LEAVE YOUR EXCESS BAGGAGE BEHIND
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
July 12, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Palm Springs, California
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Amos 7:12-15 Psalm 85:9-14 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6:7-13
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Beeper and I recently got back from a vacation that took us to Emeryville, California, Denver, Colorado, Keystone, South Dakota (where we saw Mount Rushmore), Chicago, Illinois, and Saint Louis, Missouri. This vacation taught us some important lessons about hospitality, excess baggage (yes, Beeper is going to take only 2 bags in the future), and who we are as people. We learned that in encountering this world, we are received with varying degrees of welcome, that we often carry more stuff with us than we really need, and that God works through us through what we do, rather than who we are.
I have been in a few situations where I was not received as expected, most recently in Saint Louis, where a previously scheduled liturgical arrangement was unexpectedly cancelled due to local church politics. My response was to follow Jesus, who in today’s gospel tells us, if you are not received, shake the dust off your feet and move on.
As you are all aware, the United States Supreme Court declared that same sex couples everywhere can marry, a decision with which I heartily agree. But what was also in the news was an Oregon bakery, operated by a conservative Christian heterosexual couple, which refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple based on their religious convictions. I want to make VERY clear that their convictions are not mine, and that I strongly disapprove to their refusal to provide the cake to the lesbian couple. I also want to make very clear that I will preside over the marriage of any couple, same or opposite sex, here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, and that I know one or more bakers who will be happy to make a cake for any wedding. But despite my strong disapproval of discriminatory conduct, my heart goes out to the Oregon bakers, for we are not talking about a large corporate entity squishing little people, but ordinary people holding some very misguided ideas, who deserve our prayers and compassion…not legal action.
Why? The essence of Christianity is to be in love and charity with our neighbors, always ready to lead a new life following the commandments of God and walking henceforth in His holy ways, and drawing near with faith to receive the comfort of the sacraments. The supreme commandment we get from Jesus is to love one another as Jesus loved us. Jesus did not say refuse to deal with someone because you don’t like their sex life. But what was equally egregious as the discriminatory behavior of the bakers, and equally unloving, was for that lesbian couple to bring a legal complaint with an Oregon state agency seeking money damages for the emotional distress they purportedly suffered from the refusal of the bakery to provide their wedding cake. That was not a proper Christian response. It was just as judgmental and punitive as the bakers refusing to provide the wedding cake, maybe even more so, because that state agency stuck the bakery with a $135,000 damage award to be paid to these ladies. Aside from the fact that both Jesus and Saint Paul in various places, in scripture, urge us not to sue people, and instead, resolve issues amicably, let’s ask ourselves, what if this jilted couple had followed Jesus advice in this Gospel, that is, shake the dust off their feet and move on elsewhere? There are times in life when you are better off to let insults go in one ear and out the other. This was one of those times. I am very sure, that in Oregon, where same sex marriage has been legal for quite a while, they could have found a willing baker for their wedding cake. And why did they just not be prophets and follow the tradition is to call out evil in public, like Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others? They could have, and should have, simply used their free speech rights by getting on Yelp, Facebook and Twitter to urge the public not to do business with this bakery. A loss of customers and/or a bad public image often pushes businesses to voluntarily change their ways.
Prophecy was powerful in ancient times, and is powerful now. Calling out evil embarrasses its perpetrators, and to the extent that evil is part of the fabric of the environment where the prophet speaks, the more hostility the prophet experiences. The Old Testament prophets were unpopular people with unpopular messages and were subject to a substantial amount of abuse from the status quo, just like modern day prophets who call out and oppose oppression.
The story of the Oregon bakery describes the people on both sides of the controversy in terms of the roles they occupy as baker and potential customer, but what the new stories don’t discuss is what’s inside their hearts and what is really going on at the human level. Even though this story is ostensibly about conflicting religious beliefs, it is more than that. Yes, it’s about the challenges same sex couples sometimes face in doing things the rest of us take for granted, but it’s also about a choice to react with retaliation and greed by people who suffered no financial loss and were not physically injured, and it shows why the legal system is a very blunt instrument to solve social problems. The so-called victory of the engaged lesbian couple did not result in the bakery changing its practices: the bakery closed. And they certainly didn’t persuade its owners to change either their beliefs or their behavior: they dug in their heels and vowed to resist payment, and by the way, their debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy. Punishment, one of the fundamental concepts of our legal system, does not work to truly change hearts and minds. What does work is to follow Jesus. What does work is forgiveness. What does work is transformation and change. What if each of the parties in the Oregon bakery dispute forgave each other and changed their life orientation and behavior?
But why don’t we change? That’s because we carry lots of excess baggage with us in our lives. We don’t travel light, as Jesus was telling His apostles when He sent them out. The excess baggage we carry is our family, our religious and cultural backgrounds, our prejudices, our prior experiences, all of which which influence our actions, and prevent us from being open to receiving the Gospel into our hearts, and showing it in how we live.
Both sides of the wedding cake controversy illustrate this. The bakery owners brought with them the “sola scriptura” baggage, where all that counts is the bare words of the Bible, interpreted literally, without the benefit of research and biblical criticism from contemporary scholars, and a lack of openness to the Holy Spirit showing us a perpetual ongoing expansion of God’s love and grace in a perpetually changing world. The bakers also carried with them the baggage that many of us carry in the form of fear of those who differ from us, and the baggage of not risking the disapproval of their own reference group of people who think as they do, a group who brings with them collective baggage of a God who judges and punishes.
But the lesbian couple also brought their own baggage. Yes, it is true they brought with them the baggage of their experience of discrimination in a society often unfriendly to same-sex relationships. More significantly however, they brought with them the baggage of a need to retaliate against someone who hurt their feelings. They felt a need to judge and punish the bakery owners. So it’s just another version of the same baggage as the bakery owners who believe in a punitive God. But that’s not what Scripture teaches. Proverbs 25:21-22 tells us that if our enemies are starving, we should give them food to eat and water to drink, and that kindness to one’s enemies will be heaping hot coals on their heads. Romans 12:17-20 in in accord, where Saint Paul tells us exactly the same thing, not to repay evil with evil, not to try to get even with those who’ve wronged you, and to let God take care of any need for vengeance.
Christian behavior requires we leave behind the baggage that fertilizes the retaliation-and-punishment mindset. What should happen in Oregon is that the bakery owners get rid of the baggage of discrimination and forgive the lesbian couple for bringing the complaint with the State, and in return, the couple should forgive the monies the State says the bakery owes them.
That’s a very tall order, but only by getting rid of this excess baggage in our lives are we able to allow God to us ordinary people as an instrument to make difference in the world, just as God used Amos the prophet to deliver a message of coming change to an ancient world steeped in idolatry and abuse of the poor, pretty much the same issues that characterize the Gospel of Jesus, who brought good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and liberation to captives. Today’s Epistle really slams home that living as Christians is about forgiving sins in accordance with the richness of God’s grace lavished upon us, when God in love adopted us as God’s children, in a world where kindness and truth are one, and justice kisses peace as the formula for salvation.
That, everyone, is the prophetic message of Jesus, and should be our message as prophets today. AMEN.