Saturday, November 08, 2014

Palm Springs Pride 2014 | Oil for the Lamps and Strength for the Journey

[sermon for Pride Eucharist at St. Paul's in the Desert, Palm Springs preached on November 8, 2014]

Listen. Can you hear it?

It is the sound of the sand running through the hourglass as we come to the end of yet-another church year and see on the horizon the end of yet-another calendar year – AND we gather here today for yet-another Pride weekend.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, time flies when you’re having fun – either by striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being … or by abandoning the faith received from the fathers and destroying western civilization as we know it … depending on your point of view.

Either way, times flies – and what a difference decade … or two or three or four … makes! Let’s review:

"It is the sense of this General Convention 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." -- Resolution of the Episcopal Church, 1976

And then just last month there was this:

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" -- Working document from the Vatican, 2014

Two statements -- issued decades apart -- by church councils struggling to respond to the conflict between ancient doctrines and new understandings: each case greeted by some as "too little, too late" and by others as "the end of the world as we know it."

As an Episcopalian busily ministering in a church on the cusp of finishing the work of fully including the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments it would be easy to dismiss the recent news from the Vatican as the former – especially as the final version "walked back" the more revolutionary language under pressure from conservative prelates.

And yet -- as my brilliant friend Diana Butler Bass said in response --
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late."

We are told that the very arc of history bends toward justice.
And so the sound you heard from Rome was that arc bending a little further with this document moving (ever so slightly) And it was followed by the sound of the "one step back" in the proverbial "two steps forward, one step back" journey to justice.

Just as our own 1976 resolution promising "full and equal claim" was followed in 1979 by a resolution stating that it was "not appropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual."

So much for "full and equal."

Like the Vatican in 2014, the 1979 "one step back" in response to our 1976 resolution came from conservative elements within our polity pushing back on the tide of equal love, justice and compassion for all God's beloved human family.

But the good news is that the tide kept turning.
The arc kept bending.

And year after year -- General Convention after General Convention – resolution after resolution -- we kept coming back and pressing forward.

In terms of God's justice we may have moved too slow and too late but we kept moving. And last week when I stood with the rest of a packed-full church to applaud as Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool introduced St. Luke’s Monrovia to their new rector and his husband I thought, "we may not be 'there' yet but we're sure getting there!"

Getting there because we’ve kept our lamps trimmed and burning.
Getting there because – unlike the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel – we’ve both stockpiled and shared the oil we needed to keep the light on in the dark days and to celebrate the victories on the bright ones.

And for those who work for equality, the recent past been chock full of examples of both.

Marriage Equality – extraordinary progress in the last year
Midterms – hard not to be discouraged by the polarization and division
Supreme Court – Circuit Court ruling going to put equality back in their lap
General Convention – on the cusp of finishing the work of 40 years
David Gushee – indicative of a huge shift for evangelicals
UMC – bishops meeting on LGBT issues with no LGBT people in the room

Steps forward – and steps back – on that arc of history we are promised bends toward justice but we are not promised bends easily. And the challenge is not to be discouraged in the process.

I hold in particular mind today Bishop John Krumm – the former bishop of Southern Ohio who retired to Los Angeles. A number of years ago now at his memorial service I had the privilege of hearing Bishop George Barrett reminisce about their 60-year friendship in the homily he offered at our diocesan Cathedral Center.

“John Krumm” said Bishop Barrett – stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis – “was never disillusioned by the church because John Krumm never had any illusions about the church!”

Yet John Krumm loved this church -- served it joyfully and well. Because he had no illusions he was free to focus on the ideal of what it could become. And when I think about his long and faithful life I think about the many changes he must have seen over the course of it – and the two steps forward and one steps back that made them happen.

John Krumm’s gift to the church – the oil that kept his lamp burning – was his willingness to be an agent of change – to venture into the unknown future God called him to without the fear that Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier named as the opposite of faith.

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith,” she wrote. “Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

The journey to that new possibility – that New Jerusalem – is what today’s lessons are all about.

The days shorten and the shadows lengthen. As church year nears its end – yes, we are just two weeks from Advent! –the lessons turn to the end times. To what our spiritual GPS would call “arriving at destination.” To the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

And so this afternoon we hear Joshua call us – as he called the Israelites settling at last into the Promised Land – to remember to remember who got us this far.

And we hear the psalmist remind his listeners – and us -- to make sure the next generation knows their history.

And we hear Paul exhort the Thessalonians – and us – to encourage each other.

And we hear Matthew challenge his community – and us – to keep our lamps trimmed and burning with the oil they need to shine …

Because we may be on the journey but we’re not there yet.
And we do NOT know the day or the hour.
And we do not know when the step forward is going to be followed by a step back.
And so we need both oil for our lamps and strength for the journey.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is why we gather here today. In this place. With this community. Around this table.

Our strength is the community.
Our oil is the shared story
Our challenge is to continue to keep our lamps burning with the light of love, justice and compassion as we go out into a world in desperate need of the good news God has for God’s beloved human family.

As we offer an alternative to those who have hijacked the Gospel of God’s inclusive love and turned it into a weapon of mass discrimination.

And, particularly for those who prepare to march tomorrow, to be beacons of hope and welcome to those in our community who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one because all they know about Christianity is what they heard from Pat Robertson. Or Sarah Palin. A tall order? You betcha … and yet …

I remember when I was in seminary and wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew and whether all the work was worth it. And I remember a moment with Bishop Barbara Harris – in the cocktail lounge at the Red Lion Inn in Ontario after an ECW Annual Meetings – and her gravelly voice as she laid her hand on top of mine and said: “Never forget: the power behind you is greater than the challenge ahead of you. And just keep on keepin’ on.”

But make no mistake about it – there is challenge in this Gospel work – and keepin’ on is sometimes easier said than done. Listen to these words from Mary Glasspool:

The enemy of fidelity and commitment is apathy, the inability to suffer.
In order not to feel the pain of loss, we set emotional limits on our commitments.
In order not to be disappointed or hurt in relationships, we set boundaries on our fidelity.
In order to avoid suffering, we diminish all passion and exuberance.
Apathy is the opposite of exuberance, a way of living designed to avoid pain.
And so life and vitality are swallowed up by apathy and despair.

That is one very visceral way to describe what it is to “run out of oil.”

Last week our Gospel for All Saints Day was the Matthew version of the Beatitudes – presenting an impossible ideal for the Christian life; but then – said Bishop Mary -- discipleship itself is shaped by immoderation.

The poor in spirit, those who mourn,
the meek and the merciful,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the pure in heart and the peacemakers are the blessed ones.
The Beatitudes are the outrageous expectations of an extravagant God.
It is appropriate that God should set an impossible ideal for discipleship –
because we are called to model God's immoderation.

The Christian life – Mary concludes
is always moving toward an impossible dream,
in the confidence that God will not condemn us for missing the mark.
That is what it means to take God at God's word.

And that is the journey we are on.
To take God at God’s word as we work with God to make that Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.

A journey to that place where there is no stranger at the gate,
no bridesmaid out of oil, no LGBTQ kid waking up thinking God hates him,
no transgender woman afraid to walk to her car by herself for fear of getting jumped,
no asterisk after “love you neighbor as yourself” that leads to
*unless you’re gay or lesbian
*bisexual or transgender
*queer or questioning
*or anything else.

And how do we get there?

The only way we can: two steps forward and one step back.

With the oil of love, justice and compassion in our lamps and the strength of the community supporting us on the journey.

Which brings me to these words from the late great Bishop Tom Shaw:

"We are what God has to do good in the world.
Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that.
I don't think we can point to one huge event that's changed everything.
I think instead it's thousands of ordinary people 
doing what they think is right, taking risks, 
speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways.
Eventually that turns the tide.
God really depends on us for that."

Diana Butler Bass was right.
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us may move too slow, too late."

And yet we, my brothers and sisters, are the ones we have been waiting for.
And God is depending on us
to keep our lamps – trimmed and burning –
for the two steps forward, one step back journey to that Promised Land
trusting that the power behind us
is indeed greater than any of the challenges ahead of us.


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