June 26, 2022
What if Our Resurrection Has Begun
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Luke 7: 11-17
Love that song-
There is such longing,
For the “corner of the sky”
Our place in God’s creation.
In the great cosmic story.
It’s hard to see where this cosmic story is going, isn’t it,
At least on this planet,
At least in this moment,
The preacher at our clergy session
Described what a lot of clergy have been experiencing.
There have been so many unexpected
And worrisome developments,
So many changes and disappointing heartbreaks,
So many unknowns, that have occurred
Over the past few years.
For the last weeks,
There’s no end in sight.
We’re worn out.
We’re worn down
And we’re not sure what to think about the future.
We’re not sure what or who we’re becoming
Or if it’s a very good thing at all.
So, and it that’s what clergy are feeling
If that’s maybe what you are feeling,
What Christians bring
To a whole world that is feeling this way.
Let’s see what the founder and perfector of our faith,
Has to say to us today.
Jesus is in Nain, a town about
About six miles from Nazareth,
And coming toward him is a funeral procession
Of a young man;
The only son of a woman
Who is also a widow.
His death has left her alone,
With no status, no means to support herself.
Her future is so uncertain.
And she is weeping.
I want you just to take that in for a moment,
Hear that in your mind,
Let her stand in for someone suffering now.
Perhaps for you,
Perhaps for a woman, or a man,
Anywhere in the world,
Ukraine, Ulvalde, Afghanistan
We reveal our humanity most plainly
In our weeping.
At every Annual Conference
There is a moment when the bishop is thanked
And this year,
After the person spoke of all that our bishop
Has done this past year,
Even as he lost his father to death.
The bishop, was so moved by the recognition of all
He’s been through
He began to weep, and could not stop.
And all those watching, felt something within
We felt with him, we felt for him.
This woman is weeping.
And Luke says, Jesus has compassion for her.
Compassion, translated from the rare Greek term,
meaning that his intestines were torn up.
Her situation tears him up inside.
Jesus of Nazareth
The incarnate presence of God upon this earth,
Feels her pain so deeply it hurts.
Does this not reveal something:
That God hears our weeping, our longing,
Knows we are worn out, worn down,
Whether we are we are poor widow, or a bishop
Or anyone else.
The Holy Spirit that resided in Jesus’ heart
Felt that woman’s hurt
And responded with loving power
Jesus touches the funeral bier,
On which the young man’s body was placed,
Young man I say to you, rise!
And the man, sit’s up,
And Jesus, says the scripture,
Gave him to his mother.
And suddenly, says Luke, the people watching were seized with fear,
They’d heard that he healed
But now he’d raised from death,
Which was terrifying and marvelous
And news spread, quickly, everywhere.
And Jesus knows that it’s a great risk
To reveal the power that’s beyond anything
Human beings on this earth have ever known
That power threatens those who assume
They have control of the people of the earth
But out of love, out of compassion for
Our human condition,
Jesus chooses to tear open the fabric between
Our time and all time.
For while we may think of resurrection
Healing into life, as an event,
Something we want for ourselves and loved ones
Once this mortal coil is shuffled off.
Jesus shows us that resurrection, healing into life
Is the great constant work of God
This ongoing, purposeful, becoming
Underscores all time,
And everything in all creation.
Resurrection is the essence of God’s
Love in action.
Jesus of Nazareth
In this simple, astounding story
Shows us the essence of God:
And this, now, as Christ’s body,
Is our work.
Fr. Greg Boyle works in Los Angeles
With men and woman who have sought
A family and protection in gangs
It is a precarious life, and death comes young.
One young man came to him, saying,
I want to live before I die.
He so wanted to rise,
Not in the next life,
But in this one
Death will come, in its time, to each,
It’s deadness in this one we fear.
And Father Boyle gave him work, and a new community,
He made new friends,
He found joy and purpose and peace,
Before, violence ended his life.
But he had lived before he died.
This longing to rise up,
Is, perhaps, God’s own longing in us
And our resurrections, God’s compassionate response
After Afghanistan returned to Taliban rule,
Young women and girls’ lives were severely restricted.
No longer allowed to attend school past just the early grades
I heard a recording of some young women,
Weeping over their loss, their sense of hopelessness.
But the radio documentary continued.
And teachers, women in Afghanistan and around the world
Felt great compassion
And they have set up online schools
And the girls gather in homes of those with internet
And they described what it felt like to learn
French and History and music
Even new dances
You could hear in their voices, such hope!
Even in the midst of uncertainty, they are becoming,
Their resurrection is happening.
After worship today, I’ll be heading over to Maynard Avenue
United Methodist Church,
It’s the last day for that building to be open.
They are selling that property and Summit UMC is selling theirs
And together they are forming a new church
Circle of Hope UMC
In North Linden, a place that needs an
Open, gracious, reconciling presence.
Resurrection is God’s Constant work in us,
In all of us, together,
And in each of us,
We will know it’s completion only at death,
But for now,
The charge is clear:
We are not to swim in cynicism and despair.
Consider what the Lord has done for you,
What mercies God has shown you,
When a way was made out of now way
When joy returned in the morning,
Lean into it, God can bear the weight of your life
The river of your tears,
Your worries are known, your longings are heard
And if Jesus of Nazareth
Could raise from the dead
Then the Christ that is in
All creation is raising you, too.
Raising Afghanistan, and Ukraine,
And Ulvalde and all those women facing new uncertainties
God is at work, Christ is in the world
And resurrection is happening,
Even there, even here, even now.
Thanks be to God. Amen
Jun 19, 2022
God Plays No Favorites
Rev. Jim Waugh
Acts 10: 9-16; 23-36
When was your last “aha” moment? What is an aha moment? Merriam-Webster defines it this way, “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.” It’s one of those moments that when experience it, it changes the way that look at an issue or maybe life itself. It is a moment of insight.
So, as we turn to the text that I read today, we find a big aha moment for Peter and for the early church, but also an aha for us in the church today. You know when an organization or a movement is just starting up, there are a lot of things you must figure out.
I have been involved for the last several months with the startup of a new group in Grove City. It is a new Pride organization – Pride in GC. This is the first time that a Pride group has organized in Grove City. Well, someone had to call a group together to begin the work of organizing the group and there are all kinds of questions:
· What is our target area?
· What is our mission?
· Do we organize as a 501.3c or 501.4c organization?
· Will we charge dues? How much?
· What about a logo?
· How about by-laws?
· Those are just a few of the questions that we had to deal with.
Well, it turns out that the early Christians had some pretty big questions on their plate after Jesus left and ascended into heaven. Even after they waited for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them at the day we now know as Pentecost as we celebrated a couple of weeks ago, there were still important matters to be decided.
Foremost among those questions for the early church was, “What about the Gentiles?” And that’s where the account in Acts 10 comes in for us today.
The biggest controversy in the first few years of the church was whether to fully include Gentiles as Gentiles, or whether they needed to be circumcised first.
The early church consisted of Jewish believers. The Gentiles were on the outside of that circle. There was a Biblical Law in Genesis 17:10, “Every male among you must be circumcised.” If a male was not circumcised, they were labeled as unclean. This was a stumbling block for many Gentiles in the first few years of the church because Gentiles were not circumcised.
So, before where I began reading in Chapter 10 today, Cornelius was introduced. He is described as a “thoroughly good man.” We are told that he led those in his household to live worshipfully before God. He helped those in need, and he was a man of prayer.
But –and this is a big BUT, Cornelius was a Roman. He was a Gentile, and on top of that he was a Roman soldier who occupying Israel. As someone has said, “Cornelius was about as kosher as a double bacon cheeseburger.” However, it was to this Roman Gentile that an angel appeared with a message that he should send for Peter who was staying in Joppa.
A few days later, Peter was about to experience his own vision when he went out on the balcony where he was staying in Joppa. He was hungry, and he was thinking about lunch. You never know what might happen when a man starts thinking about his next meal.
In this case as one writer says, “The apostle Peter had a vision while he was on a roof. He saw a sheet coming down from heaven – kind of like a big picnic blanket -- with many animals that according to Biblical Law were unclean. Peter wasn’t even allowed to touch those animals. But he heard God say to him, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ Peter replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ He always followed the kosher law.
Like any good Jew, Peter kept the Jewish dietary restrictions. Peter was being a good follower of the dietary laws. But God was changing Peter’s understanding of the law. God said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Or as the Message version says, “The voice came a second time, ‘If God says okay, it’s okay.” This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies. That blew Peter’s mind so much that God had to repeat it three times. After all, Peter was just following the law. And now God was doing something radically new!
As someone noted, “When Peter woke up from his vision, he realized that the message wasn’t merely about eating bacon.” At this point, as Peter struggles to understand what had just happened to him, he does not even know anything about this man Cornelius. Soon, however, he would receive the group of men whom Cornelius sent to summons Peter to Cornelius’ house.
We are told in the text that this group of men met Peter and took him to this Gentile’s home. When he entered Cornelius’ house, Peter said that it was unlawful for him to even be there, but then he flips the script of Biblical Law forever, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Peter then asked Cornelius why he had sent for him. Cornelius responded by sharing how God had given him a vision to request Peter’s presence and his message. So, with bated breath Cornelius and his household are now waiting to hear the message that God has put on Peter’s heart to share with them. As the Message version of this text reports, “Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel – that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again – well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.”
Then, in the next portion of the scripture from Acts that we did not read today, Peter proceeds to share the message of what God had done in Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection and the work that the followers of Jesus were now sent out to do to proclaim this message.
We are told that the as soon as Peter finished his message, the Holy Spirit fell up Cornelius and those with him. The believing Jews with Peter couldn’t believe that the Gentiles had experienced the Holy Spirit. Peter then proceeds to baptize all the household of Cornelius as these Gentiles were now included in the family of faith of the early Christian church.
So, God is active here in this account of Peter and Cornelius. As one writer puts it, “God’s pastoral project is to bring us into an understanding of God’s will so that we may better collaborate with God in the work of salvation. The conversion of Cornelius takes Peter by surprise but not because God decides at the last moment to save an uncircumcised Gentile. As one writer says, “The universal embrace of divine love was promised to Abraham and prophesied by Scripture long before Cornelius was saved.”
But Peter still did not get it, his religious parochialism caused him to divide people into “clean” (repentant Jews) and “unclean” (uncircumcised Gentiles). God’s redemptive purpose for Gentiles could not be realized unless Peter changed his mind.
The issue here is by what manner does Peter learn God’s will to obey it and serve God’s redemptive interests. Peter’s story here helps in two ways in finding God’s will for our lives. Again, as one writer notes, “First, we learn of God’s will from God rather than from our own resources – Peter says, ‘God has shown me” --- As someone has put it, “The Lord is not a passive bystander or a disinterested partner but is committed to a process of disclosure by which God’s will is made known to us.
Second, we typically learn God’s will over time through a series of those “aha” experiences. Peter’s vision of the sheet with the unclean animals set before him initially baffled him.
Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission grew through a series of events:
· He heard Cornelius testify to his own vision when the angel said that he should send for Peter to visit him and his household.
· Peter had his own moment of internal reflection when he was so puzzled by the vision when God directed him to “kill and eat” and that it was “okay” for him to eat these unclean foods.
· And he grew in his understanding through hearing the reports from others about what a God-fearing man Cornelius was.
Peter only turned to scripture for confirmation only after he learned through these multiple experiences over several days that God’s forgiveness is offered to all people without partiality.
So, this was Peter’s aha moment. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality – God plays no favorites.
Too often those believers who think themselves among God’s “chosen” are often inclined to think that that God has not chosen anyone else who disagrees with their beliefs or with their interpretation of scripture. How often do we see this happen today? We label our disagreeable opponents to disenfranchise them. They are “liberal” or “conservative” or “gay” or “transgender” or Jewish” or “Baptist” or “female” or “black” or divorced” – just to name a few.
Yet what has become crystal clear to Peter is that to do so is not the prerogative of pious Israel or anyone else, It is God alone who judges the living and the dead. As one writer notes, “One of the most surprising features of Acts is the diversity of people God calls to be included among God’s people – all of whom are symbolized by the (Gentile) Cornelius.”
Someone has said that American Christians need to have an Acts 10: 28 moment. Of course, they are referring to Peter’s experience in the passage we have looked at today where Peter had his aha moment and declared “… but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Has God shown us that we should never call anyone unholy or unclean? Yes! More than three times. But we still seem to struggle with this very simple concept.
As one writer has said, “I wish Christians today would take this verse to heart. Print it up on t-shirts. Slap that bumper sticker on you SUV. Post and share that meme on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page.”
Peter’s vision and what he learned from it is that God plays no favorites. That means no one is rejected. No one is excluded. Not gay people, not transgender people, not Muslims, not Atheists, not Democrats, not Republicans, not Black Lives Matter, not anyone, anywhere, at any time for any reason.
I’ve had my aha moments, too, on my journey toward the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the faith community. I’m grateful that back in the 80’s when my views on the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church and support for families of LGBTQ families was just emerging in my thoughts that God’s Holy Spirit was working on me. I knew that in the small-town church I served I had a family that before I became their pastor, their son had come out as an adult and had left his wife and declared that he was gay. Well, I bought my first back on the subject of homosexuality --The Parents of the Homosexual Child published in 1980 -- so I could learn more before I talked with this family about their son and show my support and care for them.
Little did I know that forty years later, I would be offering classes for parents whose kids have come out. And now, I am resourcing others who want to offer classes or support for parents when their kids have come out.
When I was a district superintendent in the 1990s when Judy Craig was our bishop. At the General Conference in 1996, Judy was among fifteen bishops who broke with the Council of Bishops and made a public statement at that conference that the doors of the church should be open to LGBTQ+ persons. That statement created a lot of controversy among some congregations in our annual conference including some in the Athens District where I served. As I went out to speak to and listen to these congregations, I was placed in a position where I had to figure out what I believed about God’s love for all people and that being gay was not a lifestyle choice, not something that condemns someone to eternal damnation, but being LGBTQ+ is who people are in their best authentic personhood as children of God.
Then our daughter Lisa came out to us as lesbian twenty-two years ago. As a dad on this Father’s Day, I’m glad that God was already working on me before then to show me that God’s love extends to God’s LGBTQ+ children. I was already on my way when Lisa told us she was gay. I loved her then, and I love her and her partner Melissa today just like I love our daughter Laura and her husband Jason and our two grandchildren.
It was through my witness of the lives of faithful people who happen to be LGBTQ+ and through seeing in the scriptures the love that Jesus came to proclaim that God loves all of God’s children that I was prepared to love my daughter, to offer support for parents of LGBTQ+ children, and to become an ally seeking justice in the United Methodist Church.
Yes, I, too, have had my aha moments where God has showed me that God plays no favorites, and that God loves all. And I’ll probably have more of them in the future because I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet.
Today we are still in a struggle for the soul of the United Methodist Church as we have been for the last fifty years. God is still calling us to be faithful as we welcome and accepts all of God’s children. And while many gains have been made in the larger culture for LGBTQ+ persons, many are still at risk especially LGBTQ+ children who are at a higher risk of suicide.
Transgender persons are especially being targeted in these days. That includes families of transgender children who are in need of support medically and with counseling that some politicians are trying to deny them. I just read on Friday about a resolution passed by the North Texas Annual Conference pledging to defy Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order to have parents of transgender children investigated if they seek life-saving gender-affirming care for their youngsters.
The resolution put the state on notice that more than 600 North Texas clergy, along with nearly 130,000 United Methodists in 277 churches covering 22 counties have declared themselves safe sanctuaries for trans families," said the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Moore, the resolution's author, during a sermon June 12 at St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, a Dallas suburb. "This resolution tells the state that we will not criminalize life-saving medical care that medical authorities say is appropriate for trans children," Dr. Moore said.
I hope it doesn’t come to that in the state of Ohio, but with legislation about transgender children coming before the Ohio legislature, the congregations of the West OH Conference – we -- may be called upon to take up such a stance in support of transgender children and their families. We need to stand with those families and with all LGBTQ+ persons and in these days. We are called to live out the truth that God plays no favorites.
In a devotional I read this spring, the writer said that the ubiquitous “All are Welcome” sign has become disdained in many church circles. She writes that it is not that churches do not wish to welcome all people. The tension is between the desire and the execution. Churches often welcome all who can fit in to the often narrow group of whom the people in that church find acceptable.
The writer continues by asking “What if the new vogue in church signs were, “We See with Christ’s Eyes”?
· A church living up to this sign would hold its traditions and habits lightly. It would create new ways when the old ones cause harm or limit the church’s ability to share love and power.
· The people of the congregation would see themselves as a new generation of apostles sent out into the world to see Christ in others and returning every week for prayer, renewal, and to share stories of the new creation.
· In this beloved community, no one is considered from a human perspective but in the light of divine love.
· People are accepted for who they say they are.
· Good boundaries are established and kept.
· Honesty is valued, encouraged, and praised.
· No one grieves alone. Forgiveness abounds and reparations are respected as necessary.
Indeed, if we want to mean, “All are Welcome,” then we must demonstrate how we see all people through Christ’s eyes.
What would it mean for us and for this church and for the church at large to see with others with the eyes of Christ?
What would happen if we were to seek to live out the lesson that was revealed to Peter in our text today?
The encounter of Peter with Cornelius and God revealing to Peter that none are profane or unclean changed the course of the early church and its mission to all people.
God give us a vision and help us to learn that lesson anew in this day for the sake of all your children including your LGBTQ+ children and their families. Let us have our own aha moment as we realize that love is for all. Let us seek to see others with the eyes of Christ.
It’s God’s own truth: nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites. It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open to you!
So let us seek to live in this day!
Trinity Sunday – June 12, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
In a few minutes we are going to baptize Eleanor.
initiate this beautiful child into this ancient faith.
This is Trinity Sunday, the day when the Christian church
Meditates on the meaning of this foundational
Understand of God.
Its completely humbling to try to preach on,
because we know we can’t approximate it
Its unfathomable, but that shouldn’t stop us. It only means that we will never get to the end of it.
We can spend out whole lives discovering it!
So, I’ll I begin with tears I shed
watching the last episode of a series called Grace and Frankie
The series begins as
Grace and Frankie’s husbands announce
that they were in love with each other
and wantto marry.
And so Frankie and Grace,
who never really cared for one another,
find themselves unhappily sharing a home.
Over the course of the seven years,
lots happens, and they
develop a bond stronger
than any other love in their life
I wept at that embrace
For I have known the power of friendship
In our deepest friendships, and they can come in any relationship,
we are understood beyond words, as Richard Rohr says,
We release ourselves to the trust and shelter
Of another person’s soul.
Who receives our sacred and special identity
As we receive theirs
A holy bond
Deep connection, bonds are in our bones.
Scientists look through microscopes
and see how the elements
the very substance of our cells,
respond to each other’s presence,
Enormous energy is found,
not in the elections and neutrons and protons themselves,
but in the bond that holds them together with such force,
we create nuclear power by separating them.
And on a cosmic level,
The energy of the universe is not the planets themselves
The earth is a rock, it has no power in itself
Yet it moves around the sun and the moon around us,
All creation moves as in a dance.
Cosmic energy is in what is between
the planets and the stars
So if relationality
Is the power of the universe.
From our cells to the cosmos
And love is the bond that binds us as human being.
How could Divine Reality, the source of all that is.
Not be relational in its very essence.
Not some separate and on high,
Some God on Mt. Olympus
Or a distance creator
That started everything with a bang
And then left.
But something that was, in the beginning,
Let us create humans in Our image,
And that image is of a loving being
That power, that bonding, that energy
That we know in our relationships,
And in our cells and the cosmos.
That which draws us together
And unites us with God’s own self
Is God’s being
Everything that is or was or will be flows from this love.
The Christ, the expression of love,
Which flowed into Jesus showed us that.
Jesus, for it would take one of us to teach us
the nature of things:
Let the children come to me, do not stop them, and,
the greatest thing one can do is it give one’s life for one’s friends,
And do not even stop love flowing to your enemies.
And forgive them for they know not what they do.
There were no boundaries, no place
No person that holy love could be separated.
I am in the father and the father is in me, says Jesus in John.
And now you, by the holy spirit, dwell in me
In the Christ that has always been
\Because, then says Paul,
Has flowed into our hearts
Through the Holy Spirit.
Love is the presence of God within you,
moving in you prompting you
To pray, to care, to heal, to give, to serve, to love.
And so when we are drawn to love
To give, to respect, to honor, to sacrifice for another
How can it not be of God?
Regardless of whom it is between.
Indeed, how dare we seek to prohibit it,
To judge, to outlaw it,
In a universe that is alive by the bonds
Between our cells, our stars and us,
Why would we want to halt love’s flow?
Love is not something God does, says Fr. Rohr.
Love is what God is.
“Everything you have ever seen with your eyes
is the self-emptying of God into
multitudinous physical and visible forms “
and that pouring out is God, in three persons,
it is creator, is the Christ, made known in Jesus
it is the spirit that flows into you.
Love is not something you do
love is someone you are.
It is your True Self
where you came from , we say to Eleanor in baptism,
and love is where you’re going.
And love is where you came from,
and where you are going.
This is an icon of the Trinity,
painted by the Russian artist, Rublev
In the 1400’s
Do you feel the gentleness here
the deep peace
and respect between them
as they all share from a common bowl?
And note the hand of the Spirit
pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table!
Is the Holy Spirit inviting someone to join them
Whom else but you?
They are all turned to see you!
C.S. Lewis, the Christian author describes
An ordinary woman,
She has been moved, by an inner prompting to pray.
To pray to be whom God longs within her to be,.
And meanwhile she is standing with Jesus in prayer.
In the company of the body of Christ,
The holy trinity of love is circulating within her very being.
And as with her, so with you.
God the creator,
It is what you are praying for,
God, the Spirit,
It is the prompting within you to pray,
God in Jesus, the Christ.
It is your beloved companion along the way.
So, let us know bring this beloved child, Eleanor, into the faith,
Faith in the Loving Creator, into Jesus, the Christ and into the
Even with all that we do not know,
Trusting that the love of God is with us, and with her
Now and forever.
Rev. Patricia Wagner
June 5, 2022
Will you pray with me?
You are the wind that I feel at my back pushing me closer to you.
You are the flame that lights in me to lead me beyond myself,
Let me be the song that you sing,
Send the Holy Spirit to us today so that we may feel that flame,
the flame of truth, within each of us.
It all began when I was a toddler. My grandmother and mom were sitting on either side of me at the kitchen table and I was going to color while Sunday dinner was cooking. Does this sound familiar? I picked up a crayon and my grandmother, who loved me fiercely…. You know the kind of love that grandparents heap on the first grandchild? They watch everything you do. My grandmother took the crayon out of my left hand and placed it in my right hand. As she curled my tiny fingers around the crayon, she told my mom that every time I picked something up with my left, to place it in my right.
I know my grandmother wanted the best for me and she wanted me to fit in and have an easier life being right-handed, in a right-handed world. She didn’t want me to go against the grain. But my mom loved me fiercely too, and she was a little bit stubborn. She took the crayon out of my right hand and gently placed it in my left again. She said it looked like being left-handed was comfortable for me and they should just let me be myself.
My grandmother and mom both wanted the best for me. But, that tension between fitting in versus being my true self has been one that has stayed with me my whole life.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost. The apostles were in the upper room when they were overtaken by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:4, it says that they “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”. The Holy Spirit gave them the means to spread the Gospel-- to guide all people in the body of Christ. The wind drove the flame of the Holy Spirit on the crowd coming to hear. The Holy Spirit did not discriminate. It was a radical act of inclusivity. We celebrate this as the birth of the church.
Today, we also celebrate the beginning of PRIDE month. Pride is a time for the LGBTQ+ community and those who support and love them to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The celebration is to honor those who have come before, to be more visible in the community, to express the need for equality, and to share a pride in the ability to love themselves and others authentically.
In the Gospel reading today, John 14:15, Jesus calls us to obey the commandments. And you are probably familiar with what Jesus said were the 2 greatest commandments in Matthew 22: “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”. Also, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
It seems simple, love your neighbor -- but it is so easy to fall short. God sends The Holy Spirit to walk beside us to remind us that we are all a child of God and are all worthy of God’s love. And, according to John Cobb, a Process Theologian, Christianity is different from other religions because we are also called by Jesus to even love our enemies.
The basic question is what does it take to love yourself and then to authentically relate to your neighbor in a way to love them also?
I know the Bible warns us about a destructive pride. The kind of pride that is boastful and arrogant, that can be used to hurt others. I want to invite you to think about a different kind of pride: a healthy pride. Rev. Edman (Queer Virtue) explains a healthy pride this way:
“Pride is the self-awareness that gives you strength to get through challenging situations. Pride takes your life seriously, all of it: the good and the hard, the joyful and the agonizing. Patrick Cheng, a theologian, says healthy pride is the affirmation of one’s self-worth. This personal affirmation allows us to be authentic and more accepting of others. Pride takes courage to claim your identity out loud.
I am usually a private person but when asked to speak today I wondered if I could be vulnerable enough to share a little about my own faith journey. I grew up attending an evangelical church. It provided me with a wonderful foundation about Jesus and the love of God. However, as I got older, I began questioning and distancing myself from church and from God. I had internalized messages from the church I grew up in and from others in my life. That message was that I was a sinner just for being who I was and because of who I loved. They did not believe I could be a Christian and be my true self. I felt unworthy of God’s love.
I reached out for support in community. I asked them to walk alongside me as I explored whether I could have an authentic relationship with God. There were some dark nights of the soul as I reworked painful times when people had pointed out how I was not worthy of God’s love. One day, I heard Pastor Patty say something in a sermon that stood out to me. She said, “My heart entered into danger and I found my faith”. That’s where I was, in that danger zone, but I was in the danger zone of losing my faith. Or so I thought.
Then, one morning as I was waking up, the chorus of a song came to me from Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. The chorus goes like this: I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down down, down, and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire.”
Well, that made me think the Holy Spirit was telling me I might be going to the opposite of heaven but it made me curious enough to listen to the whole song. As I listened, I was surprised to find that song is about an all-consuming love. A love that permeates your whole life.
I began doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts from different theologians. In this process – the Holy Spirit became even more real. I began to envision the Holy Spirit as a guide.
I was beginning to see that God was calling me in a new way. God was waiting for me to be open to new possibilities. I gathered my courage to explore creeds, scripture and history. What I found was a journey to freeing Jesus in my life. The flame of the Holy Spirit burned away the shame and unworthiness the church had ingrained in me. I was no longer a scared bud hiding my true spiritual self. My spirituality began to bloom into a confident beautiful flower.
I was able to feel that I have always been a child of God -- no matter what others said to me or about me. I was, I AM beloved. AND the good news is that so are each of you! God made us who we are to be in this diverse world. It took me a long time to find a healthy pride in my spiritual journey. I see now that God asks nothing from us to receive God’s blessing.
Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. It is that simple and that difficult.”
When that love is made aware to you, I promise you cannot keep it to yourself. That flame is present inside of you every moment.
I encourage you to be open to how the Holy Spirit is leading you to have hard conversations. We hear a lot of criticism in the world today but what is gained and makes changes ---is made with love.
Today I don’t worry about how I fit in the right versus left-handed world. I know that I am living authentically and I am an integral part of God’s creation. It’s true, I feel the vulnerability of telling my truth but I also feel the love of God holding me firm.
This truth has cost me friends and maybe some family. I know my family loves me but I often wonder if they love me as the person they want to see or the person they want me to be; not as who I fully am in the eyes of God.
The love between us has been strained over time by the reality of who we each see as God, the loving God of compassion or the punishing God who sees my life as a sin.
There are churches that are leaving our denomination because we have different interpretations of what love looks like and who can fully participate in ordination. I am sorry to say that love has also been strained by politics. It would be negligent not to mention that legislation has been introduced and passed in many states, including Ohio, to strip the rights of LGBTQ+ people and their families.
Despite my vulnerabilities, I stand here today to say LGBTQ+ people exist in our churches. We are devoted Christians too. We long to be involved in every part of the church so we can fully participate together in the glorification of God. I stand here to say that books can be removed from libraries and language can be censured by banning talk about gay people but we still exist. I am also acutely aware as I stand here that there are many who have spoken their truth before me. Some have paid a steep price for their truth. And if my speaking today causes any relationship with me to further strain, friends, I still must be true to who God made me to be.
I have experienced the Holy Spirit at work right here at Maple Grove. I have pride in this congregation because you have let your hearts move into the danger zone that Pastor Patty talked about. You searched your souls and voted overwhelmingly to become a reconciling congregation. I also witnessed the Holy Spirit at work that was so moving when love won and because of that I was married right here in this church!
If I may, I would like speak directly to the LGBTQ+ community; If you are in the process coming out or questioning; maybe you have previously been hurt by the misuse of scripture; maybe you are here in the sanctuary and are wondering if you can say your truth, or maybe you are at home wondering if you can be yourself and affirmed here at Maple Grove. If this is where you are today, I invite you to feel pride in your faith journey. You are deserving of the love and grace of God. Know we are open to walking with you, alongside you, to affirm your place as a Child of God. Come and see what we can do together as a community who welcomes and affirms you, just as you are. You are a beloved child of God.
SONG—No matter what people say, say or think about me, I am a child, I am a child of God…. Choir sings…