Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gospel Meditations from A Public Service of Healing

For all affected by clergy misconduct and otherwise injured by the church
May 14, 2016
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego

1) A Reading from the Gospel of Luke

Chapter 8:43-48
“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”

Meditation on the Gospel
The Rev. Laurel Mathewson

Like so many women wounded in the church, the woman in today’s story is ashamed of what ails her. She hides; she doesn’t want to face Jesus or call attention to herself. Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, I don’t think our Lord needs to call anyone out of the crowd anymore. But I do trust it is the same Holy Spirit who is urging the women and other victims out of the shadows in our own communities, inviting the church to see and notice the wounded, to respond more like Jesus. In the end, -- in the true end -- I trust that it will be as it is in this story: we will all stand amazed at the wounded ones we never noticed, from the margins, those who have been made well and whole by the power of God; we will see them and see the way Jesus loves them with the tenderness of a parent and pronounces a blessing upon them, as he does in today’s story.

This beautiful reign of God is not complete, but we are invited as Christians to live every day out of this reality of justice, compassion, and wholeness, not the reign of self-interest and fear that seems most obvious. We will not get it right on the first try, or every day, but we are invited as individuals and as communities of faith to get back up again when we fall, and again, each new day, live as citizens of the kingdom of God now, beloved children of God now. That is how we journey onward.

In the time of silence to follow, I invite you to pray and reflect on what in your own life has you reaching for God, and who you know who might be reaching tentatively toward God in the shadows. Especially in relation to damage done by the church and its authorities, who do you pray Jesus might heal? When might you have been the voice of one who tried to obstruct the loving compassion and care of Jesus? Or misinterpreted what was happening and been too confident in your understanding of the situation, like Peter? You’re invited to write prayers of healing and confession on the small pieces of paper you’ve been given; later we will burn these papers as assurance of total confidentiality and a sign of God’s holy, truth-filled power.

2) A Reading from the Gospel of Luke
Chapter14: 1-6
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.”

Meditation on the Gospel

The Very Rev. Penny Bridges

Jesus is on hostile ground, accepting an invitation from those who openly wish him harm. They conspire to place a temptation before him. Will he dare to heal on the Sabbath, right in front of them, on their turf, challenging their authority as guardians of a rigid and compassion-less tradition? Instead, Jesus turns the challenge on the authorities: when is it wrong to do right? The temptation becomes an opportunity for God’s healing power to be known; the Holy Spirit is the uninvited dinner guest, the order of things is disturbed, and a child of God is healed.

It’s easy to see the resistance of the Pharisees as a desperate and losing battle to hold back the shocking newness of Jesus's message, easy to nod knowingly as we watch their destructive flailing and conspiracy, easy to reflect smugly that with the self-offering of Jesus the power of a dominant religious institution is coming to an end. But what if we project the face of today's Church over the image of those ancient religious authorities?

What if we see in the man with dropsy all the victims of the church's abuse of power, the vulnerable ones who come to us for help and, to use the painful metaphor of a recent commentary, have been crushed under the wheel of a 2000-year- old institution, that may be more concerned with keeping things the way they've always been, than with allowing the cleansing light and truth of accountability, repentance, and reconciliation into the room?
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
The silence is deafening. But, as if we see thought-bubbles, we know the Pharisees'answer: “If you do this work on the sabbath it will make our job harder because everything we do is about keeping the rules, and if you bend the rules we start losing control.”

What the authorities miss is that there is a greater good, a step back, that says, what are we here for? If doing the right thing causes controversy and upset, that doesn't mean it's not the right thing. Speaking up about injustice or abuse might disturb a community. But if we care more about being disturbed than we do about protecting the innocent and correcting injustice, then our religion is hollow and we have lost our way.

When the church hides misconduct or refuses to talk about the harm the institution itself has inflicted - on aboriginal children in Canada and Australia, on orphans and unmarried mothers in Ireland, on the first nations of this land, or on the individuals who have been preyed upon by clergy behind closed doors - when we try to sweep all this sin under the carpet, we betray the Christ who died for us and we dishonor the God of truth.

The church can so often fall into the trap of expecting us to keep the rules before all else, to disregard or squelch the disorderly movement of the Holy Spirit in favor of keeping the peace. For the sake of the church's very soul, we need constantly to come back to the essential good news: Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He came to fulfill the law, not the law of rules and regulations but the law of love. The way of Jesus is messy but it leads to life and freedom.

The church has a choice as we make this story our own: shall we be Jesus in the telling,

or shall we be Pharisees? If the only response we have to the disturbance of the Holy Spirit is to appeal to the rules, it's time for self-examination and humility, so that by God's grace we may repent of all the times when we have questioned someone's right to healing, when instead we may rejoice that God has brought healing about through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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