Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Make It Better--A Sermon

Make It Better
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 5, 2011
More Light Sunday

Gospel of Jesus 19:1-10
Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2009), p. 79.

Then they come to Jericho. As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he learned that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout: “You son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!”

And many kept yelling at him to shut up, but he shouted all the louder,
“You son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus paused and said, “Tell him to come over here!”

They called to the blind man, “Be brave, get up, he’s calling you!”

So he threw off his cloak, and jumped to his feet, and went over to Jesus. In response Jesus said,
“What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said to him, “Rabbi, I want to see again!”
And Jesus said to him, Be on your way, your trust has cured you.” And right away he regained his sight, and he started following him on the road.


“Be on your way, your trust has cured you.”

And with that affirmation, Jesus thus declared the demise of brokered religion.

You know what brokered religion is, right? Brokered religion is the entire system of institutionalized access to spiritual goods. If you are seeking love, forgiveness, healing, spirituality, courage, strength, wholeness, meaning, value, wisdom, guidance, God, and all of the good mojo that is available in the universe, brokered religion requires that you go through channels.

Preachers and priests decide for you what all these terms mean and set up authorities such as books, doctrines, and practices providing the means to get them. These authorities claim the power, the “keys to the kingdom” to determine who is righteous enough in their eyes for access.

Each institution does it differently. They all offer variations on the theme. But the theme is that you need to go through channels (that is “right” belief and/or “right” behavior) to get to God.

I don’t want to leave the impression that institutionalized religion is all bad. I am very much involved in institutionalized religion. It has been and is still a great help for many. It is a repository of wisdom, art, philosophy, education, ritual, service and on and on.

But institutions, like individuals, can take themselves a little too seriously. The institution can become a hindrance rather than a path. This was Jesus’ indictment of the religious leaders of his time, that they were blind guides. Institutions are in constant need of reformation.

Those who have been denied access know this all too well. Because this brokerage system has such a hold on spirituality, some have internalized its authority and have equated rejection by the institution with rejection by God. Others, however, have discovered that there is a difference between God and the institution. Some have taken further bold steps into the unknown and discovered God on their own.

One of my favorite quotes regarding this is from Ntozake Shange from her play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. In her play, female dancers dramatize Shange’s poems that recall encounters with all kinds of bullies. These women survive the abuses and recognize each other dressed in the colors of the rainbow. They look to the promise of a better future. At the end of the play they declare in unison:
I found God in myself
And I loved her
I loved her fiercely
I received an email not too long ago. I have permission from the author to share it with you, anonymously. I am going to read parts of it.
Dear Mr. Shuck,

After reading your blogs, sermons and the shuck and jive that you post, I wanted to let you know how much I admire and appreciate the work that you do in “my community”; the GLBT community. My family was very involved in church -and still is. I remember growing up a young girl and knowing that I was “different”…. Although I appreciate and have many fond memories of being in the church, I have always struggled with acceptance and finding my fit...especially in a church/religious atmosphere. Often I shy away from any event that has to do with religion-not because I dislike GOD or dislike church, but because of the “non-acceptance of everyone”…especially the GLBT community. I have been told that GOD doesn’t hear my prayers anyway…

Due to the ridicule and bigotry that I have experienced in the past (and present) with religious affiliations, I have not entered the doors of a church in over 10 years. The few times I have been to a church during my adult hood was to “dart” in and listen to the choir (I attended a few all black churches) and “dart out” so no one would grab me and try to save me from what was written all over me-my lesbianism….

…. During my twenties I remember going to the millennium march on Washington and seeing protestors holding signs that said “GOD hates fags” and “you will burn in hell”…of course all of this was from “good Christian people” all in the name of Jesus. I used to think how in the world could people be so cruel, and hate other people simply for who they are? … how could the GOD I know hate his own children? It has been a struggle for most of my life. Now…I still struggle with acceptance from some family members and the “church community”.

I have always wanted to help people-to offer people the things I have always wanted to have; the gift of unconditional love and laughter….I know what it was like to be a GLBT kid and feel like I was the only one in the world going through this-all I ever wanted was acceptance and for GOD to love me no matter what. People today want the same thing…especially adolescents.

I spent my graduate studies doing research on GLBT youth and the statistics of GLBT suicide is astronomical. Oh how I wish there was a place where adolescents could have the support and acceptance that they crave….my ultimate passion is to work predominately with GLBT youth.-Yet, being in the “bible belt” where being different is an instant ticket straight to hell-our children will continue to feel less than, disowned, hated, ridiculed and even seen as not worthy…

Mr. Shuck, I guess what I am saying is…thank you. Thank you for giving me hope, thank you for supporting my community, thank you for accepting me and most importantly, thank you for letting me know that GOD does love me and that I am O.K.
That was an email I received about a year and a half ago. The good news today is that one of the wishes in that letter is coming true. A new organization has been formed for LGBTQ youth in our area for support and acceptance. You can read information in the bulletin about The Change.

Today is More Light Sunday. Do you know from whence the phrase “more light” comes? It goes back to a sermon delivered by John Robinson in 1620 to the Pilgrims coming to the New World. His sermon was adapted and made into a hymn by George Rawson in the 1800s. Here are the words to the hymn:
We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind,

By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial and confined.

No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:

For God hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from God’s Word!
The truth here is that we (including clergy and their institutions) don’t know everything. We ought to be in a position of acknowledging that “more light” is yet to come. There is more to learn about each other and our diversity, about our universe, about God. It is not good enough to repeat the old doctrines and think that we are somehow being faithful by doing so.

The church has been in error regarding its doctrines on sexuality and gender. People, including our youth, are suffering for it. I am speaking to adults now. Our youth need advocates. They need advocates in schools, in churches, in neighborhoods, and in homes. They need us, adults, to be aware, to be educated, and to speak up and act on their behalf. There is not one Gay Straight Alliance in any of the schools in the Tri-Cities area. What could be done about that?

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has made a significant change in the last couple of years. Two years ago the General Assembly ruled as having “no further force or effect” the 1978 statement about sexuality that had said among other less than enlightened things, that “all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life.” That statement and all the others have “no further force or effect.”

Less than a month ago, the 87th and deciding vote removed the other barrier to ordination, that had required all people who were not in a heterosexual marriage to be “chaste”. That barrier has been lifted.

This is a beginning, not an end.

It is not enough simply to remove negative things. It is time to say and do positive and affirming things. Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians, understands the significance of this vote. After the passage of Amendment A, he was quoted in the media as saying:
"More people will be able to live the truth of their lives, parents will talk more about having gay kids and people will come out in Presbyterian churches."
It is time to build on this decision. It is time to be brave. It is time to make it better.

Like Bartimaeus on the side of the road, we can’t see too well. We may be blind, but we can hear. We can hear Jesus, the son of David, which could be reference to Solomon, David’s son. Solomon was known for his wisdom and his powers for healing. He was also a prolific lover as well! Maybe Bartimaeus was thinking that Jesus, like Solomon, had some mojo for him.

He calls out for compassion.
“Have compassion on me! How about a little justice here?”
But Bartimaeus gets shouted down.
“Shut up, you. You are not worthy. You are just a side of the road freak show. You’re so gay.”
But here is the line that matters.

Bartimaeus “shouted all the louder.”

He didn’t stop when he was told to shut up. Why? Why didn’t he listen to the voice of the crowd and just be quiet? Why didn’t he just forget it?

Maybe he had enough. Maybe he was tired of being bossed and bullied. Maybe he just shouted without even knowing what he was doing. Who knows what it was, but something in him made him shout again:
“You, son of David, have mercy on me!”
This time Jesus hears him. Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come over. Then what happens?

The crowd changes.

It sometimes just takes one voice to change a whole crowd. One person to stand up and say,
“Stop that bullying. Don’t tell her to shut up. Don’t call him names. This person is important.”
The crowd changes its collective mind. They just follow the alpha. They call to the blind man and say,
“Be brave! He’s calling you!”
Be brave. It doesn’t matter what the neighbors think or say. Be brave. It doesn’t matter what they call you in school. They are wrong. They don’t know any better. They are just following the crowd. They think if they pick on you, they won’t get picked on. You be brave. Even though you may not feel brave, you have what you need. Courage is not necessarily feeling brave. It is acting brave when you don’t feel it. You have far more strength of character than you ever imagined you did. Just trust it.

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. He jumps up. You know he is already healed. He already has everything he needs. He goes to Jesus. Jesus asks him what he wants. Isn’t it obvious? Maybe not.

What do you want? What do you need? What is up there, out there, somewhere over the rainbow for you? What are you waiting for? Who do you think needs to give you permission to breathe the air, to live your life, to be yourself, to be happy, to be whole?

Bartimaeus says,
“Rabbi, I want to see again!”
“I want More Light!”
I can imagine that Jesus laughed with delight.
“You don’t need anything from me, Bartimaeus.”
“Your trust has cured you.”
The story concludes that “right away he regained his sight, and he started following him on the road.”

One thing about Bible legends is that they are open to our interpretation. You are free to interpret it as you wish. I interpret it as someone who finally sees clearly. He sees himself for who he is, a beloved child of God. He throws off his cloak of sadness and fear. He jumps up and in his encounter with Jesus, discovers that he has everything needs within himself.

He trusts it.
I found God in myself
And I loved her
I loved her fiercely
It may be dark. We may have difficulty seeing a life of joy and wholeness from our vantage point. We don’t know how we will get there from here. We don’t need to know how. We just need to trust that we will. If there is one thing that adults can do for our youth, it is to encourage them to keep going. Let them know as you know from experience: Obstacles are not permanent.

Bartimaeus goes on his way, after all, life gets better.

Amen.

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