Sunday Preaching: Of Capernaums and Nazareths

Mark 2:1-12 (NIV)

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Mark 6:1-6 (NIV)

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

While selecting the reading for this Sunday – the Sunday after Pride – I tried to look back into my own experience as a member of MCCQC and the ministries I have become involved in. While reading through the Gospel of Mark, I found myself drawn to passages because of four realities embedded in the story, each of which are very relevant to my experience, and probably to your experience as members, friends of, or guests to our church.

I hope that we can learn from this Sunday’s reading, especially now that we have marked 21 years of marching in Manila. A lean and mean contingent participated yesterday at the PrIde March in Luneta. Last Sunday, we held a touching memorial service for the people killed in Orlando, Florida. These coming weeks, we are transitioning to a new leadership, with the General Assembly occuring in Victoria, Canada. Last June 12, we have recently inducted the new LCAB officers and blessed our new pastor in the form, fluidity, function and fashion of Joseph, who I have yet to become accustomed to call Pastor. Joseph shall be representing us in the General Conference, and I am appealing for you to continue to pray for him in the task ahead to speak on our behalf.

 

 


Just to put things into perspective, may I describe the towns mentioned in these two chapters: Capernaum and Nazareth. Located on the northern shore of Lake Gallilee, Capernaum  is where the first disciples were based. It was estimated to have had a population of 1,500 people during the time it became  Jesus’ center of ministry. By comparison, Nazareth, is located in the mountains to the southwest. A smaller village, it only had a population of around 400 according to scholars. To give you an idea how far Capernaum is from Nazareth, let me use our modern road system. It is like from QC to UTS in Dasmarinas, or more than 45 kilometers but less than 50. In today’s terms, 1,500 would be like most barangays, 400 would just be like any large sitio.

We know for a fact that even if people come from the same province or country, those who live near the shores of a lake or sea have a different culture, lifeways, and worldview from those who reside farther inland. The same thing must have certainly existed between Capernaum and Nazareth. Capernaum would have attracted migrants from all over to work in its fishing industry, while Nazareth must have been mainly and agricultural and insular in nature. People were identified by their place of origin: Mary of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth. Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arithmatea.

 

“Your sins are forgiven.”

This is what Christ told the paralyzed man in Capernaum, who later rolled up his mat and walked. This caused the teachers of the law much anxiety: Who can forgive sins but God alone? Jesus knew what ran in the minds of these powerful and respected teachers, who perfectly knew the laws, but they could not make the crippled walk.

In both chapters and in the many other narratives in our past sermons, we see the strong connection between forgiveness, healing, and faith. We have heard of the story of the Syro-Phoenecian woman who pleaded for her child, and the Roman centurion who asked for his beloved slave’s healing, and the lepers who struggled to touch just the shadow or robe of Jesus, who sensed their faith out in the crowd.

I grew up with the family narrative that my grandfather Marcos after whom I was named, never went to confession at all. He believed that it was better to ask forgiveness directly from God through heartfelt prayer. He never cared much about the Sacrament of Confession, and this somehow was carried over to me by my mother. This was further strengthened by never seeing my father go through confession, being the Methodist he was. Hence, although I grew up in a very Catholic school setting, I was not really subscribed to going to the box and telling the priest that I touched myself three times in one day as a teen-ager or to tell him that I was so very attracted to a guy in school and that we almost had sex with in the washroom. I could only tell him of the less provocative sins.

But on the other hand, who am I to withdraw such forgiveness? I am a mere creation of the One who knows the number of hairs on my head. I can make an exciting, glamorous, and exhaustive laundry  list of people who have wronged me from as far as I can remember.  But what good would that list do?

I know I am forgiven, but do I know how to forgive? I want healing, but what does my faith tell me about forgiveness? We all want healing, but are we able to help or let others heal? Jesus asked the teachers: which is easier, to tell the paralytic to get up and walk or than to say your sins are forgiven. Which is easier? I have asked this in one of my previous sermons and may I reiterate: What if your ex, your most terrible ex, although how hot he or she may have been at that time, comes in through that door? What if a former or long absentee member of the church, the one who has hurt you, decides to come back and sits here with us? Have you forgiven yourself for your mistakes? We can be our worst critics, you know. Forgiveness is never an easy thing but it is the most Christian thing to do.

 

“Why do they talk like that? What’s this wisdom given him?”

And when we, as a church, have begun talking about the radical inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ, many of those who shall hear us for the first time may say the same things said in Capernaum: “Why do they talk like that? Is that not blasmephy?” What we have been saying is very different from what is commonly heard about Christianity in relation to being LGBTQIA.

“Why does MCCQC talk like that?” We come from different faith traditions, with one possibly less rigid or more dogmatic than the next. But let me ask you, is it clear to you why we talk the way we do? Have you really understood what it means to Be MCC?  As a member of this church, would you be able to talk in our language?

I have struggled with talking like the way we do, in between the periods of consistent attendance to church activities and services, and the weeks of being away on travel. And I am not just talking about peppering the Sunday sermon with Bekispeak or variants of Gay Linggo and Swardtalk, as we called it in the 1970s. That is just the surface or matter of delivery, it is the substance that matters.

I am talking about what we as a church believe in. I often avoid talking about the story of Sodom, the Leviticus Holiness Code, and the writings of Paul. I really do not want to engage in any debate over faith. But why is it that we talk the way we do? What is it that moves me to be here before you or to assist in our monthly Life Leaners? What moves you to sing in the Rainbow Ensemble or to serve in your chosen ministry? What moves you to be here every Sunday or any Sunday you are most able to? What moves you to provide for the upkeep of the church? To the newly-inducted members of the LCAB, let me ask you: What shall move you till the time you pass the torch to the next officers?

We talk the way we do because we are the only ones who can do so. We speak of what Joseph described in his sermon last May 29 as the “difficult Gospel,” but let me say that we can speak of this diffcult Gospel with agape and conviction, with the expected fluency, and with idioms that will reach the heart and cross and reach the most varied of contexts. Perhaps this part of today’s reading tells us the importance of our improving our membership classes and more importantly, the need to deepen what we have learned from it. We have to synthesize these learnings in the daily grind of our lives as employees, employers, voters, bath house clients, FuBu seekers, PLWHs, care givers, lovers, brothers, sisters, students, travelers, clergy, frenemies, crushes, absurd meme-loving netizens, aid responders, beauty contest fanatics, and yes, die-hard fans of some diva. For those who are not members, whether you may decide to be so in the future or not, these are just a part of what we believe in. I would like to think that under this new leadership, we shall begin new harvests or embark on simple heartfelt programs/sessions. And what about our former members? Do we actively reach out to them?

“We have never seen anything like this!”

Life under the Roman Period must have been exciting as the times we live now! Different races and trades all together at the market place, a mix of lndo-European languages, and different religions but everyone from the Jew to the barbarian was the subject of the Roman Emperor. While most of the people in Capernaum or Nazareth were Hebrews, there were a few foreigners, like Syro-Phoenecians and the Romans. Each had a knowledge of the other community’s culture and beliefs but rarely were the ethnic lines crossed. But when Jesus spoke and lived a ministry that included lepers, outcasts, children, women, the Gentiles like Syro-Phoenecians and Roman centurions, and began to cast out demons and unclean spirits and made cripples walk and the blind see, this amazed the people: “We have never seen anything like this!”

And let me ask you, have you ever seen a church like this at all? I haven’t. Such a uniqueness. Is that why you keep on coming back? Or is that why others have left? I have seen so many things happen in this church in the three years I have been attending since my first LL session in May 2013: fun-filled sessions, sorrowful memorials, heated arguments, tearful reconciliations, sudden deaths, broken relationships, a marriage proposal, news of break-ups, miraculous healing, celebrations and commemorations for every reason. Is it then a question of what makes us different from let us say the non-affirming churches? What makes us different or similar to other MCC churches in the Philippines or the other affirming churches? Where can you see a church praying for and celebrating the success of Ms. Philippine, and this same church weeps for murdered transwomen and their families?

In the many services I have attended since 2013, I have heard guests tell us of the wonderful things about what we do here. I distinctly remember  the heterosexuals who dared enter our doors and who shared their testimonies. Each one said that God is undoubtedly with us, here in this yellow room. Last Sunday, we had the father of one of our members join us. Two years ago, I invited my mother to join us on Sunday service and by coincidence, two other mothers came too by God’s wonderful design. Knowing how she became a witness to my faith journey,  I was rather apprehensive on what my mother would say after attending the service, but her message rings strongly up to now: “Your church is blessed.” She professed her faith that our numbers shall grow. Oh, our church has seen many miracles big and small: My mom’s healing from cancer being one of them.

But I doubted my mother’s profession of faith for our chuch for I have seen our numbers dwindle, fluctuate, flounder, and then flourish, only to dwindle again. In the past, I have heard of plans to reach more people, we did outreaches, but only a few came. In fact, out of the so many people we tried to reach in one clan, not a single one of them came to our doors. Have we not thrust our nets far enough? Are our nets the right size? Have we not done enough? Are we credible enough? Do we know how to become fishers of men? Or maybe the ones we reached are not yet willing to cast their lives aside and become light bearers.  Mind you, each and everyone of us here is charged to tell the world of the light that we have, of the radical, inclusive and difficult gospel, that yes, we can be Christian and LGBTQIA at the same time. What did you do or what are you doing with the multi-colored light that you have?

 

“Isn’t this the _______? Isn’t this _____’ son/daughter? Isn’t he the brother of ____?”

People took offense because they knew who Jesus was, a mere carpenter and they knew his family and his brothers and sisters. In the same way, a lot of people know and describe us to be sinners and outcasts, so they probably would take offense if we say something like how homosexuality is not a sin. Won’t this seem self-serving or even confusing – an openly gay man with a partner, or an ageing queer man or a transgwoman goes around saying something about an inclusive Gospel?  Again, why do they talk like that? Why do we talk like this?

Has it not occurred to you, that in our faith journey, we commute between the Capernaums and Nazareths of our lives as the queerest of Christians? Jesus himself said: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Oh, have we not witnessed in the name of Jesus only to be questioned by our own families: Aren’t gays or lesbians supposed to be burning in hell for loving people of the same sex? What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Wasn’t that the reason why God threw tons of sweet sulfur and heavenly brimstone on these two awful, sinful cities? We are all too familiar with the Bible-verse quoting variety of Christians who would not hesitate to feed us to the lions, tigers, bears or sharks just to prove a point. We have been bombarded with phrases such as Love the Sinner not the Sin… We meet the dedicated bashers consistently waiting for us in the street corners Pride after Pride after Pride? How do we view them? And for those in our community, don’t we ever wonder how they voew us? Oh, MCC. Isn’t this that the Gay Church? The ones who officiate Holy Unions. And are we comfortable to be may just be known mainly for that service, and not the difficult Gospel that we preach?

For those who have been here longer or as long as I have, we have seen much in this yellow room. We had our days when we were full to the brim, with our uncooperative and opportunistic airconditioner failing miserably just when there no more seats to accommodate attendees. On the other hand, we had our days when we were  just a handful and our aircon brings us close to Siberia or the North Pole.

The Rainbow Community with whom we march with in and out of Pride could very well be our Capernaum. Like the ancient peoples of Israel, members of the community can be known through their associations or origins or professions. Oh, that’s Marco or Joseph of MCCQC.  But I would not be suprized if I am asked this question: “Oh, so you preach here? but I think I have seen you in Planetromeo, Grindr, GuySpy, and Tinder! I have even seen you in F years back, and most recently in New York Spa.”

Is my being a subscriber to these sites inconsistent with me being MCCQC member? Does it mean that being a Queer Christian means steering clear of these sites? Or shall I live a life of absolute celibacy? The more important question is: Am I the living witness demanded of me by my faith and belief in a difficult Gospel? Membership comes with service and accountability – not just for the finances, ministries or programs we shall undertake but in our commitments and what we say to one another.

Jesus exactly knew what was in the hearts of the teachers of the law who waiting for him in the synagogues. In the same way, he knows what is in our hearts and minds. I remain struck with how Jesus was amazed after sensing the strength of faith of the people he ministered to, after sensing out the lepers attempting to touch just his cloak or see his shadow. Sensing that one person with such strong faith in a multitude must be such a joy for Jesus!

MCCQC’s Capernaums seem difficult enough to reach. Now, how about our own Nazareths? Does being fellow outcasts mean expressing solidarity with other outcasts, even if we dislike or feel uncomfortable with them? I understand members of the church went to the re-enactment or commemoration of Stonewall last night. Although Stonewall riots may seem a distant and foreign event to our current setting in the Philippines, we acknowledge that it did spark a newer dimension in the civil rights movement in the United States, contributing to the formation of the MCC, and this ultimately brings us to this little room. By extension through the experience of death, inequality, discrimination from outside and within the community, it is not just Stonewall we commemorate but the global struggle for acceptance, especially in countries where being LGBTQ means certain death.

But this is what is beautiful with our church: We can express our faith in the most glamorous ways imaginable. We have expressed it through the Pride marches, like what we did yesterday. We have expressed it in the various memorial services for those who have been killed by hate. We have expressed it through art and sessions under LL and the summer retreats. We even had the Rainbow Ensemble dress and sing in drag. We had baked bread and pan de sal as hosts during Holy Communion. We had Creative Worship using music, dance and food. Our varied expressions help us cater to such a diverse community, composed of different smaller communities, much like how Capernaum and Nazareth was in Jesus’ time. We have groups that number in the hundreds to groups that prefer to remain invisible. With our new leadership and our theme of building bridges and communities, who do we reach the Capernaums and Nazareths out there? We will begin by strengthening our own Capernaums and our own Nazareths, starting here, in the yellow room.

Let me end by inviting you to read my prayer summary of  Jesus’ experience in Capernaum and Nazareth and its translation into our reality:

“We have been forgiven and we are able to forgive. We talk the way we do because we do and that is what we believe in. We are unlike what people have heard of or seen before. We are who people see, we are who they do not see, and we are who we are yet to be. But we are someone’s sons and daughters and we are your sisters and brothers. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transwomen, transmen, queer, intersex, and asexual, but we are Christians. We are MCC. Amen.”

Preaching by MPPuzon


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