Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sin With A Dash of Salt

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 18:20-26, 32-33; 19:1-13, 24-29:

There is a famous cartoon in which a minister is standing before the congregation and he’s saying “There are some things I need to say to you,” and outside the church window you can see a moving truck being pulled up.  I was thinking of that carton this week as I prepared this sermon, and found it widely appropriate for what I am going to say, and maybe what I have to say today will make sure that I get lots of people to help show up to pack up the moving truck so you can make sure that I am actually gone, and at the very least it will give the town something else to gossip about besides for the fact that you are getting a female preacher.  But there are some caveats that I have to make at the start here.  The first is that this is going to be a PG message, because in order to deal with this passage we are going to have to deal with some sticky subjects.  The second caveat is that Sodom and Gomorrah is not about homosexuality.  I know that will come as a shock to many of you because it’s so often interpreted in that manner, but the story doesn’t present it as such, nor do the other references to this story in the rest of the scripture deal with it in that sense, and this is the most referenced story from the Book of Genesis in the rest of scripture.  The final caveat is that even though this story is not about homosexuality, at the end I am going to talk about how I this issue, and I do so for the very simple reason that when I asked a year ago last fall for questions people had that they wanted addressed, one of those questions was “How should we as Christians think about homosexuality?”

A year ago I couldn’t have answered that question, not because I didn’t have the answer, but because we didn’t have the relationship that I believed was necessary in order to cover this very controversial subject.  I hope that now after two years you know and trust me, or like me enough, to be open to what I have to say, or perhaps you’ve learned to ignore what I have to say and so it won’t matter.  Hopefully you also know that I love you enough to be saying this out of love, and we also know that we don’t have to agree with each other in order to be in relation with each other.  What I have to say might make you furious with me, you might want to argue with me afterwards, and that’s okay, but it’s because of those feelings that I also approach today’s sermon with great fear and trepidation, and all I can do is to tell you where I am, how I got here, and how I read scripture to allow me to think what I do about my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Handmaid's Tale

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 16:1-16; 17:9-14, 24-27; 21:9-21:

These stories from Genesis just don’t get any easier to deal with, in some ways maybe they in fact become harder to comprehend and to understand, and I certainly think that is the case with the passages we just encountered between Hagar and Sarah and Abraham.  In fact these particular stories are so troubling that in the original version of the lectionary, which is the recommended readings for each Sunday, the story of Sarah expelling Hagar and her son were not included.  When the readings were revised in the early 90s that story was added back in, but denominations could choose whether to use it or another reading.  The United Methodist Church is the only one that uses this passage, and no one has the passage in which Hagar is given by Sarah to Abraham in order to bear him a child, with hopes and prayers it would be a son.

Even in the reference materials I have been using in preparation for these sermons, both Christian and Jewish, completely ignored these stories because let’s be honest they are difficult to deal with.  Just by a quick show of hands, how many people have ever heard a sermon preached on either of these passages? That’s about what I would expect because we hear these passages and we wonder what we are supposed to take from them, how could these be lifted up as the word of God, how could someone we revere like Abraham have done such a thing and how could God have allowed or even have endorsed such a thing to take place?  These are all troubling questions, but I would suggest that we ignore this passage, and others like it, at our own loss because the message that it conveys is vital for our life as Christians in the church and in the greater world.

But before we dive into the heart of the matter, since it’s been a few weeks since we talked about Abraham, let’s do a quick review of what’s come before for those of us who don’t remember the story.  Abraham is called by God to leave his family, and he is promised that his descendents would be given a new land, and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-7).  But, as he and Sarah travel around, Sarah never has a child.  So, Sarah offers Abraham her Egyptian slave Hagar.  You may have heard her referred to as the handmaiden, but let’s be honest and refer to her as she was, a slave.  It's important to name Hagar as a slave because it means that Hagar has no control over her life.  She has no say in what is taking place with her.  She had no say in coming into Abraham’s household, as she was more than likely given to him as a present by the Pharaoh of Egypt.  She has no say in whether she wants to marry Abraham or not.  She has no say in whether she wants to have sex with Abraham or not, let alone to have his child.  Today we would call this a situation of rape.  That might seem harsh, but if you can think of another term please let me know, because that’s what it appears like to me.  This is a situation with extreme power dynamics, and Hagar is on the losing end.