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1.17.2016

I Will Not Keep Silent



Sermon Preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Epiphany 2C
Isaiah 62:1-5

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”[1]  These words were written for a people who had just returned from exile and who were trying to reclaim an identity for themselves.  Those who had been in exile in Babylon were returning to their homeland where they would renew relationships with those who had not been deported and with those who had been born in exile or in the homeland during the time of the exile.  Much had changed in their time of separation.  But perhaps the biggest change of all was their own morale and sense of self-identity.  After decades of broken dreams and a crumbling faith, these were a people who had begun to believe what others said about them – that they were Forsaken, that their homeland was Desolate.[2]  And they needed God’s help.  And so the prophet begins this passage, not with words to the Israelites, but with words to God – DO SOMETHING, GOD![3] I will not keep silent.  This prophetic cry to God is a reminder that there is nothing out of bound in our prayer – no conversation of the heart that cannot be shared with God.[4] 
This is something that Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well.  He knew what it was to be called Forsaken and Desolate and on behalf of a people Dr. King would not keep silent.  He proclaimed, “We will have to repent in this generation, not only for the evil words and deeds of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”[5]
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,” proclaims the prophet Isaiah.
In 1977 African-American poet and feminist Audre Lorde delivered a speech at the Lesbian and Literature panel of the Modern Language Association.  The speech, called “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” was made just two months after she learned she had a tumor which for a period of three weeks left her anxiously waiting to learn whether or not it was malignant or benign.  In her speech Lorde proclaimed,
“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my own mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for in my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light and what I most regretted were my silences. . . I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”[6] 
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,” proclaims the prophet Isaiah.
In September Archbishop of Canterbury Just Welby invited the 37 Primates of the Anglican Communion to meet in Canterbury. That meeting was held this past week.  In his letter of invitation Archbishop Welby wrote:
“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity. A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together.”[7]
And so the Primates gathered.
What happened next is perhaps known to many of you; but, in case not, I’ll provide a brief recap as provided by the Episcopal News Service:
“A majority of Anglican primates . . . asked that the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, ‘no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.’”[8]
This sanction of the Episcopal Church came as a response to our Church’s “General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriages as being between a man and woman. . . and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.”[9]  At the end of the three year period, some have suggested that if The Episcopal Church repents of its actions, then the sanctions will be lifted. Time will tell us how that plays out. 
So preparing for this morning – particularly in light of the focus of this weekend on Martin Luther King, Jr. – I thought about ignoring this news. I considered that I might come back to it in a week or so.  Maybe write a little something about it on Facebook and let it go.  And then I reread Isaiah’s words - “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent.”  Then I remembered King’s words – “We will have to repent in this generation . . . for the appalling silence of the good people.” And then I rediscovered Audre Lorde’s words – “Your silence will not protect you.”
And so today I proclaim to my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer friends and strangers, “For our sake, I will not keep silent” and thanks be to God, for our sake, The Episcopal Church will not keep silent either. Already our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has made this clear in his powerful and clear response in which he said:
“Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome . . . Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”[10]
My friends, the Episcopal Church is not turning back.  The Diocese of Chicago who has been at the forefront of this movement for justice is not turning back.  And so long as I am standing here before you and with you, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is not turning back.  The vision statement of St. Mark’s which has been on our website since before my arrival here and which is reprinted each week on the front cover of our bulletins reads: 
“We believe that the spirit of God lives in every human being, and that we are called to glorify that which unites us while at the same time celebrating the awesome diversity of God’s creations.  All of us at St. Mark’s share a commitment to our faith and to our community, and we welcome one another regardless of religious background, race, or sexual orientation. Everyone is welcome here.”
There are some who may call us Forsaken and Desolate but let us not take on that identity. For in God’s eyes we all “shall be called ‘My Delight Is in Her’” for the LORD delights in us and our God rejoices over us.[11] 
Echoing the words of 19th century abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “ “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”[12] Keep the faith. Amen.
 

[1] Isaiah 62:1
[2] Isaiah 62:4a.
[3] W. Carter Lester, “Pastoral Perspective: Isaiah 62:1-5” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C, Vol. 4), eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Tayler (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), location 8054-6 (Kindle Edition).
[4] Ibid.

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted in Rich Stearns, “The Appalling Silence of Good People,” Advocacy (January 18, 2011) accessed online, January 16, 2016. 
[6]
Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (excerpt),” reprinted at Ubuntu! June 26, 2007 (originally delivered at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel,” Chicago, Illinois, December 28, 1977; first published in Sinister Wisdom 6 (1978) and The Cancer Journals (Spinsters, Ink, San Francisco, 1980) accessed online, January 16, 2016.

[7] http://www.primates2016.org/about/ accessed January 16, 2016.

[8] Matthew Davies, “Majority of primates call for temporary Episcopal Church sanctions,” Episcopal News Service (January 14, 2016) accessed online, January 16, 2016.

[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Isaiah 62:4, 5b
[12] Melissa Block, “Theodore Parker and the ‘Moral Universe,’” (NPR, September 2, 2010) accessed online, January 16, 2016.

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