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…