Note: After this sermon was written, but before it was preached, news reached us about the terrorist attack on the gay bar in Orlando, Florida. It stunned the entire congregation into the silence of prayer and meditation. Although not mentioned in the body of the sermon, it certainly was part and parcel of my thinking as it was delivered, and members offering commentary on their own “privilege” had no problem in adding it to the thoughts recommended for the day.
May the souls of the faithful departed and all the dead rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them.
II Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
St. Luke 7:36-8:3
This has been an odd week, and there are several things that have suggested themselves to me as grist for the homiletical mill. There was a primary election and whatever our feelings it did have a certain impact and importance. There was the revelation about the rape at Stanford University and questions about the justice that meted out in the situation. There was the death of Muhammad Ali. There is much more of course, but these seem to have stuck in my craw as things to ponder and think about.
Although born in Southern California, I really did my growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was there that I picked up many attitudes and prejudices. I was always aware of being a Lutheran and German, for the language was spoken occasionally within the family and the home. Although we lived in a nice home, the parsonage as they called it, money was scarce and we were aware of the difficulties that surrounded its lack. My father was not a personal entrepreneur. When members of his parish encouraged him to buy a house for investment purposes he did so, only to sell it some months later making a small profit. He was always burdened by a sense of guilt from the largess he realized of his investment – a real capitalist. More likely a real German peasant. To talk about “privilege” within this context seems to miss the reality of the situation, and yet with the events of the week, I am forced to do so. Please do not worry. This homily will not be a personal journey – all of us, I hope, will learn from its musings.
So what do David, Uriah, Nathan, and Bathsheba; Simon, Jesus, and an unidentified “sinful woman” have to do with this set of circumstances and a preacher’s thoughts? Well, that is the task of the moment. The key for me was the death of Muhammad Ali. As I think back on that period of time when he emerged, changed his name, made his boasts, and captured the imagination of the boxing world, I was, I now realize, in a state of denial about what was really going on about me and within my own life as a Christian. My upbringing had been respectful of others and yet a level of prejudice and privilege was there not allowing for the possibility that all was not well. As others reviewed his life and accomplishments, his sayings, and his example, I realized that I had never really thought deeply about them. They were merely dismissed. It may have been the closed culture of the Missouri Synod that engendered this within me, but I think society in general contributed as well. Now I was forced to see value and heroism, wisdom and skill. How had I not seen it before?
So what about Bathsheba, the unidentified woman at Stanford, the perfume-bearing sinner, and Mary Magdalene to whom Luke briefly alludes at the end of today’s Gospel? What about them – these women whose story is known in our great spiritual story – how does their belittlement keep us in the grip of sexism and privilege? The great theme that one discerns in these readings is one of forgiveness, but isn’t there really more? Isn’t the theme of acceptance and respect just as great? Simon is embarrassed by the interloper who takes intimate advantage of his guest, and it is Jesus who must mine the situation for its truth. “Simon, which of them will love the creditor more?” “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” The psalm for this morning says it well, “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!”
Our time, however, seems to delight in the trials and tribulations of others. We (and here I speak as a man) never seem to own up to the effect of our unexamined attitudes. And what should motivate us in this endeavor – in this struggle to see people as God sees them, forgiven and whole. Someone is weeping at our feet and anointing us with tears and we’re uncomfortable. We find it difficult to express the need for not only repentance but resurrection as well. Yesterday at the funeral of a dear friend at Trinity+Saint Peter’s Church in San Francisco, I ran into a priest with whom I had served there. As we talked about our various troubles in growing old he suddenly thrust an icon in my face and said, “Here, kiss the resurrection.” I did.
How do these women and Muhammad Ali represent to us the hope of the resurrection? For Bathsheba it would be her son Solomon who would bring wisdom and justice to David’s bloody empire. For the woman at Stanford University it was a letter that witnessed her own wisdom and resurrection, a witness that flew in the face of those who denied the severity of the situation. For Muhammad Ali it was the pause he gave the nation to realize the gifts of people who are not all white, and not any shade of Christian. (I am thinking of Uriah, the Hittite here – who is the most faithful in the David and Bathsheba story – the foreigner – the outsider.)
Finally resurrection is seen and felt in the tears and drops of ointment that greet the feet of Jesus. Where others denied hospitality, she granted it. Where others would not want to see what was to come in Jerusalem, she anticipated it. Next Sunday, in the reading from Galatians, Paul will make us understand that it is not the privilege of gender, economic status, or skin that holds us up. It is God’s uniting us in Christ, in the death and resurrection of Christ – that is our true privilege. The problem and the challenge are how we honor that shared privilege in others.