Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crossposted from the Ecumenicals: "What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?"

I write one or twice a month for a group called The Ecumenicals, a loosely affiliated bunch of young adults from various Christian (and non-Christian) faith walks who explore a particular topic around Christian faith and life each week.

This week's was:

What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?

And this was my reply.

I cannot claim a special role in the church for myself or for my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.  We’ve had one for long enough.

We have been isolated.  We have been rejected.  After we finally came to terms with the searing truth of ourselves, hard-wrought and heart-breaking, the truth we couldn’t stop facing after years of begging prayers and desperate hopes that it wasn’t true -- after we finally spoke the words, “I am gay,” “I am queer,” “I wasn’t born in the right body,” we have been told that our soul-shattering and world-opening truth was offensive to God.  That we, laid bare before the Lord and before our brothers and sisters in Christ, were an abomination, and our best hope to escape eternal damnation was only if we locked up the truth about ourselves and lived a solitary half-life of self-hatred and pain.

We have been tortured, spiritually and psychologically and emotionally and physically.  We have been subjected to psychologically traumatizing and medically disproven practices.  We have been hung out on a fence in the middle of Wyoming and beaten to death with the butt of a gun.  We wear bulletproof vests to our ordinations.  We retire from our bishopric early after death threats dog us and our partners for years.  “Good Christians” and their churches come forward at every turn to kill us.  And so we leave the church, a mass exodus into a wilderness where the name of Jesus is a neon beacon of condemnation and terror.

So when you ask me, “What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?”, I want to reply, “What more do you want from us?”

How many more times do you need us to tell our stories?  How many more books and blogs and documentaries and It Gets Better videos do you require before you will listen?  How much more ministry done, how many more food shelves and homeless shelters and compassionate care, how much more beautiful music and hand-crafted art, how many more volunteer hours and weekly tithes, all poured into an institution that gladly takes our time and money but still treats us as second-class?

How many more broken teens and young adults, and mid-life crises, and couples together for fifty years who only now can legally marry in a handful of states, do you require of us?

There are days when I would gladly offer that we might be like the Gentiles of the early church.  That the role of LGBTQ+ individuals is to take up the wide-eyed exclamations of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, “How can I understand, unless someone guides me?”  “Does the prophet say this about himself or about someone else?”  “Look!  Here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  There are days when I have likened me and my queer brothers and sisters to Cornelius in Acts 10, dedicating years to almsgiving and constant prayer, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Simon Peter and his declaration that “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”  There are days when I have found our role in those early outcasts, the foreigners who were not welcome in the temple, the God-fearers who prayed fervently to the Lord.

But I am tired.  I am tired of justifying my place in God’s tent.  I am tired of dressing up the lives of LGBTQ+ people in biblical allegories in the desperate hope that the church will stop killing us.

I want to know what role the church is going to play in our lives.  I want to know if the church is willing to put aside its selective biblical literalism.  I want to know if the church is ready to see the visions and hear the voice of God, who sent Philip to the chariot and Peter to Cornelius’ house.  I want to know if you are going to make a safe space for me and my people to speak our truth.  Because I am tired of watching my queer brothers and sisters die while the church waits to decide what our “role” is.

The only role I’m willing to accept for LGBTQ+ people is “beloved children of God.”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sermon for April 14, 2013, on Acts 9:1-20: Some running around, and some letting go.

Children’s Message

[ I had the children (and, like I’ve said for years, “those who are, like me, a child at heart”) meet me in the back of the worship space / cafeteria-gymnasium -- in a wide space where there’s lots of room for running.

I asked:  “Who here knows how to play Sharks and Minnows?”  I knew most would -- we play it all the time.  So we chose a Shark, aka Saul, and everyone else got to be Minnows, aka Christians.

Saul was played by the eight-year-old daughter of one of my internship committee members, and she managed to catch and imprison a good handful of Christians before I called an end to the game and sent them back to their seats. ]


Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Sermon  (click here to listen along)

Welcome to the story of Saul.

Saul is a young man, a Jew in good standing in his local synagogue.  He knows the Hebrew Scriptures, goes to worship faithfully on the Sabbath.

And just a chapter ago, in Acts 7 and 8, Saul listened as a disciple of Jesus, Stephen, proclaimed Jesus as the Son of Man, the Righteous One whose coming was foretold by the prophets.  And then Saul watched as the religious leaders dragged Stephen from the city, threw him to the ground, and stoned him.  The council laid their cloaks at Saul's feet and took up rocks to end Stephen's speech.  Acts 8:1 says:  "And Saul approved of their killing him."

Saul takes up the charge.  He persecutes the believers in Jerusalem, entering house after house to drag both men and women off to prison.  Now he has letters that send him to Damascus, a little over a hundred miles north and west, to persecute the church there.  He is on his way to track down all those who belong to The Way.

The Way is the early name for the Christian church -- they won't be called Christians until Acts 11.  The Way is this life among the Jewish believers, this little group that proclaims baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  In The Way, there is teaching, there is fellowship, there is communion, there are prayers.  Those who belong to The Way share what they have with one another.  They choose seven men of good standing to fairly distribute food to the poor and widowed -- seven men including Stephen.

Now Saul is on his way to hunt down all those who belong to the Way.  To him, this group is a perversion of the Jewish faith.  He will find them, he will bind them, and he will bring them to Jerusalem, to the Holy City, to be tried and imprisoned.

And then just outside the gates of Damascus, on the cusp of chasing down another group of believers, there is a blinding flash of light.  Saul is knocked from his horse.  He is struck blind.  And he hears a voice:  "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Then this same Jesus appears to the disciple Ananias, and says:  "Get up and go find this man named Saul, and lay your hands on him to give him back his sight."

These are the kinds of visions that no one wants to see.

Saul is Ananias' enemy.  He has come to Ananias' hometown to specifically track down disciples and send them off to prison in Jerusalem.  His blindness is a lucky break for Ananias.  He might be able to get out of the city, keep some of the others believers safe, while Saul can't see or do a thing.

So Jesus' invitation is more like a warrant than a welcome.  He tells Ananias to put himself in danger, to put his hands on Saul knowing that Saul has come to put those hands in chains.

And Ananias goes.

See, both Saul and Ananias are told what they are to do.  Ananias is called to lay hands in prayer on the man who wanted to lay hands on him in persecution.  And Saul is called to bring the name of Jesus before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel, to proclaim this very Christ he has been persecuting.

But before they can go what they are to do, they have to let go of what they know.

Ananias has to let go of his fear.  His anxiety.  His protests about Saul's evil and terrifying authority.  His desire to protect himself and his own people against the persecution and hatred that Saul has brought to Damascus.  The only way Ananias can do what he is to do is to let all that go.

And Saul -- Saul has to let go of everything.  His religious beliefs.  His prejudice.  His hatred.  His guilt, now, that not only has he persecuted people who were following a true Lord and Savior but that in persecuting them he was persecuting Jesus himself.  Everything that Saul has known and staked his time and energy and reputation on stands in the way of belonging to The Way.

Saul and Ananias have to let go before they can do what they are to do.  There has to be space made in the heart, and mind, and hands, before Jesus can fill it with something new.  There has to be surrender, and trust, and some kind of crazy irresponsible hope that whatever they're letting go of is going to be replaced by something infinitely better.

And that hope means they don't do it alone.  They do it because of a dream.  A vision.  A hope, not from their own hearts but from the Holy Spirit, that their world might be just a little bit better if they took a chance.

And so it is with us.

There are a hundred things that stand in our way of belonging to The Way.  A hundred things that keep us from doing what we are to do.  Fear.  Guilt.  Shame.  Anger.  Anxiety.  Hatred.  Prejudice.  Our past.  Our present.  The infinite unknown of the future.

There are a hundred things that we have done, and I know that I at least am the kind of person that will cling to them till my fingers go numb because I need to know something is true.

And then the vision breaks in.  Then hope shines a light.  Then God shows up, rude and loud, and interrupts our life with hope and expectation and dreams of something better for us, and for the people we love, and for the whole world.

To do what we are to do, we have to let go.  And to let go, there has to be a vision powerful enough to give us hope.

And the vision of what we are to do -- the vision of God's hope for us -- this crazy idea that we might be changed and restored and given the mercy and grace that we are dying for -- that just might be enough.

This crazy idea that you might be known by God.  That you might be trusted.  That you might be loved, just as you are.  That everything that dies in you and your life might be raised like Jesus from the dead.

That just might be enough.  That just might be enough hope to overcome whatever you are holding on to and whatever is holding you back.

So what is your vision?  What is your hope?

And in that hope, what do you want to let go of?

There are two slips of paper at your chairs and tables. The colors don’t matter.  Choose one for your hope, and one for what you need to let go of.

Take a moment.  Write it down.  When you’re ready, bring them to the baskets on the altar.

Offer your hope.  Offer your fears.  Everything is welcome in the light of the risen Christ.



Everything Changes

When You come everything changes 
When You speak even the darkness hides 
When You step into our frailty, Jesus 
You restore every broken life 
Everything changes 

Verse 1:
Mercy to the brokenhearted 
Life for those who grieve 
Joy to those whose dreams are stolen 
Imprisoned souls released 

Verse 2:
Blessing to the poor in spirit 
Grace for all in need 
Sight to those who live in darkness 
Innocence redeemed 

This is the Kingdom come 
This is the Kingdom
This is the Kingdom come 
This is the Kingdom
Everything changes