October 24-27 I was “in residence” at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. This was the message I shared in chapel on the 26th.
Chapel Message by David Weiss at Grand View University, October 26, 2010.
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37 (The Parable of the Good Samaritan).
He was … almost exactly … half-dead. Not on the side of the road, but in a nursing home bed, paralyzed on the left side of his body.
Dale had taught me to pray when I was a teenager. Raised in a strong Lutheran family, I grew up with prayer on my lips. But as a teen I hungered for a more authentic sense of prayer. And Dale modeled for me prayer as a simple, casual, trusting posture before God. A way of standing—and speaking—in God’s gracious presence, with all of my hopes and doubts, all of my dreams and desires, all of me. Dale shaped my prayer life more deeply than any other person.
And now he was half-dead. Paralyzed by a stroke at age 43. For the next 18 months, I drove 35 miles every other Friday to keep him company in the nursing home, until finally he became entirely dead on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter in 1996.
Unlike Jesus’ parable, in my life this injured traveler was the Samaritan.
You see, while Samaritans claimed to be faithful Jews, the majority of Jews denied the legitimacy of their faith and left them no place in the family of God. Considered worse than outsiders, they were viewed as falsely-pretending-to-be-Jews and despised all the more for that. So in Jesus’ parable the Samaritan is not just the one who finally does justice, shows mercy, and acts as neighbor—he is also exactly the person that no good Jew wants to see as neighbor.
Well, Dale was a modern day Samaritan: a gay man who was a faithful Christian. But when he responded to God’s call to ministry and traveled from his hometown to study at a Lutheran Seminary in the mid-1970’s, he “fell into the hands of robbers.” He was outed by a classmate for whom gay Christians were Samaritans, persons falsely-pretending-to-be-Christian and despised all the more for that. The seminary told Dale not to come back, and the church as a whole gave him the message that whatever God he had prayed to with such trust, surely that God despised him, too.
And so his classmate, his seminary, and his church – beat him, robbed him of his vocation, stripped him of his faith, and left him there on the roadside. For the next twenty years Dale turned to alcohol and food of all sorts. In deep grief and despair he ate and drank to excess until at age 43 he suffered a massive stroke, and the spiritual robbery that had begun twenty years earlier left him half-dead for the last 18 months of his life.
I was already an Ally. Quietly supportive of gay and lesbian friends. It just didn’t seem like my place to speak out publicly. It wasn’t my issue. It wasn’t my life. But as I sat at Dale’s bedside over those long months and watched his life ebb away, as I saw what the church did to this “Samaritan,” this faithful gay man whom the church refused to view as Christian, it became my issue.
The following spring, while I was teaching at Notre Dame, an anonymous article, written by a young gay man, appeared in a campus publication. Titled, “Living in Fear,” it recounted his four-year battle for self-acceptance on a campus that made it seem impossible to be both gay and Christian. He described waking up every morning and asking himself if this would be the day he would come out to someone … and going to bed every night admitting that today had NOT been the day. His lament concluded, “at least God knows, but God loves me anyway.”
His words became the occasion for me to claim my voice as an Ally. I poured my tears and my rage out onto paper late into the night in a letter of response that I titled “Words offered at the end of the day to an unknown friend living in fear.” I wrote to him. But I also wrote for Dale. He had needed these words twenty years earlier, but all he heard was the silence of a church that had long forgotten that Jesus dared to suggest that persons we least expect might well do justice, show mercy, and indeed be our neighbors.
I wrote, in part:
You say, “God knows, but God loves me anyway.” Wait. Let me say it gently but firmly—unequivocally. God does not love you “anyway”—despite your being gay. God does not need to overlook the way you are to smile at the beauty of your humanity, at the earthy reflection of divine love as you are gaily—and I don’t mean just “happily”—imago Dei.
Do you hear me, my friend? I will be downright strident about this because I see now that if God keeps silent in the face of your anguish, it is only because I wouldn’t lend God the use of my words. Well, here they are.
When Hosea spoke of a day when God would have pity on “Not-pitied” and would say to “Not-my-people,” you are my people—Hosea meant you, and I hope that day is now. When Isaiah welcomed foreigners and eunuchs into the Temple—well, Isaiah meant to welcome you as well. And when Peter was treated to that heavenly picnic of assorted forbidden foods it was to remind him of Isaiah’s same insight, that the church dare not exclude those who come at God’s own call.
When Jesus stopped to speak and sip with the Samaritan woman at the well, perhaps she, too, thought that his fellowship came to her “anyway,” despite her ethnic outcast baggage. But I tell you, my friend, and I am not scared to be flamboyant if need be: Jesus offered her living words and living water because of who she was. He relished her Samaritan beauty; he chose her for the Kingdom, and when he did, he meant for you to feel chosen, too, not despite, but because of your gayness. So, when you picture her and him standing at the well, remember that while many in the church might prefer you didn’t exist, or at least didn’t tell us who you are, Jesus is stopping to chat because you caught his eye not “anyway”—but just the way you are.
Can you hear me, yet, my friend? I am not afraid to be audacious if I have to. When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, he said to them if any town refused to welcome them in his name, well, on judgment day those towns would fare far worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. And Jesus meant to say as much to all you same-sex couples who, not unlike those disciples, come, two by two, hoping for a bit of hospitality from the church. What irony that we who have so long burdened you with the guilt of Sodom and Gomorrah find that the fire and brimstone are finally aimed our way.
I hope that you have heard, my friend. I tremble for the silent “no” that closes out—and closets in—each day, the quiet daily unmaking of yourself by fears all too well founded. Against all this that you know so well I can offer only words—but maybe this is precisely what I have not done often enough or loud enough or long enough. So, I hope, my unknown friend, that at the end of this day, and the next, and on and on, that when you crawl beneath your covers of so much more than linen you remember these words I offer in gentle but firm—unequivocal, strident, flamboyant, audacious witness: You are loved by God already now, not “anyway,” but fully because of who and how you are.
And I wait with you for the day when “no” becomes “yes,” and you place yourself truthful in our midst. I wait patiently, because who am I to tell you when to step beyond the fears that we have heaped up in your way? And because who am I to think your fear is not, in part indebted to the comfort of my own silence? And I wait impatiently, because I know at least this much that God is anxious for you to share the joy God takes in the very beauty of who and how you are.
When Jesus concludes his parable by saying, “Go and do likewise,” he means for us to do two things. First, to show mercy to those in need. And, second, to recognize that sometimes those who need mercy – or who show mercy – will be Samaritans, the very persons we least expect to encounter as our neighbors … but they are indeed our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ, nonetheless.
May it be so. Amen.
David R. Weiss was at Grandview October 24-27. He is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology,” David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. You can reach him at email@example.com and at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.