Pentecost XXII, Proper 25, Year C
October 24, 2010
Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Let us pray. God, Grant me justice, so that I may treat others as they deserve. Grant me mercy, so that I don’t treat others as they deserve. Grant me a humble walk with you, so that I may understand the difference. Amen (Patricia McCaughan and Keith Yamamoto, “Race and Prayer”, Morehouse Publishing, 2003.
Do you remember Rodney Dangerfield? Rodney made a living by joking about how he got no respect: "I can't get no respect," he would say while adjusting his tie, and then he would reel off a string of one liners, such as: "When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them." Or, "When I was a kid I played hide and seek. They wouldn't ever look for me."
Regarding dating he would complain, “I never got girls when I was a kid. One girl told me, 'come over there's nobody home. I went over. There was nobody home."
It was funny when Rodney said these things in his stand-up routine, but in reality, Rodney was in and out of therapy all of his life, and his humor was a way of coping with the pain of his childhood and a depression he battled his whole life.
You see, he was born Jacob Cohen, a nice Jewish boy from Long Island. His father abandoned his family when Rodney was very young, and his mother was often uncaring. There was little or no love in Rodney's home. As a boy he helped bring in money by working for a grocery store. He said, "I found myself going to school with kids and then in the afternoon I'd be delivering groceries to their back door...I ended up feeling inferior to everybody."
Jesus would have understood Rodney's pain since he was drawn to the Dangerfields of the world, the people that got no respect, those who were excluded from respectable society, those who were ridiculed, taunted and sometimes beaten and killed because they were considered different, unclean, tax collectors, sinners.
Lepers were such people in Jesus’ day. It was unlawful for a leper to approach within fifty feet of a clean person. The leper was required to cry, "Unclean" at the top of his or her voice to warn people away. And if they came to close, the good clean people of that day would pick up stones and throw them at the lepers so that they might keep their distance.
After all, the scripture was clear about this. Leviticus 13:14 states: "[The Leper] shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean and shall dwell alone in habitation outside the camp."
How about you? Have you ever dwelt alone outside the camp? Have you ever been considered unclean?
I imagine that there are some of you who are old enough to remember the quarantine signs that were put on houses when people had the mumps, measles, tuberculosis and polio? You may have even had the experience of being in isolation in a hospital room because of an infection.
I often have often had to put on a gown and gloves and mask to visit someone in the hospital when there is even a question of whether or not an infectious disease is involved. It wasn't that many years ago that there were doctors and nurses who wouldn't even treat those infected with HIV Disease. I know that first-hand from working with people living with the disease in Dallas, and visiting them at Parkland Hospital in Dallas when I was working with the AIDS Interfaith Network.
So we know what it means to be considered unclean and to dwell alone outside the camp. All of us have either been there at one time or another or have known someone who was.
All of us have also been on the other side, on the inside looking out at those who are on the outside and considered to be unclean, those who are taunted and harassed or injured because of who they are. At the very least we have been on the side lines watching, feeling helpless to do anything about the suffering of those being tormented, or much worse, not wanting to get involved.
Bullying has been in the news these past few weeks following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge after his "roommate and another student used a webcam to broadcast live images of him having an intimate encounter with another man on the internet." But the truth is even sadder than this one man’s suicide: Clementi's death is just one in a string of suicides involving young people believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying."
An article I read this week spoke of this. The article, "Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue," was written by Rev. Cody G. Sanders, a Baptist minister from Fort Worth Texas. Rev. Sanders writes: "When I heard about the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas early in September, I was terribly saddened. It is a tragedy when a young person commits suicide in the aftermath of daily torment and harassment.
After this, I sat in front of my computer screen as news stories continued to appear about the suicides of 13-year-old Asher Brown, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, 13-year-old Seth Walsh, [15-year-old Justin Aaberg], and 19-year-old Raymond Chase.
Today, it is very clear to me that profound sadness and stunned silence is no longer a suitable, appropriate, or adequate response.
Cody goes on to say, "Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them."
And then Rev. Sanders adds: "In my case it was what convicted me that I have been part of the problem along with thousands of other preachers in America who have been unwilling to address this issue in the pulpit. As a side-bar to this story, you may have heard on the news or seen on YouTube the message that Joel Burns, an openly gay Fort Worth City Councilman read in last week’s City Council meeting of how he was bullied when he was 13 for being gay.
God forgive us. We have a responsibility, as Jesus shows us in scripture over and over again, to speak up for those in society who are being bullied because of the color of their skin, their nationality, their occupation, their religion, or their sexual orientation.
That last one is what scares people the most. Most preachers don't touch it because they are afraid of losing members, afraid that they will lose respect.
In his article, Rev. Sanders goes on to say that "the most dangerous form of theological message comes in the subtlest of forms: silence. This has been a taboo subject in most Christian pulpits and churches, and shame on the clergy for avoiding it, we shepherds who are supposed to care for the least and the last, and seek the lost until they are found.
And I would also add shame on all people who claim faith in the one who would not crush the bruised reed for being silent.
I hope that I never need to speak specifically to this congregation about the issue of bullying. I have seen no signs of it here, although I have read and heard about it prior to my being called as your Rector. I believe that everyone is welcomed and accepted at our Church. We all know, or are learning, that it is only by the grace of God and the mercy and forgiveness we know in Christ that we dare to approach God’s throne of grace on Sunday mornings. Plus, I have personally witnessed many of you go out of your way to surround with love and caring people who have been hurt by others.
Our Church is and all Christian Churches should always be a place of refuge for the battered and the broken. That's why many of us are here. But I do know that bullying exists in our community – and so do you. And we all know that if we are silent about it there will come a time when another child takes his or her life because of being tormented for who they are.
The gospel tells us that Jesus healed ten people with leprosy and one came back to thank him, falling at his feet even, shouting "Praise be to God." Jesus looks around at all of the respectable people who are leaning in to hear what he is going to say, and he says, "Where are the other nine? Didn't I heal ten? Where are the rest of them?
The only one to come back is the foreigner, the hated, despised Samaritan, or to use folks from our own time, the Nazi skin head, the tattooed and heavily pierced gangbanger, the illegal alien, the Muslim, the democrat, the republican, the progressive liberal, the socialist, you can come up with your own groups, if you want. Suffice it to say that the one who came back was the one nobody wanted to share life with, much less see healed.
Yet the thankful one is the one everybody hates. He, or she, the Gospel writer doesn't specify gender, is the one who gets it, that it is God who heals, that it was God who was in Jesus turning the world upside down.
In response, Jesus said, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you God, this former leper must have cried out as she ran all the way home.
Imagine what that homecoming must have been like. Her cure meant that not only her physical suffering had ended and that she wouldn't die an agonizing, painful death alone, it meant that she would have a family again, that she could hug and kiss her children for the first time in years and be hugged and kissed by her husband and her parents. It meant that he would belong to a community again, have neighbors and friends who respected and loved him. It meant…it meant…that he would have a life.
This is what we should be about at our Church, helping people to get their lives back, to know the wholeness that comes from living in Christ.
Tony Campolo, noted preacher, speaker and professor emeritus at Eastern University in Philadelphia tells a couple of stories I want to close with. The first took place when he was in High School. Campolo writes: "There was a boy in my high school, named Roger. It's not really his name. I'm just giving him the name Roger.
We knew he was gay and the day he was most at pain was the day of gym because after we played some games we had to go into the shower and he would never go into the shower with us. When we left the shower, we took our wet towels and would sting his body by whipping the towels at him.
As we walked past Roger we would whip the towels at Roger and sting him and we thought it was great fun to see this queer dance under our taunts. We thought it was fun to work on him. I wasn't there the day they shoved him into the corner of the shower and 5 guys urinated all over him. But that night Roger went home, went into his garage, and he hung himself.
So all of us had guilt that I did not speak up and actually was part of those who hurt, who contributed to the death of a young man. And you say, you're a terrible person, but I wonder how many of us, by words, by deeds, even without being aware of it have said and done things that have created pain and suffering."
And what about the church of Jesus Christ? Campolo tells another story about a friend who pastored a church up in Brooklyn. It was a dying community, a place where everything was disintegrating. Jim, the pastor, kept himself fed and clothes and his family cared for, by doing odd jobs, one of which was doing funerals for the local undertaker when nobody else would take them. This pastor said that the undertaker called him early one morning because he had a man to bury who had died of AIDS and nobody wanted to take the funeral so he ended up taking the funeral.
Campolo asked, "What was it like?
Jim replied, "About 25 homosexual men came and sat there. The whole time I spoke their heads were down and they looked at the floor. Never once did they make eye contact with me during the funeral. We then went out and followed the hearse out to the cemetery, lowered the body into the grave. I stood on one side of the grave; they were on the other side, standing there like statues. I read some scripture, said some prayers, committed the body to the grave, said the benediction and started to walk away, but they didn't move. They just stood there, so I came back and said, ‘Excuse me, is there anything else I can do?’
"And one of the men said, ‘Yes. I never go to church. Used to go to church but not anymore. The only thing I really liked about church was when they read from the Bible. You didn't read the 23rd psalm. I thought they always read that at funerals. Could you read the 23rd Psalm?’"
So Jim opened the Bible and read the 23rd Psalm. Another man said, "There's a passage in the 3rd chapter of John about being born again. I like that one. So John read that. Then a third man said, "The 8th chapter of Romans, right at the end, that's what keeps me going." And Jim read to these homosexual men. "Neither height nor depth, neither principalities nor powers, neither things present, nor things to come, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Nothing. And when he told me that, Campolo says, I hurt, I hurt, because I knew that these men wanted to hear the Bible but would never step foot inside a church because they are convinced that church people despise them. And do you know why they think church people despise them? Because church people despise them.
Campolo concludes his two stories by saying that he is talking less about homosexuality and more about the church. In particular he says “I am disapproving of a church that has forgotten how to love people that Jesus will never stop loving. And if you don't like it, join another club but don't call yourself a member of the church of Jesus Christ for we are the community of lovers and we love all kinds of people with all kinds of sin and that's your good fortune and mine too, for where would we be without such a church. And I want it to be the church that Christ wants it to be.”
Now, I know that in this Episcopal Church of ours there are differing opinions about homosexuality. I was reminded of that fact again this past week when I was up in Concord, New Hampshire, offering testimony to the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music about the need for the Church to adopt a uniform service of marriage for opposite sex and same sex couples. I suspect that most of you here today believe that homosexuals and heterosexuals are born with their gender identity in place, and that there may also be people here today who believe that homosexuals are choosing a sinful path. But more important than our differing opinions is this, and I say this to our Church and the entire Anglican Communion: Our church is big enough that we can differ and still have room for all of us. Further, I hope and believe that all of us in this room this morning as well as those who are absent can agree that no one deserves to be bullied or harassed or tormented for being different for any reason.
In today’s gospel Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Once he gets there he will look down from the cross, and when he does he will not see Samaritans or Jews or lepers or Pharisees or tax collectors or Republicans or Democrats or gays or straights or blacks or whites or Hispanics, Brazilians or Asians. No, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and when he looks down from the cross, he will see at his feet the Kingdom of God - which is open for and welcoming of us all, and where all, absolutely, unequivocally all God's children can be made whole. Amen.