Being Gay is Not a Sin

A quick glance at social media and it seems to topic – or controversy – of the yesterday was the Franklin Graham attack on Pete Buttigieg for being gay.

I was pleased to see such pushback against this tweet from a person who is a religious leader through the coattails of his father, and who’s “brand” of Christianity is one of hate, misogyny, nationalism, and bigotry. I am especially bothered by his anti-Muslim rhetoric. That he supports a president who’s words and actions are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus lead me to hang my head in shame at the direction Christianity has gone.

So I agree with calling out Franklin Graham for his behavior. At the same time I am bothered that many of the Tweets and other statements are in the “what about your sin” category. This whataboutism is very subtle in its identification of “being gay as a sin.”

It is not a sin to be who God created you to be!

If we choose to go back to the creation story of Genesis, God created:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” -Genesis 1:27, 31a

We can also remember those words of the psalmist:

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” -Psalm 139:13-14

To all my LGBTQ siblings, you are good, just as you were created. You are wonderfully made. Your existence is not a sin. Your seeking and having relationships that are fulfilling is not a sin.

To all of us that are allies, let’s please be careful with our language so that in pushing back against homophobic rhetoric we don’t unthinkingly hurt our siblings.

More About that Song and the Flag

The other day I shared some thoughts regarding the Pledge of Allegiance (Our Flag and Independence Day). I also shared a song, written by a nun that speaks to my heart. It is so aspirational! Today we used the song, along with a litany that I’ve modified and used throughout the past few years. This year I was unable to say the words. It was so bad I asked the congregation to help by us saying the words with me.

My heart hurts for our country.

P:    As we remember the birth of our nation, and the gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let us offer our thanks and prayers to God, the giver of all good gifts.
For this land, with its peaks and valleys, coasts and deserts, fields and meadows. For the women and men who braved the long journey to come to this new world. For the tribes and nations who inhabited this land for generation upon generation,

                                             How beautiful, our spacious skies, our amber waves of grain,
our purple mountains as they rise above the fruitful plain:
America! America! God’s gracious gifts abound,
And more and more we’re grateful for life’s bounty all around

P:    For patriots who dreamed of, and fought for, a free nation. For the men and women who laid the foundation of our democracy, and who pledged liberty and justice for all. For those who built this country brick by brick, road by road, and town by town. For the brave soldiers who have fought for our country, for all who paid for our freedom by their service, and those who paid by their sacrifice. For the innovators and artists, poets and teachers, farmers and factory workers; for all who labor and provide for the common good. For our own community, for those who came before us in this place, and for our neighbors near and far.

Indigenous and immigrant, our daughters and our sons;
O may we never rest content till all are truly one.
America! America! God grant that we may be
A sisterhood and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

P:    For the United States, that we might always be a nation which defends and promotes liberty and freedom, truth and justice. That we might always be a nation where all are free to worship and pray. That we might be a beacon of freedom to all those who live under the shadow of terror and hopelessness.
That those who are elected to govern and lead, would be guided by you, and be ever aware of the trust that has been given them. That we would be a people who repent from our sins, and who always return to you and to your grace,

How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears,
The courage call for to repent the bloodshed through the years.
America! America! God grant that we may be,
A nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty.

P:    Gracious and holy God of all nations, bless and defend us and our land; prosper the work of our hands, and increase in us your grace and compassion, and our offerings of thanks to you, our rock and our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea,
That dream of peace, non-violence, all people living free.
Americas! Americas! God grant that we may be,
A hemisphere where people here all live in harmony.

Litany adapted from: http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/1673?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=litany-for-independence-day

“How Beautiful, Our Spacious Skies”, Sister Miriam Therese Winter. Hymns, Songs, Rounds and Refrains for Prayer and Praise. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996

 

God cares. Do you?

Sermon for June 24, 2018 based on Mark 4:35-41 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

qrmh6fouqnihdekkaj0ug.jpgLast Thursday I went to Los Angeles to participate in an interfaith religious leader protest. There were probably 250 people of many faiths, with the majority being Christians and Jews. I think there were 9 of us Lutherans. Why would various religious leaders protest? Because not only is justice at the heart of our faith, proclaiming justice to the world is part of our calls.

Right now, we are experiencing a big storm in our land. As we try and navigate I can easily imagine Jesus asleep in the boat. There’s much noise. The waves are huge. And with the wind it’s difficult to do anything. Like the disciples we can’t control the boat. And maybe it seems to some that Jesus is sleeping.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are terrified, so they wake Jesus, saying,

“Teacher! Don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Don’t you care?
That’s been quite the question this week. (And I wrote this sermon before the first lady’s visit to Texas) Don’t you care? How often do we ask this of one another? And of God?

I think the last time that I preached about this story of the disciples frantically calling Jesus “to care,” was at the funeral for Harris. At his service I shared that when I arrive here, he sent me an email. In it he shared a lot of hurt and anger towards our church. In his letter he’d asked me, “don’t you care that I was hurt?” (He had been hurt by the then controversary about same gendered marriage. Thankfully our congregation is now explicit in our welcome of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.)

I responded to Harris, “yes, I care.” It took a while but we were able to have reconciliation here, with Harris and his church. I am grateful that he was able to worship here shortly before his death. It was All Saints Sunday and I remember the hugs amongst those present. I was beautiful. I was also grateful to be able to preside over his funeral. All because I cared. But it’s not really me…as I live out my call as pastor, I am always reminded that it is Jesus who cared then and who continues to care today.

I am thinking about this this week because we too may have the question in the midst of the storm. Maybe we think that after navigating the call to love our LGBTQ neighbors, we were expecting calm seas. But life does not work that way and we are faced with turmoil in our nation. In the midst of the storm we wonder: Does Jesus care? Does God care? Should we care?

Those at the demonstration Thursday care. All of the pastors I know care. Many people in and out of the church care. But sadly, not all Christians care about children being torn from their parent’s arms. Some actually support this. An acquaintance on mine on Facebook shared a video of a pastor literally yelling about how Romans 13 permits the actions now being taken at the border. The reality is that Romans 13 has been historically misused to justify slavery and the holocaust. I wish that all Christians would care.

Especially because the way we treat others is at the root of the call that we have from God. Each day we need to remember that God loves us and that God’s command is that we love God and we love others, especially our neighbors. But it’s not always easy to love our neighbors…in every situation. Especially when we are divided into political teams. Then we might lose the common good because we only see the team.

But those commands to love are not only for those time it’s easy. No, God’s command to love is for all time…when it’s easy and when it’s hard. I’m pretty sure that most of us had difficulty with loving someone in the last week. I certainly did.

Some of us have problems loving immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. And others of us had problem loving those who don’t love immigrants…. This is a big division in our country and in the church. Last Monday I shared on a clergy page that I was feeling crappy about the horrible news. I wasn’t prepared for the responses of fellow clergy who described the difficulty they are facing in their calls, when love of neighbor is now controversial and “political.”

For all of us these difficult feelings are like that big storm and we are all being pushed this way and that way as we wonder what to think and what to care about.

Here are the two, no three things I know…

  1. God loves us…and in that love God cares for us
  2. We are to love others…especially those who are oppressed and poor…as Jesus says, the least of these.
  3. Number two isn’t easy…so the life of faith is not easy.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad either. I think that is what Paul is describing in his letter. His list of what they go through is both good and bad. That is the reality of life.

He wrote:

3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

None of us wants this. The list continues:

6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Life is a mixture of easy and hard. Ugly and beautiful.

All this brings me back to the constant reminder that it is about how we treat one another. When we have hate or when we don’t have empathy we are living against the commandments of Jesus. When we do this as Christians, we are also blocking access to faith because people see us as representing God…or as Paul says, “ambassadors for Christ.”

So, when we are confused in the midst of the storm, we remember that Jesus is indeed present in the world and he is not sleeping. He cares about us. He cares about everyone, especially those who have no power. He calls us to care also because to love is to care. The simple question is then, are we loving our neighbor as God would have us love?

Paul wrote about opening hearts. That is another way to say love. Yes, loving the neighbor might be hard, but it is also the way we are able to experience God’s love in our midst and to share that love with the world.

Protective Love

With permission to use this personal sermon, I’ve changed names to protect privacy.

I don’t remember exactly when this occurred, but my best guess is six years ago. It was definitely in June (or maybe in May). I know the time of year this because it was a graduation party. Another church member, Juanita, and I went as guests of the graduate, Mark, who’d just received his Master’s in Public Policy,

Except for Juanita and Mark, I didn’t know any of those gathered for the celebration (not always the easiest thing for this introvert!). We met Mark’s grandparents and chatted with then over dinner. Boy were they proud of their grandson that day!

Eventually Mark wanted us to meet his mother. She was in the living groom, seated in the middle of the sofa. I don’t remember who or how many people were around her. All I remember is that she looked serene or even regal as she sat there. AND she wasn’t interested in meeting me. Maybe Juanita , but certainly not me! This was my first encounter with Mary.

Why? Why would the mother of someone who’d become a friend have such a negative reaction to me?

Well, we need to back up a bit. Juanita and I were board members at the local nonprofit where Mark worked. That’s how we knew him.

Mark had also been talking to me about matters of faith. He told me once that as a child he’d felt the Call to become a priest. But as a young man, he instead spent some time in a futile effort to prove to himself that God does not exist.

Why? Why would someone who felt that Call to ministry turn his back, or at least attempt to turn his back, on God?

The answer to this question is, also ironically enough, the answer to the question as to why Mark’s mother rejected me at our first meeting. You see, the church had hurt Mark deeply. Just as the church, through the years, even centuries, has hurt countless people deeply. How? By rejecting him because he is gay. By telling him and others that they are condemned solely because of who they are.

Tragically, many Christian churches continue to do this. Mary knew of this rejection. She also knew that I was a pastor. Thus, I posed danger to her son. I represented those who could reject him…those who could harm him. This by the way is something I’ve experienced with others as well. I remember being a new neighbor at a neighborhood gathering. I was introduced to other neighbors as, “This is Nancy, she’s a pastor, but she’s nice.” There’s a lot of history in that “but.” As pastor, I represent what, for some, has been a place of deep hurt and rejection. Mary had no desire that day to know me.

From today’s epistle:

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Here the apostle Paul is writing about the resiliency of what is within…not because of, or through, our own efforts but through the love of God. It is a beautiful and comforting idea. But sometimes that inner nature is undergoing a battle that cannot be seen from the outside. We see that this week in the tragic suicides that are in the news.

Sometimes, what is within and given to us by God is distorted and destroyed by others. If you hear the words that condemn you in the name of God, words like, “God hates f—,” then it becomes difficult to hear anything else.

Mary, as the loving and caring mother that she was, feared for her son. She feared his responding to God’s call on his life, not because she feared God, but because she feared people who claimed to speak for God.

Eventually though, she began coming to Our Redeemer. She was very helpful when we were trying to get a Spanish language worship service going. We used to have lunch after the service. She would tell stories. She would tease. She would laugh. I loved her sense of humor and her laugh.

When she contemplated joining Our Redeemer, she shared her concerns with me. Would the Lutheran Church truly be a place that would love and care for her son? Would he be hurt? Rejected? We talked about these things. She decided to join, just in time to vote! So, she was one of the members who voted that day in August a few years ago to make us a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This in Lutheran speak means that we are fully and explicitly welcoming and affirming to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The vote was nearly unanimous.

A little over a week ago, Mary departed this world. She had been hospitalized for 14 days. I am so thankful that I was able to see her the day before she left us.

More from today’s epistle:

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but a what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 4:17-5:1)

These earthly tents that we have, our bodies, don’t last forever. They fail us. We fail them. We get frustrated with them. We sometimes abuse them. Some of these earthly tents last longer than others. Sometimes we wonder about life. About why some people leave us so early. And why some don’t. The one thing that we can all know is that we too will depart this world. The death of a loved one is always painful. And death is also a reminder that each day we have is a gift.

Living each day as that gift means living with the hope that is within us. Living each day as that gift means living in such a way that we are fierce protectors of those we love. Mary taught this by the way she lived with love for all her sons. For this I am thankful. I am also hopeful, because living as fierce protectors of those we love is our Call from Jesus. May we respond to that Call from Jesus to love and protect our neighbor as fiercely.

 

 

The Power of Love – A Sermon for Pentecost

Yesterday morning I got up at 4:30am. Yikes! Unfortunately this happens pretty often. I wake up early, do some meditative breathing to try and coax my body\ back to sleep and if I’m successful I “sleep-in” until 6:30 or 7:00. If I’m not successful I get up, make coffee and sit down in the den to read the morning news in my iPad, while also listening to it on television.

Yesterday, coffee in hand, I turned on the tv and found the coverage of the royal wedding. Not my thing… So I changed the channel and then discovered that the wedding was on every news channel. Really?!?! I turned off the television and commenced reading my iPad. Which, on Twitter, was guess what? All about the wedding.

But then I saw that Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry was preaching. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing his sermons at preaching conferences. He is a wonderful preacher! So I turned the tv on again and watched, at least the sermon part, of the wedding.

I think we could say that the fact Bishop Curry was preaching was a Pentecost moment. This man, a descendant of slaves is preaching to the royal family in Great Britain. The same can also be said for the bride, the daughter of an African American mother. The members of the groom’s family are descendants of those who participated in the slave trade.

In a world where generational animosity is so often the norm, the fact of this wedding and this preacher is truly a work of the Holy Spirit. And then there was his sermon…all about love…actually about the power of love. As I listened I kept saying to myself, “that’s what I’ve been preaching!” Just not as eloquently as Bishop Curry.

Love…the gift from God to each of us

Love… the command from Jesus that we share this gift with one another and the world.

Love…that is the fruit of our life in Christ.

Love…where the power is.

One illustration that Bishop Curry shared was one I’ve before and it get s right to the Pentecost spirit. He was talking about this fire:

Fire, to a great extent, made human civilization possible. Fire, made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible—there is no—there was no Bronze Age without fire. No Iron Age without fire. No Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.

Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did. I’m guessing—I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire, the controlled harnessed fire, made that possible. Now that the Bible says and I believe that Jesus walked on the water, but I have to tell you, I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and e-mail and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.

And he said, fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. He then went on to say, if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

 

Ahhh…Fire. Power. Pentecost. Holy Spirit.

I love the story of everyone being able to communicate with one another, despite not knowing one another’s language. Everyone from the known world was there. Can you imagine the diversity? The different skin colors, cultures, ways of dressing, and of course languages. It could be like walking through downtown Los Angeles on any given day.

All these different people. It’s beautiful. And more beautiful was that everyone was able to share God’s deeds of power. Now we might be thinking yeah, but I can’t speak any other languages, so I can’t do this. I admit that I wish I could harness the power of the Holy Spirit to better speak Spanish with my neighbors…even more I wish I could harness that power to understand what my neighbor is saying to me. You see, in my experience it is sometimes easier to learn to speak a language than to hear and understand it.

So do we give up and say that this story of God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit and power were for another time? I don’t think so. Instead we must remember that the greatest power is love. The greatest language is love. So the great examples of God’s power that were shared that day were found in love…specifically a love of inclusion, a love that says you all have a place here. That’s pretty awesome.

Now we might still be thinking to ourselves, but we’re too small. We don’t see how we can make a difference. We’re tired…and so on. I know. I also know that anything is possible with God. Just look at the new life described in that wonderful Ezekiel story of the dead and dry bones being reinfused with life. I love that story. Especially as the purpose of that renewed life is so that the people could return to their calling, which was to be a light for the world. To be about loving God and loving neighbor.

Our world is hurting today. This Sunday we mourn the loss of life from yet more mass shootings. We see strife and oppression and exclusion all around us. We see all kinds of reasons for hopelessness. But we all have one bigger, overriding reason for hope and that is in the love that is so abundantly given to us. Love!

I think Bishop Curry’s message was not one for a wedding (although it was) but rather it was a message for a world. For a world that needs to be reminded of love.

Love. That my friends is where the power is.

Amen

A Big Distraction

This is a sermon based on John 17:6-19

I confess that I struggle reading this prayer from Jesus. Whenever I read it, it seems as if the words go in circle after circle. After about the third circle my mind is dizzy and I’m ready to jump off. Maybe this is why I don’t seem to have preached on this text.

But this week, finally, I understood something.

This something is connected to the text (and thus message) for the past two Sundays. Which, duh, of course it is…it is all the same discourse. Except that today, Jesus is no longer instructing his disciples, he is instead praying for them.

Two weeks ago (Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8), we contemplated the vine and the branches. We were reminded that no matter how things may look, we have Jesus. While the vine is pruned, and in a church (or anywhere) this is a might painful process, we have the assurance that we are not pruned away. We have that promise that Jesus abides in us. We are then invited to abide in him. The good news was that his abiding or living in us is not conditional. It just is!

Then in last week’s text (The Greatest Fruit – John 15:9-17), Jesus took us a bit deeper. We were reminded that the fruit of the vine metaphor is love. I shared some delicious fruit with everyone and we talked about those things that distract us the way the abundance of sugar masks the natural sweetness of fresh fruit. The good news, again, is that Jesus loves each of us and he loves us collectively, as a church. His commandment is that we love one another…in the same way.

Sometimes this is hard to do…all those distractions that get in the way of our loving others. Today we are introduced to a mighty big distraction…hate. To get to this we need to weave our way through all that circular language…

About Jesus recognizing the disciples as belonging to God the Father, and yet given to him…

About being in the world but not of the world…

About truth and unity and a plea that the disciples are protected.

About his joy being made complete…as in love being present.

But the world will hate them.

Why? If what they are about is love…love of God and loving one another, why would the world hate them?

What do you think? (discussion ensued of those who advocate for others, like Colin Kaepernick who protests against racial injustice…by the way he was confirmed in a Lutheran church. We also talked about Martin Luther King Jr who’s unfavorable rating at the time of his death was more than 75% and is now over 90% approval.)

Here’s what I think. The world, as it is referred to here, doesn’t much like love. In the world, it is far better that people are divided and distracted. In the world, there is always a winner and a loser. In the world, there is the in group and the out group. In the world, things like racism, sexism, nationalism and other ismsare the currency of the day.

But to love one another means:

Thatwe love beyond the label, whatever it may be.

Thatwe see our neighbor, not as an opponent but as a precious child of God.

Thatwe defend our neighbor.

Thatwe leave our own comfort zones so that we can learn about and build community with our neighbor.

None of this should be controversial. But it is. And so, we might stay silent and inactive because we don’t want to be on the receiving end of criticism… of hate.

But Jesus is praying for us for expressly this reason.

This week I asked on my Facebook feed if anyone has received pushback for doing what was the right thing to do. Here are a couple examples of what I received:

  • We put a sign in front of our church offering a “Blessed Ramadan” for our Muslim neighbors. We were surprised at the negative response.
  • I am an immigrant from Mexico (and an American citizen). I tell the stories of, and advocate for my fellow immigrants. For this I am sometimes told to “go back where I came from.”
  • I once join with other kids in school and became a bully…attacking a fellow student who was Jewish. “Afterwards I felt really bad and went over to his house to tell him I was sorry.” Our relationship was never the same, but we are, thankfully, friends on Facebook today.

We all have the opportunity before us to love or reject our neighbor. How will we respond? Sometimes it’s hard to know…unless we’ve thought about, and even prayed about it in advance.

And that takes us back to today’s gospel, and to prayer. Jesus prayed for his disciples and today that includes us. It is prayer that helps us to see our neighbor. It is prayer that gives us strength in the face of opposition. It is a prayer that gives us hope in the midst of turmoil. It is prayer that gives us the power to love.

Let’s follow Jesus’ example and pray for one another…and then let’s harness the power of prayer so that we can better love God, one another, and our neighbor.

Growing up racist #5…or I never knew that

I’ve been reading the very good, but very uncomfortable to read book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” It’s been a slow read for me, but from an historical perspective I am finally to the 60s, thus to when I was born. One paragraph struck me today because it is such an example of how language perpetuates ideas without our even being aware of it…the topic is language symbolism. Coincidentally I read of this very concept when reading a commentary on Mark’s gospel today. Both are food for thought for Sunday’s sermon. Here is the long quote:

Language symbolism and a conference on race and color in Copenhagen in 1965:

Scholars pointed out everyday phrases like “black sheep,” “blackballing,” and “blacklisting,” among others, that had long associated Blackness and negativity.

The language symbolism was no less striking in two new American identifiers: “minority” and “ghetto.” For centuries, racists had construed Black folk as minors to White majors, and that history could be easily loaded into their latest identifier of the supposed lesser peoples: minorities. The appellation only made sense as a numerical term, and as a numerical term, it only made sense indicating national population or power dynamics. But it quickly became a racial identifier of African Americans (and other non-Whites) – even in discussions that had nothing to do with national issues. It made no sense as another name for Black people, since most Black people lived, schooled, worked, socialized, and died in majority-Black spaces. The term only made sense from the viewpoint of Whites, who commonly related to Black people as the numerical minority in their majority-White spaces, and elite Blacks, who were more likely to exist as the numerical minority in majority-White spaces. And so, class racism – downgrading the lives of Black commoners in majority Black spaces – became wrapped up in the term “minority,” not unlike a term that psychologist Kenneth Clark had popularized after putting aside brown and light dolls.

In 1965, Clark published his seminal text, Dark Ghetto. The term “ghetto” was known as an identifier of the ruthlessly segregated Jewish communities in Nazi Germany. Though social scientists like Clark hoped the term would broadcast the ruthless segregation and poverty that urban Blacks faced, the word quickly assumed a racist life of its own. (364)

Interestingly (sadly) many whites are now afraid of becoming a numerical minority…maybe some of the angst is because of the idea (even if its subliminal) that minority equals “not good.”

I’m sure I’ll read about more but until then, I wonder how many other words are still in our lexicon?