Interfaith Pride Sunday - Words of Reflection from Pastor April & Felicia Lilien

Words of Reflection - April Blaine - Luke 7:1-10 Good morning.

It is an honor to be present with you this morning in such a sacred space.

Thank you for being here, for taking a chance on such a gathering as this – we are honored to be hosting this celebration…

I’m especially honored to speak today from a place of humility.  As a Christian pastor, I am deeply aware of the ways that the church and its leaders have gotten it wrong on this issue.  How our history is just filled with story after story of people being told in the name of God that they are not loved, that they are not worthy, and that they are not welcome.

How leaders throughout the years have stood in their pulpits proclaiming the love of God and declaring with boldness that we are all made in the image of God -and yet failing to see the beauty and the image of God in their LGBTQ sisters and brothers – just as they are.

 

But what I want to be clear about this morning – is that there is a VERY big difference between what people say to be true and what GOD says to be true.  There is a very big difference between how people treat one another and how GOD intends for us to treat one another.  And we get into a lot of trouble when we confuse the two.

 

So, we gather together at the start of this month of PRIDE – to remember what God has said to be true about us and how God has invited us to live in light of that acceptance and affirmation.

Today’s Story as it was told could not be more appropriate.

You have a story of Jesus.  Jesus has just finished doing some teaching.  He was a Jewish rabbi, not a traditional one, but viewed by many at the time as very wise.

And he had just taught the disciples who would follow him some important things about how God sees the world.

He has just spelled out how God blesses the ones who others often reject.  The ones who are outcast.  He has just challenged them to love people – all people, even those who they perceive to be their enemies, he has warned them about the dangers of judging others, without first taking a look at themselves, and then he closes this section with a caution.

Don’t call me Lord but then fail to do everything I tell you.

And he says – “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

And then he enters into the city of Capernaum, a place where Jesus had made his home and he is immediately filled in on this situation.

A roman Centurion has a servant – a servant who he “loved dearly” – who he cared so much for that he utilized every influence he had to seek out Jesus in hopes that he could find healing.

I’m not sure if you caught the subtlety of the relationship between this Roman Centurion and his servant.  Lots of historical accounts and studies seem to suggest that their relationship would have been much more close, much more intimate than just that of a good, hard worker or even a friend.  And that Jesus would have picked up on this subtlety.

So you have this interesting interaction – between a Roman officer – someone who represented the very regime that was oppressing the Jewish people at the time.

And he has heard about Jesus, he has approached him through his friends, and he has acted with a strong belief that Jesus can do what it is that he asks of him.

He humbles himself, he trusts and believes

And he does this because of his great, sacrificial love for the servant.

And what’s interesting in the story is actually a couple of things –

Jesus isn’t actually recorded as healing the man’s servant.  But he is recorded as saying.

I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.

And the servant is found to be in good health after this moment.

I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.

 

Jesus had just told them his followers that he would show them what it looks like for someone to follow him.

But let’s be clear that this wasn’t what they were expecting.

They didn’t expect him to lift up a Roman officer, a non-Jew, a man who was likely in a same sex relationship

As the pinnacle of what faith looked like.]

Jesus is making a very important point here -

Do not think or presume to know who is in and who is out.

I point out the last person you would expect as a model of faith to remind you that - God has opened the doors wide enough for EVERYONE.

So, instead of worrying about who is in and who is out.

Listen to what I have told you and then act on it.  Bless the outcast, do not judge others without looking at yourself, and let love be your guiding principle – even to your enemies.

Listen to what I say and act on it.

I like to think about this man and how this encounter with Jesus must have changed him deeply.  How Jesus’ affirmation of him – declaring him to be a man of faith – a man of worth – how his acceptance of him would have made life so different.

At the end of Luke – Jesus is on the cross and there is a group of people who have gathered at the foot.

Some of them were there to jeer, to taunt, some to mourn.

But at the foot of the cross – it is recorded that there was a centurion.  A Roman Centurion.  Who proclaimed to the group – “Certainly this man was righteous and innocent.”

I like to think that it was the same man.

Whose life had been transformed by this miraculous healing but also by the acceptance and affirmation he found from this odd Jewish rabbi – who gave him back his beloved and also reminded him of his great worth and faith.

I don’t know what brought you here today.  Or what your journey has been lik

But for all of us – no matter who we are – there is a great deep need to know within the depths of our soul that at our core – we are good and we are beautiful and we are loved.

And until that truth can really sink into the very depths of our self-understanding – we are all a little vulnerable.

We are vulnerable to seek out that affirmation and acceptance from anywhere we can find it.

Even if that place is fleeting

Even if that place can’t really help us heal.

And even if that place might even cause us harm.

 

I tell you this story from my religious tradition as just one example of many.

My brothers and sisters from other religious traditions have beautiful stories as well – stories that tell of

A God who is bigger and wider than we might suppose

A God who is not so easily put into a box and contained

A God whose love reaches to all people regardless of who they are

And a God whose acceptance and affirmation of us continues to help us find healing and wholeness.

We hope that this is what you experience today.

A foundation for this month of Pride that you will carry with you – this day and this month and for always.  That God has accepted you and that God has affirmed that love for You.

 

WORDS OF REFLECTION - Felicia Lilien - Hillel Jewish Center, OSU

As some of you may know, our building is named for a very famous Rabbi with a very famous story. The story of Rabbi Hillel, a Talmudic scholar who lived 2,000 years ago, goes like this:

 

A man approaches Rabbi Hillel seeking a conversion to Judaism. He asks the rabbi, “please, recite the Torah to me while standing on one foot.” Now we know that the Torah, a scroll consisting of the 5 books of Moses that takes over a year for us to read completely through, would be impossible to recite while balancing on one foot. And yet, Rabbi Hillel complies with the request because Judaism teaches us not only to welcome the stranger but also to acknowledge the validity of every question and to answer it appropriately.

 

He proceeds to stand on one foot and tells the man: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That's the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”

 

What I never realized in Sunday School is that this story isn’t just a legal query about Torah, this story is about the essence of Judaism and more specifically the essence of humanity.

 

The man, realizing the physical and intellectual commitment of a conversion went to Rabbi Hillel seeking the Sparknotes version before taking on such an intense obligation. And Rabbi Hillel responded with a universal concept that would appeal to a person of any religious affiliation. But even more than that, the rabbi commanded him to “go and study” because it’s not enough to know that kindness is the essence of Judaism, you must learn how to incorporate that lesson into your life.

 

While there are many schools of thought within the Jewish community (as the saying goes: ask 2 Jews, get 3 opinions), it is my belief that regardless of your interpretation of Torah, scripture, or other sacred text, it is not your job as the reader to impose those convictions upon your neighbor. It is your job to refrain from doing unto your neighbor what you would not have done unto yourself and any judgment or action as a result of judgment beyond that shows a lack of faith in God’s power.

 

It is for this reason that we consider our Hillel building to be a safe haven for anyone who comes through our doors. Acceptance and affirmation are the tenants upon which our community has been built and we would crumble to the ground without them.

 

We know that the Torah isn’t about reprimanding those who engage in “forbidden love”, stoning the child who dares to talk back to his mother, or reprimanding those who order the shrimp cocktail when you go out to eat. The Torah, according to Rabbi Hillel, is about empathy and love.

 

You want to rid the world of the fires of hate? Smother them with benevolence. Someone wants to tell you that children who grow up in homes with same-sex parents can’t lead normal successful lives? Raise a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Someone wants to tell you that your choice to love another human being is an abomination? Volunteer at a soup kitchen, grow a community garden, or visit sick children in the hospital while others are setting off bombs in public places or shooting up movie theaters and then we’ll let God decide what really constitutes an abomination.

 

And though it may be difficult at times, I implore you to show some empathy for those who have misunderstood the essence of humanity and have chosen to do unto others what they would not have done unto themselves. It is our duty to channel Rabbi Hillel during these trying times and to educate our neighbor about the real value of brotherhood. And while sometimes we must do it while standing on one foot, it’s comforting to know that our supportive community is always there for us to lean on.