The following comments are Becky’s from the convocation. Interspersed with her comments are several quotes (in italics) from the sermon she references. The scriptural texts were 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a and Luke 8:26-39 (the Gerasene demoniac).
I want to share an experience with you from my internship this past year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. I had the privilege to preach the week following the mass shooting at the gay nightclub, The Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. I felt led by the Holy spirit to preach from my unique perspective as a lesbian.
I experienced a flood of reactions. I was angry. I was sad. I was numb. And I was afraid. Just like Elijah in our 1 Kings reading today, I wanted to find a cave and hide in it. I wanted to hide from the storm of emotions raging inside of me. I wanted to hide from the rabid, non-stop media coverage. I wanted to hide from those who condoned these killings in God’s name because they believe that homosexuals like me should not be allowed to exist. I wanted to hide from the trite statements about prayer from those who just weeks ago were spewing hate against my transgender siblings as to which public restroom they can use. I wanted to hide from those who were offering up another Muslim as another scapegoat to another mass shooting. And I wanted to hide from those people who feel that it’s necessary to minimize those who had died and were injured by saying, “All lives matter, not just LGBTQ lives”. But I heard a voice deep inside of me ask as I was searching for my cave, “What are you doing here, Becky?”
It was a gut-wrenching experience for me to both write and deliver this sermon because I knew that the words that I chose to use would elicit strong responses. These responses ranged from icy, cold stares to warm embraces that enveloped me with love that I can still feel today. I want to share a portion of an email that I received from a lesbian woman who heard my sermon. She wrote:
“Dear Becky…I want you to know how important it has been for me to hear sermons from you and Pastor Rachel that boldly proclaim God’s love and acceptance of LGBT people. I always thought I was lucky that while I was growing up my pastors never preached hate ad never told me I’d go to hell. I had other church members tell me that, but my pastors never did. But that wasn’t enough. I sat in the choir loft every Sunday, sometimes quite confused about my sexuality, and I just got silence on the matter. Homosexuality was not something we talked about in church. I had a couple of mentors in my church who made it a point to let me know that God loved me even if I was a lesbian and they never judged me – thank God for them. But it’s different to hear that message from a pulpit. Until I heard you and Pastor Rachel preach, I had never heard a pastor mention LGBT people and issues in church. Most of the time I just felt like that part of my life didn’t belong in church. But you and Pastor Rachel changed that for me. So thank you for being brave in your sermons and letting all of us know how loved we are.”
Inclusive language matters because words are powerful.
It is easy to view another’s life as not worthy and expendable if you do not see him or her as a human being in the first place. Throughout history we have examples of what happens when people are de-humanized – the witch trials and executions of women, the mass killings and corralling on reservations of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, the Jewish Holocaust, and the internment of Japanese Americans. And still to this day acts of violence happen at higher rates to people of color, LGBTQ people, women, children, and to those who suffer from mental illnesses, addictions, poverty, and homelessness. We push the “others” to the edges of society through our systems of unjust laws and through economic disparity. We sometimes even use or interpret the Bible in such a way that it seems to strengthen our case against those whom we perceive as other. And then we demonize the people even further by attaching names like “the savages, the blacks, the illegal aliens, the terrorists, the fags,” and so many other derogatory names. In this story, the man doesn’t seem to know who he is anymore and simply calls himself the name that’s been attached to him – Legion.
And then Jesus arrives on the scene in this amazing story. The Gerasene man asks, “What are you doing here, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And really, what is Jesus doing there…ignoring social and religious boundaries to reach Legion?…Jesus does not show up to reinforce the way things are in this community…When Jesus shows up, the kingdom of God starts happening. The world is turned upside down…This man, who was once considered an “other” and known only by the name attached to him, has now become Jesus’ disciple in Gentile territory…Jesus met him right where he was at. Jesus will meet you and me right where we’re at, too.
As church leaders, you and I have a responsibility to take great care in the words that we use, and do not use—for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.