Sermons

Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Celebrating Pride

26th Anniversary of Bloor Street United Church as an Affirming Congregation

June 27, 2021

Mark 5.21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake.  Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’  So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.  She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’  Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’  And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’  He looked all round to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.’

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

The month of June seems perfect for celebrating Pride – the warm weather and burgeoning gardens are so joyful in themselves, and the long evenings invite us to gather with friends for a party.  Too bad we are missing the Parade again this year, but the banners and decorations around town still set the festive tone, and after these long months of lockdown, get-togethers on patios have begun to cheer us up.

When people first began to use the word gay to describe homosexual orientation, the idea was to emphasize the connection with the word’s other meanings of lighthearted and cheerful.  And the point of calling this time Pride week (and then Pride month) was to say, claim it, be proud of it.  Proclaim that love is love.  Whether you fly a flag, or dye your hair, put a special filter on your ZOOM screen, or take out your rainbow umbrella, there is a feeling of joy in the air.  The rainbow itself is the quintessential expression of gladness of heart.  When you see a rainbow in the sky, it is as if God’s own voice is saying – look how wonderful these colours are, see the beauty of all this diversity.

Yet we know that – at least so far – it isn’t all joy.  There are still places in the world where homosexuality is a capital crime.  Places right here where gender diversity and gender fluidity are not affirmed, where a hetero-normative ethos makes life painful, and free self-expression impossible.  I think it is probably fair to say that every single LGBTQ+ person you know, no matter how solid and well and self-confident they may be, has experienced a deeply challenging personal journey in order to figure out how to live with integrity and wholeheartedness.  It may be that some time in the future it will be possible for a person to grow up simply queer and happy, but we aren’t there yet.  It is a hard-won joy that we celebrate on Pride Sunday.

Today’s gospel reading speaks of hard-won joy.  The healing stories of the older woman and the young girl are connected and intertwined.  The twelve-year-old is dying – stalled on the cusp of womanhood, not able to embrace the pleasures and responsibilities of mature sexuality.  She cannot step into her adult identity.  Her father is frantic, a leader in the synagogue desperate enough to seek out the upstart preacher from Galilee and his rag-tag followers.  As Liz read, he begged him repeatedly.  And Jesus responds, but on the way there he is interrupted.  A woman reaches out to him, a woman who has been bleeding through the same twelve years that the girl has been alive.  Her lifeblood, her fertility, her adult identity, draining away year after year.  She has seen every doctor in town and is still sick.  Even so, she is willing to keep trying.  When she reaches out to Jesus, just to touch his cloak, she knows she is healed.  And so does he – he turns to address her.  Woman, it is your faith that made you whole.  Your persistence, your faithfulness to yourself as well as to God.  It is only after this that Jesus proceeds to the home of the young girl and confounds the naysayers by inviting her to come forth, alive.  The narrative insists that the vitality of the young woman cannot be released until the pain of the older woman is healed.

We know that this is a deep truth from our own lives.  We do have to deal with our old suffering before we can truly embrace the life we have now.  And sometimes it takes persistence and resolve.  You have to be faithful to yourself.  To the deep truth.  This is the legacy that Pride celebrates.

It’s personal but also collective, and not only in matters of gender and sexuality.  It is abundantly clear now, this week, as more unmarked graves appear at residential schools, that the old wounds of colonial oppression need healing before any true way forward will emerge.  The persistence of those who seek out the truth of that past must come first.  The joy of reconciliation that we pray for will be a hard-won joy.

On this Pride Sunday, we celebrate many hard-won joys.  We give thanks for the changes that we have witnessed and commit ourselves to the work that still lies ahead.  With Jesus’ assurance that our faith will make us whole, and the knowledge that we are in good company as we journey, we give God thanks.

Amen.

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