With no further ado, please allow me to share with you these words of reflection and wisdom I heard at Holy Eucharist last night. See if they resonate with you.
“I want to talk to you this evening about dirty words.
“There seem to be some words that have become quite unacceptable to use in polite society. These words have been given meanings which make most people exceptionally uncomfortable and anxious. I’m talking about words like Refugee. Asylum. Syria. Muslim. Enemy. Terrorist.
“If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, then you’ll know that a large portion of the population of this country lumps them all together and assumes that they all mean the same thing. As in ‘The Syrian Muslim Asylum-seeking Refugee is nothing more than an Enemy and a Terrorist.’ Last I checked, something close to 30 governors have said as much. Dirty words.
“But there is a problem for us when words like Asylum and Refugee and Muslim become dirty words. There are some other words that become equally as dirty. All of a sudden, Hospitality, Charity, Welcome, and Concern also become dirty words. Because if you’re willing to accept that Syrian Muslim Refugee is a dirty word, then – guilt by association! – Hospitality, Charity, Concern, and Welcome become dirty words when they are associated with a Syrian Muslim Refugee.
“Many of you know that I’m a fan of language and how translation issues and historical context can shed new light on certain passages of scripture. But this passage from Luke is simple. It’s unambiguous. There’s no contextual issue. There’s no real translation issue. The only textual variant in the passage is that the first line could read, ‘Love your enemies, do good and lend, despairing of no one.’ Which means that no one – not the poor, not the Syrian, not the Refugee, not the Enemy, not even the Terrorist – is beyond our hope. In other words, I think it’s safe to say, at least in this instance, that Jesus meant what he said. There’s really no nuance that could possibly rob Jesus’s words of their power.
“Which brings us to another dirty word: Power. Today is the feast day of Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was a princess whose devotion led her to lead a life of piety and service to the poor. Her husband, Ludwig IV of Thuringia, supported her charitable behavior, even to the point of giving her authority in his absence – authority which she used to sell off state robes and ornaments for the care of the sick and suffering. After her husband died Elizabeth continued to use her position of power and influence to help those less fortunate than herself. She even used money from her dowry to build a hospital for the care of the sick. She died at the age of 24.
“St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers, the death of children, the falsely accused, the homeless, and widows. I cannot think of a more appropriate saint to have in mind when talking about dirty words because she certainly seems to be the patron saint of a lot of them. And Elizabeth had power. That dirty, dirty word. She used her power to help others.
“But I want us all to think about just what it means if we think Power is a dirty word. I want us to think about what it means to say that the good news of Jesus Christ should not have power. If the Gospel has no power, then why should anyone listen when we say, “Syrian, Muslim, Refugee” are not dirty words? Why should anyone listen when we say, ‘Hospitality, Charity, and Welcome’ are not dirty words? If the Gospel should not have power, then you and I have no grounds to complain when men and women and children are turned away from our borders… or put in internment camps… or subjected to any other manner of humiliation.
“Earlier I made reference to the comfortable words Safety, Security, and Precaution. And I used the word comfortable deliberately. Because there are other ‘comfortable’ words that we Christians ought to be much more ready to hear. They are no less powerful for being familiar: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’
“Would that those words had more power in this land than they do. God save us – lest all of Jesus’s words become dirty.”
That sermon was written and given by Rob Donahue, a man I’m proud to call my friend. He boldly proclaimed the gospel as he’s called to do in his capacity within the Episcopal Church. Rob consistently preaches with a Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other hand.
He made a compelling argument, of course. When exactly did loving our neighbors as ourselves become a phrase of dirty words? And why? Is this still America? Sometimes, I truly wonder.