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Monday, July 30, 2007

It was 10 years ago this month . . .

Imagine! That it would take the "Bullies on Viagra" to remind me of a sermon I preached a decade (10 YEARS!!!) ago at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist at General Convention 1997 in Philadelphia, PA.

At the end of the service, when everyone stood up, joined hands, and sang with me, I remember thinking to myself, "Well, if I die now, I'm sure I'll go directly to heaven."

I am and will be eternally thankful to God for this experience.

As I recall,a tape of this sermon can be ordered through CHRISTIANITY FOR THE THIRD MILLENNIUM - one side with Louie Crew's Triennial Integrity Sermon from 1994 and this one on the other.

Our Gift To The Church:
"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward"
A Sermon for the Triennial Integrity Eucharist the Rev'd Canon Elizabeth Kaeton

The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany,

Philadelphia, PA July 16, 1997

© 1997 by The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton,

Please pray with me (sung):

"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back."

+In the Name of God, our life, our love, our joy. Amen.

It is - all at once - wonderful and daunting and delightful and awful to be here tonight (not to mention hotter than the hinges on the gates of Hades!) I thought it was hot in Newark! On the other hand - perhaps that has nothing to do with the weather!

First of all, I am keenly aware that your preacher three years ago was none other than our own beloved Louie Crew who welcomed you to Samaria with the Southern charm known only to a bona fide, self-professed member of the House of the Alabama Belles! Believe me, honey, you could twist an ankle trying to follow in the footsteps of his gold lame pumps!

I am also aware that this will be the last time our celebrant this evening will be with us in his capacity as Presiding Bishop.

I was there, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, eleven years ago and heard +Ed Browning's newly consecrated statement which re-claimed the agenda of Jesus Christ as the agenda for the Episcopal Church: In this church of ours, he said, there will be no outcasts. Living out those words with integrity has come at high cost to you, personally, sir, and I don't know anyone here - gay or straight, male or female, black or white- who doesn't want me to be certain to convey our heart-felt appreciation, gratitude and admiration for your life and ministry among us. Sir, I'm sure you could walk in Louie's gold lame pumps anytime you wanted!

Even more pressing, however, is the fact that the Hearings for the Resolution for the Blessing of Same Sex Couples will begin at 8:30 this evening. This means that some of the people who are taking leadership positions in this service, as well as some of you who are participating in the congregation, will need to leave as soon as you possibly can. I mean no disrespect to the very highly honed political process on which the Episcopal Church operates and in which she takes such pride, but I just have to say it: God spare us from more Hearings! My personal experience is that listening precedes hearing. Perhaps, if we did more listening, we would need fewer 'Hearings'.

We've got a great deal on our plate at this Eucharistic banquet. While I am delighted to see so many of our heterosexual friends and relatives here with us tonight, what I have to say is meant most specifically for those among us whom Louie Crew identifies as being from Samaria or the equivalent of 'Biblical outcasts' - the members of the lesbian and gay community.

I am speaking in this sermon to the members of "Our Tribe", all the gay and lesbian Christians here present this night. Now, I want you to know that the words I speak are not just my own - they have come to me from whisperings and fragments of conversations already in progress.

My hope is that this sermon will be the genesis of an intentional conversation which I pray we will have in greater detail and in ever widening circles of gender and geography, ethnicity and race, religious posture and political affiliation. Tonight, however, my message is specifically for gay men and lesbians.

I have no objection to others listening in. If they do, so much the better. Eavesdropping may not altogether be such a bad thing. I've come to understand it as one of the ways of learning of the oppressed. For many years women and people of color, along with lesbians and gay men, have- quite intentionally - been kept out of many crucial conversations. We've learned how to learn by listening in - especially in places where we've been neither welcomed nor invited. We've been reprimanded and chided for eavesdropping like naughty children, but, in the process, we've learned how to take responsibility for our own education.

That being said, let's get on with it. For those of you who are - in the oh-so politically correct descriptive term of my dear friend, Gene Robinson - homosexually challenged, I bid your patient listening. I trust it will help before you go off to your hearings.

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ: I bring you news of unspeakable joy! I want you to know something so earth-shattering, so volcanic, so revolutionary, that, when you hear these things, your life will be changed and transformed and you will never again be the same.

These words are not my own - they were, in their origin, spoken to someone else - but I claim them as my own treasured possessions and will make of them gifts for you. These words are not new - they are ancient and holy words of another time and another place - and I bring them to you with renewed meaning for us in our time and in our place. These words are not carved in stone, but rather, these words are an almond in early bloom (as foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah 1:11), a reminder that God is watchful to carry out God's own purpose.

Listen! Hear the words of new life which God intends for me and for you! Jesus is speaking tonight to Simon Peter, the one He has called 'The Rock'. It is sometime after Christ's resurrection - the third postresurrection experience of John's Gospel - and they have met on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias. (Jn 21:15-17) Listen! Jesus asks, Simon, son of John, do you love me more than all else? And Simon Peter, the rock on whom Christ built his church says, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. And Jesus says, Then feed my sheep.

Did you hear that? Listen again: A second time Jesus asked, Simon, son of John, do you love me? And, a second time, Peter answers, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. And Jesus says, Then tend my lambs.

A third time Jesus said, Simon, son of John, do you love me? And Peter was hurt that he asked him a third time 'Do you love me'; Lord, he said you know everything; you know I love you. Jesus said (are you listening?), Feed my sheep.

Behold, I bring you words of life. We, lesbian and gay people of the Episcopal church, have been asking the church, the Body of Christ, lo these many years, Do you love me? And, tonight, Jesus is saying to the gay and lesbian people who are the rocks of this church: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

If you have listened to these ancient words did you hear the Good News for us today? The Good News of tonight's Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about being helpless victims, it is about being empowered disciples. The Word of Truth which God has brought to us tonight in the City Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is not about insecurity and doubt, but about direction and purpose; it is about destiny and distinction, or, in the traditional language of the church: mission and ministry.

The Gospel Truth is clear: Jesus loves us. Do you hear that? Can you take that in? Can you get your mind wrapped around such an incredible concept and accept that? I know that 'proper Episcopalians' disdain of such language, which we feel is somehow far too 'pedestrian' and theologically sophomoric for our highly evolved status in the Christian community. But, listen to the power of these three simple words: JESUS LOVES US! Jesus loved Simon Peter, the one who denied him not once but three times! Jesus loved Judas, the one who betrayed him unto death with a kiss. Oh, hear the news: JESUS LOVES ME! And, if Jesus can love a sinner like me, then you know it's true that JESUS LOVES YOU!

God, our own God, is a generous and abundant God! We, as lesbian and gay people, like so many ancient tribes before us, have been lost, but now we are found. We have been tricked and betrayed by an unholy kiss. We have been marked and scourged. We have been tormented and beaten and left for dead. But, lo! I tell you a mystery! We are dying and yet, behold! We live! We are alive in Christ because we know who we are. We are renewed in our faith because we know whose we are. We are strengthened in our service because we know that we are loved. And, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, lo, I tell you, the time has come and now is, for us to stop asking the Body of Christ, Do you love me? It is time to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. It is time to feed the sheep. It is time to tend the lambs.

"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back."

And, how is it, you ask, that we are to do these things? What is our gift to the church? If you have listened and heard all that I have said, then this is where the conversation begins. Let's look at the ancient words from St. Paul's letter to the early church in Corinth which we heard this evening: You are God's holy temple. (Cor 3:16)

You are God's holy temple. Think with me for a moment, church. What is it that the world would see as folly, but that God would count as wise? What is it within you that the world would mock and scorn, but which might be seen as treasure in the economy of God's Realm? What is it which strikes fear in the hearts of the those who would hate us, that perfect love would cast out?

Here is what I believe to be our gift to the church. This is what I believe to be 'beyond inclusion' and the reason we must keep moving forward. This is what I believe our crucial conversations to be about. It is this: The erotic. I believe that our special task, as followers of Christ with a specific charism in this time and place in history, is to help ourselves - and the church in the process - to reclaim the erotic as an integral part of our spiritual lives.

Now, our sisters Carter Heyward and Ann Gilson have written prolifically and powerfully on the subjects, and I commend their works to you. But here, I have in mind the specific work of our sister Audre Lourde, who first began writing of the 'Erotic as Power' in 1978 (see The Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Mount Holyoke College, August 25, 1978 Published as a pamphlet by Out and Out Books). I want to be very clear: I'm not talking about pornography, which is, in fact, the opposite of the erotic. Indeed, Lourde contends that pornography is the result of the suppression of the erotic.

Listen to Audre's description: The very word erotic comes from the Greek word 'eros', the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.

Further, she says: Beyond the superficial, the considered phrase, 'It feels right to me', acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding. And understanding is a handmaiden which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply born. The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.

Somewhere, deep in me and deep in you, is a yearning so strong it can not be stopped. Somewhere, beyond the hearing of 'groans and sighs too deep for words' there is a longing for connection with another human being which will not be silenced. It lies at the core of the mystery of our existence. It is made manifest in that which is often awkward and unsettling. We can only catch fleeting glimpses of it, but when we see it, we know that we are instantly transported (back?) to Eden. Suddenly, we are standing on that bridge between the Tree of Knowledge and The Realm of God and there is a slithering serpent in our path.

In that moment, our deepest truths are touched. In that moment, our truest feelings are known. We feel them in our bodies before we know them in our minds. Suddenly, phrases from the prophet Jeremiah become clear to us: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own. And, all that may have been required to provoke this occurrence is that we have followed the music of our lover's laughter in the darkness, stepped out into the moonlight and walked into the waiting arms of the one we will come to love.

It is then that we discover our most dearly held and terrifying truth: when we step into and embrace our erotic selves, we have touched our deepest spirituality, whose power it is to create new life. This can take the form in the physical, but it can also be made manifest in the emotional and psychological, as well. It may be the genesis of poetry or music, portrait or sculpture, vision or goal. Something new is being created, and we are stirred with excitement.

This is not new information. It is not even a new topic or issue. The ancient mystics often spoke of God as cosmic lover and Christ as eternal spouse. This is ancient wisdom which is born into our present reality through the midwives of pain and sacrifice. Somewhere, in our deepest places of knowing, human beings have always had this information. And we - lesbian and gay people - know a little something about pain and suffering.

We have had our total humanity diminished and our identity as children of God reduced to a single sex act. We have come to know that we have been, in this dysfunctional family of God, the 'shame bearers' for those who would separate the erotic from the spiritual. We have also come to know that we no longer have to accept this role in the household of Christ. We do not have to repeat harmful family patterns and hurtful ways of behaving. JESUS LOVES US. And, while we may disdain the simplicity of the language, we can not deny its truth.. We also know that our world, indeed, our church, is hungry for this truth. And, sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus says to us: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

We have a great gift to give to the church - in the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we give ourselves, our souls and bodies. We know, in the deepest places of our knowing, the pathway to our spiritual selves through our erotic selves because we have traveled it before. Our gift, our blessing, is to us to chart this journey for ourselves, and then to make those maps available to the wider church. In many ways, we've already begun that process. We need to continue forward.

I want to challenge us to move away from our stance as victims and claim the Gospel promise of liberation. I want to challenge us to have crucial conversations among ourselves, and invite our heterosexual neighbors, when appropriate, into our dialogue. I want us to dare to look deep into the wellspring of our desires and longings and be intentionally provocative. I want us to continue the legacy of Jack Spong and drag the Church - kicking and screaming, if necessary - into conversations about that which no one else will talk.

Further, I want us to explore the boundaries of the chaos of our deepest feelings in a church which is bound by that which is 'meet and right so to do'. I want us to re-claim sensuality in our liturgy without being seduced by an impulse toward the 'precious' and 'pompous'. I want us to come to church to think AND feel - to know AND sense. Is it too much to ask that we might experience JOY - in church? Is this beyond the imagination - or even the asking - of most Episcopalians, fondly known by the larger church as 'God's frozen chosen'?

Is this frightening? You bet it is. Courage, my sisters and brothers. Listen and hear the words of our Sister, Audre Lourde: When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. Your silence will not protect you.

The work is before us. Let us move forward from this place, not only to ASK the Church for a blessing on our committed relationships, but to BE a Blessing for the Church - even though there are members of the Church, who, in direct disobedience to our Baptismal vows, can not and will not commit to a relationship with us. Pray for them. Remember, Jesus never said, 'like one another'; He said, 'love one another'. Even then, Jesus was calling us to our deepest emotional feelings, calling us to our best erotic selves and our most powerful spirituality.

Let us celebrate those members, especially those here tonight, who have been, are, and, please God, will continue to be a blessing to us. (If you've been away, you can come back now! I trust that your time spent in eavesdropping was, you should excuse the expression, 'fruitful'.) Indeed, I want to suggest to us all that the most profound pedagogy (or teaching style) of Holy Scripture is to make eavesdroppers of us all - listening in on the ancient and continued conversation which God has with all Creatures and Creation.

I ask now that we stand together in solidarity, one with the other, and continue to honor the work which has been done by insuring that our work continues. As we begin, with awkward strokes, to touch the strength of our erotic power, may we find the courage to unleash the Spirit of Love Incarnate and Divine into our lives - and into our Church. I pray that, together, we let not the world - which seeks to divide and conquer - define the agenda for the church; rather, let the church - where there are no outcasts - define the agenda for the world. And, as we go forth, let this be our song:

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

We're gonna raise this house with strong hands.
Raise this house with strong hands. Raise this house with strong hands.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

We're gonna light this night together.
Light this night together. Light this night together.
Never turnin' back. Never turning' back.

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walking forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

And now, let all God's children say, Amen.

And, again I say, Amen


Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Amen indeed!

Never turning back, by God's grace. Wish I'd been there to sing that chorus with you then.

Susan Russell said...

Wow! "Memory Lane" ... I was there ... it was a about a bazillion degrees and a thousand percent humidity ... Mac Thigpen and I literally JOGGED to make it on time from our Diocesan Reception and ended up in one of the balconies ... it was a great, GREAT service ... and when you called us to "explore the boundaries of the chaos" did you have ANY idea what the next decade would hold???

Keep on moving forward, indeed, Oh Rector Of Chatham New Jersey/President of Newark's Standing Committee!

Mark Delcuze said...

I was there in Philly, ten years ago, standing in my pew and singing loud. It was a vision of the promised land. I'm standing now by my keyboard. It's still a vision, but we aren't turning back.

(BTW, we were just teenagers then, right?)

Rowan The Dog said...

You totally rock!
Just my opinion.

Caminante said...

Another one who was there that night (I even remember the sermon and the singing!). It was hotter than the hinges, we were absolutely dripping but I so remember the 20 minutes of laying on of hands while we sang Taize... and then Frank Griswold's utter astonishment (tearfully so) when he was asked to bless the quilt of two priests whom he had ordained. It was well worth feeling utterly melted down afterwards. And, meanwhile, the hearing on sexuality droned on.

Susan Russell said...

Mark ... "teenagers???" I was TWELVE! :)

Maureen said...

I was there, too, singing in the heat and humidity. It was a super evening! I'm happy to see all the "I was there" folks still here...and not going anywhere.