Sermon - 4th March 2012
Lent 2 - Acceptance
Scripture - Mark 8:27-38
Rev Andy Braunston
For the next four weeks we are going to be looking at four themes which are common to our own experience and the experience of Jesus in the Gospels: Acceptance, Betrayal, Forgiveness and Loving Our Enemies. Some of these themes are easier than others, but all have some challenge for us as we journey through Lent together.
As part of my studies for my MA I found myself reading a little book last week which was written by Elizabeth Stuart. Liz is a friend of mine and a lesbian theologian – she’s now pro-vice chancellor at the University of Winchester so she’s done well for herself. The book I was reading looked at the development, trends and repetitions in lesbian and gay theology over the last 40 years or so. It’s interesting and, if you find me on Facebook, you will see that a few of us had quite a good chat last week about some of Liz’ ideas.
One of the views she summarizes is a trend in some lesbian and gay theologians to see the lives of LGBT people reflected in the Scriptures – to question the assumptions that we’ve been taught and to see ourselves in the story. I want to use that technique a little today as we think about the Gospel story we’ve just heard and to reflect on our own stories.
Come Out Come Out!
Many, if not most, of us here have had a coming out experience. We got to a point in our lives where we had to tell others more of the truth about ourselves. Some of us may have chosen to do this naturally, others may have been found out and then had to make the best of it, some of us took years to do it, others got it over with in one great big announcement. Despite all the changes in society, the process of coming out can still be difficult. We risk rejection or misunderstanding and sometimes there can be a huge cost to us when we come out. Some of us here have been married and those marriages have come to an end when the partner found out a little more of the truth about ourselves. Many of us have great relationships with our families, others of us have a more difficult time. All who have come out have needed to be brave and risk a lot in order to be more open.
So what’s this got to do with the Gospel reading that we just heard? Well I think it’s a bit of a coming out story. The passage starts off with Jesus asking the disciples what people are saying about him. Many of us have wondered what other people say about us – before we came out we may have been very worried about what people were saying.
- Had anyone guessed the truth?
- What would happen if they had?
- Could we cope?
- Did we want others to guess? – it would have saved us the job of telling
Once he knew what the outsiders were saying he asked what the disciples themselves thought. He wanted to know if his closest friends had guessed who and what he was. Does that sound familiar? Did we ever get to a point where we wanted those closest to us to know who and what we were? Jesus seems pleased that they disciples get this truth about him – we know how difficult it is to live with others who don’t really understand us, who think we’re something different to what we really are so we can understand the relief Jesus must have felt.
However, we also understand the need for caution. Jesus didn’t want others to know of his Messiah-ship. The long-promised Messiah would set the people free, restore justice and deal with political oppression. Clearly Jesus didn’t want the crowds coming with all their expectations and demands.
When we first came out we may not have told everyone at once. We may have wanted time before the news got out – we may have, like Jesus, wanted to have some control over who knew and when. We may not have been ready for all the questions, all the expectations or all the pain that would follow. For Jesus the claim to be the Messiah led to his death – for many of our lgb & t sisters and brothers coming out and naming who they are still leads to their deaths – by agents of repressive states, by brutal people even family and friends and, most tragically, by their own hands.
The second part of the passage is more confusing. Jesus sternly tells his disciples not to tell others the truth about himself but when Peter rebukes him for talking openly about the nature of his Messiah-ship he turns on Peter. Peter was like the well-meaning friends that try to help us when we come out by controlling what we say and when we say it. I had friends who were, sort of, ok with me being gay but didn’t want me to talk about it too much, to be “normal”, and not to associate with others who would give the game away. Joining MCC really didn’t help in their eyes as it meant I was associating with more outrageous people who also saw the world in a similar way to me.
Peter wanted to look out for Jesus, to protect him and he must have been disturbed by all this talk about the Messiah having to suffer and die – after all the Messiah was the liberator, the one who would set them free. Yet Jesus was talking about failure. For the best of reasons Peter wanted to control what Jesus was saying. We’ve all had experiences of others wanting to control us – often for the best of reasons. Jesus’ response is sharp but does recognise that Peter’s motives are good.
Now where do these parallels take us? Jesus was, in a way, coming out. He was eager that his close friends knew more of the truth about him. The fact he was the long-expected Messiah was part of the truth about him – it wasn’t the whole story but it was an important part. He wanted his closest friends to know, he wanted to control how that information came out and he wanted to manage other peoples’ expectations about what Messiah might mean. The parallels with our own experiences of coming out are clear. We told others a truth about ourselves. Not the truth nor even, possibly, the most important truth about our identity – but we have told others a key truth about ourselves. Jesus, and us, yearned for acceptance as this is a basic human need.
We have made MCC our spiritual home as it both accepts us and tries to embody the radical hospitality that is a hallmark of God’s kingdom. When so many Christians are telling the world they are persecuted because they are no longer allowed to discriminate it’s good to remind ourselves that we show an alternative way of being Christian. Acceptance is a hallmark of our church.
Now this isn’t to say that everything is perfect with MCC – either on a local or international level. Of course there are things that could be done better, we could have more resources, more energy, more money, more people. Of course if we were perfect no one would ever leave us and we’d be huge. If we were perfect we’d never upset each other, never be in bad moods, never misunderstand what another said and always be gracious and charming! The fact we’re not perfect is a facet of our humanity – indeed if we ever find the perfect church we shouldn’t join it as we’d spoilt it.
When I get despondent about things in MCC I remind myself of Erasmus, the church Reformer who never was. Erasmus was gay, brilliant and his writings helped give some intellectual weight to the work of the earliest Reformers of the Church in the 16th Century but he never left the Catholic Church – possibly realising that the new evangelical zeal of the Protestants emphasis on Scripture would be uncomfortable for him. When his Protestant friends asked why he never left the Catholic Church he replied “I put up with much in the Catholic Church as that Church puts up with much in me.”
As we continue to draw people into our life and ministry we need to remember that the acceptance with which we were greeted, the way others put up with us! The acceptance which helped us in our faith journey must continue to be hallmarks of our life together. We put up with a lot with one another, we don’t always like each other – that’s fine: the Gospel calls us to love not like each other.
In a world where the life-giving call of the Messiah to follow Him echoes through empty, shallow and false ideologies we need to continue to accept all in God’s name.
In an age where lgb and t kids still self-harm, or worse, and where others are eager to hurt them our message that God’s love doesn’t discriminate is still needed.
In a culture where we tend to only mix with people who are like us we need to continue to meet with, love, accept and enjoy the diversity of people who are radically different to us – who even, at times, annoy us. Because as we learn to accept one another we learn to accept ourselves more and our radical welcome and acceptance will prepare us well for the Kingdom of God where we will be seen in our true colours.