upper room daily devotions

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Wonderfully Made, Beautifully Born: Saint Francis Sermon

Here is my sermon for October 3. What began as a regular celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis turned into something quite different. I could not preside over the service on Sunday without giving attention to the four teens who took their own lives this month - all bullied for being gay. It seems to me that a celebration of creation must mention the brokenness within creation as well. The sermon is called "Wonderfully Made, Beautifully Born."

By now most people have heard the name Tyler Clementi. He was an 18 year old student at Rutgers University. He killed himself after being secretly filmed and outed on the internet. As shocking and disturbing as Tyler’s story is, it does not stand alone; 4 young people took their lives this past month all for being bullied for being gay. In California, 13 year old Seth Walsh hanged himself after being bullied; he died nine days later. In Texas, 13 year old Asher Brown shot himself. In Indiana, 15 year old Billy Lucas hanged himself in his family’s barn. Our children are dying, and it is imperative that adults, that churches, schools, doctors, teachers, and mentors of all kinds tell them that as tough as life is at any given moment, there will be better moments. The pain of one moment should not result in the loss of life through suicide. In response to the pain of young queer teens, Dan Savage started an online project called “It Gets Better.” It is a place for adults (or teens) who have moved through the pain of bullying, through coming out, to share how life gets better. Story after story reveals how the voices of our past need not continue to hold power over us as we grow up. We can create our own identity, love whom we will, work where we will, and live in the neighborhoods we choose. One of the things that churches can do is to tell kids - all kids - that they are wonderfully made and beautifully born. You may be a girl who likes motorcycles or dresses. You may be a boy who likes motorcycles or dresses. You may be a girl who loves girls or boys or both. You may be a boy who loves boys or girls or both. What we care about is that you know how to love - yourself and others and this whole world - and this includes yourself - fully. It is our job to fill kids with the wonder of creation, with curious minds, with loving hearts, with passion and joy and delight.

On this eve of the Feast of Saint Francis, I am compelled to speak about the wonder of creation. Life is something to feast upon, to love, to treasure. All life. The life of trees. The life of bears. The life of insects. The life of plankton. The life of shrimp. The life of whales. The life of beetles. The life of flowers. The life of weeds. The life of all manner of creeping, flying, and crawling things. Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His life journey took him into deep relationship with all manner of God’s creation: wolves, birds, and people - especially poor people and sick people. When Francis realized the wonder of God’s creation, he knew that he had to be in relationship with all of it, especially the parts that society usually overlooks or condemns. In his world, this meant specifically that Francis lived with and among the poorest of the poor, leaving behind the wealth into which he was born. He understood that to love God’s creation entailed loving the parts of it that most people struggle to love. This is true for us today. Like Francis, the realization of our deep connection with all of creation draws us into relationship with beautiful things and beautiful people as well as people who are reviled - the poor, the immigrant, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.

Some of this may make some in this room uncomfortable. It’s important to name that we are uncomfortable with some things, some people, different ways of life, people who are different from us. There is nothing wrong with naming our discomfort. There is, however, something profoundly wrong with pretending difference doesn’t exist or that difference should be eradicated. Our drive to homogeneity - to “sameness” - is killing whole species, is resulting in crop failure, is eradicating native plants and animals. It also drives us to homophobia and heterosexism, which is killing are kids. We don’t all have to be alike. I believe that God rejoices in difference. Some of us are tall, some are round, some have brown skin, some have pale skin. We have blue, green, brown, and speckled eyes. Some of us walk, some of us wheel. Part of creation flies through the air. Some of creation lives without air. Some breathe in water. Some can’t. Some eat plants only. Some eat animals only. Some eat both. Some of creation gets its energy right from the sun.

All of this earth is wonderfully made. You are wonderfully made and beautifully born. Difficult times will come as surely as we live and breathe. But the wonderful parts of life only come as long as we live and breathe. If life is hard for you, for whatever reason, hear that you have been lovingly crafted into something only you can be. Life is still perfecting you. You are not yet what you will be. When we celebrate Holy Communion, you are invited to come just as you are - with doubts and with fears, with joy, with pain. The wonder of God’s table has nothing to do with intellectual confidence in religious tenets; it is about hope - a hope for that day when all of God’s creation thrives in complete fullness, no longer a shadow of what it might be. The table is an expression of a vision - a vision of that day when the breaches within creation are repaired, when all have enough and no one has too much, when the birds have their perches, the whales clean water, and lions can roam their territory without fear of poachers. The vision of the table is one of abundance but not excess. The table is an experience - for at least that moment when the bread is placed in your hand and you soak it in the richness of the fruit of the grape - all of creation has what it needs. We have the basic food of grain; we have the rich luxury of the vine. Necessity and abundance. The table celebrates the wonder of creation and it recognizes that we - and all of creation - have not yet been completed. And, it’s okay not to come to the table. Perhaps this hope is one you cannot have today. Perhaps this vision seems too far away. You are invited to come anyway, if you choose, and to let the rest of us hold that hope for you - to hold this vision up for you. But, you can remain in your seat. We cannot always participate. We are works in process. When we arise from the table we go back into a world still hurting, wars still raging, animals losing their habitats, forests being burned, the climate still changing. We arise from the table to go into the world where children are bullied for being different: too short, too tall, too smart, too dumb, too gay, too queer. It’s a hard world we return to. And yet, somehow it contains immense wonder, beauty, and joy. As we re-enter this world, those of us who are somewhat healed have a great deal of work to help make it a little better. We can show others that healing is possible. We can teach our young ones that the pains of life will not always be so intense or cut so deeply. We can tend our piece of God’s beautiful garden. We can raise our voices and lend our bodies to this most holy and sacred work.

This is not abstract stuff. This is the heart of real church - of powerful faith. This month 4 young people took theirs lives, and they lived in places as diverse as New Jersey, Indiana, Texas, and California; the painful realities of difference are felt everywhere. Isolation and broken relationship occur throughout our world and it results in tragedy. We are too late to tell these young people how wonderful they are, how wonderful life can be, how wonderfully made all of creation is. Isolation leads us to believe that this moment is all that will ever be. Despair removes our ability to relate with one another or to experience our connectedness with God’s wonderful creation. We are too late the help these four young people. But, we are not too late to rise from the table in hope and to be a witness to the pain of others and to offer them this simple message: You are wonderfully made and beautifully born - just as you are. You are part of a living organism called the Earth. It struggles to be in harmonious relationship within itself. You are needed to help it be in balance. In the Old Testament, we call this perfect wholeness Shalom. In the New Testament, we call it God’s Kingdom or Reign. We celebrate it at the table. And we proclaim it in the world. You are wonderfully made, and beautifully born. Amen.

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