Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Equal Rites

It was Gay Pride Weekend here in L.A. while I was on vacation ... and as I'm getting caught up now and looking back at the "week that was" I thought I'd start there.

Here are some photos ... the Good News of God in Christ Jesus AND the Episcopal Church parading down Santa Monica Boulevard:

And here's the sermon from the Eucharist celebrated on the street prior to the parade by preacher-du-jour Kay Sylvester ... way to go, Kay!

Both our lesson from Hebrew Scripture and our Gospel today are actually the second episode in two-part stories. Before Elijah resuscitates the son of the widow of Zarephath, he has visited them at the command of God, and God has miraculously sustained their jar of meal and jug of oil through a severe drought.

Before Jesus has a similar encounter with a widow who has lost her son, he has healed the slave of a centurion from a distance. The stories we hear today are episodes in a series of events with the same theme. It seems that God does a lot of this sort of thing.

When we first meet the widow of Zeraphath, she is gathering sticks for what she imagines to be the final fire she will ever build, on which she will cook the last meal that she and her son will ever eat. She is without resources; her meal jar is down to the crumbs, her jug of oil is down to a little dribble; and, because she is a widow, she has no status, economically or socially. The man of God who shows up asks her to share her tiny meal with him, and miraculously, her life is not over.

In the second encounter, the widow berates the prophet for, as she sees it, calling God’s attention to her by his presence, and therefore causing God to punish her. But Elijah acts immediately to bring the power of God to bear on her heartbreak, and her son is brought to life.

The widow who Jesus meets in the Gospel has probably had an equally difficult life. Now she has lost the male head of her household, not only her economic bedrock, but also her source of status in the culture she lives in. She has just been impoverished financially and personally.
What is God up to in these stories? From the nearly bankrupt resources of the life of the widow of Zeraphath, God brings sustenance. From death, God brings life.
God’s business, it seems, is renewal, healing, resurrection; and to whom God brings these gifts should, by now, not surprise us. The widow of Zeraphath was from SIDON, a seaport city that was never part of Israel. Her outsider status was muti-layered; she was a non-Israelite; she was female; she was a widow, which made her a burden to society. The widow Jesus met was in equally dire straits.

These stories, and many like them, build up a body of evidence for a strong case that God is perhaps most interested, most able, most desirous, of bringing healing and transformation to those who are outsiders: society’s burdens, castoffs, those who are on the outside because of race, gender, or economic status. The liberation theologians call this God’s “preferential option for the poor.”

We may not really understand what it was like to be a widow in the 1st century, or a widow several centuries before that. It’s hard for us to imagine an existence that comes down to the last meal in the jar or the last drop of oil in the jug. But most of us here today can readily understand “outsider” status, because we are gay or lesbian or transgendered. Some of us, like the widow of Zeraphath, have multiple perspectives on being outsiders because of race or language or economic status. Some of us have certainly felt that we were at the end of our rope, felt like all that was left to do was to prepare to die. It is safe, I think, for us to identify with the widows in these stories.

And that means that their good news can be ours, too. If God ignores the rules about who is in and who is out in these stories, God will ignore the rules to reach out to us, too. If God can bring sustenance from the dregs in these stories, God can work with the bits of our lives that we think are useless leftovers to bring abundance.

But I expect you know all this. You are at this gathering today because some person of God reached out to you and showed you, somehow, that God’s love, God’s grace, God’s power to heal and bring new life is for YOU. You have felt that healing touch, experienced new life, been renewed and changed.

As a result, you and I are called to change our status from widowhood – outsider status – to personhood based on our status as forgive, healed, and renewed; to emulate Christ.

And that is why we are here today. Santa Monica Boulevard will be lined today with the 21st-century equivalent of the widow of Zeraphath – those who understand themselves to be outsiders, without status, without hope. There are people here today who have no idea that the good news of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is for them; there are people here who reject the Good News because in their experience, those who claim to have the good news have proven to be, instead, excellent wall-builders, accomplished agents of the border patrol. Let’s be clear today: God is always in the business of breaking down boundaries that divide us from one another, and the boundaries that divide us from God. God’s love is for everyone, but most especially, perhaps, for those who have not been loved or respected by others.

Today, we are not only the grateful recipients of God’s grace; we are its messengers. The good news we have to share today is not about the current politics of any church; it’s not about gay clergy; it’s not about blessing of unions; the good news we have to share today is that God reaches past all boundaries to offer healing, abundance, even resurrection. The good news we have to share is that God’s grace sneaks past every checkpoint, over every wall. God’s love ignores every effort made to place some sort of limits on who is eligible to receive it; there are no merit badges, purity tests, advanced placement exams, lab work, no DMV with long lines. Nothing – and no one – can separate us from the love of God. That is the good news we are here to proclaim.

Someone shared that good news with you. When your life was empty, God came to you in some way, through someone, and reminded you that God’s love is for you. Now it’s your turn to pass on that gift.

As Paul tells the church in Corinth: we are ambassadors for Christ. God knows, if we act as ambassadors for anything or anyone less – our denomination, our political position, our theology – we will end up in conflict with someone. But we are ambassadors for Christ. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for we all are one in Christ Jesus.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She has just been impoverished financially and personally.

I remember talking to my pastor about this Scripture after hearing his sermon about it. Like you, he presumed that this woman was poor. But I asked him, "How do you know that?" Scripture very often describes the economic status of the people it is talking about. This time, it said absolutely nothing about it. And if I was to infer, I'd presume that she had some money; after all, there was a crowd there, and I wouldn't think that a crowd would follow up on the funeral of a poor man.

In any case; the Scripture here says nothing about this woman's wealth. It seems to me, then, that her economic status is not the point of the story; otherwise, it would have been mentioned, as it is when that is part of the story.