Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Don't Worry Father, I'm Not a Sodomite!" (preaching video)

What follows is the video and rough manuscript of a sermon I preached last Sunday during Saint Peter's Church Jazz Vespers on the Easter 3C gospel text, Saint John 21: 1 - 19.  It's primarily about evangelism and the irresistability of the gospel... I'd love to hear what you think.


Alleluia! Christ is risen! I want to begin tonight with a story… a story that’s a bit humorous and a bit sad, but also filled with amazingly Good News. This is a story about an experience I had about month ago – it was a Saturday evening and I had just finished up an immigration advocacy workshop here at Saint Peter’s. I was absolutely on top of the world… my committee and I had been planning the workshop for months, and it had gone off perfectly. I was also excited because of where I was heading next… for weeks I had wanted to attend the weekly prayer vigil for marriage equality at Saint John’s Lutheran Church down in the Village and this was the first Saturday evening I could make it. So I hopped on the subway, still wearing my clergy collar, and I quickly realized this was going to be a very interesting trip… it was not only a Saturday night, but in fact the weekend of Saint Patrick’s Day, a commemoration day which is apparently celebrated quite heavily here in the City of New York. My subway car was jammed full with college kids and other folks, decked out in all sorts of light-up shamrocks, leprechaun gear, green t-shirts, etc. yelling and slurring their words… even though it was only around 7pm many of them had clearly been drinking for hours.

For time first time in awhile I felt self-conscious in my clergy collar, knowing that it would make me a sort of target in such a situation and sure enough, not long after we got moving, a young man stumbled up to me and exclaimed loud enough for much of the subway car to hear, “Don’t worry about me Father… I’m not a Sodomite!” I was of course immediately offended, and wanted to respond angrily about how insensitive the young man had been, etc. but I was able to hold back while I composed myself. After recognizing that I had probably said similarly dumb things on similar nights throughout my own college years, I was able to somewhat see the humor in the situation and instead clumsily blurted out, "I would prefer we use different language, but I'm a Lutheran, and many of the folks in my church are actually quite down with the sodomites... I'm on my way to a prayer vigil for marriage equality right now." Now a couple folks in the subway car actually cheered, others breathed a sigh of relief, but the young frat bro responded back to me a in a truly awesome way. He said something like, "Oh wow, I was just joking, I'm sorry... but knowing that is actually pretty cool. I've never heard about Lutherans before... tell me a bit about your church." We ended up having a great conversation and I left him with a handshake and my business card.

The sad part about this story of course is that when that fellow saw me in my collar, when he identified me as a Christian; his first thoughts weren’t about God’s love, or forgiveness, or liberation or even worshipping God… his first thoughts were “Oh, that’s someone who doesn’t like gay people… who doesn’t like people that are different.” And honestly of course, who could blame him… For far too long, perhaps even for much of our Christian history, it’s unfortunately sad but true that a large portion of the Church has not stood for love, forgiveness or liberation… it’s instead inadvertently stood for intolerance, backward thinking, perhaps even bigotry. So then, where is the Good News in this story? Well quite simply… it’s that in even a situation where so large a portion of our society, particularly open-minded young people, have been so absolutely alienated by the Church, the Gospel still proves irresistible. Sure, the young man I met that night on the subway still might never step through a sanctuary door, but the simple Good News I goofily conveyed that there are communities that believe God loves everyone, that there are communities that see all people as precious children of God, made him get immensely excited… Such Good News perhaps even made him stop and think about how he himself was a child of God too. Yes my sisters and brothers, even in this day, in this age, in this city, the Gospel still proves irresistible because it reminds us of who we truly are… children of God, loved and called to share that love with others… loved and called to feed God’s sheep.

Feeding God’s sheep, sharing the good news… the big fancy word for it in the Church is evangelism,
and it often can seem pretty scary. And all too often it is pretty scary, as too many Christians have taken Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep” to instead mean “tell everyone else that they’re wrong… that they’re going to hell or something like that.” Let me be absolutely clear - by no means is that what Jesus really wants us to do… its simply not what evangelism truly is. And luckily, in today’s Gospel story, Jesus provides us with a better model. He isn’t telling Peter about his many faults; about how goofy it was of him to be fishing naked only to put on his clothes before diving in the sea… even though that certainly is pretty goofy. Instead, Jesus simply invites Peter to the table, welcomes him to sit by that charcoal fire, breaks bread, eats with him and affirms who he is as child of God, no matter how goofy Peter acts or what Peter might do. That’s because, true evangelism, truly feeding God’s sheep is not really about what Peter is doing, or what I’m doing, or what you’re doing at all… its about what God is doing through Christ. For when we know God’s love and are affirmed through bread and wine, through water and words and the consolation of others in our communities, we simply can’t help but share that love and affirmation right? Simply put, we can’t help it, the Gospel is irresistible. So when Jesus commands us to feed his sheep, what he’s really saying is that you are loved, that you are okay no matter how goofy or messed up you think you are, that you are welcome at God’s table. And in knowing that amazingly Good News, by golly we can’t help but share it with others. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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