Pentecost 5C – You Are Free
June 19, 2016
Last Sunday was the Jewish festival of Shavuot –
a celebration of God’s giving of the Torah – the holiest of Hebrew Scriptures
(and the first 5 books of our Bible as well).
On festivals such as Shavuot,
Orthodox Jews refrain from things like television and internet.
A member of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s congregation, Ohev Shalom in Northwest Washington
told him about the Orlando shootings sometime during the day.
At sunset, as the holiday ended,
Rabbi Herzfeld invited his congregation to come with him
directly from the synagogue to a gay bar
in an act of solidarity.
As Rabbi Herzfeld describes it,
he said he wanted to convey the message
that “we were in tremendous pain,
and our lives were not going to just go on as normal.”[i]
Rabbi Herzfeld had not been to a bar in 20 years,
and he’d never been to a gay bar.
The rabbi was told about a particular bar frequented by the LGBT community called Fireplace,
and a dozen Orthodox Jews, wearing their yarmulkes headed over to the bar.
As I heard an interview with the rabbi on the radio last night,
he said that it was his mother who broke the ice.
They were all kind of gathering outside the bar,
not exactly sure how to proceed,
whether or not they’d be welcomed into the bar,
when his mother approached a man standing next to the building.
She told him why they were there,
and the man burst into tears…
He said his cousin had been killed at Pulse earlier that morning.
They embraced, and together went into the bar.
They hadn’t known what to expect,
but as they met the patrons, it turns out that they had much in common.
One man’s stepson had had his bar mitzvah at the synagogue.
Another person asked for a card so that his church could visit.
The bartender turned off the music,
and the group became silent
as they shared words of prayer and healing.
They lit candles placed on the ledge of the bar
as they put arms around each other and sang together.
I love this story for a lot of reasons…
but primarily for the way in which this congregation
profoundly shared with the LGBTQ community the message that
“You are not alone in your grief.”
Jesus visits a town and the first place he goes
is to a graveyard…
he goes to a place where grief is raw and painful.
He speaks to a man who is overwhelmed by demons…
and asks him his name.
The man says, “My name is Legion!”
My name is many…
As Orlando and Charleston and all the other places have shown us recently,
the demons are many in our world…
It’s homophobia and racism and Islamophobia and hatred and violence;
it’s fear and despair;
it’s hopelessnesss and inaction;
it’s the voice in our heads that says,
“Oh well, here we go again;
I guess this is the new norm…
there’s nothing we can do to change it.”
But (have you noticed?) when Jesus visits a graveyard,
when Jesus goes to a tomb, he goes for one reason only…
he goes to bring people out!
When Jesus goes to a tomb,
he goes to show us that this is not how it has to be –
to show us that new life – a different life – a resurrected life is possible.
There are many demons in our world.
Jesus comes to rebuke them, to release them,
to free us of them.
Our passage from Galatians says,
In Jesus, “there is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female.”
Those categories that kept us separated into our own little tribes are no longer.
Jesus comes to free us from them.
Today is June 19th – known as Juneteenth especially for those of you with ties to Texas.
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating feedom in Texas and in several states.
The history of the holiday is that while slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation
in January of 1863,
southern slaveowners often chose not to share that information with the slaves….
and so it wasn’t until two years later that they heard the news.
2000 Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas
and on June 19th, 1865, General Gordon Granger read “General Order No. 3” saying:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.
Somehow many of us haven’t received a message Jesus proclaimed 2000 years ago.
We haven’t heard about the ‘emancipation proclamation.’
Some, including those in the church, frankly, have been trying to keep it from us.
May this be our Juneteenth – our emancipation.
Hear the news today, June 19th:
You are free.
Take a big breath (really – do it!) and hear it again…
You. Are. Free.
God loves you – each and every one of you.
Gay or straight.
Single, married, or divorced.
Addicted to meth, porn, alcohol, or work.
Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist.
God loves you….
and this may be a radical thought…
it doesn’t diminish how much God loves you,
to know how much God also loves the person next to you,
or the person at the Catholic church on the corner,
or the Missouri Synod church down the street,
or the mosque in Falls Church,
or the gay bar in northwest Washington.
You are free from trying to figure out if you’re really the one God loves.