Tuesday, November 13, 2012

For those who say if


The first person to greet me this morning, after Teddy, is my friend Janet from Pittsburgh.Such a mix of emotions...On the one hand, Janet is a friend. She was one year behind me at Yale Divinity School. We worked at Pittsburgh at the same time.  On the other hand, she’s kind of a hero. She stayed, even when I had to leave. 

I do same gender marriages as a matter of course. West-Park, for example, has been recognized as the first church  in New York City to perform gay marriages. Janet’s marrying two women led to her ecclesiastical trial, her ordination and ministry put on the line. One of the charges was that she had performed a same sex marriage. The other was that she had not used traditional Trinitarian language.  That was the charge I was called to as an expert witness, having chaired the denomination’s task force on  interfaith marriage. We had concluded that an interfaith marriage was by definition not a Christian marriage and therefore not subject to the rules for a Christian  marriage.  That charge was, as it happened, quickly dismissed. You can’t say that what you did was illegal and that you did it wrong. 

At the end,the case was decided by typical Presbyterian casuistry. That is, since marriage is by definition between a man and a woman and since this ceremony was between two women, therefore it wasn’t a marriage and therefore can't be done and therefore  not guilty. You can’t be found guilty for doing what can’t be done. (Though we say our call as Christians is always to do what can’t be done...)

Janet and Bob
The Terrible Towel
Her trial was so controversial  in Pittsburgh that her family was threatened , friends offered security.  And Janet is also the first B (as in bi..) minister to come out. Her courage is a witness to me. Let me also throw in the Pittsburgh part...every guest to her  first trial was given by Janet a terrible towel, symbol of our beloved Steelers.(A long story of its own.)

And then there is that anxiety. What will she think if few people come? Yes, somehow I still equate success in ministry with numbers.Even worse, will she feel sorry for me?  She is in town for Presbyterian Welcome’s Faithful Servant awards event. I am proud that we were one of Presbyterian Welcome’s first two founding congregations and home to its business office for several years.  Thus keeping alive West-Park;s legacy as founder of the More Light movement for full lgbtq inclusion at every level of church life, including ordained ministry, It took 33 years to win that one. And two men from the neighborhood are visiting us....I want this to go right. 

As I start my reflection, I’m thinking about the fact that it’s Veteran’s Day weekend. And I’m thinking about the fact that we had an election and that Obama was reelected though without the joy that was there the first time.  And I’m thinking about the hurricane and its aftermath. People left in the dark and cold. 

Today’s passages include that gospel story we refer to as the widow’s mite...But we begin with the continuation of another widow’s story, Ruth...and we note that Ruth, an outsider, becomes the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. That whole Davidic line, the line that leads to Jesus, begins with a outsider...

Ruth’s commitment to Naomi was said to make her more valuable than seven sons..she had secured Naomi’s security.

The Gospel lesson seems  fairly simple:
Don’t be like scribes, be like the widow. Do we give from abundance or from poverty? We know all too well those who command honor at our banquets, our benefits. We know all too well those who devour widow’s houses.... who make long prayers...who want the best seats, places of honor.....

in the early 1900‘s our balcony was filled with luxury boxes...the rich sat upstairs, the poor down below...
Following the city’s end of its rent subsidy program , some 6000 people are on the  verge of eviction....

As far as taxes go, including sakes tax, the higher percentage of taxes is always  paid by poor...Do you remember Leona Helmsley’s comment,  Taxes are for little people....

OK. So the widow gives all she has. Maybe Jesus was not necessarily  happy about this....he had his issues with the Temple, perhaps  the Temple was devouring the widow’s house...her life....

Widows has a lot of resonance today. In the first lesson,Naomi. was a widow forces us to ask, who are widows among us? (And people answer:  veterans, bullied teenagers, homeless...) As for veterans, my high school reunion had a whole table f Vietnam war veterans. Our whole working class community was subjected to that war. We experienced it as a community.  Without a draft, it all happens outside if us, its other peoples children...and it goes on....and on...

As we seek to respond to the hurricane, I’m impressed by the role of Occupy Sandy....remnants of Occupy Wall Street using their social media skills to out organize the Red Cross on the delivery of emergency services.

It’s worth reflecting on...the study, based on the most recent available Internal Revenue Service records of Americans who itemized their deductions, examines taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008. They donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income to charitable causes. Altogether, they provided $135-billion to charity, nearly two-thirds of the $214-billion donated by all individuals in 2008, according to “Giving USA,” the benchmark of giving patterns. (See how The Chronicle conducted the study.)
Let’s be clear.. more than 50% of charitable giving used to come fro those under $50000 a year. its now almost 2/3....those $50000 and under give  7% of their income versus vs. 2.8%  for over those wit incomes over  200,000.   Our highest per capita church giving cim Harlem and East Brooklyn...

The issue here as to do with making the most out of what we did have....and caring for one another in the processeproess...I continue to believe that  community is the end of the gospel...

After worship, we spend another four hours preparing survival kits fro those from far Rockaway and Staten island....Lily and Samantha and Mandee again leadig the way along  with Nirka and Leila. W have decided to work mainly with presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Occupy Sandy. 

I com back for the final performance of You Will Make a Differnce. They are sold out with a waiting list. This time I start on the balcony, not the floor. The Crucible pieces are more recognizable. I’m amazed, even in the loose improvisational format how much remains the same. 

And perhaps the ultimate meaning   is revealed in the  performance and feast that concludes the show, I take another producer who is exploring the nexus if church and peace and drama  a tour. A Lebanese Chirstian. Another audience member is amazed at the church’s happy hosting of such performances. If that’s what church is I want to come, he says. 

And I wonder what it would take to gather all those who are seeking community through ritual and experience into a worshipping community, the new church if you would we do that? Gather all those who say if?????  

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