I haven't posted for a while. The realities of beginning a new call, arriving in a new parish and finding my way around the office, the sacristy and (most important) getting to know the people of St. Peter's has kept my attention for the better part of the last three weeks. Believe me that the dust is far from settling out on the transition; but right now is a quiet moment in the study for me as I prepare for my first Vestry meeting with the leadership of the parish...and I decided to take some time to process and offer up my work on the sermon I preached yesterday. What follows is a synopsis/interpretation of my preaching. I don't work from a script or notes, so keep in mind this is a reconstruction of what I talked about from my perspective. For those who listened, God may have offered up another interpretation.....
The sermon began with a reflection on the recent clergy conference I was privileged to join in the Diocese of NJ this past week, representing St. Peter's as its new rector. My old seminary professor in liturgics and homiletics was our presenter, and he did a blessed piece of work, reporting to us as both a Bishop of the Church engaged in questions of liturgy and leadership and as a pastor offering reflections on the evolution of Common Prayer in our collected lifetimes. That meant a lot to me, and I am excited to see where next God is leading us in worship and the discernment the Church is taking toward the "next" Book of Common Prayer.
On another tack entirely was a meeting that one of our brother priests called us to at the outset of our free afternoon. In the wake of the Tyler Clementi suicide here in New Jersey (and in the notice people are taking of the suicide rate among young people across the nation), a group of us gathered to discuss what our pastoral response might be to young people facing the soul-killing experience of being bullied, teased and rejected for their being different from the norm, whatever that might look like. That, coupled with increases in connectivity techonology, are making our young people's lives a terrifying minefield of risk. There is no safe place, anywhere they might find refuge from those seeking to do them harm on a physical, psychic or spiritual level.
Tyler's plight, heart-wrenching as it is, happens to be only the tip of the ice berg. Young men and women struggling to articulate and express the adults they are in the process of evolving into, face near-insurmountable challenges to their privacy. Couple that challenge with Tyler's sexuality and his roommate's lack of respect for his privacy and a deadly thing happened. Tyler decided to kill himself after an intimate encounter between himself and another man was broadcast over the internet by his roommate and a mutual friend. A young man killed himself because he thought there was no where to go with his shame, his fear and his embarrasment. There lies the greatest sin....not suicide, but the fact that there are so many of us who would have gladly embraced and loved him through this trauma-of only we had known he was in pain; and if only he knew that there was a place to turn.
The outcome of the meeting provided us with a couple of ideas and initiatives. One of those was to go back to our home congregations and use the one thing we all have in common as parish priests, our pulpits, to preach about God's love for all, particularly young people like Tyler who need a double dose of acceptance and support. We are also resolved to discover ways to push the plight of youth being victimized by bullying in any form to the forefront of our consciousness. After years of light-speed development of new technologies to enhance communications between people in our culture, it is time to slow down enough to let our ethics catch up with our capabilities. It is time for us to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in new ways to people who need an effective level against which to judge their choices and how they choose to view our fellow human beings.
In the Episcopal Church, rooted as we are in scripture, prayer and tradition, there are clear markers on this path to ethical and moral renewal. Our expression of the summary of the Law that Jesus commends in the pharisee who visits him by night: "Love God with your whole being; love your neighbor as yourself." is enough for most. On top of that, our Baptismal Covenant also challenges us to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves.]" Both ideals provide an immediate linkage between what we are called to do in loving each other, and the need to challenge bullying and the senseless and inconsiderate lack of care that lead to the suicide we see among young people like Tyler.
In today's Gospel, there is the story of ten lepers who call out to Jesus for help. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest (something all were required to do once the signs of leprosy had faded and ritual cleansing had taken place). As they went, all ten noticed they were clean....one turned back to seek the Master, a double-reject in that this leper was also a Samaritan (unwanted "foreigner"). This one, Jesus declared, was because of his faith made whole.
It is time for us to declare the healing that Jesus announced...to get off the stick and onto work of mercy that remind people about who and what we intend to be as a Church....that we offer welcome and sanctuary to all who need it. Doesn't matter what you look like, sound like or who you happen to be....you are welcome here. Period. And we rejoice, you blessed folk needing care and love. We have that to give, with some to spare, because God has seen fit to shower it on us in abundance.
Now, if we can only remember to keep offering it up to ANYONE......