I’m going to try something I’ve been thinking of for a couple of years: to write the Sunday sermon I wish I’d heard.
Caveats: I know no more about theology than I do about medicine: I’m an interested, reasonably well-educated non-specialist layperson.
My opinions are my own, puzzled out and pieced together over many years of cogitating about the eternal questions: why are we here? where do we go when we are no longer here? what does it mean to be a good person? or to do the best you can? and even who is okay and who isn’t? If you can’t read what I write in this spirit, peace be with you and farewell.
I was a young child transplanted from California to Mexico City when Vatican II hit; suddenly, instead of the Latin the Mass was said in (which I, precocious gringa child, had memorized) Mass was now said in Spanish, my new language – which anyone there spoke better than I did.
I think I was miffed at Mother Church for a number of years after that.
50 years later, with so much going on in the (new, ugly) language translations – as a disabled person I am especially sensitive to everything being about my ‘spirit’ when for before it was all of me (and don’t bother to tell me the Latin used spirit – I KNOW that – and so does the Spanish). I’m especially sensitive to it when ‘I shall be healed’ changed to ‘my soul shall be healed’ – and left half of me out. Vatican II, Aggiornamento, and letting fresh air in – all are being challenged on many sides.
I feel the changes are like pulling the portcullis up, setting armed guards on the ramparts, and trumpeting ‘the heathen are at the gate.’ When my church felt so inclusive, with everyone welcome who agreed on the basics, the wide umbrella covered many differences in details, but we all lived together. Now I don’t even feel I belong.
Then along come the readings for today, and I realized something important has been lost. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 15, covers a very important decision made in the early church, with the intercession of the Holy Spirit: that Gentile converts to Christ’s way would not be required to first become full Jews. The words – from the New American Bible one of my kids got at confirmation – specifically say, as a quotation,
‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on your any burden beyond these necessities, namely to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.’
It would have been a disaster to require incoming believers to suddenly get circumcised, learn to eat kosher, and follow the innumerable laws and edicts observed by devout Jews in Jesus’ time. So Paul submitted the question to the authority of Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem, and they prayed, and got the answer that has made a profound difference in the whole world: Do not place on our new brothers and sisters any burdens which are not required.
They were, however, required to love one another ‘as I have loved you.’ and ‘Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.’ and ‘The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.’
Powerful words. Very different from what was going on in the world at that time.
Some 2000 years later the words have not lost an iota of power. But those who would lay burdens spring eternal. Those who would say ‘this is orthodox and right’ have no trouble blasting those who are different. Love is allowed in a narrow definition – my way or the highway – that are not His way.
As science has proved that we don’t just come in two varieties, ‘male’ and ‘female’ strictly defined by visible signs, but that God created people in many ways and combinations, we hear that some of us are not ‘good enough.’ I can’t fathom that one. A child with Down syndrome, an autistic adult, a person with a genetic weakness that leads to disease, a baby born with incomplete limbs, anyone who doesn’t identify as heterosexual, people who are a different skin color from other people: all are God’s children, made by Him to be loved exactly as they are – no preconditions.
The aphorism is ‘God does not make junk.’ I am not junk. Those of us who were ‘whole’ and are now disabled, or are getting old and can no longer do things, or went to war and came home with traumatic brain injury due to concussion – we’re still perfectly good enough. All we have to do is to keep His word.
In Biblical times, if you were born without sight, your neighbors examined the putative sins of your parents. Jesus didn’t go about quickly changing all the sightless into sighted. He used a blind person to perform a miracle to show who He is – because only when He did something impossible, (maybe) would they believe.
It seems to me that the promise of change for the better, and love enough for all, is getting a bit tarnished. And the very tarnishers are the ones who should be holding the gate open so that all can get in. Like Paul and Peter did. It makes me sad. I want the early promise back – no burdens except what is strictly required.