July 5, 2015

Proper 9

2 Samuel 5:1-10; Psalm 48 / Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13


Malcolm Boyd was an Episcopal priest, a freedom rider, a civil rights activist, a poet and a gay man. He lived long enough to know the right to marry in his state of residence, California. Oh, how I wish he had made it long enough to receive the Supreme Court ruling that a marriage in California is now a marriage in any of these United States.

In one of Boyd’s poems titled, “We’re ordaining somebody today, Jesus” Boyd writes:

When you say to us “Go,” and we comprehend our ministry in the world … do we understand that we will not be contenders in a social popularity contest…Do we want you to call us with your command “Go”? … Or would we rather you did not call us?  Then we could be left alone by you.  We would not have to love in the face of hate.

Loving in the face of hate might not have been the way Malcolm Boyd would have chosen to describe his personal life or love as a gay man, but many others in the LGBT community very well could. The psalmist writes, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” This also is a cry that many an LGBT person of faith has uttered in silence and aloud.

So said Army Reserve Sergeant First Class who along with his husband submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that the fact that their marriage which took place in New York and was subsequently not recognized in the state of Tennessee - where the couple lived after the Sergeant’s deployment to Afghanistan - was arbitrary, inconsistent, problematic and unjust. In one geographic location they were recognized and had rights as a married couple. In another geographic location they did not.

The Supreme Court in its response stated said that the military couple was right. The majority opinion in some places was eloquent and touching. For example, “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” The decision acknowledged legal gains made by the LGBT community, but opined that progress was not the same as equal protection under the law. The majority opinion actually states, “Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.”

While some were disturbed, disappointed or hurt by the court’s decision, others were not only elated but were made whole. So many in the LGBT community felt like we had finally made it to the welcome table. We have known the hymn lyrics that state “we’re gonna eat at welcome table one of these days.  We’re gonna feast on milk and honey one of these days.” The lyrics of the hymn are forward looking. They are hopeful. Two Fridays ago it seemed that one of these days had come to pass now.

By coincidence, simultaneous to this secular court decision, General Convention of the Episcopal Church was meeting as it does every three years to legislate any array of matters affecting our life and structure as a church. General Convention is a bore to many and reports on its proceedings a good sermon do not make. But because of some important actions taken, I will choose to share out today what might otherwise be missed.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the House of Deputies and House of Bishops’ passed a resolution this past week to change the canons on marriage, approving two rites for trial use of same-sex marriages in the church. These are approved by the Episcopal Church to be used, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent of this year. No church is required to use them or to perform same-sex marriages, but these rites are accessible now and available now. They are approved for trial use. The resolutions were adopted on votes by orders, with more than 80 percent of the clergy and lay deputies approving them. Similarly, a majority of bishops voted in favor.

As with the Supreme Court decision, there was a minority report and dissenting voice in the vote on these resolutions. That voice included all three bishops of the Diocese of Texas. Bishops Fisher, Harrison and Doyle issued a letter outlining their shared convictions to explain their vote against the canonical changes to marriage.  I do not attempt to speak for them. I simply lift up to you part of their letter.

1) The discussion on the issue of same-sex relationships has not, in our opinion, engaged Holy Scripture as it should, 2) our Christian partners throughout the Anglican Communion and the world, and even in other denominations in our own country, have not been properly brought into our conversation, 3) the Supreme Court decision, while lauded by many, should not drive our theological conversations and decisions, 4) we believe any process to revise the marriage canons properly belongs in the context of a constitutional process of prayer book revision and not in an isolated action.

As we read this letter, some of us who had felt so previously invited to the welcome table thanks to secular changes suddenly did not feel a sense of welcome anymore. While it may not required, it can feel as if the LGBT community in the church here is being asked once again to love in the face of hate and to be patient in the midst of contempt. Suddenly the honey tastes of salt and the milk tastes a bit sour.

The bishops did not communicate that no change would come nor did they say what change would come or in what time. What is clear is that the current way of blessing and marrying people remains in place; a system in which gay and lesbian couples are handled differently than straight couples. This church has been talking about gay inclusion and marriage for 39 years. We have had conversations in the global Communion. We have had conversations with our denominational friends. The question some of us have is “How much longer shall we deliberate?”

In the sadness and disappointment that some of us are experiencing, we find comfort, of course, in knowing that Jesus never made it to the welcome table. He was the dissenting opinion in the Galilee where he was rendered powerless by many who knew him as a carpenter and could not catch on to his spiritual progress and ordination into Jewish authority. Furthermore, it seems likely that he was brining a message of non-violent resistance into a land that cultivated zealous Jewish armed revolt against Roman occupation. As Jesus the teacher and leader is rendered powerless by the projections of those in his homeland, he calls on others from the Galilee to work two by two and together to bring power to the people. The Jesus movement was teaching the spiritual power of the faithful resided not in the inner sanctum and private acts of the high priest, but rather in the metaphysical force of their own personhood of the people out in the villages. The religious and spiritual authority, they were modeling, resided in the people.

Jesus teaches the twelve how to respond when they are disrespected or made unwelcome in their efforts to invert the order of authority. He instructs them to shake off the dust from their feet in those cases. They are to be declarative about their separation or rejection in a culture where hospitality is expected and considered a requirement to maintain one’s honor and standing. To shake off the dust is to let it be known the code was not kept. But the movement did not seem to pursue any further punitive measure or expectation.

Two Fridays ago myself and others like me were told by the highest court in the land that we had a place at the welcome table. But unfortunately, those of us who participate in the Episcopal life of faith and happen to live in the Diocese of Texas subsequently read a letter that made us to feel once again not so welcome. The food no longer seems to taste so good or feel very nutritive. So, on this day I choose to shake the dust from my feet by remaining seated at the time of the meal. Please understand this not as a choice to separate from the community in any way. For here am I. Rather this is more as a fast or a hunger strike to imply that I await the time when all couples who are blessed or wed are treated equally and all families are recognized equally. Because my ordination as a lay person or a priest is not fully recognized in contrast to the law I abstain. I ask no one to join me.  I simply take this point of privilege to explain what you will observe.

Where one is hungry not all are fed. Where some are denied, not all are served. When is one of these days going to come to this place?  Will the welcome table ever be set here for all of us?