St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (July 19, 2015)

Liturgical Color: Green

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern


A Pressing Need

Today, as we speak, 30,000 Lutheran youth and their adult leaders are waiting to enter Ford Field for closing worship as they gather together for the final time during the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit.

ELCA Youth Gatherings have been taking place for decades. They happen once every three years in a different city in the U.S. and Lutheran youth from all over the nation gather together for 5 days of service, worship, learning, fellowship, and fun.

The Gathering has a long history of equipping young people for kingdom work: a long history of servant-forming, justice-seeking, and peace-making. I decided to explore this long history a bit and was delighted at what I found. On YouTube I actually watched real footage from what was called back then "Luther League" — the first youth convention of the American Lutheran Church in 1961.

In 1961, 14,000 Lutheran youth traveled from around the country to meet in Miami, FL, and would you believe that one of the guest speakers at that first ALC youth gathering was none other than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?!

And 3 years later, in 1964, the Lutheran youth gathering was held in Detroit — the same city where a year earlier Dr. King first gave his "I have a Dream" speech.

In 1964 the Lutheran youth gathered in Detroit. Now, 50 years later the Lutheran youth are again gathering in Detroit.

Yet 50 years later, the city of Detroit continues to struggle with some of the same issues of inequality and injustice that plagued its streets and homes and families in the 1960's. The effects of institutional and structural racism continue to reopen and deepen wounds that have never truly had the chance to heal. Educational needs are pressing. Employment needs are pressing. Medical needs are pressing. Issues of inequality and white privilege and the effects of systemic racism are pressing, and in some cases they are matters of life and death.

We read this passage from Mark today where the depth of human need is pressing — so much so that it seems insatiable: the disciples are so busy they don't even have the chance to eat. This intense snapshot of human need depicts people so desperate for healing that they hurry to beat the disciple's boat to other side of the Sea of Galilee and wait for them to come ashore. These people are so hungry for healing that they crowd around Jesus, pushing in, begging to get close enough to simply brush up against the fringe of his cloak.

The people are sick and the people are desperate. The need is great and the need is pressing.

And then we read they laid the sick in the market places. 'They' — probably referring to family and friends of the ill and afflicted. 'They' — people who cared enough for those who were suffering to bring them front and center to Jesus, out from the edges of society, right into the political and commercial center of the city: the marketplace.

In ancient times the marketplace was more than where you bought your grain or sold your fish — the marketplace was the center of activity, the social hub, the downtown, the very heart of the city and surrounding villages. Anyone who was anyone was found in the market place. But those who suffered from sickness? They absolutely did not belong in the marketplace. They had no place in the marketplace.

And yet, their friends bring them to this center. Jesus beckons them away from the margins, away from the edge of society where they are ignored and forgotten into the very heart of the city so that they cannot be ignored any longer, so that their need is seen by others as pressing. It is there, in plain sight, in broad daylight where everyone can see, that Jesus heals them. By healing them in the marketplace Jesus is making a statement: your lives matter.

The people are sick. The people are hurting. The empire has created a system in which those on the margins are left in the dust. There is no policy for the protection of basic human rights for certain groups. There is no one in power who has their back or cares to think that their lives matter.

...What if we thought about that sickness, that disease, as the 'dis-ease' of systemic racism?

A system in which those on the margins are left in the dust. Where there seems to be little enforcement of the protection of basic human rights for certain groups. When there seems to be no one in power who has their back or cares to think that their lives matter.

The disease of systemic racism is a pressing human need in ways many of us cannot even begin to imagine.

This pressing need is in our world now. This pressing need is in Detroit now. This pressing need is in our community, now.

So much so that the guidebooks written to help prepare our Lutheran youth for the Gathering this year, guidebooks which included everything from safety procedures to theological understandings to Detroit history, also included a session on antiracism.

I want to share with you a few lines from that ELCA Youth Gathering Guidebook:

The past and present of Detroit is inextricably tied to politics and race.

The long-term systematic oppression of the city of Detroit, and its majority African American population, now serves as perhaps the largest example of structural/institutional racism in America over the last decade.

Racism in America is a deep-seated evil that holds both the victims and the perpetrators in bondage. Liberation comes when we proclaim the redeeming work of Christ as it convicts us of our sin and simultaneously absolves us.

As Lutherans we are called to pursue justice and seek peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm — that includes acknowledging the existence of racism and white privilege.

Proclaiming the good news of God who enters our reality and liberates us requires us to be blatantly honest about the bondage people experience.

Race relations, and distinctly white privilege, have created an immense amount of pain, suffering, and mistrust in America. We must see racism, understand privilege, and work together to change an unjust system.

God suffers with and for those who are broken, oppressed, and marginalized. Therefore, we all must be honest when we are broken, oppressed, and marginalized as well as when we are the breaker, the oppressor, and the center.

I would add to that last line that we are also called to notice the opportunities we have to be the ally. To be like the friends in our gospel reading for today who bring the issues of sickness and brokenness and inequality to the marketplace to be noticed.

They weren't the saviors, they pointed to the savior.

They weren't the healers, they pointed to the healer.

Yet they were vital to the story of changing the circumstances of those on the margins.

They brought the issues front and center to the middle of the market place where they could be ignored no longer — where they would make a statement that this is a pressing need — so that people would be treated as people, people whose lives mattered.

We are called to be leaders who make a difference, not saviors, for Jesus has already taken care of that, but allies who partner with our sisters and brothers of color and work towards a more realized reflection of the kingdom of God. We are called to bring this issue to the center of our marketplaces, to talk about it and pray about it, and reflect on it in ourselves and in our world.

As theologians of the cross we are called to call out that which is evil and name it for what it is. We refuse to sugarcoat or ignore that which is oppressive. We recognize and name evil for evil, expose the human causes of evil, and live out our callings to counteract and root out that evil in the name of Jesus.

Systemic racism is evil. It is real. It has powerful impacts known and unknown on all of our lives, and it demands our attention.

It demands our attention because we believe in a God who died on the cross to know suffering, to be in solidarity with us through that suffering, and to bring new life out of that suffering.

We follow a God who goes before us into the world's suffering and has compassion — literally meaning "to suffer with." As children of God we are called to do the same: To name the pressing needs of equality and antiracism, to recognize white privilege, and to listen to our brothers and sisters who are hurting from a system that benefits certain children of God but not all children of God.

This sickness of oppression, the dis-ease of systemic racism, is a pressing need and a power at work in our world... but even more powerful and pressing is the solidarity of Jesus Christ who helps us to name the evils we see, who calls us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, who brings new life out of death and suffering and says along every step of the way, "I am with you."

Amen.

 

 

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