Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking Back

Photo of Popo Agie Wilderness in the Wind River Range courtesy of Shoshone National Forest-USDA

I was looking for a sermon I wrote about 4 years ago and I found this one, which is not what I wanted, but I think it's help up pretty well.  I was on my way back to the church in Wyoming where I was doing an interim when I heard of the vote at General Convention after a week of backpacking in the Wind River Range.  This  sermon is from August 10, 2004.
The wonderful thing for me about going backpacking is that I have time to think or not think; to enjoy God’s creation in the splendor of mountains and wildflowers and lakes and mosquitoes and gnats and lightning and rain and sunshine and wind. There is the pleasure of sitting around a fire and taking the time to learn more about the people I’m with and to laugh at our different ways of doing things, especially preparing dinner. The Wind River Range, like all of the mountains in Wyoming, are spectacular and I felt privileged to celebrate the Eucharist with six other Episcopalians. 
I brought with me a book called “Ornament of the World” by Maria Rosa Menocal. The subtitle is “How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a “Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.” I have only a couple more chapters to go. It’s not an easy read, but it is wonderfully written. What the author does is show us how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam flourished side by side, not only tolerating each other, but borrowing language and art and architecture from each other. And, what to me was more important, in spite of their unyielding differences, these three religions in medieval Spain believed that their differences could be productive as well as positive. It doesn't mean that everyone there believed that. There were individuals and groups who neither understood, nor agreed with this culture of tolerance. There were people who couldn’t (or wouldn't) live along side  those who believed differently. There was always tension between those who had a particularly fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible or Islam and those who were able to take what was good from the various cultures around them. 

I’m sure many of you are wondering why I’m going on about a book, when it seems to some that the Episcopal Church has lost its way and to others that it is moving forward with the times, and to others it’s a bit puzzling or confusing, but things have always worked themselves out before in God’s good time. The confirmation of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay man to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church has, of course, made headlines all over the place. The vote in favor was approximately 2 to 1 in both the house of deputies and the house of Bishops. Of course this is will have an impact throughout the church. The ratio of 2 to 1 is far from unanimous. I know that some people will leave our church, and I know that some people will be too embarrassed to discuss the issue and want to hide for a while. Some people are angry, some overjoyed and some just confused or worried. We’ve been talking about change here and this is serious change. Most parishes will adapt, but I think that the parishes that will adapt the best are those who take the long view. In my time as an Episcopalian I’ve seen the Prayer Book and Hymnal change, and every Sunday communion become the norm. I’ve seen women finally be allowed to serve at the altar, to be on Vestries and become Wardens and to vote at Convention and to become priests and bishops. So what is so different about this change?

Let me share with you an e-mail on the subject. The Rev. Ann Fontaine from Lander, who was one of the Wyoming delegates, wrote about the vote in the House of Deputies. “ The vote was held in the context of prayer—prayer before the discussion, after the discussion and following the vote. There was a lot of silence in the room during the prayers—the huge hall was packed with observers and press plus the near 1000 deputies. Wyoming sits near the press area so you may have seen us, especially as Canon Robinson sits with New Hampshire on the other side of us with the bodyguard that has accompanied him (and the presiding bishop) at all times at this convention. The ugliness of hate has encouraged a few to make threats against them and the Episcopal Church—the building has had a large police force and security presence all week and especially yesterday. The demonstrations of hate have been astounding to see—the Deputies pass through a gauntlet of shouting, angry people saying the most obscene things and holding up signs with crude drawings and hateful words. At noon we had relief in the form of a demonstration of hope and love. I had not realized what an impact the other was having on me until I experience the opposite. Although I have seen it all before (not quite at this magnitude, however) and am doing my best to ignore it—the impact on one is physical as well as emotional.”

We have been reading from the Gospel of John these past few weeks. Today we hear that Jesus says he will never drive away anyone who comes to him. He also tells us he is the living bread, the bread that is his flesh that he has given for the world. We are the body of Christ. It is a broken body, but it is still one body. The reason I break the host in two in the Eucharist is partly a symbol of our brokenness, yet we all partake of the one bread.

So what do we do with our brokenness? If we can acknowledge that all of us are broken and none of us has all the answers then like the Christians and Muslims and Jews of Medieval Spain, we can stay together and grow and flourish in spite of our different interpretations of Scripture and our different understanding of human sexuality.

Very few of us take all of Scripture literally and even the most theologically liberal among us take some of it literally. The part of the New Testament I take most literally is when Jesus tells us to visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of widows and orphans and when Jesus says he came to save all of the world. My Jesus is inclusive of all people. I tend to gloss over the parts of scripture where Jesus is more exclusive, like when he restricts his ministry to the Jews. Some of you may have scriptural objections to homosexuality, yet not to divorce and remarriage, or to having jobs that require you to work on Sunday, or not to eating pork, or not to allowing women to come to church with our heads uncovered We all bring our biases to the table. Some of them are conscious and some unconscious.

I would guess that most of you have had very limited contact with homosexuals and in a small town this is to be expected. Many gays move to large cities because of the anonymity it brings. Many marry and have children to try and fit in to our culture. Suicide among gay teens is very high. Being different in any way is hard. Yes there are some people who are gay who can put aside their desire for a same sex relationship, but not all. If it is true, and I believe it is, that some people are born gay, their sexuality, like ours is a gift from God. But it is hard for us to understand people whose orientation is radically different from ourselves and we label them as bad, or sinful. It is hard to live side by side with someone whose basic beliefs are so completely different from our own. But it can be done. The Christians and Jews and Muslims of Spain did it for a number of centuries. It’s hard to hold our own beliefs and to allow others to hold theirs and to remain in dialog, but if we can manage to do it, not only will God’s truth eventually be shown, but something creative and wholesome and life giving will come from this.

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