“We Are Vulnerable” – but “the Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near”

In the communion service for the CSCS Theological Educators’ “Embodied Ministry” conference this week (July 2014), this was the homily delivered by Rev Carla Grosch – Miller:

Carla Grosch - Miller

Here are the signs that the kingdom of heaven has come near: unclean spirits are cast out; and every disease and sickness is cured. Jesus sent the twelve out to their own people, with authority to cast out, heal disease and sickness, and proclaim heaven’s nearness.

Jesus sent them to their own people. We read later in chapter 10 of Matthew that he sent them out without a staff, without the means to protect themselves from wolves, four-legged or two; he sent them out vulnerable to their own people. Not because he trusted that they would have no need to protect themselves, but because vulnerability opens the kingdom of heaven.

We are vulnerable… from the Latin vulnus for “wound”.

We are vulnerable…in our bodies and in our souls, which are of a piece.

We are vulnerable…in the body that is the gathered embodiment of Christ.

I stand before you deeply wounded, having come from the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, whose current processes prevented the prevailing of the discerned mind of Christ among the majority to permit same-sex marriages to be solemnised in our churches. I have other wounds….growing up female in a rigidly patriarchal family; living in a vestigially patriarchal culture. Sometimes I bleed. Sometimes I curse. Sometimes I feel dead inside to protect myself from the pain. Often I wrestle the Holy to hear Her call and claim on me. Always I am entirely dependent on God to try to fulfil that call and claim.

Jesus sent the twelve out to their own people. Today’s gospel reading from the lectionary tells us our sent-out task is to put our own house in order. Our mission is compromised when our house is not in order. Don’t we know it. The public response to the failure of the women bishop’s bill in the Church of England and to Church machinations around same-sex marriage in all our denominations proves it. People are repelled by us. Why would they be interested in a gospel that doesn’t include women’s leadership or the committed love a woman or man has for one of the same sex?

I am aware that there will be, I hope there are, diverse opinions on the topics of which I speak in this chapel. I welcome that. We are all part of the body of Christ; nothing can change that. Our unity is heaven-made, sealed with the baptism in the name of the one Lord. We are bound together, full stop. And because of the profound differences held on these topics – gender, sexuality – we are wounded. The body of Christ is bleeding. Because of the patriarchal and heteronormative contexts which shaped our scripture and our tradition, bodies in the body of Christ are bleeding.

Mary McClintock Fulkerson in Places of Redemption (2007, 13) reminds us that

Theologies that matter arise out of dilemmas – out of situations that matter. … [C]reative thinking originates at the sight of a wound. Wounds generate new thinking. Disjunctions birth invention — … brokenness in existence [compels] creativity…to search for possibilities of reconciliation.

We have work to do. We need to examine, in depth, what the Bible and our tradition say about gender and sexuality, what other sources of human knowledge may contribute, and what the bleeding in the body can tell us of where the Spirit may be moving us. We need to hone our pastoral response to bleeding bodies. We need to make the space in our training institutions to equip the kind of wrestling that enables wounds to give birth to theologies that matter. We need to harness all our learning about human formation so that we can resource the integration of gender, sexuality and spirituality in those who will lead the body of Christ in coming years and decades. And we need to let Christ hold us together, with all our differences, no matter how painful, how wounding our unity is to us.

We have work to do. Speaking to an idolatrous Israel, the prophet Hosea (10:12) tells the people: Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground.

For it is time to seek the Lord that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

Our ground is fallow, hardened, parched. It has been a battleground. It has served neither us nor God well. It is time to break it up that new life may spring forth. Rigidity will not get us where God desires us to go.

We turn to the body. Hear this poem:

In the body.
That’s where it begins,
not in the head.
In the body that bleeds, 
that struggles and strives, 
in the vulnerable body, 
the body that cries, 
the body that aches.

“Creation is a bloody business.”

Muck and mess, 
overflow and expulsion, 
rhythm and rest. 
In the body.

The chalice is shared in the body,

the body accepted and accepting, 
the body cherished and cherishing,
the body freed and freeing.

Love is born 
in the body.

Grosch-Miller, 2011

Soon we will gather around the table of Jesus, whose vulnerability opened heaven. We will open our hands, like a cradle, to receive him. We will commit our lives to his Way.

God bless our struggling and striving to get our own house in order, for the sake of the world God so loves. Amen.

FULKERSON, M. M. 2007. Places of Redemption, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Revd Dr Carla A. Grosch-Miller is a minister and theological educator specialising in sex and ministry short courses for various ministry training colleges.  She is the author of Psalms Redux: Poems and Prayersavailable from  Canterbury Press Ifollow the link).

Contact Rev Grosch – Miller at cagroschmiller@yahoo.co.uk

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