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 http://weather.climate25.com/]),
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
their lives to matter. Who do they think
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?
equal pay as men and freedom from sexual violence. Who do they think they are?
workers wanting a pay increase that would enable them to support their
families. Who do they think they are?
clean water and a sustainable atmosphere for the planet. Who do they think they
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Today the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly (PA) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a memorial asking the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to divest from fossil fuels. The vote was close (79-67), but considering that this region of Pennsylvania is one of the centers of the coal and shale gas industries, the fact that it passed is significant. This is the fifth synod to pass a divestment resolution this year. For a full list, visit: http://www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org/synod-and-church-wide-resolutions. The synod also passed motions asking the Churchwide Assembly, and having our own synod incorporate creation-care into the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation coming up in 2017. The text of the divestment memorial follows:
SYNOD ASSEMBLY 2015
Transition to Clean, Renewable Energy
God created heaven and earth and everything therein and proclaimed it good (Gen
1:1ff); and God has entrusted humankind with the care of the earth (Gen 2:15);
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has adopted social policy
statements, “Caring for Creation” (1993) and “Sufficient, Sustainable
Livelihood” (1999) that call for economic and environmental justice, to protect
the health and integrity of creation both for its own sake and for the use and
enjoyment of present and future generations, and for economic justice, to
consider how our actions affect the ability of all people to provide for their
material needs and the needs of their families and communities; and
WHEREAS, in 1993 with the Caring for Creation social statement, we
realized the urgency was already “widespread and serious, according to the
preponderance of evidence from scientists worldwide [of] dangerous global
warming, caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide”
from the burning of fossil fuels, and that “action to counter degradation,
especially within this decade, is essential to the future of our children and
our children's children. Time is very short;” and
climate research is clear that there has been a rapid rise in the levels of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with current levels (400 ppm) the highest in
the past probably 2,000,000 years. This increase has occurred most rapidly in the
past 200 years during the worldwide Industrial Revolution;
climate research is clear that burning fossil fuels is the major source of
rising levels of carbon dioxide, negatively impacting our climate. Consequently, the use of
fossil fuels must be dramatically reduced; and
the most recent report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims
continued greenhouse gas emissions will cause “long-lasting changes in all components of the
climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible
impacts for people and ecosystems;”
in “Caring for Creation,” the ELCA declares that we will seek to incorporate
the principles of sufficiency and sustainability in our life. Consequently: “We
will, in our budgeting and investment of church funds, demonstrate our care for
in 1990 and 2007 the ELCA Church Council approved an Environmental Social
Criteria Investment Screen that recommends limiting investments made in
corporations which are the most egregious in terms of damage to human health or
the natural environment and investing in corporations which are taking positive
steps toward a sustainable environment; and
despite decades of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies, the
industry continues to spend nearly $2 billion dollars a day searching for
additional fossil fuel reserves and over half a million dollars a day lobbying
governments for subsidies and support for further extraction; and
fossil fuel divestment can have a major influence on how society responds to
the ELCA has historically divested during periods of great social need,
including the movement to end apartheid in South Africa; and
by divesting from fossil fuels, the ELCA joins with faith partners such as the
United Church of Christ and the World Council of
Churches as well as large
institutional investors such as Norway’s $850 billion Government Pension Fund
Global and a growing list of
colleges and universities, cities, religious institutions and foundations in
the fastest growing divestment effort in history; and
un-burnable carbon stored in fossil fuel reserves presents a material financial
risk to investment funds that provide capital to these companies;
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Upper Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA memorialize the
2016 Churchwide Assembly to call on the ELCA and its related institutions and
entities, such as the ELCA Endowment Fund Pooled Trust - Fund A (hereinafter
“Fund A”), the Mission Investment Fund, Portico Funds, colleges, seminaries,
Social Ministry organizations, camps, synods, congregations and individual
members to take leadership and make a public commitment to transition away from
investments in fossil fuels to investments in clean, renewable energy sources
as expeditiously as it is financially feasible to do so; and
IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that by December 31, 2016, the ELCA follow its published
procedure titled Social Criteria
Investment Screen Policies and Procedures Development
to develop a social criteria investment screen designed to result in divestment
of all fossil fuels investments held in Fund A, which includes prayerful
consideration of the following recommended components:
a) Publication of a list of the values of
all fossil fuel investments currently held in Fund A; and
b) Cessation of any new investments in
fossil fuel companies with respect to Fund A; and
c) Ensuring that all securities of fossil
fuel companies that are either direct holdings or holdings in commingled funds
are removed from the portfolio of Fund A within five years; and
d) Publication of quarterly updates,
available to the public, detailing progress towards divestment of Fund A as set
forth herein; and
IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Upper Susquehanna Synod memorialize the 2016
Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, as part of the development of the new social
criteria investment screen identified above, to direct the ELCA’s corporate
social responsibility review team to consider and recommend to the executive
director of the ELCA’s Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, for further
review pursuant to the ELCA’s published procedure titled Social Criteria
Investment Screen Policies and Procedures Development, the addition of a
fossil-free investment fund that excludes the 200 largest fossil fuel companies
as an option for ELCA retirement plan participants; and
IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this synod memorializes the 2016 Churchwide Assembly
to urge members of the ELCA and its related institutions to exemplify personal
and institutional responsibility by practicing energy conservation, purchasing
more energy efficient appliances and vehicles, investing in renewable energy
systems, and advocating at all levels of government for public policies that support
clean, renewable energy sources.
Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
Buffalo Valley Conference of the Upper Susquehanna Synod
Climate Change: The
Evidence and Our Options, Lonnie Thompson,
Ohio State University. Concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)
over the last 800,000 years. Fig. 6, pg. 163. See
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/TBA--LTonly.pdf. 2007 IPCC Working Group.
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has continued to increase and
is now almost 100 ppm above its pre-industrial level.” See
http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch7s7-es.html. EPA: Causes
of Climate Change. “Since the Industrial Era began, humans have had an
increasing effect on climate, particularly by adding billions of tons of
heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.” See http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html.
 NRC (2011).
Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over
Decades to Millennia. National Research
Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA. “Emissions of carbon
dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have ushered in a new epoch where
human activities will largely determine the evolution of Earth’s climate.”
NASA: Global Climate Change; Vital Signs of the Planet. “Humans have increased
atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began.
This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change.”
“Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has
increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).” See
(2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Thomas R. Karl,
Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change
Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA. “It is clear
that impacts in the United States are already occurring and are projected to
increase in the future, particularly if the concentration of heat-trapping
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise.” See http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=UCg7inA-HksC&oi=fnd&pg=PA13&dq=USGCRP+%282009%29.+Global+Climate+Change+Impacts+in+the+United+States&ots=uXe7HdVN2I&sig=3OcIArtThzaK
sX5JwzBrWNEj59A#v=onep age&q&f=false. NOAA, USGS: Climate change
impacts to U.S. coasts threaten public health, safety and economy Coastal
Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities: A Technical Input to the 2013
National Climate Assessment. “…the effects of climate change will continue to
threaten the health and vitality of U.S. coastal communities’ social, economic
and natural systems.” See