As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.
To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? The One who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for Jesus. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE
There is a Keith Haring exhibit running at the deYoung. The exhibition is called “The Political Line” but it’s so much more than politics. It’s full of the desperation so many of us felt back in the 1980’s when our government was ignoring the HIV epidemic. I suspect that their fear was not so much about HIV as it was about fearing the gay men who had it. Keith Haring died of AIDS, but the message he died proclaiming lives on.
The art on today’s bulletin cover is from that exhibit, and I don’t think it’s political, is it? Here, Keith Haring paints part of the ancient story that unites all Jews, Muslims[i] and Christians of goodwill. You remember. Moses hears The God of Abraham[ii] proclaiming a message through the burning bush (Ex. 3:6) and he responds by removing his shoes and obeying God with his whole being.
Much later in the story (15:20), after Moses parts the sea and leads the freed slaves to safety, his sister Miriam improvises a new[iii] song, because God has done a great thing. She and the other women move theirs bodies in praise of God. They dance.[iv] This morning, hearing Vocal Rush, I imagine the whole “Band of Israelites” backing Sister Miriam with vocal percussion[v] and choreography.
Yahweh, Miriam and Moses do their ministry outside, out in the world, like Jesus in today’s reading from Mark. Leading up to this passage, Jesus has been ministering to ever-growing crowds––preaching and healing and casting out demons. Sounds exhausting!
Hear now these words of Mark.
“In the morning while it was still very dark…” This is “a loaded phrase in Mark’s Gospel, later used when the religious leaders hand Jesus over to Pilate (15:1) and [when] the women come to the tomb where Jesus is buried (16:2).”[vi] Mark employs this phrase to describe tragic moments. Jesus steals away to pray, while it was still very dark.
“Simon and his companions hunted for Jesus.” Our Bible translates the Greek word katadiēkē as “hunted for.” This translation is a little too gentle. Katadiēkē actually implies a hostile action. More precisely, they chased him down.[vii] Perhaps Simon and friends are “astonished at the behavior of Jesus, and [they’ve] come to restore [Jesus] to his senses.”[viii]
Perhaps you’re a parent of a teenager, and you think that it would have been thoughtful of Jesus to at least let them know where he’s going and when he’s coming back. You identify with Simon and friends. Perhaps you identify with Jesus who is weary of the demanding crowds around him, everybody wanting a piece of his attention. Like a true introvert, he even needs time away, even from his friends to refuel his spirit.
Once Jesus gets “prayed up”[ix] he tells Simon something that I have missed until recently: “Let’s get going to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”[x] After experiencing Keith Haring’s prophetic message, and reflecting on my own journey, I suspected that God was trying to tell me something: Proclaim the message, this is what you came out to do.
Before anyone panics, I want you to hear me say that am in no way trying to imply that Jesus came out of the closet in Mark’s gospel. If you hear me saying that, you are willfully misunderstanding me. I am saying that the phrase Mark attributes to Jesus –– “what I came out to do” –– jolted me like lightning, and I am moved to tell you why I came out as a gay person of faith, why I mean to proclaim a message clearly: No matter what any church person says, Jesus loves you. My friend, Ms. Eva Lily, used to make it plain: “God loves everybody, no exceptions.”[xi]
THE BOOBY PRIZE[xii]
I remember taking standardized tests in the sixth and seventh grades, designed to help identify possible career paths as we approached high school. Every time I took that test, it told me that I should be a minister. I asked for a do-over. Church, for me, was a place where I learned about God, but also a place where people fought, sometimes bitterly, over the choice of music or the color of the new carpet or whether we should get a Coke machine or the setting of the thermostat. I now know to call these “church fights”[xiii] and, at best, they are usually about matters of taste, but, in retrospect I don’t think they were about what they were actually about.
Church was the place where I had learned that 1) Jesus loves me 2) unless I’m gay. Because of my innermost feelings, was I, somehow, really more of a sinner than everyone else? The local Methodist preacher told us as much almost every week and went on to pastor a mega church. Were my baptismal promises really forfeited because of my dark secret?
SHAKEN OR STIRRED?
Coming out is often derided as a political move, a stumbling block[xiv] to another’s faith. I never asked to be a political issue, but I was determined to live openly and honestly, especially since I was going to dedicate my life to the church. Historically, says Karen Armstrong, “trying to extract religion from political life [is] like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail.”[xv] Coming out has been a process that makes me feel shaken––and stirred. Where there’s people, there’s politics. This goes schools and workplaces, choirs and committees, neighborhood associations and bridge clubs. Where two or more are gathered, there is God, but, eventually, there is also drama.
I remember praying by myself, at the age of 16, at the altar of that same Methodist church, praying to God: “Please, if you can part the sea and cast out demons, then I know that you can make me straight.” I was so tormented, I even prayed that God would just let me die rather live my life as an abomination and bring shame on my family.
But God kept on waking me up in the morning. When I finally stopped whining and let God have a word, I knew what God was telling me: “I made you, and I don’t make mistakes. I have plans for you.”[xvi] To quote Rev. Troy Perry, “God did not create gay and lesbian so that he could have something to hate.”[xvii]
THE WORTHY ELDER
At our recent leadership retreat, the church’s officers were asked to tell why they had answered the call to ministry, serving on the session and diaconate. One answer moved me. He said, “I said yes because when the nominating committee called on me, they were saying that I was worthy of this position.” It is no coincidence that this was said by a gay man. It’s difficult to hear your whole life how you are evil and not be effected by it. The cultural custom of shaming and scapegoating queer people is finally being challenged and through the ongoing Civil Rights Movement the world is being transformed. God is always doing a new thing.
God will use you just as you are.
The God who does not make mistakes made you.
THE ARCHBISHOP’S SCAPEGOATING MORALITY CLAUSE
The archbishop of San Francisco disagrees with me.[xviii] It seems to me that he is trying to systematically force us back in the closet. It doesn’t work that way. The truth cannot be untold. Too many people have come out. Are they to be fired from their school-teaching jobs for living honest and open lives? The trouble with judging people is twofold: where to start, where to stop. “Who am I to judge?”––that’s what the Pope said.[xix]
Coming out is not only for those who come out. Coming out helps create shalom, a wider sense of communal wellbeing where people are safer––and freer––to live their lives as God made them. Coming out is an honest response to dishonest scapegoating. Coming out is a non-violent response to systemic emotional violence.
No matter what any church person has told you––no matter how ornate his hat or how fancy his gloves, hear me today: God loves you for who you are. “For God so loved the world… that whosoever believes…”[xx] Let all the “whosoevers” make the church a life-affirming place, where all people are celebrated compassionately as creatures made by the same God who managed to get all the stars in the right place[xxi] without our help.
Later in the service you’ll hear Vocal Rush sing “Brave” – a song about coming out.[xxii] I don’t feel brave. I feel forgiven – forgiven for lingering too long, isolated in that dark hole of despair.
The Italian musical term a cappella is used to denote singing without instrumental accompaniment.[xxiii] However, a cappella originally meant “in the style of the church:. A cappella is a bonafide offering to God. The first thing we learn in singing is the efficient use of the breath. Breathing is also the first thing we learn in meditation and spiritual practices. Small wonder that, in Latin, the word for breath and spirit are the same: spiritus.[xxiv]
Sing a new, truthful song, and make it a cappella. That’s risky business. That’s life. We do risky things. We might go flat, we will get deflated and tired. We will need a time out to get ourselves back in tune. Then we are ready to live out our callings again, stepping out on the faith that we do not sing alone.
How can anyone say “My being is abhorrent to God? My rights are unimportant to my Maker?” Do you not know? Have you not heard? God is the everlasting Creator of the ends of the earth, with a depth of understanding that is unsearchable. God gives strength to the weary empowers the powerless. Young women may grow tired and weary, young men may stumble and fall, but those who wait[xxv] for God will find renewed power: they soar on eagles’ wings, they run and don’t get weary, they walk and never tire.”[xxvi]
Here’s what risky a cappella faithfulness might sound like:
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.[xxvii]
[ii] More precisely, The God of Abraham, Sarah (Isaac) and Hagar (Ishmael)
[iii] Begin with Psalms 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 144:9, 149:1 and work your way out in both directions. No where is it written, “Sing to the Lord something we already know and like.”
[iv] Exodus 15:20. See also Psalms 30:11, 149:3, 150:4, Jeremiah 31:13, 2 Samuel 6:14, Ecclesiastes 3:4.
[vi] Mike Graves, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany: Homiletical Perspective.
[vii] Interlinear Greek Bible, accessed online at <http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/mar1.pdf> (January 25, 2015)
[viii] Gary Charles, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany: Exegetical Perspective.
[ix] “Prayed up: The action of keeping your mind right. Also meaning not acting a fool, and knowing how to handle yourself.” accessed online at <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=prayed%20up> (February 8, 2015)
[x] Mark 1:38
[xi] Ms. Eva’s vision statement is printed in the historical brick sidewalk in front of 150 Eureka Street, San Francisco.
[xiii] An expedient term introduced to me by Rev. Elder Lillie Brock of Metropolitan Community Churches
[xiv] “Be sure that your liberation does not become a stumbling block to the unenlightened.” 1 Corinthians 8:9
[xv] Salon, November 24, 2014, accessed online at <http://www.salon.com/2014/11/23/karen_armstrong_sam_harris_anti_islam_talk_fills_me_with_despair/> (February 1, 2015)
[xvi]“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
[xvii] Rev. Elder Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, accessed online at <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/troy_perry.html> (February 1, 2015)
Extra: Rev. Perry’s amazing story, Call Me Troy, is viewable online at <http://www.amazon.com/Call-Me-Troy-Scott-Bloom/dp/B00A2A9PZO> (February 1, 2015)
[xviii] Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, accessed online at <http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/S-F-archbishop-s-morality-clauses-run-counter-6063227.php#/1> (February 5, 2015)
[xix] Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, accessed online at <http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1303303.htm> (February 6, 2015) The pope’s more recent statements do not alter the longstanding discriminatory policies of the Catholic Church, but at least he admits that God is our ultimate judge. And I return his compliment.
[xx] John 3:16
[xxi] Isaiah 40:26
[xxii] “Brave” by Sara Bareilles (Song), accessed online at <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_(Sara_Bareilles_song)>
[xxiii] Dictionary! App, Apple, Inc., iPad 2, iOS
[xxv] The word for “wait” here calls us to cultivate attitudes of hope and patient expectation. When we “wait for God” we do not cower in shame or watch the clock.
[xxvi] Priests for Equality, The Inclusive Bible (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007, Isaiah 40:27-31, alt.
[xxvii] “Jesus Loves Me” by Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915)