After coming out as a gay man I left church, or maybe a more accurate wording would be church left me. For about a decade I was angry with God’s people who shamed and shunned me. I wanted little to nothing to do with church. At the time I was living in a rural community, feeling isolated and alone. I thought there was no one else like me, a person of faith and a person who happened to be attracted to people of the same gender.
But I was still hungry for Christian community so I turned on my computer and typed into a search engine the words â€śChristianâ€ť and â€śGayâ€ť and discovered christiangays.com. After some tentative exploring I started to engage people in this community and discovered I was not alone. The site helped me realize that there were even churches that would accept me with open arms.
After moving out of my rural community to a city, I discovered the United Church of Christ. I thought I would give it a try. It had been well over a decade since I set foot into a church building for anything other than a wedding. The last time I sat in worship I was denied communion and encouraged to â€śrepentâ€ť. I was not sure what to expect this time around.
I sat in my pew listening more than participating. When it came time for communion, my anxiety shot through the roof. A flood of uncomfortable memories came rushing into my mind. This church took communion by intinction. This meant I had to go to the front to participate. Would my legs carry me? Would I even be served once I got up there? I was not sure what to do. Until the lady sitting next to me stood up, reached out her hand towards me, and whispered â€świll you join me?â€ť Tears streamed down my face as I took ahold of her hands and headed to the front. For the first time in over ten years I was going to be fed at a table that welcomed me with open arms as a member of the body of Christ. It was this moment that began my own journey towards ordination. Â Flash forward another decade, I am now an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Senior Pastor of a predominantly heterosexual congregation.
Each Sunday I preach from the lectionary, a collection of scripture readings for worship and preaching that follow a three-year cycle. This coming Sunday (February 4, 2018) the lectionary Gospel reading is Mark 1:29-39, a story about Jesus healing Simon Peterâ€™s mother-in-law. While contemplating the direction of my sermon this week I was struck by the context of this scripture. Just previous to this we see Jesus healing a man possessed by a demon. Â In that scripture Jesus rebukes the spirit and it comes out. In other healing stories in the gospel we read of Jesus healing with words such as â€śyour sins are forgivenâ€ť, â€śgo, your servant has been healedâ€ť, and other such words.
But not here. Here Mark tells us, â€śHe came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.â€ť That is all it took to heal her. Jesus taking her by the hand and lifting her up. When I read this line, my mind rushed back to my own healing story. To that moment when a hand reached out for mine, lifted me up, and invited me to the table of God. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to follow his way of living. This includes reaching out our hand and lifting others up. My greatest pain had become my greatest ministry. I was healed in that invitation to the communion table so that I could heal others.
As we continue reading this portion of Mark we discover that the fever of Simon Peterâ€™s mother-in-law was lifted and she â€śbegan to serve them.â€ť At first glance this seems like a propagation of patriarchy or an endorsement of gender roles. Women are to play hostess and feed the men. But verse 21 of the first chapter of Mark tells us that this was the sabbath. No one was supposed to do any work. What this woman was doing was rebellious to tradition. Jesus had turned her into a radical. Two chapters later in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:1-6) we see Jesus himself getting into some trouble for healing (working) on the sabbath. Peterâ€™s mother-in-law understood, (perhaps long before Jesus male followers) that compassion, love, justice, and mercy were more important than tradition and law. Her greatest pain became her ministry.
In what ways have people reached their hand out to you and lifted you up? How have you been healed? Will you follow Jesus’ example and extend a hand to heal another? You have been healed, now go and heal someone else.