Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon for December 16, 2012: Luke 3:1-18, Jesus and the Brood of Vipers


Luke 3:1-18

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

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Click here to listen along.

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I’m not really a big fan of John the Baptist.

I know he’s from the Bible.  I know he’s related to Jesus, and his father was a priest, and his birth was announced by an angel.  He’s supposed to be a holy guy.  But he just kind of gives me the creeps sometimes.

Matthew and Mark’s gospels tell us he wore camel’s hair and a leather belt, and ate locusts and wild honey.  He’s dressed in this oily cloak, with a rough belt, and basically eating what he can gather from the rocks and caves around the river.  It’s gross.  He’s out in the wilderness, away from civilization, shouting “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” like the guys who stand outside the Twins stadium and declare that God is a vengeful God who hates all of us for our sin.  When I think of John I think of the schizophrenic I met last summer in the hospital, who told me the whole world was divided into Cains and Abels -- good people and evil people, saved and unsaved, and if you were a Cain, there wasn’t a thing that could be done to save you.  A very black-and-white way of looking at the world.  There is chaff, and there is wheat.

I’ve never really liked that way of thinking, because after a while, it became clear to me that I was going to get that “sorted into chaff” someday.  For not reading the Bible enough.  For not praying hard enough.  For not telling enough people about Jesus.  There would be some valley in me that I’d forgotten to fill in, some hill I’d neglected to make low.  Something crooked that wasn’t made straight.

So whenever John the Baptist Sunday comes up and he points his bony, dirty finger at the people to say “Even now the ax is lying at the foot of the tree,” I feel sick, because sometimes it feels like he’s pointing that finger at me.

And then I wake up in a world where twenty children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, went to their elementary school on a regular Friday, and now will never come home.

Suddenly pointing a finger doesn't seem so hard.  When unspeakable evil occurs, suddenly it is much easier to identify with the wheat, and to hate the chaff.  In the face of horrible tragedy, of atrocious violence, I suddenly feel a lot less sick about drawing lines.

We want to draw lines between us and evil.  We say, Adam Lanza was "not like us."  He had a personality disorder, he was a goth, he was a nerd, he was a genius, he was a sociopath.  There’s something that made him different from us.  We’re on one side of the line, and he’s on the other.  Chaff, and wheat.

But we don’t just do it to him.  Even before we knew any details, broadcasters and politicians and commentators and people on Facebook took up their banners.  More gun control!  Get guns out of unsafe hands.  Less gun control!  Put more guns in citizens’ hands.  Get prayer back in schools.  We need to make mental health care easier to access.  Homeschool your kids.  Private school your kids.  Don’t have kids at all -- the world is a mess.  And everyone gets in a tussle at the dinner table or in the comments on Facebook, drawing lines and pointing at the “other side” and shouting, “You brood of vipers!”

And in the middle of it all, John the Baptist stands in his oily camelhair coat, with his bony, dirty finger outstretched.

But his finger is pointing to Jesus.

Because in that crowd that comes to be baptized, the crowd that John calls a brood of vipers, also stands the son of God.

See, Jesus was baptized by John, too. He came out with the crowds from Jerusalem. The promised powerful one, with the winnowing fork in his hand, is instead standing there alongside the river, getting his sandals muddy and his toes wet. Jesus came to John for baptism, for the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  In Matthew’s gospel, John will try to turn him away -- “I should be baptized by you, Jesus, not the other way around.”  But Jesus is baptized by John, in the same muddy river that the brood of vipers came to, in the same water that all the sinners were washed.  Maybe when John looks at the crowd and cries, “You brood of vipers!” he looks at the sinners, and the evil ones.  Maybe he looks at the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter.  But he maybe also looks at us.  And maybe he also looks at Jesus.

This is the audacity of Christmas -- that when we cry out for someone to separate the chaff from the wheat, God sends a tiny baby.  When we look for the Messiah, we find him standing on the riverbank, shoulder to shoulder with us.  Jesus comes to us, to be with us, to live with sinners and dine with tax collectors.

In Advent, we cry over and over again, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  We remember his birth at Christmas, and we await his future coming in glory.  But it is a dangerous waiting.  Because when Jesus walked among us, he threw out every category we had, and crossed over every line we drew.

He argued with the religious leaders.  He called sinners and tax collectors as his disciples.  He touched lepers when it would make him spiritually “unclean”, and he healed on the Sabbath when no work could be done.  He talked with women, with Gentiles, with centurions and demoniacs.  All the people that the religious leaders and holy people wanted to be separate from are the people Jesus was found standing beside.

When we say “Come, Lord Jesus,” sometimes what we mean is “Come and sort out the chaff and wheat.”  But what he hears is, “Come and turn our lives upside down.  Come and cross all our carefully drawn lines.  Come and be counted with the brood of vipers.”

That’s a whole different kind of Christmas than the one we’re getting ready for.

What should we do?  How do we prepare for this kind of Messiah?  How do we get ready for our lives to be turned upside down?

Like the crowds, we turn to John the Baptist for answers.  What does our baptism mean?  How do we live now?  What kinds of trees are we?  What fruit do our lives bear?

John does not have a complicated system for living into our salvation.  There’s no step-by-step guide to becoming the very best tree with the very best fruit.  John doesn’t say, “Prove your worthiness.  Do even more.  Wear yourself out.  Dump everything you have into making sure your spot in heaven is secure.”

John’s answer is much more simple, and much more difficult.

Love.

Love your neighbor.  Love the one who is cold, and needs a coat.  Love the one who is hungry, and needs food.  Give to them, out of your own abundance.  Love the ones who have less than you -- love them, and care for them.  Love the ones who have things you want.  Love them, and don’t steal from them.  Stop cheating others to benefit yourself.  Act out of love, not out of fear.

Small steps, really.  These are the kinds of things you learn in kindergarten:  share your toys, play fair, don’t hit.  But we get sold messages of greed and indulgence and “looking out for Number One,” and we forget.  We keep our abundance for ourselves.  We focus on our own needs.  We let fear run our lives.  And we draw lines in the sand, between Us and Them, between Good and Evil.

And John the Baptist stands by the bank of the river, with his bony finger pointed, crying out:  Prepare the way of the Lord.

Maybe when John declares that the threshing-floor is ready, it isn’t about separating good from evil, innocent from killer, sinner from saint.  Maybe it’s about the work that God does in us, every day.

Because getting ready for Jesus is not really something we can do alone.  The real leveling work?  The smoothing out of rough places, the difficult made easy?  That’s the work that Jesus takes on for us.  Preparing the way of the Lord.  Notice the verbs?  “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.”  They’re passive verbs.  Something is being done to the valleys and the mountains.  And Isaiah doesn’t say who’s doing it.

What if God is the one who works a way into our hearts?  What if the first step in preparing the way of the Lord is to listen?  To do what we already know is right, and to wait for the Messiah.  To look among the brood of vipers for the One who comes in power.  To wait for the One wants to clear everything useless -- everything that holds us back from love -- from our lives.  To hear the Lord who longs to whisper words of comfort, of peace, of joy.

And so we wait, and listen.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Transition

Last week, my internship church learned that our solo pastor has been called to a new position.

She will become the Director of Evangelical Mission for the Minneapolis area, and she will be amazing at it, and it will be deeply fulfilling for her.  But there is grief.  And I am grieving, too, for a community that will have to face a hard transition, and for the people who lose a beloved pastor.  And in full honesty, I'm grieving for myself -- for losing what has been an essentially perfect supervisor-intern relationship.

Today we learned -- on the Monday of our finals week -- that our seminary president has resigned.

This comes on the heels of, just this semester:  shutting down the textbook section of our campus bookstore, closing a major on-campus dorm due to unlivable conditions, our Dean of Students (who I love) leaving, our beloved professor of church music leaving, the Master of Sacred Music program going to temporary hold for review, the Augsburg Fortress portion of the bookstore closing, our VP of Finances abruptly leaving, and the interim Chief Financial Officer announcing that we are projected to lose $1.5-$2.5 million in this fiscal year.

It has not been an easy semester on the campus of Luther Seminary, and it has not been an easy week for my church.  And in full honesty, it has not been an easy day for me.

But papers are due anyway, and for one class I had to reflect on some readings, offer a critique, and then state a reconstruction or resolution to the critique.

I concluded:

In this moment I have no choice but to depend entirely upon the mission of God. I have been taught that God makes promises, and keeps them. I have been taught, and have repeated, that God does not forget us. I have been taught and have repeated and believed, because my life has no meaning without it, that God is at work in us for greater things than what we imagine. 
It is to this teaching that I must turn, at the end of a long semester, and it is in this promise that I must hope. It is appropriate to leave it here, unresolved, as we wait in Advent and turn our faces to the promise of an incarnate God come to carry out a mission of mercy and compassion. There is nowhere else to leave the broken world but at the side of the manger.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

on the Church of England's vote today


I am deeply disheartened by the Church of England’s failure to pass the measure to allow for women bishops.  Doubly hurt that the vote failed in the house of laity — not the bishops or the priests, but the laity would not allow for women bishops.

I was raised Episcopal, so I have a heart for the church of England.  They are the grandparents, in a way, of the church that raised me.  But they will not call me.  They will not call me priest because I am gay, and they will not call me bishop because I am a woman.

I had to sit through the Episcopal General Convention in 2003 when we fought over the ordination of openly gay priest Gene Robinson to bishop of New Hampshire.

I had to sit through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly in 2009 when we voted on the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian people.

I am so, so sick of sitting through votes on whether women and/or gay people can serve.

Today, I am totally done with this. There are children dying in Israel / Palestine.  There are children starving all around the world.  There are children abused and broken and hurt, and the church is complicit at least by its silence if not by its own acts of oppression.

I love working with people.  I love seeing brokenness explored and wounds begin to heal.  But I am so, so done (at least today) with people who think they have some sort of God-given right to perpetrate abuse and inequality in God’s own kingdom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon on Mark 13:1-13 -- "Are the promises of God still true?"

This week's sermon was knitted up with the hymn of the day, so that text is included also.

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Canticle of the Turning verses 1 and 2
Text: Rory Cooney, b. 1952, based on the Magnificat
Tune: Star of County Down


1.  
My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
and my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
so from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?


Refrain

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

2.
Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
and your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
you will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.                                   Refrain

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Text: Mark 13:1-13 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.  And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.  When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

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Click here to listen along.

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Sermon

I did something this week that I have not done in two and a half years:  I read a book for fun.

I’m reading a book called The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, and Some Don’t.  It was written by Nate Silver.  He’s a statistician, and you may recognize his name, because he’s the guy who last week correctly predicted the presidential winner in all fifty states.  He’s a smart guy, and he understands a lot about predictions -- and also about humanity.  In his introduction, he explains that our strength, as humans, comes not from being able to defend ourselves but being able to recognize and anticipate events.  We can recognize patterns.  We remember what happened in the past, and it helps explain our present and plan for our future.

But the problem, Silver explains, is that our ability to find patterns can make us find them where they don’t actually exist.  We want the world to make sense, and so we look for signs that will explain it.

The first hearers of Mark’s gospel, in about 65 or 70 AD, were living in a time of struggle.  Many of the early Christians were Jews.  Their lives had been centered around the Temple, the great work of so many hands over history, a symbol of their struggle to be a people with a home where they could worship God.  And in 70 A.D., the Temple was destroyed.  All that remained was one of the great walls -- the Western Wall, as we know it today.  Their home, and the house of God, was gone.  It was taken over by Rome, the oppressing political power that made their lives and their faith a struggle every day.  They asked each other, “What does this mean?  Are the promises of God still true?”

And the early Christians, both Jews and Greeks, were struggling with their own individual lives.  Family members turned against them.  They were dragged before political authorities and church leaders and declared to be heretics and terrorists.  They were trying to live out Jesus’ message of love, of peace, of hope, and they were condemned for it.  So they wanted to know -- what does all this mean?  Why does the kingdom of God feel so far away?  Are the promises of God still true?

So they turned to one of the storytellers in their community, Mark.  Now Mark, unlike Nate Silver, was not a statistician.  He didn’t have a liberal arts degree in economics.  Mark didn’t analyze the church’s struggles from the perspective of numbers.  They turned to him because his job was to know and pass on the stories of Jesus.  So he didn’t make a blog to predict changes in government.  He wrote a gospel, to help his people see the patterns in Jesus’ life and death -- and to help them see the patterns in their own.  And he wrote chapter 13, which we read today, in the style of apocalyptic literature.

Apocalypse is a Greek word -- two Greek words, actually.  Apo and kalupto.  Kalupto means "to cover", and apo means "away from", so together they mean:  to uncover.  To take the cover away.  To reveal what has been hidden.  Apocalypse is not destruction but revelation.

And in apocalyptic literature, revelation is about the unveiling of something much bigger than what we currently know.  We're pulling back the curtain on something much larger than us.  Apocalyptic writers believe that there is a link between everything happening on earth and the larger ongoing struggle between the forces of good and evil.  Oppression and war and injustice on earth is not only human history but also a mirror of an invisible, spiritual battle.  So apocalyptic writers look at earth now and understand it to have much bigger significance.  Apocalyptic writers look to the future and anticipate a great and final battle between evil and good -- between hatred and compassion, between oppression and justice.

So apocalyptic writers see wars, and rumors of wars, and nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and they want to tell everyone:  "This is what all this means.  This war is a symbol of a much greater war that we can't see."  

You see, apocalyptic writers are usually writing during times of great struggle.  They are writing for communities who feel like they are living in the end of the world.  They see wars and hear rumors of wars.  They are living in famine, or struggling in the aftermath of an earthquake.  They are believers whose family members turn against them, whose government refuses to believe in justice and love.  They're the Catholic teenager in northwestern Minnesota, who supported the Vote No campaign on Facebook and was then denied confirmation and communion by his family priest.  They’re the Palestinians in Gaza, watching as Israel’s three-day air strike turns their neighborhoods to rubble and fills their children with terror.

These are people who want to know what’s going on.  And because they believe that there is more to life than the world we can see, they want to know where God is in all of it.  They want to know, “In the face of all this, are the promises of God still true?”

Wars and rumors of wars have always been with us, from the time we realized we could kill one another.  As long as there have been nations, they have been fighting.  As long as we have known solid ground, we have known earthquakes.  As long as we have known food, we have known famine.  As long as we have had religion, we have had leaders who take it and try to gain power, who claim, “Follow me!  I’m the one!”.  And as long as we have had religious beliefs, we have fought over them, condemned each other, killed each other.  We see all this struggle and war, in our sliver of human history, and we ask, “Are the promises of God still true?”  And Jesus says:  “This is not the end.”

This sliver of history where we live is a small part of a great span of time.  We live at only a single point of the cloud of space and time that God has made.  And into our sliver of history, God speaks through Jesus and says, “This is not the end.  I can see the end.  My promises are still true.  Love and justice will reign.”

This is good, and yet it’s so hard.  It's a condemnation of our desire to get a schedule, to try to know everything.  We keep looking for patterns.  We keep wanting statistical answers and firm dates.  Peter and James and John and Andrew ask for us:  "When will this happen?"  We've been trying to answer that question for two thousand years.  Will it happen with Haley's Comet?  Is it the Y2K bug?  What about May 21, 2011?  What about December 21, 2012?  What about now that Hostess is closing and there will be no more Twinkies?  

Many have come in Jesus’ name and said, “I am he!”  There are still wars, and rumors of wars.  There are people dying in the Gaza strip.  There are earthquakes, and hurricanes, and destruction we cannot prepare for.  There are family members turning against each other.  There are forces of evil that say “No”, over and over, to a message of compassion.  It tells us instead to hate, to fear, to compete.  To shoot and bomb the bad guys.  To protect ourselves from each other.  To earn more money and buy more stuff.

So we see lies, and oppression, and war with other countries and within ourselves.  And our human brains, looking for patterns, want to know:  Is this the end?  When will the kingdom come?  When will love and justice reign?  

Maybe you’ve noticed that when the disciples ask Jesus questions, they don’t usually get a straight answer.  And they don’t in today’s story, either.  But they do eventually.  Jesus predicts the coming destruction, all the struggles and pain, and then says in verse 32:  “But about that day or hour, no one knows.”

God stands outside of time, and yet enters into our little sliver to promise:  “I can’t tell you when we’ll be there.  But we’ll be there.  I already know the end.”  We're drawn from our small point of experience into a much bigger picture, where God stands and looks at the whole of history and then says to us, "Don't be afraid."

Jesus says, “Let go of your worry.  Let go of your fear.  Let go of your need to know the schedule.  Let go of your need to prepare.  Be alert, but not afraid.  Don’t look to buildings to house you, or institutions to protect you, or government to fight for you, or money to save you.  The end of the story is that all of that will be gone.  Not one of these stones will still be standing.  Be alert, but not afraid.  You already know what to look for:  look for love.  Look for love of God and love of neighbor.  That is where the kingdom is already here.”

It’s a hard promise, really.  That all of this will pass away.  That none of the things the world offers will save us.  That we will still have troubles, and trials, and hate.  God did not say: You will never be troubled; you will never have difficulties; you will never be anxious.  God said:  you will never be overcome.

Jesus promises:  all this will pass away.  But the one who endures will be saved.

And we will not endure because of our fear, or our knowledge, or our preparations.  We will not survive because of anything we have a grip on.  We will be saved because of God’s grip on us.  We will endure because the One who endures will save us.

The God who created all of time and space, who stands at a place where you can see the end and the beginning and everything in between, entered into a sliver of history to tell us just how much we are loved.  How much we are wanted in the kingdom.  How hungry God is for justice.  How much the heart of God wants to see wars cease, oppressors fall, and peace reign.

In all of this, God holds us fast.  The promises of God are true.  The reign of love and justice is coming, brick by brick, heart by heart.  The world is already turning, and the kingdom is here.
Amen.

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Canticle of the Turning verses 3 and 4

3.
From the halls of pow'r to the fortress tow'r,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
there are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.                                

Refrain
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

4.
Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.                           Refrain

Monday, November 12, 2012

A family eulogy, for my Uncle Maynard


(I had the privilege and honor to offer the family eulogy for Father Maynard Kegler, Catholic priest and my uncle, at his funeral this morning.)

Remembrances have flooded in about Father Maynard’s life.  One thing that has been mentioned over and over again was his loud, merry, infectious laugh.  He was a man who brought joy to this world, from a source deep within.

And there is no question that that same laugh is ringing out now as he watches me stand here and speak.  You see, I am Emmy Kegler, the youngest daughter of Father Maynard's brother Stan, and one of the many children of the Kegler family that Father Maynard baptized during his nearly sixty years of priesthood.  And since I was one of those many children, Father took a special interest in my growth in the faith.  One December when I was very young, when he called from Arizona, I got the chance to talk to him.  “Do you know whose birthday we’re celebrating, Emmy?” he asked me in his patient voice.  “It’s Jesus’ birthday,” I told him with four-year-old confidence.  He responded, “Do you know where Jesus was born?”  “Of course I do,” I said with exasperation.  “In the hay.”

You could hear his laugh through the phone from across the room.

I am only one of the many children Father cared for throughout his life.  So many of us in the Kegler family and in this room were baptized by him, married by him, had their children baptized and married by him.  Many of us in the family had the privilege to call him not formally Father Kegler, but Father Maynard -- and we were honored by that privilege.  We were honored to have a priest in the family, but more so to have a priest who knew how important family was.

Father learned the importance of family from a young age.  Life in Glencoe and Winstead was not elegant or easy, but family made it worthwhile.  The Kegler children learned to be rich in imagination and creativity.  They played leapfrog through the house.   They made up translation games with German and English.They played make-believe church, with Monica and Benilda as the choir, Stanley as the server, and Maynard, of course, as the priest.  Family continued to nurture him as he went to prep school and seminary.  A borrowed cushioned kneeler, begged from a neighbor, brought a host of bedbugs into the house.  Even when Maynard could not come home, his clothing could -- a suitcase full of laundry to be washed, dried, starched, ironed, folded, and sent back to the seminary.

His family’s care and nurture, and Father’s dedication to God, came together when he was ordained and when he celebrated his first Mass at Saint Augustine’s.  Father Maynard’s early days of ordained ministry are filled with beautiful memories for so much of the family:  the dresses made by Monica for Paulette, Jeanette, and Betty; Joanie Amtsbauer chosen as the “little bride” for the first Mass; the ice cream treats afterward, with tiny candy crosses on each one.

Father Maynard’s ministry to the family continued.  He baptized many of the Kegler family children, with Vern helping to coordinate meals afterward.  He officiated many marriages, sometimes for children he’d baptized.  Receiving communion from him meant receiving the body and blood along with his own tangible joy that we were there with him.  The private masses he offered for family were solemn and intimate, and always followed with a potluck and storytelling.

Worship under Father Maynard’s direction was solemn, but not strictly serious.  At one wedding in particular, here in St. Francis Xavier Church, Father had proceeded to the altar to prepare communion.  Unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, a small black bat was sleeping in one of the potted plants around the table.  Something must have woken it, for its little black head appeared, along with little black claws that climbed up the altar cloth, for all the congregation to see.  The bat peeked its little head just above the edge of the table and looked right at Father.  A respecter of all God’s creatures, Father also knew that each animal has its time and place, and he snatched up the service book to shoo it away, while he spoke the words of the Sanctus: “Holy, holy.”.  He was able to finally swat it on the third cry of “Holy.”  The whole event was caught on tape, and eventually submitted to America’s Funniest Home Videos; it was not televised, which only proves that the Kegler sense of humor is a truly unique one.

Father was with us for some of the happiest days of our lives - and also for some of the saddest.  He buried many family members, saying the Mass for his brother Aloysius and for so many fathers, mothers, and loved ones.  His comforting, calm presence made the pain easier to bear.

Father’s warm welcome extended to more than worship.  He and Vern continually opened their home to family and friends.  We were welcomed to the cabin in McGregor and to pontooning on Big Sandy.  Father’s hospitality gave many of us opportunities to visit and explore places we otherwise might not.  He invited us all to share in his love for classical music and the opera.  In all the good times with family, his laugh was sure to be heard, from the time he handed out “white elephant” gifts at Kings House after a celebratory mass, to buzzing around a campground in Arizona on Al’s four-wheeler.

Father’s travels continued beyond his different homes in America.  He and Vern traveled the world, sailing on the Queen Elizabeth 2 across the Atlantic, riding the Orient Express from Hampton to London, watching polar bears migrate near Hudson Bay, and visiting, in the course of their journeys together, all seven continents -- even dipping their toes in Antarctic waters.  They loved cruises, and Father was often a chaplain on them, where he’d spend an afternoon playing bridge with the likes of Omar Sharif.  He was a teacher and mentor to Cardinal George of Chicago, and remained his friend throughout his life.

Throughout his adventures, Father also displayed incredible gifts of generosity and compassion.  He faithfully sent out beautiful, handwritten Christmas cards, bringing warmth and light into our homes during the winter.  He gave gifts that were personal and heartfelt, encouraging us through them to pursue our interests and dreams.  He remembered the forgotten and the poor, ministering to Native Americans on the reservation in South Dakota and supporting HIV/AIDS housing in Minneapolis.  He championed Thomas Anthony Dooley III, physician and humanitarian, for beatification.

Father’s deep spirituality and joy meant that he continued to find family wherever he went.  He was a great light in our lives, and saw the light in so many of us.  He was always open to new people, new ideas, new stories, and welcomed all into his wide embrace.  Many of us remember his gentle kisses when he greeted us and when we left.  Throughout all his life, and through many of ours, his twinkling eyes and contagious laugh made us feel at home wherever we were.

Cousin Yvonne most recently visited Father and Vern this past February.  She remembers going with them to Coco’s, one of their favorite restaurants.  As they crossed the restaurant, Father reached for and took Vern’s hand for support.  It was a tender, poignant moment, and a beautiful sign of the team they truly were as they walked this life.

We have lost a beloved brother, a beloved uncle, a beloved companion, a beloved priest.  When I was four years old, he laughed at my utmost certainty of Jesus in the hay.  I know that he laughs with joy now, his eyes twinkling, to know that we may be just as certain of Father’s presence with us, now and always, because of all the love he bestowed on us in his life.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Uncle Maynard



My uncle Maynard died this morning.  He was 87.  He’d struggled the past several years with Alzheimer’s and general old age.  He started palliative care last Monday.

He had no children.  He was my father’s only brother.  And he is the Catholic father who baptized me.

My parents were both raised Catholic but were uncommitted to any institutional church at the time they married.  They had a justice of the peace officiate the wedding, in my father’s living room.

When I was born, it was almost instinctual that I be baptized, and Catholic; there was enough family impetus, especially with a priest for a brother, and no good reasons not to.

I had my own reasons, it seems; at five months old, I screamed through the whole Mass, from first words to finish.  This is a favorite story in my family.  The hilarity has increased as I’ve grown older and come to insist, every time, “I knew you were baptizing me Catholic, and I objected!”

Uncle Maynard was older than my father, and like my father was retired well before I finished grade school.  He became a chaplain on cruise ships, staying in Arizona when they weren’t sailing.  I saw him only rarely, perhaps once every few years.

My mother remembered today a winter phone conversation I had with Uncle Maynard when I was three or four.  We were still unchurched as a family, and Maynard had some concerns about my lack of education in the faith.  He asked me, kindly, “Emmy, do you know whose birthday we’re celebrating?”  ”It’s Jesus’ birthday,” I told him earnestly.  He chuckled with that tone of voice that adults use when they ask a question they don’t think you can answer:  ”And do you know where Jesus was born?”  ”Of course I do,” I said, exasperated.  ”In the hay.”

He laughed so loudly my mother could hear it through the phone line.

Tonight my mother told me that thirty years ago, before I was even born, Uncle Maynard told her and my father that the church was in error.  It was time, he said then, to begin ordaining women.  By the time I began pursuing my own ordination, he was too sick to remember from conversation to conversation what I was doing or even how old I was.  I haven’t talked to him in years, and in the past few, he’d be so confused by phone calls that he’d accuse the other person of lying about who they were.

Tonight, perhaps, is the first night he knows that the little girl who knew where Jesus was born is learning to tell everyone else.

It is a sad thing, and I am mourning him.  And yet it is a beautiful thing now to be taking up the work that he began.

I commend you, my dear brother,
to almighty God
and entrust you to your Creator.
May you return to him
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ, who was crucified for you,
bring you freedom and peace.
May Christ, who died for you,
admit you into his garden of paradise.
May Christ, the true Shepherd,
acknowledge you as one of his flock.
May he forgive all your sins
and set you among those he has chosen.
May you see your Redeemer face to face
and enjoy the vision of God for ever.
-a Catholic prayer for the commendation of the dead

Thursday, November 1, 2012





The whole lovely world’s gone orange
and my soul sings with ineffable and unrhymeable joy.
House by house they stand up for us.
Yard by yard promises,
“The someday of which you dream
is not so very far away.”

When we get married,
I don’t want rice or doves or bubbles,
and I don’t care if you wear white.

What I want is this feeling
of coming home, not just to you,
but to a whole city full of people
who live the word prevenience:
“we welcome you, we love you,
we support you
even before you picked the china patterns.”


[On November 6th, the Minnesotan ballot will include Amendment 1:  ”The constitution shall be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman.”  The above signs are from yards, businesses, and churches in our south Minneapolis neighborhood, urging passerby to vote No against marriage inequality.]

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Children and trust

It is funny what I remember, and when.

Tonight I went to the confirmation dinner for three girls, Annelise and Erica and Siri, who were in the fourth and fifth grades when I started at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer.  They're in ninth and tenth now, and on the verge of confirmation.  I won't be there tomorrow when they affirm their baptism publicly; I'll be at my new church, my internship church, the church that I am increasingly referring to as "mine" and "ours" and, with surprise and pain, to LCCR as "theirs" and "yours."

It was a blessing to see them, not much older than when I left three months ago, and just as effusive in affection and energy.  It was good to sit with their parents and families and remember.  They are three remarkable young women.  I cried, of course.  And yet I am so happy.

Tonight I came home and bandaged my thumb, which is torn open across the pad.  I'm not good in the kitchen.  And a memory hit me, suddenly:  four years and some months ago, I bandaged Annelise's knee.

It was spring, not long after I'd started; a month at least had passed, but not two.  I still wasn't sure what I was doing there, or anywhere really.  I was barely twenty-three.  The doors were open at the back of the church after worship, and the Sunday School kids were running back and forth across the new cement patio.

Suddenly, at my elbow, were Annelise and her older sister Solveig.  Solveig was only five years younger than me, and on the verge of college; Annelise was ten, maybe eleven.  I am not entirely certain, now, that I knew Solveig's name at the moment that they appeared, baring Annelise's leg from under her pretty dress.  She had fallen.  She was bleeding.  And they presented themselves to me, to the Children's Education Associate, because -- she would know what to do, right?

The millions of things never covered in religion classes or seminary include "know where the first aid kit is."  Life experience had taught me to check the kitchen and then the bathrooms, and I got lucky:  it was on the counter next to the coffee maker.  I knelt at her feet, Annelise sitting and watching, Solveig offering commentary.  I found the antiseptic wipes and cleaned her leg.  It was gruesome.  It was icky.  I do not like other people's blood.  And yet I did not shirk from it.  I found the antibiotic ointment, in single-serving packages, and the Band-Aids, and I bound up her skinned knee.

I remember she thanked me, and so did Solveig, and then she hopped off the bench and they found their parents and headed home.

It was such a clear moment, and yet so hazy.  Kairos time, we call it in church-speak:  when something happens to pull you outside of the linear progression of time.

It was a simple thing, for a Sunday School kid to hurt her knee and come to her teacher for a Band-Aid.

And yet it was so complex, to know that a kid I barely knew would trust me, and to find in that moment of trust that I could do what I needed to do.

I am not called to children's ministry, specifically, although there is no doubt that I am good with kids and enjoy them.  I am called instead to the hurting, to the pained, to the bleeding leg that begs for someone with compassion to care and bandage it.  I love the honesty of children, the naked questions and critiques, because I long for the honesty of people, the doubts put into words, the hesitations voiced, the challenges understood and met.

It is a blessing to be reminded of this, and to be trusted with it.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Really?": a sermon on Mark 10:32-45


Mark 10:32-45

Jesus and the disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again."

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

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Click here to listen along.

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If there were a subtitle for the gospel of Mark, it would probably be:  “Really?”

See, last week we heard the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  And Jesus ends up telling him:  Sell everything.  Give the money to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  And the rich man goes away, and Jesus turns to the disciples and says:  “How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And three weeks ago we heard the story of how the disciples find out there is someone else out there, who is casting out demons from people in the name of Jesus.  But he’s not with the disciples, so they tell this crazy renegade to stop.  Then they run to tell Jesus, like kids on the playground -- Teacher, Teacher, he was casting out demons in your name, but he wasn’t with us!  And Jesus says that whoever is not against us is for us-- and you should be a lot more worried about yourselves than about the actions of others.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

See, each of our four gospels has its own slightly different way of telling the story.  And Mark’s gospel in particular loves stories where the disciples do not come off looking like smart and holy people.  They are a ragtag group of uneducated fishermen and tax collectors and other low-level employees -- a bunch of sinners, really.  And they spend a full year traveling with Jesus, moving from town to town, witnessing healings and miracles, hearing his teachings, listening to him debate with the religious leaders.

And the first time Jesus predicts his death, Peter rebukes him.  Peter, who just verses before said “You are the Messiah,” says “But that can’t mean you’re going to die!  You have it wrong.”  And Jesus says:  whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their live for me and for the good news will save it.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And the second time Jesus predicts his death, the disciples as a group don’t understand, and they’re afraid to ask -- so they start an argument over who among them is the greatest.  And Jesus looks at them and says: whoever wants to be first must be last.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And in today’s story, Jesus and his followers are headed for Jerusalem.  Jesus pulls the disciples aside and says, “When we get there, the Son of Man will be tried by the religious leaders, and condemned, and handed over to the Romans, and mocked, and beaten, and crucified.  And in three days he will rise again.”

So then James and John come forward and say, “When you are glorified, give us the best seats, next to you.”

Naturally, right?  That’s the obvious response to someone telling you they’re willingly walking towards their own suffering and death.  To say, “Oh, okay, cool.  But we get your car, right?”

So Jesus says:  “Really?”

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with my baptism?
Are you able to give up power and glory so that others might have it?
Are you willing to let go of what you’re used to, in order to be something very different?
Are you willing to challenge authority, and to love the least of these?

And in Eugene Peterson’s version of the gospel they say:  “Sure, why not?”

This is the holy gospel of a group of twelve guys who just did not get it.  Thanks be to God.

But really -- thanks be to God.  The thing I love about the disciples is that they don’t get it at about the same level that I don’t.  The thing I love is that after two thousand years of Jesus saying, “The greatest among you must be the least,” I’m still counting up points and wondering which seat I get in heaven.  And I may be wrong, but I have the tiniest little suspicion that I’m not the only one in the whole Christian church who does this.  I think maybe there might be two or three more people out there somewhere who would really like to know who’s ahead in this game.

And sometimes these three or four of us get into power, and we build systems that count points.  We look at our bank statements, at the stock market, at the cars in our driveways.  We get into political office.  We get the better iPhone.  We make art, but only for money and fame.  We give love, but only if we get love back.  And we count up our points and check them against others’.  Sometimes we -- and again, it’s just three or four of us -- come out ahead.  Sometimes we come out in the middle.  Sometimes we come out behind.

And into all this Jesus comes and says, “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”

And the disciples say, “Really?”  And when the soldiers come for Jesus, they all run.

And we say, “Really?”  And we count up our own points.

So I really love that the disciples do not get it.  But even more I love that it’s all still true.

Our inability to understand what Jesus is saying doesn’t make it a lie.  Our inability to grasp the kingdom of God doesn’t make it any less real.  It’s always there.  Always working around us and alongside us.  Always ready for the moment when our point system breaks down-- and God can break in.

Jesus is always true.  Always ready for when we need to be freed.  When our rankings and systems become not a way to glory and power but to death and destruction.  When everything we’ve stored up to prove we’re worthy turns to dust and mold.  When our news is saturated with political polls and snarky commentary, when our media tells us we aren’t nearly beautiful or powerful enough, when even our church communities start to draw lines about who’s in and who’s out-- this is when Jesus says, “But it is not so among you.”

It doesn’t have to be so among us.

The God who came down, who dwelled in a human body, who lived and walked with us-- that is what is so.  God loves us so much that when we could not let go of our own rankings and systems -- then God came into the world and showed us how clearly all that led to death.  That if you hold on to power, if you hold on to glory, if you hold on to your own greatness -- then your life is lost.

That's what we baptize Tucker into, today.  We baptize him into Christ's baptism:  into the Spirit descending like a dove and resting on him.  Into life in community, and service to others.  And we do baptize him into Christ's death-- death to sin, to the forces of evil, to all the powers that draw us from God.

In baptism, we have all died to those.  Their hold on us is drowned in holy water.  Everything that binds us and keeps us from God -- everything that makes us seek power and glory -- every system of point-keeping and one-upping -- it’s all done.

Now, those forces aren't gone.  They still operate in the world.  They'll still show up in our schools, our workplaces, our homes, our friends' homes.  They're still in our lives.  But their power?  Their power is gone.  As a baptized child of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit, you are free.

Free from evaluating.  Free from comparing.  Free from competing.
Free from hiding the broken parts of ourselves.  Free from guilt.  Free from shame.

You are free.  You are really free.

So, now that you are free -- what do you want to do?

You are free to ask for help when you need it.
To offer help, even when you’re not sure if you can.
To pray, even if you don’t think you have the perfect words.
To open the Bible, even if you never have before.
To be honest about your pain.
To ask questions you were told you couldn’t ask.
To stop keeping score.
To love your neighbor simply because they too are a beloved child of God.
To love yourself.

So now that you are free -- what do you want to do?

We’ve left index cards on your chairs.  Find a pen, and write it down.  One thing.  One thing you want to be freed from, or freed to.  Just one thing.  We'll offer you a minute of quiet.  Some of you are out-loud thinkers; you need to process, talk this out with someone.  That's great.  Do that.  Some of you are already reaching for your card, with one idea burning clearly in you already.  That's great.  Write it down.  Write it down, and take it with you.

And be free.  Be really free.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fun news!


I've been invited to join an online group of contributors who write on questions of faith from different denominational and experiential perspectives.  They're The Ecumenicals, and you can find them here:  http://www.ecumenicals.org.  I'll be writing a post for them about twice a month.

Here's the bio I wrote for them:

Education:  B.A. in Religion, St. Olaf College
                   M.Div in Congregational Missional Leadership
                    at Luther Seminary (concurrent senior).
                    Intern pastor at Light of the World Lutheran
                    in Apple Valley / Farmington, MN.
Blog:  emm-in-sem.tumblr.com or emm-in-sem.blogspot.com
Emmy has found her home among the Lutherans after being baptized Catholic, raised Episcopalian, and spending formative years in the non-denominational and Assembly of God churches.   
She holds to common ecumenical confessions, including the importance of Scripture, the Trinity, and the creeds; she also holds to most of traditional Lutheran theology, like our lives as simultaneous saints and sinners, our desperate need for God’s grace, and the Bible and the preached word as “law and promise.”  She believes that our very real and very near God is intimately interested in justice, and that the invisible God is most clearly revealed in the cross. 
“I love a good story— Biblical or otherwise!  I love to be with people when they ask hard questions, questions that they’ve been told they can’t ask.  I love biking around the parks and lakes that make up Minneapolis (where I live) and eating good food (either home cookin’ or out at a swanky new place) with Kristi, my partner of seven years.  As a contributor to the Ecumenicals, I hope to dive deeply into the Bible and into my theological tradition and rise to the surface with something that can nourish others.”

My dear friend Ali says, "Girl, you never stop working."  (And I like it that way.)

On that note, I have a sermon to write for Sunday; prayers are welcome -- and also your bodies, if you want to hear the results in the flesh.  10am in North Trail Elementary at 170th and Pilot Knob in Farmington.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An anonymous Orthodox Christian asks...

(Tumblr has the option to ask me anonymous questions here.  I really like it.  Here's today's question.)














First:  thank you, and right back at you.  Living in the balance of loving your tradition, loving yourself, and loving others is a huge task, and you are inspirational (literally -- God-breathed!) for taking it on.

To start, I haven't studied Orthodox theologies or practices in depth, so my ideas are very preliminary.  My very basic understanding is that the Orthodox church understands the formation and application of the Bible in a distinctly different way than the Protestant church does.  I'm hesitant to say a lot for that reason; I don't know a lot about the nuances inherent in Orthodox belief and teaching.

I did some reading, and also some prayer, and here are the questions that arose for me.  I put them forth in the hope that you, dear Anon, can find someone better educated in Orthodox tradition than I to tackle them with!

- In general, the understanding of sex and gender has seen significant change in the past fifty years.  That bears consideration (not necessarily change, but absolutely consideration) by any religious tradition.  What kinds of consideration has the Orthodox church given this?  What does the Orthodox tradition say about the relationship between male and female, and about marriage?  Does that differ from other Christian confessions (in which case, one would need a specifically Orthodox way of talking about sex and gender), or are there enough similarities that other Christian confessions about sexuality and gender can enter the conversation?

- The Orthodox church has deep conviction about the value of its tradition.  This is a very good thing -- and yet I believe it can be difficult to discern where divinely instituted tradition and cultural norms overlap.  For example, the Orthodox church, by tradition, does not ordain women -- and yet there appears to be lively debate in pockets here and there on the Internet (and I would presume in congregations, as well) about that tradition.  One post I saw said, "We should be cautious that the question of the ordination of women did not arise in the first 1,950 years after Christ."  How do we know that question did not arise because, for the first 1,950 years after Christ (and for thousands of years before Him!), women were not allowed to have positions of power in almost every situation?  The larger question here being:  how has the Orthodox church discerned when to separate from cultural norms, and when to go along with them?  Does that have any bearing on the conversation about sexuality and gender?

- Finally, and what I think most importantly:  your question, at heart, has personal consequences.  You want to know if you can still love your church.  To that, I ask:  what about Orthodox Christianity draws you in?  Is it the teaching of the Holy Tradition?  Is it the beauty of art and ritual and how it connects you with the divine?  Is it the spiritual pilgrimage throughout life by which you seek to better imitate Christ?  Find what makes you long for the church.  That is where the question has to be answered-- not in theology but in how you experience the work of God in your life.  If the thing that draws you in is the uncorrupted Holy Tradition and the patristic consensus, you may struggle more with how to integrate LGBTQ welcome into that; I don't perceive a lot of space allowed for change within the tradition.  But if what speaks to you is the beauty of liturgy, or theosis, or something else, then there might be more space for both what you love about the Orthodox church and what you understand about LGBTQ rights.

I'm deeply honored that you came to me with this question and I hope my stumblings in the dark are of some help to you on your way.  Know that my askbox is always open.  I am admittedly not the most knowledgeable on this subject (and many others!), but I try to know and love people where they are, and I'd be honored to walk this with you in whatever capacity is helpful to you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Anon asks: how do you think homosexuality is biblically sound?

(Background: on Tumblr, one can submit anonymous questions to a blog.  This is one I got yesterday.)











Anonymous asks:
Totally not asking in a confrontational way at all, but what's your scriptural doctrine to support the LGBTQ movement/gay rights/open and unopposed homosexuality in the church? I wouldn't label myself conservative but I don't think homosexuality is biblically sound, and I just like to hear other people's takes on the matter and how they back it up with Truth.

Awesome.  Hi.  This is why I love having the Anonymous option on -- thanks for asking your question with a lot of openness and honesty.  I will try to answer in the same way!

A couple definitions are needed here.

* The way I understand something to be “biblically unsound” -- and please, please, please correct me if this is not how you meant it, Anon -- is that the Bible declares it to be invalid or untrue.  So I read “homosexuality is [not] biblically sound” to mean “the teachings of the Bible do not allow that one can be a homosexual.”  Or, shorthand, “the Bible opposes homosexuality.”

* Homosexuality, as a catch-all term for the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people, can be defined in a lot of different ways.  I think the essential here is that a homosexual person is someone who has or wants a physical, emotional, romantic, and sexual relationship with a member of the same sex.  

So.  Does the Bible oppose homosexuality?

My short answer is:

Yes.

In the same way it opposes bacon cheeseburgers and sport utility vehicles.

No, I’m serious.  Stop giggling.

I may be rehashing old stuff for some of my readers (and for you, Anon), so:  if you have a working understanding of and appreciation for the historical critical method of Biblical study, you can probably skip the next few paragraphs.

First:  Some passages in the Bible clearly condemn things that we clearly accept.  Two kinds of thread in one cloth (Lev. 19:19).  Working on Saturday (Ex. 20:8-11).  Men having long hair (1 Cor. 11:14).  And yes, bacon (Lev. 11:7-8) and eating milk and meat together (Deut. 14:21).

In addition, there are things the Bible allows that we clearly condemn today.  Slavery, for example (Eph. 6:5-8), and selling children into slavery specifically (Ex. 21:7-8).  And we no longer follow the Biblical ways of worshipping, even though the writer of Leviticus is pretty serious about how important they are (the first eight chapters alone are all about how to properly worship and offer sacrifice).

And -- the Bible condemns things, very clearly and very often, that many Christians don’t get as worked up about as homosexuality.  Like not taking care of widows and orphans, for example (Ex. 22:22, Deut. 10:18, Deut. 24:19-21, Deut. 25:7, Deut. 27:19, Job 24:21, Job 31:16-22, Ps. 94:6, Ps. 146:9, Is. 1:17, Jer. 7:6, Jer. 22:3, Ez. 22:7, Zech. 7:10, Mal. 3:5).  Those are a lot of passages, and yet the six or seven verses that condemn homosexuality get a lot more attention.

My struggle with the viewpoint that homosexuality is an abomination comes when that kind of “literal reading” isn’t applied across the whole Bible and there isn’t a good articulation of why.  Condemning homosexuality simply because we “take the Bible literally” can be dangerous or look hypocritical if we preach and teach that other passages are not meant to be taken literally.  

Second:  The general Biblical worldview does not have space for things that exist in our cultures today.  What would the people who wrote the Bible say about public education, about gun violence, about how many hours we spend watching television?  We can guess, but if we time-traveled, picked up the apostle Paul, and asked him to tell us what to do with our iPhones, he would just stare in terror at the little beeping white box-thing in his hand.  If we are going to let the Bible be true, we can’t ask it questions it can’t answer.  We can read, and try to apply, but we always have to do so in the knowledge that we are taking a document written in a particular place and time that is very, very different from ours, and trying to apply it to our lives.

Homosexuality did not exist, in Biblical times, the way it does today.  Homosexual acts then were violent rapes by the winning army, or pedophilic acts in pagan temples, or fleeting and lust-heavy encounters under the cloak of secrecy.  No one was understood to “be homosexual” -- heterosexuality was so assumed it wasn’t even discussed.  

If we take modern science and psychology seriously, along with the personal testimony of thousands of gay and lesbian people, then at some point we have to deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people find themselves attracted to the same sex.  This was simply not a fact that the writers of the Bible had access to.  

So, if you asked the writer of Leviticus about me and my partner of seven years being able to share an apartment, a bed, a cat, and a 401(k), his head would come very close to literally exploding.

Just like if he saw a sport utility vehicle tearing across the hills of Lebanon.

So:  is homosexuality biblically unsound?  

The shortest answer is no.  It’s not.

But here is what I believe is.

What I believe is biblically unsound is persecution, oppression, and hatred.

What I believe is biblically unsound is declaring the purity codes of a hundred generations ago to be greater than the God who declares “I am doing a new thing” (Is. 43:19), the God who cries “The ones who I have called Not-my-people will be my people” (Hos. 2:23).

What I believe is biblically unsound is to read Peter’s vision in the book of Acts (ch 10) and deny that God is capable of going beyond our carefully drawn boundaries.

What I believe is biblically unsound is to see Philip sent by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 9:26-40) and to respond with anything but joy when the eunuch cries, “Look, here is water!  What would prevent me from being baptized?”

What I believe is biblically unsound would be to claim that we can hinder God -- 


the powerful God who woke new life in Sarah’s old womb, the God who brought an oppressed and enslaved people out of Egypt across a dry sea bed, the God who rained down just enough to eat in the wilderness --


the wide-reaching God who saved Pharaoh and Egypt from the famine, who healed Naaman, who spared Rahab, who remembered Hagar --

the God who willed himself to be a tiny baby in a virgin’s womb, who preached mercy and compassion, who stretched out his carpenter’s hands to bleeding women and demon-possessed children and disbelieving Samaritans and rotten-skinned lepers and knew all along that his message of love would lead him to die --

the God who rose again and makes new life in us every day.