Monday, July 9, 2018

The Miracle of Dynamis

Today’s scripture readings are about power: who has it, how to get it, and what to do with it.  The Greek word is dynamis – meaning strength, ability, power.  In St. Paul’s usage, it refers to inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.  In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, it has a more specific connotation of power for performing miracles.  In this sense, dynamis is the inherent power to do things you shouldn’t be able to do!  It is a power that is within us, yet is bigger than we are. 

You know you got your dynamis on when people say to you, “Who do you think you are?”  That is what they said to Jesus!  “You aren’t supposed to be here!  You don’t have a voice!  Who told you that you could do that!”

It is not possible for women to own property.  It is not possible for women to vote.  Girls can’t do math. It is not possible for people of different races to fall in love and get married.  Black people can’t sit at the front of the bus, or vote, or get a loan.  It is not possible for gay people to be out.  Gay people can’t get married.

Dynamis is when all those things happen.  They are miracles.  Miracles are not about doing things that are impossible. Miracles happen when those who are dismissed and discounted realize possibilities previously denied to them, claiming the power which was theirs all along.

Dynamis is shared power.  It belongs to everybody.  We heard last week in Mark’s Gospel about how a hemorrhaging woman, poor, outcast, unclean, with no social standing, having exhausted all other possibilities pushes her way through the crowd around Jesus and engages in a stealth healing.   When she touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, he is immediately aware that dynamis had gone forth from him. 

Was Jesus upset about it?  Did he call her out?  Say, “who do you think you are?”  No, he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”  Jesus knew that she hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t already hers.  She was simply claiming the power previously denied to her, a power to make the wounded whole that was within her, and yet is so much bigger than her.  It is God’s power, freely shared.

For many months, Faith in Action congregations in San Mateo County have been organizing to get the Board of Supervisors there to create a legal defense fund to assist people caught up in the current immigration scare.  When faith leaders first met with members of the Board of Supervisors, they said, “That isn’t possible.  It isn’t a problem here.  Who do you think you are?”
When they brought a petition with thousands of signatures from people across the county to Supervisors’ meetings, they said, “That isn’t possible.  No money for it.  Who did you say you are?’

Two weeks ago, when more than 200 people including 40 clergy dominated the Supervisors Meeting on the county budget, they said, “Will $1 million be enough?”  That is the miracle of dynamis. 
Dynamis is disruptive.  It challenges the consensus about what is possible and for whom it is possible. It defies the authorities who seek to reserve power to some and deny it to others.  It demands that power be shared because some people need to claim power for their healing, while others need to wake up from their moral slumber and share their power for the sake of a larger wholeness. 

Of course, not everybody is interested in sharing dynamis.  Some people want to monopolize power.  They are contemptuous of those who seek to claim it.  They are fearful of losing their privilege.  The leaders in Jesus’ hometown were not interested in sharing dynamis.  They thought Jesus was being uppity, trying to rise above his allotted station in life.  He was just Mary’s son; apparently, nobody even knew who his is father was.  He was doing deeds of power with his hands?  The hands of a handyman, less than a carpenter really; an unskilled laborer; a nobody.  He needed to sit down, shut up, and listen to his betters. 

Here is the thing about dynamis when used as God intends:  it is not coercive.  It can’t make anybody do anything.  It isn’t that kind of power.  Dynamis is exercised through relationships, it requires trust and mutual respect.  It is the power of love.  People, especially those who are privileged, can and will resist dynamis.   There is no guarantee that it will win.  Even Jesus could do no deeds of power in his hometown; except for a little healing here and there.  Jesus was amazed at the level of unbelief – of distrust – that impeded the flow of dynamis.

Dynamis is unleashed when we fall in love with each other.  If flows out of our vulnerability to God and to each other; the vulnerability of love.  It is precisely when we are most weak, when our hearts are breaking open, when we are overwhelmed by the suffering of our sisters and brothers, that we discover a power we didn’t even know we possessed.  We begin to see possibilities we didn’t even know where there.  Love is the energy behind dynamis; a capacious and fierce love. 

Jesus could do no deeds of power in his hometown.  He didn’t win that round, but he didn’t give up.  Dynamis isn’t about winning or losing.  It is about building relationships.  It is about sharing our lives together.  It is about falling in love and in the process becoming a people, a community, a human family. 

Exercising dynamis can be heart-breaking work, but every time our heart breaks it gets bigger.  It encompasses more of reality and embraces more and more people.  Dymanis is about giving ourselves away to each other in love, just as God does gives God’s power away to us in love with each breath, in each moment of our lives. 

When Jesus could do no deeds of power in his hometown, he sent out the twelve disciples, two by two, to share dynamis with people in the neighboring villages.  Jesus was a brilliant community organizer!  He knew that if he tried to grasp power for himself it would wither and die; but if he shared it, it would plant seeds and grow to live another day.  Love is subversive like that.  It goes underground for a season, but them blooms into life, transforming the landscape; just when you thought it had disappeared forever.  

Jesus shares dynamis with his disciples.  He freely shares with them the power to heal and resist evil.  In turn, they must embrace their vulnerability; depending upon the hospitality of those with whom they would serve, so that they, too, could share dynamis with them.  Their strength paradoxically emerged from their weakness.  And it would changed the world.  It is still changing the world.

The Twelve are representative figures, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel – the entire people of God.  We are all sent out to claim and share dynamis power.  With this power, we win even when we lose, because our hearts and our relationships just keep expanding.

Two weeks ago, I found myself weeping outside a detention center among a crowd of a 1,000 people, feeling broken and powerless as I listened to the pleas of refugee parents crying for their children.  Last weekend, more than 400,000 people marched in solidarity with those parents around the country, including 35,000 outside of the White House, where Rabbi Jason Kimelmann-Block recited Psalm 146. 

He prefaced the psalm with these words, “It says to the oppressed: This will pass because there is a power much greater.  And it says to the oppressor:  This will pass because there is a power much greater than you.”  

1      Alleluia! Praise God, O my soul! *I will praise God as long as I live;I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2      Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, * for there is no help in them.
3      When they breathe their last, they return to earth, * and in that day their thoughts perish.
4      Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, * whose hope is in their God;
5      Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; * whose promise abides for ever; 
6      Who gives justice to those who are oppressed * and food to those who hunger.
7      God sets the prisoners freeand opens the eyes of the blind; * God lifts up those who are bowed down;
8      God loves the righteous and cares for the stranger; *God sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9      God shall reign for ever, *your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Alleluia!
That is the miracle of dynamis.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Disrupted by Love

PICO California clergy leaders protest outside Otay Mesa Detention Center

On Saturday, June 23, I participated with nearly 1,000 faith leaders from across California in a march and protest at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, a concentration camp for refugees run by a private company called CoreCivic.  Otay Mesa is a separation center, where parents are left grieving while their children are caged elsewhere. 

I was not planning to go to San Diego.  In fact, I was outside Healdsburg, CA with our parish youth group for our annual service learning trip when I received the call to go there.  I was just returning to San Francisco on Friday afternoon, and would need to fly down to San Diego and back on Saturday so that I could be at my parish on Sunday.   It felt like a huge interruption, but when I called my husband and asked, “Do you think I should go?” he responded, “You have to be there.”  He was right.

On Saturday, as we marched up to the concentration camp, the imprisoned refugees could hear our chants and prayers.  Then, we stopped and observed a moment of silence.  Suddenly, we could hear the voices of the parents inside the camp crying out, “Where are our children?  Can you tell us where they are?”  It is one thing to read about the “immigration issue.”  It is quite another thing to hear the pain in the voices of our sisters and brothers lamenting the loss of their children.  What began as an interruption in my schedule turned out to be a major disruption of my world.  I was undone by their love for their children, and by my love for them.  All I could do was stand there and weep. 

I do not know what the parents inside were experiencing.  I hope they could feel our love and solidarity with them.  I do know that some of them they were doused with pepper spray by the guards when they tried to call clergy they knew, who were participating in the protest outside.  I guess the guards didn’t appreciate the interruption. Even so, I hope the disruption was healing for the terrified parents, reassuring them that they are not alone. 

I do know that the disruption was an awakening for me.  I have heard the voices of our sisters and brothers, refugees crying out for their children.  I can no longer ignore their voices.  I can no longer be tempted by the lies that seek to brandish them as criminals.  I can no longer accept what is being done in my name.

Some need to be healed.  Some need to wake up.  What is the meaning of the disruption for you?

Pondering this question reminds me of a story in Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, when along comes this unnamed woman, hemorrhaging blood, who interrupts his journey to call attention to her own need.  She engages Jesus in a stealth healing.  She doesn’t ask for what she needs, she just slips in and touches the hem of his garment, trusting that Jesus can provide the power she needs – and he does!  For her, this disruption is healing. 

Meanwhile, Jairus’ daughter appears to have died.  It probably doesn’t feel like a healing disruption to Jairus.  Turns out she isn’t dead after all: just sleeping.  Waiting to be awakened.   Jesus, seemingly unperturbed, moves on from the healing to the awakening.  

Healing disruptions can be a personal experience, but there is also a social and political dimension to such disruptions, and this too is a part of the Gospel story.  It is not insignificant that Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old, and that the anonymous woman with the flow of blood has been ill for twelve years.  The number twelve signals the twelve tribes of Israel.  The healing and awakening that these two women experience represents Israel’s healing and awakening. What is at stake here is the need for the whole people of God to experience a healing disruption.

Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, a person of social standing and influence. He is operating from a position of privilege, able to access the resources he needs for the sake of his daughter.  He has power to speak directly to Jesus and bring him to his home.  The unnamed, hemorrhaging woman in the crowd has no social standing or influence.  She is an outcast, rendered unclean by this continual flow of blood. She is operating out of desperation – and unshakable faith.  In her poverty, she has no home and so she takes to the streets to find Jesus.

Her interruption of Jesus and Jairus is a parable about the need for social disruptions – challenges to the way things are – so that the whole people of God can experience healing and reconciliation.  The unnamed woman is forced to take to the street to access power, and Jesus shares his power with her freely.  He declares her interruption justified and commends her initiative as the source of her healing.  She isn’t taking anything that isn’t already hers.  By simply acting on the reality of her human dignity, she claims a healing that would never have been necessary if the people of God had not treated her with such contempt and indifference in the first place.

For people like Jairus, such disruptions are a scandal and a threat to their privilege.  What Jesus tries to convey is that such disruptions are necessary for healing those who are most in need.  Otherwise, they will just continue to be exploited and ignored.  Jairus thinks this disruption can only mean loss for him – the loss of his daughter.   But she is not dead, merely sleeping.  This healing disruption is an opportunity for her – and all who fear the loss of privilege – to wake-up and acknowledge the genuine need of the poor. 

This is a parable about how disruptions of the status quo are necessary for the healing and awakening that reconciles and makes whole the entire people of God.  It profoundly challenges us to wake-up and acknowledge that our wholeness is inextricably bound up with the health and well-being of others. Until power is shared, the people of God cannot be whole.

When people take to the streets to assert their dignity and claim their power, such actions can feel like threatening disruptions, but they offer the gift of awakening to those who are willing to receive it.  The refugees at are border and in our community are disrupting the status quo because of their need for healing.  Those of us marching at Otay Mesa were disrupted by our encounter with the brutality of the status quo and are experiencing an awakening. 

Some need to be healed.  Some need to wake up.  What is the meaning of the disruption for you?