In the fall of 1989 I did something that I had been thinking about for the better part of six years. I tried to avoid it in college and postponed it for a year after college graduation. Then I did it; I went to seminary. I was 22 years old, eager, scared, and fairly certain God had called me to ministry. Granted, my understanding of that call changed and deepened as I went through the MDiv program, but I trusted it. The problem was that others did not.
I lost a lot of friends because I chose to pursue my call to ministry. In college I had been part of Christian fellowship groups that did not believe in or support women in ministry. Though my participation in these groups had waned by senior year, I maintained friendships with several of the students who were firmly committed members. However, by the end of my first semester in seminary, I no longer heard from the majority of my college friends. This was sad and painful and somewhat confusing for me. I did not understand how differences in belief could end relationships.
Of course, this was the first of many experiences where my understanding of faith cost me friendships with those who held different views. When I divorced while serving my first church, many of my seminary friends distanced themselves from me; pastors simply did not divorce in their worlds. A few years later when I came out, more Christian friends walked away because they believed the Bible does not support anyone who is not straight. I felt judged and condemned by people I had thought were friends. My agnostic or atheist friends were more caring and supportive through these very difficult times. Many of my Christian friends simply turned away when I really needed them. How could this be the way of Christ?
In Luke’s Gospel we hear unexpected words from Jesus. He speaks harshly to those listening about the division he brings. He will separate loved ones – those who will follow and those who won’t. Peace isn’t exactly what Jesus brings, at least not in the short term. It’s impossible not to hear the echo of Isaiah: “God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” Jesus expects us to follow in the way of love but far too often we respond with bloodshed and cries of war.
People of Color demand justice through movements like Black Lives Matter and folks who claim Christianity are all too eager to discredit and dismiss the need. They respond with “All Lives Matter” and point out that the leaders of the movements don’t all agree. They justify police shooting unarmed POC by blaming the victims for not having pristine, perfect lives. They say that POC should deal with “Black on Black” crime first and other such misdirecting statements. All this so they do not have to see that systemic racism and white supremacy is normative in our country. They want to maintain their privilege and justify it by vilifying or dismissing POC who disrupt the status quo with their demands for justice. Where does Jesus fit into this?
If this isn’t enough, consider politicians who, based on their Christian faith, want to repeal marriage equality and endorse “bathroom laws” to dismiss and dehumanize LGBTQ+ people. How can these fear-fueled actions be the way of Christ? Jesus went out of his way to bring marginalized people back into community. Should his followers not be doing the same? When did fearful hatred become a Christian value?
We can apply the same question to refugees and immigrants. Surely, building a wall and registering Muslims are the very things Jesus warned against. We can also point to the misogyny that has plagued Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign. What’s righteous here? Or the ways in which we conflate gun control issues with the insufficiency of mental health care… Or fail to acknowledge that minimum wage is woefully inadequate but instead blame people for being lazy… The bottom line is that people who give into hate and fear rather than trust God’s abundance are those who have trouble interpreting the present time.
My early experiences were indeed painful. In a strange way, I am grateful for them. It makes it a little easier now when friends walk away because I support Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights, refugee and immigration rights, women’s rights, adequate mental health care, increased minimum wage, and so many other places where justice is needed. I’m not saying I’m always right or that I even have a clear notion of the righteousness God is looking for. I do wonder, though, how anyone can claim to be following Christ when their ways do not embody love. And what I am saying is that I am willing to risk much to make way for love and justice for all God’s people. Are you?
RCL – Year C – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 14, 2016
Isaiah 5:1-7 with Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Jeremiah 23:23-29 with Psalm 82