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One of the most powerful and satisfying experiences of human existence is to be known and accepted by another human being. You know how the old saying goes, "A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway."
Why is that, do you suppose? I could venture some guesses.
All by ourselves, we can only posit these things. Only in community can they be proven.
Remember, we were created in the image and likeness of a triune God, a God in three persons; not a solitary God, but a God existing in relationship within God's self. So we were created to be, not in isolation but in relationship with one another.
Put another way, I can look in the mirror to comb my hair. But the only glass I have in which to check my soul is you. We have the capacity to be soul mirrors for one another.
In Hebrew there is a word for such knowing. It is yadah. Far deeper than intellectual knowledge, yadah is a total apprehension of the other--and experience of another that can include sexual expression, the most intimate experience of another person. You won't find the Hebrew word lurking under the Greek text of today's gospel in anything Jesus actually says to his disciples. But as a concept it lies at the heart of Jesus's questions to Peter.
"Who do people say that I am?" Jesus is asking if he is known. Even the Son of God is not exempt from the human need for a soul mirror.
John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. That's the word on the street, Peter tells him.
Oh, well then. That's to be expected from them. They have no opportunity to really know me well. But you Peter, you are my friend. Are you my soul's mirror? Will you reflect to me this burgeoning, unstoppable identity that is driving me to Jerusalem?
And Peter, poor bungling, clumsy, impetuous, inappropriate Peter this time gets it magnificently right. His answer strikes the clear bell note of truth. "You are the Messiah, the Christ of God."
Jesus is recognized. He is known, his own identity reflected back by one of those he most cares for. Jesus is not on intimate terms with the hordes that follow him. But these are his own, his closest, Peter and James and John, Mary of Magdala and the rest. These are the ones to look to for the soul's reflection. And this man Peter--this first-called above all others--in this one thing Peter does not fail Jesus. For that split second, before Peter starts to bungle it all over again, Jesus' most basic human need to be known is met.
Would it were so for all God's children.
So much in the culture around us militates against our being truly known. Increasingly technology, employment patterns, and other forces atomize us into smaller and smaller units, from the remembered extended families of my early childhood, through the nuclear family to the solitary individual. And we value image over substance in so many contexts, whether we are talking about the latest cosmetic surgery, a recent political campaign, or a stupid book like "The Rules" which trades on duplicity and manipulation.
It goes against the grain of our human nature to be so isolated, and so we turn and try to use even our isolators to build ourselves back into community, to make contact with one another. But we have mixed success. We reach tiny tendrils of our being to others across cyberspace and our reality plays hide and seek with the virtual reality proffered us there.
We cannot be known in isolation. Consequently isolation breeds the secrets we carry, often quite unnecessarily. The saddest thing for me as a priest in the parish was to learn after someone died that they carried some real or imagined burden, a part of themselves unknown. Occasionally it was something dark which needed absolution. But more often than you would imagine it was not. Rather it was something that was a part of their being that they were early on taught to despise, a part of themselves they wished to disown. Their spirit atrophied as a result of this aspect of themselves they deemed unknowable and unlovable, a consequence of unreasoning rigidity or conformity. What untold creative riches have been stifled in that way!
To some extent that is a part of the human condition, the way we are brought up or socialized. You would think that given the dangers we all face from this condition of not being known, that it would be unthinkable for a person or group of persons to perpetrate a construct devised specifically for the purpose of preventing a person from being fully known. And yet we as a society have done it and as a church we have condoned it.
Some of you here today have sat alone inside it. You know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the closet--that exquisite torture chamber built by the father of lies specifically to debase, deny and dehumanize--to atrophy a fundamental aspect of a person's existence--sexual orientation. No place is more destructive to the human spirit. the closet represents the anti-Christ at work. Suffering and evil pour forth from it like from Pandora's box--self-loathing, fear, rigidity, misogyny, hatred, promiscuity, suicide.
Even the enlightened closet takes it's toll. The enlightened closet is the one where a person says, "I accept myself but I have to live in the closet for the sake of my job." You pay the price in stress to yourselves and your relationships as you try to fit your lives into a pattern of enforced schizophrenia.
And what for? So that the heterosexual world can be comfortable in its virtual reality, protected by the cotton batting of convention and the conspiracy of silence that prevents us from dealing with that really is?
"I am the way, the truth and the life," Jesus says in the Gospel of John. Nothing that leads us from truth can be of God. What leads us toward truth is holy.
Let me be clear about what I am saying here. I do not for a moment condemn those who are forced to live in the closet. But I condemn the society that constructed the closet.
In complicity with the society in which we live, the church has often acted as though it has the right to issue to gays and lesbians, to bisexuals and transgendered people, green cards which can be restricted or withdrawn at any time, when in fact it is Christ who offers us full and irrevocable citizenship in the realm of God and therefore full participation in the households of faith. This is what Christ died for, that we might all be heirs of the kingdom. Shall Christ have died in vain?
We say no. Oasis says no.
Today we celebrate the first year of Oasis/California, which along with Oasis/Newark, is a pioneer and a beacon to the church as a whole. We celebrate and encourage the growing number of Oasis congregations as churches devoid of closets. And we look forward to the day when every diocese will be an Oasis diocese, if not in name, then in substance.
Because gay men and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people continue to come to us to ask us, "Who do you say that I am?"
We already know what the world says in response, some of it far in advance of us, some of it too vile to repeat in this hallowed space. But that is not the burning concern of those who come to us.
The urgent question of paramount importance to the spirit of the seeker is not directed at the world, but to us, the mainstream church, we who are supposed to represent the unconditional love and compassion of Christ in the world.
"Who do you say that I am?" we are asked.
Oasis churches are responding with the answer all churches should give, the answer which by God's grace all churches will one day give.
"I know who you are. I know your true identity. You are a child of God--noticed, known, accepted, loved, beloved--a fellow citizen in the realm of God with full privileges, rights and responsibilities that citizenship entails. You are welcomed to full membership in the household of faith. For Christ is died and risen not just for me but for you--for all of us. Thanks be to God.
Happy anniversary, Oasis!
Together we will stand out, we will speak out, we will reach out, until our work is done. Amen.