Pastor Buchanan started his sermon with the prayer, "Startle us, o God..." - and I admit, I prayed that prayer with him. (I'd say it was the first time one of my prayers had been answered that directly in a long, long time...it certainly worked for me.) Thank you, Pastor, for the inspiration...and with apologies to the author of the Gospel of John, I offer you...
Jesus Talks With A Gay Man - (John 4:1-33, 39-42 - more or less...)
1 In late July, the Metro Chicago Synod heard that Jesus was attracting more first-time visitors and baptizing more adults than any other ELCA pastor in the city, 2 although in fact it was not really Jesus who had baptized them, but his irregularly-commisioned staff of unordained lay ministers. 3 Now when Jesus learned of this, he left the seminary community in Hyde Park and went back once more toward the ELCA headquarters on Higgins Road.
4 Now to get there, he had to go through an area just north of downtown called Boystown. 5 So he came to a part of Boystown called Northhalsted, not far from the plot of ground where
7 A waiter came to the table, wearing a bright pink "His+His" t-shirt and a "Silence=Death" armband, and raised one eyebrow at the man seated at the table in front of him in the "Come Follow Me" t-shirt. Jesus said to him, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (All the lay ministers had gone down the street to pick up Subway sandwiches for the rest of the journey.)
9 The gay man said to him, "Hey...you tell me. After all, you appear to be a straight Christian, and I'm a gay man. Let's face it - we don't get many religious folks in Boystown, let alone places like this. And I'm not only a gay man, but I'm a Muslim gay man. So where does a guy like you get off asking someone like me for a drink?" (For Christians do not associate with gays, nor with Muslims if they can help it.)
10 Jesus answered him, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
11 "Hey, mister," the gay man said, "I'm the waiter here. I don't see you with an order pad or a serving tray, and it's tough for customers to even get close to our fountain-drink station, let alone our bar. So how are you going to get anything for me to drink, let alone 'living water'? Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you somehow greater than the folks who own this place, who let us drink have free water and soda (and snitch the occasional mixed drink) whenever we want?"
13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks your water, or your soda, or your beer will get thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
15 The gay man said to him, "Yeah? Mister...you know what, I have no idea who you really are, or even what the heck you're talking about. But you're the first Christian man in 20 years that hasn't spit on me, or called me 'an abomination' to my face. Somehow, I think I want some of what you're offering. Give me some of this water you keep talking about, so I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to get something to drink."
16 Jesus told the man, "OK - just call your wife and come back here, and we'll talk."
17 "Who are you kidding?" the gay man said. "Don't you know where you are? You're in Boystown, for cryin' out loud. I don't have a wife, or a girlfriend. Heck, right now I don't even have a boyfriend," he replied.
Jesus said to her, "You're right when you say you have no boyfriend. The fact is, you've had five boyfriends, and the guy you're living with now isn't even your boyfriend. He's just a guy you picked up in the club - some guy who doesn't even know your real last name."
19 Whoah, buddy," the gay man said, "that's pretty intense! How'd you know that about me?" Jesus was silent. "OK...I get it. Maybe you're one of those folks who can see right through people - maybe one of those guys with 'second sight.' Maybe you're one of those folks who 'have the Spirit,' like those televangelists say. 20 I don't know anything about that. My family - my people (the ones who are observant, anyway) - think that you have to pray five times a day to Allah to get that kind of power. The rest of the people I know don't even bother with that spiritual mumbo-jumbo...they just think you have to work out a lot, look good, live fast, die hard and leave a good-looking corpse. And all the Christians I've met think that I have to pray their way, and start living life their way, or I'm 'going to hell.' Either way, my day-to-day life is so empty, I'm not convinced that I'm not already in hell. What's a guy supposed to believe?"
21 Jesus said, "Believe me, my friend, a time is coming when you won't worship God in Mecca, or in the gym, or in the club, or in a church sanctuary. 22 You and your friends worship what you think you know, but do not know. Christians worship what they do know, for salvation is promised in Scripture. 23 Yet a time is coming - and has now come - when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
25 The gay man said, "I know that the church folks say that their Savior is coming. Maybe when he finally gets here, he will explain everything to us."
26 Then Jesus declared, "Then wait no longer. I'm the one they're waiting for."
The Irregularly-Commissioned Lay Ministers Rejoin Jesus
27 Just then the lay ministers returned and were more than a little surprised to find Jesus apparently talking with a gay man - one who appeared to be Middle-Eastern in origin, to boot. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with him?"
28 Then, leaving his tray and his order pad behind at the table, the gay man went back to the bar, and even next door to the gym and to the other clubs, and said to the people, 29 "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted. Could this possibly be 'the Christ' all those religious folks keep talking about?" 30 People came out of the gym, and out of the bars and clubs, and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile the lay ministers (the ones who considered themselves Jesus' disciples) kept saying, "Hey, padré, you may walk on water, but come on - even Michael Jordan's gotta eat something." 32 But Jesus said to them, "I have a source of energy that you know nothing about."
33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Did someone slip him some Mrs. Field's cookies while we weren't looking?"
Many Gays and Lesbians Believe
39 Many of the gays and lesbians who gathered from all around Boystown believed in Jesus because of what the waiter said: "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted." 40 So when the people of that area - gay men, lesbians, bisexuals (even people in civil unions from Vermont and Episcopalians visiting from New Hampshire) came to him, they urged Jesus to stay with them. So rather than continuing the ride out to Higgins Road, the irregularly consecrated lay ministers found some rooms at a nearby bed-&-breakfast, and he stayed in Boystown - amidst the people with whom most Christians would not associate - for two days. 41 And because of what Jesus spoke to the men and women there, many more became believers.
42 The people who heard Jesus said to the gay man who first encountered him, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
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Yes, Virginia - yes indeed...the Gospel really IS that shocking.
March 17, 2005
Over my shoulder, a backward glance...
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever expect the attention this entry has received. It's been humbling, and gratifying.
Over the last three weeks, I've followed Sitemeter links to many, many blogs that have linked to it, and read loads of comments. As a result, I feel I need to address a couple things that have been major themes in those comments.
First of all, this entry just poured out of my soul the night after I heard Pastor Buchanan's sermon. In it, I hoped to share a contemporary context for a story that still stuns and amazes me. I haven't gone back and edited the original post, because I truly believe that I was driven to write it by a Higher Power - that's all I can say. In many ways, this is not my writing. I took the NIV text of John 4, and worked from that.
A number of people have quite rightly gotten irate about the image of Christians spitting on a gay man. They have been justifiably angered by a broad-brush tarring of all Christians as homophobic - and I truly do regret that. However, in the same breath I have to admit that many of my gay friends have experienced that kind of behavior, and for several of them, I was the first Christian they had met who hadn't shouted at them, spit at them, or screamed, "You're going to HELL, faggot!" In addition, for 12 years I lived in suburban Kansas City, and repeatedly experienced the Gospel according to the so-called Rev. Fred Phelps as he and his followers protested in front of churches, and even at funerals of gay men.
Even in my own tradition, there is a strong sense that homosexuality is "the rhinoceros in the living room" - so long as we don't wake it up, it won't gore us. It has only been recently (after experiencing the worship communities at Trinity UCC and Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago) that I've found Christian churches that have gone beyond the "don't-ask-don't-tell" level of acceptance. So if you felt this reaction, accept this apology: if I were re-writing it today, I'd do it differently.
I mentioned that I took the NIV text as my starting point. One of the most frequent criticisms of this telling has been, "So where is the repentance? How come you left out the 'go and sin no more' portion of the text?" The fact is, I left it out simply because John left it out.
(Interestingly enough, there are lots of behaviors that I haven't repented of. I still struggle with lust, gluttony, and lying (white and otherwise); I can still be a particularly vulgar individual (especially in Chicago traffic); in short, I have not repented of a lot of the sins I committed before I accepted Christ as my savior. That doesn't mean I don't believe; that doesn't mean I don't strive. It's the difference between justification and sanctification, I guess. And frankly, people have been arguing models of soteriology for hundreds of years. I'm not going to solve those battles here...)
Another recurring comment is, "What's so freakin' shocking?" The answer, surprisingly, should be "Nothing." After all, in churches that have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of the woman at the well has come up every three years for a long, long time. And the commentaries on the Gospels talk about just how much despising there was between Samaritans and Jews. So we've known all this for a while. It shouldn't surprise anyone.
But people are shocked, and startled. One man wrote, "It's like opening a bottle of ginger ale and finding Bushmill's Irish Whiskey inside; it's not bad, but it is a bit of a shock."
I think a part of this is because so much of the media and conservative Christianity has painted homosexuals as the destroyers of marriage, families, and all that is good - and the image of Jesus talking to one of "them" has been mind-blowing to a number of folks. We forget how scandalous Romans 5:8 really is: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (NIV).
A number of people have pointed out that Jesus was a Middle-Easterner, and no one would have talked to Jesus about being "Christian" or being connected with them. You're right on - point taken. If I were re-writing it, I'd probably have changed the word to "religious people."
A few comments have been made about my use of the term "irregularly-consecrated lay ministers" instead of "disciples." This is a particularly un-subtle dig at my denomination, who regularly claims "the priesthood of all believers," but sets up sacraments (such as baptism) as things only done by regularly consecrated and ordained ministers. Call me a heretic (get in line, if you do...) but I believe the presence of the Word, the water, the people, and the Holy Spirit was enough for Jesus' time...what's different now?....
I posted some additional reflections a couple days after writing this - you can find them here and here.
Finally - to everyone who has written, and commented, and linked: I give thanks to God for you, for your affirmation, and for the time you spent to comment, to encourage, and to challenge. I'm grateful for all the attention - and hope that my few scratchings here point people back to the Gospel, to an outrageous Jesus, and to the endless love that is in Christ. Soli Deo gloria.