Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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 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 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.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

ELCA Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly passes fossil fuel divestment memorial

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:

Memorial for Transition to Clean, Renewable Energy

WHEREAS, 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); and
WHEREAS, 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

WHEREAS, 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;[1]

WHEREAS, climate research is clear that burning fossil fuels is the major source of rising levels of carbon dioxide, negatively impacting our climate.[2] Consequently, the use of fossil fuels must be dramatically reduced; and

WHEREAS, 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;”[3] and

WHEREAS, 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 creation;” and

WHEREAS 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;[4] and

WHEREAS 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;[5] and

WHEREAS fossil fuel divestment can have a major influence on how society responds to climate change;[6] and

WHEREAS the ELCA has historically divested during periods of great social need, including the movement to end apartheid in South Africa; and

WHEREAS by divesting from fossil fuels, the ELCA joins with faith partners such as the United Church of Christ[7] and the World Council of Churches[8] as well as large institutional investors such as Norway’s $850 billion Government Pension Fund Global[9] and a growing list of colleges and universities, cities, religious institutions and foundations in the fastest growing divestment effort in history[10]; and

WHEREAS, un-burnable carbon stored in fossil fuel reserves presents a material financial risk to investment funds that provide capital to these companies;[11]

THEREFORE, 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

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that by December 31, 2016, the ELCA follow its published procedure titled Social Criteria Investment Screen Policies and Procedures Development[12] to develop a social criteria investment screen designed to result in divestment of all fossil fuels investments held in Fund A,[13] 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;[14] 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

BE 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

BE 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.

Respectfully submitted,

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA


The Buffalo Valley Conference of the Upper Susquehanna Synod

[1] 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.
[2] 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 http://climate.nasa.gov/causes.
USGCRP (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 http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130125_coastalclimateimpacts.html
[3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5.
[6] Climate Change: Implications for Investors and Financial Institutions: Key Findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. http://www.unepfi.org/fileadmin/documents/IPCC_AR5__Implications_for_Investors__Briefing__WEB_EN.pdf
[10] This website lists the institutions that are committing to divest from fossil fuels:  http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/
[14] By using the current list of 200 coal, oil and gas companies found here: http://gofossilfree.org/companies/. Source: Unburnable Carbon, The Carbon Tracker Institute; http://www.carbontracker.org/wp- content/uploads/2014/09/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2-1.pdf.