Rev. Kevin Johnson
October 3, 2010
Bloom in the Desert Ministries, Palm Springs, CA
Sometimes your pain is so huge; you lose your sense of right.
And sometimes the desire for vengeance is so great, you think about doing terrible things.
This is human. It is human now. And it was human when the psalmist raged against the Babylonian captors who came and took him away into captivity and who made his life so miserable.
Sometimes life is miserable. We all know that and I don’t mean to sound trite.
But even in the midst of miserable, our faith reassures us that God is with us and we are capable. And the substance of our faith tells us that God loves us and wants things better for us.
The factors that goof that up are that some people are not in tune with the love song from God. And the discord they produce – the noise they make -- is enough to drown out the goodness and love that could be music to our ears.
These are some of the facts of life. And in the face of those facts, we are invited to live in faith. Big faith and small faith. We are invited to live in faith remembering God’s love and calling in our lives.
And when we do that now, we can be the ones who take our harps back out of the trees and produce the music that soothes and heals and helps all of us grow into better beings. That’s what we can do.
Now, I am not here to tell you that this is easy. There is much hardness in life that I could talk about today.
But today there is one main topic on my mind as I hear the words. “But how could we sing a song of YHWH (God) in a foreign land?” That’s The Inclusive Bible translation. Some will remember this psalm as: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
It is impossible for me to pass through this Sabbath without sticking on one fact. My sticking point is that there were multiple suicides completed in the past few days and weeks that made national and international news. These completed suicides were the results of the immediate and long-term effects of bullying and other forms of homophobia and heterosexism against gays.
As someone who believes that grace is the salve that can heal the wounds of torment, it is arresting for me to know that sometimes torment is so hurtful that grace cannot arrive in time. And the only way some people can return to life is though a leap of determined faith that results in leaving this planet.
My message today is meant to remind us that we who name ourselves Christians are called to live our faith in ways that make us branches strong enough to catch the falling and cradle the weak. We are called to be servants in the world working all the time so compassion and justice will be able to be wherever we are, whenever we are there.
And my hope is that because of who we are, fewer and fewer people will suffer the torments that come when they are not able to live and be and sing the truth that defines who they are.
As we hear The Bible readings today, the common thought is that “Psalms” are songs that were sung in ancient worship and community. Like songs now, psalms from back then express a wide range of ideas and emotions.
You probably know exactly what I mean when I mention the comfort of the 23rd psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But who among us would remember that the words of the 22nd psalm are the ones put into Jesus’ mouth by the gospel writer who gives us “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me,” from the cross.
The “My God” words are searing. So are words in the Bible that pray for the ending of a generation of conquerors by killing all their babies.
As one scholar says: “This psalm (137) is about not singing. The prisoners of the (Babylonian) empire were (certainly) not going to take up their (musical) instruments to entertain the oppressor. They hung (their harps) in the willows, and the writer pledges never to forget what the empire has done to his people. Better to lose his playing hand and have his tongue cling to the roof of his mouth than forget, or accommodate, or detach (from the tormenting deeds of the oppressors).”
They say the psalmist was writing about the memory of captivity. He had a strong memory! Maybe you have some strong, searing memories.
The memory was so horrible that it was paralyzing. Being in a strange or foreign land is OK on vacation, but not OK when you are captured and forced to be there as the laborer and the entertainer for those who think themselves superior to you.
It is just this experience of emotion that lets people who are bound up in chains or a closet against their wills realize that Bible stories are a double edged sword. Bible stories can bring us new freedom. At the same time, Bible stories can teach us terror.
Some people use the Bible to justify conquest and oppression -- just as slave owners did, just as women’s rights opponents did and just as anti-gay rights activists do.
One guy wrote to his mother to say: “Being young and gay in the South , (which is called) “The Bible Belt,”– (is to live where) Leviticus is screamed from the throats of men whose hearts have hardened against people they don't … want to understand.
“Leviticus” is the book of The Bible most quoted against gays. The young man tells his mother: “Living in the Land of Leviticus …is no easy thing, even when there are those that love and accept you. Being alone would be tantamount to being insane. Or dead. Or a living dead guy walking around with no hope or options, because in the Land of Leviticus there are no options available because there is no hope here.
Here in the Land of Leviticus where a brick bearing the poorly written (obscene) message (that I will not repeat) was hurled through my front window, I can do nothing but watch the police take the brick away and shrug and say ‘boys will be boys.’”
Standing amongst the shattered remnants of a simple window in a simple home, I can't help but ponder the Orwellian nature of the Land of Leviticus. Where justice is moot. Where love is perverse. Where torment is laughed off as ‘boys are gonna be boys.’"
("The Land Of Leviticus" A Message From My Son. by Socratic Method )
This morning, dear church, I say that once the shock of attack has worn off, we do not have to stand motionless in the midst of the shards of broken glass. We can gather our wits and move forward together.
Some of you may know that Bloom member Charles Robbins is the executive director of The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is dedicated to “saving young lives” as a suicide prevention hotline for gay teens with call centers in Los Angeles and New York.
Charles was interviewed by an Evangelical Christian blogger recently and he shared with me the interview:
Charles told the blogger : I think that the fact that so many young people are so tormented—so ostracized by their family, peers, school, and society in general–that rather than engage and participate in life, they choose to end their life, says a lot about the Christian values that everywhere inform our culture. I think each and every one of us needs to look inside of ourselves, and examine those values for both the good and the harm they’re doing. What I would also very much like Christians to know is that being gay isn’t a choice that anyone makes. It’s not a switch you can turn off and on. Gay people were born into creation just like anyone else, and to devalue who they are by insisting God didn’t really make them as they are is to deny them the right to a rich and loving relationship with God–and that’s a terrible, terrible thing to (do to) anybody.”
Charles goes on to say: “No one should ever use scripture to justify removing another person from the spiritual process. If you’re a Christian—as I am—you should look to Christ for how to live and act toward others. And what does the Great Commandment of Jesus say, but that we’re all supposed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? I wish more Christians would remember what Jesus himself told them to do.”
I am grateful for Charles’ national witness.
And I think we can remember – that is, if we want to. I think that we can remember that there are young and old people living in the Land of Levititicus, right here and far away form here, and it is a terrible torment to be there.
So I hope we will do what we can to get there in time with compassion and justice so that rage and vengeance are not the winners of any day.
I hope that we will see that we can channel the rage of the psalm writer as a rage against community injustice and personal desecration. But I do not want us to answer any call to vengeance.
When we are in World Communion today, let’s pray and remember that as Christian people, we will stand tall for the people who feel the smallest. And will remember that we are called to stand with the people who need a friend at their side in strange and foreign lands.
It’s not easy. But as we do it by overcoming the challenges and differences that separate us, we can lift many burdens together, and heal the pains, and make real the love and faith we say we have.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.