It Is A Question Of Fair Balance

Proper 8B 2 Samuel 1:17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Cor. 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43. 

 One of the things that is very clear from reading the Gospels, and trying to understand them in the context of the time in which they were written, is that Jesus was pretty revolutionary in the respectful way he dealt with women in his culture. All of us have been touched and moved this last week by the courage and strength of many Iranian women and young people who braved the repressive forces of their government in protesting what many believe to have been a mock election.

 Some of what they are saying in that part of the world is that women need to be treated with dignity, equality and respect – as the Qu’ran actually mandates – rather than be marginalized and silenced by the powers that be. Certainly in Jesus’ day Middle Eastern women, Jews or Gentiles alike were often ignored and marginalized by the synagogue and ruling powers as well.

 Jesus virtually never seems to have treated women that way. Particularly in the Gospel of Luke we see him reaching out to them and dignifying them, even learning from them.  And here in the Gospel of Mark, we see him reaching out to two females – a little girl and a mature woman – and bringing words of healing and hope. He actually turns aside from his journey to minister to a dying little girl and interrupts that mission to take time to heal the woman, in an act which would have made him ritually unclean according to the laws of his Jewish faith.

 He addresses them both with words of affection, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” and “Talitha cum…Little girl, get up!” And both are restored to health and wholeness.

 Well, as the events in Iran – and in so many other places around the world – continue to remind us, women are still at risk in many cultures and many societies (and not free from risk even in our own!). That’s why at least four of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by world leaders in 2000 to cut poverty in half by 2015 specifically relate to women:

 To achieve universal primary education (where girls are often left at home rather than sent to school); to promote gender equality and empower women; to improve maternal health; and to reduce child mortality. The other four goals – cut in half income poverty and hunger; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; insure environmental stability, and build a global partnership for development – would arguably also help women disproportionately because they are so disproportionately impoverished around the world!

 Whenever I read the Gospels and experience the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry, I always ask myself how I could do that kind of thing today…in my own life. One way to emulate the Gospel this morning, of course, is to pray for and visit the sick and to engage in active healing ministry as you do here Sunday by Sunday, and as the Church provides pastoral care for her people.

 But an equally faithful way to do that is to support The Episcopal Church’s – and the Anglican Communion’s – commitment to throw our support behind the attainment of these 8 Millennium Development Goals. The 74th General Convention called upon the United States to contribute 0.7% of its budget to international aid and upon all dioceses and parishes to contribute at least 0.7% of their budgets to support programs that foster economic development in the world’s poorest countries. The Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops has done the same.

 Now, 0.7% is not all that much coming out of individuals, parishes, dioceses, and national churches. It will take the governments of the developed world to give at that  level to effectively reduce poverty. But we cannot ask the government to do something we are not prepared to do ourselves. So many of us as individuals, lots of congregations, the Diocese of Iowa among many others, and the General Convention itself has committed to that level as a witness that it can be done…and be done relatively easily even in these times of economic hardship.

 And it’s perfectly biblical! Based entirely on Paul’s words in this morning’s Epistle, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’”

 Well, the good news is that, in 2005, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Assistance to Orphans and other Vulnerable Children Act. Our church was a principal advocate for this bill which provides for a comprehensive approach to the world wide humanitarian crisis of orphans and children at risk. The bad news is that Congressional funding for other key MDG programs lags way behind what’s needed. The US currently gives a smaller percentage of our GNP (about 0.16%) to international development than any other industrialized nation.

 So, we have a long way to go.  We’ll be talking about this next month at General Convention. The Diocese of Iowa will be offering its 0.7% (some of which has gone to our companion diocese of Swaziland for this purpose). Many of us as individuals will offer our meager 0.7% while encouraging our government to step up to the plate because, if we think we are hurting in this global economic crisis, try living in the Sudan…or Swaziland!

 What else can we do? Well, we can always pray. I’m going to ask that we keep these concerns close to our hearts as we recite the Nicene Creed together, but that we then kneel while we offer a Bidding Prayer for an End to Global Poverty and Instability, Prayers of the People based on the UN Millennium Development Goals, and written by the office of Government Relations of our Episcopal Church.

 Would you stand with me now first for the Creed?

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