Today’s readings tell us about Jeremiah and his struggle to answer his calling to share God’s message to people who weren’t necessarily ready to hear it. He is being persecuted for what he is saying because his words mean people have to change how they behave and it’s not going over well. He’s not keen on what this means for him personally and he laments his own doubts and fears but ultimately puts his faith – his belief, in God’s love and message and continues on.
In the gospel we hear Jesus talking to the disciples of the church in the world. Christ is telling them to be brave. Jesus reminds the disciples that, while yes, there are perils to sharing God’s call to love, acceptance and inclusion, they are precious to God and THAT is what matters most. God’s love and grace empower them to go out and preach the message of love, acceptance and inclusion.
Remembering the times in which Jeremiah and the apostles lived, spreading a message that was new and foreign to people would often cause fear and anger and put the bearers of the message in danger. But today’s readings remind us that to live out in the world means to bring God’s message into the world and that might not always feel so comfortable or be well received.
In 2023, how do we live this call to serve one another? To leave the building in which we spend about an hour a week and use the rest of the hours of the week to bring that message forward. Are we brave? Do we worry about how we will be perceived? Are we afraid that standing up for someone or a group will cause us to be rejected and pushed aside? I don’t mean we should literally go and stand on a soapbox and preach the gospel, I mean how do we really LIVE this? How do we BE church out in the world?
I’m reminded of an experience I had over 30 years ago when I worked at the front desk at St. Joe’s evenings and weekends. A 23 year old university student, a member of this parish, still figuring out who I was and what I believed in. At that time, a group called Dignity – Catholic members of the LGBTQ+ community – came to St. Joe’s to celebrate their faith in the face of feeling isolated within the context of the larger church and the world. Their presence, while welcomed by the majority of parishioners, was found out by more conservative groups of Catholics and people began calling the parish to complain and picketed at the back of the church during mass. It was a tense time and our parish surrounded Dignity with love, openness and compassion.
One evening, while I working at the front desk, I received a call from someone asking why we allowed Dignity to attend mass here. My response was something along the lines that we are all made in God’s image and loved by God. I think in that moment of my youth, I was just saying what I thought I was supposed to say not really sure of what that meant out in the world. The man’s response was to call me a “gay loving” – rhymed with witch – and a few other obscenities. I can tell you that it frightened me. I couldn’t understand the hatred. I was angry that he swore at me and called me names. I was afraid that he might come to the rectory and try to hurt me for what I said.
The experience affected me in several ways. It made me take a hard look at inclusivity and what it meant to be a member of a welcoming community. It made me think about what makes us “belong”. Who gets to decide who belongs and who is loved and accepted by God and by us? What was God’s message to us about this? How would I be perceived in standing up for people who are marginalized or persecuted? Would I be courageous? Would I stand behind the words I spoke through my actions?
The answer to all of my questions is revealed in today’s readings. They remind us that, even when it isn’t popular, or the road ahead may be challenging we are always to remember that, in its profound respect for human dignity, God’s love holds us to accountability, to inclusivity and to love for one another.
This morning we celebrated the sacrament of baptism of a young member of our parish.
Her baptism was an occasion for us to remind ourselves that, baptism is not an entry into an exclusive club for only certain people. Rather, it is a sacrament in which we take part in order to become people who, as Christ reminded us, are loved and cherished by a God who asks us to be church out in the world. We do that by being courageous and living God’s message of love and care through dignity, inclusivity, love and respect for others.