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Taking a Leap of Faith!

June 30, 2018

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We are so glad to be back in our Mountain home after an incredible two-week journey. The first ten days we were in St Louis, Missouri where I was a Commissioner at the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Denise was an observer. To say that the ten days were packed would be an understatement! The days began early and often went late as I took part in committee meetings and plenary (large group) sessions. We tacked such diverse subjects as divestment from fossil fuel investments to the way the national church is organized and peace issues and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

As a part of the Assembly activities Denise and I were able to take part in a Rally in support of our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers. This Rally had been planned months before the border heated up and ICE began separating children from their families in what many (myself included) would call an immoral action on the part of our government. So the Rally was even more timely than the organizers had anticipated. The second activity was a result of careful planning and an overwhelming designated offering at the Opening Worship Service of the General Assembly. $47,200 was collected from the worship service and on-line giving. The offering was taken on Saturday at Opening Worship and was delivered to non-profits who are fighting the workhouse and cash-bail epidemic in St Louis. PCUSA March

We were a part of a group of nearly 400 marchers who took to the streets as a part of an effort that was a part of the new challenge our Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II called The Hands and Feet Initiative. These blurbs from the GA Website gives you an understanding of what was going on in St Louis.

Unaffordable cash bail is one of the largest drivers of the mass incarceration epidemic in the U.S. Over the last 15 years, increases in pretrial detention accounted for 99% of all jail growth.

Money shouldn’t buy justice, however the way the system of cash bail currently works in this country, low-income people and people of color disproportionately remain in jail while the wealthy buy their liberty.   Recently the term “debtor’s prison”has come back into use as we have returned to the practice of imprisoning poor persons for non-payment of fines or fees and those who cannot afford cash bail. This vicious cycle of arrest and incarceration results in mounting fines, job loss, lost custody of children, incarceration of the innocent and costly fees.

Working with local networks in St. Louis, the Arch City Defenders and the Bail Project, the offering will purchase freedom for people held under bench warrants and minor offenses as they await trial.  It gets them back to their jobs, to their families and to their communities. GA 223 Opening Worship Offering

The 223rd General Assembly will take a far more active role in addressing conditions in St. Louis and other cities that devastate the poor and oppressed.  “We don’t want the Presbyterians to be simply another convention that comes to town, meets and spends some money, and then leaves without engaging the people and communities” says Stated Clerk the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II. In St. Louis – in solidarity and collaboration with local Presbyterians and other community activists – assembly participants will have a variety of ways to engage these issues… “Presbyterians don’t depart the world to come to the General Assembly, we come to the General Assembly precisely and specifically to engage the church AND the world around these issues of poverty, violence and racism.”  (J. Herbert Nelson, II) 223rd General Assembly Preview

So, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Scripture Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. When I began to plan for tomorrow’s service and sermon, I had no idea how the experience in St Louis would impact my life and this message in particular. The Readings for tomorrow are Lamentations 3:22-33 and Mark 5:21-43. The book of Lamentations are from the Exile tradition of which Jeremiah the Prophet was one of the speakers of Divine Truth and Wisdom and Challenge.
The passage begins with these familiar words: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. (Lamentations 3:22-25)

Yet if we move on to the following verses we run into a bit of a challenge. The author (traditionally believed to be Jeremiah) says that it is good for the one to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (verse 26) How long should one wait in silence for the salvation of the Lord? How long should one endure the yoke of the oppressor? Verse 26 and others like it (You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. – John 12:8) have been used by the oppressor to keep the oppressed in check so to speak. Even using the words of Jesus (completely and grossly out of context) is dead wrong! Scripture in it’s entirety must be read through the lens of the greatest command to Love God and Love Neighbor.

This brings me to the Gospel reading for tomorrow. The passage (Mark 5:21-43) is a combination of a healing story within a healing story. When it opens up, Jesus is coming from the healing of the Demon possessed man in the cemetery of Gerasenes. He has already stirred up more controversy by reaching out and healing the man by casting the unclean spirits into a herd of 2,000 swine which immediately ran down into the sea where they were all drown. He crosses the sea and is immediately asked by one of the leaders of the Synagogue to come and heal his daughter. This part isn’t really out of the ordinary. Jesus was asked to help a member of the religious community or establishment. As Denise reminded me, Jesus came to heal and to transform not only the outcasts of society but also the ruling elite.

What happens in between is the amazing part. A woman who had been experiencing hemorrhages for twelve years was in the crowd as Jesus went to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter. I wonder how many times the nameless woman had heard the passage from Lamentations quoted to her —  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. (Lamentations 3:26-33)

Don’t worry Sister, just be patient… I am sure that in God’s time you will get what you desire. In the meantime, just suffer patiently in silence. That is easy to say if you aren’t the one who is suffering. She had borne her suffering for twelve long years but when Jesus came by something broke within her. A woman who had been ritually unclean for twelve years, in the middle of a crowd, reached out in hopes that by simply touching the touch of his cloak she might be healed. Figuratively speaking, she found her voice and spoke up. She was not satisfied to languish in misery with only empty and pious platitudes from the religious establishment to feed her. She took a chance… she risked being outed as an unclean woman in the midst of the crowd… she risked all for the hope of being healed!

Jesus felt the power leave him and knew that something incredible had happened. When the woman came to him with fear and trembling telling him the whole story, I can almost imagine him smiling as he said to her: Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease. (Mark 5:34)

As we marched in St Louis and attended the Immigration Rally, this woman’s story kept haunting me. She had been voiceless for twelve years. I wonder if anyone had ever spoken up for her or on her behalf. How heartbreaking that must have been. In St Louis we were able to stand and speak for and alongside of the voiceless. Today there were rallies around this country in all 50 states and in our nation’s capitol, where marchers were speaking out against the injustices being perpetrated by agencies of the Federal Government and by the Federal Government itself.

The woman took a leap of faith and Jesus healed her. I believe, dear reader, that we must take a similar leap of faith and speak out. To remain silent is to be complicit in the atrocities happening in this nation and around the world. We must speak out!

As Martin Niemoller said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Will you join with me in being that voice?

One Comment
  1. Thanks for taking on the cash bail issue. It is a huge problem and most people don’t understand its effect on our incarceration problems.

    Be blessed.

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