Sunday, January 24, 2010

Coming out

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Luke 4: 14-21
******** United Church of Christ
January 24, 2010

First off, I need to say something, something that must be said from the pulpit, even though it may seem like a no-brainer: As a Christian, Pat Robertson is off his rocker! I can’t say that he isn’t a Christian because he is convinced that he is one, and that is really only a difference of opinion. What I can say is that his theology is off the mark and not only that but harmful, especially when measured up against today’s gospel lesson; gospel meaning ‘good news’.

If you haven’t heard by now, once again Pat Robertson is blaming the occurrence of a natural disaster on those who are suffering for it, citing a historically-questionable allegation that the people of Haiti brought these earthquakes on themselves by making a pact with the devil over two hundred years ago to drive out the French who were seeking to enslave the Haitians, colonize Haiti and claim it for their own. Whenever anything horrific and tragic happens in this world, Pat is there to assure us that those who are affected certainly deserved it.

But the devil is having none of it. In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Lily Coyle of Minneapolis wrote a response to Pat Robertson in Satan’s name:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Pardon me for this indulgence but it’s for a very good reason: while Ms. Coyle depicts evil as not wanting to take the credit for such egregious poverty, evil does have a direct link to the excesses of greed, luxury, and easy access to comfort that are at the root of our American empire.

Failed attempts at justice such as legal marriage and civil rights for gays and lesbians, affordable, quality health care for all, a decent living wage and the same opportunity for excellence in education bluntly illustrate that we are not ready to live as equals, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. As a nation of high ideals and blatant inequalities, we live a divided life where our outsides do not match our insides.

Some of you know the pain of a divided life, of having lived a half-life in this heterosexual-dominated world. Some of you have a true self that you are understandably reluctant to expose to a world that has been unkind, even cruel to you. There’s the life we live and the life we wish we could live or could have lived.

And most of us have a notion of what it means to be Christian yet many days we settle for a spiritually-impoverished inner life. We straddle our outward commitments like a continental divide, separating ourselves into many fragments for work, home, family, friends, dreams and faith, all the while longing to be made whole.

It’s not easy coming out as a Christian in this world. The divide that exists within us seems like a great chasm in our world as we are still divided by religion and sexual orientation and skin color and class and gender. How are we to repair the breach, even with God’s help? And yet what did you think and feel when you heard the lesson from Luke read out to you? This is Jesus’ ‘coming out’ story, stating unequivocally who he is, Luke having him read from the 61st chapter of Isaiah. It’s also telling, Pat, that he omitted the words "the day of vengeance of our God." This has been the vision of God’s exiled people for well over 2000 years. In this prophetic passage from Isaiah we can hear the inspiration for Mary’s Magnificat:
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
And here is the good news for the people of Haiti:
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the LORD, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.” (Isaiah 61: 1-7)
Does the reading of this good news, this law of divine love and compassion still have the power to cause us to weep, as in the reading from Nehemiah when the people of Israel wept when they heard their own scripture read out loud to them in the public square in their own land and interpreted for them?

When Jesus declares his mission, we know we are also hearing what is to be our mission. And is today the day that this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing? In another lectionary reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we hear these familiar words: “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

There are no mismatched insides and outsides: there is only one Body, to which we all belong, even Pat Robertson. There is no divided life. It is an illusion, for within is contained a hidden wholeness. In the Haitian nation and her people there is new nation waiting to be reborn. Within this planet and all it different languages, religions, cultures and peoples is the image of God aching to be known. Within each of us is an authentic self that this world needs in order to be whole.

And this church is the place to begin letting that authentic self out of its oppressive closet. This is the place and the people with whom to experiment and try out what it means to have the Spirit upon us, to be anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of God’s favor; to live out more fully what it really means to be Open and Affirming not only of others but of ourselves.

Coming out as a Christian is vital to our lives but only so as to participate in rebuilding those ancient ruins of the city of God. Wholeness is where we are headed so that we may be a light to those still living in the darkness of injustice. And when we realize that we are one, when there is tragedy and suffering we will no longer need the questions “Where is God? Why did this happen?” for the Spirit of the Lord will indeed be upon us, the Christ made visible through us, the image of God recognized in each of us.

I close this message with a poem by a Haitian-American, Danielle Georges, a professor at Leslie University in Boston, MA, of how she sees her homeland.

Poem for the Poorest Country In the Western Hemisphere
Copyright © 2001 by Danielle Legros Georges

Oh poorest country, this is not your name.
You should be called beacon, and flame,

almond and bougainvillea, garden
and green mountain, villa and hut,

little girl with red ribbons in her hair,
books-under-arm, charmed by the light

of morning, charcoal seller in black skirt,
encircled by dead trees.

You, country, are the businessman
and the eager young man, the grandfather

at the gate, at the crossroads
with the flashlight, with the light,

with the light.



Andy said...

Leave it to you to call out Pat Robertson from the pulpit! LOL!

God bless you, Cindy. For you have been granted clarity of thought along with the desire to do good works.

Cynthia said...

You know me...I couldn't resist. Besides that, he has an audience who listens to him. The good Word needs to be declared as resistance to the dark word.

Thanks, Andy.

Jan said...

Good for you!!