Sermon preached at the Lutheran Center - June 15, 2016
The Rev. Kyle Severson
June 15, 2016
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The Lutheran Center Chapel
Now somehow I must have missed the class in seminary about dinner party etiquette in first century Palestine, but it seems pretty presumptuous to come in and make such a spectacle.
On the one hand, you couldn’t help but notice her.
She was sitting there bawling,
bathing his feet with her tears and kissing them.
But as Luke tells us the story, it’s clear that few people actually saw her.
Saw her for who she was –
Few people saw her heart.
She was a woman. She was a sinner.
Too often we only see categories…
Doesn’t that feel all too real this week.
And “if this man were a prophet,” the Pharisee grumbles to himself,
notice that we have categorized him as well…
“he would have known who and what kind of woman this is.”
Overhearing his grumbling, or maybe just knowing his heart,
Jesus say, “Do you see this woman?”
What does it take for us to see the other?
I’ll never forget one time that I actually felt seen…a moment in 2009.
I was fortunate to be a voting member for the Churchwide Assembly that year.
A 22 year old gay boy,
who had felt called to ministry since an even younger boy,
baptizing and presiding at my jungle gym cathedral,
but was headed off to my first teaching gig instead of seminary
because only God herself knew what would happen
in Minneapolis that summer.
Many in this place remember those days well.
We refer to it now as the 2009 Decisions,
as if we didn’t make other important decisions that year –
like approve a Full Communion Partnership with the United Methodists,
or approve the development of the ELCA Malaria Campaign.
There are even spaces dedicated to that phrase on Synod Assembly BINGO cards.
We await for that reference to the ‘decision in 2009’
usually in connection with loss of membership or benevolence dollars.
But I regress…
We were tasked with considering a comprehensive statement on many areas of sexuality –
marriage, emotional and sexual intimacy, pornography, sexual violence,
which we might do well to review with our young people
and of course, that which we all looked for with a magnifying glass –
lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
Faithful people on every side of the issue said hurtful things.
Scripture was thrown out from mic to mic.
Emotional speeches about loved ones and lived experiences were vulnerably shared.
Perhaps you remember or can imagine the heaviness of the air in that room.
For some, these decisions meant changing centuries of biblical interpretation.
For many others, it was a prophetic declaration,
guided by the Spirit, of God’s radical love for all God’s children.
Throughout the assembly, I was sitting with the bishop of my home synod on one side of me,
who strongly favored the proposed ministry policies,
and two lay voting members from our synod who were quite passionately opposed.
My ability to serve God’s people as an ordained minister was being voted on…
Or more, my humanity was being voted on.
Gasps of relief were audible when the social statement passed
with exactly the number of votes needed,
but the weight felt in the room,
the weight of the decisions,
did not disappear.
A few pastors stood up from their seats,
walked down to the ends of the tables and handed their bishops their letter of resignation.
While they no longer felt like they could serve in this church,
others of us couldn’t hold back the tears
because we were now given that chance by God’s grace.
There were several votes to follow in order to fully implement the decisions,
and after one such vote,
Bishop Hanson called all of us to turn and pray with those sitting around us.
Knowing that I was sitting with people on both sides of the issue,
I began to worry and tense up.
The four of us turned to each other and my brother in Christ, who opposed the decisions,
began speaking aloud in prayer,
thanking God for God’s faithfulness to God’s church
and asking for continued guidance and blessing.
And then he began to pray for me and for my future ministry –
he gave thanks for my ability to now serve as God had called me
and for the blessings that I would bring to this church.
He saw me.
He did not think that the policies reflected his understanding of scripture,
but he understood that there are LGBTQ children of God
who are indeed called by God to do ministry in this church.
He saw me.
Do you see this woman? Jesus asked.
What does it take for us to see the other?
Hers was a spectacle of love
but too often that isn’t the case in our day.
This week I keep thinking about what it took for our LGBTQ siblings in Orlando to be seen.
I am thankful for Bishop Eaton’s prophetic statement this week
that acknowledges that “we are killing ourselves.”
Those murdered are us, not others.
But I also fear that for already too long this church has been crippled by the
hermeneutic of ‘bound conscience.’
A hermeneutic that no doubt enabled me to become a pastor
But also enables people to remain in the position of Simon,
unmoved by seeing his neighbor
And enables injustice to occur because we are often not able to speak a
prophetic word of love with a unified voice for all to hear.
Do you see this woman?
Isn’t that really what we all long for?
Isn’t that at the heart of what we truly desire?
To be seen.
To be known.
And to be loved because of and in spite of that.
I can’t help but think that if Omar Mateen truly felt seen
last Sunday would have been different.
I can’t help but think that if Dylann Roof truly felt seen
last June would have been different.
Dear church, we can’t wait for any more spectacles to notice one another.
To see one another. We’ve suffered too many spectacles already.
When we have the experience of being seen by a fellow human being
it is a glimpse into God’s ways, a foretaste of the feast to come.
For God sees you.
In all your goodness. In all your shortcomings. In all of your entirety.
God sees you and says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
May you know that God sees you
and may God give us the grace so that we might see each and every person we encounter,
to see them as God’s beloved, to see their heart.