Earlier this month this story caught my eye. In San Francisco there is a Jewish congregation founded in 1977 called Sha’ar Zahav whose mission is to serve the LGBT Jewish community. (The Hebrew means Congregation of the Golden Gate.)
You might imagine that it is no big deal to be an LGBT person of faith in San Francisco, but people who have grown up in religious households in every faith and background and have wrestled with their sexual identity have all struggled to accept themselves and to reconcile their faith with their sense of being gay or just different. So Sha’ar Zahav has been working for four decades now to bring a prophetic voice of challenge and change to the Jewish community.
On their website their new rabbi, Mychal Copeland, says that they are called to “examine what scares us and threatens us about inclusion. We can quit paying lip service to how welcoming we are and get down to the real work of appreciating the strength in our diversity. I am honored to begin on this path with Sha’ar Zahav, a community in which people offer their energies to create something profound, radically inclusive, and sacred.” But throughout its history the synagogue has been a target for people who are anti Semitic and homophobic.
Two months ago when a shooter entered Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on a Saturday and killed eleven people while they were at worship in one of the deadliest shootings in a place of worship in recent history as you can imagine the folks at Sha’ar Zahav were worried.
One of the biggest dangers in moments like this are that unstable folks will copy these acts and find deranged notoriety in repetitious violence.
But crises also hold the potential to surprise us as people rise to some inspired place of caring and compassion and remind us of the stunning human potential to be decent and good. That is what happened in San Francisco.
A Mennonite congregation that uses this synagogue on Sundays for their services stepped up after the Pittsburgh shooting. Committed pacifists the Mennonites volunteered to stand vigil outside the temple week after week on Friday evenings. Twenty Mennonites showed up as a human buffer zone and blanket of peace. Rabbi Copeland said, “I’ll take 20 Mennonites over armed guards any day.”
As we make our way to the manger this year let us be inspired to widen our circles of faith and trust and avoid the temptation to circle the wagons in life. Never underestimate our potential to be braver than despair. Never ever under-estimate the opportunity we all have to be agents of peace. And don’t forget to thank a Mennonite - when you see one.
This Week we have our Pageant on Sunday - You won’t want to miss that! See you on Sunday.