A House of Prayer for Different Kinds of People Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Aug 17th, 2014) Old story: Guy goes to the doctor with symptoms of deep depression. By outward appearances many love him, but still he feels alone and like every day amounts to walking under water. He’s fatigued and sometimes achy but it […]
A House of Prayer for Different Kinds of People
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Aug 17th, 2014)
Old story: Guy goes to the doctor with symptoms of deep depression. By outward appearances many love him, but still he feels alone and like every day amounts to walking under water. He’s fatigued and sometimes achy but it seems to be from his mental state rather than from a cold or flu virus.
The doctor thinks the treatment is simple enough. The doctor says, “Very good news! The famous clown Pagliacci is performing in town tonight. Go see him and you’ll perk right up.” The patient says, “the only problem with that is I’M Pagliacci!”
We learned this week about one of our most famous clowns, Robin Williams who had struggled with addiction, depression, and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He left us at only 63 years old, and the world seemed to be thrown into a state of mourning.
Not only were people sad that a familiar face and great talent left us, and left us about 30 years too soon, but the realization that someone who shared so much joy had struggled so bravely and silently with such overwhelming pain touched us, and brought to mind our own pain, and the pain of others, and the spirit of compassion within us started to move.
The milk of human kindness began to flow.
And from the ashes of this sadness, we wish for a phoenix of hope and healing to rise up to guide others in the paths of treatment, help, and resilience.
Robin’s death touched so many of us so deeply is because it felt pretty close to home.
People who have been oppressed, people who have been abused, people who have been marginalized or targeted, all too often struggle with depression and/or substance abuse.
And, physical illness can also contribute to depression, and in a community that has known the heartbreak of AIDS and breast cancer in higher numbers than most communities, we’ve seen that to be true.
So, Robin’s pain reminded us of pain we’ve seen up close, or have experienced personally, and we cried out for waves of healing energy to wash over our community, our nation, and our world.
Far too often people will ask if ministries such as ours are still needed. There is marriage equality in some states and famous people are coming out in record numbers as same-gender loving or gender non-conforming.
HIV is largely manageable with medications now, at least for many people, and those who wish to serve in the military can no longer be excluded simply for being gay or lesbian.
Who needs a different kind of church now? Can’t we say mission accomplished?
Marriage equality in some states is not marriage equality in 50 states.
And marriage equality in the US doesn’t negate the lives that are threatened in Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Pakistan, Malaysia, or Eastern Europe when those lives are suspected of being gay.
The end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell isn’t the end of fundamentalist purveyors of hatred screeching their vile homophobia from pulpits in Oklahoma and Kansas and Tennessee. And that vitriol being spewed out as religious faith is causing depression, is driving people to substance abuse, is tearing families apart and destroying self-esteem; it is literally ruining and sometimes ending lives.
Not to mention, the end of legalized homophobia, which is nowhere near a reality, still won’t be the end of the homophobic attitudes.
The civil rights movement didn’t destroy racism…it enlightened some people, and it made it more difficult (but not impossible) for racism to be codified, but changing human hearts takes generations. Jim Crow may be over, but Ferguson, Missouri still happens.
The 19th Amendment didn’t end sexism…just ask President Whatshername…we don’t know her name because we still haven’t had a woman president in the US! India, Iceland, Ireland, the UK, Pakistan, Germany and Israel have all had female heads of state and heads of government, but the US still has not.
The Statute of Liberty saying “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” didn’t make every tired, oppressed person seeking safety and refuge welcome in this country. When desperate children are treated as a border threat, Lady Liberty’s invitation rings hollow.
So, the work isn’t over. It’s never over.
Every bit of progress makes our lives and our world better, but the kin-dom of God is an ideal toward which we must continually strive…more hope, more healing, more inclusion, more people learning of and daring to celebrate their sacred value is the goal that never expires.
We’ve got at least another 200 years of work to do, and even though I take vitamins, I doubt if I’ll be around another couple of centuries, so fear not, we are needed and we will have a purpose for as long as we share this planet.
And that is what our scripture in Isaiah talks about today.
Isaiah 56.1, 3-8
Do not let the foreigner feel excluded from divine love or community.
Do not let the marginalized, the physically different, the sexually targeted (eunuchs) and those who don’t have “traditional” families feel they have nothing to offer.
I will give them a name, I will know them for who they are, and that’s a blessing even better than a family legacy or societal approval.
I will give them a name, an affirmation that will not be cut off
(the writer uses a vivid and intentional bit of literary image there – a eunuch has had a body part surgically removed, but divine love cannot be removed, we can never be cut off from God’s body, from omnipresent divine Love…the writer then continues speaking for God)
My house is meant to be a place of prayer for all kinds of people!
Isaiah…actually 3rd Isaiah…there are three contributors to the book of Isaiah and the last 10 chapters are from the third of those contributors…3rd Isaiah offers a beautiful thought about inclusion and diversity, but does so in a way that actually rubs up against our own discomforts.
A call to include those from beyond our borders and recognize their dignity and value to our communities won’t set well with any lingering xenophobia or nationalism which may continue to infect our souls.
There may be more discomfort as we consider eunuchs. Eunuchs were slaves, and slavery is a difficult subject, a shameful part of American history, and its legacy of systemic racism still plagues us.
Furthermore, eunuchs were known for a physical attribute, a genital mutilation, and they were often sexualized beyond that. And, historically, eunuchs were often what we today would call “gay.” And certainly, surgically altering one’s biological sexual appearance has some resonance with transgender people today.
The injured, the outcasts, the foreigners, the gay, the gender-benders, the trans-folk…they all are affirmed in Isaiah’s advocacy of the eunuchs.
Furthermore, Isaiah is daring to confront and disagree with scripture when it is based in cultural bias.
Deuteronomy 23.1 explicitly forbids eunuchs from being part of the worshiping assembly.
And yet, 3rd Isaiah says just the opposite. He says eunuchs are not only to be welcome but have a special place in God’s heart!
Isaiah believes the Deuteronomistic writers got it wrong!
Deuteronomy shuns eunuchs; the prophet Isaiah says let’s rethink that.
If someone has ever said to you that the bible condemns or rejects you, the prophet Durrell says let’s rethink that!
In progressive Judaism, it is expected that each new generation will find new meaning in ancient texts. A text once used to condemn can later be used to liberate. We are not imprisoned by the sacred texts; we are free to engage them, wrestle with them, and save them from the oppressive ways they have been used.
People of various ethnicities, nationalities, languages, as well as to people with physical issues and those who have been identified by and condemned for their sexuality… 3rd Isaiah calls us to be respectful, welcoming, sensitive to such people; moreover, Isaiah believes that such inclusivity is the will of God. Isaiah’s views might not be all that popular in our world today, which might actually prove they are still prophetic!
The prophet believes God’s desire would be to gather the outcasts of Israel.
The prophet rethinks the bigotry that has been uplifted as religious values; he even dares to rethink bible passages that have been used as proof-texts to instill that bigotry.
And remember, being in a targeted group doesn’t exempt us from the work of recognizing the humanity of all others. Jesus was socialized to look down on Canaanites, Samaritans, lepers, women, and children but in the Roman empire, Jesus was part of a subjugated, occupied, marginalized group. Being concerned about justice for his community wasn’t enough; there must be justice for all. So not only is there always more to do in and for our community, but our concern can never be limited to just our community.
3rd Isaiah calls for the inclusion of outcasts.
Who are the so-called outcasts in our world?
How many of these have actually been hurt by selfish and abusive biblical hermeneutics?
How would the prophets Isaiah and Jesus have us examine our attitudes toward the so-called “other”?
And are we as a church willing to answer the call to gather these people from the margins together, affirming that our worshiping community is a house of divine love,
a house of prayer for lesbians and gays,
for gender non-conforming persons,
for documented and non-documented residents,
for people whose first language is not English,
for people in recovery,
for people who are grieving,
for long-term HIV survivors and the newly diagnosed,
for people battling depression,
for all kinds of people?
If you have known the pain of depression, dis-ease, despair, difficulty, or defeat, our message to you today is that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
We are here to hope for you and with you until your joy returns.
To those who have known pain, we say with the prophet Isaiah, we say with the prophet Jesus, welcome home. Welcome to a house of prayer for different kinds of people, all kinds of people. And this is the good news. Amen.
©Durrell Watkins 2014
I cannot be excluded from divine love.
God knows me, embraces me, and dwells within me.
And what is true of me is true for all people.
We are all part of God.
And so it is that blessings abound.