This month’s posts are by Don Carlson, Assistant to the Bishop in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Pentecost 5B – July 1, 2012
Lamentations 3:23-33 – The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.
Psalm 30 – God’s anger is for a moment; his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonians joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity.
Mark 5:21-43 – Inclusio: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage.
I think the New Testament printed to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee highlights that to which Douglas John Hall alluded in the lecture that I referenced two weeks ago. Give another read to Hall’s second section of his first lecture; a section entitled “The Tenacity of the ‘New World’ form of Christian Establishment.”
Hall’s point was that even in some European countries that have a legal relationship between church and state, it is easier to separate church and state than it is in North America – especially in the United States. In England, for instance, one of the monarch’s titles – granted to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X – is “Defender of the Faith,” and yet they seem able to more easily delineate between “the faith” and public policy.
Hall said, “With us in North America, on the contrary, Christ and culture are so subtlety intertwined, so inextricably connected at the subconscious or unconscious level, that we do not know where one leaves off and the other begins. The substance of the faith and the substance of our cultural values and morality appear, to most real or nominal Christians in the United States and Canada, virtually synonymous.”
He shared this anecdote: “Several years ago I spoke to an ecumenical gathering in a far western state of this country [the United Sates] on the theology of stewardship. In the discussion that followed my lecture a middle-aged man remarked, with little ceremony, that he had ‘never heard such un-American stuff!’ When I confessed to him that I hardly knew, as a Canadian, how to respond to this categorization of my message – what did he mean by ‘un-American’ – he quipped, ‘Easy! It just means un-Christian’.”
I lift up another example. I recently heard a politician state, “Same gender marriages or civil unions should not be legalized. It’s contrary to what the Bible says.” Now, without even driving down the road of Biblical exegesis, I believe an American citizen who is a Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, or atheist might rightly counter, “So what? Why should Christian scripture dictate my rights?” And, as a Lutheran, I am often wont to counter, “So what? Why should your interpretation of Christian scripture dictate my rights?”
I share a quote from Dr. Gerhard Forde’s book on Luther’s “down to earth” theology, Where God Meets Man; a little tome that is still worth a read.
Myths, dreams, and utopias*
“Our religious, political, economic, patriotic dreams – all the myths on which we feed and delude ourselves – lead us astray. We are never content to stay here and take care of our fellow men and the good earth. Our religious dreams seduce us into despising the earth; our political and patriotic dreams delude us so that we kill and maim our brothers; our economic dreams entice us so that we let our fellow men starve. We are always on the way somewhere else, to some other kingdom, and we think we have found some magic formula to get us there. We are “climbing Jacob’s ladder.” Or we are going to “make the world safe for democracy.” Or we are going towards some capitalistic economic heaven of “free enterprise and individual initiative.” The principle of laissez faire and “the law of supply and demand” are going to get us there automatically – no matter how many unfortunates are ground to dust in the process. Or we are heading for the “classless society” via the “proletarian revolution.” Everyone is going to be in the same boat as everyone else – even if that means that we have to depress, slaughter, and imprison those who refuse to get on board. We are going to build a “master race” of “pure Aryan stock.” We are going to “keep the race pure (black or white)” or “preserve our heritage,” and step on anyone who threatens us. And so it goes. It is not the care of people, human beings, not the care of earth that matters. We tyrannize and discriminate against our fellow men, shut out those who are different, beat down the under-privileged, tear up the earth, deface it and turn it into one vast garbage dump. Why? Our myths and ideologies!” (*Utopia is from the Greek: “ou-topia;” not, “eu-topia.” It means “no place,” not “good place.”)
Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man, p. 107
© 1972, Augsburg Publishing House
That was written 40 years ago! Forde’s point? When we confuse God’s “Two Kingdoms,” or believe that the Kingdom on the Left can bring in the Kingdom on the Right, we are headed for trouble. Just as dangerous, according to Walter Brueggemann, is when the faith – when Jesus, or any religion – is used to endorse or enforce, rather than critique, the established cultural script. (See his essay “Counterscript.”)
Wehrmacht bearing the inscription “Gott mit uns;” the genocide done in the name of “manifest destiny;” the “Christian crusades” undertaken “in God’s name” (“crusade,” from the Middle French: “marked by the cross”); and people flying airliners into skyscrapers while intoning “Allahu Akbar!” (Same song, different verse.)
It may be best not to “dabble” in “4th of July Sunday.” It may be better to “dive in,” jettison the appointed texts, and have some solid Lutheran thinking about church/state, and Kingdom on the Left/Kingdom on the Right; remembering that church/state and Kingdom on the Left/Kingdom on the Right are not synonymous dichotomies.
What is more, the preposition in our denominational name was very intentional. We are the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” What does it mean for us to be “in” but not “of?”
If we are going to have “4th of July Sunday,” we should do so with some reverent humility. Music? “This Is My Song,” 887 ELW, tempers any chauvinistic nationalism a bit. A great prelude/postlude would be Charles Ives’ “Variations on America;” or, maybe a transcription/arrangement of Bernstein’s “America” from “West Side Story.” A video: in the midst of all our immigration debates, Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America.”
On to the appointed Gospel text….
An Inclusio – a story in the middle of another story – is interesting. Of course, it’s possible that it just happened this way; but, it’s also good to ask, “If Mark put these two stories together, how do they relate to one another? What’s Mark up to?”
Jairus makes the request that Jesus come heal his daughter. Jesus responds immediately. On the way, this woman that has been hemorrhaging for 12 years reaches out, touches his robe, and is healed.
In his blog “Level Paths,” Rex Howe references an article from the “Journal of Biblical Literature,”
“[The ancients believed] that the body, especially a feminine body, is porous. Ancient medics and philosophers had competing opinions about the positive and/or negative aspects about the human body’s porosity. Positively, porosity allowed for unhealthy things to leave and healthy things to enter; negatively, porosity allowed for unhealthy things to enter the body and expose a person to attack. The latter seems to be the more dominant view.
It is clear that the porous body of the woman has made her weak, unhealthy and even unfit for public life. Doctors have been unable to cause her body to “harden” up; that is, to prevent the porous nature of her feminine and thin-skinned body. The blood continued to flow no matter what she tried; that is, until Jesus passed by. She had faith that if she touched even his garment that she would be made well. Mark states that when she touched his garment two things happened: (1) her discharge “dried up,” which to the ancients was a sign of a healthy body, a non-porous, not leaking body; and (2) Jesus knew that power had flowed out from his body. The latter point is most fascinating. Just as the woman could not control the flow of blood discharging from her body, neither could Jesus prevent the flow of power coming from his body! The nature of the cause of the woman’s ailment is paralleled in the nature of her healing – two porous bodies: one issuing blood causing harm; one issuing power causing healing.
A number of things could be communicated about Jesus himself from such a re-interpretation. First, Jesus is viewed as a weak, porous, leaking man. His physiology is sickly and unhealthy. Second, the porous nature of his body is unable to fully contain or veil the deity that lies behind it. Therefore third, in the case of Jesus, the nature of his porous body works to the advantage of those around him.”
The complete article, “The Man with the Flow of Power,” from the “Journal of Biblical Literature” can be found here.
So, in my mind, now Jesus comes to the house of Jairus only to find that she has died. Her very life force has “leaked” out of her. Now the question is, “Can life force leak out of Jesus to raise her up?” He touches her and the answer is, “Yes!” (It should also be noted that the Greek word for “get up” in 5:41 is the same word used about Jesus in 16:6; literally, “he has been gotten up.”)
And so, what to preach? How can we be the body of Christ for the sake of the world? In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”
What kind of power goes out from our congregations? Is it the kind that stops the flow of blood and raises people up? Are we willing to risk being “porous” so that people can have hope for new life? What will that look like?
And, if you want to bring it full circle on “Fourth of July Sunday,” I suppose that’s the same question for which every institution in the Kingdom on the Left – church and state – will one day be held accountable. “Did you help stop the flow of blood and raise people up? What kind of power went out from you?”
Until next week, “Pax Christi.”