april 25, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 25, 2010
Psalm 23
Acts 9:1-20

In 1968, the year, coincidentally the year that The Methodist Church joined with the EUB—Evangelical United Brethren Church—to form The UNITED Methodist Church, a movie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau was released. It was based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play from 1965. The premise of the movie centered around two friends (Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) trying to share an apartment. In this process, they find that their ideas of housekeeping and their lifestyles are as different as night and day. The movie was called…The Odd Couple. This odd couple faces just how different they are. They experience the almost inevitable rub when very different people, very different cultures, mix and mingle. They learn how challenging it is to build connection and be in relationship across deep difference. And, they show us how difficult, but also how funny, how profound, and how heart-warming the results of this work can be.

This morning, I want to explore, together, four other odd couples. I believe each shares and shows us something about how to live faithfully and love faithfully. First, let us pray…

Couple #1 Amory Peck, and Richard Hearne. Amory is the conference lay leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UMC. Richard is the conference lay leader of the North Texas Conference of the UMC. Amory is an out and proud and partnered lesbian. Richard is a self-proclaimed conservative, a traditionalist. Both are people of deep, engaged faith. Both orient their lives in service to the church. Both serve with me on the General Board of Church and Society. All of us serve on the Human Welfare subcommittee of this board, and are tasked with writing and reviewing legislation that goes to General Conference to be voted on by the delegates regarding our language, believes, and understanding of human sexuality, including policies about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folks in the church.

Amory, Richard and I are tasked with drafting this initial statement. I don’t need to tell you, it is no small, no easy tasking.

Recently, on a conference call, Richard, Amory and I were divvying up the work for each of us to do, and then arranging for the next conference call to share and build from our individual efforts. We testified to the sacred connections we have built with each other, across incredible difference—theological, political, experiential, cultural.

Richard spoke of how his relationship with Amory has opened his mind and his heart to ways of living and loving he had deep, deep bias against and resistance toward, bias and resistance born from his faith, and his fear. Amory spoke of how her relationship with Richard has opened her mind and her heart to ways of believing and feeling she had deep, deep bias against and resistance toward, bias and resistance born from her faith, and her fear.

We all spoke of experiencing, and modeling, a kind of relationship we long to see happen in congregations, and throughout our denomination. Where we look, and listen, and pray, and love—together. Where we all have a space at the table. Where every child of God is part of the conversation, and treated with sacred worth. Where every relationship with God is respected, and valued, and recognized. We all wanted to say to the church as a whole…Take a good look! If we can do it, if Anna and Richard and Amory can do it, what’s our excuse?

Couple #2 Frank Meeink and the Anti-Defamation League. As a teenager, Frank was one of the most well-known Neo-Nazi Skinhead gang members in the country. The Anti-Defamation League is a civil rights organization fighting anti-semitism and bigotry in all forms. Frank had his own public access talk show, called The Reich. He regularly recruited members of his South Philadelphia neighborhood to join his racist, violent gang. He served as a spokesman for neo-Nazi topics.

The Anti-Defamation League was formed in 1913 to counter the rising tide of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country, to build bridges for communication, and to encourage understanding and respect among different and diverse groups. They monitor and expose hate groups, offer educational programs, probe the roots of hatred, and mobilize communities to stand up against bigotry, hatred, and prejudice-fueled violence.

When he was 18, Frank Meeink spent several years in prison for kidnapping one man, and beating another man senseless for several hours. While in prison, Meeink says, he was exposed to people from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Meeink says, “It had already come to me [while in prison,] maybe I need to start looking at things, and reevaluating what I believe. But I still always thought my purpose in life was, you know, that God wouldn’t have put me in this purpose of being an Aryan Christian soldier if he didn’t want me here. [I believed I was doing the will of God.].”

The relationships Frank built in prison, and the support he received from Black, Latino, and Asian prisoners when white supremacist groups began to inflict their violence on Frank, led him to keep returning to his racist beliefs with questions… Frank says, “I felt so evil. Throughout my life, I felt like maybe I was bad on the outside, but good on the inside. Then, one day, it switched. I felt OK on the outside, but I felt so evil inside. I had no one to talk to. So I went to the FBI…and I told them my story. I said, I don’t have any information on anybody, but I just need to let you know what it’s like. And they listened, because the Oklahoma City bombing had just happened.” The FBI recommended that Meeink contact the Anti-Defamation League. He did. Frank Meeink recently wrote and released a powerful memoir, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. He now regularly lectures to students about racial diversity and accepting difference, and using relationships as a tool to dismantle fear-based hate, rather than violence.

Take a good look! If Frank Meeink can be transformed, if he and the Anti-Defamation League can work together to build a better world, what’s our excuse?

Couple #3 Jesus and Saul. You heard the story read from the ninth chapter of Acts. Saul was out to get the disciples of Jesus, and he was out for blood. Search warrants in hand, he set out to track down and turn in anyone seeking to live their lives after the example of Christ. It took a dramatic meeting with the Risen One to turn Saul around.

And Saul had a lot of turning around to do. He was a persecutor. He thrived on a reign of terror, using fear and intimidation and violence. The people, understandably, were hesitant to trust this transformation. Their very lives depended on fearing and avoiding Saul of Tarsus. But Jesus, as Jesus does, creates an-other way.

Jesus zeros in on the most despicable of characters, the most misguided, least trustworthy, least Christ-like guy on the block, and decides this, THIS is who he will use to teach the community, the world, about the way of Jesus, the life of Christ. This is who will bear the Good News of forgiveness. And compassion. And lifting up love over fear. And being the united Body, when the world tells us we are divided.

Saul, at the beginning of the story, at least, is filled with hate. Jesus overflows with love. Saul proclaims power through violence, and might. Jesus proclaims power through compassion, and care. Saul knows a world in stark black and white, right and wrong, with us or against us. Jesus knows a reign in rainbow, where diverse and different folks come together, united in faith, being and building the king-dom come.

Take a good look! If the scales can fall from Saul’s eyes, if even he can be transformed, and become a sign of Jesus’ creative, redeeming work, if he and Jesus can work together, and invite us to join, in building the Body, in ushering in the reign of justice and love, what’s our excuse?

And finally, briefly, couple #5. Bella, and Tarra. Bella is an Asian elephant, weighing in at 8,700 lbs. Tarra is a dog. I’ll let the folks at CBS share this story with you…

(watch clip)

Recall the final words of the broadcast: “They harbor no fears, no secrets, no prejudices. Just two living creatures who somehow managed to look past their immense differences…

Take a good look! If they can do it, what’s our excuse?”

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

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