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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sing to the Lord a New Song

“Sing to the Lord a New Song”
A Sermon preached for Integrity/Pride Eucharist
Christ Church Parish, Kent Island, MD
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I know it’s proper form for a visiting preacher to begin by saying how good it is to be here, but in my case, I’m not just being a polite Episcopalian. Mark Delcuse and I were in seminary together, back when dinosaurs roamed Cambridge, MA – is it really almost 30 years ago? Le sigh! – and  I’ve only been able to keep up with him on FaceBook (you know how that goes); so I am absolutely delighted to be able to spend some time here with Mark and his beloved Mimi.

The other reason I’m delighted to be here is that, for the first time since 1985, I will not be going to General Convention. I’m not as ambivalent about this as I was a few days ago. Every day, I feel that my decision was wise.

I’ve never been known to be a person in search of – or at a loss for – an opinion. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever known a time in my life when I haven’t had at least two opinions on any one given subject, both of which were held with equal passion and conviction. Mark, can I get an Amen?

As we move closer and closer to the church council gathering as the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, I find my blood pressure rising in direct proportion to the opinions being expressed – on the Left, Right and so-called Middle – about all the hot topics of the day. These include but by no means are limited to:
the election of a new Presiding Bishop, 
the re-visioning and restructuring of the church, 
the proposed changes to Title IV canons regarding the disciplinary actions for clergy, 
the proposed canons regarding compensation for family leave for clergy, 
the Anglican Covenant (yes, it’s baaack) and, of course, 
the proposed changes to the canons and revision of the BCP with regards to marriage.  
Just to name a few. 

It’s okay. You can relax. I’m not going to give to give you my opinions on these things. This is a sermon, not a lecture. I’m here to preach the Gospel. But, if I were at General Convention, you can bet I’d be at the microphone every chance I got when I wasn’t having intense conversations with people in the corridors of convention hall and hotel lobbies and coffee shops. 

If you didn’t know, that’s where some of the real intense work of convention gets done.

What I’d like to do in the next few moments we’re together is to be a bit more like Barnabas, whom we remember this night, and explore whether his life might contain some lessons for us in how to be leaders who are LGBT and our straight allies (or, as I prefer to say, in shorthand “Queer people”) in the church, especially as we move towards a season in our church which is a time of transition and change, decision-making and, yes, history. 

We are always living history.

I’d like to echo the Prophet Isaiah and ask us “How do we sing a new song to the Lord”?

So, let’s look first at what we know about St. Barnabas. The first mention we have of him in Scripture is from Acts 4:36f : "Joseph, a Levite, born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles."

Barnabas. The Son of Encouragement. His new name fits what we know of his actions. 

When Saul (or Paul) came to Jerusalem after his conversion, most of the Christians there wanted nothing to do with him. They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church. 

But Barnabas was willing to give Paul a second chance. He looked him up, spoke with him, and brought him to see the other Christians, vouching for him. Later, Paul and Barnabas went on a missionary journey together, taking Mark with them. Part way, Mark turned back and went home. 

When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out on another such journey, Barnabas proposed to take Mark along, and Paul was against it, saying that Mark had shown himself undependable. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, and so he and Mark went off on one journey, while Paul took Silas and went on another. 

Apparently Mark responded well to the trust given him by the "son of encouragement," since we find that Paul later speaks of him as a valuable assistant (2 Tim 4:11; see also Col 4:10 and Phil 24). 

There’s a great deal in today’s world – in today’s church – that is very discouraging, isn’t there? Who knew that, after Brown v. the Board of Education in Topeka in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1984 and electing a Black Man to the White House in 2008, we would still need to take to the streets and protest, reminding everyone with signs that say: “Black Lives Matter”?

Who knew that, after Roe v. Wade in 1973 we’d be having conversations and debates, not only about abortion but about contraception? Would someone please tell me why, in the year 2015, we’re still debating the issue of contraception? (Are you kidding me?)

Who knew that, after Lawrence v. Texas in 1965 which struck down the sodomy laws and the election of Harvey Milk as the first openly gay politician in the state of California in 1977 and that, now that 37 of these 50 United States of America have Marriage Equality, the Supreme Court would still have to decide whether or not Queer people have the civil right of marriage? 

Interestingly enough, that Supreme Court decision has a good chance of being rendered during our time at General Convention – even as we are deliberating whether or not to change our canons to have our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and provide ‘all the sacraments for all the baptized.’ 

It’s easy to get anxious. It’s easy to let our anxiety slip into fear. It’s even easier to allow our fear to paralyze us and keep us stuck in a place of self-fulfilling “oppression sickness” where we imagine only the worst and envision ourselves as perpetual and eternal second class citizens in the world and in the church. 

I want to stop here, at this moment, and have us consider again Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. I’d like us to reflect on how it was that he got that name. It would appear that the disciples called him Son of Encouragement because he gave people a ‘second chance’. 

He had known Saul as a persecutor of Christians and enemy of the early Church. But, Barnabas was willing to give the old Saul/new Paul a second chance, even vouching for him with other Christians who wanted nothing to do with him. 

He also gave the young disciple Mark a second chance after he left Barnabas and Paul halfway through their first mission trip. Paul was much annoyed, but Barnabas gave him a second chance and Mark apparently turned out just fine, since even Paul later speaks highly of him in three of his Epistles. 

It has been my experience that people who give other people a second chance are confident, hopeful people. They are people who have hope because they have enough confidence in the lessons they have learned from their own failures that they are not afraid of the failures of others. 

People like Barnabas who are ‘encouragers’ are people who have learned how to take the bad that has happened as lessons to apply to the future.  

People who provide encouragement to others believe that failure is never the end. Indeed, failure is just an opportunity to learn something you could never have learned any other way. 

That new song that they sing to the Lord? It’s just a rearrangement of old notes and words. Like the words of repentance and forgiveness of Amazing Grace that are carried on a tune widely speculated as one that had been sung by the slaves on the ships that carried them to a tortured life of slavery. John Newton, who wrote the words to Amazing Grace had himself been a slave trader and had no doubt heard the slaves singing to give each other some comfort and encouragement.

How do we Queer people – and, I mean LGBT people and our straight allies – sing a new song unto the Lord? 

We who have been sent out, as Jesus is quoted as saying in Mark’s Gospel “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” how are we to proclaim the Good News” that the “Realm of Heaven has come near”?” 

How are we – having been baptized in the sacrament of new life in Christ and nourished by his Body and Blood in the sacrament of Eucharist, and having been denied full sacramental access to the all of the five sacramental rites – how are we to give the church a ‘second chance’ and encourage her to “love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God”? 

I believe our sister Carter Heyward has one answer for us. Building on Mary Daly’s teaching that “God is a Verb,” Carter encourages us with these words:

For too long we Christians have imagined that we have very little sacred power, little divinity, little goodness, in and among our human selves. With devastating historical, social, and personal consequences, our patriarchal religious tradition has failed to convey to us the central and most important meaning on the JESUS story – God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end.

Like JESUS, and in his Spirit, we are created to god.

This is what it means, to be fully human/creaturely – to god.

That is why we are here – to god.

Godding is loving – justice-loving.

To live fully in and with humanity is to make justice-love roll down like water!

To live fully in and with divinity is to share the earth and the resources vital to our survival and happiness as people and creatures.

To god is to embody the Spirit that creates and liberates the world, She who is incarnate among us here and now, literally calling us to life moment by moment.
So then, here’s the truth of it: We can only give someone else a second chance when we give ourselves a second chance. Like Jesus and in his Spirit, we are created to god. That is why we are here – to god. Godding is loving – justice loving. 

Contrary to what we’ve been told – by our culture and the church – we have all the sacred power we need, all the divinity and goodness we require, in and among our human selves. We are not helpless, orphaned, hopeless victims. 

God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end. 

"Godding" – to embody the Spirit that creates and liberates the world – is that new song. As more and more of us have come out and lived our lives with integrity and authenticity, we have been harder and harder to ignore and dismiss. 

Our whole lives matter. Our song of redemption and freedom and salvation can be found in the lives we live and it cannot – will not – be silenced. 

I know. I know. I’ve heard you. I’ve heard your weariness. I confess that I share it, sometimes. 

What if, you ask, your knuckles white in a grip of anxiety, what if the Supreme Court doesn’t give us our civil rights? 

What if The Episcopal Church does what it often does and kicks the marriage equality can down the road for another three years? 

What if the voices that cry out “we haven’t done the theology” and “we don’t have a robust theology” and “we should wait until the rest of the church catches up with us,” and “this will kick us out of the Anglican communion” – what if they drown out the new song we are singing to the Lord? 

Well, I don’t deny the possibility. But probability? I am choosing to believe that while it’s probable that we’ll leave Salt Lake City with at least an authorized rite of blessing, it is possible that we won’t get the canonical change we seek. It’s also possible that we will. 

Let me tell you something about St. Harvey Milk, who must have taken lessons from Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. 

Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: "What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us."

I think Harvey Milk was “godding”.  We can’t be Havey Milk, but we can “god”. We may not be able to be a visionary but we can fire our imagination and create a church which offers all the sacraments to all the baptized. We can’t be Barnabas but we can encourage each other and give each other – and the church – a second chance. 

And, if in the off chance – the improbability – that we leave SLCU without a change in the marriage canons? We go back again to the next 79th General Convention, wherever it may be held, and we try again.  Another chance for ourselves and for the church. 

Here’s the thing: We are not going away. We are not leaving the church – much as some would like and expect us to do. We are not leaving the Anglican Communion. We are singing a new song to the Lord and that song will not be silenced. 

As Pauli Murray – the first African American woman to be ordained in The Episcopal Church – once wrote: “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”  

I am here to boldly proclaim that Queer people – and I mean LGBT people and our straight allies – are that new song unto the Lord. 

We are singing for our lives. Of our lives.

Our throats may be weary, but we will not be silenced. We know  - we have learned the painful truth – that Silence, does in fact, equal Death.

We will give ourselves and each other and the church a second chance to make it right – until we get it right.   

We will continue to encourage each other in faith and hope. 

We will participate in the holy enterprise of “godding” – engaging our imaginations to be the change we seek, to be the justice we work for, to be the incarnate love that God has created us to be. 

In the words of ancient scripture, we are “blessed to be a blessing”.   

God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end.  

So, go. 

“God”.  (God is a verb)

And, as you are “godding”, be yourselves - in your very own bodies - that new song to the Lord, proclaiming – so that all who meet you will know incarnate love and hope – that the Realm of God has come near. 

Can I get an 'Amen'? 



Maureen said...

Words I need to hear as GC78 starts. And I'm that alto behind you singing. Thank you!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Maureen. My apologies for the formatting problems with this post. I don't know what the heck happened. I'll try to fix it but confess I really don't know what I'm doing. Oh, bother.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Anonymous - You who are so keen to keep the "rules" of scripture can't even follow the comment Code of Conduct. And, you post anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Just a correction. Lawrence v Texas was in 2003, not 1965.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you. I normally don't publish anonymous comments but this is one I'm grateful to have.