The curious fellow in our Gospel lesson today Mr. Bartimaeus, was blind; he was a blind beggar and the louder he screamed for Jesus’ mercy, the more sternly he was warned to hold his tongue. There are many forms of blindness, but as I see it, the blindness of an exclusive faith is perhaps the most profound blindness of all. Thus I can hold my tongue no more than the blind beggar can, because there is something that I can see that I need to share with anyone who will listen. It is not every day that a priest gets to preach to a wider audience than his own congregation, so let me say what is on my heart today.
We have now received an invitation from Catholicism to return to the Mother Church. For those unhappy over The Anglican/Episcopal Church’s “liberal” stance on the ordination of gays and their inclusion in our leadership and membership, there is room in Rome. For those unhappy about the ordination of women, there is spiritual refuge in the purview of the Holy See. Curiously enough, the church that brings you celibacy, will allow married Anglican/Episcopal Church clergy to return as well.
I must respectfully decline that invitation. While I am only one Episcopal Priest, and retired to boot, I find it a curiosity that this invitation comes as it does at a time when it is becoming more apparent than ever that folk are just folk; whether gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor, black or white and so on. How startling that something as obvious as this would be such a matter of controversy. Alas, this is not the first time when the church has been a safe refuge for bigotry. (sorry for the harsh language; but I cannot find another word for the behavior) It is no wonder that so many people have abandoned churches of all denominations. Our squabbles seem very small-minded especially when we review all the urgent issues of the day. No wonder indeed why so many opt out of “organized religion” even at a time when spiritual hunger runs so deep.
Even in Biblical material we are “one in Christ” as the blessed Apostle put; it without respect to classification by sex, gender, orientation, class, or ethnicity. In his very own words, he put it this way, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
This is not at root a liberal/conservative issue it is a biblical one. It has its traditional dimensions as well. For instance, we figured out 600 years ago that it is a good idea to allow the clergy to marry. This is a splendid way to channel clerical libidinal energy. It is no assurance of rectitude, but the instances of clergy misconduct are far more likely to be held in check if there is a marriage within which to practice intimacy than if there is celibacy with no such outlet. Terrible things can happen to a church with celibacy as the only libidinal outlet as we well know, and the Anglican/Episcopal Church figured that out a long, long time ago.
The great question before us is this; are we a house of prayer for all people or not? Jesus made it clear by his courage in seeking out the lame, the halt, the blind (like our friend Bartimaeus), the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper and all the other outcasts that his church was to be a house of prayer for all people. This he did when he overturned the tables in the Temple in a radical revolution that continues to reverberate throughout the church.
There was a special place in his heart too for the “eunuchs” of his time. I wonder what he meant by the following startling saying; But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." (Matthew 19:11-12) You can define that term as you like, but they clearly were not a threat to folks of the opposite sex. There is considerable evidence that when the biblical material refers to “eunuchs” we were talking of folks whose interests lay with folks of the same sex. We now refer to this group as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered, LGBT for short. And isn't it interesting to note that even Jesus realized that there were those who would find this teaching a hard one to accept. The radical love of Jesus is often hard to take because it includes our enemies.
I believe that Jesus stood up for this crowd too as he stood up for us all, and I am convinced that is why they put him to death on the cross. Jesus was not a liberal. He merely loved everyone! That’s why God died. That’s why God is Risen. That’s why God will come again!
Therefore, I would like to extend an invitation to all you fine folks who have wondered all along why Rome won’t allow her priests to marry. You might find an Episcopal Church to your liking. We have bishops, priests and deacons, and the sacraments to boot, and the clergy can marry and all of us have to have background checks from an outside agency to be sure that we can comfortably call ourselves a “safe church” for children and others. We also figured out that women could take their place at the highest places of the church as bishops, priests, and deacons. Our Presiding Bishop is Katharine Jefferts Schori! Now we are more and more convinced that ordination and membership transcends sexual orientation as well. There are those who differ with us and cite passages in Leviticus and Paul that prescribe such a teaching.
I can cite passages in the Gospel, in Paul, in the Prophets that support a much more compassionate and loving interpretation on the faith tradition. Why anyone would use the bible to exclude people because of gender and orientation is puzzlement to me. But race, was used at another time to justify slavery and the bible has been used to thwart scientific advance as well. The same folks who want to exclude gays refused to look into Galileo’s telescope for about 600 years as well. Many still refuse Darwin's help in advancing us toward fuller understanding of the nature of human nature. They refuse to encourage scientific advancement in stem cell research that could help lead to important cures for so many diseases and ease human suffering. You can add to the list as your leisure.
So, by way of rejoinder to Rome, and some others who have parted company with us; allow me to invite you here; namely to the Episcopal Church; “A House of Prayer for All People”. We have lost quite a few members because of our love for the outcast. So there is plenty of room in most of our churches. More importantly there is plenty of room in God’s heart for you here too. The church has sent out too many chilly messages lately. The church has said terrible thing to gay folk and women. I thought you might like to hear one that proclaims the Good News of God in Christ...the news of a loving compassionate and inclusive church.
I would preach the Gospel today. God loves you and so do I…no exceptions. “We are a house of prayer for all People”…no exceptions, period. And so my friend Bartimaeus, I hope you can see now. Jesus said; Go in peace, your faith has made you well.