Saturday, August 4, 2012

Playing Chicken

5 August 2012/Proper 13B – 2Samuel 11:26—12:13a/Ephesians 4:1-16/John 6:24-35
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD
Speaking The Truth In Love
It never ceases to amaze me. The texts from which I choose to preach were arranged in a week by week three-year cycle several decades ago. The cycle repeats itself over and over. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how time and time again the lessons appointed show up just when we need them. In 2 Samuel we get a continuation of David arranging for Uriah to be killed in battle so he might take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba as his wife. Today’s episode features the prophet Nathan speaking truth to power, truth in love, to help David see that what he has done is wrong. We then get Paul’s letter to the young church in Ephesus, urging: We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” And in John, a continuation of the Feeding the 5000 Story last week, Jesus tries once again to get away, the people follow him to Capernaum, he thinks they come because of and for more bread. So he tells them there is more to life than bread, and they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

The Reverend Canon Frank Logue offers some excellent insight on this last question in his offering on The Episcopal Church’s website, Sermons That Work : in which he suggests that we pattern our whole lives around the whole life of Jesus, not just on our understanding of his crucifixion and resurrection. And it makes sense: we who are created in the image of God need to pattern our lives after the life of the One God who comes to live with us as one of us.

So in the midst of all this comes Mr. Dan Cathy. As Paul in Ephesians seems to suggest, I try to stay out of the 24-hour news cycle’s idea of what makes for an issue that demands my attention. But since my Facebook page has been the source of posting after posting related to the comments of Mr. Cathy, I finally feel that God is somehow nudging me to respond. I shall do my best to speak the truth in love.

First, Mr. Cathy is well within his First Amendment rights to speak his mind – although to claim that he and his family-owned restaurant chain are "guilty as charged" for openly -- and financially -- supporting groups that advocate for "the biblical definition of a family unit,” he opens himself to critique for more than just his right to say what he wants and spend his money as he wants. His defenders try to reduce this to a Free Speech issue, but it is Mr. Cathy who has opened an examination of just how he attempts to “perform the works of God”  to public scrutiny.

Funding efforts to deny people the right to marriage becomes a Human Rights issue, something about which Jesus was particularly passionate. One might begin by trying to discover within the Bible itself some sort of consistent definition of “a family unit.” Instead, however, what one finds is everything from socially acceptable polygamy, the acceptance of concubines, people like Jacob who marries two sisters to get to the one he “loves,” a king like David who arranges for another man to be killed in battle so he might take that man’s wife, to Paul, the first Christian witness in the New Testament, urging those who follow Christ not to get married at all! After all, it appears as if Jesus never married, despite the best efforts of those like Dan Brown to make us believe he had romantic liaisons.

More importantly, of the passages most often marshaled to insist that the Bible has an opinion on same-sex marriage (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:11), it is a) not at all clear that they have anything to do with what we in the 21st century would call “homosexuality,” and b) appear to be grounded in one strand of the Biblical literature that adheres to what is often called the Holiness or Purity Code, embodied largely in the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus, as its title suggests, is concerned with cultic purity most especially for the Levites who were the priestly-caste among the 12 tribes of Israel. The argument, usually mustered after a particularly bad event such as the Babylonian Exile, is that unless Israel remains pure we can expect other bad things to happen to us. Other long portions of both Hebrew and Christian scripture offer an opposing view: what is sometimes called the Universal or Inclusive View, is often mustered when it is clear that the people of God are not taking care of those for whom God shows most concern: widows, orphans and foreigners (undocumented aliens). These three classes also are understood as a metaphor for the sick, the lame, the blind, the poor, and everyone who lies at the margins of the community or society. Much of the writings of the Prophets and the Wisdom literature express concern about becoming an open, inclusive society of God’s people.

Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say, that Jesus spends the most time of his life on Earth with those people who lie at the margins of society, caring for them, and healing them of their dislocation from the rest of society. Jesus is repeatedly challenged by those who support the Purity Code. It is notable that there is not one instance of his supporting the Purity Code point of view, which is a Biblical point of view. He passionately patterns his life around the Universal/Inclusive view – arguably as it is articulated by the Prophet Isaiah and portions of the book of Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomous point of view, incidentally, offers a more inclusive and humble view of what it means to be the people of God than does the Levitical point of view.

In our country, the United States, before the Constitution provided safeguards against becoming a Theocracy, much of colonial life was dictated by those Christians who believe that the Purity Code is all important – they even called themselves Puritans. Since the ratification of the Constitution, however, we have prided ourselves as a nation that provides a place where people from diverse and varied religious traditions may live together in mutual respect of one another.

It is surely no surprise to anyone that I find Jesus’ consistent denial that the Purity Code has any relevance to following him, to doing the works of God, as the starting point for how we ought to view our LGBT sisters and brothers. Further, for the privilege of being able to share his views in what is meant to be a religiously pluralistic society, Mr. Cathy is free to align himself with the long history of the Purity Code. Nevertheless, once he uses money to fund efforts to deny other citizens of our country what I consider basic Human Rights, he opens himself, and unfortunately his business, to serious critique. 

It is beyond my reading and understanding of the New Testament to think that Jesus would condone such behavior. Ultimately, that will not be my call.  But I do not see Jesus advocating using money, or any resources, to anything other than meet human need. People need love. And people in love have earned protective rights throughout much of Western Civilization: rights of inheritance, rights to shared insurance, protections for their children, and so on. Why should any couple be denied those rights?

They asked Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Does anyone who has actually read the entire Bible and the Gospels of Jesus Christ the Son of God, believe he would say, “Use your resources to deny certain people the opportunity to live in the covenant of Marriage?” As Mike Royko, the gad-fly columnist for the late, great Chicago Daily News often said, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it!”

No comments:

Post a Comment