What a busy week it has been in the world of religion and politics!? And meanwhile, what a week it has been just trying to live a life that is loving, full, meaningful alongside the challenges of hurt, shame, and feeling unsure and overwhelmed and over busy.? Real life is full of so many challenges relationally, agewise, work-related and about money and well-being. ?We bring all of this with us to a Sunday morning time of community gathering.? At least, I know I do.? I have to assume that you and I are not that different.
Why do we come to a faith community?? What do we hope to achieve?
I come to this building six days a week and oftentimes seven.? And, as nice as this building is, it is both highly functional and beautiful; that is not why I come here.? In the Spring and Summer time I really enjoy getting on the Zero Turn Radius mower to spend some four hours mowing grass here.? On Monday nights to Tuesday mornings I have spent countless hours working in the homeless shelter over the past six years, and in the previous sixteen years I did the same thing up in the greater Chicago area.? And, if I may be so bold, it is not because I love the homeless all that much over others.? I think it is a must-do work of caring and compassion.
But, I come to work because I love the people I work with and I want to do community with you.? I like who you are and what you stand for.? I like your thoughts, your dedications, your fun, your ability to laugh and be committed to do both the small and necessary as well as the big and bold.? I believe that as a community gathered as one we are doing and can do phenomenal things for our individual lives as well as the world at large.? We make a difference.
On the UCC side of our larger church family, I understand this faith community as what happens after the comma in that UCC advertising tag line that says, ?God is still stillspeaking? and asks us not to put a period where God has placed a comma.? I think it was just last week that we had a couple of first-time visitors who, before coming to church, any church, did a google search for churches in Bloomington.? They found us under the search words, ?Queer church.?
We have not purposefully advertised ourselves as such but I have lived with those two words this week and rather fallen in love with them.? What does it mean to be a Queer church?? If it means to be radically open to and celebrative of the actual and wide diversity of people, human conditions and concerns, dressed rather formally to exceedingly casual, all in search for the most sincere ways of bending the arc of justice closer to those most in need in our world —– then we are Queer Church and I am proud it.
If what it means to be a Queer Church is to be open and stretching to understand how as a predominately white church we are racist and that 99% of the time we simply enjoy our white privilege without giving it even a first thought; if we can allow ourselves to exist uncomfortably and seek to make right for the million and one times we have acted white rather right then we are a Queer Church; then we are not the norm and we are open to expanding our horizons.
I understand queer in today?s context to be a reappropriation of a term that has long been used in highly derogatory ways to demean and put down those in the GLBT community.? We very often find ourselves at First United outside the norm in our sincere quests to live our lives as the women and men who believe that the reality of God has long been heard in variant ways, and that we are fortunate to live in a time when there is more safety to be a wider expression of what it means to be a queer expression of faithfulness.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia?s death is very sad for his family and friends, I?m sure. Scalia was a man who believed more in periods than commas and I hope that his death is at best symbolic as our country faces a tremendous challenge to live fully into the 21st century, rather than, as Scalia did, fighting for originalist foundations that were never intended to be as rigid as he fought for them to remain.
Scalia?s theory of originalism has implications for you, me, and modern society.? One example is that since abortion and gay marriage rights were not present at the time of the writing of the Constitution, arguments to protect them cannot be used to expand the meaning of the Constitution to address modern realities. Originalism never quite found footing with other Justices. Scalia was not a consensus builder and often wrote scathing dissents. Not surprisingly, his fundamentalist position on the Constitution won him friends, foes, admirers, detractors and devotees.
The Bible seems to ?enjoy? a similar role in society as does the Constitution: Some believe it is literally true, every word of it, and it is a static document. Such persons might feel that the only good Bible is a hermetically sealed Bible that cannot be ?amended.? Others believe that while the Bible is true, it is not necessarily factual. Still others believe that the Bible is a historical document and, like any historical document, it was written with the bias of the time and circumstance in which the writers wrote.
Like him or not, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has done us a huge favor. He has essentially forced Americans to sharpen our pencils and press them against the Constitution and the Bible. No matter where we stand, as individuals or institutions, concerning the separation of church and state; we need to pay attention to arguments about the Constitution and the Bible being interpreted solely in light of what they meant at the time they were written. We would benefit from knowing our personal and collective core values that are not subject to amendment. We need to consider whether the interpretations of some persons matter more than others.? And then we may come to realize that such seemingly obscure discussions as to whether the Constitution and the Bible are still living or dead, whether they end with periods or commas, will have profound consequences for ourselves, our families and our institutions of faith.
I would be remiss if I did not find a way to segue into today?s Scripture story, complete with the Pharisees seeking to save Jesus? life, Jesus calling Herod an animal name as well as creating one of the most vulnerable protective metaphors of all time as he thinks of himself as a chicken protecting her chicks.
In today?s Bible lection we see Jesus deep in trouble.? The Pharisees come and warn Jesus that his life is in danger in the countryside from King Herod who just a year ago chopped off the head of John the Baptist as a party favor for his favorite niece.? Jesus is not unaware of the danger but he challenges Herod to race to where his death will happen.? He tells the Pharisee friends who have come to warn him, ?Go back and tell that fox that I am too busy to die today, tomorrow or even the next day under Herod?s hand.? I?m on my way to Jerusalem and there we will see what happens.?
Herod did not have political jurisdiction over Jerusalem.? In the what-it?s-worth department, I do think Jesus was hoping for a climactic battle in Jerusalem between the forces of good and the oppressive forces of evil represented by the Roman rulers and what Jesus saw as a Temple religious system that was owned by Rome rather than by God?s people.? I don?t know this, I am just guessing, that Jesus wanted to amass so much good in going to Jerusalem, hoping, believing that perhaps God would act supernaturally to bring about the peace that passes all understanding, an apocalyptic change wherein the reality of God on earth as it is in heaven would finally happen.? In my heart of hearts I think Jesus died fearing that he had failed, not knowing that his resurrected spirit would live on in many marvelous ways and that amongst those marvelous ways are your lives and mine, whose jobs remain to be bring about the reality of God?s peace that passes all understanding through our lives, in our faith community and throughout our nation and world.
Please note as part of our Lenten journey to get to Easter, please note that in this strange little tale in Luke?s Gospel, the Pharisees come as friends who are desperate to save Jesus? life, certainly not to turn him in to the authorities.? Please let that set in as completely as possible into your being.? Jesus was a Jewish teacher and rabbi of great respect and his fellow Jews knew he was in danger from the powers that were over all of them.
Jesus was, in his day, a radical, subversive, terrorist-in-Palestinian-clothing to the Romans.? The Pharisees were friends, not enemies, of Jesus.? Jesus was not Christian, we made him that later.? Jesus died a persecuted and ridiculed ?King of the Jews.?? In Roman eyes, he may not have been anything other than just a Pharisee or some zealot that had been preaching freedom from oppression out in the hill country.? But, now they had him and he was going to die for not going along with those with the most power.? I do think Jesus went willing to die to cause a change in the reality of God.? The Romans simply killed him because he was seen as a pretender to a throne and had a significant following that was potentially hurting tax revenues.
Our Christian Scriptures are written with horrible, HORRIBLE anti-Semitism written into them, because of when they were written, in the first one hundred years after Jesus? death, as Christianity was breaking away from our parent, Judaism. Jesus argued with the Pharisees.? But they are to be thought of doing so from a culturally rich heritage of learning through oratorical battling that was held in the highest respect.? I?d like to compare it to Republican and Democratic candidates for the Presidency, but I?m afraid that it would be an insult to Jews everywhere to be so compared. Jesus loved the Pharisees and so should we?they were friends and fellow partners in the struggle to be better people and produce a faith that was most reflective of God?s desires.? The anti-Semitism that so colors our world and society is much like our racism toward Blacks.? We need to just believe that both conditions exist and we should always be helping to understand it and move not only ourselves but our friends and neighbors to recognize it and stand against it.
And that brings me to my last reflection, on the Pope, sorta name-calling Donald Trump a non-Christian, at least in spirit.? My Spanish is not any good but I have heard and read commentators suggest that the Pope certainly suggested that Trump?s proposals of building walls to keep people out of our country is a non-Christian response to the reality of refugees coming into our country.
It is probably accurate to say that the Pope?s mindset is that people live on the planet and that walls that keep people away from the basic resources to thrive is not a picture of what God prefers.? If you have been to Vatican, it is hard to agree with Trump that the Pope speaks and lives from behind some very, very, very tall walls.? Both the Pope and Trump are Powerful People and that is to be contrasted to the way of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and taught total sharing.
The Catholic Church, along with most of Protestantism, has spent hundreds of years defining what it means to be saved, to have faith, and to be able to be called Christian.? Frankly, Trump rightly does give a damn.? Trump does not see faith or faith communities as significant to his art of making a deal.? While I agree that wall building is rarely, if ever, the right thing to do, neither is questioning another person?s faithfulness.? Faith has wide expressions and real people will make the determination whether the faith of Trump or Frances or their positions of power which can be so fox-like are worthy of emulation.
Jesus concludes that he is going into what will be his final stand in Jerusalem as a mother hen seeking to bring her chicks in under her wings in protection from the foxes.? It is a very vulnerable image, isn?t it?? Foxes simply eat chickens who are not protected, no matter how brave they act.? Is that the best we can get out of Jesus and God?
What if in this passage, we see Jesus not merely acting courageously but embracing who he was called to be for the sake of those he loved, and thereby inviting us to be who we are called to be for the sake of those around us? What would our community look like if we decided together to live whole-heartedly, making room to name our vulnerabilities in a cross-shaped confidence that God is with us and has given us sufficient resources?including each other!?to not simply endure the challenges before us but to flourish as we discover that God meets us most reliably precisely in our places of vulnerability?
Where are you feeling most vulnerable?whether in a relationship, a job, amid pressure from peers?remember? that God is with you in these places of vulnerability, and that through God?s grace we may discover in them a way to discover more fully who we have been called to be, and connect more deeply with those around us
To be vulnerable is a courageous thing, that perhaps is the way of Jesus of Nazareth which brings true hope, not born of power and strength, but of love and compassion.