The Pharisee is a devout, religious man. His dutiful observance of the rules and requirements of his religion has given him status and respectability. He thinks of himself as a "good" person and expects God's favor and blessing. His self-congratulatory attitude has made him arrogant and disdainful toward those with less virtue. He is so blinded by his own pride and self-righteousness, that he hates and scorns all those who fail to measure up to his standards. He thinks that God shares his condemnation of social outcasts and wrongfully presumes that God is pleased with him.
The Pharisee immediately reminds us of the righteousness of the Religious Right in our day: Senator Lott, members of the Christian Coalition, spokespersons for EXODUS, the organization that presumes to change homosexuals, and the majority of Bishops at Lambeth. Their dedication to Scripture makes them unaware of the depth of their own loathing. They do not notice the seeds of hatred and violence which their words incite. They cannot see their complicity in the murder of Matthew Shepherd or the growing number of hate crimes suffered by homosexual and transgendered people. They wash their hands, like Pilate did, hoping to remove the blood of responsibility.
The stains of their self-justifying hatred will not wash away! Images of Matthew Shepherd, a young Wyoming Episcopalian, strung up on an islolated fence post, beaten to unconsciousness and left to die, haunt and horrify us. His young face reminds us of the many ways intolerance has scarred our lives and those of people we love. The pain makes us breathless. The frustration of it all chokes our Spirit. Rage and sorrow erupt.
What shall we do with such a wellspring of emotion? When it won't go away or die down, how can we make good use of our anger, instead of hating them in return?
Jesus wasn't silent. He openly and frequently criticized the behavior of the Pharisees. He decried their conceit and their overzealous piety. He condemned the rigidity of their views and their ways. In today's Gospel incident, Jesus warned them that their hatred and disdain would earn them a place of dishonor, instead of favor, before God. God this give us permission to denounce those who insist that homosexuality is a sin or is incompatible with Scripture? Yes! We are all called to speak the truth, just as Jesus spoke the truth. The truth is that all of humankind has been created in the image and likeness of God. Every thing that God created is good: the tame and the predator and every other living thing. God loes heterosexuals and homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people. We are what we are because that is how God created us.
We are all welcome at God's table. We are all invited to feast upon God's love. All that is asked of us, is that we love God and all of humankind, without exception!
We also are called to challenge those who fail to live in accord with those two commandments. We must remind them over and over that God's love is not bound by pious standards of acceptable sexual behavior. We need to expose those who inflate their own worth while scorning and belittling others. There are Pharisees in every generation and in every land and culture. We can challenge their glib denunciations and their self-righteous claims and we should!
Not so many years ago, an African-American man was beaten on a Los Angeles street. That incident served to awaken American to our unsolved National shame: more than thirty years afters the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, there was a lack of meaningful progress. I thought Rodney King's beating would arouse our leaders and our citizenry to take up the challenge to right those wrongs, but it didn't.
Now, we are faced with Matthew Shepherd's murder!
Many of us have noted with horror the recent pronouncements by main line churches, including our own, that homosexuality is incompatable with Scripture. Matthew's murder coincided with a new barrage of TV ads promising to change homosexuals and make them acceptable to God. To all of this we must say NO!
Say it with me! . . .NO!
Scripture is not God! Too many people have begun to worship words! And the words they follow are not Jesus' words, for He constantly welcomed into His midst the outcasts of His time. Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality.
While the Jewish leadership condemned or scorned Tax Collectors, Apostates and Foreigners, Jesus welcomed them, healed them and made them His disciples. What has been happening in the body of Christ is shocking! It is a mockery of everything Jesus stood for and it is time for us to stand with Him in every way we can.
If the Bishop of the Diocese of California needs a blue ribbon committee to substantiate the Scriptural imperative that we love one another, sign up for it!
If you are not gay, talk to people who are and hear their stories of pain and rejection. Their experience is no different than that of every immigrant group in America. It is time to merge democracy with pluralism or else, none of us wil be free!
Volunteer your time with gay and lesbian youth; they need our love and our support so that their lives will not end in murder or suicide!
Join organizations dedicated to bringing acceptance and inclusion to all persons.
Press for legislation that will end discrimination and punish hate crimes.
Vote for candidates next week who protest hatred and favor justice for all people.
For God's sake: Do SOMETHING! Speak up! and Speak Out!
Talk to neighbors and co-workers, talk to friends and talk to family members. Listen to each other. John Michael Olexy and Nick Bonnell from our parish recently circulated their powerful statements about Matthew's death to the Trinity E-mail list. Take time to tell them you appreciate the witness they are making.
Wear a rainbow ribbon and explain that it is worn in memory of Matthew.
Do SOMETHING! Lest your feelings become uncontrollable and burst out. What we must not do, is allow their hatred to evoke our hatred toward them. We do not want to become like them and abandon the love which Jesus shows us. We must remember that those who express intolerance and hatred shall themselves be subject to God's condemnation.
When a sister or brother in Christ is harmed, maimed or murdered, we are touched deeply by it and we share in their suffering. Our sense of justice is provoked. Some of us need to learn how to express our outrage, without doing verbal or physical harm or violence to others. When and if we fail, we also must acknowlege our own failures before God, as the Tax Collector did. Knowing his guilt, he sought God's mercy.
Yet, the Tax Collector is no hero! He participated in a cruel and corrupt monetary system which seized the best resources of the Jewish community, siphoned off some for themselves and transferred the rest to the Romans. He defied community expectations, took unfair advantage of others and consorted with those who had conquered the Hebrew state. To his fellow countrymen and women, he was a traitor.
The Tax Collector reminds us of those who accommodate to the majority, to ensure the security of our own positions. They are like those who remain silent, but cannot see the sin of their silence. Whenever one of us avoids conflict, because it makes us uncomfortable, we deny the very One who gave His life for us! Whenever we put on the garb of the socially acceptable in order to avoid their rejection, we fail to live in accord with the truth that Jesus lived by. That makes us guilty also. It is the Tax Collector's admission of guilt and humble request for mercy that redeems him.
Jesus asked a lot of His disciples. He asks a lot of us! During His ministry, everyone was pressed to examine the way they lived their lives and to change, if loving obedience to God and love of neighbor were not first. Love is a passionate word that conjures up many images. The love which Jesus exemplified emerges from empathy and compassion. It develops our of the ability to feel with another. It has been easy for this nation to feel Matthew's vulnerability and to cringe at the cruelty and violence that he endured. It is easy to decry injustice and to call for an end to hate crimes. It is easy to feel for his family and his friends, to share their grief and their loss. Like Jesus, Matthew became one of us.
Now, Jesus says, don't let it happen again! If you are thankful for your life, your freedoms and the love which is given you, you must act to ensure that all others shall have the same opportunities. If you know hurt because of the discrimination you have endured, bring consolation when others hurt and offer them your comfort and love. When you see injustice or hatred, act quickly to condemn it and end it! Yet, whatever you do, you also must separate your disapproval and criticism from the well spring of hatred that rises up, lest it consume your heart and soul and destroy you too.
What Jesus asks of us may stretch us greatly. He asks us to pray for the young men who killed Matt, for those leaders in Congress who would withhold simple justice from homosexuals and for the Christian right who do not see the terrible harm they do. He asks us to have the courage to call them to account and to amend their ways. And, He opens before us the Gospel of Love, so that we shall never doubt God's inclusivity! He gives us the courage and inspiration to quote Scripture to defend our acceptance before God. Amen.
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