By the Rev. Darren Miner
A preacher’s job is to know what’s going on in the world, to know his congregation, and to be able to explain how the Holy Scriptures inform both the former and the latter. If you opened a newspaper, turned on the TV, or browsed the Web in the last week or so, then you know that a lot is going on in the world. Nine Christians were murdered in church because of their race. Dozens of people were slaughtered in Tunisia by Muslim extremists. The Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriages. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is considering whether same-sex unions can be considered Christian marriages. And hundreds of thousands of people are lining the streets of San Francisco at this very moment for the annual Pride parade. The scriptural readings that the lectionary offers for our consideration consist of a royal lament, a stewardship appeal, and a story of miraculous healing and of resurrection. I will admit that I had a hard time finding a connection. But a connection I did find—the restoration of right relationship.
Let us begin with King David’s lament. King Saul and his son Jonathan have been killed in battle, and Israel has suffered a shameful defeat. Despite the longstanding enmity between David and Saul, King David writes a lament for him and for Jonathan and decrees that the lament be published throughout the kingdom. Now, we may doubt the sincerity of David’s mourning for Saul, but not his mourning for Jonathan. David and Jonathan had an enduring, intimate relationship that was more than your average friendship. The Bible tells us that when David and Jonathan first met, Jonathan loved David more than his own soul. There is a phrase to describe such an event: love at first sight. Jonathan showered David with gifts. He defended David from his father, King Saul. And on two successive occasions, he declared to his beloved David that he loved him more than his own life. When Jonathan is killed in battle, David publicly proclaims that he loved Jonathan more than any woman (despite the fact that he was married to Jonathan’s sister).
The story of the love between David and Jonathan stands out in stark contrast to other scriptures that set strict limits on the love between two men or two women. And it reminds us that the Bible does not always speak with one voice. We find that at least one scriptural voice, the author of 2 Samuel, has no issue with the love between two men. So, there is, in fact, some scriptural basis for the social recognition of intimate same-sex relationships.
Now admittedly, same-sex marriage is a new and different thing, and many people may very well feel uncomfortable about the innovation. Frankly, this is to be expected. Change is always disturbing—but that doesn’t mean that change is always bad! The way I look at it, same-sex marriage promotes right relationship. It promotes a monogamous, covenanted commitment in the context of a loving relationship. And social recognition of this new institution serves to restore the dignity of those who once-upon-a-time were social outcasts. In my mind, the Supreme Court made a wise and courageous and even righteous decision. And the people who are celebrating Pride Sunday today should give thanks to the Holy Spirit, for I suspect that the Spirit had a hand in the Supreme Court’s decision.
The epistle today is basically a stewardship letter asking for money. St. Paul wishes to collect money from the church in Corinth to support the church in Jerusalem. Think of it as a kind of diocesan appeal. The issue at hand is that the mother church in Jerusalem is suffering and needs financial assistance. St. Paul makes use of a variety of arguments, including shame, to convince the Corinthians, but finally settles on one argument: basic fairness. The Corinthians have more than they need to get along, while the church in Jerusalem is in dire need. By giving out of their abundance to those in need, the Corinthians have the opportunity to restore and renew the relationship between the daughter church and the mother church. Again, we find the theme of right relationship.
Now, we come to the Gospel reading from Mark. We find two separate stories intertwined with each other. One is the story of the miraculous healing of a woman with a hemorrhage; the other, the resurrection of a twelve-year old girl. Yet again, an underlying theme is the restoration of right relationship.
First, let us consider the story of the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Her situation was dire. She was chronically ill. She was destitute, having spent all her money on medical treatments. And she was unclean. Now, what do I mean by calling her “unclean”? Well, according to Jewish law, a woman who bled was ritually impure. Her husband was forbidden from touching her. And if one so much as sat in a chair that an unclean woman had sat in, that person had to undergo ritual purification. The woman in today’s Gospel story was not just unclean, she was contagious! Every person she brushed against in the crowd was contaminated, whether he knew it or not. And when she reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, she was deliberately defiling him. But what else could she do? She was desperate, and she doubted her own self-worth. Why should this powerful healer show her mercy? After all, she was “dirty,” and her touch made others “dirty.” So she decided to steal grace, to reach out and take healing from Jesus without his knowing. But he does know! He senses her healing. And then he seeks her out. In shame, she confesses that she touched him, that she made him dirty, that she stole grace from him. But instead of condemning this woman, Jesus commends her great faith and calls her “daughter,” thereby acknowledging a relationship between them. And being healed of her hemorrhage, this woman can now be restored to a right relationship with her family, her friends, and indeed her whole society.
When Jesus goes to the home of Jairus, he is confronted with the corpse of a little girl. He declares her merely sleeping, not because she is in a coma, but because the power of God can raise the dead as if from sleep. As with the woman who hemorrhaged, Jesus disregards the issue of ritual defilement (for corpses, like a hemorrhaging woman, were sources of contamination). Instead of keeping his distance, Jesus draws close to the girl’s corpse, takes her hand, and bids her to stand up. And she does! She is restored to life and to her family. Again, Jesus defies all tradition and custom to restore someone in need to right relationship.
As Christians, we too are called to restore the people of the world to right relationship, both with one another and with God. When the family members of the nine slain African-American Christians confronted the white murderer in court, they forgave him. Imagine that! They forgave him. Their loved ones weren’t even buried yet; the murderer had shown not an ounce of remorse; and still they forgave him! And by so doing, they did what they could to restore right relationship. Whether the heart of the murderer was touched I can’t say, but my heart was touched. And I know the heart of God was touched as well.
We have learned today that Jesus did not always condemn what his fellow Jews condemned. We have learned that Jesus did not consider “dirty” or impure those whom the Law declared to be impure. We have learned that he sought to restore the people whom he encountered to right relationship with one another, with their society, and with their God. In my opinion, the Supreme Court took a step in the right direction by promoting right relationships among same-sex couples and by acknowledging the dignity of their love. The Episcopal Church this week has the opportunity to take another step, by recognizing the sacramentality of same-sex marriage.
Like our Master Jesus, our mission is to reconcile and to restore the world to right relationship. And we here today have the opportunity to do our part in promoting and restoring right relationship. As we worship today, we can rejoice in solidarity with those who are rejoicing on this Pride Sunday, and we can weep with those who weep for the loss of loved ones. We can recommit ourselves to the task of boldly opposing racism and sexism and heterosexism whenever and wherever we find them. And we can advance the work of restoring right the world to relationship by forgiving those who trespass against us, whether Muslim extremists, white supremacists, or the person sitting next to us in the pew. You can begin right here and right now, at this very moment. In solidarity with the woman who hemorrhaged, I bid you reach out your hands to Jesus Christ in the sacrament of his Body and Blood, take the grace you need, and then open your heart to the power of the Risen Lord to renew and to restore all things.
© 2015 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.