Sunday, November 9, 2008

Come, labor on!

Sermon preached at Christ Church, Las Vegas on Friday, November 7, 2008 by Integrity President Susan Russell:

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. On election night, I stood on a stage in Hollywood in a standing room only theater and watched our president-elect give his acceptance speech – joining hundreds of jubilant leaders of our community as tears of pride, excitement and amazement flowed at how far we have come as a nation in our journey toward liberty and justice for all.

And a few hours later, I stood with many of those same leaders while other tears flowed – the tears of alienation and marginalization as the ballot count continued and it became clear that the forces seeking to disenfranchise same sex couples from equal protection in the State of California would pass their proposition designed to end same sex marriage in California.

What I want to say tonight is that Proposition 8 may have passed but it will not prevail.

And I want to share with you a little of what it has been like for some of us in California over the last few months.

It is always a deep joy and amazing privilege to be invited into the profound intimacy of two beloveds making their love tangible in vows professed and rings exchanged in the sight of God and of the community gathered. And for the 140 days between June 17th and November 4th at All Saints Church in Pasadena, as 43 couples invited us into that holy space with them, their joy was often accompanied by a sense of urgency.

And that urgency included a pinch of anxiety labeled “Proposition 8” -- giving the traditional words from the marriage vows, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder” new power and poignancy.

And after Proposition 8, those whom God has joined together remain joined together – in the sight of God and of All Saints Church – as we redouble our efforts to fight for the dignity of every human being and to speak for liberty and justice for all. And while I am confident we will succeed in the end, I am haunted today by a voice mail I received the day after the election from someone named Jason.

“We were getting married next month,” he said voice full of pain, “And now I feel like I want to die. My life has been stolen from me and I just don’t understand it.” My only answer was to stand with Jason in his pain the way we stood with Mel and Gary – and Bear and Susan, and Joe and Joey, Harry and Mike, and all the others in their joy. The witness to God’s love made tangible in these marriages and in this struggle is nothing other grace in action, as we continue to work with God to turn this human race into the human family it was meant to be.

And we are the ones who will make it happen. We – those of us gathered at Christ Church tonight and those of us committed to the gospel agenda of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments all over this great church of ours – we have been called in this time and in this place what prophets always do – to claim the high calling of comforting the afflicted – and afflicting the comfortable.

You may not feel like a prophet. I know I don’t. And you may have as many excuses as Amos – prophets always do. In the OT reading we hear “Hey, God – not me! I’m just a vinedresser a herdsman … my dad wasn't even a prophet and I’m no prophet ... you've got the wrong guy!”

And yet Amos did as he was charged by the God who knew him better than he knew himself and became the prophet whose legacy offers us what are arguably among the most stirring of the clarion calls to justice in our scriptural legacy: “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

And then there are these words from the modern day prophet, Abraham Heschel – words which I find particularly appropriate for tonight as we gather in the aftermath of an election that held both tremendous promise and great pain: for Heschel famously said: “Patience, a quality of holiness may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”

As we celebrate the historic election on Tuesday we need to celebrate both the patience and perseverance of generations of justice doers who have brought us thus far on the way toward liberty and justice for all. And then we need to put our righteous indignation to work on how far we have yet to go.
Come, labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain,
while all around us waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
"Go work today."

This work we are about is nothing less than the building of that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for every time we gather as God’s beloved people – every time we receive the bread and wine made holy and pray to be sent out to do the work we have been given to do – every time we take up our cross and go out into the world as bearers of the Good News of a God who loved us enough to become one of us … and called us to love our neighbors in exactly the same way.

And you don’t love your neighbors by spending millions of dollars on a fear based ad campaign in order to take away their right to marry by writing discrimination into the constitution intended to protect the rights of all citizens. The New York Times got it right when it said in its lead editorial on Thursday, “the immediate impact of Tuesday’s rights-shredding exercise is to underscore the danger of allowing the ballot box to be used to take away people’s fundamental rights.”

And yet, in the election of Barack Obama, there is a bright light of hope that once thought impossible obstacles to fairness, equality and respect for the dignity of every human being can be overcome. We are not done with racism in this country by a long shot – and yet we rejoice today as we prepare for a January 20th inauguration many of us could never have dreamed we’d see in our lifetime.

Let us tonight commit to claim the light of that hope in our own struggles against the marginalization, discrimination and demonization of LGBT people – and let us remember that we go out to do that work empowered by the one who promised us:

“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

And it has NEVER been more important for us to bear that light we have been given by virtue of our baptism out into the world as we take our ministries as the Body of Christ in the world. For the sad reality we face tonight as people of faith is that it was other people of faith who fueled the fire behind Proposition 8 in California – and behind the initiatives in Arizona, Florida and Arkansas as well.

And our voices are the ones needed to speak out, to step up and to offer our alternative message of hope, love, inclusion and acceptance. Not my voice, as President of Integrity. Not “their” voices as members of our Integrity Board. But your voices … ALL of your voices – at the local grassroots level and in the national church legislative level. It’s not an either/or – it’s not “the local” vs. “the national” – it’s all of us together moving the church forward toward the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.

I want to close tonight with a personal testimony to how I’ve seen that happen.

Truth be told, and hard as it might be to believe, I myself wasn't at all convinced women's ordination was such a great idea. At least I wasn't in 1976 when it was approved by General Convention.
Now don't get me wrong -- I was appropriately "liberal" about the concept. I mean, I was all for the ERA and women's rights and everything. But when it came to me, personally -- well, I wanted a "real priest" -- and what that looked like to me was a "Father" – because that was the only image I had for priesthood. So when in 1988 I was invited to attend a women’s retreat weekend, I went aware that there was going to be a woman priest on the staff -- and I went rather condescendingly "open to the experience:" a perfect set up for the Holy Spirit.

On the opening night of the three day retreat, as I sat in the silence of the candlelit chapel after the priest gave the opening meditation, I realized that it was the first time I had ever been sorry that a preacher had stopped preaching and sat down. As I walked back to the dorm room following the service it was already clear to me that I was going to have to re-evaluate my whole position on this issue. And by 1993 I was in seminary.

The 1976 General Convention vote on women’s ordination didn’t change my mind or touch my heart. She did. But her ministry would not have been able to if the vote hadn’t happened. And I think today of the hundreds of women whose gifts and graces have enlivened our worship, inspired our spirits, challenged our intellect, pastored our people in the years since 1976. I try to imagine this church without them. I not only “can’t" -- I don’t want to.

And I can say the same about scores of gay and lesbian people -- lay and ordained: living lives of faithful service, committed to God and to each other, touching hearts, changing minds, living the Gospel. I believe that it is their witness and example – YOUR witness and example – are what the Holy Spirit will use to change not only hearts and minds but VOTES in the General Conventions AND the General Elections yet to come!
So …

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
by feeblest agents may our God fulfill
God’s righteous will.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen

1 comment:

Thorne said...

All I can say is, Wow. Wow that after discovering 2 days ago that my partner's sister, a self proclaimed Christian, who claims to follow Christ's message of "unconditional love"; does not believe that her own sister has the right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Perhaps she was poisoned by the fear campaign of teaching gay marriage in schools. Odd, however that she chooses to rent space here on our property, and have her 2 teenaged sons in the direct influence of our homosexual love.
Please allow me to say, that although I am not, and have never called myself a Christian, I am a Pagan spiritual seeker who follows the common thread of "LOVE" found in many religions and philosophies.
I must admit that she nearly killed (yet again) my hope that there were any Christians out there who actually followed Christ's teachings.
This article, this sermon, this Church, renews my hope.
Thank you.