Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Urgent: Forgiveness
Rob Gieselmann, Pentecost 8C, June 26, 2016

I don’t always understand what it means to follow Jesus.
And I’m pretty sure I don’t do it very well. I’m all three of these - I’d bury my parents first, I’d say good-bye to my family, before following Jesus - into the Peace Corps,
or to Bolivia, or wherever. Truth be told, I probably
wouldn’t leave them in the first place, and if I did, I would
definitely buy a return ticket. At least for the holidays,
I’d come home for the holidays. *Home – they say home
is “where the heart is,” You’re loved at home
just because – not because you’ve done something important. You are special at home, just because you are special at home. Or, as the old saying goes, Home is where the great are small, and the small are great.

But there is no home for Jesus – foxes have holes and
birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. No bed to, lay me down to sleep, no pillow for, the soul to keep. Just a rock and a tunic. And the kingdom of God. I really don’t think I follow Jesus all that well.  **Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the funeral
director, the one who was just a little bit too late in his proposal?  His best friend John had died. John was rich,
and he left behind a rich widow - Mary – and Mary had no children, no heirs. John was driving Mary home from the funeral, in one of his black funeral cars. On the way, he confessed his undying love to Mary –  I’ve always loved you,
he said, but because John was my best friend, I kept these feelings to myself. But now that John’s gone, well – if you ever think about getting married again, would you consider me? Mary smiled ever so sweetly and answered, Tom, I appreciate your lovely offer - I really do,

only you’re a little late – John’s doctor already asked me.

Sometimes you shouldn’t wait. Some matters require urgency. Jesus practically turns would-be disciples away
because they have more important things to do.                        
They don’t appreciate urgency.

Elijah tells Elisha, you must observe me as I leave – pay attention – otherwise, you’re on your own. This discipleship stuff is not easy. Now is the time, today is the day,
Scripture says.  But for you and me – these twenty centuries later – the urgency of discipleship seems obscured by the routine of daily living. Following God intensely is – well, too intense. *A young monk once confessed to one of the older monks his desire to follow God completely. I just want to give myself to God. He assumed the older monk would be fatherly and gentle, but he wasn’t. Instead, he shouted at
the younger monk,    Now.  He shouted it again, Now!             
Then he followed the young monk all over the monastery,
with club in hand,   Now. Now.  The old fellow still
chases the young monk.   Now. *Let the dead bury
their own dead. And I wonder, what is Jesus’ rush - now?
And for what?  **I became curious last year, following the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.
At Dylan Roof’s bail hearing, the families stood-up in court and said to the murderer, Dylan Roof - who was completely unrepentant, and not at all self-reflective - I forgive you.
They said it as a matter of faith, I forgive you.  Now, had they asked me, as a priest, I would have advised them otherwise.
I would have told them, it takes time to forgive. You have to work through your emotions, your grief – Plus, forgiveness – though it is a choice, it is also not a choice. You can choose
to forgive, yet the freedom of forgiveness often requires
years of hard work.

An open wound must first scab over, then heal – and even then, you’re left with an ugly scar. Two – three weeks –
not enough time. But the families didn’t ask me. It all started when Judge Gosnell – the unpredictable and irascible
South Carolina jurist - told the families that yes, their relatives had died in cold blood, but their grief was no different from that of Dylan Roof’s family. They are victims, too, he said. His words were scandalous, and there is no way to compare the grief of one with the plight of the other.
But the families ignored Judge Gosnell, and when Ethel Lance’s daughter, Nadine Collier, stood to speak – Ethel – by the way - liked perfume and Etta James, and listened to Porgy and Bess over and over again. Ethel and Nadine, mother and daughter – were best friends – they spoke and texted multiple times each day – Nadine grabbed the edges
of the podium, in front Judge Gosnell and all the world –
and she said to Dylan Roof,  “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to [my mom] ever again—but I forgive you, and [may God] have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.” Now remember, forgiveness is not reconciliation. It is not a waiver of justice. It is a spiritual matter, bound by psychology.
Which is why, as Christians, there is urgency to forgiveness.
You have to pay attention. And, Nadine didn’t ask me – thankfully - it is almost as if she heard the haunting curse
of the old monk, and listened to him,     Now.
Now. Raw emotion dripping from her soul, she forgave.  Without waiting for her psychology to catch-up.  In fact, I’m guessing Nadine to this day chooses every day to forgive Dylan Roof – waiting for her psychology to catch up
with her faith. But she did it.  And, I’m sure by now, you see where I am going – today is the day of salvation.
Now.  And I’m wondering, whose sins you hang onto too tightly? The disciples hung onto the sins of the Samaritans
too tightly – They wanted justice, fire from heaven. Jesus rebuked them. Against whom have youhoped for fire from heaven? Perhaps you’ve heard Madeline L’Engle’s
response to Jesus – Remember when Jesus said,
whosever’s sins you forgive are forgiven, whosever’s sins you retain, they are retained – Madeline L’Engle asked,
If you do retain [someone’s sins], whatever will you do with them? Forgive us our sins,as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Now.

So, no, I’m not a particularly good disciple – my bags
are not packed. I have a cozy bed and a comfortable pillow.
But I am aware – that there is an urgency to the soul –
with regard to forgiving of others. But thank God for Nadine
– if Nadine can choose to forgive, Now, well, then, so can I.

So Can I.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Eyes of God Weeping
Rob Gieselmann, June 19, 2016

Jesus said, Those who live by the sword,
will die by the sword.  Elijah lived by the sword.
He had just finished killing the prophets of Baal –
all of them; himself, by the sword.  In response, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah’s head –
This scared Elijah; he became afraid. Kill me now, he cried out to God, before Jezebel catches me.

Only God didn’t answer Elijah, at least not directly.
It’s almost impossible for God to speak – or at least for you to hear – when your primary emotional response is fear.
Fear cripples the soul and binds God’s hands. And I have to wonder,whether fear is why Elijah could not perceive God in the fierce storm? In the crippling earthquake or raging fire?
Whether Elijah found God only when his fear abated, when all became quiet, both on earth and in his soul. The silence of the soul. I, too, have experienced God in silence of the soul. Be still and know that I am God, the Psalmist wrote.
I have turned off my i-phone, the television, computer and radio,and walked into wilderness of the earth and climbed the holy mountains, and found God there,in the silence.  I’m sure you have, too.…But don’t you know:  not all silence is alike. Not all silence transmits the peace of God.

--- One week ago, today, the parents of the youngest victim in the Orlando/Pulse shooting – she was 18 years old, and had just graduated from high school – her parents waited
ten hours in silence to learn that their daughter had died.        
From 2 in the morning until noon. There was silence. I can assure you,theirs was not the silence of God; and they felt so alone.

Likewise, you will be hard-pressed to find God in the silence of the homes and apartments of the 49 victims.
The silence within those walls must be haunting. Now, I have to be honest: I do not fully understand Elijah, and his retaliation against a religion he did not appreciate – it only makes sense if the prophets of Baal engaged something egregious, like child sacrifice. That Elijah was trying
to stop the murder of children. Perhaps, but you have to
project this motivation onto Scripture; it isn’t in the text.
Which is why, I really do not understand Elijah. Anymore than I understand those in our day who kill people in the name of God.

And the Orlando murderer – I’d rather not use his name –
claimed to act in the name of God. But his claim is dubious;
and his motives were complex. He was a violent man.
He had a long pattern of addressing problems in his life with violence. Add that to the apparent fact that was afraid of his own sexuality. He’d visited gay clubs before - only, both his family and strict Islam forbid homosexuality. Did he murder 49 people to silence his own sexuality? To silence self-loathing? To silence his own Legion of demons? In the name of God? *When we were about to go into Iraq, following 9-11, I preached a provocative sermon asking the congregation,to consider Jesus would have supported war at all?

Wasn’t Jesus a pacifist? I asked plainly. Naturally, that question offended a few people, in particular one woman whose husband was a respected professional who had served honorably during WWII. This man wasn’t never
attended church, so I’m guessing this woman went home and told him that the preacher is a pacifist – which, of course, is not what I said. Several weeks later,he was admitted to in the hospital with bone cancer. I visited him,
and as soon as he realized I was the preacher who talked about pacifism, he tried to bait me. You know what I’d do
right now if I had a gun? he asked. I’d go into that hall
and I’d shoot that nurse. In fact, he added, I’d shoot everybody out there. I ignored him and changed the subject.
I’d shoot you, too, he said, when I wouldn’t take his bait.
Again, I ignored him.So he changed tactics. You’re a queer.
He spat at me. Not really. I answered. Yes you are, you’re a queer, he continued. Again, I didn’t take his bait, only this time, he looked me in the eye,and finally asked what he really wanted to know: Don’t you care what I think about you? I chortled, and said, Why would I possibly care what you think about me? From that point on – once he could see that I wasn’t going to retaliate against him, no matter what –
he welcomed me.  And over the coming months, I walked with him as he died of bone cancer.

Looking back, I wonder, what would have happened had I responded out of fear? What would have happened had I been afraid of myself, of my own personhood,my own sexuality, and become defensive? Here’s the thing – and it now seems obvious: the men and women killed a week ago at Pulse in Orlando were targeted for either being gay
or identifying with those who are gay. The shooter picked
the gay nightclub on purpose. Like I said, it seems
as though he wanted to kill his own demons. And this is what I want to say to you – out loud – today – with the backdrop
of this targeted violence: As Christians, shouldn’t we say,
I, too, am gay. Shouldn’t we say, this week, I, am gay.
This week, of all weeks, I stand proud, not as a matter
of sexuality, and certainly not politics, but side by side
with my brothers and sisters who continue to suffer because of their sexuality?  As Christians, we are always called to stand in solidarity with the person forced by society to live at the margins. To uphold the dignity of every human being.
Especially those at whom others spit words of hate at them,
Or worse, bullets. But like I said, the issue is not sexuality – it never was. It is fear. It is the same fear Elijah experienced – it bound him. It is the same fear Jesus cast out of the man with the Legion of demons. Fear, and I wonder, why are people so afraid? But you and I are people of faith. People of hope. And people most of all of love. Faith, hope and love,
compelling us to stand proudly alongside our gay brothers and sisters for as long as it takes, until the violence stops,
and until the hate stops. *Don’t you care what I think of you?
the architect wanted to know? Why would I care what people
think, when we’re talking about 49 lives innocently lost.
Didn’t you hear Paul: we are all the same to God:
There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman, east nor west, gay nor straight. In God’s eyes,
there is no distinction. Which is why today, God’s eyes are bloodshot -  with tears, from weeping.