Preached IV Lent 1998
I knew I had a chance to beat my Grandfather in 10-pin bowling. It is one of the reasons I loved to go with him. In truth I love to go anywhere with him, but victory could be so sweet over this fabulous man who was so good at everything. Except driving. Here there was no contest. I was the hands-down winner at driving.
This particular day I think my bowling was worse than usual. On the way home I drove more aggressively than the usual post-adolescent. After a few tire squeals around the corners Gramps said: "You know it isn't very comfortable to ride in the car when you drive like that. If you won't slow down around the corners, I'll have to drive." Wow, first bowling, now driving. I was shocked, devastated, and enraged. I pulled over to the side of the road, set the emergency brake and got out of the car. "If you don't like my driving, you can drive and I'll walk."
He drove off, slowly. He knew it was at least 5 miles home. And it was July. It was hot. It was very hot. . . Really hot. I trudged along the road in self-righteous indignation for quite a while. The dust completely covered my shoes; my face got all streaky with sweat and dust. My self-righteousness dulled in inverse proportion to the swelling of my feet. I pondered what had made my absolutely god-like grandfather speak so sharply to me. He had never, in my whole life, done that before. My driving couldn't have been that bad could it? I tried to dismiss him as an old fool. Even that didn't work. I just knew he wasn't an old fool. He was never wrong, about anything, ever.
Just as I was beginning to think this martyrdom was not a good idea at all, I realized there was a car in back of me. It was Gramps. He asked me if I wanted I ride. He didn't say much the rest of the way home. He didn't have to.
I knew I was home free. I deserved to walk. I certainly didn't deserve to be taken bowling and to the driving range and out to lunch in Boston. I didn't deserve a grandfather like Gramps who knew everything and who always had time and compassion for a not very grown-up college kid. I was home free.
I was an Israelite sitting around on one of the twelve stones in Gilgal telling the story about how we got home free, not once, but twice. Once when God led them through the deep waters to escape from the Egyptians. And then again how God held back the water of Jordan as they crossed into the Promised Land. We are home free. We didn't earn the Promised Land. It was a gift, a promise, a covenant. We erred and strayed like lost sheep. Their driving was worse than mine, and yet God got them home free.
God is the prodigal father to us profligate sons and daughters. He is the prodigal father who wastes his love on the son who went off on his Harley Davidson after taking his inheritance off the old man. In Hebrew culture this was as good as saying: "Why don't you hurry up and die and be of some use to me, old man."
He took off and wasted it. When he came to his senses, he too thought up a likely story to give the old man about how things hadn't gone too well in San Francisco, about how his dad had been right all along yadda, yadda. And before he can get word one of this song and dance out of his mouth his father picks up him off the sidewalk wraps his arms around him and gives him the bear hug of his life. He was home free. And later on the prodigal father points out to his sulking older son that he too is not only home free, he was always home free. Why? Because. That's why. Just because.
These are joyful stories. They make us feel good. They teach us what love is and perhaps more important what God's love is like.
And we don't believe it.
We had a Sunday visitor a couple of weeks back who practically assaulted me on the lanai after the liturgy. He had a list of criticisms about our worship, the Episcopal Church, Bishop Browning and all the feminist commie pinkos in the seminaries and worst of all the terrible lesbians and gays who had taken over the church. Those of you who know me well know that I try to agree with venomous people, with toxic people, it keeps them at bay. I said: "Boy are you right. You know lesbian and gay people have pretty much taken over St. Andrew's Cathedral. As a matter of fact, our ministry would be impossible without them."
Then something shifted within me. This nasty, rude man caused a quake inside my heart. A seismic fault moved within me (a very married, very hetero adult white male.) I shifted from tolerance to passion. I shifted from complacent acceptance to radical solidarity. I said to him: "You know," I said "I am gay too." He didn't even blink.
He said, "you pervert."
The only response I could muster was. "Let me know when you hear some more good news." But I had spoken a truth and this evil man had driven me to it.
The truth is I am not gay. I am not. The truth is I am in solidarity, genuine unity of spirit, with my sisters and brothers who are gay and lesbian. I have never known what solidarity meant before. Oh, I knew the knee-jerk liberals spouted it all the time. But I had never been persecuted, assaulted, and assailed because of the company I keep in ministry before. I had never been forced to confront deep inside what it means, truly means, to have been invited home, free, in Jesus.
I am free to be a brother in Christ to all the faithful and sometimes persecuted people in our church who were born different. I am free to align myself with them in public and in a fairly loud voice.
Of course I feel sorry for this evil man. Someone taught him all that toxic stuff. You can't make it up. And you know what. They are home free too. The wrong, the crazy, the puritan, the self-righteous are home free too. They just don't know it.
Hell is full of forgiven sinners, people who are home free. Heaven is full of forgiven sinners, people who are home free and who know it. They are home free. So are the ones in Hell. Sadly the man on the lanai is in Hell. His rage and fear keep him in Hell. He is immune to the Gospel. It must be hell out there on the lanai full of hate and discontent.
Hell is so appealing. Condemnation is so easy to acquire. No wonder we do not believe the Gospel. It is unbelievable, a stumbling block to the Jews and an offense to the Greeks.
St. Paul said it all: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." And we all are uncondemned, no matter who beats us up at the Aloha Hour. We are all home free. We are all the elder brother or Israel in exile. We are home free. No one is going to tag us "out" as we slide home. We are home free. All of us: the perverted and the righteous; the straight and gay; the humorous and the serious; the toxic and the healed, we are all home free.
When you get home and your resident skeptic asks you: "What did the man say in church today." Tell them the man said: "Gospel means 'Home Free.'"
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