Radical Hospitality Part 1: No Exceptions


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Calvary celebrated SF Pride during our morning worship, featuring the spiritual music of Surya Prakasha and our out Minister of Spiritual Care, Rev. Victor Floyd, who shared his story of hope and homecoming. In our world torn apart by hate, the day of triumph comes when everybody gets in, everybody has enough, and everybody is free to love. Flourishing in such an inclusive community makes forgiveness essential. How do the so-called “winners” live faithfully into the promise of radical inclusion for the disaffected? It’s only through forgiveness that God makes our journeys possible.

 

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

2 Samuel 1:1-27 (selected verses)

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did [deferential respect]. David said to him, “Where have you come from?” He said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” David said to him, “How did things go? Tell me!” He answered, “The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.”

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan:

“Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
O Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;

greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

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“God loves everybody, no exceptions.”
~
Ms. Eva Lilly

Inspiration for Radical Hospitality

This is part one of a two-part sermon mini-series on Radical Hospitality. Good things come in small packages! Next week, July 5th, we will look at another aspect of Radical Hospitality: “God Without Borders.” This week is: “No Exceptions.” Both weeks, I will begin with the words of Methodist bishop, Robert Schnase, who teaches radical hospitality and how it begins with our capacity for the “extraordinary receptivity to the grace of God…We accept God’s love and acceptance of us.” Instead of beginning with welcoming the stranger, we must first “receive God’s love [in order to] …offer it to others.”[1]

And to be clear, I’ll quote my friend Ms. Eva Lilly, “God loves everybody, no exceptions.”[2] That’s the core of radical hospitality, and we are confronted with practicing it every day. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled on a specific kind of radical hospitality, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority:

“It would misunderstand these [gay and lesbian] men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”[3]

I did not expect to live long enough to see this day. I am overwhelmed and thankful.

Prayer for Illumination

May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts and the ideals of our society be acceptable to you, O God our judge, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Why are we reading this scripture (2 Samuel 1)?

The love of David and Jonathan is celebrated this day for several reasons.

  • We’re supposed to: it is an official[4] Old Testament reading of the the Revised Common Lectionary[5] as appointed by the World Council of Churches.
  • It’s seldom read in worship. In fact, I have never heard this read during a Presbyterian service.
  • We read this passage to begin to balance all the other thousands of times we have been spiritually abused with willful misinterpretations of Sodom & Gomorrah and the decontextualized writings of Paul. We read this today because we almost had to vote on the California Sodomite Suppression Act, wherein 4000-year-old Levitical code would legalize the murder of gay people.[6] And after having it removed from the ballot, the state attorney general is criticized for it. What if we had to vote legalizing the murder of all women, or all Presbyterians? After all, Presbyterianism is a choice! If you lived long enough, or perhaps you are of Japanese descent and remember Manzanar and the other internment camps, you are all too familiar with public paranoia. (later)
  • Finally, we read this today also because the Presbyterian Church (USA), since 2011, does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation[7] and has recently set same-sex marriage on an equal playing field with other marriages.[8] For all the times people have been clobbered by TV Christians with Bibles, today I say, “I see your Leviticus, and I raise you one David and Jonathan.”

Longtime Companion

Two weeks ago, a man who was like a brother to me, Paul Owens, died suddenly. My partner, Lou, and I were in Atlanta last weekend for Paul’s two memorial services: one in Atlanta where he worked as a lawyer and served as an elder in his Presbyterian Church.[9] The other service, which I was asked to lead, was held in our hometown in the northwest Georgia foothills. I talked at length with his sister and his partner, Eddie, about what to say and what not to say. How do we honor Paul but also love the people gathered there, some of whom did not know that Paul was gay? They might be shocked, but Paul loved them. How do we finesse the language and honor everyone, especially Paul? I had to start by getting over my own issues, and I chose to forgive everybody in advance, including me.

“Devoted companion” — that’s what Paul’s partner, Eddie, was called last weekend by the people uncomfortable describing them as partner. “So, how can we honor Paul’s memory?” I asked the congregation rhetorically, and, being a preacher, I answered my own question, saying, “Well one way would be to celebrate marriage equality.” I girded my loins, braced for backlash, but there was none. There was even a slight outbreak of applause in that small-town Deep South Methodist church.

OK, but were David and Jonathan, you know…? [10]

I cannot tell you for sure that Jonathan and David were anything but devoted companions, good friends.[11] Hundreds of biblical scholars debate this passage, and none of them will describe the true nature of this famous relationship. Some commentaries describe David’s lament for Jonathan certainly sounding like words of a man for his beloved.[12] David’s lament for Jonathan has been famous for millennia. Even before the books of Samuel, the Book of the Just Man (Jashar), recorded it as part of the common storytelling tradition celebrating warriors and kings, Jonathan and David.[13]

Biblical Family Values

In all honesty, if I am looking for Bible verses relating to modern day same-sex-marriage, I (we) must confess that the Bible’s authors never heard of the word homosexual, which was first used toward the end of the 1800s and made it’s way to the Bible, erroneously, in 1946[14] around the time when public policy was paranoia-based, prejudiced against “The Other.” Moreover, bible marriages have little in common with modern marriages where power is shared between equals.[15]

Like our own recent history, the Bible is as full of how not to live our lives as it is overflows with love, justice and compassion. The gospels teach us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David and that Jesus descended from the house and lineage of David. Women were usually omitted from the begats and family trees, but what about all of David’s wives: Michal, Bathsheba, Avital, Haggith, Maccah, Ahinoam, Abigail, and Eglah. Someday we’ll probably include Jonathan in that mix. The many relationships of King David are the stuff of reality shows! Were the phrase “biblical family values” to make (con)textual sense, I might listen to the arguments it’s used to support.

Judge not, but practice good judgment.

Yes, “all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” but Jesus is clear on how to approach that reality: “Judge not, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1).” There’s also a under-quoted saying of Jesus in Luke 12 (verse 24): “Friend, who appointed me judge over you?” Here, Jesus sounds a lot like the current Pope, who said so famously about gay people, “Who am I to judge?”[16] (I have that historic phrase on a tee-shirt—with the Pope’s picture![17]) But this is not how people are made! We do judge one another, sometimes in harsh and unfair ways.

Bigotry: Through the Wormhole[18]

In a recent episode of the Science Channel show Through the Wormhole, the godly-voiced-African-American elder, Morgan Freeman, makes a timely observation:

“The political divide between us grows deeper with every passing year. We live in two different Americas, one for the rich, [one for the rest]. We divide ourselves into rival tribes. Are we all born to discriminate against our fellow humans? Are we all bigots?”[19]

We all think of ourselves as open-minded people, but science proves otherwise. Public paranoias, like homophobia and racism, are sometimes the products of irrational fear, but nurture, and even nature also figure in to what is called “cultural prejudice.”[20]

The Science of Cultural Prejudice

Neuroscientist Peggy Mason says that without stereotyping, we would never make it through the day. We would be slowed down by the process of always having to see everything anew, evaluating each person’s character rather than their appearance. Snap judgments and routine assumptions make modern life possible, but bigotry is also part of what propels our daily journey.

Mason studies rats with “simple brains” but similar to ours. She describes an experiment that “involves temporarily trapping a [white] rat in a plastic tube [inside a larger chamber]. The tube has just one way out, through a door that can only be opened by another rat. When another [white] rat from the same strain is added to the chamber, it’s not long before he works out how to free his imprisoned fellow tribesman… If the rat looks familiar, another rat helps.”[21]

Mason repeated the experiment with rats of unrelated strains, other tribes. With a black rat trapped in the tube, the white rat (who’s never seen a black rat) just walks around the tube, not helping this dude from outside the tribe. Fascinating!

So Mason took unfamiliar groups of black rats and white rats, and she housed them together for two weeks, wondering whether familiarity with the other might cultivate empathy. Well, once one black rat had been known by a group of white rats, the color barrier was broken, and the white rats helped other black rats that they had never seen before. A new stereotype emerged: a more radical hospitality. “Having a bond to one black…rat would allow [a white] rat to generalize all the black…rats.”[22] Once the rats got to know those other rats, when placed amongst strangers from the other tribe, they became “perfectly helpful.” We can unlearn our learned, inborn bigotry.

Praxis: Experience

After this service, Lou and I will go with up to ten people from Calvary to march in the Pride Parade. Join us, and wear comfortable shoes! Also this morning, Pastor-Head of Staff John Weems will lead a group from Calvary to the predominantly African-American Pentecostal congregation at Grace Tabernacle in Hunters Point (San Francisco). We’re going the these places to practice and experience Radical Hospitality. John and company are going to Hunters Point in response to the horrible Charleston massacre, and I’m telling you, this is how the world can be healed. The power of experience has science behind it. Then mix in a little Holy Spirit, and watch out! If we don’t come together, we will continue to ignore and misunderstand our fellow rats human beings.

Praxis: Forgiveness

When the Supreme Court ruling was announced Friday morning, I sat slack-jawed as our Fox affiliate aired live, unedited interviews from the steps of the Court.[23] A very pleasant woman ran over to the marriage equality celebrators, hugged them, and through tears, told them how much she loved them — even though God would now reign down a fiery judgment on them and on this country for this horrible mistake. She demonstrated what psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “The Righteous Mind”[24]— and we all have righteous minds about something. As she continued, it seemed as though I could see Jesus there standing in our apartment, right beside the television, looking at me while pointing to her, saying, “You must forgive her seventy times seven, as I have forgiven you, and you will love her as I love you.” I so love her, just as she loves me. In Christ’s love, we will find common ground.

I don’t know if the Supreme Court ruling is God’s will. Ultimately, that’s God’s call, not ours. What’s up to us is to make our best decisions based on facts and character, rather than appearance, tradition and superstition. Perhaps we’ll find out how we’ve done when we meet God face to face, but in the meantime, Jesus will keep us busy, challenging us to bless those who curse, to offer the other cheek to those who strike, to love unconditionally, and to forgive as freely as we’ve been forgiven.

Does your inner rat need as much work as mine?

“Forgiveness” by Susan Werner[25]

How do you love those who never will love you,
who are happy to shove you out in front of the train?
How do you not hate those who would leave you lie bleeding
while they hold their prayer meeting?

How do you love those who never will love you,
who are so frightened of you they are calling for war?
How do you not hate those who have loaded their bibles
and armed their disciples? ’Cause I don’t know anymore.

And I can’t find forgiveness anywhere in this,
and with God as my witness I really have tried.

How do you love those who never will love you
I think only God knows and He is not taking sides
I hope one day He shows us how we can love those
Who never will love us but who still we must love!

 

[1] Five Practices with Robert Schnase, accessed online at <http://fivepractices.org/radical-hospitality/> (June 27, 2015) Robert Schnase is bishop of Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church and author of books on church growth and evangelism.

[2] Ms. Eva was a member of my former congregation, Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. She was a tireless advocate and activist for LGBT justice and equality in San Francisco. She is now praying for us in heaven.

[3] SCOTUS Ruling, page 28, accessed online at <http://media.focusonthefamily.com/fotf/pdf/channels/social-issues/14-556_3204.pdf?_ga=1.100724227.368346079.1435500170> (June 28, 2015)

[4] For more on the weekly readings, see <http://www.textweek.com/yearb/properb8.htm> (June 24, 2015)

[5] What is the Revised Common Lectionary? See <http://www.commontexts.org/rcl/usage.html> (June 24, 2015)

[6] For more on the “Gay Clobber Passages” please see <http://www.religioustolerance.org/hombiblnt.htm> If you would like to dive deeper, please see <http://mccchurch.org/resources/mcc-theologies/> (June 25, 2015)

[7] Gradye Parsons, et. al. accessed online at <https://www.pcusa.org/news/2011/5/10/presbyterian-church-us-approves-change-ordination/> (June 24, 2015)

[8] Laurie Goodstein, “Largest Presbyterian Denomination…” New York Times (March 17, 2015) accessed online at <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/18/us/presbyterians-give-final-approval-for-same-sex-marriage.html> (June 26, 2015)

[9] North Decatur Presbyterian Church, 611 Medlock Road, Decatur, Georgia ndpc.org

[10] Read all of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel for more of the story. Today, we considered only Jonathan’s love for David “surpassing the love of women.” There are other biblical passages to consider, noted in the New World Encyclopedia article linked below.

[11] “David and Jonathan” New World Encyclopedia, accessed online at <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/David_and_Jonathan> (June 26, 2015)

[12] <http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/biblical_evidence/david_jonathan.html>

[13] Guest, Deryn, Robert E Goss, Mona West, Thomas Bodache, eds. The Queer Bible Commentary (London: SCM Press, 2006), Samuel.

[14] Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, <https://carm.org/word-homosexual-english-bible-1946>

[15] Justice Kennedy’s writing for the majority of the Supreme Court gives an extensive history of marriage, accessible many places online, including: <http://media.focusonthefamily.com/fotf/pdf/channels/social-issues/14-556_3204.pdf?_ga=1.100724227.368346079.1435500170> (June 28, 2015)

[16] Cindy Wooten, Catholic News Service, July 31, 2013 accessed online at <http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1303303.htm> (June 27, 2015)

[17] <http://www.cafepress.com/mf/80300600/who-am-i-to-judge_baseball-jersey?productId=1204326028>

[18] Through the Wormhole (Science Channel, Season 6, 2015) All quotations are taken from the transcript of the episode “Are We All Bigots” available online at <http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=through-the-wormhole&episode=s06e01> (June 26, 2015)

[19] Ibid.

[20] For more on cultural prejudice, see <http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/cultural-prejudices.606685/> and <http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-culture/multiculturalism-cultural-prejudice/> (June 27, 2015)

[21] Through the Wormhole (Science Channel, Season 6, 2015) All quotations are taken from the transcript of the episode “Are We All Bigots” available online at <http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=through-the-wormhole&episode=s06e01> (June 26, 2015)

[22] Peggy Mason, Ibid.

[23] Yes, Lou and I watch Fox every morning and talk to the TV like old people, calling the reporters by name.

[24] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, Pantheon Books, 2013), iBooks location 127 of 7383.

[25] from The Gospel Truth by Susan Werner, a collection of self-described “agnostic gospel” songs, accessible online at <http://susanwerner.com/music/> (June 27, 2015)

 

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