Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, June 22, 2014
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Call to Worship
Based on Selected Readings from Psalm 86
Bow down your ear, O God, and answer me, *
for I am poor and in misery.
All: Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
Be merciful to me, for you are my God; *
I call upon you all the day long.
ALL: Gladden the soul of your servant, *
for to you, O God, I lift up my soul.
For you are good and forgiving, *
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
All: Hear my prayer, and attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *
for you will answer me.
In times of trouble we know you are ever with us. Even when we feel small. Even when we feel defeated. Even when we make mistakes you are ever with us. Help us to feel your presence and open our hearts to receive your message of love and hope.
Psalm 13.2b-3, 5-6
How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, Oh my God. 5 I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing my God’s praise, for God has been good to me.
The Wisdom of Soulforce Founder, Rev. Dr. Mel White
As you may know, biblical ignorance is an epidemic in the United States. A study quoted by [the late] Rev. Peter Gomes…found that 38% of Americans polled were certain that the Old Testament was written a few years after Jesus’ death. 10% believed Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Many even thought the epistles were the wives of the apostles.
This same kind of biblical ignorance is all too present around the topic of homosexuality. Often people who love and trust [Scripture] have never given careful and prayerful attention to what the bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality. For example, many Christians don’t know that:
Jesus says nothing about same-sex behavior.
The Jewish prophets are silent about homosexuality.
Only six or seven of the bible’s one million verses refer to same-sex behavior in any way and NONE of these verse refer to homosexual orientation as it’s understood today.
Most people who are certain they know what the bible says about homosexuality don’t know where the verses that reference same-sex behavior can be found. They haven’t read them, let alone studied them carefully. They don’t know the original meaning of the words in Hebrew or Greek. And they haven’t tried to understand the historical context in which those words were written.
Yet the assumption that the bible condemns homosexuality is passed down from generation to generation with very little personal study or research. The consequences of this misinformation are disastrous, not only for God’s gay and lesbian children, but for the entire church.
Matthew 10.40-42 (NIV)
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
How long O Lord?
Our reading from Psalm 13 reminds me of how I used to feel when thinking about LGBT people and the church. Yes… I said USED to feel. Clearly there are still plenty of hate filled so-called Christians along with fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and every other religion who continue to try to convince people that LGBT people are broken, sinful, and “unbelievers.” What is different today is that there is a widening of God’s circle in the larger culture that has been lead, in no small part, by progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and the like.
In our gospel lesson today we see a vision of radical welcome. All are welcome and no gesture is too small when it comes to providing hospitality and welcome to those around us. I’m the first to admit that some people in my life make it very hard to want to invite them under any tent. And I’m not talking about overlooking the actions of people in power who oppress and hurt others with unjust actions. What I’m talking about is the power of goodness and love to overcome hatred and evil. If I become evil in the process of trying to fight evil I have accomplished nothing.
Many years ago, actually over 30 years ago now, I decided to read the gospels through to see what they really said. I had no training beyond an inquisitive mind and my preacher father’s practice of using a “study bible.” But read I did all the way through. And here is what I found for myself without help, without seminary, without reading all the high brow intellectual and academic books I’ve read in the meantime. I found that:
- The gospels did not tell the same story and in some cases they contradicted each other
- I could find no compelling proof that it was God’s will the Jesus die for my sins
- The central message of Jesus life and ministry was very simple, “Love each other.”
Some LGBT people are still living in parts of the US where their state government does not allow them to marry and live as a family, does not recognize their legal marriages in other states, and even allows them to be fired from jobs or denied housing or benefits based on discrimination that is said to be based on “biblical” teaching. These folks are still saying “How long will we suffer O God?” They continue to pray and work for justice. And those of us who live in relative equality and privilege as LGBT people must remind ourselves everyday that, as Emma Lazarus said and many including Dr. King have quoted, “Until all of us are free, none of us are free.”
One thing that my friend and mentor Virginia Mollenkott continually teaches me is that we all “pick and choose” what we will use and what we will live by in holy scripture. For my part I want to be guilty of picking and choosing the loving parts, the parts that bring comfort, the passages that encourage and build up confidence. And most of all I want to know as much as I can know about the life of the man Jesus so that I can pattern my life after him. But am I really willing to to be disruptive? Am I willing to turn over the tables of the money changers in the Temple and speak up for those who are being controlled by the few in power. These power structures are in the church, in our workplace, in our schools, in our government, in our families.
If I plan to follow Jesus I will need to become comfortable with the idea that I may have to risk something in order to call attention to injustice. I may have to “come out” as a follower of Jesus. Our gospel lesson reminds us that loving mercy is just as important as doing justice and we get there by walking with God in every way we can. Walking with God, I believe, means modeling the kind of radical welcome and abundant inclusion of all God’s children that Jesus preached. And sometimes… sometimes that means we have to call a spade a spade and point to those who are limiting the welcome of others. This is tricky business.
When I become discouraged in the work of making justice and wonder how much longer we will have to wait for the realm of God to be made known on earth I can remind myself that it is already here! Jesus said that the realm of God is already here on earth. It is our job to make that known and to continue to work for it’s completion. It’s our calling to understand, as Rabbi Tarfon says in the Pirke Avot, "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”
Until the time when all those made in God’s image know that we are all one we continue to sing and praise God for the will to work for justice and for the advances we have made in bringing justice to LGBT people and to all people everywhere. It is very important that we as church leaders continue to encourage our friends and family, our congregants and community, to speak up and speak out in support of those who are objectified, ignored, and diminished. It is our calling to show forth God’s love in all we do, in every way possible, everywhere, every day. Some days that’s in a hand on a shoulder, an answered phone, a petition, a letter, a hug, and some days it means we have to turn over the tables of the power structures of the world so that we all can be free.