I always try, as much as I can, not to make assumptions - especially during services. One can never tell how someone is feeling during worship, or why someone would behave in a particular manner. Granted that I do not know why this particular worshipper, whose first visit was this past Sunday, got up in the middle of the sermon and walked away; I am tempted to assume that he walked away because of what I may have said. How did I know?
It was right after I said the following:
“To this question, the creation story helps us understand that God is mindful of you and me because God created all in God’s image. God looks at you and me the same way that God looks at our LGBTQ+ family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends because all of us bear God’s image in us."
As we celebrate Pride Month, I dare say that it was Bruce, a gay Episcopalian who transformed me into a faithful Christian, compassionate priest and a discerning pastor. He made me a faithful Christian because I couldn’t look at him and conclude that God looked at his offering any less than he looked at mine. I couldn’t look at his gifts and conclude that they didn’t matter to God but mine did because of who I am. I believed that God cared for him in just the same way that God cared for me because God created us for God’s glory. And God’s care for us always exemplifies how we ought to care for one another through relationships.”
This person then got up and walked out, appearing unhappy and disappointed over what I had said.
It felt as if he didn’t know much about our parish before he came to visit. I said to myself that if he had known that we are an affirming parish, he may not have visited. In as much as I grieve for him and the faith which he believes he is protecting, I am incredibly proud of those who worship here at Christ Church and sincerely believe that we do not want or need conformity; rather, we want a sacred space which, like a salad bowl, can hold all the different vegetables in existence without one vegetable being of more importance than the others.
I always feel very disheartened by talk of how each of us is or is supposed to be. Such talk bothers on haughtiness and self-serving hysteria. I wonder if anyone of us has a good enough idea as to who the other is. The reality is that I do not fully grasp who I am as a human being. And you also do not have a full grasp of who you are as a human being. Granted that we do not have a full grasp of who we are or who the other is, what makes us feel that we are capable of talking about ourselves or the other as though we know what we are talking about? It befuddles me. I see every human being as a mystery personified.
The psalmist isn’t shy about the mystery that is you. Listen to the psalmist extol the wonder of you - “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” You are fearfully and wonderfully made - in fact, each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. And the fact that you may disagree with how another person understands his or her story and history to be, or who they truly believe they are, doesn’t change the fact that each is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I believe that each of us is a walking mystery - each of us is a living, breathing, and walking mystery. To understand you is to understand the mystery that is God - but I cannot. It is beyond my comprehension. And if I cannot, then the only option I may have is to experience each person as divine because each person sums up the mystery of the divine.
In a lecture delivered to the senior class at Harvard Divinity in 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist, and poet wrote these words:
“Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, - cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity. Look to it first and only, that fashion, custom, authority, pleasure, and money, are nothing to you, -are not bandages over your eyes, that you cannot see, - but live with the privilege of the immeasurable mind. Not too anxious to visit periodically all families and each family in your parish connection, -and when you meet one of these men or women, be to them a divine man; be to them thought and virtue; let their timid aspirations find in you a friend; let their tramped instincts be genially tempted out in your atmosphere; let their doubts know that you have doubted, and their wonder feel that you have wondered. By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men.”
Although this address was to would-be clergymen, I shudder to think that it is limited to only men of the cloth. In fact, it applies to each one of us, if we indeed believe in the priesthood of all believers.
If only we could acquaint men and women firsthand with deity, that would help reinforce our understanding of each person as a mystery beyond our comprehension. It is only with this understanding can we behold each other with eyes so tender, hold each other with hands so lovingly wide, and desire to touch each life with grace and dignity-irrespective of how we think that life ought to be.
We may not agree with each other, which is perfectly fine. But I'd like you to know that I celebrate you, whoever you are, as a wonderful gift of God, shrouded in mystery.