Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (NRSV)
Moses said, The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: "If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die." Then the LORD replied to me: "They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak-- that prophet shall die."
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NRSV)
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-- as in fact there are many gods and many lords-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. "Food will not bring us close to God." We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to God from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong, and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for Jesus, the Christ (Prologue, Rule of Benedict, vs 1-3).
A priest once said in a sermon: "I do not have a problem with the concept of obedience. I have a problem with the practice of obedience." As a guy who has Asperger's Syndrome, I have no problem with the concept of obedience. I may or may not have a problem with the practice of obedience. I have a problem with the authority figure to whom I am suppose to be obedient.
As a gay man who struggled for many years with my sexual orientation, my relationship with God and the Church. I have a real problem with those who use their Ecclesiastical "authority" and "their understanding" of the "authority" of Scripture to judge my relationship with God as injured or even destroyed because I am gay. Religious "authorities" have misused their so called "power" to manipulate LGBT individuals and other groups of people to believing, thinking and acting as they do.
So, the idea of authority and what obedience is to mean for me is a counterfeit understanding. To better understand, I need both the Rule of St. Benedict and today's readings to help me put authority and obedience in their proper places. That is why the opening to the Prologue from the Rule is such a powerful reflection, especially in light of today's Gospel.
What does the word "authority" mean when Christians think of the Person of Jesus Christ? The Greek word for "authority" is "exousia". The word is literally translated as meaning: "out of being." It comes from a full sense of self. A realization of who I am. When I speak with authority according to the Greek word "exousia" I am talking from the point of who I am.
The people who were listening to God in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures are hearing a prophecy about the future. God is going to send someone who can say everything that God has to say to God's people. It will be said with a sense of authority. The authority will be a historical change that will mean a pivot from one direction to another.
As Christians, we understand this to be a prophecy about Jesus. The Jesus who came as a Jew like his own people. Not as one who came to suppress the Jewish people into another religion or they would go to hell. As Christians we recognize for ourselves that Jesus was God's perfect revelation. Knowing that alone is not enough to convince us of what is being said in the Gospel.
The people who were listening to Jesus and witnessing him casting out the evil spirits, were amazed that he was speaking "out of his being." Jesus was not only able to say such things, he was also a living example about that of which he spoke. The religious authorities of his day had become so wound up with keeping the rituals and their own reputation among each other and the people, that living the meaning of their faith had lost it's focus.
We hear a lot today about how Jesus Christ is suppose to bring redemption and forgiveness for the sin of adultery. We are all expected to just let go of the media stories of presidential candidates with a reputation of continuing to harass women and totally disregard their dignity. Forgiveness of sins relieves us of the guilt of our past actions. It does not excuse us from repentance and it does not mean we don't take seriously an effort to "cast out the evil spirits" of sexism, racism, class discrimination and sexually violent behavior. It also does not give us license to act like the Pharisee in Luke 18: 9-14 who stands their exalting himself against others who are not quite as "good" as he is. All of us are broken human beings in one way or another. It is from these things that we are suppose to grow into mature people. None of us are any better than anyone else. We are all still earthed.
St. Benedict, a holy man totally aware of his own weaknesses, admits as he calls others to return from the sloth of disobedience, to embrace the call to a new way of life. Whether inside or outside of a monastery, St. Benedict calls us to a change of heart and a "conversion of manners". To place others before ourselves. To be understanding and compassionate with those who are different from ourselves. We are to take the focus off of ourselves to serve the other out of reverence for Christ. We do this from a complete acceptance of ourselves, placing all our hope in the God who accepts and redeems everyone. No exceptions. No exclusions.
We see religious "authorities" all around us talking about passing constitutional amendments to take away the rights of LGBT people to marry the person they love. It would all be laughable, if they also weren't using even more violent rhetoric and basing their work on false claims about LGBT people. All being done in the "authority" of the Scripture and some kind of ecclesiastical "right" to look down on others. Suggesting that spreading hate and division is some how "compassionate."
Jesus is teaching out of his being as one who is a living model of generosity and mercy. Jesus lives as one who welcomes the marginalized and seeks those injured and held back by oppression. He's got his whole person open to the call of God and is able to speak directly to evil in such a way, that it has to go. It cannot stay in the presence of such awesome love as the Holy One of God. People marvel at what they hear and see. Now, in front of them is one who speaks out of his being, while he lives out of his being.
Obedience to God's will is not a matter of being a wise thinker or a well spoken theologian. It has little to do with quoting from the Bible along with the Book, verse number and version. Obedience in the Christian context is about being willing to serve the needs of someone else ahead of our own. We obey, not because we want to avoid punishment. We obey because the one who calls us to serve is someone who loves us. The last thing we would want to do is offend someone who loves us so completely and without condition or exclusion.
We cannot be obedient to God if we are trying to hide or change the very essence of who we are as LGBT people. We cannot serve the best needs of another person, expecting to reverence Christ who is present in the other person, if we cannot first be honest with God, others and ourselves about who we are. Because Jesus spoke and lived out of his being as the face of God among humankind. He wore no masks. He did not run away. He faced who he was in the fullness of his being and lived it openly and freely. He loved differently. He was crucified for it.
Even if it means we are risking all, we will cast out the darkness of discrimination and violence when we act and speak out of our being as LGBT people of faith. This means understanding our sexuality as a gift from God. Using it as a means to love and receive love. Exercising it in healthy and wholesome relationships. Reverencing the Presence of Christ in our partner(s) by serving their needs ahead of our own. It is also an opportunity to help other people know how good LGBT people are. That we honor and love other people. We do not use them. We regard every person as a sacred being, worthy of our respect and to treat them with care and concern. Seeking their peace and justice and respecting their dignity. Doing all, of course, with God's help.
How do we accept this story as advice from the God who loves us?
How do we do the work of speaking and acting out of our being so that we can cast out the unclean spirits of oppression, injustice and prejudice from our world?
What ever our answer is, as it will be different for all of us, may we be a people who act with radical hospitality, to bring about healing and reconciliation in the Church and society.
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in
heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of
your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Book of Common Prayer, p. 215).
Gracious Father, we pray for they holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen. (Prayer for the Church, Book of Common Prayer, p. 816).
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (For the Oppressed, Book of Common Prayer, p. 824).
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where
many listen and write what many read; that they may do their
part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and
its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer for Those Who Influence Public Opinion, Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)