Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Rainbow Funeral

The following is a homily I shared for a friend and a parishioner at St. Peter's, Salem. Friends asked me to post it. I was going to do that anyway, so here it is.

Robert Salisbury

Many of you know me as being a somewhat outspoken and activist priest of the church. If you know Bob Salisbury  you will know that he was also an outspoken activist. In his chosen profession as a teacher, he cared for and provided advocacy for young people from every walk of life, but especially kids who had to struggle with their intense anxieties over sexual identity. I think this is one of the ways in which Bob and I first “connected”. 

From the outset, he heard me preach the inclusive church, a church where the love of God we proclaim is for all; without regard to sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, class, or any other category humankind likes to organize us into. For as God cannot be put into a box, neither should human beings be pigeonholed. We are all one blood. We all hope, fear, live, rejoice, suffer and die like all others. As an old Arabic saying puts it; “The color of God is the color of water.” Human beings are 55-65% water. We’re all made up of the same substance as God.

Even before I came here, I liked to organize my thinking around the biblical phrase that Jesus used at the cleansing of the Temple; “My House shall be called; ‘A House of Prayer for ALL People’”. This phrase comes to us in turn from the 56th Chapter of the prophet Isaiah. When both the foreigner and the eunuch asked the prophet where they stood within the salvation plan, Isaiah proclaimed against much biblical teaching in Leviticus, that we are indeed “A House of Prayer for ALL People”. Thankfully that phrase took hold during my time here at St. Peter’s, and continues to be front and center right up until this day.

Being a “House of Prayer for ALL People” meant that there is room in the heart of God for the likes of Robert Salisbury, for Paul Bresnahan for each of you and for the likes of all in the human family whatever and whoever we happen to be. Like the time when my son told me he was gay, I told him; “I love you exactly for you are and for whoever you become.”

In Christian terms, then, “The Good Shepherd” we proclaim is the one who lays down his life for ALL the sheep, and not just some. And what a crew those sheep happen to be. Just look around at who you are. Good heavens, just take a good look at who I am. This is worth laying down one’s life for?

Yes, “The Good Shepherd” thought so. They all followed him to up Jerusalem, rich and poor, common fisherfolk, tax collectors and prostitutes, the lame the halt and the blind, the outcasts of all sorts; he was their Shepherd. He is our Shepherd, and more besides.

One phrase in today’s Gospel that both Bob and I especially like is the one in which Jesus says in a somewhat cryptic way; “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Just who those “other sheep” were supposed to be is not made clear, but it becomes apparent as we live forward into our own history. For as efforts are launched to exclude one group or another from the embrace of God, we realize this cannot be justified theologically, because Jesus died for all without exception. 

Catholicity requires us to be catholic...or shall I say universal. Jesus was the first catholic...or shall I say universalist. You do know that the word “catholic” means “universal”, do you not? For it was for all that he gave his life, and for him there were no exceptions. It may take a while for the rest of the world of faith and politics to “catch on”...but I thank God this church has said “Yes!” As Jesus has said; "Yes!"

The cover photo on this bulletin captures the essence of Robert Salisbury for me. All fun, always ready for a party, a bit mischievous, and above all, a heart as big as the love it bore. We will miss him.

Bob loved literature. He loved the Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas, and of course, he loved Shakespeare. When I searched my memory for a good soliloquy or poem, none immediately came to mind. Then it came to me; the sonnets! I searched them through and came upon the one Darren Cosgrove read a few minutes ago. Sonnet 19. How like Bob, I thought.

Yes, Time will do its work, and no creature on earth will escape his ravages. But Bob’s love for you cannot be deadened.  As God’s love cannot be ended, neither can Bob’s. It will live forever. 

Our hearts have been filled to the brim with the “Big Man’s” love. That’s because he knew deep within that whatever the rest of the world may think or know, God’s love here includes everyone. There are no exceptions.

The Bard’s words speak well, then;
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong, 
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
What wondrous love is this? For not just in verse but in fact and in truth, Bob’s love is every bit as much alive today as it was when he laughed and cried with us throughout his time with us here.
So then as Robert’s priest and friend let me proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. We come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate God’s Love. As Bob loved a good party, let’s not underestimate the Greatest Party of All yet in store of all Bob’s loved ones. The Table at which he feasts today is a Table we share with him too in this church, the church Bob loved very much. Won’t you feast with us there? You do know you are all welcome here. One by one we will all be gathered there with him and all others we love...oh and My God what a party that will be!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fr. Paul

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