Behold, You Are Beautiful!
It is good to be back among you this morning. As many of you know I was in Milwaukee, WI for the 32nd Synod of the United Church of Christ. I read Robb’s powerful sermon and many of you who were there shared how spectacular it was. We are gifted with many preachers, poets and artists of all kinds in our midst.
If you haven’t had a chance to read what he shared, you can always find the messages shared here under the sermon tab of our website.
I invite you to join me in prayer…
“A woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.” I can’t remember if it was on a button or a bumper sticker, but I remember the stir it caused in the mid 1990s. In our little corner of mostly rural Eastern Washington State, what was celebrated was a strong man and an obedient woman. We were taught that there was just one combination of couple of which God approved, that our gender meant we were only allowed to live and love in certain ways and that our roles are preordained. And the messages we received around sexuality offered competing ideas: sex is shameful, but will later be seen as special once you are married and should only happen between a man and a woman.
And pieces of our sacred texts were often cited to support this particular point of view. Leviticus 18:22, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman: it is an abomination." And Leviticus 20:13, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall be put to death: their blood is upon them."
That’s a Christian perspective?
And then verses like this one in 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."
Hello, who was with Jesus until the bitter end?
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that what many people argue is a “biblical definition of a family unit,” is not just painful and problematic, it is misleading. If you read the variety of books included in our biblical cannon, it is clear that there is absolutely no single norm for family life in the Bible. And further many of the stories in the Bible are not models for us, but they in fact mirror the worst of us. From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis we read of Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel, a dysfunctional family with threads of jealousy, revenge and murder. In Genesis (20), we read of Abraham who pretends that his wife Sarah is his sister and has a child with another woman and then nearly sacrifices his own son, Isaac. Later on (in Genesis 29), we read of Jacob having multiple wives… When we narrow the scope, to just the concept of marriage, it is not as if one model is consistent. Let me say more- here are just some of the ways that the Bible speaks of marriage:
• A marriage can be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin and if she isn’t,
she should be killed. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
• Marriage consists of a union between one man and one or more women.
(Genesis 29:17-28; 2 Samuel 3:2-5)
• Since marriage is meant to be for life, no law shall be created to permit divorce.
(Deuteronomy 22:19; Mark 10:9)
• Marriage should not infringe upon a man's right to take concubines,
in addition to his wife or wives. (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21)
Each of these pieces of text is culturally and historically located, which means any reading we do right now, is a selective one. Jesus never mentions homosexuality but he clearly condemns divorce (Mark 10:1-12), likely for the protection of the livelihood of the woman. And yet the Bible has been used to argue against the leadership of women in the church, it’s been used to ban interracial marriage and to support slavery. It’s used even now to legitimate the inhumane conditions for children at the border.
To be sure, we must be cautious when contending that the Bible supports one point of view over another, especially since we have a record of using it to confirm our own prejudice. As Anne Lamott said, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
But, I believe at the very least we can lift up other pieces of our tradition, pieces that have been underrepresented, like some of what we heard earlier from what is called the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon is one of the Wisdom Books of Hebrew Scripture, along with Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible also includes the Books of Wisdom and Sirach. In this part of our sacred text we read this: Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful! It’s a long and detailed account of a powerful, intimate bond- a love that celebrates embodied passion. It’s the story of a love that lifts up, a love of immensity and intensity. A love that inspires poetry. A love that cannot be contained in categories even in that cultural context. Behold, you are beautiful!
The Song of Songs contains some of the most famous pieces of sacred text in the Jewish tradition, often read at weddings:
“6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy[a] unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.[b]
7 Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it[c] would be utterly scorned.” Song of Songs 8:6-7
For love, love is the most powerful force, love is love is love, love. Is. As. Strong. as death…and that means even when it cannot fit into existing cultural norms or categories, love that is poetic, mutual, inspirational, behold you are beautiful… Now that’s biblical too.
For in the end, we are all expressions of our Greater Love. Whatever name we have for God or the Sacred or the Source, I believe, we are manifestations of it. As in what Alice Walker writes in the Color Purple, “I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way...I can't apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to... “We are made in the image of God."
For love, love is the most powerful force, love is love is love, love. Is. As. Strong. as death. Love in a variety of expressions.
And I believe in this time we need to be bolder about using our sacred text to shout this truth just as loud.
I believe more of us need to be okay speaking discomfort into comfortable spaces- that love will find a way, in spite of us, through us, calling us to now to be whoever we came here to be, that all of us, that each of us, should be allowed to hear this truth: love is as strong as death, whether you identify as traditional or transgender, lesbian, queer, straight, gay- love that is poetic, mutual, inspirational, behold love, behold, you are beautiful!
It was fifty years ago this week that law enforcement raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and sparked demonstrations, later called the Stonewall Uprising or the Stonewall Riots or even the Stonewall Rebellion. Even though it was a catalyst for what would later be labeled as the Gay Liberation Movement, the modern struggle for LGBTQ rights in this country, those who were there that morning didn’t understand that the moment would later become historic. They simply didn’t want to be invisible anymore and they didn’t want who they loved to classify them as mentally ill.
They wanted to live their truth, they wanted to be seen, they wanted to live. Love is love, behold you are beautiful…
Recently our Church Council approved the addition of a rainbow stripe on our sign at Lehigh and Table Mesa. I love that in this moment in history, the rainbow means radical inclusion. I love that the rainbow represents something that started with a rebellion. As the Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ said at General Synod, “The rainbow wasn’t only for Noah.” So that means it is also meant for us, right here, right now.
The fight for dignity and freedom isn’t done. And even though the rainbow flag has gone corporate, we should never forget it was once the symbol of a rebellion for equal rights.
As the United Methodist Church fractures over the question of LGBTQ equality and transgender people are targeted for violence and fatal crimes and as schools fail to affirm a variety of gender expressions, we can make space here and in our words and hearts for this truth of our tradition: Love is strong! The rainbow is for us! Whoever you are, Behold, you are beautiful!
And what I have seen happen when one group among us is loved into fullness, then we have more energy, stories and hope to love others into wholeness. Maybe the rainbow is as much about the colors, as the arc.
In 1858 in the hall of the State House before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Convention on a Friday night, Theodore Parker a Unitarian Minister said this, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight, I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made this idea famous with a shorter line. “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
And yet this seems incomplete. Doesn’t it? If left alone, will it really go toward what God wants? Will it really bend toward equity, peace and dignity for all, if no one demands it?
As commentator Chris Hayes wrote in Think, “The idea that the moral universe inherently bends toward justice is inspiring. It’s also wrong.”
Jesus of Nazareth showed us that the rainbow arc of our Higher Love’s hopes, often must be demanded, formed in our homes, in our laws, in our sacred spaces. Sometimes love can’t win without our hands, our pushing.
In a recent interview marking June 28th, 1969, remembering the night and morning at the Stonehill Inn, Mark Segal said that activists today should take note of what putting themselves out there accomplished. He said, “Get out in the street! Handcuff yourself to something! Get arrested!” 1
I believe that where we are able, now is a time we are meant to put our security on the line, for all to be seen, for wholeness to be known, for dignity to be felt. The long rainbow arc of dignity and equality for all… needs us to bend it.
It is our call to creatively and constantly be bold in bending the arc! Let us carry on in finding ways to let rigid lines become rainbows. Whoever you are, from whatever place you have come, You are an expression of the Divine, Behold, you are beautiful! Amen.
1 The New York Times, Sunday June 23, 2019