062721 Pentecost 5 The Other Side is the Same Side
The Sermon begins at minute 18:25 of the video
2 Sam. 1:1, 17-27; 2 Cor. 8:7-15; Marcos 5:21-43
We are coming to the end of Pride Month. This year the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising falls on a Sunday. It actually took place in the early hours of the 28th, but it started on the night of the 27th. The movement toward full inclusion of LGBTIA+ people didn’t begin that day. In fact, two years earlier, a protest at the Black Cat tavern in Silver Lake made its own contribution. Nevertheless, Stonewall is a huge marker on the journey. Today we celebrate the courage of those who decided that they were no longer going to put up with being bullied by the establishment. Instead of dispersing after the police removed them from the bar, they remained outside on the street, beginning five days of protests involving thousands of people. As we celebrate today, the year of race protests after George Floyd’s murder must inform our interpretation.
The Hebrew story of Jonathan and David, and the Gospel story of the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter, show that Stonewall was a signpost, albeit a shocking one, on the path to the Reign of God. David and Jonathan’s friendship reveals that same sex relationships are on a continuum rather than being an either/or, and certainly not right/wrong. The Gospel reminds us that breaking the law is a God-sanctioned element of the journey to healing and wholeness.
We hear David say, I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. It was common in early queer theology to use Jonathan and David as an example of same sex love in the Bible. In those days, and today, we have needed to interpret stories of well-known people to justify same sex love, which some people knew is real, but which goes against popular orthodoxy. As I have studied and wrestled with racism this past year, I’ve learned some things that apply here. The first book our book club studied, White Fragility, taught racism as a continuum, rather than an either/or option. It was the most helpful insight I received. If racism is a continuum, I can be less racist today than I was yesterday. If I’m either racist or not, I have to be defensive (fragile!) whenever anybody accuses me of being racist.
I find that a continuum is a much more helpful approach to describing the relationship between David and Jonathan. I resonate with what Lee Harmon wrote: “The ambiguity of these passages is evident. The problem, of course, is that homosexuality is a sin in the Bible. Lev. 20:13 states: If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death. This new law was recorded hundreds of years after David lived, and as such, could not have impacted its past. But it could have impacted the time in which the scriptures were written down! At the time the stories of David were collated into scripture, a definite anti-gay bias existed; this may have affected how the stories were presented. The language may have been purposefully toned down. My own guess is that David should not be called gay. As best I can tell, there simply was no clear distinction at the time he lived; no designation of gays or straights, simply a sliding scale of preference, and everybody fell somewhere on that scale. How gay sex grew into such an abomination in the eyes of Israel’s later lawmakers, I don’t know.
Most modern science views human sexuality as “a sliding scale of preference”. Such a continuum model could help us with so many cultural issues we face as a nation. To acknowledge that we all must grow, learn, and change in our views of sexuality, race, gender, class, faith, violence, and a host of other elements of our lives would go a long way toward healing the civil strife around those issues today.
In the Gospel story, we learn that breaking unjust laws is not only God-sanctioned, but sometimes necessary, on the journey to healing and wholeness. In my young adult years, I subscribed to a magazine called The Other Side. It drew its name from this text. Literally, it referred to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But in Mark’s Gospel, it symbolized the realm where events occur that make us rethink our beliefs and reframe our lives. The magazine presented views that represented the other side of what most Christians believed.
This wasn’t Jesus’ first foray on the other side. It says he had crossed “again.” This time a great crowd gathered to greet him, because they’d already seen him in action. The two stories sandwiched together in this passage show that there really is no other side. In the view of the establishment, Jairus represented the right side. He was a leader in the synagogue. His daughter was sick. If anyone deserved to have Jesus’ attention, it was his family. We are told that Jesus followed him because his daughter was sick, not because he was the leader of the synagogue – on the right side.
Hidden amidst the crowd was a woman who, in the establishment’s view, shouldn’t have been there. She was on the wrong side. But she sensed something in Jesus that would make him understand and accept her. Just as the patrons of the Stonewall Inn found the courage to break the rules to heal and be healed, so the hemorrhaging woman accessed the courage to break out of her societally imposed prison to risk rejection by Jesus and the crowd. The Hebrew purity code said that a menstruating woman was to be “put apart for her uncleanness” for seven days (Lev. 18:19). Any man who lies with her during this time is also unclean for seven days, and anyone who as much as touches her is unclean till the evening. (Lev. 15:19-24). In that view Jesus was unclean when he went to heal Jairus’ daughter.
Jesus often broke the rules. But it was the woman who took the first step of disobedience. She knew better than to put an entire crowd at risk of becoming unclean by walking right into the middle of it. But she did it anyway. She wasn’t brazenly disobedient; rather, she came to Jesus “in fear and trembling.” It turns out that the fear and trembling that embarrass us and make us feel like faith wimps are unmistakable marks of a saving faith.
Even Jairus broke every rule in the book to save his daughter’s life. It would be like a father driving right past UCLA Medical Center “to go see a root doctor out in the country who held revival meetings on weekends.” (BB Taylor) Jairus must have resisted going to Jesus at first. But, like the woman, he had tried everything else. If he didn’t go to Jesus, he might as well go home and pull the sheet over his daughter’s head, do his grieving, and move on.
As we approach the 4th of July, the word patriotism has become far removed from the image of the patriot. Paul Revere wasn’t the most obedient guy in Boston 231 years ago. Nor did George Washington show much respect to King George III, the de facto ruler of the land he was fighting for. When we really listen to the Gospel, and remember history, we might agree with William Sloan Coffin, who said, “For Christians to render everything to Caesar – their minds, their consciences – is to become evangelical nationalists. That’s not a distortion of the gospel; that’s desertion.”
It’s getting harder to find the gospel these days. And it’s dangerous to say we have the gospel. We live in a society that many call “post-truth”. We must find new ways to persuade and test our beliefs. Maybe the best way to seek the reign of God and get everyone on the same side is to transmit Jesus’ aroma, so people will trust us enough to find the courage to risk being themselves, and thereby be healed. May God anoint us with that aroma.