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Generative Forces

Rev. Karen McArthur
Sun, Jul 01

The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Wisdom of Solomon 1: 13-15, 2:23-24; Mark 5:21-43 (excerpts)

It is definitely July – steamy weather, fireworks in the harbor, the tall ships, Olympic trials on television. Clearly, you know that it’s the first of July, or you wouldn’t have made it here in time for 10:00 worship, rather than 11:00. We’ve all had a busy week – the build up of the excitement of the Olympics with the swimming and gymnastics trials, along with a 2-1 USA/Canada soccer match. And, of course, the drama of the news cycle. Who would have thought that the CNN/Fox News cycle could have mirrored the lectionary gospel reading for this week? Everyone thought she was dead. Except for Jesus. “No she’s not. Just sleeping for a few minutes.” And, the gospel says, they laughed at him.

Unless you were watching the news a little after 10:00am on Thursday, you wouldn’t think it could have been reported the way it was. I, however, got my news from facebook first. One of my UCC colleagues was a journalist before she became a pastor. At 10:09am, she wrote, “Individual mandate SURVIVES! Hallelujah!” “Ping!” My email chimed in with CNN’s Breaking News. Wow! I thought, she’s quicker than CNN. CNN, 10:09am: “The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care - the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.” What!?! Who to believe? Is this one of those synoptic moments when two people look at the same event and see two entirely different things? Is it just a matter of perspective?

At 10:14am our UCC journalist-turned-pastor expanded her analysis, “The Supreme Court upholds the health care law. Exception: Narrow limits on fed power to terminate states' Medicaid funds.” It took another 10 minutes before CNN issued their correction: “Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama’s signature health care law.”

I don’t know about you, but my first reaction was a bit cynical. Did you read about the other Supreme Court decision released just before the health care decision? That lying, specifically about receiving military medals, is protected under the freedom of speech? Now, I am all for the free speech, but this doesn’t seem quite right. There’s a big difference between lying – intentionally saying something that you know isn’t true – and just making a mistake because you didn’t know otherwise. But lying is protected free speech? I do want to live in a country where people speak the truth because they choose to, rather than because if they didn’t, the government would arrest them. But I hope we can live in a world where people speak the truth.

Back to the news. Was this a deliberate misrepresentation of the decision? Or just a poor decision to speak before knowing what they were talking about? Was it intentional? Or just an honest mistake? With so many people with so much at stake, I understand the rush to get the news out there right away. And, you have to admit, the parallels with our gospel story are pretty clear.

We all have known those wrenching emotional ups and downs. Holding out hope for good news with a medical diagnosis, but then hearing the news you were most afraid of. Fearing for the worst, but finding that it worked out okay. In my town this week, a little 4-year-old boy was playing in his fenced in front yard, when a neighbor backed erratically out of his driveway, crashing through the fence, and ran over the boy. His parents were distraught – the neighbors jumped in and pulled the boy from under the truck and the wreckage of the fence. They were amazed when he told his mom, “I think I need to go to the doctor.” After a trip to the hospital, the boy is fine. The worst – and then the best.

Another family, another city, and another outcome. Earlier this week, when we were in Minneapolis, I saw on the news that drive-by violence had claimed the life of a 5-year-old child there. Everything was fine, and then the worst possible thing happens.

Jesus heard the worst about the little girl, but he pressed on through the commotion and the weeping and wailing. He sent away all of those who were laughing at him, and he took the girl’s hand and spoke to her, “Little girl, get up.” And immediately (remember, this is the gospel of Mark – everything happens immediately) -- immediately, the girl got up and began to walk about. There’s something about having the courage – the faith – the belief – that allows us to sit in the heart of the pain, to look into the face of death, to contemplate just how much is at stake here – a child at the dawn of adulthood. So many childhood lessons learned, so much potential to live a full life. Such a huge loss to a family, a community, a world. Jesus was able to face that pain – and see that there was still a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, holding onto that hope sets us up for a huge disappointment. But other times, it is the very thing that keeps us going.

I have a friend who was pregnant with twins. 18 weeks into her pregnancy, she went into labor. She and her husband were told that there was nothing they could do other than to wait until the babies were born, too early to survive. She consulted another obstetrician who told her that he didn’t want to get their hopes up, but he did have another patient in the same situation, and she went full term with her baby. That was exactly what she needed to hear. My friend put herself on the strictest of bedrest that summer, and her babies were born strong and healthy four months later. She said that the smallest shred of hope was enough to keep her from giving up.

Does this all have anything that can keep us from giving up on our country? Can anything help us to deal with the major divisions we hear about every day? Some days, it feels like too huge a burden. The problems are too complex, there are too many people who are way too polarized about everything. The enormity of the issues is overwhelming – education, health care, economic inequality, violence …

Some days, I totally identify with Jesus and all of the demands around him: people wanting to be healed and touched. Everywhere he went, someone wanted something. He felt the healing power go from him. “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples were incredulous: “You see the crowd pressing in on you and you ask who touched your clothes?” How do we survive as a country when the crowds have so many real, deep needs? How do we survive as a country when we are so divided? How do we know which way is best?

The question of how to manage health care in this country is a complex one. I can understand a bit about each side. When there’s a debate going on, it’s a useful exercise to try to articulate the various sides of the issue. But how do we, as people of faith, follow our faith into the midst of these dilemmas? I keep coming back to the words of the reading from the Wisdom of Solomon. We don’t often read from this text from the apocrypha. Written about a hundred years before Jesus, the book identifies its audience and summarizes its message in the first verse: “Love righteousness, you judges of the earth.”

The author is quite clear: God did not make death. God created all things so that they might exist. The generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them. Can we look for those generative forces? Generative means that it has the ability to reproduce – to create new life. When we’re faced with a dilemma, can we determine if one way or the other is generative – that is, that it has the ability to sustain new life, generation after generation?

Years ago, I was part of a church that was engaged in a lively, but divisive, debate about the language used in worship. Should the congregation change the language to be more inclusive? When it said “men” did that include everyone? Some pastors choose to be very outspoken, and take one side or the other. Others see their role as supporting everyone in their congregation, which means not speaking up, and letting the congregational process make the decision. Usually, this pastor would have stayed in the background, letting the congregation work through the issue. But this time he spoke up, saying that as he listened to people articulate their strong feelings on both sides of this issue, he heard from those who wanted to keep things the same – honoring the tradition. And he heard from those who felt that the language excluded them. And, in this case, he said, he had to side with those who wanted the change, because the pain for them was real and personal, and keeping them from growing in their faith.

Whether or not you agree with him on this issue, his measuring stick is useful – who is most at risk here, and what kind of risk is it? Immediate? Or in the future? Actual? Or theoretical? Who gains? Who loses? What is gained? What is lost?

Sometimes I think we’re too quick to calculate our own potential gains or losses. What’s in this for us? How do I protect myself? That is, unfortunately, an American question. Fierce independence can get us into trouble sometimes. Live free or die is more than just New Hampshire’s license plate slogan. We often look out for ourselves, trusting that if everyone would do the same thing – would look out for themselves – then we would all be okay.

What if, instead, we were on the lookout for the common good, doing what is best for the community, seeking out the best option for the country as a whole? What if we did seek out the common good, trusting that if everyone did that, we would each be okay? What would Jesus do?

When Katherine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” in the 1880s, our country had just celebrated its first 100 years. We imagine that it was easy for her to write of spacious skies, and amber waves of grain. But now, we’re overwhelmed by the issues: Our amber waves of grain are threatened by droughts or floods or both. Our horizon of our spacious skies is broken by huge wind turbines. Our cities are hardly “undimmed by human tears.” The stress of the issues crowds around us, choking out our dreams and our hope.

However, “America the Beautiful” is not a nostalgic hymn about an idyllic time gone by. Instead, it can be a compelling vision of how things might be, of what our country might become. In order to be a country that reaches toward that vision, we must begin with our own roles: building community in our midst, living in harmony with ourselves, one another, with the land, and with our God. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves, either economically or ideologically. We have to figure out how to live more united than separated.

Being generous, and generative, requires reaching out beyond ourselves, paying attention to the common good. Being generous, and generative, is our only hope. But that hope can make the difference between life and death. As we prepare to celebrate our American Independence this week, may God shed grace on us, this day and always, generation after generation. Amen.

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