In Good Faith

“In Good Faith,” Susan Ryder

READINGS:
Mark 1:21-34
They (Jesus and his first disciples) went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons

4th Point of Progressive Christianity – Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe.

REFLECTION
Early Wednesday morning as my niece was leaving her Connecticut home for work, she slipped on some black ice outside her garage and heard a loud SNAP as she landed on her left leg. Her phone was already in the car, and her boyfriend Tony was not home. It was 5:30am, so it was still dark out; it was cold, she was sitting on ice, and in terrible pain. She wasn’t sure if it was her leg or ankle, but she knew something was broken. She cried out for help, screaming, “Please help me! HELP! Someone please call 911, I broke my leg!”

Now, if any one of us here this morning heard someone crying for help, we would not only call 911 but also go out and find the person to help them. That’s what people do; that’s what neighbors do, at least in all the places I have ever lived. Apparently not in Connecticut, according to Tony. Laura sat for an hour in the cold and dark on a patch of ice, crying out for help. She finally scooted over to her car and managed to get her phone and call 911. The dispatcher said someone had called a few minutes earlier and help was on the way.

I understand it was very early on a winter morning, so doors and windows were closed and maybe her neighbors couldn’t hear her at first. But by 6:30am someone did hear her and called 911. Did they come over and stay with her until paramedics arrived? Heck no! She’s not even sure which neighbor called. By 7am the police and paramedics arrived and she was on her way to the hospital, where they discovered her leg was broken in two places and she ended up having surgery to insert a rod that same afternoon. This happened in a nice neighborhood with large beautiful homes and families with children and dogs; it’s a lovely, picturesque suburban area. Not only did my niece sit on the ice with a broken leg screaming for help for an hour in that nice neighborhood, whoever finally heard her and called 911 didn’t even bother to step outside and see if they could help her.

Last week I watched a video of Border Patrol agents pouring out, kicking over, and destroying jugs of water and other supplies left for migrants trekking north through the desert. Humanitarian groups working along the U.S. border have documented the systematic destruction of thousands of jugs of water — and claim that U.S. Border Patrol agents are to blame. The Tucson-based groups No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos claims that from 2012 to 2015, volunteers “found water gallons vandalized a total of 415 times during our study period, or more than twice a week on average. In all, 3,586 gallons of water were vandalized during this time period,” the report said. “These actions condemn border crossers to suffering, death, and disappearance.” Kate Morgan-Olsen, abuse documentation and advocacy coordinator for No More Deaths, said that while the analysis only covered up to 2015, footage exists from 2017 of Border Patrol agents destroying and confiscating humanitarian aid supplies. While the groups note that others populate some of the areas where migrants are known to cross — including hunters and anti-immigrant militiamen — they argue that their three-year analysis of mapping data, land jurisdictions, and hunting seasons supports their conclusion that the bulk of the damage was being done by border agents. (https://theintercept.com/2018/01/17/u-s-border-patrol-systematically-destroyed-water-supplies-left-for-migrants-in-desert-report-says/)

Nine members of the group No More Deaths were charged with federal crimes and misdemeanors in recent months, including one volunteer whom the U.S. Border Patrol arrested soon after the publication of the report I just quoted. Mere hours after the report was published, one of the group’s organizers was arrested in a remote area of Arizona, along with two undocumented immigrants, and hit with felony charges. According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, Border Patrol agents conducting surveillance in the town of Ajo observed Scott Warren, 35, and two undocumented immigrants entering a building — referred to as “the Barn” — on January 17, 2018, the same day the humanitarian group’s report was published. The migrants reportedly learned of the Barn’s address, and the sanctuary it was said to provide, through online research. “Warren met them outside and gave them food and water for approximately three days,” the complaint states, accusing the activist and Arizona State University instructor of also providing the migrants with “beds and clean clothes.” Scott Warren was arrested for providing food, water, beds, and clean clothes to people in need in the middle of a desert. (https://theintercept.com/2018/01/23/no-more-deaths-arizona-border-littering-charges-immigration/)

The lack of concern by Laura’s neighbors and videos of border agents emptying life-saving water jugs and arresting humanitarian aid workers echoed in my mind as I reflected on the passage for this morning from Mark’s Gospel. I couldn’t help but notice that the very first thing Jesus does in Mark’s Gospel, after inviting a few people to follow him, is to confront and then cast out an unclean spirit from a man he’d never met, healing him of his affliction. The first thing Jesus does is free a stranger from an unclean spirit and restore him to wholeness – to himself, his loved ones, and his community. The very first thing. And soon after he healed Simon’s mother, and many other people who were brought to him in need.

First things matter. Mark could have begun his story about Jesus by reporting a different action of Jesus. The other Gospel writers certainly did. Matthew offered the Sermon on the Mount, featuring Jesus as the teacher extraordinaire. Luke features Jesus sharing a homily in his hometown, well received until people realized to whom he was actually referring when he talked about the poor and the oppressed. John dazzled with the miracle of changing water to wine as a sign of abundance. And Mark? A confrontation with a demon and a casting out – a healing act, followed by even more healing. These first things give us a sense of what Mark thinks is most important, offering a pretty strong clue to what he believes is the heart of Jesus’ ministry and mission – confronting that which oppresses us and helping those in need.

Keeping in mind the importance of first events, we can read these opening scenes as Mark’s conviction that Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep children of God from the abundant life God desires for all of us, and to offer healing and comfort. This is what he does first, without checking their papers to see if they are undocumented, without concern for his own well-being – he reaches out to help strangers in need. It’s simple – Jesus sees people in need, and he steps in to help them. A new teaching, with authority!

So what does this first act reveal about Jesus? Well for one, it reveals that he is a boundary breaker, a healer – which mirrors a boundary breaking, healing God. We will see this repeatedly in Mark. Each and every boundary someone tries to put into place, we are certain is in place, even that which we perceive as impenetrable, God will burst through it: political, social, religious, ethnic, racial, sexual, gendered, cosmic boundaries – even thousand miles long borders walls. It also reveals that what you do and don’t do, how you act, exposes who you are. Actions are revelations of your true identity – who you are at your core. So while someone may claim to be a Christian, for instance, or insist that this is a Christian nation, those are just words. How we treat others, what we do, how we act as individuals and as a nation reveals who we are – not what we say. Our actions are revelations of our true identity.

My intent in sharing this with you this morning is not, believe it or not, to point fingers at Laura’s neighbors for not helping her, though I am still pretty upset about that. Nor is it to point fingers at those Border Patrol agents who callously dumped out water in the middle of a desert, though I am pretty angry about that. My intent is not about pointing fingers at anyone, it’s to remind us that what we DO is more important than what we say. It’s to remind us to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, because how we behave, as the fourth point of Progressive Christianity says, is the fullest expression of what we believe, and illustrates who we are at our core. Even though Matthew’s gospel begins with a different message, it ends with one similar to Mark. “When did we see you thirsty and give you a drink, or sick and care for you?” Jesus was asked. “When you did it to the least of these,” Jesus replied.

Earlier this month I shared a New Year’s Epiphany resolution, which was that instead of contributing more outrage into an already turbulent conversation, I will try to choose kindness; instead of hurling insults, I’ll try to share compliments; instead of arguing, I will try to be civil. In that Reflection a few weeks ago I said that Jesus never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be. To live with compassion, seek justice, and travel in the company of the Divine – that is what we are called to do. If we want to think of ourselves as followers of Jesus, if we want to be recognized as followers of Jesus, Mark would answer that the only realistic way to make that impression is by confronting demons, casting them out, and offering generous acts of compassion and healing to those in need.

What would it take to act with kindness first – what obstacles would we need to remove? What gets in the way of our being kind when kindness is called for? First things matter – what do you need to do to make your first thing, when confronted with a situation or person in need, an act of confronting evil and offering compassion? For me there are many obstacles – I won’t name them all so I leave a few for you. One for me would be removing my sense of self-righteousness and judgment. If I’m angry about the Border Patrol agents or Laura’s neighbors – what good does that do anyone if that’s where I leave things? Uh oh, you’d better watch out world, Susan Ryder is MAD! How about if, instead, I use that anger to fuel my own generosity or activism by giving food to the next person I see with a sign asking for help, or donating money to No More Deaths – or send Bob out to shovel our neighbor’s driveway after the next snowstorm.

First things matter – what obstacle do you need to remove to make your first thing, when confronted with a situation or person in need – an act of compassion, so that the way you behave towards others becomes the truest expression of what you believe?