Our Work of Radical Acceptance: A Sermon on Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of
I’m going to take you back in time. No, not to the long ago time of ancient
As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, that girl was me. I have known profound exclusion at times in my life. As a teenager, my friends and I were targeted by the police simply because we looked different. Some of us had mohawks or shaved heads, some rode skateboards, most wore unusual clothing. We liked to hang out downtown and talk about philosophy, music and politics. We were courteous and friendly to those around us, even helping older folks to their cars with groceries but that didn’t matter. In the eyes of those in power, we were a menace. We were not only watched carefully, but were even told that if we weren’t there to buy anything, we should go on home. This, by the way, is not uncommon treatment of teenagers, who have little power in the dominant culture, no matter how much today’s advertising may target them.
I was subjected to exclusion as an adult, too, by the Presbyterian Church in which I grew up. Having dreamed for years of walking down the red-carpeted aisle in a white wedding gown to be married by our pastor in our sanctuary, when the day of my wedding did arrive, the service was not done by our pastor nor was it held in that church. I was not even allowed to place a wedding announcement or anniversary date in our church newsletter because I fell in love with a woman. Moreover, it was made clear to me that I would always be excluded from any kind of ordination in the Church. While the people of the church were kind to us in many ways, and a number of them have become good friends to both of us, the overall atmosphere was ultimately one of tolerance rather than of acceptance.
There is a difference. I have been treated to a great deal of true acceptance in my life, as well as being excluded or merely tolerated. In my early 20s, one of my co-workers at the bookstore invited me, along with another bookseller, to a Passover seder dinner at her parents’ house. I was very interested and excited, not having had the opportunity to learn much firsthand about Judaism. I also felt honored to be invited to this special family dinner. Elana’s whole family welcomed us goyim with open arms and loving hearts. Her uncle, a rabbi, made certain to explain each portion of the seder as he went though the old rituals, purely for our benefit. That night will long remain a sparkling light in my memory. The family could have merely tolerated us, but they went out of their way to make a Catholic and a Presbyterian feel truly accepted on that night different from all other nights.
When I lived in a small rural town outside of Nashville with my then-partner, her sister Teresa and brother-in-law Tim opened their hearts and their home to me, making me part of the family. My partner spent a week in the hospital during that time. Her sister could have legally excluded me from visiting or she could have merely tolerated my presence at the hospital. She, Tim, and their children, Travis and Tasha, made a space for me to stay in their home during that time so that I wouldn’t be alone in the apartment. Tasha, who was fifteen, gave up her bedroom for me. Travis, twelve, told me jokes to cheer me up. Knowing I would go straight from work to the hospital, Teresa fixed me a plate of her wonderful cooking each night and left it in the microwave. When I arrived at the house after everyone had already turned in for the night, I would warm up pulled pork, fried okra and buttery corn. After a piece of fudge pie that was so good, that, in Tim’s words, if you put a piece of it on top of your head, your tongue would beat a path through your brain to get to it, I would climb into bed knowing that I was radically accepted.
The work of acceptance is going on in
I was immediately struck by this church’s accepting attitude when, on our second visit here, Diane and Andrea remembered our names and Roger and Lollie invited us to host coffee hour with them the following month! I have been heartened by hearing parishioners’ accepting words about those of other faiths and by seeing the respect given by many to the ONA process. Of course we have a long way to go, but we must not let that dampen our enthusiasm. Each step we take, each friend we make is another stride down the path to living out our core value of acceptance.
In choosing acceptance as one of our key core values, we are making the pledge not merely to pay lip service to the idea, but to enact it every day, in all manner of ways, in the life of the church. It is imperative that we remember that acceptance generally implies that we are experiencing a situation or person without the intention to change that person or situation. Thus, in conversation with a person who is Muslim or Hindu, in order to truly accept them, we must simply share ourselves with them and be open to what they have to offer. If we are in the interaction purely for purposes of conversion, we are not truly accepting of that person.
Acceptance does not necessarily mean that we approve of or desire the situation or circumstance, but we must not be in a mode of trying to change it, either. Thus, we can be said to truly accept someone from another life circumstance without wanting to be just like them, as long as we are not trying to make them be just like us. How boring it would be if everyone were alike! I was speaking to a member of this church this week and he posited that God scattered the people at the
In making the stand for acceptance, we stand in good company. When Abraham and Sarah prepared a welcome table for strangers who turned out to be angels, they were rewarded with good news so astonishing that Sarah laughed out loud and Isaac, her son, gained his name. When
Not only do we stand with Biblical figures when we practice acceptance, but we stand with some of the most important figures of more modern history, as well. When William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists, including a goodly number of Congregationalists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, advocated acceptance of all races as equals, the nation was forever changed for the better. People like Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers continued the work of acceptance between the races, right alongside people like Michael Schwerner and Elaine DeLott Baker. When the Congregational Church in
Friends, our work here in the world is not yet finished. We may not be casting out demons in the literal sense, but each time we welcome the stranger into our midst, we are casting out the demon of inhospitality which was the downfall of