Sunday, November 20, 2016
Dave Grishaw-Jones, Peace United Church
Back in 1993, the city of Billings, Montana, was rocked by a series of hate crimes. Skinheads were running around town painting swastikas on synagogues, and even the Ku Klux Klan was showing up outside black churches, encouraging black worshippers to get out of town.
Late in the year, during the holy Jewish festival of Chanukah, a skinhead went to the home of Tammie and Brian Schnitzer, local human rights advocates and leaders in the synagogue in town. The skinhead stopped at a window decorated with Star of David decals and a menorah, which is, of course, the nine-branched candelabra symbolizing Chanukah itself. Then he hurled a huge cinder block, sending ragged, jagged shards of glass into the bedroom of little Isaac Schnitzer, who was just five years old.
Isaac’s mom waited for the police to arrive that night: Tammie felt cold, but she said later “it wasn’t the winter air coming through the broken window.” It was her sense of being so helpless. It was her fear of what would come next. The next day, she told a reporter from The Billings Gazette that she and her husband would probably be taking the Chanukah symbols off their windows for a while. And the reporter included the quote in a story that week.
As it turned out, a bunch of folks read that story in the paper, including a Catholic priest, a UCC pastor and Margaret MacDonald, one of his key lay leaders. Margaret called her pastor right away, with an idea. “What if we had our children draw menorahs in Sunday School?” she asked. “If we photocopied as many menorahs as we could? And then if we told people in churches to put them up in their own windows?”
And this is what they did. In Protestant churches that weekend, and in Roman Catholic churches that weekend, and in all kinds of black churches and universalist churches as well. The following week, hundreds and hundreds of menorahs appeared in the windows of Christian homes in Billings. Margaret MacDonald put one in her own living room window—facing a busy street. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” she said later. “I had two young children at the time, and I had to think hard about it myself.”
Another among the first to put a menorah in her window was Becky Thomas, a Catholic mother of two who lived very near the Schnitzers. She told a reporter, later that year, and these are her words: “It’s easy to go around saying you support some good cause; but this was different. This was putting ourselves in some kind of danger.” And then she told her husband: “Now we know how the Schnitzers feel.”
|Pulse Massacre, Orlando, June 2016|
So let’s be real for a moment.
We’ve just elected a vice presidential candidate who openly advocates for conversion therapy. And if you’re not up on that, conversion therapy is a cruel form of homophobic abuse—usually promoted in fundamentalist Christian circles—in which LGBT folks are ‘converted’ back to their so-called ‘natural’ state. Now I’m not making this up. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana has openly advocated for just this kind of thing. And you and I know how devastating this kind of thing is—and even just the idea of it. How devastating religious hatred for LGBT friends can be—for LGBT friends themselves, for their families, for folks like the 50 who were killed at the Pulse Night Club last June.
Friends, we may live in a bubble of sorts, here in the Bay Area. But homophobia is still very much with us, and it’s still horribly dangerous, and it’s still our calling to call it out. Just like those good folks in Billings got real and got active and got creative in 1993, we’ve got to continue our work, and we’ve got to get real and active and creative here. What’s the next step for an OPEN & AFFIRMING church like ours? How do we make our WITNESS shine, and shine brightly, not only in Santa Cruz, but in Watsonville and across the Central Coast? And, just as importantly, how do we protect, with our hearts and with our faith and with our lives: how do we protect LGBT friends who may be susceptible in any way to the hatred and homophobia of folks promoting conversion therapy? In the bulletin, you see the wonderful, brave response of my friend David Wellman to last week’s election. And David says, “For the next four years, I vow to be as outrageously and openly homosexual as possible. In other words,” he says, “I don’t intend to change at all. Bring it.”
And that’s my question for us. How can we BRING IT?
So one more pivot, and this one back to this morning’s gospel lesson from Matthew.
Every now again, as some of you know, I like to go to the original Greek in these texts. Just to see what was going on there. And this morning it gets kind of interesting.
We read Jesus saying: I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. And as far as English goes, as far as English can take us, that’s pretty good. Jesus is saying that welcoming others is holy work, that treating our guests well is Christian practice. And this makes sense.
But the Greek goes something like this: “POTAY DAY SAY EIDOMAIN XAYNON KAI SUNAYGAGOMAIN.” And here, in the Greek, it’s not simply about welcoming the stranger, or the other, or the neighbor. It’s not simply about politeness or tolerance. It’s about SUNAYGAGOMAIN…a verb in Greek that quickly becomes the world SYNAGOGUE, the place of Jewish life, community, worship and development.
You see, Jesus wants us to build communities together. Jesus wants us to grow leaders together. Jesus wants us to break bread and learn one another’s stories and resist evil and racism and homophobia together. Jesus says: “POTAY DAY SAY EIDOMAIN XAYNON KAI SUNAYGAGOMAIN.” I was a stranger, and you built a new community for me. I was a stranger, and you made me a leader. I was a stranger and you honored my gifts. I was a stranger and you celebrated me and my lover when we got married. I was a stranger and you helped us raise our kids. I was a stranger and you loved me.
And, friends, that’s what we’ve got to do these next four years. Yes, we’ve got to build a community—to continue to build a community—for gay and straight, and trans and nonbinary, and questioning, and all the rest. We’ve got to grow LGBT leaders and allies and loving friends. We’ve got honor the gifts of those who love in all kinds of ways. We’ve got marry folks and baptize their kids and love, love, love them all. And yes, my friends, we’ve got to BRING IT. Because that’s the gospel. That’s Jesus’ urgent call to you and me. We’ve got to BRING IT: because that’s what Christians do.