The Gospel According to Carole King: We're All in This Together

Silverside Sermons
The Reverend David Albert Farmer, Ph.D., Preacher and Pastor


Silverside Church Delaware


February 7, 2016
Sermon Series:  The Gospel According to Carole King
Today’s Sermon:  “We're All in This Together”

 

Dedicated, with Gratitude, to Derrick Robert Gordon

"...your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:29 and Acts 2:17)

 

GATHERING FOCUS (from Daniel Goldsmith)

It takes strength and courage to stand up and say, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that human beings are fundamentally decent, kind, and caring, and that we have the responsibility to nurture these attributes.
This audacious belief in basic goodness takes guts. It takes faith.
We’ve all seen how human imagination has the power to create scenes of terror and violence (just open up the newspaper). But it also has the possibility to respond to those who unleash the demons with compassion and understanding, which seems to be the greater power (and usually gets far less media attention).
This is the truth that every saint and sage has communicated: hatred never ceases through hatred. Only love has the power to heal. This is not really a “spiritual” or “religious” truth; even a jaded, secular humanist can see this at work.

 

 

The Sermon

 

I.

If we're going to keep believing in humanity--that is, if we're going to keep believing in the potential of human beings to do enough good to preserve the human race and the planet on which we must live--then our inspiration will have to come from human beings. There are all sorts of amazing and inspiring objects and processes in the created order, and many of those will inspire us too, but nothing can clue us in to human potential except the dreams and the behaviors of human beings.


Sometimes our ability to keep believing in humanity rests on the inspiration we get from seeing someone or someones embrace people their culture has told them not to embrace.  The fact that they affirm people whom they have been told to detest or ignore lets the rest of us know that those magnanimous individuals see more in terms of human value and potential, perhaps, than we have allowed ourselves to see.


Many of us have been sad during the presidential debates to hear certain candidates speaking their presumed experience of the love of God out of one side of their mouths and xenophobic hatred toward all  immigrants out of the other sides.  There is so much ignorance in such a perspective, but the most offensive aspect of it is the assumption that immigrants are a mass of barely-human creatures without individual identity--thus without feelings, dreams, principles, or needs.

Sometimes our ability to keep believing in humanity rests on the inspiration we get from seeing someone or someones embrace people their culture has told them not to embrace.
 
obama.jpg


Ethicists speak of cultural subjectivism, codes of conduct determined not by an individual, but rather by a powerful closely-knit community of some sort to which an individual gives her or his complete allegiance. And as long as children growing up in that culture continue to see things the way their forebears have seen them, as long as children in those cultures feel things the way their parents felt them, it is easy and comfortable and safe to buy into the behavior that the culture has said is acceptable or, conversely, to oppose what the culture has said must be opposed. But in those cultures that establish values--ostensibly to make most of the people in the culture feel safe and confident that they are doing the right thing when following blind cultural norms--people, typically in the minority, who cannot understand or feel what the majority establishes as normative are alienated, ultimately abused at some level, if they make known their “differences.”  


What in the world are the poor citizens of Michigan going to do if they happen not to prefer the singular sexual position their lawmakers have now made the only legal option?  What do you do with somebody through no fault of her or his own who just can’t embrace the missionary position?

 

The penalty, recently affirmed by the Michigan Senate, for trying to have sex while standing on one’s head, for example, is fifteen years in prison.  I wonder if someone with a bad back can get a doctor’s excuse for failure to act like a missionary.


Those who are “different” frequently know so early in life, but they also know based on what they observe and hear that if they own their differences, whatever the differences may be, they will be punished, ostracized, even disowned; thus the typical pattern is for them to play along enough so as not to have their differences noticed.  They can’t lie to themselves forever for the most part, and the longer they keep quiet the more of themselves they lose; take it from someone who has felt like a person without a country most of his life.  Worst case scenario:  someone may sense that she or he has lost so much of self that life isn’t worth living, and so she or he takes steps to leave this world.  

 
 Cultural subjectivism.  It may save some; others, it kills--literally.

 

 

REFLECTIVE READING (from Voltaire)

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature.

 

RESPONSE OF THE PEOPLE (from David Icke and Pope John XCIII)

One:  Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.

Many:  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.

One:  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.

Many:  The human race is a herd.

One:  Here we are--unique, eternal aspects of consciousness with an infinity of potential...

Many:  ...and we have allowed ourselves to become an unthinking, unquestioning blob of conformity and uniformity.

One:  A herd.

ALL:  Once we concede to the herd mentality, we can be controlled and directed by a tiny few. And we are.
 

 

The sermon continues.


II.

Acts 8:26-29:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of the Candace, a ruler of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”

 
In both Hebrew Scripture and Christian scripture eunuchs are represented, and they are typically represented well even though the ancient Hebrew law made some rules saying that anybody who doesn't have a normative reproductive system cannot be in full communion with the worshiping community--specifically, they can’t even enter worship space.  Nice huh?


A eunuch was a eunuch because of birth deformity or because a captor ruler decided to turn certain captives into eunuchs or because someone chose to be a eunuch.  There’s much scholarly confirmation, too--by the way--that the word “eunuch” could be kind of equivalent to our word “gay.”  

 

By the time Jesus’ take on spirituality and human connection with God began to spread in a non-Jewish-dominated part of the world--namely around much of what is Turkey today--Paul encountered significant opposition when he told would-be Gentile male converts that they had to be circumcised before they could be full-fledged followers of Jesus.  The early Jesus Movement had to kick that nonsense to the curb.  There was no way to keep tying spiritual maturity to anything that had to do with gender, sexual orientation, or genitals.

 

Yes, of course, I know that Paul's writings are very much associated by many of his interpreters with condemnation of homosexuality, but as a matter of fact Paul never tossed out any blanket condemnation of homosexuality.  He is very specific in the kinds of things that he condemns in his laundry lists of unethical sexual behaviors. He condemns pedophilia; he condemns temple prostitution; etc., but, I say again, there is no generalized condemnation of being gay in Paul.  

 

Concurrent with the ministry of Paul who was THE prolific writer in the early Christian Movement, was the ministry of another evangelist named Philip.  One day, Philip felt drawn by God to approach an Ethiopian eunuch who was very prominent in Ethiopia; he was the director of finance for the Candace.  “Candace” is not a name but a title for a ruler.  Some say she was a queen, and others say she was the queen mother.  

 

In any case, her finance director was a eunuch.  Responsibilities for eunuchs in royal courts had expanded greatly from their earliest stereotypical jobs as managers of kings’ harems where they were sure not to get too friendly and frisky with a king’s wives and concubines.  Lo and behold, eunuchs could do other tasks well, as well, and were not limited to jobs such as harem management and floral arranging!

 


This eunuch had been at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem worshiping, we assume; so either the ancient law wasn’t enforced or the circumcision checker/proper-penis professional for the Temple had called out sick that day.  I can't help recalling in this line of thought my recent visit to Portland to visit my younger son, Carson.  Going through the security checkpoint for the flight back home, the body scan singled me out as a threat to national security.  The young man who came to see what was what with me said, "Sir, the scan shows some areas of concern on your body.  I'm going to have to pat down your buttocks."

 

I said, "If I had a dollar for every time someone had said that to me!"  Kidding!  What I really asked was:  "My buttocks show up on your scan as areas of concern for security?" I still haven't decided whether I should have been flattered or offended.  I got to come home, though.  

 

Back to the eunuch.  After worship, he was sitting in his chariot with his entourage, reading from the prophet Isaiah.  Perhaps he’d heard a sermon based on one of the Isaiahs at the Temple that day.  


Philip offered to try to explain the writings of one of the Isaiahs to the ranking official, and in doing so he brought the eunuch up to speed with reference to Jesus’ take on spirituality.  The eunuch was thrilled and asked Philip to baptize him at once in the closest pool of water they could find in the desert, which turned out to be at hand.  No longer excluded; no longer a second class citizen, spiritually speaking!   


I add this to our list of concerns today because of all the difficulty transsexual people are going through in our culture right now and because, as we have said, those who believe most in humanity are calling for support and acceptance of transsexual persons.  Again, we show our optimism about the future of humanity when we embrace more and more humanity not when we exclude more and more of humanity from whatever we imagine our special club to be.  Those who defend transgender people from their detractors clearly believe in non-homogenized humanity; only Hitlers pronounce some human beings unworthy or unsuitable to be humans.

Philip helped the eunuch realize that he was no longer excluded; no longer a second class citizen, spiritually speaking.

 


A couple of weeks ago my teaching colleague at Palmer Seminary, also a treasured friend, Dr. Tokunbo Adelekan, invited me to lecture in his Intro to Christian Ethics class about where preaching intersects with Christian ethics, where my field intersects with his field. I was very honored to be asked to deliver that lecture, and one of the things I said to the students is that Christian Ethics from the point of view of preaching, and all other perspectives as far as I’m concerned, can never be a buffet.  We can’t just pick and choose the social justice issues that happen to appeal to us while ignoring others.  If we dare to promote justice for one person or one group, we must promote justice for all.

 

 

 

III.

In November the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons, made some new “rules.”  Most religious groups past and present love/have loved making rules, and so the Mormons  continue that process.  In this case the Mormon leadership decided to establish some rules that would determine who is in and who is excluded from their brand of “church.”  Remember that many of the people who have come up from birth in strict Mormon tradition don't really know what to believe outside this context, and many are not sure there is anything to believe outside that faith tradition. 


Since November the Mormon Church officially began to teach that anybody in a same-gender marriage is an apostate.  “Apostate” is just about the worst word a religious group can use to describe a foe and much worse to describe someone who has been one of its own. An apostate is totally rejected from community, refused the ministry of the community, and castigated to hell if the religious  group has a doctrine of eternal punishment.  So if you are Mormon and in a straight loveless marriage, even if you are an abuser, you’re good with God and Mormonism as far as the rules go.  

 
“OK, fine,” a Mormon might say to the hierarchy, “I’ll survive.  I love my same gender partner.  I’ll take my chances.”  But there’s another rule.  Yes, the children of same gender couples are refused baptism; the kids have absolutely nothing to do with  their parents' self-understanding, but they are rejected with their parents.  And no baptism ultimately means the same fate the parents have been slapped with:  status as an apostate.  


Now, since these rules have been applied, and some defenders of the faith are saying it’s mere coincidence, twenty-seven young men, three young women, and two transgender youth have taken their own lives.  The Mormons aren’t the only culprits with this kind of hatred.  The whole worldwide Anglican communion has threatened to exclude permanently the Episcopal Church in the United States for various affirmations of homosexuality.

 

 

This is only one of the reasons that the institution called “the church” is dying and will never be resuscitated.  The wishes of patients who refuse medical treatment have to be honored in most circumstances.


Plenty of young people in Wilmington have suffered all kinds of abuse because they have tried to embrace and articulate their sexuality as something other than “straight.”  They are a severely underserved population, and I know JUST the spirituality community to minister to them.  It’s the same spirituality community that last week brought together with Pacem in Terris nearly 150 people to tool and retool in order to combat Islamophobia if you can imagine with pointers from some Muslims themselves.  

 

Those people still believe in humanity.  We are not done for, we who make up the human race, unless we choose to be.  

 

In similar fashion, I am trying to bring Derrick Gordon to Wilmington to speak to any who struggle with sexuality issues--kids or adults, parents, teachers, counselors, clergy, and people who have no specific stake in the issue except that they hunger and thirst after righteousness in their quest to promote justice for all people on the face of the Earth--now and in the future.  If you don’t know, Derrick is the first player in Division One college basketball to come out as gay.  

 

At 24, he is an extraordinarily courageous young man.  He transferred from the University of Massachusetts to Seton Hall University to play his final year of college basketball, and the NBA is already on his trail as this year’s draft rolls around.  I need sponsors, and I need people who will be present to hear him on a Friday or a Saturday night in the not too distant future.  Derrick believes in humanity, and he helps many of the rest of us believe in humanity with him.

 

Jesus condemned--not LGBTQ folks, and please don’t think the first gay people in history emerged in our time!!!--those religious uppities who tried to make people believe the only way to be in a right relationship with God was to keep a bunch of pseudo-moral rules including those concerned with policing gender identity, sexuality, and so on.  “If any of you,” Jesus said to a crowd that included those who piled religious rules on people for a living, “put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones, [young people and all newbies to the life of faith], it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

 

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