Today's sermon - about the Plaza Drama a week and a half ago at CNU. You can read more about the event in the Captain's Log here.
"Share the Love"
The Rev. Lauren McDonald
Every Thursday between 12 and 2, I carry two chairs and a sandwich board sign into the Plaza at CNU between the Trible Library and the David Student Union. My sign says, “How may I pray for you? Prayers, blessings and conversation. No strings attached.” This is the second year that I’ve offered this ministry, and I’ve had the great privilege to talk with students, staff, and faculty who have stopped by with prayer requests or just to chat. Many times I get to talk with students who are Christian but not Episcopalian, who are part of other campus ministries and who want to talk about faith and Christ or to ask for a prayer but who aren’t looking to join another group.
A week ago during my time at the Plaza Prayer Station, I heard from several students and staff members about an event that had taken place the day before. On Tuesday night of that week, the entire CNU community received a notice from the Dean of students saying that a street evangelist was going to be in the Plaza during lunch the next day. Apparently he had been there before, and I was told that there had been some heated exchanges as he told students to repent of their sins lest they find themselves spending eternity in flames. This time he reserved the Plaza for his preaching, and the dean explained that he was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.
What happened next is that CNU’s LGBTQ- alliance organization, Spectrum, decided to sponsor a “Share the Love” event that would take place at the same time as the preacher. Their goal was to talk to students about love and acceptance and to make their presence known. They respected the open air preacher’s right to speak and peacefully gathered nearby with rainbow flags and signs that said, “Free hugs” and “Carry the Love.”
Thrive is another organization that showed up that Wednesday. They are a campus ministry group that seeks to unite all the campus ministries. They sponsor a large worship gathering one Friday evening a month. Several of their members come talk to me at the prayer station and have participated in our Campus Blessing of the Semester. They decided to partner with Spectrum in order to share the love that they believe God has for everyone.
So let me recount who was there. A street preacher who was preaching about sin and the need to be saved, Spectrum, the LGBTQ group who wanted to share the love, and Thrive, a campus ministry group who wanted to tell everyone gathered that Jesus died for them and that God loved them. And then there were a whole lot of other students who showed up to see what would happen. Some came because they were part of one group or another. Some came because they were curious about what would happen or because they wanted to engage with one of the groups. Some came because they were expecting, maybe even hoping, to see some sort of a confrontation or show down.
What happened was a peaceful gathering of groups who ordinarily would not coexist in the same space. Everyone’s rights were respected. The preacher preached. The Spectrum students hugged people and carried banners and flags. The Thrive people brought guitars and led the whole group in worship songs when the preacher took a break. The CNU newspaper interviewed all parties and did an article and TV segment on the event. There were some police at the edge of the Plaza, but they didn’t need to do anything because of the peaceful nature of the proceedings.
Which of these groups was speaking in Jesus’ name?
Which of these groups was putting a stumbling block in front of others?
I’m not going to answer those questions.
I’ve shared this story because of the way it ties in to our Gospel today. The disciples have witnessed a healer who is not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name. When they complain to Jesus – like one sibling telling on another – “Dad, make him stop, he’s not one of us,” Jesus tells them not to worry about it. Whoever is not against us is for us.
In this passage Jesus seems to have an eye on what the man has done – he has successfully cast out demons in Jesus’ name. The fact that the man has been a catalyst for wholeness and healing is more important than whether he’s hanging out with Jesus and the disciples. I might argue that there are some who use Jesus’ name to put stumbling blocks in front of others rather than to work for wholeness and healing. But I think that Jesus would call me out, too, for judging my neighbor.
Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to focus on what our neighbor is or is not doing or whether this group or that group is doing something the way we think they should do it. He seems instead to be asking us to focus on ourselves - what we need to do to serve others and what we need to do to keep from putting stumbling blocks in the way of others. How are we going to contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world? How are we going to participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world to God’s self? It’s so much easier to focus on what that one over there is doing than to focus on what we need to be doing.
What makes me proud of the CNU students is how the different groups assembled peacefully and promoted a message of love. They didn’t all agree with each other, but they did respect each other, and they did, in fact, share the love. I understand that the street preacher’s message became more positive under the influence of the students’ message.
In this passage I hear Jesus calling us to self-examination. Looking at where we are contributing to healing and wholeness in the world as well as looking at where we are putting up stumbling blocks.
This week I have also heard Pope Francis calling our country to that self-examination – to look at ways we need to work together to share the love of God with those in need. There are so many ways we can offer a cup of water in the name of Christ. So many ways we can tear down the barriers between us. So many ways we can contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world.