Holy Wisdom Monastery
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 13, 2013
2 Kings 5:1-15c
2 Timothy 2:8-15
To be agents of the reign of God is a full-time job. It requires a whole-life commitment: courage, compassion, and energy. Today, on the 18th anniversary of the first celebration of Solidarity Sunday in 1995, the scripture passages present some challenging lessons and offer a serious charge to all of us who would be shepherds of the new church. Make no mistake: No sphere of society is beyond Jesus’ reach. Who would Jesus love?
An obvious thread that runs through these readings today is about giving thanks. Beyond this, we notice that the gift of faith has been strengthened in each of the people whowere healed. But we’re heading in another direction, focusing on the important biblical theme of the permeable boundaries between those who are considered insiders and those who are considered outsiders with respect to God’s grace. God continues to work among the grateful and the ungrateful, among those who notice and those who do not.
In our first reading, Naaman arrives at the cave of the prophet Elisha. Naaman is obviously not a Jew; he is a Gentile and one from the enemy camp, a commander of the Army, no less, in the court of the King of Syria. It’s difficult to imagine a person less qualified to – or looking to – experience God’s attention. But (and this is a great narrative turn) – the word “but” spins the story in a different direction – but Naaman has leprosy. So here we have the highly successful and powerful commander of the Syrian army, arriving with trappings and chariots at Elisha’s cave. Elisha himself does not come out but sends the message about bathing in the Jordan River with an air of detachment that gets under Naaman’s skin. Naaman is peeved. He expected some more personal and even spectacular display of the prophet’s prowess and certainly some gesture more dignified than washing in a river. Naaman knows how power works, and Elisha simply does not meet his expectations of a prophet. He is ready to leave when his aides present him with an intriguing idea: try the easy thing – “wash and be clean.” And, indeed, Naaman bathed, was healed and was converted.
In our second reading, Paul, though “chained like a criminal,” insists that the “word of God is not chained.” The insistence that this God cannot be chained upends our every expectation. And it uncomplicates what we had come to assume was complicated. God shows up in expected places, people, and ways when that works – and comfortably skips a heartbeat to the totally unexpected when that works better. Ninety-five percent of our life may be just fine. It’s the other five percent – the shadowy, unstable, chained areas where we need healing the most. Is God capricious? It seems more likely that God is driven. God stops at nothing to find partners in justice, whether we’re on our way to something else, whether we are open, whether we welcome God right then – or not. It’s not about us.
Finally, in an episode unique to Luke’s narrative, Jesus and the disciples are making their way toward Jerusalem when they meet the 10 lepers along the Samaria-Galilee border. These societal outcasts lived in a mixed community of Jews and Samaritans, thrown together by a common disease. Jesus initiates their healing by sending them back to the society that cast them out. He restored them to health, dignity, and community not by rituals of cleansing but by reaching out and welcoming in, by the radical gesture of touching and restoring relationship. The “foreigner” understands that the Living Word he encountered was greater than the barriers of sick and well, Jew and Samaritan. His act of thanksgiving completes the circle of his healing – not only is he free from the disease, he is free from the tyranny of division that would hold him back. And others, too, saw that Jesus healed their own too-limited notion of community.
All three of our texts highlight God’s voice coming from unlikely people and God’s grace extending to “foreigners.” Each story occurs in an “in-between” place: on the border, in the river, in a prison cell. And yet in these chained, edge-places, people are freed to receive God’s faithfulness in unexpected and extravagant ways. Even the nine lepers who did not return to Jesus were healed! Jesus was committed to setting aside every tradition or interpretation of the law that justified human prejudice or that violated the oneness of God’s human community. The destabilizing and uncomplicated truth is that God’s grace goes beyond the boundaries we set; our welfare is inextricably intertwined with others’. We are all God’s children and this unsettling truth issues a clear, direct invitation.
As Christians, we believe in principle that we should be nice to people who are not like us. But today’s readings push this discussion and our moral decision-making further because of this fact: Gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgender people are being dehumanized, beaten, and murdered for who they are.
The Southern Poverty Law Center uses FBI hate crime statistics to estimate rates of victimization of various targeted minority groups. The data are notoriously sketchy, in large part because the Department of Justice has found that most hate crimes are never reported to police, and those that are reported typically are not categorized as hate crimes by local jurisdictions. Nevertheless, during the 13 years from 1995-2008, there were 15,351 anti-homosexual hate crime offenses – which amounts to 17.4% of the total of 88,463 reported violent hate crimes. The bottom line: Our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are 41 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime than whites, far more likely than any other minority group in the United States. And it is happening here.
Bishiop Desmond Tutu shared these words with the All-Africa Church Conference: “When two persons are engaged in a conflict and one of them is considerably stronger than the other, to be neutral is not just and fair and impartial, because to be neutral is in fact to side with the powerful.”
Neutrality is an illusion. Being nice to people who are not like us is not enough. Every day, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers, even those in heterosexual relationships, hear and see their deepest selves and those they love vilified. They remain silent in conversations where they are assumed not to be present. They experience pain and division within their families, who may reject them; with their heterosexual friends, who may avoid them; with their bosses, who may fire them. And day-to-day they live with fear that takes an incredible emotional toll and diminishes the reign of God among us.
Melanie Noriset took the conversation one uncomfortable step further when she shared her experience as a lesbian and a pastor with some members of her community.
One of the women in the group said, “Well, I have to tell you that even though I find you a likable person, I can’t condone what you are doing. I think it’s a sin. But I can still love you. It’s possible to love the sinner and hate the sin.”
Melanie responded, ‘How can you say you love me when you don’t want to know either my pain or my joy? No, I don’t think you can say you love me because what you call ‘sin’ (the love I share with my partner), I call a grace-filled relationship, and what you call your inability to condone, I call the sin of heterosexism. There’s a serious rupture between us, and we can’t gloss it over with easy talk about loving the sinner while hating the sin. For you to call the most cherished relationship in my life ‘sinful’ is a very serious charge. Furthermore, you can’t offer me love with one hand while denying me justice with the other, because love and justice are inseparable.’”
The love that Jesus embodies is a love that makes whole, that sets free, that rejoices in liberation and healing. In the gospel stories, when people are healed, when people find acceptance and community, frequently someone steps forward and says to Jesus, “But that person who touched you is unclean and the scriptures say you must nods5t touch her.” Or they say, “Why are you healing on the Sabbath?” But the “word of God – the love of God – is not chained.” It is radically inclusive and will not be bound by human prejudice or barriers. The heart of the matter is not our sexual orientation; it is how we live our lives.
Just a few weeks ago, in the WSJ, Leonard Pitts issued the challenge to “Not All Like That” (NALT) Christians to “speak up!” Pitts says, “Jesus of Nazareth was the author of a revolutionary love that crossed lines and resolved separations, that pointedly included the excluded, invited the disinvited, touched the untouchable. Two thousand years later, we’re told that love requires us to demonize and leave aside gay men and lesbians. Worse, many of us who know better have accepted this malarkey in complacent silence. … as LGBTQ people know all too well, there is something isolating about silence, going along with what you abhor, allowing people to believe you’re something you aren’t. And there is, conversely, something liberating in standing up, speaking out, saying the truth. To do so is to give others courage, to give others voice.”
It is more imperative than ever that even in the midst of these frightening times, we commit to nurture communities where we can acknowledge the world as it is, face the choices we need to make, actively care for each other, and keep hope alive by celebrating even the smallest joys and victories. We can find the strength to do this by remembering that the new church is not brought to life by our efforts alone. A Spirit, a holy presence, is always being birthed among us, to accompany us and dwell with us. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the future is open. We have the words; we can and must speak.
LET US TURN TO OUR UNCHAINED GOD IN PRAYER.
That this assembly, gathered each Sunday around Jesus, grow in consciousness, voice for justice, and the impulse toward practical solidarity, let us pray – Loving God, hear our prayer.
That this celebration of the Eucharist may open our eyes to discover for whom we are called to stand, and awken us from the illusions that let us live in peace, fighting only when we see our own interests in jeopardy, let us pray – Loving God, hear our prayer.
For the courage to continue creating an inclusive community of faith, an intentional community reaching out in love to welcome all to Christ’s table, let us pray – Loving God, hear our prayer.
For our leaders, for the vision to craft policies that honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person; for our families, for the compassion to open their hearts; and for all of us, for the courage to risk being hurt by loving recklessly, as Jesus did, let us pray – Loving God, hear our prayer.
For what else shall we pray?
We now lift up all the prayers listed in our book of intentions, the prayers we hold silently in our hearts, and mention quietly the names of those we wish to remember especially in
Good and Gracious God, we offer you these prayers and the prayers and needs that are known to you alone. We ask you to continue to lead us on the journey toward liberation, into a way of living and loving through which all are free to be the relational beings God created us to be, liberated so as to be together as community, as family, as partners, as friends. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.