Sunday, October 6, 2013

Student Preaching Series Part II

The sermons that our Cathedral students are producing are deeply inspiring. Tonight our preacher came to push the boundaries with a grace and candor guided by the Holy Spirit.

We are proud of our Cathedral students for telling their truth as they know it.

Meet this evening's preacher...

Simone Tietz
CSM Position: Core Team Member
Degree: BA, Linguistics and Psychology
From: Swakopmund, Namibia 

Gospel Reading: Luke 17: 5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"


We have just heard the reading for tonight. Although it was read as one reading, it really has two parts it can be divided into.

And the apostles said to the Lord “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

This is the first part. “Faith as a mustard seed” – what does this mean? Well, here is a mustard seed. It is tiny; you can hardly see it from afar.

And yet the Lord says; if you have faith as a mustard seed, you could tell a mulberry tree to plant itself in the sea, and it would obey. How is this possible? Think about a mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea – it seems impossible, thinking about it logically. But it shouldn’t be taken literally of course.  What this parable is trying to tell us is that even when our faith is little, the impossible is possible with God. This is a concept that might be hard to grasp.

Tonight I want to share with you how my little mustard seed of faith, made the seemingly impossible, possible. I was born into a Christian family, with my dad being a pastor of the German Lutheran church. I grew up learning about the Christian faith. When my siblings and I were old enough to think for ourselves, my parents told us that they would never force us to stay in the Christian faith if we decided otherwise. Yet, both my siblings and I chose to continue to grow in it. In 2008 my faith hit rock bottom. I was faced with something I was not quite sure how to deal with. For over half a year I fought with myself and my parents started to notice. With a bit of a nudge from my cousin I finally took a leap of faith. I sat down with my parents and after many tears on my part; I told my parents that I was gay. As Cath would say, whoops, there it is!

Although I knew my parents well enough to know that they would not reject me, I was still scared what their reaction would be. My gay cousin, to whom I obviously came out first, told me: Simone, don’t worry about your parents. After all it was your dad who told my mother that I wouldn’t burn in hell forever.

And still, I was very much aware of the fact that, being gay as a Christian, I might have to face judgement, rejection, people throwing bible verses at me that stated that being gay was a terrible sin. The reaction of my parents was simple. They came and hugged me and told me that it’s ok. I will never forget the words my dad said: Simone, even if it ever came to the point where I would have to choose between my job and you, I would always choose you.

Here I was, my faith tiny as a mustard seed, and suddenly the impossible seemed possible. The reaction of my parents gave me strength, hope and encouraged me. And so my faith grew. Step by step I came out to the rest of my family, to my friends. And every one of them told me that they loved me unconditionally and that nothing would change that. I had expected some negative reactions and possible rejections – but no; instead I was pleasantly surprised by the loving and welcoming arms that received me. And so my mustard seed of faith grew, and took roots. God could have sent people my way that would have crushed my tiny seed of faith. People who would have hurt me. What would have happened to my seed then? It wouldn’t have grown. It might have died completely. Would I still be standing here tonight, as strong in my faith, loving and serving God as I do today?  I don’t know, but I highly doubt it.

This is where the second part of the reading comes in:

“and which of you, having a servant ploughing or tending sheep, will say to him, when he has come in from the field, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do”

At first glance, I didn’t quite understand the reading. As I sat with Paul to discuss my sermon, he asked me: Who is the master and who are the servants? The master is God. The servants are us; you and me. Bearing that in mind let me tell you about the first and last hurtful experience I had since I came out.
When I came out to my other cousin and his wife, they responded negatively as opposed to everyone else. In a nutshell, they told me that it wasn’t the right path for me and that it wasn’t who I was, or who I was meant to be. This was painful. Fortunately by this time my faith was strong enough to pick me up. Almost three years later my cousin’s wife asked to speak with me. She started crying and told me about this marriage seminar she and my cousin had attended. During one of the sessions God touched her and spoke to her. He conveyed to her that she had done someone wrong and that she was meant to ask for forgiveness. So she told me: Simone I have done you and Jamie wrong. When you came out to us I should have responded the way a Father such as our heavenly Father would have: with love. Instead I responded in an unloving and judgemental manner. It weighs on me and I ask for your forgiveness.

I told her that I had forgiven her a long time ago. She was so happy because she had made right with God and me.

We are the servants. And as His servants we have duties, Christian duties. A part of these are the Ten Commandments. One of these commandments is to love thy neighbour as you love yourself. What my cousin’s wife had done three years later, was simply to fulfil her Christian duty. God told her that she had hurt someone, and so she asked for forgiveness. I, in turn, fulfilled my duty by forgiving her. She fulfilled her duty by showing me love. This is what God expects from us. He is a God of Love. It is our duty to love and serve him, and to show love to others.

In a book called “Radical Love – An introduction to Queer theology” by Patrick Cheng, the term ‘queer’ is explained and I will briefly explain it here. It is an umbrella term that refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning and other individuals with non-normative sexualities and/or gender identities. And, it can also include those who are neither of the above, but stand in solidarity with their queer sisters and brothers in terms of seeking a more just world with respect to sexuality and gender identity. I am quite fond of this definition of queer, because it includes everyone. Hence, we move from a derogatory perspective of the word to a more positive one.

In his book, Chang writes the following: “If radical love is understood as a love so extreme that it dissolves boundaries, then Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of the dissolution of boundaries”. It was Jesus himself who constantly dissolved the religious and social boundaries of his time. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He touched “unclean” people such as lepers and bleeding women. He spoke with social outcasts such as Samaritans. In other words, Jesus Christ dissolved the ‘holy’ boundaries of clean and unclean, holy and profane, and saint and sinner. He challenged the religious and political authorities of his day – to such an extent that he was ultimately put to death.

This is our challenge as God’s servants. It is my challenge, it is our challenge: to dissolve the social and religious boundaries that exist between people of our time; between those who believe that being queer is a sin and those who are queer themselves. Boundaries that exist between races, cultures, classes, religions. These hurt people and separate people from each other. There should be no boundaries between a church and its people. Whom the church welcomes in its midst should not be based on any conditions. We are all His children and we all have the right, right to love Him, serve Him and worship Him. The rift between people is created by us.

I found a picture on FB a while ago, showing Christians standing at a gay parade. Their shirts read: I’m sorry. The posters read: We are sorry for the way the church has treated you. It is a very powerful picture. These people fulfilled a Christian duty. Showing love, asking for forgiveness.
I feel so blessed to be in a church and community such as the Cathedral’s. No-one should ever be turned away for any reason at all. This church has welcomed me with open arms even before they knew that I was queer as well as after. God does not turn anyone away who seeks Him. My confirmation verse I chose for myself says exactly that in Proverbs 8:17, “I love those who love me and those who seek me diligently will find me”.

God is not defined by boundaries. There is neither limit nor condition to His love and His forgiveness. His power and might are endless. It is us who put a boundary to God and His love and acceptance toward others. Who are we to judge? It is to God, and to God alone to whom we have to answer one day. Not anyone else. I don’t believe that I have sinned by loving another human being, who happens to be a girl. How can I be so confident about that? I love and serve a God whose love is unconditional. For You, me, everyone. Personally He has shown me His love in so many ways. It is through His mercy that we experience this unconditional love – it is His gift to us. And this unconditional love we can pass on to others.

As God’s servants we are called to do what Jesus himself did in dissolving boundaries. Open your minds and your hearts, and send out love, not hate, be accepting rather than rejecting, forgiving rather than holding grudges. Once we have fulfilled our Christian duties and done what we were commanded to do, instead of expecting thanks, we humbly say as the scripture tells us to: We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do. Amen.

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