“The Inclusive Love of Jesus”
A sermon by Rev. Erika Hagan
You know what? If I had a time machine, and could take video on my phone of today’s service and go back to my past self and show it to her, I don’t think that younger Erika would’ve believed this Pride Service we’re doing today. This is really quite something.
There’s a shirt I’ve seen making the rounds at various Pride events and marches. It says “That sounds Gay. I’m in!” and it makes me laugh…and it also makes me a little sad for younger Erika. You see, 30 years ago, when I was in middle school calling something “gay” was quite the insult. It meant it was dumb. Or wrong. Or gross. “Ew, that’s gay.” The worst case of this framing was someone would mock or hurt you for being gay – a fellow teenager in another part of the country, Matthew Shepherd, was tortured and killed for being gay when I was in middle school, and the news of that scared me so deeply I never even considered presenting as anything but straight, straight, straight.
But the thing that has stuck with me the most from that time was that the actions of those who were tolerant to gay people – like my Episcopal church – were just not to mention the word gay. Don’t ask don’t tell. You are welcome here for who you are, Erika, no matter what you call yourself…just don’t call yourself what you are out loud, please.
I came out as queer when I was in college, 20 years ago. First as bisexual and then later, as my understanding of myself and those around me broadened, as pansexual. 20 years ago was also an interesting time for the Episcopal church, as Gene Robinson became the first out gay person to be elected a Bishop, and our denomination – which for many decades was nicely just not talking about this stuff – began to wrestle with the fact that queer folk weren’t just “out there” that we had to be nice to, queer folk were our fellow Christians, part of the body of Christ with us. What was once “that sounds gay, shhhh!” became “that sounds gay, what on earth are we going to do?”
After my son was born, 17 years ago, I was living in Florida, and looking for an Episcopal church where he could be baptized. I went to three different Episcopal churches. I sat in the back pew, holding my new baby, to hear the priests announce at the peace – when we were to share the peace of Christ with one another – that their specific church was choosing to leave the Episcopal Church in protest to Gene Robinson, and to the newly proposed liturgies for blessing same-sex partnerships. Three different times in three different churches this happened. They were so happy to see a young person with a baby in their church, it never occurred to them that the person in front of them was queer, that they had just said they’d rather leave the Episcopal church than welcome someone like me as a full participant in the life of their church.
Today’s gospel lesson on this day we as a church are sharing our inclusive love, proclaiming our Pride in all of God’s created children, is a really interesting one to ponder. Jesus, they said, why are you eating with those people? I can almost imagine Jesus saying, “they sound like sinners – I’m in!” Labeling those who are not fully welcome as sick, as sinners, is a hard thing to hear – especially regarding homosexuality which for a long time was treated as a mental illness, a depravity, a disease. But if we shift our framing just a little, those who are sick are those who need healing. Jesus doesn’t leave the table in protest; he insists that this is where he is supposed to be, with those riff-raff and outsiders who need him. With those who long to be healed, to be included.
Consider the woman who interrupts Jesus as he’s on his way to heal someone else, the daughter of the leader of the synagogue. That leader just walks up and asks for healing, asks for a miracle. Those who are in power, who are favored in society often do that – feel they can ask for what they need. Not that they don’t have sorrows and struggles, they desperately need Jesus too, but they feel empowered to ask. They know when they walk into a church, they can sit a pew and be included. They know they will receive absolution, and healing, and communion. They know at the peace, the priest won’t say “everyone but people like you can be here.” That leader knows when he asks Jesus for help, that Jesus will indeed come and heal his daughter.
This is not the case for the woman who has been hemorrhaging for years. This meant for twelve years she has been unable to participate in the religious rituals of her faith. There were rituals of cleaning, sometimes called purification, that people performed before approaching the Temple, before approaching God. It’s important to know that the things one cleaned – dirt and blood and bodily fluids – they weren’t seen as wrong or sinful. It was just – living in life makes you gunky. Clean up your gunk before approaching God.
But this woman couldn’t. Part of the ritual is waiting a certain number of days after you stop bleeding, and she just never stopped. She couldn’t even come forward to ask for healing. She was stuck in a catch-22. It’s no wonder she doesn’t approach Jesus head on. She doesn’t ask for healing. Instead, she reaches out and touches his cloak. Both she and the leader of the synagogue have absolute faith in Jesus’ ability to heal – but the leader approaches head on, and the woman reaches out from behind. The leader asks, and the woman silently puts out her hand.
The leader had access to everything that society had to offer. The woman had access to nothing – not to God in the temple, and not to her community. If they touched her they too would need to be purified, to wait a certain number of days and do a ritual, and so she thus became someone you didn’t want to touch. Do you all remember when AIDS first surfaced, and people were scared to touch gay people? There were nurses in hospitals who refused to enter their rooms, refused care.
And yet Jesus stops what he’s doing and turns to the woman. Take heart. Your faith has made you well. He sees her. It’s okay that she didn’t do the rituals, didn’t approach head on, approached as her very self from a different direction than everyone else. He sees her. He heals her, not just from her bleeding, but from her isolation from the community. He includes her too.
When we say “that sounds gay – I’m in!” we are doing something big. When we wear bright colors and proclaim our inclusive love in church, actually in our church service, we are doing something big. When you receive communion from this queer woman at the altar, we as a church are doing something big. We can be proud of this. Pride is about taking something seen as shameful, as untouchable, like homosexuality has been in society and in our Episcopal churches in recent history and instead saying “that sounds like Jesus – we’re in!”
Our turning and seeing those who did not have full access to our church, who sat in pews and heard that who they were was wrong, that until they took steps to change or hide who they were they could not fully participate in the life of the church, the gathered Body of Christ – this isn’t just a question of politeness, or of political correctness. This is embodying the healing love of Jesus to both those who are empowered to walk in from the front, and those who audaciously claim membership as they enter from the side. This is what it means to be swift to love and make haste to be kind – and we can be very proud of that.
This all sounds super gay. We’re in. Amen.