Track 2: Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10
Don’t you just love the changing seasons! I think the annuals are most beautiful in the fall before the first hard freeze. My Dragon Leaf Begonia and Chenille plant are still beautiful with red flowers and the flaming red bushes are gorgeous. It feels like the leaves started turning late this year, but there were some stunning red leaves on Eaton Street last week and I have been enjoying the show of colors as I travel back and forth between St Joseph and Albion. I can’t help but smile when watching the fluffy tailed squirrels busy gathering acorns and black walnuts for the winter or when I crunch through the fallen leaves breathing in the aroma of new fallen leaves. Looking to the sky, it is great to see the V-shaped formation of the Canada Geese and hear their honking voices, to watch the graceful swarms of black birds, to hear the bugle of a Sandhill Crane, to watch for the full harvest moon and see Orion high in the southwest sky. I believe in a creator God! If you doubt the existence of a creator God, introduce yourself to Benjamin Everett. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful or perfect except a child of your own, breath in that new baby innocence? Isn’t it amazing how someone so small can grow into a handsome teenager like Ihaja, into a middle-aged man like Gard, into a father and a grandfather? And look at your hands, isn’t it still a wonder how they work picking up a spoon, playing a piano, stroking a loved ones cheek, hammering a nail, pushing a lawn mower? We just need to look around us to see the handiwork of our creator God.
This morning’s gospel story is full of action. Jesus is travelling through the town of Jericho and is surrounded by a crowd. Zacchaeus wants to see who Jesus is, so he runs ahead and climbs a tree so that he can see over the crowd. When Jesus comes to the tree, Jesus stops and tells Zacchaeus to hurry down as he is going to dine with him today and Zacchaeus comes down and is happy to welcome Jesus to his home. In this story Zacchaeus is actively looking for Jesus and Jesus is there looking for Zacchaeus. Jesus could have just as easily passed by Zacchaeus without a word, but he didn’t. Jesus stopped and acknowledged Zacchaeus and built a relationship with Zacchaeus, willing to eat with him even though many would have considered Zacchaeus a thief and a traitor to his own people. Zacchaeus was curious about who Jesus was and proactively positioned himself to learn more about Jesus and Zacchaeus found himself face-to-face with Jesus with an invitation to get to know Jesus personally and Zacchaeus was willing and able to immediately take Jesus up on his offer.
So what does this story have to do with us today? Are you curious as to who Jesus is or who God is? Do you ever feel that you are too sinful or too ignorant or too young or too old or too short to see Jesus? Or do you act like Zacchaeus and position yourself to get a better view of Jesus, reading the Bible, attending worship, talking about God with friends or sitting quietly in a tree waiting and watching and listening for Jesus. And when you do this are you ready for an actual encounter with Jesus, are you willing to welcome him home for dinner with your family?
I have had people tell me that they were about to make a bad decision and that I texted, or that they were praying for help and then I called. Was I an answer to prayer? And why did I send that text or make that phone call? Did I respond to a unconscious message from God?
Someone sent me a story last week. I don’t know if it actually happened, but the story is true. A man prayed to God for a sign that God really was there. Then the man felt an urge to go buy a gallon of milk. He tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away so he went and bought a gallon of milk. He could always use some more milk. On the way home he again felt an urge to take a detour and go down a different street. He resisted the urge and passed the street, but at the next intersection he felt compelled to turn around and go back and down that street. Now what? He felt directed to knock on the door of a dark house and to take the milk with him. Was anyone home? Were they asleep in bed and would they be angry to be awakened? While he was thinking this, a man opened the door. On seeing the stranger holding a gallon of milk, he broke down crying. He had been praying to God for help. There had been many bills, the money was gone, it would be several days before the next pay check and they had no money to buy milk for their baby. What was he to do? And then here was the answer to his pray standing on his door step offering a gallon of milk.
Is this a true story? I don’t know, but the point is that when the father ran into trouble he prayed to God for help, he sought God. When the first man doubted God’s existence, he prayed and opened himself to hear God’s response and in hearing and obeying God’s voice he became the answer to the second man’s prayer. Do you search for God? Do you open yourself; make yourself vulnerable to see God in the other, to hear God’s voice and to obey God’s voice.
The Good News is that when you search for God you will find that God has been searching for you, that God is there seeking a relationship with you. When others question your encounter with God be prepared to be transformed. When the crowd grumbled about Jesus choosing to have a meal with a notorious sinner, a despised tax collector, Zacchaeus answered with a promise to give half of his possessions to the poor and to make it right with anyone he had cheated. Jesus replied that today salvation has come to this house.
Look for Jesus’ face in the crowd. See and hear and smell the handiwork of God in the beauty of nature. Behold and be enthralled with the wonder of new life. Marvel at the intricacy and complexity of your own hand and see God. Seek God and God will find you. Listen for and respond to God’s voice, give to the poor, make right any wrong that you have done to another and trust that salvation is yours, a gift from God. Amen.
Good morning! A special welcome to my mother Mae Sutherland, my sister Mary Ellen and my brother-in-law Steve Miller.
This morning we complete our sermon series and book study on “Christian Social Witness” with “Human Sexuality”. I seriously considered not doing this sermon this morning, it is embarrassing and awkward and doubly so with my family here. Why do I need to preach on this subject?, but a better question is, why is it so awkward to talk about our human sexuality. It is natural; a normal part of what it means to be human and alive, just like eating and sleeping. We were created as sexual beings and with a natural need for human intimacy, in fact, God commanded it. In Genesis Chapter 1 verses 27 & 28 we read: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. And, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) I remember my father asking me once if original sin was “sex”, but it is clear from Genesis that original sin was Adam and Eve’s, our, disobedience and refusal to obey God, not sexual intimacy.
The catalyst for this sermon and teaching series was a request to have St. James’ added to the Integrity website as a welcoming and affirming community to everyone including those with a different sexual orientation than heterosexual. Many of you have said of course we are welcoming and affirming as is required by our baptismal vows. (BCP, 305)
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?, and we answer, “ I will, with God’s help.”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?, and we answer, “ I will, with God’s help.”
There are no exceptions made. None. Period.
When the woman was caught in the act of adultery, her accusers brought her to Jesus. It was legal, according to the Hebrew law, for her to be stoned, but when Jesus said, let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone, all her accusers quietly left, leaving the woman standing alone with Jesus. Jesus said neither do I condemn you and sent her away with the command not to sin again. Scripture teaches against many different sexual sins, in lists that include greed, inhospitality, avarice, theft, and lying.
Looking at today’s gospel, it is not what we do, but our humility in acknowledging our sinfulness that makes us right with God. The Pharisee, by definition lived his life to fulfill the law. The Pharisee would also take a liberal approach to the law attempting to make it actually doable. The Pharisee in our story was confident that he was doing his best in fulfilling God’s law and gave thanks that he was not like others who stole or lied or were sexually immoral or even like the tax collector. The tax collector in turn acknowledged, he was a hopeless sinner and prayed for mercy from God. The truth is that we have a just and merciful God who loves and forgives the repentant sinner. And today’s parable tells us that the tax collector went home justified before God.
Let us return to the topic of human sexuality and marriage. Over the years and centuries, the primary purpose of marriage was to raise children. Marriage helped to ensure stability of the family unit, economic stability for the care and nurturing of children. In recent years, and in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, marriage is a state of mutual joy, comfort and support in good times and bad times, ie companionship, and thirdly, when desired and God willing, for the procreation and raising of children. Sexual intimacy can and does provide pleasure and mutual joy. We are created to live in community and relationship and marriage is a way to secure companionship with mutual respect and compassion, someone we can trust to be there for us and someone that our partners can count on to be there for them. The Bible is full of stories of couples making vows to each other, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, David and Jonathan. John’s Gospel records Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine as occurring at a wedding. Marriage is a tradition, is scripturally supported and reasonable. Marriage is actually something that the couple does, not the priest or the justice of the peace. When a couple chooses to make a lifelong commitment to each other, they invite their family and friends to hear their public vow of fidelity to each other and to receive their blessings for a long, happy life. When a couple knows and loves God, they also choose to invite God to hear their marriage vows and to receive God’s blessing on their marriage.
This is relevant because some people are arguing that the companionship gay and lesbian couples exhibit and the love and care they feel for each other should likewise be recognized and blessed by the church even if their relationship will not result in children. The same is true for some heterosexual relationships.
“In response to the sexual revolution of the late 1960’s, Episcopalians first sympathetically addressed the question of homosexuality at official levels in a report produced at the 1967 General Convention. Although the convention report identified Genesis 1:27 (“male and female he created them”) as the basis of the church’s teachings on sexuality, that document also asked for a reexamination of such matters as birth control, contraception, sterilization, illegitimacy, prostitution, and homosexuality. In addition, the report alluded to the need to focus on forgiveness, and it asked church members to reconsider both attitudes and laws relating to those ostracized by mainstream society for their sexual orientation.” (Lewis, 130)
In 1974, Professor Louie Crew and other Episcopalians organized an advocacy group, Integrity, designed to promote the concerns of lesbians and gays within the church. At the 1976 General Convention, Integrity, argued for the full and open acceptance of homosexual Christians. Integrity members helped influence the conventions’ adoption of two important resolutions: one, recognizing that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church”; and two, endorsing the idea that homosexuals are entitled to the same civil rights as other citizens. These two resolutions were overshadowed by the convention’s even more controversial decision, to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood.
In January 1977 Paul Moore, the activist bishop of New York, ordained Ellen Barrett, a lesbian and one of the original co-presidents of Integrity, to the priesthood. In 1996 Walter Righter, retired bishop of Iowa, was placed on trial for heresy for ordaining an openly gay man to the diaconate in the diocese of Newark in 1990. The jury of eight bishops acquitted him because the Episcopal Church recognized no “core doctrines” that concerned the canonical status of non-celibate homosexuals in its midst. The 1997 General Convention decreed that dioceses should offer health benefits to unmarried domestic partners, and issued an apology to gays and lesbians for “years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church.” The 2000 General Convention, while defeating a resolution that would have authorized the development of a rite for same-sex unions, did recognize the existence of committed, monogamous, homosexual relationships. In March 2004, Gene Robinson was the first priest in an openly gay relationship to be consecrated as a bishop in a major Christian denomination believing in the historic episcopate. The 2012 General Convention approved blessing a same-sex couple and the 2015 General Convention approved marrying a same-sex couple, days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage for all Americans. A canonical change was made changing the term “man and woman” and replacing it with “couple”. Two new marriage rites were authorized with language allowing them to be used by same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Same-sex weddings began in the Episcopal Church in Advent 2015.
Sanctioning and blessing the marriage of same-sex couples is not the same as sanctioning illicit sex. Illicit sex is basically anything that erodes a person’s dignity through making them do something they do not want to do. It doesn’t matter what gender, persuasion or variety…if someone is unwilling it is wrong. If it harms a third party such as the spouse of one of the partners, it is wrong. If it crosses the boundary of a relationship such as teacher and student, doctor and patient, priest and parishioner, adult and minor, then it is wrong.
More over same-sex couples are held to the same standards as opposite-sex couples. In our diocesan clergy covenant and rule of life, one of our practices is hospitality and building healthy relationships with others and with self. Included are physical self-care, mental and emotional self-care, spiritual self-care, care of personal and work relationships and sexuality. Sexuality is first, about living a chaste life where we are diligent in our awareness of the effect of words and actions on others and, if partnered or married, living in a committed and monogamous relationship, if single, being celibate. Second, sexuality is actively voiding all forms of pornography. Human trafficking, slavery, and objectification of both men and women are antithetical to our baptismal and ordination vows to respect the dignity of all people.
In conclusion, whether we are talking about gender issues, age issues, race issues, economic issues, sexual issues or any other way we find to exclude the other, we are reminded that in our baptismal vows we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as yourself, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven; we are not to judge lest we be judged; and we are to humbly acknowledge that we are all sinners seeking justice and the grace and mercy of our God. God forgives those who repent. God is merciful and gracious. God loves you and me even in the midst of our sinfulness. Praise God! Alleluia!
And standing as you are able, we will continue with “The Renewal of Baptismal Vows” as found on page 292 of the Book of Common Prayer, …
In this morning’s gospel we retell the story of the woman who is seeking justice against an opponent. The unjust judge ignores her, but in the end grants her justice so that she will stop coming and bothering him. Luke tells us the purpose of this parable is to emphasize the importance of constant, persistent prayer. If an unjust judge responds to a persistent call for justice, won’t the just judge God also respond and grant justice. The answer is yes, constant, persistent, 24 X 7 prayer will result in God quickly granting justice. Luke’s further question is, “Will people trust God to grant justice and pray continually?”
So the question for us today is, “Do we believe that God will answer our prayers and grant justice?” “Do we pray constantly day and night for justice and live our lives like we believe that God will respond?”
So what is prayer? We pray this morning during our worship service. Prayer can take many forms such as thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. Prayer can be corporate as in our worship this morning or prayer can be in the family such as grace, daily office, bedtime prayers or prayer can be quiet, silent individual prayer where we say nothing, but just sit with God in silence. Prayer is conversation with God, part of building our relationship with God. We can choose to live our whole lives in prayer. We can choose to trust God and dedicate our whole lives to God, admitting that we cannot solve the world’s problems, that we cannot even solve our own problems and turn our lives over to God. This is not easy and is a lifelong process. I have to admit that I don’t fully trust God to take care of things and think that I need to intervene and take care of some things. But neither does this mean we should sit back and not get involved in living our own lives. The simple tasks of our lives can be offered as prayer to God, making the morning coffee, doing the dishes, making a meal, mowing the grass, taking the garbage out can be offered in prayer to God. We can choose to believe that God is active in our lives, in our daily routines, in our work and in our play. We can choose to trust that the decisions we make, the words we speak and our own attitude matter, that they do impact the lives of others and our own life.
Yesterday I attended a class of “Examining our own Racism Training”. I think that many of the exercises were equally valid for talking about racism or gender issues or sexual orientation or the many other ways we function to create groups of us and them. Part of solving the problem is our willingness to discuss the problem with others, our willingness to have our lives disrupted when others question the status quo. What do you think of the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and the subsequent action of high school football players? Has it lead to any discussion amongst your family and friends? Do you see it as being disrespectful to the military and the flag or do you see it as a respectful way of protesting against police brutality and violence against people of color? Which do you think should take priority, respect and dignity for all people including women, people of color and an opposing political view or respect for nationalism and the flag? In the 1960’s 66% of American’s thought Martin Luther King was too disruptive by bringing racial pain into public view, but it is the disruption of the status quo that brings into view societal and cultural injustices and the pain of others and our own.
When did you first realize that there are racial distinctions, gender distinctions and economic distinctions in our society? What significant experiences in your life contribute to your understanding of yourself as white or black, male or female, Republican or Democrat, middle class or poor?
We need to consider our own unconscious social biases, our automatic assumptions. If I say “physician”, what comes to mind? We know that there are black, female physicians, but what is our automatic response to the image of a black, female physician? Do we feel women are competent to be a physician? Do we believe that black people are intelligent enough to be a physician? We need to confront our own ideas of what a doctor looks like, of what a thug looks like. When I say Cuban American or Arab, what is your first thought? We need to be willing to confront our own stereotypes and assumptions. We all have biases and prejudices, this is not bad, but we need to acknowledge and own them so we can stop acting on them and change. For example, police are good, good people aren’t racist, therefore police are not racist. This is a logical assumption, but not necessarily true.
We need to be aware of our own micro-aggressions; brief social slights that may not appear to be significant in themselves, but that over time contribute to an accumulative affect. Do we ever find ourselves saying: “No, where are you REALLY from.”; “You’re being overly sensitive.”; “Why do you sound white?”; “You are so articulate.”; “I don’t think of you as a woman”; “I don’t think of you as being black.”; “You’re not like the typical black person.”
When we hear someone using micro-aggression there are many ways to respond. We can assume their intentions are good and explain the impact of what they are saying. We can ask a question in the hopes that this will cause them to rethink what they said. It may be necessary to interrupt and redirect what they are saying or broaden the context to a universal human behavior. Perhaps we can make the comment personal by saying, “I don’t think you know that my brother uses a wheelchair.” Or make the comment individual by asking, “Do you really mean all Episcopalians or are you thinking of a particular person?” And sometimes we just need to say, “Ouch!”
Someone’s cadence or speech patterns may identify them as “other” and we stop listening. For some people a southern accent means inferior intelligence. It is about self-awareness and being willing to be called out or to call someone else out on their assumptions and stereotypes.
A final area I offer is institutionalized injustice. This includes the Criminal Justice System with racial profiling, “stop and frisk” and many other policies; Redlining which impacts property pricing in white and black neighborhoods; the G.I. Bill of 1944 which changed who went to college, but was not available to all veterans; and Social Security where farmers and domestic workers, ie sharecroppers and black, female domestic workers, were excluded. Ratified on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal or state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on the citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote, which begs the question of when women were recognized as citizens? In1967 an executive order banned discrimination based on sex in hiring and employment in both the United States federal workforce and on the part of government contractors, in 1971 barring women from practicing law was prohibited in the U.S. and in 1972 the Educations Amendments of 1972 stated that ”No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
In 1958 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution stating that women were to be respected as “an important and integral part of every aspect of the Church’s life, in 1967/1970 the General Convention endorsed and implemented the seating of women deputies; authorized the licensing of women as lay readers and approved the training and ordination of women as deacons. Eleven women deacons were irregularly ordained to the priesthood in 1974 in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia—a black congregation whose rector, Paul Washington, had distinguished himself as a civil rights activist. Although the 1976 General Convention passed a resolution affirming that the church’s ordination canons applied to women as well as to men, it was not until the 1997 convention that the church’s canons affirmed the ordination and deployment of women clergy were mandatory in all dioceses of the Episcopal Church. In 1977 Pauli Murray was ordained as the first African American woman priest in the Episcopal Church and in 1989 Barbara Clementine Harris another black Episcopalian was ordained as suffragan bishop of the diocese of Massachusetts the first female bishop. Both Harris and Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning received death threats prior to the service. All these changes have occurred in my life time, hardly a swift granting of justice.
All of this is to say that if we truly believe in justice and live our lives like we believe in justice and trust that justice will be granted, eventually justice will be granted. It is not easy, justice does not come quickly, but God can be trusted to grant justice, so pray continually and live a prayerful life believing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that God is active in our lives. Amen.