“Keeping Vigilant”

~ Luke 9:51-62/2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 ~

Oh, the hubris! Oh, the excess! Oh, the debauchery! What are we talking about? Celebrating Pride! A supposed progressive, LGBTQ ally, it appears, is grossed out by the excesses of Pride celebrations. We’re talking the parade with its outrageous costumes and performances; we’re talking Drag Queen Story Hour;  we’re talking professional sports teams wearing rainbow symbols on their uniforms; and, yes, we’re talking the Rainbow Flag. Debauchery, this writer claims, “perversity dressed up as diversity,” to quote her directly. She, for one, will not be waving her Pride flag today.

You see, for this writer, pride is always bad. She quotes Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Pride is hubris, self-idolatry and vanity. She notes that in the catholic tradition, pride is at the top of the seven deadly sins. So, all this exuberant Pride stuff we indulge in during June is just, well, self-indulgent. Get over it, she says. Your self-worth is not dependent on somebody wearing a rainbow on their uniform, it’s not dependent on waving a Pride flag. After all, laws have been instilled to protect you from discrimination or job loss based on sexual orientation, she asserts. Marriage equality is the law of the land, for goodness’ sake. So stop it, already!

Needless to say, she has received considerable pushback for this clueless diatribe. She completely glosses over, as one commentor says, “the elephant in the room” – shame. Sadly, imposed shame is an all-too-common plight. The damage done by homophobia and the deep self-loathing it instills is all too real. To be told constantly by a huge part of society that you are “less than,” that you are shameful, that you should remain hidden. It is debilitating and harmful and dangerous. Sure, one could say “be secure in who you are” but the fact is this homophobic society makes that virtually impossible. As one commentator stated, “To be Queer is to suffer.” The fact is many are not secure in who they are. And for many, maybe you, this shame was particularly prevalent in church. Imposed shame, imposed self-loathing has been the rule not the exception in too many churches. Hopefully Noe Valley Ministry is the exception.

So, it turns out, owning “Pride” is the proper response to shame. Pride is the proper response to dehumanization. Pride is a rebellious push against shame. And, yes, sometimes rebellions get a bit outrageous. The Pride Parade today just might exhibit some outrageousness.

However, when it comes to hubris it isn’t those who suffer that are guilty. It isn’t those who are shamed who need to repent of being too prideful. No; when it comes to hubris it is those who are secure in who they are who are in the most danger of this sin of pride.

Maybe, they are the two disciples we encounter in our gospel lesson today, James and John. Here we see the epitome of hubris, of self-aggrandizement, of pure unadulterated narcissistic pride. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Sure, why not? Let’s consider our two clueless disciples. But first a bit of background.

The narrative begins with this introduction: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now this story is infused with the story of the great Old Testament prophet Elijah. Even as Elijah was taken up to the heavens Luke mentions Jesus’ soon-to-be taking up. The story of Elijah, and his successor Elisha, lurks in the background of this entire episode. For us, with our modern sensibilities, Elijah is an enigmatic figure, a weird dude we’re only vaguely aware of from our Sunday School days. But in the annals of Israel’s history Elijah ranks right up there with Moses. For the Jewish people of Jesus time Elijah, the great prophet of old, simmered just below the consciousness of every person. So it is no surprise that the gospel writers would draw constant attention to the similarities between Elijah and Jesus. Yes, they even went so far as to make up some similarities.

Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. In other words, he is determined to go to Jerusalem despite the great danger that awaits him there. But first he must go through Samaria. Historically there had been considerable hostility between Jews and the people of Samaria, who were a mixed race of Jew and Gentile. Luke notes that the people of the Samaritan villages did not receive Jesus and his disciples. Given the mutual hostility it would not be surprising. But James and John in an effort to defend Jesus’ honor, call for fire to come down from heaven to destroy them. It is reminiscent of when Elijah and Elisha called down fire from heaven near this very spot to destroy the soldiers of King Ahaziah who had been sent to arrest them. James and John just want to repeat the dose. James and John loved Jesus and that was a problem. Jesus would have none of their violent devotion and dismisses their idea out of hand.

Hate those who hate us. It continues today. But its worse. Hate those who don’t comport to your definition of being human. Hate those who dare live lives you have decided are sinful. Hate those who don’t agree with you.  Hating those whom you reject is a major religious theme. The cycle of violence too easily becomes a way of devout response. And that violence is not just physical, it often is spiritual and political.

And, all too often, it is religion that perpetuates that violence. Scholar and Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, says this:

Jesus was not killed by atheists and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.

Even though we all probably saw it coming, the announcement of the ruling  by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade hit like a ton of bricks. It is not too far-fetched to say this is the epitome of political violence perpetrated on the women of this country. The conservative, anti-abortionist religionists got what they were hoping for when they made their unholy alliance with the former president. Yes; they are celebrating this day. They won this battle. But the war is not over and we, women and men, Queer and straight, must continue the fight for reproductive rights for all. We must keep on being vigilant.

On this Pride Sunday, however, we are also quite aware of the dangerous implications this decision has for gay rights and marriage equality. A few days ago New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, noted the outrageous platform the Republican Party in Texas voted on that not only denies the result of the 2020 presidential election but also rejects gay marriage and seeks to “protect” minors from what is deemed “predatory sexual behaviors,” such as drag queens reading stories aloud to children. And just last year we saw Florida pass its “Don’t Say Gay” bill. He then says this:

Make no mistake, this is all part of a renewed, broad-based attack on gay rights and gay culture, to stanch the rise of young people who are coming out. And if you think a right once established by the court can’t be rescinded by the court, look no further than the expected ruling coming from the court on abortion. There is no finality in the battle for civil rights. Wins don’t stay won. They must be defended and can sometimes be reversed.

And sure enough in the wake of the Court’s decision we hear Justice Thomas say that the Court should reconsider contraceptives and same-sex marriage. After the Obergefell v. Hodges 2015 ruling guaranteeing a right to same-sex marriage we heralded it as a major civil rights victory. But many opponents of gay rights saw it merely as a lost battle in a war, not the loss of the war. For them the right to gay marriage must be reversed. And they seem determined to do so. Indeed, they seem to be determined to push LGBTQ folk back into the closet, to reintroduce the stigma of shame. And get rid of those outrageous Pride parades.

What are we to do? Well, keep being vigilant, for one. But also, I believe, keep on following Jesus. However, it turns out that is not easy; it can be really hard, in fact.

Our gospel story continues with three encounters of would-be followers of Jesus. And Jesus’ response to them is quite disconcerting. We tend to see these encounters in the general sense of what it means to follow Jesus. But it could be he was only speaking to the situation they faced in the moment. And in that moment, as has already been noted, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus was deliberately walking into a life-threatening situation. And his response to these questions was meant to shock them with the reality of that fact.

The first would be follower steps up and says to Jesus he will follow him wherever he goes. No hint of insincerity or falsehood. And all Jesus does is remind him of what following him means. It means, unlike even the animals that have holes and nests, to be homeless. Jesus has left his home and is now going to Jerusalem to, oh, die. His journey will end on the cross. That’s the fact, pure and simple. Know that to follow me is to go where you might not want to go.

The second encounter is even more shocking, deliberately so. The man just wants to bury his father. How could Jesus belittle such a request? Jesus’ response was meant to be offensive. It defies explanation. Jesus deliberately offends by challenging an extremely important family value in Jewish culture. To bury the dead was an obligation of highest priority. Jesus’ cold “let the dead bury the dead” response was meant to question even the most cherished values of the culture.

The third encounter is meant to remind us of Elijah’s call of Elisha. In I Kings 19, Elijah calls Elisha to be a prophet when Elisha is plowing a field. Elisha asks if he can bid farewell to his folks and Elijah says ‘yes’. But not Jesus! I can’t even say goodbye to my family? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” he says. A modern image might be what happens when people drive with their eyes glued to the rear-view mirror. Yes, following Jesus is hard!

But so is the hard work of pushing back against the forces that are determined to quash your civil rights as women and Queer. Wins don’t stay won; they must be defended. I for one will try to do my part. May we keep on being vigilant. It’s what Jesus would do. Amen.

Comments are closed.