Jesus’ Affirmations for Life “Affirming Love” Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins June 2, 2013 There is a now famous open letter to a right wing radio personality. The letter was written c. 2000 and has been circulated on the Internet ad infinitum ever since. The letter reads, “Dear Dr., Thank you for doing so much to […]
Jesus’ Affirmations for Life
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
June 2, 2013
There is a now famous open letter to a right wing radio personality. The letter was written c. 2000 and has been circulated on the Internet ad infinitum ever since. The letter reads,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from your show…When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus clearly states that it is an abomination.. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how best to follow them.
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1.9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21.7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?…
Lev. 25.44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. [Can I buy a Canadian online?]…
Lev. 21.20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including…even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19.27. How should they die?…
My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19.19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to swear and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20.14)
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35.2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?”
The letter makes the very valid point that it is both ridiculous and disingenuous to insist that homophobia and heterosexism are biblically mandated while ignoring a great many other biblical passages condoning slavery, calling for murder and animal sacrifice, forbidding certain foods and fabrics, regulating hairstyles, and treating women as if they were something less than human.
Of course, thinking people in the 21st century will recognize those passages as the product of their time and culture; they are not universal divine commands for human living. Why, then, are so many people still hesitant to make the same conclusion about the very few verses of ancient scripture that have been misused against LBGT folk?
If we don’t believe in a flat earth, if we don’t think the world was fully formed in a week, if we don’t think slavery is morally acceptable, if we doubt that Sara was literally 90 years old when she got pregnant, if we don’t worship on Friday night after Sundown, if we don’t avoid shellfish and pork, if we aren’t repulsed by rare meat, if we have ever once worn a poly-cotton blend, and if we have even a single tattoo, then we clearly do not take every word the bible literally, and if that is the case, then why use scripture as a weapon to insist that same-gender loving people should be excluded from the Blessed Community or marginalized in larger society.
We in MCC affirm that one is Gay by God and Proud by Choice! Of course, we can say the same if we are straight or bisexual or transgender. Whatever we are, we are part of God’s glorious diversity. As the Apostle Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am!” (1 Cor. 15.10)
As the Boy Scouts lift restrictions against gay members, and more and more states move toward marriage equality, some people long for the good old days when class, race, gender, and sexual orientation could determine one’s place in society. They miss the good old days when people knew their place, and one could feel superior to others simply because by accident of birth they were part of one group rather than another.
It reminds me of that famous, fictional bigot, Archie Bunker. Archie was played by Carol O’Connor and his wife, big hearted, naïve, late in life feminist Edith was played by Jean Stapleton, who died yesterday at the age of 90.
As the social movements of the early 70s evolved and feminism, race relations, and even sexual orientation became topics of frequent discussion, Archie missed the old days, even the days of the Great Depression, when there was no social safety net, when simply being a straight, white man afforded him some unquestioned privileges, if only the privilege of getting to be seen as who he was without having to defend his right to exist. The entire series was about Archie’s prejudices being challenged and him lamenting that time must go forward, never back.
Foreshadowing that attitude was the show’s opening song, “Those Were the Days”:
Boy, the way Glen Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade. Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days.
And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men. Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn’t need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days.
But those weren’t necessarily good days for everyone. And as people worked for justice and equality, those so-called “good old days” were relegated to the pages of history, hopefully never to be repeated.
As a society, we started to learn, and continue to learn what Louise Hay learned for herself. She has written, “Many years ago a friend of mine asked me to go to a lecture [where] I heard something that I hadn’t heard before. I heard a statement that made so much sense to me: ‘If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life.’ That day, my life shifted.”
When we collectively started to have a change in consciousness, the world began to change. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Liberation, AIDS Advocacy, Child Welfare, Marriage Equality…one issue at a time, we began to decide that all people deserved equal opportunity and lives of dignity. Now, there are still some who resent the progress and they work to repeal it, but I’m guessing they will find bells can’t be unrung and time continues to move forward, never back.
And, that’s our commitment at Sunshine Cathedral, to learn how to change our lives by changing our outlook on life, by changing our habitual thinking, by changing our attitudes, by being open to change so that our Good can be made manifest. We want to move forward so we can help others move forward with their lives. The future is just waiting for us to create it. We do that with our attitudes, thoughts, choices, and actions today.
In our first reading today, we heard fragments of an ancient warrior love story, a story where Jonathon and David affirm their love for each other, where they form a covenantal relationship, and where David mourns as a widower might when Jonathon is killed in battle. He even says, “Jonathon, my love for you surpassed the love of women,” or perhaps better translated, “My love for you was stronger than the love many wives have for their husbands.” That our spiritual ancestor David had a same-gender loving relationship that he cherished is undeniable and once we see that, we can never go back to the old days of assuming the bible is unequivocally anti-gay ever again!
Similarly, Luke’s story of the Centurion and his “servant” poses a challenge to religious homophobia.
Queer scholars often see the Centurion’s relationship with his servant as possibly romantic, and that is the most obvious reason for a person of privilege in Roman society to come to a peasant healer to help his “servant.” The centurion is clearly desperate, as one would be to save the person one loves most.
The Centurion has authority, prestige, privilege, power, and yet none of those things can heal his servant. He needs to try something new, and he’s willing to do so. And he seeks out the lowly, possibly illiterate, peasant healer and charismatic prophet, Jesus. This new attitude, this new thought, this new willingness to try and experience something new was life-changing for the Centurion, and as a result, his loved one experienced a miracle as well.
Now, even while we may rejoice that Jesus didn’t condemn a same-gender relationship but actually blessed it with an act of healing, we may also wonder why Jesus didn’t challenge the institution of slavery. The Centurion may have fallen in love with his indentured servant, but the relationship began as a person of privilege exerting power over someone who had none. The Jesus of Luke’s imagination doesn’t tackle that one, but as we explored earlier, some things in the bible are the product of their time and culture, not mandates from God.
What is useful in the stories for those of us who inhabit the 21st century is that we can see the stories in new ways and apply them in new ways to our lives. And we can see, from David’s mutual love for Jonathon to the Centurion’s love for his companion that causes him to seek out help in ways that would have been radically new and different for him, to Jesus’ appreciation of love and a desire to bless it, what our stories offer us today is an affirmation of love, all kinds of love, every expression of genuine love.
Some will attack us for our love, and some will try to exert power or privilege rather than supporting us trying help people love themselves, but we will affirm with Jesus the divine power of love. We will learn to love ourselves more and we will help others learn to love themselves more and we will celebrate our loving relationships and know them to be holy. That’s what our stories today mostly offer us, and we can embrace that gift right now. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
My love is God’s love in action.
I deserve love in my life.
I choose to love myself.
Love is a healing force.
And so I am thankful.