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June 2005

Jesus is Lord

Thanks to Carlos at Jesus Politics for this link to an editorial in the evangelical Christianity Today. The opening paragraph is

George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology.

Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it's less and less obvious.


#14 -- My Journey Out: February

In January the ex and I began speaking again. It was off and on at first, but by the end of February the communication was pretty regular, and we would hang out when I was in OKC. Neither of us had any idea where it was headed, but it was good to be talking again. I knew that one way or the other, we'd figure out whether to get back together or not.

The first time I saw him in ten months was the night of my birthday dinner when nineteen friends and family all came together to celebrate my birthday. It was a spectacular event, if you remember my writing about it at the time. It seemed to be this wonderful celebration at the end of a difficult year. Here was my family, almost all of whom knew and were okay. Even the one's who weren't okay came. And they were even in the same room with the ex, though I didn't introduce them to each other (though they did know who each other were). Mom and Revis met the ex for the first time, too and that went well. Plus here were many of my old friends and many of my new friends (mainly friends made in the blog community). I sat there smiling and so obviously happy. People kept commenting on how happy I was. I was just shocked that after the year I'd had that this event was occurring and that all these people were in the same room together and not fighting.

It also looked as if everything was coming together. Months before it looked as if my life was falling apart. Now, it looked like everything was about to fall together, beyond my wildest dreams. That scared me, because it just seems like things never go that well.

The night before I had interviewed with the Pastor-Parish Relations Team of the Cathedral of Hope. At the start of the week, Michael Piazza had called to see if I was going home for my birthday. If I was, he wanted me to meet with the committee. He told me that I was one of two finalists. My meeting with the team had been fantastic. When I walked into the room, I felt like I knew all these people, though I had never met them before. Other ministers have told me that they have had similar experiences. For almost three hours we talked. Quickly it had turned from an interview into dreaming and sharing of vision. It was so exciting that I left with the feeling that it would be an honour to be their pastor.

Thirty-one seemed destined to be a better year than thirty!


Blessing for the Outcast

Blessing for the Outcast
Genesis 21:8-21
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – OKC
19 June 2005


Last week my boyfriend was making fun of me. He thought that at that moment I was walking rather nelly. I asked if he wanted me to walk like a man, and then I imitated the scene from the movie The Birdcage when Robin Williams tells Nathan Lane to walk like John Wayne. You remember the scene? Nathan Lane walks like John Wayne, and it is hilarious watching this queen try to do it. He asks if it was okay, and Robin Williams says that it was, he just never realized that John Wayne walked like that.

I went to see The Birdcage with two of my good friends, John Eggleston and Laura Picazo. Eventually, both of us guys would come out. Already one of our roommates had come out, and our group of friends included pretty much every out or somewhat out gay person at OBU. We went to see the movie in Shawnee. The theatre was packed. Part of what made going to the movie so much fun was that the three of us laughed at more things in the movie and laughed louder than anyone else. Part of this is just natural; the three of us are loud people. But it was also because we got more of the jokes than the rest of this pretty straight crowd. We enjoyed it so much that we were still laughing that loud when we got back to the apartment.

I don’t know what moment is the funniest. Nathan Lane is perfect in his role, embodying the drag queen with high camp. I love it when he shows up in female drag, but in very conservative female drag and tries to play himself off as a real woman. He actually fools the naïve Gene Hackman who himself is the perfect send-up of the conservative religious and political fundamentalist. Maybe the best moment is Gene Hackman himself in drag.

Another favourite movie from the mid-nineties is The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It didn’t play in Shawnee, but our group of friends watched it on video. I still watch it every time that I see it’s on. I love the pink bus, and the shoe on top that they ride, and the extravagant dresses and ridiculous dance numbers. But most of all I love the story as they try to find their way in a barren and inhospitable world. Then they march to the top of the canyon in their costumes and high heels. It is a sight to see.

Back before I left Dallas a couple of the young women who had come out to me in recent months had come over to my house to watch movies. Before we put the movie we had rented in the DVD, I noticed that Priscilla was on. When they said they’d never seen it, I made them watch it. They loved it of course. It was really exciting to see these two young girls enjoy what is now one of our classic gay films.

These movies and these stories are important. Even their campiness is important. Now, they are fun and silly and there is no point in overanalyzing them and making them so serious that they loose their camp. Because they are important precisely because they are so absurd and funny. We have plenty of serious gay fiction and serious gay movies and those have their important role. The movie Angels in America was immensely helpful in my coming out process. And films like Philadelphia and The Hours are important in representing our struggles to a wider audience

This is Pride Week in the GLBT community. More than usual, tonight I want to directly speak from and to the GLBT experience and its connection with our biblical narrative.

Gay camp is significant. Our comedy and silliness are important. When we get together socially we often get really silly. We play up all sorts of stereotypes. For example, when the guys get together, we make tacky comments and sexual innuendo and many really act like queens. When I interviewed with the Pastor-Parish Relations Team, someone was describing the service project you all did last year when you made scarves for the Wilson School kids. Someone said you had a sewing circle. Then someone else jumped in and said, “All the men brought their sewing machines and the women worked on our cars.”

Then there are the clothes that we wear. Did you see the stupid hat that I wore to the gay rodeo? Drag is so common in gay culture and not just the typical dressing up and performing as the opposite sex. As one friend said, it is all drag. That friend can do the cowboy look or the preppy look or the metrosexual look or any of a variety of looks, depending on what is called for in the moment.

In Andrew Holleran’s 1978 classic gay novel Dancer from the Dance we get a portrayal of gay disco life in New York in the early seventies. One character we meet is the young and gorgeous Malone, who is just being introduced to gay life by the old queen Sutherland. Sutherland says, “We live, after all, in perilous times . . . of complete philosophic sterility, we live in a rude and dangerous time in which there are no values to speak to and one can cling to only concrete things . . .” You expect the conservation to get serious at this point, but instead, Sutherland walks over to his closet and reveals his wardrobe. In high camp, the concrete things we can latch onto are clothes

. . . like the Count of Monte Cristo his fabulous treasure, the accumulated wardrobe of fifteen seasons on the circuit. They stared silently for a moment at the stacks of jungle fatigues and plain fatigues, bleached fatigues and painter’s jeans, jeans with zippers and jeans with buttons, tank tops and undershirts, web belts, plaid shirts, and dozens of t-shirts in every color

The description of the closet goes on for more than half a page, listing articles of clothing. Sutherland eventually says, “But after a while you realize, . . . that there is nothing but these.” He turns to Malone, who has just lost his first love and says,

So what remains for us? . . . What we may well ask, is there to live for? Why get out of bed? For this dreary round of amusing insincerity? This fithy bourgeois society . . . No, we may still choose to live like gods, like poets. Which brings us to dancing. Yes, . . . that is all that’s left when love has gone. Dancing.”

In this story, existential angst has led from fashion to disco. How campy is all that old dance music? I mean, really. Abba isn’t exactly Mozart. “YMCA,” “I Will Survive,” “We are Family,” and so many other songs are important to our culture, even if they are silly.

It is easy to see the artistic contributions and importance to gay history and culture of works of art like Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s Symposium, the poetry of Sappho, Shakespeare, and Whitman, the paintings of Michelangelo, the novels of Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and E. M. Forster, the films of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, and so many others. But what is the significance of our lighter moments, our silliness, our camp? Why do we enjoy laughing at The L Word, Queer as Folk, and Will and Grace? Why do we dress up and engage in rituals like the rodeo, drag shows, and clubbing? Why do we fill our conversations with tacky humour and play to stereotypes?

Largely, because we can. It is our expression of freedom. Because we are an oppressed people, our lives are filled with absurdity. So, in response, we have played up the absurd and enjoyed every minute of it. The world forces closeted gays to perform and wear masks, and so we do it for fun and enjoyment. The words that others use to attack us, like fag, queer, and dyke, we have reclaimed and use with humour and pride. In describing the Stonewall Riots in 1969 the Village Voice gave evidence of using this campy language to explain our struggle for civil rights. They wrote,

The forces of faggotry, spurred by a Friday night raid on one of the city’s largest, most popular, and longest lived gay bars, the Stonewall Inn, rallied Saturday night in an unprecedented protest against the raid and continued Sunday night to assert presence, possibility, and pride until the early hours of Monday morning. ‘I’m a faggot, and I’m proud of it’, ‘Gay Power!’, ‘I like boys!’ – these and many other slogans were heard all three nights as the show of force by the city’s finery met the force of the city’s finest. The result was a kind of liberation, as the gay brigade emerged from the bars, back rooms, and bedrooms of the Village and became street people.


Our stories, our humour, our movies, our music, our fashion, all of these are expressions of freedom or a desire for freedom. Together these elements of our culture tell the story of an outcast and oppressed people longing for liberation.


It is fortuitous that the lectionary should have the story of Hagar fall during Pride Week, for Hagar’s story is also one of oppression and liberation. Hagar is a woman in a patriarchal society. She is a slave. In fact she is a slave who is used for sex and procreation. Plus she is a foreigner. An Egyptian, to be precise. For the Hebrew audiences who would originally be encountering Hagar’s story, Egyptians were the enemy who had wronged the people. If this story were being told to Jewish audiences today, Hagar would be German or Palestinian.

There are two stories told about Hagar. The first is in Genesis 16, when she is given by Sarah to Abraham so that Abraham might impregnate her. Once she has conceived, she looks with contempt upon Sarah. After this Sarah afflicts Hagar. The New Revised Standard Version translates this too lightly as “dealt harshly,” instead of the much stronger “afflicts.”

Suffering affliction, Hagar take matters into her own hands and flees. She heads home toward Egypt. The angel of the Lord finds her beside a spring and asks her what she is doing. God then tells her to return to Sarah and suffer. Hagar then receives a promise, a blessing, that she will be the mother of multitudes. This is the first such promise made to a woman by God in scripture. It has similarities to the promises made to Abraham. God assures her, “for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.” In response to the blessing, Hagar does what no other biblical character does. Verse eleven says,

So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”

This story is full of ambiguity. Hagar suffers affliction. On the one hand God furthers that affliction by sending her back to Sarah. On the other hand, Hagar has a special place in the biblical story. Despite her status as a woman, a slave, and a foreigner, God responds to her affliction, God gives her a promise, and she gives God a name instead of God revealing a name to her.

We meet Hagar again in the story read earlier in the service. It has parallels with the first Hagar story, but also distinct differences. This time instead of Hagar freeing herself, she is cast out by Abraham upon orders from Sarah and God. When Abraham sends mother and child away, he is very distressed. What astonishes me here is that when he sends them away, all he gives them is bread and water. This is an extremely wealthy man who could have sent them away with livestock, goods, and other people. Instead he sends them into the inhospitable wilderness with insufficient supplies. This time Hagar does not find a well in the wilderness and is not headed for home. She seems to be lost and eventually it looks like she and Ishmael will die. In great agony, Hagar leaves her son to die and begins to cry. God now makes provision for them, as a well of water is discovered.


I think that the importance of Hagar’s story is that she stands as a type. She represents all oppressed people as they struggle to find blessing and the good life. She is trapped in a system of patriarchy and slavery. Other oppressed peoples are also trapped in systems of poverty, racism, homophobia, etc. Hagar is oppressed by Sarah, instead of finding solidarity with someone else who is oppressed. How often do oppressed people turn on each other instead of helping one another? In the Hagar story even the role of God is ambiguous. Is God liberator or oppressor? How often must this same question have been asked by African-American slaves, or women encountering the prejudices of the church, or by the GLBT community? Yes, Hagar is a type. She represents the struggles of the oppressed, the outcast, the one in need of liberation.


One of the major fields of theology toward the end of the twentieth century was Liberation Theology. Liberation theology had many different schools depending upon which community gave rise to the thought. Some of the schools include theologies that identified themselves as Black, feminist, queer, African, Latin-American, and environmental. Some were even a combination, like the school of thought that describes itself as eco-feminism.

What all liberation thought had in common was that it judged the traditional understanding of theology as not taking account of the central role of liberation in the Biblical story. Theologies written by the privileged – predominately white, straight, European males – almost always overlooked or at least didn’t have the insights to understand the importance of liberation themes found in the Exodus, some elements of the law codes, the preaching of the prophets, and the life and ministry of Jesus.

One of the most important works of liberation theology is God of the Oppressed by James Cone, which was published in 1975. Cone is a Black Theologian. The term doesn’t simply describe his race, but is a school of thought called Black Theology. What Cone did was take the elements of the black experience and use those to interpret Christian theology. By looking at slave spirituals, the blues, folk tales, sermons, hymns, and other elements of the African-American religious and cultural experience, Cone was able to cast new light on traditional theological categories.

Cone begins by sharing the stories and experiences of African-Americans, and he insists that we all need to listen to each other’s stories, especially all oppressed peoples. We can learn much by using our stories to interpret our faith experiences, and we can learn more by sharing our stories with each other. He reminds us, “No one can be truly liberated until all are liberated.”

The most powerful part of Cone’s books is how he interprets Jesus. He writes,

Jesus Christ is not a proposition, not a theological concept which exists merely in our heads. He is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom.

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus identifying with and ministering to the poor and the outcast. Women, lepers, the mentally ill, the disabled, the blind, prostitutes, Gentiles, and tax collectors all are welcomed by Jesus.

It is Cone’s claim that just as the historical Jesus of Nazareth identified with the poor and outcast, that Christ continues to identify with the poor and oppressed. The most striking section of Cone’s book is entitled “Jesus is Black.” Cone is not arguing that the historical Jesus was black, because the historical Jesus was clearly Jewish. Listen to his argument,

My point is that God came, and continues to come, to those who are poor and helpless, for the purpose of setting them free. And since the people of color are his elected poor in America, any interpretation of God that ignores black oppression cannot be Christian theology. The “blackness of Christ,” therefore, is not simply a statement about skin color, but rather, the transcendent affirmation that God has not ever, no not ever, left the oppressed alone in struggle. He was with them in Pharoah’s Egypt, is with them in America, Africa and Latin America, and will come in the end of time to consummate fully their human freedom.

This spring I was teaching a lesson from this passage to my youth at Royal Lane. After reading this excerpt, I asked them, “In the context of 2005, then, who is Jesus?” One youth immediately answered, “Gay.” Others answered “Blacks,” “the poor”, “Hispanics,” “the mentally ill,” and other groups. One person said that in 2005 Jesus was a poor, handicapped lesbian living in the slums of Latin America. I was proud of them for grasping the theological concept at work here.

What is being made is not a literal claim, but a theological claim that Jesus Christ identifies with those who are in need. Because of this, we can have hope. Hope that is not merely an intellectual idea, according to Cone, but is the practice of freedom within the oppressed community. The oppressed community practices this freedom by sharing stories, by creating a culture, and by continuing to worship God.

This is why it is important for us to tell our stories, and why it is important for gay culture to be filled with celebration, silliness, and the absurd. It is our expression of freedom within the midst of our oppression. This is the way we take the difficulties of life and laugh at them.

So I want to appropriate the Hagar story as one of our stories. Not because Hagar was queer, but because she was oppressed and outcast. From her story we learn that God takes heed of affliction and will bring blessing.

We can also claim the story of Jesus. As liberation theology has taught us, Jesus identifies with the oppressed and the poor. Jesus suffers alongside them and for them. Jesus’ death and resurrection signify the liberation that will come when the reign of God is fully realized. So, Jesus is with us now, those of us who are GLBT and undergoing discrimination. Hope is ours. We will be fully free when God’s reign begins. O how wonderful! O how glorious!

So, go out this week, be silly, and celebrate.


Gay History Books

We Oklahomans have been dealing with lots of issues surrounding books lately. There is an on-going struggle with conservatives who want to remove gay themed books from children's sections of public libraries. Last week I got an e-mail from Michael Piazza about a new story, which I had not seen covered in the Oklahoma press. He forwarded an article about it from Louisville, KY of all places.

I attended the School Board Meeting tonight where the books were donated to the school and four of us spoke encouraging the Board to accept the books. It was the lead story on News 9, though my remarks were not included in the tv story. I spoke about being at youth camp last week where Cathedral of Hope (Dallas and OKC) had thirty kids. I said that our children need to be able to read the story of our struggle, read our history, read about our significant figures, just like the kids of any other minority group.

The school system will review the books beginning this fall.


Enlisting

Yesterday I found out that one of the guys who was part of the youth group in Fville is going to enlist. I must admit that I took it hard, mostly because I care about the youth I've served and don't want them to be in dangerous situations. I posted on his blog that I wanted to talk to him about it. He e-mailed me his number, and I called him.

He had not done well at college this year; he was unfocused and wasn't sure what he wanted to do. This summer his family went to Hawaii for vacation. He said that there, while on the military bases as a tourist, he saw young people his age doing something meaningful. That got him thinking, and he started looking into going into the Air Force. He thinks the military will help to bring maturity, focus, and meaning to his life.

Part of what I sensed is a need for adventure, adventure that brings meaning. This is what I've always tried to convey about Christian discipleship, that it is an adventure. I have always tried to excite young people (and adults) by the journey that is discipleship. I wish I had been around this youth even more and had been able to convey more of the Christian story.

He said he feels good and very sure about this decision. I have to support him in that, though I wish he didn't have go to the military to find the meaning and purpose he feels missing. I care for all my kids and former kids and don't want any of them in danger.


Youth Camp

I'm away at Youth Camp this week. Grabbed a moment to check the site. I love having a laptop and this wi-fi stuff!

I have one CoH-OKC kid here (I only have two teenagers), and he's having a blast.

Looks like the contract on my house in Dallas might fall through. The buyer has not supplied things they were supposed to by the required time. Looks like their funding might not materialize.


Moltmann

Got this quiz from Greg. Among the options, Jurgen would have been my pick for the one I was closest to.

You scored as Jürgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jürgen Moltmann

93%

Karl Barth

67%

Anselm

47%

John Calvin

40%

Augustine

33%

Charles Finney

33%

Paul Tillich

27%

Martin Luther

27%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

13%

Jonathan Edwards

7%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Policy on Comments

I have deleted a couple of comments lately, both from the same anonymous person. I deleted them because they didn't seem to want to engage in genuine dialogue or discussion and because the person was hiding behind a pseudonym in order to attack someone. We have had lots of debate and discussion at this site and at the other sites on which many of us comment [There is a group of us that consider ourselves to be in this little blog community. In a sense, you only get the full range of our ideas by seeing how we comment on various issues, or the same issues, on each other's sites.]

This is an open, public forum. But it is still my site. I went more than a year without deleting a comment, except when someone asked me to delete one of theirs once. It is not a usual practice of mine.

But lately we do seem to have a lurker who has no agenda other than being a nuisance. This was fully indicated today by his use of my name to leave comments that he then attacked. I have a suspicion that this same person has posted under various pseudonyms in the last two months. If it had been once or twice, it wouldn't have merited any response, but it has become a pattern of behaviour, so I deleted a couple of comments.

So, there's my policy, if you were wondering.


Waiting for the Promise

Waiting for the Promise
Genesis 18:1-15
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – OKC
12 June 2005

Last week we looked at the story of Abraham and drew the lesson that the life of faith isn’t easy. But there are two other main characters in what is normally called the Abraham narrative. Two other characters with whom God makes a covenant. The first of these is Sarah, and tonight we look at things from Sarah’s point of view.

The first time we encounter Sarah it is in Genesis 11, before her story and Abraham’s story begins. Her name appears in one of those long genealogical lists that most people, for good reason, skip over when they’re reading the bible. Genesis 11:29 mentions the wives of Abraham and his brothers. Sarah is listed there by her original name Sarai. Then, in verse 30, we read

Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

No other description is given of anyone else in this genealogical chart. Only Sarah is described. And what is important about Sarah? Her infertility.

I have been troubled by this description for some time, because it limits Sarah to her womb. We know that fertility was a paramount value in ancient society. Many religions were organized as fertility cults. Fertility was a sure sign of blessing. Infertility of persons, animals, or land was viewed by many as a curse or punishment. So, when we are introduced to Sarah we are basically told that she is a failure, unblessed, someone who lacks worth.

In chapter twelve that we looked at last week, when God first calls Abraham, God promises him that he will have offspring and be a great nation. Notice that Sarah is not included in this promise. If you go by the literal wording of the initial promise, it leaves open the possibility that Abraham’s offspring could come from other women than the barren one that he is currently married to.

Could this be part of what is behind Abraham’s scheme when he gets to Egypt? He lies about Sarah, who is taken by Pharoah. In exchange, Pharoah gives many goods to Abraham. This story furthers Sarah’s humiliation. Yes, she is clearly considered beautiful, but she is treated as an object and not a person. She is not an actor in the story. She is always the one acted upon. Abraham does little more than prostitute her in order to gain wealth. However, God does seem to act on Sarah’s side in this story by afflicting Pharoah’s house with a plague so that Pharoah will return her to Abraham.

Abraham waits years for his promised child, and one doesn’t come. God twice reiterates the promise to Abraham, but still with no mention of Sarah. Eventually, Sarah takes matters into her own hands. There was an ancient custom that a wife could give her handmaid or a female slave to the husband as a concubine. A child born to the concubine would actually be considered the child of the wife. It is what Leah and Rachel do to Jacob with their handmaids later in the Genesis story. In a sense, it is the ancient form of surrogacy.

So, don’t judge Sarah too harshly when you see her sending Hagar to Abraham. Sarah says, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” I think that Sarah’s original motive is her own personal survival. Remember that so far, God has not made any promise that Sarah will be the mother of Abraham’s promised children. There is actually a beautiful side to this story, when you think about it in this way. All these years have passed and Abraham has not taken any other wives. In a culture of polygamy, Abraham was free to take another wife, but he did not. Abraham, who clearly wants children, has not taken one of the main avenues open to him. Maybe there is great love between Abraham and Sarah? The story of Pharoah would seem to argue against it, but the fact that he takes no other wife argues strongly for it.

There is an ambiguity, then, in their relationship. Sarah knows that Abraham has the ability to put her aside, as he basically already did once while in Egypt. If Sarah can produce a child, even through a slave, then she will help to assure her position and provide for herself in years to come.

However, we know that Sarah’s plan backfires on her. Almost immediately she realizes her mistake. Hagar must have found some favour with Abraham, because she looks with contempt upon Sarah. What is to keep Abraham from giving position to Hagar now instead of Sarah? So Sarah takes her case to Abraham and demands the rights of her position, which Abraham grants.

We are conflicted about Sarah’s role in the Hagar story. Sarah herself is oppressed, a woman trapped in the confines of a highly patriarchal society. Instead of identifying with the other oppressed female, she adds to the oppression of Hagar. Yes, Sarah acts unjustly, and next week we will look at Hagar’s story from her perspective. But what I think we need to keep in mind is that Sarah is trapped in a system. She is trapped in a system where her situation is hopeless, from her perspective. As a barren woman, she has almost no worth in this society where men dominate and fertility is a supreme virtue. She knows that she is an object that can be bandied about by men, because this has happened to her. She is trying to pursue blessing, the good life, just like all the other characters are. Yet, very little is within her power, and she has very little room in which to act.

Consider yourself in a similar situation. Some of you have probably been there. Some of you might be there right now. You have been trapped in a situation where very little was under your control and it was difficult to know what was the right thing to do. Maybe your finances were such that you were unable to provide for even basic necessities without having to decide between them. We read now about senior adults who are on such limited incomes that they must choose between eating and filling their prescriptions. Probably some of us have been in a financial situation like that. But it is not just finances, obligations to others, work situations, family relationships, etc. may have trapped us and limited what we were able to do. I’m certain most of us had a time or still are living in a time when we were unable to be fully open about our sexuality because of the climate of oppression within the community, our families, or our workplaces.

When people are trapped in such situations it is often difficult to see what is the right thing to do, usually because no matter what we do we face negative consequences. So, don’t judge Sarah too harshly. Let’s be sympathetic to her plight and judge the system in which she was trapped.

When Sarah appeals to Abraham, she also appeals to God. In Genesis 16:5 she says to Abraham, “May the Lord judge between you and me!” Sarah gets her wish. The next time God speaks to Abraham in order to reaffirm the promised blessing, Sarah is named. God says,

I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.


What is Abraham’s response? Abraham falls on his face laughing that he and Sarah, who are so old, could have a child. He asks God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!”

Abraham’s response fully explains Sarah’s concern. Abraham has clearly entertained the idea of Ishmael being his promised heir. But Sarah has called upon God to vindicate her, and God does. God responds to Abraham,

No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. . . my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you this season next year.

That is when we get to the text read as tonight’s Hebrew lesson. It reiterates the promise made to Sarah, except that this time she hears it. The Lord specifically asks for Sarah before making the promise. Sarah laughs this time, and is rebuked by the Lord, who says, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

The next year Sarah conceives and bears the promised child Isaac. The text in Genesis 21 tells us, “The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.” Sarah’s response to the birth of her son is exuberant joy, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” Sarah has been blessed and now her blessing will be shared by others. She and they will both laugh at the absurdity that a ninety year old woman who was infertile even when she was young, has now had a child.

The crux of this entire story is what the Lord says in chapter eighteen, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” The story of Abraham is the story of someone struggling to live the life of faith. But the story of Sarah is different. The story of Sarah is about blessing in the midst of hopelessness. That is why when we first meet her we are told that she is barren. The authors of Genesis want us to know that because they want us to be surprised at what transpires. They tell us she is barren because they want us to know that it is impossible for her to have a child. But the impossible happens!

Sarah starts out hopeless. It is not just that she is barren. It is also that she is a woman trapped in a social situation she does not control. She is infertile, elderly, powerless.

She makes one effort of her own to make her life better and in doing so she makes a mistake. What could have been a huge mistake. Hagar bears a child, not Sarah. At this point when she might loose what small position she has, Sarah asks God to be her judge. At the point at which Sarah is potentially the weakest, the most hopeless, she asks for God’s help.

And God gives it. Sarah wanted a child. She wanted to be blessed. She had to wait until old age, but God’s promise was fulfilled. But it isn’t just that the promise was fulfilled, God makes the impossible possible. God does the absurd. It is so absurd that Sarah herself laughed when God told her she would have a child. And she’s still laughing after the child is born. God has vindicated Sarah. God has turned the tables upside down.

Sarah’s story represents what will become a standard motif in the Bible -- God will perform what was considered absurd or even impossible. Barren women will have children. Slaves will be brought out of captivity. Jericho’s walls will fall without force of weaponry. Gideon’s armies will win with subterfuge. A child will slay a giant. The prophet Hosea will marry a prostitute. A virgin shall conceive. A king will lead by washing the feet of his disciples. Average people will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. And ultimately death will be trumped by resurrection.

The message is not that God will fulfill every wish that we seek. As we talked about last week, the life of faith is not easy. It calls for us to struggle, even to suffer. Writing about this passage from Genesis 18, Walter Brueggemann makes reference to the grand drama of salvation. He writes,

Everything is possible to God – except one thing. The thing not possible is the removal of the cup. What God will not (cannot?) do is to circumvent the reality of suffering, hurt, the cross. Thus, our text does not permit a casual triumphalism that simply believes everything is possible. Because of the character of God, everything is possible for those who stay through the dark night of barrenness with God. For Abraham and Sarah, there is no simple, painless route to an heir.

Sarah must wait for her promise, and the waiting isn’t easy. Only a few months ago we went through the great celebrations of Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. Holy Week reminds us of the suffering that Jesus encountered before the incredible miracle of Easter Sunday. Yet it is because of the resurrection that we know that suffering, death, evil, and oppression do not have the final word. Our faith stands upon the Easter story. But there is a further truth that we learned from Christ’s words at the Ascension. If the reign of God is to begin, then we are the ones who will receive the power of God to do it, the power of the Holy Spirit that arrived at Pentecost. What happened is that God took a bunch of ordinary people and filled them with the power that God used in the Sarah story. God had the power to make the impossible possible, a power which now resides in us, who are the church. Because God is going to act in us and through us.

Many of you have experienced hopelessness in your lives. Many of you experienced it because you were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Others of you experienced it because members of your family were or close friends were. You have come to this place because it is a place of hope. A recent visitor said he’d never experienced a church like this before and that he was going to come again because he needed to be around people like him. The hope we provide each other, the hope that we can provide to people in this city is desperately needed.

This is not only a place of hope, however. It is a place of promise. More than five years ago some of you began to gather together as a circle. I think you met in Harold’s home for a time. Various folk from Dallas came and helped to facilitate and to give training. Then five years ago this August you met for the first time as a church. Within two years you grew to an average weekly attendance of close to 120. Not every day of the last five years has been easy. There have been disagreements. Some have left. Others have come, bringing fresh gifts and new ideas. But you have continued to love each other and pray for each other. You have been faithful at worship and service. Look at all the work to help the students of Wilson school or to provide Christmas baskets to AIDS patients or to construct a Habitat for Humanity home for a needy family.

This is only the beginning. We still have not lived up to our promise. There are so many more who
need the hope we bring. In less than two months we will gather to celebrate our anniversary, but we won’t be looking backward. We will be looking forward. And we will be faithful. It is my belief that if we are faithful to what God has called us – to worship, to pray, to show compassion and service, to study together and care for one another – then God will use us to minister to others.

We are a place of hope. We are a place of promise. But we are also a place of power. The power of God that filled Sarah’s barren womb now resides within us because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. And if we are going to live up to our promise, it is our responsibility to do it. But, you see, we have the power to do it. We can have our own building. If we sit around and wait too long, waiting “till we can afford it,” then it will never happen. Every faithful church I know stepped out in faith and promise and grasped their calling from God. Yes, we must be prudent, but I challenge you that if we are thinking a building is years in the future, then we aren’t thinking powerfully enough.

What is your vision for this church? What do you think is its mission? What ministries can we perform within this city? Now what do we have to do to make those things a reality? What do you have to do?

Stop waiting. With the power of God that fills us, let us live up to our promise and be a place of hope.


Civil Rights Update

Back in March I wrote about the important gains in civil rights being made throughout the world, indicating that most of the U. S. is actually taking steps backwards. The June 21 Advocate ran a list of what marital rights gays and lesbians now have in other nations. Thought I'd use it to give an update. I broke it down by category:

Marriage
Belgium
Canada (in most provinces, with national law pending)
The Netherlands
Spain (law pending, but looks inevitable)
South Africa (Supreme Court review pending)

Civil Unions
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Croatia
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Greenland
Iceland
New Zealand
Norway
Sweden
Switzerland (in some parts already, federal legislation pending)
United Kingdom (beginning in December)

Common-law domestic partnerships
Hungary

Common-law marriage
Portugal