Romans 11:1-2 and 13-24
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
June 19, 2016
First Christian Church
I was in track in high school. We would have practice after school and I remember going into the locker room to change. Everytime I would pass by a training room that was for people who had injuries. It always seemed to be filled with people who were messing around and having fun. Being a shy person, I never went in. Anyway, it was a room for people with injuries, not for people to hang out.
But one afternoon, I decided to go in and just hang. I walked in and hopped up on one of the tables to sit down. What I didn’t realize is that it was the wrong time to be there. One of the coaches was wrapping the leg of student’s leg and he looked up at me with a look of shock and annoyance. “What are you doing here?” he growled. Realizing that I had made a mistake, I tried to answer and I couldn’t remember what I said. What I remember is the coach angrily pointing at the door and telling me to leave. I wasn’t welcome there. I left with a heavy sense of shame. I still wonder how those other students were able to hang out there, but I wasn’t. All I knew, is that I wasn’t allowed there and I never went back into that room ever again.
We all want to be in a place where we feel welcomed. We want to be in a place where we can be ourselves. We want to be in a place where we feel safe. We all long for safe spaces where we don’t have to worry if we will be accepted. Safe spaces have gotten a lot of ribbing over the past year, and sometimes for good reasons- people have talked about safe spaces as place where they don’t have to meet with people who disagree with them. But we were reminded this week that there is a need for real safe spaces to protect people from real harm. But we have also learned that sometimes even safe spaces can be compromised- invaded.
In all the discussion last week about the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, one world kept coming to the fore over and over- sanctuary. We know sanctuary as a place in a church where we worship, but over the centuries, sanctuary has come to also mean a place of safety. It’s not accident that church sanctuaries have become sanctuaries where people who faced persecution could enter and be safe from a hostile culture.
Gay bars have long been places of safety for the LBGT community. They were places where gay people could go to be themselves and not have to face stares from a less than accepting world. In a world where people had to keep parts of their lives private, a nightclub was a place of safety. I read a number of stories of the last week about how a certain bar was a place of shelter and a place where they no longer had to hide. Those stories were also my story. I don’t drink much, but I did like to go to gay nightclubs when I was younger to dance. It was a place of safety where you could meet other people like yourself.
The Pulse nightclub in Orlando was a sanctuary for sanctuary for a subset of the gay community. It was Latin night last week, and this was a place where LGBT Latinos could come and gather. It is still a challenge to be gay in America, but even more so to be gay and a person of color. One of the things that struck me personally, was seeing the listing of names and seeing how many of them were Latino. Even more heartbreaking and striking close to home was that the majority of the victim were Puerto Rican. So the shooting was a double attack to me since I am gay and Puerto Rican. The sanctuary that was created there that evening was broken by the actions of an angry man.
This week is also the one year anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. For centuries, the church has been a sanctuary for African Americans, a place where they knew there were loved and accepted, even when the wider culture did not honor their full humanity. But that sense of saftety was shattered on that June evening, when a young white man who was welcomed to join those gathered in Bible Study pulled out a gun and started shooting, killing nine people.
The world we live in is not a safe one. We kid ourselves if think it ever was safe. We live in a world of sinful people who seem to hurt others for whatever reason. It is a human reaction to this that we want to find a place that is a shelter, a place where we are accepted. It is also a human reaction to threaten those who are different from us, which is why places of sanctuary can be compromised and invaded.
In chapter 11 of Romans, Paul is trying to answer a question. Many Jews had rejected following God and Christ especially. Paul opens us the chapter by saying that God had not given up on God’s chosen people: Paul was a Jew, so God was still being faithful even to a remnant of the Jews. God had been in relationship with Israel far too long to just give up. Israel might have chosen to give up on God, but God had not given up on them.
Paul then turns to the Gentiles. He talks about them as branches being grafted on to the tree. The Israelities were God’s chosen people, but the Gentiles were now being added on. Again, God doesn’t give up on them.
Paul reminds us that no one, no one is disposable. God wants everyone to belong. God doesn’t give up on us…and as church neither should we.
This week tells us that no sanctuary is ever safe. As one writer said even Christ, the son of God was put to death, so every safe space is always threatened. But even when a physical sanctuary has been destroyed, God can create a sanctuary of the heart, a place where we know we are loved by God.
The message for the church this week is that we, you and I must be willing to be sanctuaries for others. As I’ve said before, LGBT folk need to have places where they are loved and accepted, a place where they are free from fear. While there will always be a need for physical places of safety, all of us, you and I need to be living sanctuaries to people, especially LGBT persons and persons of color- because for us, the world is even after all the advances made we need to be a people who are willing to care for others, especially those who might be different from us.
The theme for this summer is “A House of Grace.” The question I have for you this morning is how can we show God’s grace to those that sometimes feel like outsiders? How do we tell them that God loves them? It’s nice to be an Open and Affirming congregation that welcomes people of different backgrounds, but it is even more important that we live that out in our daily lives to make what was written on paper a living reality.
I want to end by saying that being a living sanctuary doesn’t mean agreeing with people; it means having a Christ-like heart to those in need. In the hours after the shootings in Orlando, I was checking my Twitter feed and saw a tweet from Russell Moore. Moore is a Southern Baptist minister and is the head of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist convention. Southern Baptists tend to have differing views on LGBT issues, so one might expect a not-so-nice tweet from Dr. Moore. Instead he tweeted the following: “Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.”
Now, one could quibble that he wasn’t in agreement on LGBT issues, but I don’t think that’s the point here. The point was that in the midst of the sadness there was a little safe space made, a place of sanctuary.
The other example is the story of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant in Orlando. It opened up on a Sunday to feed people who had lined up for blocks to donate blood to those injured in the shooting. Chick-fil-A never opens on a Sunday, because of the religious views of the founders, but it did this day to feed people who were giving blood to another group of people who were deemed by the world as outsiders. A bit of sanctuary.
Next week, our church along with First Christian of Minneapolis will staff a booth at Twin Cities Pride. A lot of people attending that event will be angry and hurt and scared. Are you willing to offer a few hours of time to be living sanctuary for these people, to let them know that God has not given up on them?
Thanks be to God. Amen.