Since my last experience trying to phone my primary care doctor’s office and get a refill amounted to a series of voice mails left by me, which received no answer and led to no renewed prescription, I took the doctor’s advice and today registered for their Internet portal. I looked over my records online and after scrolling down through “conditions” now deemed “resolved” was surprised to see the following category of “active” items:
Personal Health Conditions
The first listed was “never a smoker.”
That sounds legit.
The second listed was “Homosexuality.”
I wonder if my straight friends who are patients there would find a note proclaiming their Personal Health Condition of “Heterosexuality?”
"But the word of God is not chained." (2 Timothy 2:9b)
Not too long ago I had my hands on the Devil card from a Tarot deck based on the Greek Myths. Pan gambols, if statically, holding the chains of an unhappy-looking, naked couple. The key to the image is that the man and the woman are actually quite free to walk away. Interpretively it's a card about addictions or habits or ways of being we feel have us trapped, imprisoned, held in chains, and although it's sort of a shocking card to turn over and hold in your hand, it holds the promise of freedom.
I looked it up, because before I was a pastor, and even before I was a seminarian, I was a library reference assistant, and I always look things up.
Sometimes the chains we let bind us are on the inside, and sometimes they are held by other people, but as the card suggests, usually — usually — we're letting them.
But, not always.
Either way, it's hard to get out of the chained-up position. It's the hardest kind of work to admit your situation and to look at what needs to happen to extricate yourself and to take the first step in that direction, and then another, and then another.
Sometimes all you can do is breathe, and then breathe again, looking vaguely in the direction of your goal.
Even though the epistle tells us the word of God is not chained, I'm afraid there are people who use that same word to chain others, or try to, to create a prison of words of shame and derision and hate, all in the name of God. People, in the name of Jesus, hurt others who are different just because they can. And that's the Devil card, a part of our human nature to take power over others just to make ourselves feel more secure. It's a despicable part of our human nature, especially when it leads to the kind of bullying that drove Tyler Clementi to kill himself.
The Devil card reminds me of the line in the Apostle's Creed that I like the least, the one that tells us Jesus descended into Hell.
I live in a house where 15-year-olds ask questions such as, "Is it okay for me to be confirmed when I have such a low Christology?" Our view of Jesus, his humanity and his divinity, is a not infrequent topic of conversation. That descent into Hell supports LP's low Christology, doesn't it? It's a human thing to do, to go down into the darkest places, to the cave where the chains bind us, the chains of disappointment and low expectations and past suffering and even other people's authentic cruelty. Even Jesus, according to our faith ancestors, had to go there, for a full human experience.
But the Word of God is not chained. It is not. And I believe that Word is Love. So even though I'm having a hard day — a very hard day — and even though I hurt — I really do — I do not despair. The chains are temporal and temporary, mine. And out in the world, the chains that can hurt people are removable, if people who understand God's Word to be Love will say it out loud.
This morning, my colleague and I will explain, in a sermon we preach together, why we believe the church ought to vote to become Open and Affirming. That's a status in the United Church of Christ that signals all people are welcome whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
We will each tell a story of someone important in our lives and tie the understandings they brought to us into the scripture and our support of the Open and Affirming vote that will hopefully come later this spring. The proposed ONA statement has been given to the congregation, and we will meet in two weeks to discuss it and also whether to schedule a vote for the Annual meeting.
My parts of the text interweave with my colleague's, but here's what I'll be saying, more or less. When the whole sermon is posted on the web in a day or two, I'll post the link here.
We're taking as our text Luke 8:16-21–
“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (NRSV)
I was the girl who had a string of gay boyfriends. The first one told me over a Hot Holly at the College Deli #2. I remember tearing little lines around the edge of a paper plate while he talked. It was Virginia, in 1979, and he was afraid, afraid of losing my friendship and the friendship of the boy he loved and the love of his parents. He was afraid of a lot of things. He was afraid of what it might mean to be himself.
He wasn’t the last man to confide in me, but it was the one who didn’t, really–who couldn’t quite–whose story changed my heart.
John and I met our sophomore year, and for the next three years he tried to get me to study at regular hours, taught me how to play bridge ferociously, drove all over Williamsburg in my Ford Pinto and teased me in hopes that I would learn not to take teasing quite so seriously. We went to sorority dances and out to dinner, and I spent countless hours sitting on the floor of piano practice rooms listening to him play Chopin and Beethoven. We remained friends after graduation, visiting each other and talking on the phone, even writing letters to each other. It sounds funny now! When I got married he was in the wedding party.
At William and Mary Homecoming, a few years later, John met my first child, a baby boy who was then at the attractive age where they sit up but don’t yet crawl away. Someone took a picture of John with the little fellow in his lap while I leaned in smiling beside them. I wondered about John’s life, whether he would meet someone and start a family. All my friends liked him. He was smart and funny and successful and a good church-going Baptist. For a long time I put his unfulfilled relationships down to shyness on his part. That picture I sent to John sat on the desk in his office for a long time. People asked him if it was a picture of his family, and he said yes.
We were in our 30s before he shared with me what I had by then long suspected.
He wasn’t the first man I cared about who came out to me, but it was John’s story that moved me past a simple intellectual acceptance that some people had orientations other than heterosexual. John’s story went right to my heart, and I realized that his orientation should not close off the possibility of love and deep relationship in his life. I came to believe that a God of love would not be so cruel.
I spend every Thursday evening with our Confirmation class, and this was yet another week when I was moved by the wisdom of 8th graders. We talked about how Jesus used images and metaphors to teach lessons and wondered together why he did it that way. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to give us a book of rules, in which he spelled out everything we needed to know clearly?
We concluded that lessons we have to really think about to understand are the ones that stay with us.
In the gospel lesson we read today, Jesus does two things. He encourages us to let our lights shine instead of hiding them, which is an image we understand easily enough. But then he goes on to upset the people around him, to upset his nearest relatives, by redefining what it means to be a family. “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
All churches like to say they welcome everyone, and most places most people can get through the door, but being truly welcomed means more. True welcome means inviting each other to shine as who we truly are. Today we go together to the table, every one of us in need of reconciliation with God. The Good News is this: as children of a loving God, we are all welcome here. Thanks be to God.