My sermon from the Eucharist service on Saturday, March 1, 2008. Integrity Fort Worth, Dr. Louie Crew's visit and talk...
Fruit of the Light
God told Jeremiah to tell the people, “For surely I know the plans I have for you,… plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, … and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
I open with this message in Jeremiah 29: 11-14 even though it is not one of the readings for today. I use it as my email signature because it means so much to me. It gives me hope that one day this church, this Episcopal diocese in particular will be well and all those who have been driven out and sent away into exile will return. Meanwhile, it helps me to remember to trust God that the plans for my future, my welfare are clearly known, even if it is to God alone.
I have searched for God…I have sought God with all of my heart and I will one day be ready to be brought back into the place from which I have been driven away and sent into exile. So… I speak today from that place – in exile…a goodly place because I have been welcomed there but definitely not home – at least not yet.
Many of you know that Debbie, Tucker and I have been on a pilgrimage for the past eight months. We sold our home, our land and a whole lot of stuff and set out in an old motor home to hear what the Spirit is saying to the People of God. While we are still traveling, we have left behind the old motor home and are in the process of relocating to the Diocese of Missouri… to St. Louis, in particular so that I can enter into the process of ordination. Ordination is a little bit out of the question in Fort Worth in that first, I am female, second – in a monogamous committed, long term relationship with another woman.
Even though we are sort of settling down for a while, we still travel, speaking by invitation to those who invite us come visit their parishes, groups or workshops. Two weeks ago, we were in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, at the invitation of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. We were asked to lead a workshop about our Journey in Faith. The University was sponsoring a conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex folk and their allies.
There were quite a few workshops dealing with issues that relate to LGBTQIA people – health, legalities of partnerships, marriage, civil unions, tax laws, spirituality, and faith. Does it surprise anyone that the workshops regarding faith were less attended that the ones on legal and health issues?
What does the church have to say to a bunch of lgbtqia people between the ages of 17 and 30? The “traditional” interpretation of the Word of God is a bit harsh to this group. And they, being the age that they are, are of a mind that if the Church doesn’t need them, they certainly don’t need the church.
I can’t help but sometimes think that theirs is the far healthier attitude. I often wonder what is wrong with those of us who do subject ourselves week after week to the possibility…no the probability of being mortally “wounded in the house of a friend” yet one more time… yet, like a phoenix we keep rising and coming back for more. …OR… it is more like we are caught up in the too familiar cycle of abuse – spiritual abuse, in this case.
I would guess that statistics would show that most young people who have been raised in the church do a bit of backsliding when suddenly they are without the rules and regulations of family life and experiencing life on their own for the first time. If the church can’t even hold on to these young strait people, how can it possibly reach out to the young people who are coming into a fuller understanding of what it means to be classified as an “abomination” in the eyes of the public?
I want to say to the Church at large, “Sleeper Awake…Live as children of light for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
I want to find ways to reach out to these young people who think that the church has no need of them. I want to help them understand that they are the fruit of the light and they are good and right and true.
At the workshop that we led, there were a couple of very important questions that were asked by those attending. “What do I tell my gay friend when he says to me that he doesn’t believe in God”? and “How do I respond biblically when those people toss scripture at me to tell me how horrible I am?”
These are certainly two questions that we have failed to answer well enough. Maybe it is because we are unsure in our own minds as to the answers.
WHY does hellfire and damnation preach easier than “and God said, It is good”? Why is it easier to swallow certain passages from Leviticus and Romans than it is to talk about the love between David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi or even of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple? These are love stories…affirming stories…stories that make us see the world in a different way. Why are we so afraid of these? Why are we even thinking about sex? It is supposed to be about Love…For strange puritanical reasons, we think it is easier to scare our children into believing in God than it is to love them into it.
I am sure that most people here know the high rate of suicide amongst teenagers who are growing into the sense of just how different they seem to be in relation to the rest of their world. It is in these younger years that the risk of suicide is so much higher. How culpable is the church in these preventable deaths? Ask Mary Lou Wallner, now with SoulForce and recently in the documentary “For the Bible tells me so” -- Ask her what part the Church played in the suicide of Anna, her lesbian Christian daughter.
We all know the name Matthew Shepard.
And now, too recently, Lawrence King, a just turned 15 year old middle school youth shot in the head by another mother’s son because Lawrence sometimes dressed too femininely…all because Lawrence asked Brandon, two days earlier asked him to be his Valentine...two families torn to shreds…two lives lost.
What part did our silence or the limited acceptance of the Church play in these murders?
I say it played a lot.
Where is our RAGE? Where is our Righteous Indignation?
As long as we allow ourselves to think that we are not Good, as long as we allow gay people, young or older, to think that the Church has no need of them, as long as the Church remains silent or even less than adamant about all the children being children of God, until this Church stands up and loudly proclaims THIS FEAR IS WRONG, preventable suicides and murders will continue. Until we teach our children how to love rather than how to hate, these deaths will happen.
So, what role do we, as gay and lesbian Christians, play in all of this? We have a big role. Are we to just play the victim, hiding in the dark, trying not to rock the strait boat in case we suddenly find ourselves tossed out? Are we to allow others to decide for us the proper course of action – talking about us rather than to us or rather than letting us talk?
How can we defend ourselves if we don’t even know if we are defendable? We cannot allow others to set the stage for our acceptance. We have to find our own way. We must find our way through love stories that affirm our right to life. And these stories are there…and these begin with that story of creation – And God said, It is Good.
The Rev. Steven Kindle, a Disciples of Christ minister who is also a part of the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me so”, is really a fairly awesome guy. We met him in California. He is straight, married, with no gay children. His only “gay agenda” being that he is working hard to help the Church understand that gays and lesbians wanting to be a part of the church is a good thing…not a bad one. He openly admitted that he was initially homophobic. His mind was changed by knowing gays and lesbians within the congregation that he was in. His life changed by realizing their gifts to the church and as he realized these gifts he realized he was being called to help. As he was speaking, I couldn’t help but hear in my mind, The Gifts of God for the People of God.
Think about it…not taking anything away from straight people, but good grief…Can you imagine the silence in the national Episcopal Church alone, in THIS diocese if all the gays and lesbians in the church decided to skip one Sunday? The silence would be deafening! Seriously, the liturgy, the homilies, the music – written and played, the vestments...so quiet, so bare if these gifts of God were denied. Yet what harm is done on a daily basis by asking these gifts to hide in that closet or to be good little boys and girls and don’t make any trouble? We make the music, we write the songs and sew the linens, we even preach in some places…but don’t get too uppity…don’t be thinking about a long term monogamous relationship being blessed in the church and heaven forbid that we might have the sacrament of Holy Matrimony performed…and then of course, don’t forget the celibacy vow we must take if we are called to serve God in God’s church.
We are children of God…but definitely children of a lesser god…according to many.
Truly, this is spiritual abuse.
So, no…we are not to hide in a closet – not for any reason, ever. We are not to play the victim for sure! We cannot stifle our gifts from God simply because some people are not comfortable with us. We cannot wait any longer.
It has been said of me that I like to create furor. I can think of few higher compliments for someone trying to follow Jesus. I think that creating furor is exactly what we are called to do in this Church. Jesus did. Jesus questioned the rules that excluded some over others. Can we do less? Will it cost us? Yes, it costs a lot. Yet it is the cloak that we have been given to wear. We cannot set it aside or cast it off. It is part of the gift.
Our role is that of protector…prophet…as a Child of the Light so that others might know us by that very Light – so that others may see their own way by that Light.
The church needs us. It needs our gifts.
We need the church. We need to share our gifts.
We need the gifts that the Church has to offer.
We need our youth – gay and straight alike. They are the gifts of the present and of the future.
The Church needs this future.
It is time to “Sing to the Lord a new song”…because the one that has been sung for too long is hate-filled. And as the Gifts of God, it is up to us to teach the church how to sing this new song!