Because That’s What Love Does

Proper 8B-24

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Jesus is barely out of the boat when he is met by a large crowd. He and the disciples have just recrossed from the Gentile side of the sea where they encountered, healed, and restored to community the Gerasene demoniac. The disciples had probably expected trouble from the people who lived on that other side. Yet now on the Hebrew side, Jesus meets two daughters of Abraham who are likewise marginalized. Neither is named. Both are condemned. Neither a bleeding woman nor a dead girl could be physically touched without transmitting their uncleanness to others. But Jesus did because that’s what love does.

On both sides of the sea, Jesus embraced those who were cast out. “It didn’t matter about sides when it came to healing. He saw the humanity of all those he encountered; he touched their wounds and made them whole.” ‘And he spoke powerfully against the actions of those who purposefully, and with malice, built walls between human beings to forward their own empires.” (Diana Butler Bass, “The Other Side and Both Sides,” Sunday Musings, 6/29/24)  Because that’s what love does. Love braves the turbulent waters that divide people from people and finds common cause with the outcast and suffering on both sides of the sea.

“I’m speculating here, but I wonder what Jairus, the ultimate religious insider, experiences as he watches Jesus embrace and empower a bleeding, unclean woman, the ultimate religious outsider.  I wonder if Jairus recognizes his own role — as an enforcer of the synagogue’s religious taboos — in the woman’s isolation and suffering.  I wonder if he experiences a leveling, a reordering of who is “in” and who is “out” in God’s economy.  I wonder if he flinches when he realizes that the woman has made Jesus unclean by touching him. I wonder if he marvels at the fact that Jesus is wholly unconcerned with his own purity, that he proceeds straight to Jairus’s house anyway, bringing his “uncleanness” with him.  I wonder if Jairus learns something about the danger of religious taboos.  The importance of women’s voices.  The healing power of compassion.” Because that’s what love does. (Debi Thomas, “Not Dead But Sleeping,” Journey with Jesus, 6/20/21)

 “We don’t know — but I hope so.  I hope that when Jairus embraces his resurrected daughter, he also embraces a new vision of who God is, and what God values.  In Jairus’s story, Jesus demands that we not see death where he sees life.  In the bleeding woman’s story, he demands that legalism give way to love every single time.  In each story, Jesus restores a lost child of God to community and intimacy.  In each story, Jesus embraces what is “impure” (the menstruating woman, the dead body) in order to practice mercy.  In each story, a previously hopeless daughter “goes in peace” because Jesus isn’t a pronouncer of death; he is a giver of new life.” (Thomas) Because that’s what love does.

Can this ancient story about a people divided by geography, religion, and tradition open for us the way forward that is both hopeful and wise? As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, can the parts of our story that have been broken, hidden, and held out of the American story be joined together to make of us a more perfect union?  Because isn’t that what love does?

On July 5, 1852, the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York, invited Frederick Douglass to give a speech on the 76th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was 10 years before the start of the Civil War.  Aproximately 3.5 million African Americans were enslaved, or roughly 14% of the total population of the United States. Douglass, who had escaped his enslavers only 13 years prior to that time, famously addressed the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society with a central piercing question: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”

Douglass handed the good-willed ladies of Rochester a stinging indictment of the hypocrisy in white American celebrations of independence: “This Fourth July is yours,” he said, “not mine.” “You may rejoice, I must mourn… I am not included… The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” Douglass was asking his white audience to hold their naive patriotism up next to his personal reality, not to condemn them but to light the road yet to be traveled. Because that’s what love does.

Fast forward to June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation adding Juneteenth to the list of national holidays for all Americans. Juneteenth celebrates the date —June 19, 1865—two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation—when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger declared to the people of Texas that “all slaves are free.” Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of emancipation from slavery in the country.

Some Black communities, especially those living in Texas, grew up celebrating Juneteenth. Yet most white Americans have had little awareness of, and almost no experience with, the holiday prior to three years ago. Echoing Frederick Douglass, we may ask, what to the white American, is the 19th of June?  Might it be an invitation to a new birth of freedom?

Juneteenth comes only 15 days before Independence Day but the gap that separates them appears as wide as the sea of Galilee. What would love do?  Love crosses the turbulent waters that divide people from people. Could our newest federal holiday help rehabilitate the 4th of July from the militaristic Christian nationalism it all too often evokes? Like binary stars, these holidays orbit one another, generating the contemplative space for new season of critical patriotism.

“Conceptualizing the 19th of June and the 4th of July together, in a creative mutual orbit where each is held by the gravitational force of the other, can help us develop rituals and stories that are honest about our country’s failings while also being hopeful about its possibilities.”  Just as Frederick Douglass admonished his fellow Americans to do because that’s what love does. (Robert P. Jones, “What, to the White American, is the 19th of June? Toward a Season of Critical Patriotism between Juneteenth and Independence Day,” White Too Long, 6/18/24)

Jesus will not force you into this boat. But neither will Jesus stop asking that you do so. Jesus gently took Jairus’ daughter by the hand. “Little girl”, he said, “get up.” Jesus spoke to her and to each of us, with tenderness and power.  We may think we are safely outside this gospel story. What a surprise it is when Jesus turns up.  Jesus lays hands on you.  He says, ‘Get up,’ because that’s what love does.

“You who believe, and you who sometimes believe, and [you who] sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could…. ‘Get up,’ he says, all of you–all of you!” Jesus gives life not only to the dead, but to those of us who are “only partly alive…who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and the miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves.”  Whether we take notice or not, miracles happen around us every day, and “every single breath we take,” “is a free surprise from God.” (Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor). (As found in Sacred Seeds, by Kate Huey)

Love builds beloved community that is resilient, compassionate, truthful, and wise out of strangers and even enemies. Crossing divides is stormy and the journey makes waves. Yet this is who we are because that’s what love does.  We are born again in the waters of grace and in the womb of God’s Word to become children of a new human family because that’s what love does.