I received a text message this week that alerted me to a documentary called “For They Know Not What They Do”. I have not seen the film yet, but it seems to be receiving attention and awards. The film claims to offer “A Powerful Exploration of the Intersection of Religion, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity in America.” (https://www.fortheyknow.org/) It seems to highlight Christian families who are experiencing a family member who holds a different gender identity or sexual orientation than what is “heteronormative” in our culture. In particular, the trailer examples suggest that some families interviewed are holding Christian theology that creates tension and struggle when faced with these differences. The colleague of mine thought of me, I suppose because I am a pastor, and wanted me to know about the movie because he found it to be meaningful. I replied that I will watch it. I am not sure that my colleague knows about Lutheran theology and grace, about our shared theology of the cross, expecting God to work in ways surprising and contrary to the world, and my colleague may have been unconsciously questioning me about what I believe about Jesus.
Jesus once asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus blessed him for his answer, and then asked the disciples not to tell anyone.
What if Jesus asked you and I the same question: Who do you say that I am? Have you ever had to answer that? I have a family member who regularly challenges me, saying “Why are you a Christian?” or “Why do you believe in Jesus?” with a mind already made up not to listen to my answer, trying to provoke me. For a while I tried to answer this person, sharing my own story of faith, times where God has been truly present in my life, even showing tears at times as I try to give a clear explanation of my faith in who Jesus is for me, for us. Whatever I said never seemed to satisfy the person, so now I try to return the question, “Tell me why you ask? What are you curious about?” and that seems to get us a bit farther. Have you ever tried to explain to someone who is resistant to Christian faith just why you believe in Jesus?
We Lutherans do follow Jesus, the Messiah, the one who saves us. We do follow a living God, God with us, alive in our world! God is present with us for all the things that cause us to question or feel challenged these days, in our own families and in our world. This sets us apart, our trust in Jesus who loves us and overcame death for us. And we do our best to extend love and compassion to those around us, for their struggles and challenges, whoever they are.
I regularly receive a meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society that shares bits of Henri’s writings, and recently I remember reading this,
The invitation is that by focusing inward, in silence, in prayer, that we will discover the compassion and strength that is the living God with us, opening pathways for connection to others outside us from the warmth of our own hearts, rather than fear or judgement that could separate us.
A family member of mine is gay, and I remember how initially it was extremely hard for that one’s siblings and elderly parent to accept their disclosure. There were years where the person’s partner was accepted as a friend, but the meaning in their relationship was looked past, denied, silenced. Somehow, years later it seems easier in those relationships, even though I am not sure clear communication ever was shared. I wonder what would have been different if, at the beginning, those two could have been welcomed with compassion and curiosity rather than fear and distancing? What might happen if we all start with openness and courage to learn and to witness the other’s experience, holding safety and space, and trusting God to recognize the heart and spirit in the other person? Could it help us to get past our fears and to extend love, just as Jesus extends love to all?
Let us pray...
You know us so well, even our fears and our challenges. Help us to recognize your presence with us on the inside and help us on the outside to extend your compassion towards others, that our faith may create connections in your love.