Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Sunday Sermon: Who is my neighbor?

Proper 10/Year C
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

There was a cartoon in The New Yorker a couple of years ago which featured what looked to be a middle aged man talking to an elderly woman in the mail area of their apartment building, and the man is saying to the woman, “Technically, my bachelorhood isn’t so much confirmed as legislated.”

Well what was true then is no longer true in the great state of California.  Bachelors, and bachelorettes now have another option.  Gay and lesbian people can choose to be married.   In the words of a friend, and please excuse my language, it’s about damn time.

And it is about time for many reasons but I want to focus this morning on how it provides those of us within a faith community, with a window to see things, specifically intimate relationships and marriage, differently.  For if we are willing to do so, the potential is right before us to also see God differently, to turn to our God “with all our heart and with all our soul.”

In fact, seeing things differently is an inherent part of the message in today’s Gospel reading from Luke.  Indeed, on this Pride Sunday, it is hard to think of a more appropriate reading than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

From the young lawyer trying to justify himself—show off his impressive Socratic skills, to the parable itself, this is a tale of expectations turned upside down.

The relatively uneducated peasant, Jesus, turns out to be the wise one.  The people we would expect to help the half dead man—the priest and the Levite—both significant religious figures in Ancient Israel, walk right pass him.  Instead it is the Samaritan—a man considered to be unclean and a heretic, who is the caregiver.  And he does so lavishly, with generously and great compassion.  

So from this tale of expectations turned upside down, we see how wisdom and truth so often arises from people and situations we might well overlook or not even bother with.  This parable calls us to engage in a more open state of consciousness and to, if not out and out rethink, to at least be willing to rethink, who we consider to be the good guys (and gals), the wise ones, those who can and will help us, and those who can teach us.

It calls upon us to look more closely at things such as “the rules,” prejudices, social class, education, ethnicity, gender, orientation,  and social mores, and ask how any of these things bring about or point us towards the Kingdom of God.  And where they don’t, repent.  And where they do, act or respond accordingly.  In other words, pay attention to what we see or hear.

And inherent in all of this, is the call to see the dignity, the spark of the divine in all people.  Who is my neighbor?  Everyone.  And how do neighbors respond to each other?  With mercy.  And what is mercy?  Mercy is kindness, forbearance, or compassion.  It is evidence of divine favor or blessing.

And it is hard to think of any other situation where there is such possibility to experience this divine favor or blessing than in our most intimate relationships.  It is through each other we are given a glimpse of the intimacy God desires to have with all of us.

Which brings us to marriage, or more specifically the blessing of a marriage, a wedding.  As a clergy person I have had the opportunity to participate in many weddings.  I have been fortunate in that the couples I have married have wanted what’s best for their spouses, for their lives together, their families, and seem to truly love each other.  In other words, they have gotten married for all the right reasons.
And in all honesty, for some it was clear, they were only getting married in a church because it was important to their parents, or in the case of the Cathedral, because it is a pretty place to get married.  I get it and I do not judge because God is absolutely there with them during their wedding.   There have certainly been times over the years when “nonreligious” couples have returned here after having gotten married.  Who knows how their hearts are being touched in those moments.

But, my thoughts on the blessing of marriage, underwent a shift during the time the CA Supreme Court allowed marriage for same-sex couples before the passage of Prop 8.  During that time I had the opportunity to participate in weddings of same-sex couples.

My shift in thinking wasn’t about marriage equality because I already supported full marriage equality.  Rather it arose out of the experience of being invited to participate in weddings in which the mere act of getting married was something extraordinary.

What I as a straight woman had always taken for granted, that I could get married if I wanted to, was not true in their cases.  Because of their joy, I saw with new eyes how this precious relationship, with all its blessings and challenges, was not something to take for granted but rather to be looked at and appreciated anew, cherished. Consciously, with reverence.

 The other thing I became acutely aware of, was how these couples really wanted God to be present and acknowledged in their weddings.

They wanted God’s blessing—it was important to them because their relationship with God was important to them.  And they wanted to get married with members of faith community, and their priest present.

These weddings were not about pleasing anyone else or a beautiful photo op, but rather about their walk with God, and gratitude for finding someone to share their lives with, someone to love, cherish, and make a home with.  They believed their ability to live up to the vows they made would be strengthened through prayer and the witness of Christian community.

And the couples were so gracious and thankful for my being there.  But I must tell you, the one shown mercy was me.  They were my neighbor.

M. Mahan Siler, Jr. an American Baptist pastor, who in a very controversial move (given his denomination and the era in which it happened) blessed the union of a gay parishioner and his partner in 1993, wrote the following about the experience:
All along I thought that gays and lesbians were the victims in need of our care. We were the givers; they were the receivers. Well yes . . .  but not much as, our congregation, were in need of their gifts of gratitude and grace. My surprise must have been the surprise of the lawyer upon hearing Jesus’ story about the “good Samaritan.”  The “despised one” was the one who cared most. The condemned one did the saving. My experience, indeed our experience as a congregation, had this Jesus twist to it.      
These weddings did have this Jesus twist to them.  Who would have thought gay and lesbian couples would have so much to teach those of us who are straight about the preciousness of marriage? We who have always had the right and the ability to marry.  You’d think after all this time, we’d get it right.  But it was, and is, gay and lesbian couples, the Samaritans so to speak, who show us never to take this gift of intimacy given us by God for granted.  

We had our first wedding in the Cathedral between two men last week.  And the historic moment was lost on no one.  But it was during the saying of their vows, “Do you freely and unreservedly offer yourself in marriage? Will you live together in faithfulness and holiness of life as long as you both shall live?” and the tears began to flow from both men’s eyes (and mine) we realized how holy the moment was.

My wish for any couple to be married is they can say those words with the same love, gratitude, and seriousness as these two men.

I know we have a long ways to go towards full equality.  We are far from done—not just regarding marriage but basic human rights.  So being mindful of this, as a priest, a Levite, and a lawyer, I want to say this Pride Sunday to the LGBTQ community in general, and the one at the Cathedral in particular (and I suspect I speak for your straight brothers and sisters here as well):

Thank-you for being brave and persistent.  Thank-you for staying with us even though we have not yet achieved full equality.  Thank-you for teaching and reminding us how important it is to invite God into the midst of our most intimate relationships.  Thank-you for helping us to think differently.  And thank-you for the love who show by sharing your vision of the Kingdom of God.  Together may we all be instruments of God mercy.

Who is our neighbor?  All of us.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas
14 July 2013          

  “Mercy,” Dictionary.com (accessed 11 July 2013 at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mercy?s=t).  
M. Mahan Siler Jr., “Same-Gender Covenants,” Homosexuality and Christian Faith, Questions of Conscience for the Churches,” Walter Wink, ed. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 1999), p. 131. 

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

This sermon was unbelievably powerful. Many people were wiping their eyes at the end, and the captive silence as everyone listened to the message was powerful. THANK YOU for such an uplifting experience.