to be reminded that the minds of black boys and girls are as smart as those of whites.  That they are just as capable of learning and cognitive development as their white counterparts.  And that when we deny them access to education through the myriad of social problems such as inadequate housing, healthcare, nutrition, and the mass incarceration of their parents, we are actually hurting ourselves.  How many potential inventors, scientists, writers, surgeons and artists have we denied ourselves as a nation over the past 400 hundred years by enslaving and shutting out those minds?  Who are the potential engineers, college professors, doctors and well-educated parents and voters we are shutting down right at this very moment? 

In central PA where I live, there is a heated battle over whether or not to allow a low-income housing site to be located in the wealthy, white, privileged, “safe” Lewisburg school district.  Citizens at the meetings blatantly voice their racial stereotypes:  we don’t want “those people” lowering our property values, bringing crime and drugs to our town, and bringing down the test scores of our schools. (See: . Also see

Those people are the chess-playing girls and boys.  By refusing to welcome them and educate them, we are sending away the future of America.  Shame on us.  The struggle is real.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postcards from Detroit, Part One – Let’s Tell the Rest of the Story

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#riseupelca #detroit

During the week of July 14 – 20, I accompanied a group of youth from the church I serve, United in Christ Lutheran in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, along with youth and advisers from four other Lutheran churches in our conference, to Detroit, Michigan, for the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering.  We joined 30,000 other Lutheran youth for five days of learning, service, worship, fellowship and fun.  What we saw in Detroit is a very different place than the one consistently portrayed in the media.  Coming from small town, rural central Pennsylvania, our youth felt some trepidation going to a city that has a reputation for violence, poverty, drugs, gangs and general depravity.  However, after walking the streets of downtown Detroit and serving in a HOPE Village community clean-up project in the northwest part of the city, we met the residents, learned about the complexities of this city, and have come back to tell a different story. 
We came . . .

 Yes, the negative things heard about Detroit are true.  
We saw . . .

But what is rarely, if ever reported is that the people of Detroit are welcoming, friendly, warm, appreciative, and joyful – even in the midst of their struggles.  When word got out about these busloads of youth being deployed throughout the city in their orange shirts to clean out abandoned lots, paint park benches, read to children, pack food boxes, and countless other projects, the residents made it a point to come up to us and thank us for the work we were doing.  
We cleaned . . .

Weeded . . .

Clipped . . .

One resident I talked to, upon seeing his neighborhood transformed from trash-filled to clean before his very eyes, said, “This gives me hope.”  
Before . . .

Coming back from Ford Field each night after the spirit-filled concerts and inspirational speakers, we saw local children greeting the parade of singing teens in the streets,

parking attendants dancing for us, 

and residents in high-rises waving and smiling.  What I heard repeatedly from residents who we talked to was this plea:  Please tell the rest of the story about Detroit when you get home. 

The challenges of structural racism, patterns of poverty, educational inequality, and economic misfortunes in Detroit are real, deeply embedded and complex.  But every city, every town faces these kinds of challenges.  The youth in my church reminded me repeatedly that drugs are a problem in their schools, racism is thinly veiled in our community, poverty is a constant for many, and their own neighbors and family members make poor choices when it comes to important life decisions.  They now realize that their circle of “family” has been extended to Detroit.  And Detroiters came to learn that they have more allies in their corner than they ever imagined. 

Most importantly, our youth realized that God is already at work in these supposedly God-forsaken places.  The theme of the Gathering was “Rise Up.”  We saw this resurrectional rising in Detroit and are inspired to continue to do God’s work with our hands here in our own community as well.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Student Haiku Reflections on The Holy Spirit: Creator of Life

Haiku poetry by the confirmation class
United in Christ Lutheran church, Lewisburg, pa
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, pastor

July 2015

The Confirmation students completed their final unit on the Apostle’s Creed with a session on the Holy Spirit.  After reading Bible passages, discussing the Apostle’s Creed, and meditating on the Spirit, we went to the Island at Milton State Park where the students spent time writing haiku poetry about the Holy Spirit. 

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that consists of three lines, the first with five syllables, the second with seven, and the third with five.  

Spirit: Fire and Dove
Creator of Life and Church
Upholder of Truth.
-        Amy Danowsky

Fire, Wind and the Dove.
Creating the Life within
And the endless Love.
-        Marianne Murray

Creator of Life
Spiritus creates the Church
Wind, Dove, Breath of God
-        Dalton Shearer

Spirit in the Fire
Three-in-One, the Trinity
Holy bond of Life.
-        Dustin Kemper

Sustainer of Life
Forgiveness and Communion
The Resurrector
-        Amy Danowsky

Children will learn to protect what they love.  Connect youth to the Creation of God and cultivate their appreciation for the power of the Holy Spirit to create new life in them and all around them.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sermon: Finding Jesus in Our Weakness

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
July 5, 2015
Text:  2 Corinthians 12:2-10

(Children’s sermon: Children are given thin sticks and asked if they can break them.  We can break the stick when it’s by itself.  But when we bundle it with a bunch of other sticks – we can’t break them.  Bound together in God's love, we experience power - even in our weakness and brokenness.)

We are at the end of our sermon series “Finding Jesus Finding Us,” and today we’re focusing on finding Jesus in the midst of our weakness.  As St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:  “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

What an odd statement:  power is made perfect in weakness.  It seems like a contradiction.  We would think that the phrase should be:  power is made perfect in strength.  But that’s not what Paul said.  He’s talking about the thorn in his flesh (that’s where we get the phrase – a thorn in my side, by the way).  We don’t know what he’s referring to – some kind of physical ailment or injury?  Some ugly growth on this skin?  Or perhaps it’s a weakness for something – some temptation that causes him to give in.  We don’t know.  All we know is that he prayed for the thorn to be removed.  And God’s response is:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
This week on Facebook, I posed the question:  What is your weakness?  And how have you experienced God’s power in that weakness?  One Facebook responder gave a list of different ways we experience weakness, including:  depression, lack of clarity, financial fear, stress from parenting, and broken relationships.  She said that experiencing weakness feels like “God is closing a door and not opening a window fast enough.”

You’ll see at either end of your pew that there are slips of paper.  I want you to think about what your weakness is and write it on that slip of paper.  Don’t put your name – just write down what your weakness is.  Whether it’s your pride, or a health issue, or your stubbornness, or your addiction.  Just write it down and fold it up tight. 

As you’re doing that, I’m going to ask Mike Mertz to come up and share with you his testimony about where he has experienced God’s power within his own weakness.  Mike is one of the biggest, strongest guys I know. I remember the first time I met him here at church when I came here four years ago – I thought the church had hired a bouncer!  Mike is a trainer and specialist in sports medicine.  The more I've gotten to know Mike over these years, I learned that he has a very deep faith – faith that has been tested by times of weakness.  And he has learned a thing or two about what it means to experience God’s grace and power made perfect in weakness.

[Mike’s testimony: see video for full story.  Mike's portion starts at 6:19.  Summary - Mike was a golfer who was prepared to turn professional, but two weeks before he was to start, he broke a bone in his hand, which ended his career before it started.  He was devastated at the time, but eventually followed the path of sports medicine and give thanks to God that he has been able to help so many adults and kids.]

Here’s the thing:  Mike literally experienced a pain in his wrist that was like a thorn in the flesh.  It was a career-ending injury.  He would no longer be able to pursue his dream of becoming a professional golfer.  But through this weakness, God’s power was made perfect in Mike.  He has touched the lives of probably a thousand adults and young people as a sports trainer, and has helped them either avoid injury, or recover from injury.  Mike understands sports medicine on a very personal level, knows the importance of keep one’s body in good shape and playing sports the right way in order to minimize injuries.  God’s power of healing has been made perfect in Mike’s weakness. 

Remember – I’m not saying that God caused Mike’s injury so that he would follow the path of sports medicine.  That’s not how God works.  God is not like a master game player up in the sky, deciding to afflict some people just to achieve a certain outcome, no matter how positive.  If that was the case, it would mean God is arbitrary and manipulative and cruel.  No – God is not up in the sky making things happen.  God is here below, among us, accompanying us no matter what we face, no matter what circumstances arise, and creating something new out of our brokenness. 

When I was a hospital chaplain I had the occasion to visiting a young woman in the oncology wing who was facing a recurrence of cancer. She was very frustrated – just like Paul.  This person had prayed fervently that the cancer would resolve itself.  Lots of people were praying for her, all over the world.  So she had strong confidence that God would keep the cancer away.  So when the test came back positive, and it turned out that the cancer was back, this person was understandably shaken.  She was doubting the power of prayer, her own faith, and doubting God. As I sat with her, I remembered this verse from 2 Corinthians and read it to her – “My grace is sufficient for you.  Power is made perfect in weakness.”  I asked her to imagine a way that God’s power might be made perfect even in her illness.

She thought for a while, then answered:  “Maybe if - no when - I come through this surgery, I can help other cancer patients who are facing the same thing as I am.  I know there is a cancer support group here at the hospital.  Maybe I can volunteer with them, maybe become something like a cancer coach, helping people go through what I’ve experienced.  No one understands cancer better than one who has been through it.”

I thought this was a very wise and faith-filled response.  I don’t know what happened to the woman, because after she left the hospital, my chaplaincy ended.  But I felt certain that God would find a way for that divine power to be made perfect through her weakness. 

That’s what Mike has learned over the course of his life.  Power is made perfect in weakness.  Notice – God did not magically make everything the way Mike wanted it to be after his injury.  But when we walk with each other, help others by sharing what we’ve been through, it’s like bundling these sticks together – there is incredible strength.  Every fault, every sin, every failure, every affliction can eventually be an opportunity to walk alongside someone on the same path, embodying Christ’s presence, compassion and grace.

Here’s what I invite you to do.  As we sing the hymn, I invite you to come forward and make an “offering of weakness.” Put your folded up piece of paper here in this basket – remember, no names.  At the end of the hymn, I will say a prayer over the offering of weaknesses.  We will pray together that God’s grace will be sufficient for you and for our congregation. And that we might, together – like sticks banded together, weak by themselves, but united in strength – that we might experience God’s power through our weakness.

As the Facebook responder wrote:  “When I am weak, He is strong! I lean harder on Him! I wait patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently) but I remind myself of God’s love for me. I remind myself that God is bigger than my problems! That He is Jehovah Jireh, Lord Provider; Jehovah Shalom, Lord of Peace; Jehovah Sabbaoth, Lord of Deliverance! And I have learned when the storm clouds roll, I send my praises up and they break apart those clouds and the blessings come down! Praise is the weapon and I have never seen it fail!"

May God's power be made known to you through your weakness today.  And may we, as a bundle of brokenness and weakness, be a witness to God's power through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Laudato Sí Sermon: A Resurrection Sermon for an Earth-Kin Congregation

A Sermon for an Outdoor Setting
Text: Colossians 1:15-20; John 20:1-18
Preached at R.B. Winter State Park in Pennsylvania, in the outdoor Whispering Pines amphitheater

(This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit, available from Chalice Press for pre-order at


            In honor of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Sí, this sermon takes its cue from the Pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.[1] I reintroduce his idea of preaching to the creatures, flora and non-human others in Creation. In this way the eco-hermeneutical principle of proclamation for the other-than-human community of Earth is given a completely different conceptual framework. The Earth-congregation is directly addressed, and the humans are told they can “listen in.” Thus anthropocentrism is de-centered from the outset and humans are relegated to the margin. Moreover, the members of the other-than-human community are addressed not just as “Brother” and “Sister,” but are identified by their role within the liturgy of Creation, much the way humans have parts to play in the worship service as ushers, greeters, choir members, and lectors.

            The ecological hermeneutic is also woven throughout the sermon by seeing the story of the Passion and Resurrection from the nature characters’ points of view. They are identified as witnesses to the events from Palm Sunday through Good Friday and as co-sufferers in Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus the sermon, through both its form and content, enacts a creative actualization of the biblical story from Earth’s perspective and situates them as equals in the Divine drama of the Passion and Crucifixion.
            The primary text for consideration alongside that of the Gospel is the hymn of the Cosmic Christ in the first chapter of Colossians. Here I drew on Joseph Sittler’s interpretation which contains seeds of an early ecofeminism, in that he identifies nature as “God’s sister”:
We must not fail to see the nature and size of this issue that Paul confronts and encloses in this vast Christology. In propositional form it is simply this: a doctrine of redemption is meaningful only when it swings within the larger orbit of a doctrine of creation. For God's creation of earth cannot be redeemed in any intelligible sense of the word apart from a doctrine of the cosmos which is God's home, God's definite place, the theatre of God's selfhood, in cooperation with God's neighbour, and in a caring relationship with nature, God's sister.[2]

            While the ontological implications of such a relationship between God and nature (i.e., if they are siblings, who is their parent?) are worth exploration at another time, what I wish to highlight is the way in which Sittler expands a salvific Christology to be inclusive of nature. With this in mind, the middle of the sermon takes time to trace the contours of the story of the Cosmos’ and Earth’s ancient, primordial history in order to provide the memory of God’s steadfastness and love through the unfathomable reaches of time.
            The sermon then returns to Holy Week. Earth is described as taking Jesus’ body into herself and birthing him from her womb as the Resurrected One. The Greek chorus of Creation is set in relief against the reaction of the women at the tomb on Easter morning. And just as the elements of Creation provide a unique witness to the crucifixion, so they also provide a fly’s eye, stone’s eye, and birds’ eye view of the risen Christ. The description of what they see is influenced by Catherine Keller’s description of an ecological resurrection: "[T]he old creation will remain, marred and scarred, to be mourned, healed, teased, its lonely phallic signifiers danced around like ancient maypoles."[3]
Sermon Text:

St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists, preached to the flowers. He preached to cornfields, stones, forests, earth, air and wind. He considered them and all God’s creatures to be his brothers and sisters. He thought of them as his fellow worshipers of God and exhorted them to praise their Creator.

I think it is high time to revive his practice of preaching to our Earth-kin. So this sermon is not for my human sisters and brothers, it is for my other-than-human family. You are welcome to listen in. But as we stand in this cathedral of God’s creation, surrounded by the very presence of God in the midst of this congregation of trees, creeks, hundreds of varieties of plants and wildlife, thousands of insects, and microbes we can’t even see, this sermon is for them.

Brother Fern and Sister Porcupine; Choir of Cicadas and Altar Guild of Spiders who weave the fair linens of the forest; Lightning Bug Acolyte and Lector Bull Frog who reads to us the lessons of God’s Creation as the sun sets each summer evening: Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the most moving hymns that we humans sing on Good Friday is “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Lest we forget that God’s very Creation witnessed to Jesus’ suffering and death, I want to acknowledge your presence at every point along Jesus’ journey to the cross, and that you witnessed his resurrection before any human eye beheld him.

Stones, your voices echoed the ringing “Hosannas” shouted by the disciples and crowds along the road to Jerusalem. Palm leaves, you laid a green carpet for Donkey’s hooves as he carried Jesus into the city. Olive Grove, you stood sentry over Jesus as he prayed at Gesthemane, knowing the suffering that awaited him. Sun, you hid your face during those torturous hours Jesus hung on the cross, as Nephesh, the Breath of Life, was forced from his lungs with each passing hour. And Trees, both of you felled in the prime of your life after having housed countless birds, insects, and children’s playtimes – they lashed you together crossways and forced you to become the scaffolding of death for Jesus. Each of you was there. Even you, Rocks, trembled and shook, fractured and split as Jesus breathed his last.

Yes, you were there. You suffered as Jesus suffered. And is your suffering any different today? Yes, it is different. For as man’s death-machine has become more sophisticated, so has his ability to violate your life processes become more complex and sinister. Brother Trees, you are massacred by the millions every hour to make room for human houses, strip malls, fields of human-designed genetically-mutated seeds, and drill rigs. Sister Rocks, you tremble and shake, fracture and split, as these rigs puncture you, inject you with biocides and chemicals to kill any and every living thing, as the essence of your ancient depths is extracted. Nephesh, Breath of Life, you are polluted with carbon dioxide, fumes, and the smallest particulates that find their way into our children’s lungs and cause them to gasp for air. Sun, your heat is no longer simply beneficial, but trapped inside the atmosphere of Earth, causing Brother Ice Caps to shrink, Sea to rise, and Storm to rage with irrepressible anger against us. The crucifixion of Jesus happened once in history. But your crucifixion, O Earth, is carried out daily.

It is no wonder that you groan, waiting for those of us who are Christian to claim our birthright and responsibilities as Children of God to finally stand up and say, Enough! We have done such damage to you, committed so many sins against you and our human brothers and sisters, I worry that we may have already reached the tipping point and that we are on a fast track to an environmental Good Friday, the likes of which none of us will survive.

But when I am tempted to give in to despair, I am reminded of a story that gives me hope. It is the most ancient of stories. It is your story the story of the birth of the universe itself. Cosmos of God, you are nearly 14 billion years old. The story we hear in Genesis is of your creation, conceived from the great unfathomable depths of God’s bottomless, tehomic love. And the set of circumstances for life to begin and evolve on this fragile blue orb is so impossible, it can only be Love itself that would enable it to happen at all.
I am reminded that in Earth’s history there have been waves of catastrophic events which have threatened life on this planet. But again and again, the resiliency and creativity given to you by God has found ways to push through and around the crises and enabled life to flourish once again. I have to believe that God, who has brought us through 14 billion years of time, will not abandon us now. That somehow God is working through even this man-made catastrophe of global climate change, deforestation, massive extinction, and toxic poisoning to find a way for life to push through once again. And so I make the choice to believe and act on my firm belief that on the other side of the Good Friday of the eco-crucificion, there is an eco-resurrection waiting to surprise us.

Because when I remember that you were there at Jesus’ crucifixion, I also remember that you were there at his resurrection. Earth, you took Jesus’ body into yourself, into the very heart of your bosom. What did you witness there if not a birth from the womb of your body? Great Stone hewn from the cave, how light you were in the hands of the angels who rolled you away. Quiet Garden in which the women stood, uncomprehending of the miracle before them, how the Crickets must have laughed, how the Flowers must have glowed with joy, seeing the women’s faces behold the Resurrected One.

What did you see, Sister Flies, no longer drawn to a decomposing body? How did Jesus appear to you, Brother Birds who whistled the first “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”? He was the same, yet different. He was filled with new life, yet with scars remaining. So, too, will be your appearance, O Earth, when your resurrection is complete. For God so loved the world – the cosmos – that She gave her only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.

I ask you, Sister Dolphin and Brother Arctic Moss, not to give up hope. Believe in the One who loves you, who created you, who suffers with you, and who will raise you up into new life. Do not give up on us, O Earth. There are humans who are teaching their children and others how to see the world not just from a human point of view, but from your point of view. We are learning how God sees the interrelatedness within all of Creation. We are learning from you, listening to your teachings, reintroducing ourselves to Brother Fox and Sister Salamander. We are drawing our faith from you, and repenting of our arrogance as that has oppressed you for so long.

You, our Earth-kin are grounding us in the universe story so we can see where we come from and what we come out of – this soil and water and breath - reminding us that we are all indeed one – of the same substance that exploded in that glorious instant of creation. You will help us to unfetter our imagination by asking: what does the world look like when we live within our means and see Earth as family? And you will show us what it looks like when all God’s creatures, including these Children of God, praise their Creator through worship and song and quiet meditation. As we learn to love you, O Earth, and love God, we are being moved to advocate for you and to be servants of the Most High God.

O Earth, I must believe that we can look forward to the Resurrected One calling our name and opening our eyes to your crucified body transformed to new life, even as we have done all we could in our faithful witnessing and ministering, and still fallen short.

Pray for us, Earth-kin, as we pray for you. It is no accident that you are here, that any of us are here. God has brought you to this place and God will guide you and lead you as you lead and guide us. Go forth with the faith that will sustain you and assure you that you are doing God’s work with your very existence. And God’s work never fails. Amen.

[1] Francis' first biographer, Thomas of Celano (1229) wrote: “When he found an abundance of flowers, he preached to them and invited them to praise the Lord as though they were endowed with reason. In the same way he exhorted with the sincerest purity cornfields and vineyards, stones and forests and all the beautiful things of the fields, fountains of water and the green things of the gardens, earth and fire, air and wind, to love God and serve him willingly. Finally, he called all creatures brother, and in a most extraordinary manner, a manner never experienced by others, he discerned the hidden things of nature with his sensitive heart, as one who had already escaped into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” (1 Celano, 81-82)[1] [as cited in Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997). p. 210].)
[2] Joseph Sittler, "Called to Unity: Redemption within Creation," in World Council of Churches Meeting (New Delhi, India: 1961, reprinted 1985), 3.
[3] Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then: A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 179, 180.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reaching for the Hem of the Robe: Plenty of Healing to Go Around

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
June 28, 2015
Text:  Mark 5:21-43
#marriageequality #blacklivesmatter 

I teach Ethics at Lebanon Valley College.  As the students and I grapple with issues of fairness, justice, and access to resources throughout the semester, they begin to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of problems our society faces.  I remember one student’s comment when I introduced them to the notion of environmental ethics.  “There are too many other problems to worry about,” he said.  “I know environmental issues are important, but I just don’t think we should focus on them when we’ve got our national security to think about and all the other social problems.”
Setting aside his assumption that environmental issues and national security are unrelated (because, in fact, they are integrally related [see]), what I sensed in his comment, and others shared by his classmates is the fear of scarcity.  That there’s not enough to go around.  If we focus our energy on racial equality, there won’t be enough left for gender equality.  If we focus on marriage equality, there won’t be enough left for economic equality.  If we focus on raising the minimum wage, there won’t be enough energy left to focus on climate disruption.  And so on.  The underlying assumption is that there is only so much justice and healing to go around. 

This is the situation Jesus faced in his ministry every day.  There were so many issues and social problems in first century Palestine – the brutal military occupation by the Roman Empire, the ethnic tension between the Jews and Samaritans, the unequal access between men and women to the Temple and God’s blessings, and the poverty of the majority of the population.  Add to that the hundreds of people who were daily crying out to him for healing – the lepers, the lame, the ones possessed by mental and emotional demons.  It was a time of great turmoil, and there was Jesus right in the thick of it all.

In this story from Mark in particular, we see the conflict of two dire needs – one that has been simmering for a long time, one that has come up suddenly.  Jesus is asked to come to the house of Jairus the synagogue leader in order to heal his little girl who is on the verge of death.  The need is urgent.  He must come now.

But as he makes his way through the crowd, another need makes itself known.  This is one that has been plaguing the woman for twelve years – menstrual bleeding that just won’t stop.  Such a condition makes her a pariah to society because she is considered ritually unclean.  The bleeding is not her fault, but it has drained her resources, her energy and her patience.  There she is in the crowd where she has been ignored, disrespected and disregarded for most of her life.  But suddenly she sees an opportunity for healing – and she grabs it. 

She doesn’t ask Jesus directly.  She doesn’t want to interrupt him on what she knows is a very important mission.  But like the Samaritan woman at the banquet, she just wants a few crumbs from the table.  And so she reaches for the hem of Jesus’ robe – hoping against hope that even a brief swipe of her hand against the fabric that has touched this divine healer’s skin will be enough to give her a modicum of relief. 

That’s all she wanted – some relief after years of suffering.  She didn’t want to draw attention to herself.  She didn’t want to cause a fuss.  But she acted out of desperation after waiting for so long for healing.  And miracle of miracles - she got it!  Instantly she could feel her body returned to wholeness, the bleeding stopped, her energy returned.

But then her plan goes awry, because Jesus halts in his tracks.  He could have just kept going.  Why did he stop?  The healing had already happened, hadn’t it?  Or perhaps the healing was not actually complete.  Because Jesus wants to know who it was that reached out and took some of his power for themselves.

Now the woman is faced with a decision – fade into the crowd as she has always done, or speak up for herself in public?  Certainly she would face admonishment.  How dare she – a woman, a bleeder, an outcast – reach out to him, the Son of God, for healing?  Who does she think she is?

Trembling, but with courage, she comes forward and claims the healing she sought for herself.  Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore – as long as her body is whole again, she can face anything else.  Or maybe the healing itself has revealed to her a boldness and audacity that she had forgotten about.  In any case – she comes forward to face her fate.  Who does she think she is?  A healed women.  She may still feel afraid, but she is choosing to act out of courage.

Who do they think they are?  I’ve been hearing that question a lot recently as I watch the crowd of social issues pressing in on us in the last few weeks. 

Blacks wanting their lives to matter.  Who do they think they are? 
Same sex couples wanting the freedom and right to marry.  Who do they think they are? 
Middle and lower income people wanting access to affordable health care.  Who do they think they are?
Women wanting equal pay as men and freedom from sexual violence.  Who do they think they are?
Minimum wage workers wanting a pay increase that would enable them to support their families.  Who do they think they are?
Citizens wanting clean water and a sustainable atmosphere for the planet. Who do they think they are?

The question is:  who does God think they are?  Jesus gives us the answer.  He calls the woman “Daughter.”  He doesn’t call her:  You female dog.  You uppity Negro.  You abomination.  You low-life.  You scum.  You tree-hugger. 

No - he calls her “Daughter.”  He claims her as his own.  As his own child.  No other human label matters.  Further, he says to her:  Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease. 

Notice he didn’t say, my healing power has made you well (even though it has).  He said your faith.  Your willingness to reach out for what you needed.  Your trust in me.  Your audacity.  Your boldness and courage.  That is what has made you well.

If the one who is desperate, whose needs have been ignored and pushed aside and belittled for so long; if the one who is longing for a fair and livable wage;  if the one who is reaching out for healing and wholeness, for equality and recognition of their humanity; if the one who is grasping for just the hem of the robe hoping for a modicum of relief – if that one is recognized and healed by Jesus, then can we begrudge any of those individuals or groups who reach for the hem of the robe today? 

The venerable homiletician Fred Craddock once wrote:  "There are many 'meanwhile, back at the ranch' people whose needs are not only very real but whose conditions are worsened by the fact that they have been made to feel that, in a world as sick as ours, they have no right to cry for help.  Many whose lives are small screen, black and white, push through the crowd to touch the hem of His garment, hoping for a little inconspicuous healing,” (As One Without Authority, Parthenon Press, Nashville, TN, 1979; 84).

Not only does the healing happen, but Jesus acknowledges the woman’s dignity, her humanity, her rightful place alongside her brothers and fathers, alongside the ones who are already privileged to have whole and healthy bodies, the ones who already enjoy economic, racial, sexual and geographic privilege.  I think it is safe to say that Jesus wants no less than that for the ones who are today reaching for the hem of the robe.

And that’s all fine and good for the woman, but it doesn’t get at the original problem – the concern that there simply isn’t enough healing to go around.  While Jesus is taking his time to find and talk to this woman, what happens?  The girl, the one whose need is urgent, but late-coming, has died.  All the while Jairus certainly must have been wringing his hands, tapping his foot impatiently, knowing that time was running out.  And it has.  Jesus had to choose, and someone had to lose.  So it would seem that my student is right.  There simply is not enough time and energy and resources to go around.  We have to choose, and someone has to lose.

Only . . . that’s not that way it works with God.  Brushing aside the doomsdayers who have given up, Jesus resumes his mission to Jairus’ house.  “Do not fear.  Only believe.”  The Greek word is pisteo – have faith, grab hold of confidence, reach for the hem of the robe. 

And yet the little girl cannot reach for him – not even a thread of his garment.  So instead, Jesus reaches for her . . . holds her hand . . . speaks to her . . . “Little girl, get up.”  Arise, wake up.  What you cannot do for yourself, I do for you.  My compassion knows no bounds.  There is plenty of healing to go around. 

Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D.,Assistant Prof. of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology, spoke at the Academy of Homiletics in 2014, addressing teachers of preaching.  She encouraged us as Christians to preach about taking risks, to talk and listen with confidence.   She said that when we dismember our hearts from our bodies, when we dismember our hearts from each other, we are dismembered from God.  This is what enables and justifies our rationalization of denying healing and wholeness to our neighbor, to our enemy, to our planet. 

But healing comes when we practice mercy toward others and ourselves.  “God is the full manifestation of justice, beauty and power,” she said.  “Mercy implies a pain-inducing empathy that lays hold of the compassionate one; moves them to satisfy the needs of the one needing mercy.  The Divine has an infinite capacity for experiencing pain, and thus an infinite capacity for mercy and healing.”  Expanding our hearts extends mercy to others.  Mercy is the road to justice – for the woman, for the girl, for people of color, for the poor, for marriage equality, for the planet. 

And for you.  The hem of Jesus’ robe is as close as the drop of oil we will swipe across your brow.  Reach for the hem of the robe.  And if you know of someone else in need of healing, reach out on their behalf.  Bring Jesus to them, as Jairus did for his daughter.  As we offer healing prayers for each other, right now, do not think yourself unworthy of Jesus’ healing.  There is enough healing to go around.  Reach for the hem of robe.  Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon excerpt: Anchors in the Storm (Response to Charleston church shooting)

Sermon – Anchors in the Storm
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
June 21, 2015
Readings:  Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Today we are in the second of our sermon series on “Finding Jesus Finding Us,” where we’re thinking about what it means to seek God in our lives and in times of great challenges.  But even more importantly, we’re thinking about what does it mean that God is actually seeking us?  Last week we learned how Jesus searches for us even when our faith is no bigger than that of a mustard seed.  Today, we’re grappling with how we find Jesus – and how Jesus finds us – even in the midst of the storms of our lives.
As you may have noticed, our readings today have stormy seas as their theme.  Humans often feel caught in the drama between God and the seas.  When “well-behaved,” the sea is a bountiful source of food, a means of transportation, the site of restorative recreation, and a symbol of openness and exploration.  But when the sea becomes wild and untamed, whipped into a frenzy by storms, or overstepping its bounds by flooding beaches and human habitations, the loss of life and property can be overwhelming.  Ancient peoples prayed to their gods or God to keep the sea within its prescribed boundaries.  This is reflected in both the Psalm (“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress,” v. 28), and in the Gospel of Mark (‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” v. 38). 
Of course, Jesus cares!  With the authority of the one who laid the foundation of the earth and prescribed the bounds for the sea, as the book of Job describes, Jesus echoes the words of the Creator:  “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped.”  Or, more simply:  “Peace, be still!”  . . .

Here’s the thing.  No matter what we may be facing, we find Jesus even in the midst of the storms of life.  But that’s because Jesus finds us even in our moments of greatest fear.  It comes through a shared conversation, a sympathetic ear, a moment of prayer.  It happens over a cup of coffee, and over a small glass of communion wine – Jesus comes to us, steadies us, secures our footing, and calms the storm inside of us so that we can face whatever life sends our way. . . .
Today, especially, our country is still reeling from the shock and horror of a 21-year-old white man who sat for an hour in a Bible study at a black church, Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC, and opened fire on them, killing nine people. His name:  Dylann Storm Roof.  The storm literally came right into the boat of the church.  We know that the storms of racism, gun violence and hatred are battering the boat of the church and this country.  

This tragedy hits especially close to home since the shooter was on the rolls of a Lutheran church, and two of the victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel Simmons, graduated from a Lutheran Southern Seminary.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton said the following in a public statement:  "All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.  We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man," she added. "But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly."
In other words, we cannot deny and avoid this storm.  We must stand up and confront it, just as Jesus did.  This evening our community will gather at Hufnagle Park in Lewisburg at 7 p.m. for a vigil in solidarity with the families of the victims, the congregation of Emanuel Church, and our whole community which also faces its own storms of racism.  This is our chance as Lutherans, as members of the Christian Church, as followers of the One who stood up in the boat to confront the storm – this is our chance to echo his words:  “Peace! Be still!”  We rebuke the storms of racism and violence and we call for peace.
It’s the same words repeated by the family members of the victims who gathered at the bond hearing for the shooter.  They spoke words of pain and grief, honestly expressing their loss.  But they also spoke words of forgiveness and invited him to turn to God in repentance.  There in that courtroom they, too, echoed the words of Jesus, saying to this Storm:  Peace.  Be still.
On this Father’s Day, we repeat the words of the one who taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father, whom he called Abba:  “Your will be done, Father in Heaven.  Not evil’s will.  But your will be done.  Let there be peace.”  I invite you to come to the vigil this evening, to be an anchor in our community in the midst of the storm. 

May God bless us with the anchor of faithful men and women, teens and children who will stand together to steady the boat in the storm.  Whether that storm hits you on a personal level, whether it is a storm that is battering your health and you’re your body, whether it is a storm that is affecting your family or your community – Jesus is finding us even in that storm.  And we are finding Jesus through each other.  Amen.

We rang our church bell during the service today as we read the names of the victims during the prayers:
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
The Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor
Cynthia Hurd
Susie Jackson
Ethel Lance
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.