The Third Sunday of Easter
Gospel Reading: Luke 24:13-35
21 “We were hoping that Jesus would be the One to set Israel free from the bondage of Rome. Besides all of this, today – the third day since his arrest, torture, trial and execution – some of our women amazed us! They brought us astonishing news! Before sunrise this morning, they were at the tomb where Jesus was buried but they didn’t find his body! They returned and informed us that they had seen a heavenly messenger who declared to them that Jesus is now living!”
As surprising as it may sound, because the popular perception is that all gay people are having marriages around the clock as part of our “agenda” to “destroy the traditional family unit,” I haven’t attended very many same gender weddings. Most of the people I know have either already had commitment ceremonies prior to my meeting them, or they are expressing their love for the person they are with by committing to each other without a ceremony. This is because in the vast majority of the United States, for persons of the same gender or for persons of alternative gender expressions, they are not able to have the state recognize the legitimacy of their unions.
The limited number of same gender weddings I’ve attended – which I can literally count on one hand – have been, for the most part, somewhat generic heteronormative imitations of North America’s communal perception of what constitutes a marriage ceremony. Please don’t misunderstand me: It’s not that there’s anything in any way wrong with these ceremonies. They are lovely celebrations of love; it’s just that I’m always hopeful that we, as a community of people who are blessed with a unique gift of God in the expressions of our love, and because of our unique prophetic voices; that we can find it within ourselves to strive to be more than reflections of those who surround us.
The wedding ceremony which I attended yesterday was that exception! I attended the wedding ceremony of two very dear friends who’s marriage celebration surpassed any ceremony of any couple – same gender loving or heterosexual!
I met the brides when were all students together in Divinity school. April was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Cambridge, MA. I teasingly tell people that April is my twin sister! This, for me, is true on an emotional level. We are two people who have shared life experiences; the similarities of our experiences have given us shared outlooks on many things. I met Marie later in my Divinity school experience when she arrived from the Midwest, transferring in from another Divinity school. Last year I was blessed by Marie when she asked me to go apartment hunting with her to help here find a place to make a home for her and April, who at that time, was in Atlanta working at a hospital Chaplaincy program.
Their ceremony was a unique celebration of not only their love and commitment to each other, but also a celebration of their faith and their faith community. The liturgy which they crafted for their ceremony welcomed into the service everyone in attendance. There wasn’t the feeling of being an audience observing two people getting married. The persons in attendance became participants in their wedding celebration.
April and Marie honored me by asking if I would assist in serving the Eucharist meal. By happenstance, I served the brides the wine after they had received the bread, I was so moved by my love for both of them, as well as the blessing of the service, that I broke down and cried like a baby! I couldn’t get out the traditional words of “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation!” because I was having, what Oprah terms, “the ugly cry!”
For those of us present yesterday at April and Marie’s wedding, we can echo the words of today’s Gospel reading: “Some of our women amazed us!”
As I look back on my life, I am blessed to have many women in my life who have amazed me, most especially my mother.
My mother is a true Southern belle in every sense of the word. She personifies the best qualities of what it is to be a Southerner – hospitable, warm, and caring - while at the same time eschewing those things which are ugly in Southern culture. Those who would mistake my mother’s gentle way and soft Southern accent as somehow being reflective of a weak person make a grave mistake indeed! My mother may be a Southern magnolia, yet to borrow a phrase, she is a Steel Magnolia!
My mother hadn’t voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since she had voted for John Kennedy (“Why any man that handsome I just had to vote for!”), but yet she voted for President Obama telling me “That other man who was running was just too mean! I just couldn’t vote for someone who is that mean!”
My mother has been the greatest spiritual influence on my life. She has many times told me how when she was pregnant with me, she was sitting in her bedroom reading her Bible when she came across the Hebrew Scripture narrative describing how the mother of Samuel the Prophet dedicated Samuel to God and the work of God. Mother said that when she read that passage, she closed her Bible, set it aside, and placed both of the hands on her stomach and prayed dedicating me to God and the work of God before I was even born.
Mother was, and continues to be, the driving spiritual force behind our family. The first place my mother took me after she brought me home from the hospital as a new born baby, was to our Presbyterian church to have me baptized. I’ve been in church every since. My mother was our church’s secretary and my father was always serving in some capacity or office as either a Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Teacher, or Scout Master, so there wasn’t a time that I wasn’t in church. Yet for all of my mother’s traditional Christian views and strongly held beliefs, she is a thoughtful and reflectively thinking Christian. She is, in her own way, a unique Christian theologian always studying her Bible, reading theological books, and formulating her own theology which is sometimes at odds with the majority held opinions.
Mother’s primary theological belief is “Jesus doesn’t like mean!” She will not tolerate or accept any teaching, message or sermon which she perceives as being mean saying “Now Jesus doesn’t like mean and that’s just mean!” Meanness, or the lack thereof, is her litmus test of the validity of someone’s teaching, message, sermon or ministry. She believes that meanness is intentional and therefore not something which we are called by Christ to do to other people. Meanness, therefore, is the line for her between the true Gospel message of Jesus and falsehood.
My mother’s seemingly simple theological observation is profound in the world of Christianity. Mean flourishes in that which is the traditional North American practice of Christianity. We’re so good at it that intentional meanness is the popularly held perception by non-Christians of what defines Christianity.
Mother is correct in her assessment: Meanness is intentional. We have to make the conscious decision to be mean to another person or persons. We have to formulate in our thought processes exactly how we are going to express meanness and then we actually go about intentionally being mean to other people.
Meanness is the intentional infliction of pain. Meanness is the intentional infliction of harm, damage, and degradation of other human beings who we, in our self righteousness, have decided are not worthy of our compassion, our love, our kindness. Meanness is our denying of Communion elements to those who we decide are “unworthy.” Meanness is our decision that some people are not worthy of the love of Jesus Christ, and therefore, we decide it is to be denied to them.
We like to hide our meanness behind a cloak of religiosity, but sadly, the emperor of meanness is not wearing any clothes. Our meanness is naked and exposed for all the world to see. We like to pretend that our meanness is a necessary demonstration of our disapproval of everyone else’s “sin.” Yet sin, like beauty, is completely in the eye of the beholder. The first rule of ethics is “Do no harm.” The first rule of meanness is “Do harm!”
Jesus said of those who would be the emulators of his teachings “The world will know you are my followers in that you have love one for another.” A far cry from “the world knows we are Christians because we are mean.”
My mother’s litmus test of meanness may seem simple, yet, for me, it is the encapsulation of the intention of Jesus as to how we are expected to conduct our lives.
My prayer for you this day is that in honor of YOUR mother, you would make the conscious decision to abandon meanness.
There is much healing which needs to be done in our world. In the name of Christ, may our prayer always be, “Let it begin with me!”
“Some of our women amazed us!”