Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In celebration of the "serendipity" of the lectionary

"The Truth Will Set You Free"

For the record, I'm one of those who think "coincidence" and "serendipity" are aliases for the Holy Spirit on days -- as the old axiom has it -- that She prefers to work anonymously.

That said, I'm still mulling the connections between the lessons appointed for this coming Sunday -- which we use during the week for our Noonday Eucharist every day here at All Saints Church -- and what's going on in the state of California this week.

First, the lessons:

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Reading from Exodus (3:7–12)

Our God said to Moses, “I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cries under those who oppress them; I have felt their sufferings. Now I have come down to rescue them from the hand of Egypt, out of their place of suffering, and bring them to a place that is wide and fertile, a land flowing with milk and honey – the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the children of Israel has reached me, and I have watched how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I will send you to Pharaoh, to bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” God answered, “I will be with you, and this is the sign by which you will know that it is I who have sent you: after you bring my people out of Egypt, you will all worship at this very mountain.”

The Gospel According to John (2:1-11)

On the third day, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there. Jesus and his disciples had likewise been invited to the celebration. At a certain point, the wine ran out, and Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no wine.” Jesus replied, “Mother, what does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” She instructed those waiting on tables, “Do whatever he tells you.” As prescribed for Jewish ceremonial washings, there were six stone water jars on hand, each one holding between fifteen and twenty-five gallons. “Fill those jars with water,” Jesus said, and the servers filled them to the brim. “Now,” said Jesus, “draw some out and take it to the caterer.”

They did as they were instructed. The caterer tasted the water – which had been turned into wine – without knowing where it had come from; the only ones who knew were those who were waiting on tables, since they had drawn the water. The caterer called the bride and groom over and remarked, “People usually serve the best wine first; then, when the guests have been drinking a while, a lesser vintage is served. What you have done is to keep the best wine until now!” Jesus performed this first of his signs at Cana in Galilee; in this way he revealed his glory, and the disciples believed in him.


What a wonderful gift for reflection and conversation -- the juxtaposition of God's call to Moses to liberate the people of Egypt from oppression with the prophetic ministry of Martin Luther King calling us to follow his example by resisting oppression in the name of God's love ... with a gospel reading about a wedding in the very week that marriage is literally on trial in federal court in San Francisco.

As my rector, Ed Bacon, might say: my, my, my.

My, my, my -- because I believe what is happening in San Francisco is nothing less than a living out of the call that we inherit from Moses and Martin Luther King and the prophets of every generation -- the call to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor by liberating the captive, giving sight to the blind and good news to the poor.

And because I am convinced that what is on trial in San Francisco is much bigger than whether or not a small percentage of Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian are entitled to say "I do."

What is at stake here is nothing less than whether or not we as Americans really believe that pledge we make about being a nation of liberty and justice for all -- whether or not we want to become a country where a bare majority can take away the equally protected rights of a minority -- and whether or not we're willing to let the lies and distortions of the rabid, religious right take our constitutional protections hostage.

Another gospel (John 8:32) tells us that "the truth will set you free" -- and the truth being told in this landmark court case is that the values that make up a marriage transcend the gender of the couple yearning to live happily ever after til death do them part.

The truth is the "traditional marriage" the Prop 8 supporters are "defending" has nothing to do with preserving those values -- fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God -- and everything to do with preserving the power of the patriarchy to dictate who is and is not entitled to the blessing of God and the protection of the constitution.

The truth is the "biblical marriage" some folks are so committed to protecting wasn't about one-man-and-one-woman as often as it was about one-man-and-as-many-women-as-he-could-afford; wasn't a covenant involving love and mutuality but a contract involving chattel and property.

The truth is the battle being fought in the court in San Francisco in 2010 is the same battle that was fought in the courts in 1967 when Loving v Virginia ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage.

The truth is marriage has changed throughout the ages and the truth is that is a GOOD thing!

And the truth is that this gospel story of the wedding feast in Cana -- sometimes pointed to by "traditionalists" as "proof" that Jesus ordained marriage between "one man and one woman" -- has absolutely nothing with who the party was for and everything to do with God's scandalous willingness to turn human expectations upside down in the service of the divine purpose of abundant, inclusive love.

Serving the best wine last. Proclaiming that the last shall be first. Healing on the sabbath. Eating with outcasts and sinners. Calling women into discipleship and putting children in the center of the circle. It's a long list.

And so what I'm wondering today is if the "best wine" at the marriage feast our surprising God of scandalous abundance hasn't saved to be served until now is the example and inspiration of same-sex relationships to those who have taken "the sanctity of marriage" for granted.

Relationships that have traded the ancient trappings of patriarchy for partnership; that model mutuality and commitment in the face of societal stigma and ecclesiastical bigotry; that do not limit relationship roles by expectations of gender based stereotypes but liberate them through calling each partner to their truest, best selves.

The truth will set us free. And what the truth about marriage can set us free to do is to stop fighting and fundraising and politicizing and demonizing in order to keep some Californians from being married and focus instead on supporting ALL Californians as we work to build stronger marriages. Stronger families. A stronger California and a stronger America.

For the truth is that families are not undermined by gay marriage. Families are undermined by poverty, joblessness, lack of health care, racism, discrimination, failing education systems and the deteriorating infrastructure of a state that should be pouring all its energy into supporting families -- not discriminating against gay and lesbian families.

So, Holy God, set us free to follow the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, that we may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed gifts of liberty and justice.

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