Monday, June 22, 2009

More Light Sermon, June 14

Here's the text from the sermon Carol gave on More Light Sunday at Southside Presbyterian church, June 14, 2009, Tucson. More Light Sunday is a tradition in Presbyterian churches that want to celebrate the gifts of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans folks in their congregation. Currently the Presbyterian church does not ordain leaders who are gay. Carol grew up in the Presbyterian church and around the age of 12 started getting inklings of becoming a Presbyterian minister some day. She was ordained a deacon in the Presbyterian church as a teenager. Presbyterians ordain lay people, you see. But these days Carol pals around with the Episcopal tribe.

It is a real honor to be with you today. This church lives out what it means to be the beloved community and to share good news. Thank you for your witness not just to Tucson, but to the world. And thank you Alison for inviting me to speak to your community on this Sunday when you are celebrating the lives and gifts of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered folks. It’s really something for me to be here today. It’s humbling and challenging and encouraging.

18 years ago, this exact week in June, I attended the Presbyterian General Assembly. I was a youth advisory delegate. We met in Baltimore. And the hot topic that year was the Report on Human Sexuality. At that national gathering of Presbyterians, I voted to deny gay and lesbian people from serving as leaders in our church. Little did I know that I was voting against myself.

That summer I was also the editor of my university newspaper and I published a column about it. I voiced my absolute approval of the Presbyterian church’s action. The church should be like a lighthouse, I wrote, shining out truth, no matter how loudly the waves of our culture clash against rocks. Pretty poetic and dramatic, eh? At that time, I thought the scriptures were clear on the matter. I personally wanted nothing more than to please and serve God. And God’s way seemed straightforward.

So, how in the world, 18 years later, do I stand before you in this Presbyterian congregation on More Light Sunday. How do I stand here as a woman wearing this ring to proudly announce to the world that I have made a commitment to love and cherish another woman for the rest of life? How do I stand before you today with the good news that the love of God is surprisingly bigger and deeper and more creative than we might imagine.

How, indeed?

In the gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus tell this parable about the mysterious way God works.

"The kingdom of God is as if someone scatters seed on the ground, and then goes to sleep and gets up again the next day, day after day, and then the seed sprouts and grows, she does not know how.”

I’m part of an intentional community called the Restoration Project. And one of the things we are doing is growing a garden together. It is quite a learning experience. One of our housemates planted some squash seeds early on in one of the garden beds. At first I diligently watered the dirt. Some of the squash came up and other seedlings started to take off except a couple of the areas where some of the squash seeds were. I figured they were just bad seeds or something. I told my housemate, I think those seeds didn’t make it. She said, "Let's just wait. You never know."

And then I got busy and other people were watering the garden for a few days. And the next time I went out there, there was a squash plant, and several days later, there was another one. It’s like they came out of nowhere. And, I don’t mean to get all Jesusy about it. But one of those zucchini plant is now truly the biggest one in the garden. It was kind of hard to believe when I first saw it. I wasn’t sure how it happened.

And that’s a lot like the way God has worked in my own life. I might not believe it if it had not happened to me. I’m not sure why I’m surprised. Jesus tries to warn us. When the seed of God gets planted in you. Watch out. Transformation is on its way. And it’s not just about you. It’s going to be for the whole community.

Could you imagine, if you could talk to a seed, and tell it. Look little guy, this tree is what you will become. I bet it would laugh. Or just not believe you. The seed might say, No, thanks. I like being a seed. I could syphathize with a seed like that.

It took me a while to come fully alive. To live into the edges of all that God intended and wanted for me. Years after that Presbyterian General Assembly, when I began to question my sexuality, I didn’t want to believe it. At first it was too much. At that time I placed all authority in life outside myself: in the bible as others had explained it to me, in the church, in a God that left no room for my own passions and experience, in a God that seemed to want me dead, or at least to be miserable.

When you are like a little seed, buried in dirt, awaiting transformation, you can’t see what’s going to happen. And it’s scary. That in between place, between being planting and the harvest.

And so I can have compassion on those in the church who are in that place about what to do with gay folks. It’s a frightening thing to let go of what you thought God was like. To die to all that came before, and not quite understand how a harvest of anything good could come.

We might not understand it. But this is the way God works. And the scripture tells us, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to God’s purpose.

When Jesus healed people it was a sign of God’s kingdom. And when he healed people, part of the healing included restoring people back into community. When I was coming out I couldn’t stand to go to a Presbyterian church. It was too painful to listen to all the familiar songs and scripture that I had heard for years as condemnation, not good news. At the beginning it was hard enough to fight for my own life, I couldn’t also fight for a place in the church. But at the same time I was led into a progressive Christian community that held me while my faith fell apart and then helped me begin to rebuild.

Looking back on that time I spent buried in the dirt, when I was struggling to come out, I can now see that God never abandoned me. God wasn’t trying to hurt me. God just wanted me to be fully alive, to have abundant life, to grow toward the light.

It is not unreasonable for God to do things that surprise us. Or through out time, for our faith communities to be led by the Spirit into new places that surprise us. Jesus talked about the reign of God in very surprising and subversive ways. Jesus himself was surprising and subversive to the way many things of his day were understood.

In history, the bible has been used to justify slavery and to stop women from being ordained. We can now see that it is reasonable and faithful to see those verses and teachings in the context of their time.

When we hang in there with God, there are gifts. There is a harvest after all the transformation. In my life, coming out was like a crowbar that opened my heart up to God’s love. Realizing I was gay and being honest about it put me on the margins of the church and in much of society. And even that is a gift. As a white person in the United States, I was blind to much of my privilege. Coming out helped me gain some understanding of what it is like to live on the margins. It opened my eyes to see others on the margins. And to see the injustices. And helped me gain more understanding about Jesus and all that he taught. Because he preached to folks on the margins. Under the thumb of an Empire.

When Jesus told stories like today, and talked about the Kingdom of God. I think he was being subversive. One of the ways to think about the kingdom of God, or reign of God, is the way things would be if God’s way was lived out. And that’s very different from the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, or some of the parts of Empire we live under in the United States.

The reign of God is a revolution of love that subverts the status quo. And it is very queer. I’m sorry if some of you take offence to that word, queer. These days emerging generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have reclaimed the word queer. I like it because it puts me in solidarity with everyone else whose sexuality and gender identity puts them on the margins. And it also points out that I’m not trying to pass as straight. I am queer. I’m not trying to fit into the status quo. I don’t see the world as others might. I’m queer. And so was Jesus. And so is the kingdom of God.

This kingdom isn’t a place you could visit, like the state of Arizona. It seems Jesus was saying it is more like a state of mind. When we begin to live into the reality of how things are and could be through God’s eyes, we’ll be seen as queer by the powers that be. But Jesus let us know through his teaching and death and resurrection that those other powers are of no consequence. It’s God’s Empire, God’s way of doing things, God’s family that matters.

And where God rules there is liberation and freedom for all people. In this day and age, liberation and freedom for all people is pretty queer.

When God rules in our hearts the Roman Empire or the United States Empire isn’t the final word. When God rules in our lives, the religious authorities or the denominational powers that be don’t have complete power over our lives. When the seed of God gets into our mind and heart and life, it takes root and we begin to know that we are God’s beloved. We are not powerless in the face of absurd and power-driven hierarchy. We are not merely victims of prejudice and fear. We are the beloved. We are friends of God. And together we can live into the reality of the reign of God in the here and now.

The Presbyterian church may try to stall and squash the ordination of people like me for the time being. But not even the Presbyterian church can stop the kingdom of God. The Presbyterian Book of Order might officially forbid queer folks from enacting religious rituals in the name of the church, but they can’t stop us from living in the name of God. We will still embody the good news. We will still heal and bless and proclaim that all of life is sacred. And we do it in the name of God.

No matter if you are queer because of who you love, or queer because you follow Jesus. The powers that be can’t silence you either. They can’t stop us. We are part of God’s Reign. We are God’s beloved community; we already have our marching orders. Forget the official papers, or permission slips. There is nothing stopping us from going right on ahead and making the Reign of God reality right here in our lives and community.

Following Jesus’ lead: We can feed those who are hungry right in this courtyard outside.
We have permission to give water to those who are thirsty in the desert. Nothing is stopping us from writing letters and visiting those locked up and treated badly in our prisons.
Or from welcoming strangers into our homes with radical hospitality.

No matter if you call yourself a More Light church or not, you can go ahead and welcome all people into the beloved community, You can welcome compassionate lesbians and gay men, bi-sexual moms, gender-queer teenagers, beautiful drag queens, and sexy drag kings, folks who are right in the middle of transitioning to the gender God made them on the inside, and all the good and faithful people who are just questioning everything.

When the seed of God’s justice and love is planted in here, we’ll do all those things and more. We’ll know that we are the beloved And Love will grow in us. And we will be a force of love that this neighborhood and town just can’t get rid of. We will send out our roots deep and strong. We’ll be a shelter for all those who need a home. And we will love. And we will demand and work toward justice for all.

Jesus said that is what God’s kingdom is like. And that it is here. It is among us and in us. Right now. We have no excuses. God’s kingdom is here and it is coming. So come on. Let that seed of God grow in you, if you dare, if you really want to be fully alive. And let us go forth together, to live and love in the name of God.

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