A wide spot in my imagination.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bleach for the Soul

Timothy B. Tutt
Pastor, United Christian Church
Austin, Texas

Sunday, June 3, 2012  
8:30, 9:30 and 10:45 AM Worship

2nd Sunday of Pentecost
Ordinary/Common Time
 (Lectionary Year B)

“Bleach for the Soul”
Romans 12:1-2  and James 1:26-27


Last Sunday, my sermon was about a minister in North Carolina who made some terrible anti-gay statements in a sermon.  He said, among other things, that we should round up gay and lesbian people in this country, put them in an electric fence, and wait for them to die. 
My sermon is posted on my blog and on our church’s Facebook page.  And I think we uploaded it to the church web page as well.
            In that sermon, I talked about the wrong that people sometimes do. I talked about how the church has sometimes blessed that wrong over the years.  I talked about our need to speak out against evil.   And I talked about the hard, hard work of praying for those who do wrong.
            I must say, I was overwhelmed by the response to that sermon—the conversations we had at the doorway after worship, the emails, the Facebook posts.  I was reminded once again of how thoughtful you are as a church, how gracious you are as individuals, how sensitive you are to problems in the world.

            As I said, I posted that sermon on my blog.  Remember, the sermon was about a minister who preached a horribly, horribly anti-gay sermon.  So, on my blog I got a post from a woman name Magen.   I do not know Magen.  I don’t know where she lives.  I don’t know much about her.  But I feel terribly, terribly sad for her.   [If you are reading this blog again, Magen, I would appreciate you contacting me.]
            So, she read my sermon on my blog, and here is what she wrote:
I followed a link to this sermon from your comment on HRC's Facebook post, and I'm glad I did. I was raised in a church founded by my grandfather, currently pastored by my uncle with my father as the associate pastor. After my divorce I realized I'm homosexual. I have sat through many hurtful sermons preached by my family as well as guest speakers. I eventually stopped going to church, but still sent my son. After the president's support of gay marriage went public, people from the congregation began to take a more active stand against the gay lifestyle. They said this is a bigger issue than other sins in the Bible because people are making a lifestyle of it. I decided I could no longer send my son to church with my father, who has picked him up for services twice a week. I planned to have a serious talk with my father explaining my decision, as it would not be taken lightly. I planned to find a new church to attend that is more in line with what I believe Jesus wants from us. As it turned out I didn't have to have that talk. My father simply stopped calling and stopped showing up to pick up his grandson. We are cast aside, cast aside by Christians in the name of God. These are the people who taught me about Jesus as a little girl. What do I make of this? I've pondered this question for many years. Is God a concept that was invented to control, to provide comfort to conformists? As a homosexual I know that I didn't choose this, I didn't, I truly, from the bottom of my heart, did not choose this. But I can't convince anyone. They don't believe me. God must know that. What do I do with this?

I’ve written back to Magen.   I haven’t heard back from her yet.

Last Sunday I asked you to pray for Reverend Worley, the pastor in North Carolina who preached the hateful sermon.    Several of you talked about how difficult that is, to pray for someone who seems so hateful.  It is hard to see that person as a child of God.  I know that. 
This week, I will ask you to do something that should be easier.  Please pray for Magen, this woman who emailed me.   Obviously, her faith is important to her.   And her family seems important to her.   And she has been kicked out of both, “cast aside” is the phrase she used.  She feels cast aside by her family and her church.

It’s interesting how all of this has come together in this sermon this morning.
Several weeks ago, maybe several months ago now, Ken, Nikki and I selected the scriptures for this service.  The verse from the Book of James:  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”   And here is a family, a Christian family, a family of leaders in their church, who have kicked their daughter out of their family.  They have essentially orphaned her and her son.  And yet, this scripture says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows…”
Our Centering Words, the words that used to begin the 9:30 and 10:45 services this morning were written by Tim Colvin.  Tim wrote that we want to trust the rulers of this earth, we want to trust our bodies, we want to trust our families, but our governments, our bodies and our families sometimes fail us.  Tim didn’t know anything about this woman when she wrote these words.  I hadn’t even read this blog post when Tim prepared the bulletin.   But here we have a family who has failed their child.  They have cast her aside.

This scripture passage from James says, “Keep yourself unstained by the world.”   The scripture passage from Romans has some similar ideas, “Present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”  
Both of those scriptures have passages have been used to develop moral codes, purity codes.   Keep your body pure, keep your body unstained.  Maybe you learned it this way, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t you go with girls that do.” 
Fair enough, to that old saying.  But that old saying is not nearly enough, not enough at all.
Jesus said, “You can clean the outside of the cup, but the inside may still be full of greed and self-indulgence.”  (Matthew 23: 25)
The Apostle Paul said, “You can speak like an angel and do all kinds of amazing things, but if you don’t have love you’re a resounding or a clanging cymbal.”  (I Corinthians 13: 1)
As I said, I don’t know this woman, Magen, and I don’t know her family.  But it seems to me that the family may be like cups, clean on the outside, messy on the inside.   Aren’t we all, sometimes?  They’ve got lots of words to say about rules, but she feels they left love by the wayside of their journey.   Don’t we all, sometimes?
I ache for them.  I really do.
And I wonder what it must be like for her uncle and her father.   They’re the pastors of a church.  How do they preach the story of the Prodigal Son without having their hearts break? Isn’t that the point of the story:  That we wait with hope and grace to throw a party for the people we love?  I guess they would focus on the “sin” aspect of the Prodigal story, though Jesus didn’t focus on the sin when he told it.   They probably say that she’s a “sinner” and needs to repent.  Based on what I’ve read in this email, I can’t say this woman is a sinner.  I’m tempted to say that it’s her family who’s becomes “stained,” by excluding her. That’s the problem with sin: It’s really easy to spot the “stain” in other people’s lives and really hard to see in ourselves.

So, what do we make of this, to ask Magen’s question.  How do we discern the will of God?  What do we do with this family that has “cast aside” their daughter?  What do we do with these scripture passages about pure religion?  Is there bleach for our souls?
First, I think, we pray. I asked you to pray for Magen this week. I asked you last week to pray for the pastor and hateful electric fence idea.  So, keeping praying.  Listen for the Spirit to speak in your lives.
Also, listen for these stories, stories such as Magen’s.  Stories like that are hard to hear. “My father simply stopped calling,” she wrote…  “My father simply stopped calling, and stopped showing up to pick up his grandson. We are cast aside, cast aside by Christians in the name of God.”
We pray, we hear those stories, and then we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.  That is, we offer ourselves to be used as instruments of God.  We offer ourselves to people who are broken and battered and bruised.  Can we fix all of their problems?  Maybe not, but we can try. 
We can care.  We can act. 
It is not enough for us to simply sit sympathetically in church, but do nothing.  It is not enough to think, “Oh, that preacher in North Carolina is bad.  I’m so glad my preacher is good.”  It’s not enough to think, “How said for that woman to be kicked out of her church. I’m so glad to have my church.”  That is not enough.
Instead, here is what I think we are called to do.  When that father stopped calling his daughter, we start calling. Maybe not her, we don’t know where she lives, we don’t have her phone number.  But we know someone who is cast out, shunned, lonely.  Care for that person.   When that grandfather stopped showing up to pick up his grandson for church, we start showing up to bring them here or to some place where they make connections of the soul.
Over and over, people say to me, “This church is so great.  I feel so loved here.”  Or, “My kids or grandkids are getting such grounding here.”  Or, “The youth mission trip is so important.”  Or, “I feel accepted here.”   I am grateful for those comments and feelings.  But it is never enough to be soothed in our own religious satisfaction.   We must also share that Good News with others.
If you find your soul warmed here, invite others to join you in God’s embrace.
If you find yourself loved here, invite others to experience that love with you.
If you find yourself accepted here, invite others into that grace as well.

From time to time I hear people say – well-meaning people – “I really don’t want too many more people here, because we might lose some of what makes us special.” Yes, we will.  We will lose something special.    And we will gain more of it.  Because there are a million Magens out there with those aches and grief.  A million Magens, saying, We are cast aside, cast aside by Christians in the name of God. These are the people who taught me about Jesus as a little girl. What do I make of this? …. What do I do with this?
There are a million Magens, who need this place, who need your compassion, you kindness.   There are a million Magens out there who need to hear the words that Tim Colvin wrote:  “Rulers may betray, bodies may fail, and families sometimes disappoint.  But God guides us, the Spirit sustains us, Christ welcomes us home.”
Do not be afraid.  You are loved.  Share the Good News.   
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the mercies of God.  Amen.


  1. According to some Christians, being gay is worse than other sins because it's a lifestyle? But any sin is a "lifestyle" if you do it repeatedly! That sounds like another excuse to persecute people whose sins are not theirs. Fantasizing about genocide (in a pulpit, no less!) is a pretty nasty lifestyle, I think.
    My message to "sinners," not said in so many words, is: God loves you just as you are, AND He wants to transform you into something better.

  2. I will pray for the holes in people's souls that they can find it so easy to cast aside someone for not fitting in their mold of what is "acceptable". When I've been severely wronged and listened to sermons on agape love (loving not your friends which is easy, but those that wrong you), this is the only way I can pray for them - for the blackness that is within them to be cleansed away so that they can see how they are hurting others.

    Magen, if you're ever anywhere near Austin, TX, we'd love to have you in our church. Tim's our pastor. And we're lucky to have him. And we'd be thrilled to have you and your son join us. You will not be cast aside by us, but welcomed with open loving hearts.

  3. Thank you for posting this here, Tim. I was out of town on June 3rd and heard about this sermon afterward. And thank you, too, for helping create a little corner of Christianity where love and justice trump righteousness codes. It is so very refreshing.