This is an updated and expanded version of a sermon that appeared in an earlier draft form, and replaces that post.
A few short weeks ago, was Jairus among those religious leaders who thought Jesus mad, even demon-possessed, coming out of nowhere as he did to proclaim the kingdom of God drawn near, the day of salvation, the bending of the arc of justice, that ancient bow, close over the earth? After the scribes and the Pharisees came from Jerusalem to accuse him, his mother and brothers came to take him home, hide him away, thinking him mad; what part did that ruler of their synagogue, Jairus, play in that plan?
Yet now, with one of his own at risk, with his own life and love on the line, Jairus finds that the time is right, the day has drawn near, to give this good news a chance: the good news of God’s day of salvation, when the sick are healed and the lepers cleansed, the prisoners set free, and when good news is proclaimed to the poor. Jairus is converted by his own need for grace to seek and find grace in Jesus, to find the face of God in the one whom he had so recently opposed in no uncertain terms, to find Jesus.
I feel as though we’re living in a parable here. And into this parable speaks Paul:
And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have.
Friday was a complicated day. In one day, we heard joy and grief, jubilation and lamentation; but the theme of the day was most certainly grace.
At the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, President Obama, out of his own grief and as chief mourner of the nation, sang Amazing Grace, because, he said
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.Blind to racism. Blind to the outrageous proliferation of guns and gun violence. Blind, but now we see. And as we see, says Paul, and begin to desire better, so we also must complete the doing of it. We must keep our eyes open, our hearts clear-sighted, and our arms full of grace.
The Rev Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, took up the theme of finishing what we started in her opening remarks to General Convention this week, when she said,
Even as we wrestle with the church’s future, we must reckon with its past. We must realize that the long, hard struggle to eliminate discrimination within the church required so much energy and vigilance, that we did not do enough to right the wrongs of discrimination, white privilege, and inequality in the world around us. This summer, especially, we must repent of that. Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, Charleston – General Convention is where we Episcopalians have the ability not only to proclaim that black lives matter, but also to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream of racial reconciliation and justice. We can do no less.
For one legislator in South Carolina, the death of his friend was the catalyst that moved him from bright-eyed blindness to seeing in the Confederate flag an image that he could no longer endure, that he could no longer ignore. It was the personal connection which moved him from denial to grace, from grief to resolution, to complete what he had begun to desire upon the death of his friend. He was like Jairus, grieving for his own lost love.
For many of us who grew up in traditional households with rather uniform expectations of family life, it has been our encounters with the unexpected, the beloved other, the grace of difference that has moved us from suspicion, ignorance, and denial to the understanding that the blessings that we have received are owed by us to all; that we are called to share the grace that we know and learn from the grace that others offer. We have all, or mostly all, stood in Jairus’ shoes at one time or another; and it is where love has touched our lives that we have been moved us from blindness to grace, to see Jesus in the love of one another; to celebrate love as the victory of the kingdom of God.
And there is little more moving than a marriage.
In the morning, on Friday, the Supreme Court graced us with the legal means to complete the doing of that which too many have desired in vain: to marry, to respect the marriages of others, to respect the dignity of every human family. God bless us, every one!
In Friday’s decision, the Supreme Court cited the dignity of those seeking marriage for themselves and their loved ones. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, responded,
I rejoice that the Supreme Court has opened the way for the love of two people to be recognized by all the states of this Union, and that the Court has recognized that it is this enduring, humble love that extends beyond the grave that is to be treasured by society wherever it exists. Our society will be enriched by the public recognition of such enduring faithful love in families headed by two men or two women as well as by a woman and a man. The children of this land will be stronger when they grow up in families that cannot be unmade by prejudice or discrimination. May love endure and flourish wherever it is to be found.
And I am delighted to say our own bishop has already authorized clergy of this diocese to solemnize any legal marriage, using any authorized liturgy of the church, adapted for gender as necessary. He also notes that no cleric or congregation is required to offer such services, and so I will be consulting with our vestry to determine how best we will live out our promise of a loving welcome to all of God’s people. My prayer is that we will persevere on the path of justice, of grace, and of love; to bring to completion the work that has begun; for such is our baptismal promise to uphold the dignity of every human being; and such is our call to uphold the dignity of every human family.
For those who are grieved by Friday’s decision, I am grateful nevertheless that this same grace will still be there for us when we come to need it, for ourselves, or for our loved ones.
For like Jairus, our eyes have been opened to the grace that Jesus offers; and we must keep working to the completion for that which we desired, and not sink back into sleep; for he comes to us and says, “Child, get up,” and takes us by the hand, and offers us food and refreshment, and sends us on our way, to do what we may, knowing that we owe him our very lives, and the lives of all those whom we love. Amazing grace, indeed.