Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria on Pride Sunday.
Texts: Psalm 82, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
I was nervous about preaching this sermon on this Sunday. It has been a week of increased violence against black men and police officers in the United States. It has been Pride Week here in Victoria. And, at the same time, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has been meeting in Richmond Hill ON where, amongst other things, a vote on changing the Marriage Canon to include marriage for gay and lesbian people has been on the table. The vote is happening as I write this note.
There was a lot to cover this week, and I felt woefully under-equipped to do so as I am quite privileged and free of oppression in so many ways: I am white, not black; straight, not gay. And somehow I ended up trying to bring a word of God in spite of me. While I received a lot of wonderful feedback from my amazing parish, I still feel uncertain about it. In part, I am sure, because of the uncertainty we all feel about how the vote will go at General Synod today.
UPDATE: The motion to change the marriage canon did not pass, and then it did due to a vote count error. It was a tumultuous week. The second reading will happen at General Synod 2019.
How long O Lord?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long O Lord?
Psalm after psalm, including our psalm this morning, sound lament after lament: How long O Lord?
It seems that by the time we come to terms with one shooting in the United States, there have been five more. And no matter how much we decry it from our pulpits and on social media, the racial violence continues with little action from those who have the authority to make change.
And then there is the lament that many of us feel even more keenly in our bones this morning, on Pride Sunday. — A Pride Sunday that is happening in the midst of a General Synod where a question of inclusion and identity that so many of us hold as self-evident is being contentiously discussed: the debate on changing the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon to allow for the sacrament of marriage to be extended to gay and lesbian couples.
How long O Lord?
How long must your children wait?
And then we hear Paul’s words to the church in Colossae this morning:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father...
I’m sorry Paul, come again?
Be prepared to endure everything with patience? It feels like we have been patient for long enough, Paul.
And while we have been patient, lesbian and gay Christians have had to look elsewhere to be married.
And while we have been patient, religion has been used as an excuse to marginalize and exclude, and even kill lesbian, gay, and transgender people around the world.
And while we have been patient, a man opens fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 of our sisters and brothers.
Oh Paul, enduring with patience is painful.
The word has that feeling of “hold on folks, this will probably hurt.”
And it has hurt. Some of us have left the church once, twice, multiple times. Some of us have stayed but have strained relationships with the church, with God, with each other. Some of us distrust the conversations that are ongoing at places like our General Synod. Because for some of us gathered here this morning, it is your very being – or the being of those whom we love deeply – that feels like it is being dissected and put on trial by the church.
And that is real and it is painful.
There is also another kind of endure that I think we can hold onto without denying the pain of the first: the endure that seeks to remain in existence, that lasts through time.
Because without every single person here, each and every person lovingly created by God: lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, and queer; the Body of Christ is incomplete. Parts are missing. Like a rainbow without all of the colours, so is the Body of Christ without all of its members.
It is incomplete because, as we heard from Alastair a few weeks back, the fullness of the church is no less than the inclusion of all of the Body of Christ. Every single part of that beautiful, multi-gendered Body of Christ.
But, with everything we see around us, it is no wonder we may question Paul’s words to endure with patience.
It is no wonder that we may feel daunted by the enormity of the grief in the world.
It is no wonder we have heavy hearts.
And so let us zoom back from Paul’s words about enduring with patience.
Because in the same breath he prays that we may be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power
Strength alongside endurance. God’s power alongside God’s patience.
Because, says Paul, you are faithful saints and what you are doing is working!
Because Paul, who is writing from Rome, has heard about the faith of this community of Christians all the way over in Asia Minor – modern day Turkey. In a time before Facebook Live video, Paul has heard about the faith of these Colossian Christians all the way from Rome.
He has heard and taken note of their faith in the gospel and how it has been bearing fruit in them and in their whole world!
And what is that gospel that bears fruit? We need to look no further than the gospel reading this morning.
Jesus is approached by a scholar of the law: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus’ response is, “How do you interpret what is written in the law?”
The scholar summarizes the law in the words of the Shema, or words we might recognize from our prayer book as Hear, O Israel:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and the great commandment. The second is like is: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
But Jesus, who is my neighbour? Who do I have to love?
I mean, if we construe it too broadly, you are saying that there are a whole lot of people that I have to love. Like – everyone!
So Jesus does what Jesus does so well: he tells a story.
To understand this story for what it is to us in 2016 Victoria, we need to hear this story in the context of over 700 years of racial violence between Judeans and Samaritans. 700 years of Judeans marginalizing Samaritans because they didn’t worship God “in the right way” or in the right place.
Or have the right understanding of the Bible. Or marry the “right people.”
And so Jesus tells a story where the Judean is beaten and left bloodied on the side of the road and the Samaritan who he has marginalized and oppressed comes and saves him when his own people do not.
In our context, it might be a story of a straight man or woman lying on the side of the road, beaten and unseen by other straight people walking by, and the gay man they have actively hated, sees them and stops to care for them.
When we do nothing or say nothing to bring attention to and challenge injustice, we are also those who do not see, those who walk on by.
Because before it is about doing, Jesus makes it a story about seeing.
In Jesus’ parable, the priest and the Levite do not see the man lying beaten. They see a burden. They see someone not their problem. They see a hassle.
So they act – but they act to cross over to the other side of the road and pretend not to see anything.
But the Samaritan sees a person. A person in need. A person loved by God. A neighbour.
Love God with all that you have, with every part of your being, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
Who is my neighbour, Jesus?
Who warrants my attention? Who counts?
It turns out that everyone counts. That everyone is our neighbour.
But, in particular, our neighbour is the one in need. And in the face of injustice, it means #BlackLivesMatter and #LGBTQLivesMatter.
In Jesus’ story, the Samaritan isn’t the one in the ditch so that we can say a cute, moralistic, “love your enemies.” The Samaritan is the one who sees the person in need and loves them. Because all are vital members of the beautiful multi-gendered Body of Christ and for all to be included, we must see and act upon inclusion of those who are in need.
So we return to Paul: this love of our neighbour in need is the gospel that bears fruit. This is the gospel that we live and endure in faith and patience each day.
We endure because we are not a whole body without each and every member. We need the faithful witness of each part of the body remaining with the Body. In his request for prayers for our delegates to General Synod, Bishop Logan wrote, “It is my belief that the most important question before us is: ‘How can we witness to the greater [Anglican] Communion that we CAN live together while holding diverse opinions?’” Because each member of the Body of Christ counts.
But being a faithful witness does not have to mean a quiet witness. Because after we see the person and see the need, we speak up and act out of the belief that each one of us is as important in God’s eyes as any other.
In one way of acting on the need to witness that we see LGBTQ persons as being vital and important members of the Body of Christ, today after the 10am service many of us will march in the Victoria Pride Parade.
We march because we celebrate all members of the Body of Christ, and today we especially celebrate the LGBTQ members.
We march in the spirit of Stonewall and all of the protests that have happened before and since in pursuit of equality for LGBTQ persons in society.
We march in memory of those who have been forced to flee their homes because of hate crimes or those who have died in places like an Orlando nightclub.
We march because we are all neighbours: lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, queer… and we ALL belong.
Lest you think that action needs to always to be as radical as marching in a parade, it doesn’t. Not all of us can or feel comfortable doing that.
It might mean looking carefully around us to see each person and identify the need.
It might mean doing, as Archbishop Rowan Williams invited the bishops at Lambeth Conference 2008, finding the courage to speak with and pray with someone with whom conversation might be difficult.
It might mean seeing a friend or neighbour in need and asking, “how can I support you? How can I love you as God loves you and love you as I love myself?”
It might mean coming to God’s table, as we will in a few minutes, coming to God’s table where we are all equal, kneeling or standing before God, vulnerably stretching out our hands to receive a piece of what we all are:
a vital and life-giving part of the broken Body of Christ.