Come home to Calvary
Can I get an amen up in here?
Last Sunday night, I participated in a public eucharist organized by the SF Night Ministry where a young drag queen offered testimony to the crowd gathered at Jane Warner Plaza (the F-Line turnaround at Castro & Market). She described her faith in Jesus and how church had been her childhood safe space “until it wasn’t.” After internalizing messages of disapproval and condemnation, she eventually turned to alcohol and drugs, looking to escape from something inescapable. No one can, no one should, feel shame for how God made them.
Everyone who follows Jesus is called to live authentically and ethically. Surely Jesus wants us to support one another, especially when we’re struggling.
Through tears and waterproof mascara, a young man in drag evangelized complete strangers, revealing how the Holy Spirit had located him in an Ecstasy-fueled haze on a San Francisco dance floor and had delivered him back into the arms of unconditional love. He praised what we-who-belong already know: the healing power of community nurtures, inspires and transforms us.
No matter who you are, your life is holy. Your story is echoed somewhere, somehow in the sacred text. If you have not yet discovered where your spirit intersects with the Bible, keep going. In the meantime, you may yet find your purpose through serving others. Or in finally becoming still. Or singing a hymn. Or in prayer.
Prayer for Illumination
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and redeemer. Amen.
The Incubator of Exile
Tradition teaches that the author of Jeremiah also wrote Lamentations since both books share a common history. The story goes that Nebuchadnezzar had gutted Jerusalem’s temple and infrastructure, divided the kingdom and locked up Jerusalem’s leaders in Babylon. In the 7th century BC, Judeans found themselves in a particularly lamentable situation. They were cut off from one another, isolated. Anybody here know something about surviving captivity?
Lou, Petter and I live just off Geary Boulevard. At the beginning of the lockdown, there were whole hours in the middle of the day where Geary was completely still. No cars, no pedestrians, nada. I remember looking out the window thinking, “How apocalyptic!”
Beware Deuteronomist Theology
Please take your pew Bibles and turn to page 666.
Look at Lamentations’ opening line.“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!” We usually skip this chapter because it is sad, and then Chapter 2 isn’t much better, so angry, illustrating what is called the Deuteronomist tradition. Just look at it. “The Lord is angry and has humiliated everybody. God has thrown down with wrath,” and there’s a whole lot of smitin’ going on. The Deuteronomist tradition intends to scare us and shame us into conformity. Is that what God wants? Why would an Omnipotent being bother with getting mad at the likes of you and me? Beware the theology of punishment. Another amen please.
The second reading is from Lamentations 3, verse 22 on page 669 top of the page, second column. Let’s read it aloud together.
Lamentations 3:22-33 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will nor reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love (33) for [God] does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Did you catch that last verse? The mistaken theologies of punishment and God’s anger—they fade in the light of God’s mercy. Just hearing you read aloud together I am overcome.
You see, I’ve been preaching to an iPhone on a music stand. No matter what I do, I cannot persuade it to believe. May I do better with you today!
After all, Christianity is more than a beautiful online experience. It’s about body and blood, praying and singing together.
We will end today’s service singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” based on verse 23. It’s the diary of deliverance, the scripture of survival. Jean-François Lyotard writes “This ‘survival’ does not prolong a life that is already dead; [survival] initiates, in the death of what was there, the miracle of what is not yet there, of what is not yet identified.”
“God’s mercies are new every morning” and “God’s love never ceases” — words penned after rampant tragedy, as the exile begins to slacken and deliverance is at hand. You feel me? Can you find yourself in this story? Is our country’s situation echoed in there?
Keep It Real
Now, authentic lament is not something for the cameras. It is not performative victimhood, as is the fashion these days amongst spoiled cowards. Lament is courageous, grounded in real loss and vulnerability. What happened to us was quantifiable, and it is still changing us.
All through the Bible, lament gives way to new songs. Remember Miriam? Her song and dance by the sea after the Hebrew slaves escaped Egypt? Lament clears the way for feelings better than happiness: Hope, Joy. Happiness is to joy as whining is to lament. These expressions make us alive because they’re real.
It’s important to speak of reality from a pulpit in 2021 because other preachers in other pulpits deny reality. Since this week I will be going away for three-month-much-needed sabbatical (Thank you Calvary!), I am compelled by the spirit of Jeremiah to claim in public three things about reality.
Thing One. Covid-19 was (and still is) a catastrophe. It is not Chinese. It is not Nancy Pelosi’s plot. It’s a virus that took away over 603,000 lives in this country alone and is devastating Brazil and India right now. The deliverance from this plague lies in mass vaccination, not just for your sake, but for children and other vulnerable people who can’t have the vaccine.
Thing Two. The Revised Common Lectionary, long ago, assigned to churches the world over the same readings for each day of the year, and 2 Samuel lands fortuitously on what many cities now call Pride Sunday. The reading references the relationship of David (soon to be King) & Jonathan, son of King Saul. Later on, Jesus is born from the house and lineage of David. Taking this passage alongside 1 Samuel 20, it’s obvious they were more than good friends. These men engaged in a consensual, loving relationship. Now imagine, what if we had known about Jonathan and David’s love as children? What about my drag queen friend? It is within the church’s power to end the shame and self-hatred it helped to ignite in queer people through the healing power of representation and visibility.
Thing Three. As our country reels over attempts to outlaw race from being discussed critically, as a child of the South, I can tell you that I would know very little about slavery had my parents not sat me in front of the TV to watch Alex Haley’s Roots. Teaching real history may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if we are to grow up and advance the human race, let alone heal the nation.
Intersect With the Text
African people were kidnapped and taken away from their homes, like the Judeans were marched into exile, like the children of Israel were made Pharaoh’s slaves. The Bible is the song of deliverance from slavery and exile and plague and flood. This rainbow is more than for Pride. It’s they symbol of God’s promise to us that he is officially out of the punishment business, the biblical symbol of God’s faithfulness and mercy.
Healing is the long road home. Fifteen months of chaos and exile, fear and self-inflicted haircuts. We are being delivered, and we are changed.
These are the words of Nobel poet, Louise Glück
Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.
I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring—
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
in the raw wind of the new world.
2 Samuel 1:17-27
David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan.
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
nor the sword of Saul return empty.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.” The Lord is good to those who wait, to the soul that seeks God.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although God causes grief, God will have compassion according to the abundance of steadfast love; for the Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.