A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
Sermon preached at Christ Church, Hackensack NJ on 29 June 2003: Pentecost III and the Parish observance of Lesbian and Gay Pride Sunday
Lamentations of Jeremiah 3:21-33
Text: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentation 3:22-23
Lloyd Alexander Davis lived during the mid-19th Century. He was a son of the South, a Welshman by ancestry, and a landowner in South Carolina at the time of the American Civil War. Like many of his time he was a decent man and a productive member of the town in which he lived. And like many men he sought a woman to marry with whom he might raise a family. Eventually he found that person, but you see there was a problem. The woman whom he loved was a wonderful mixture of African and Native American blood, and the laws of the state in which they both lived forbade their entering into legal marriage. This was at a time when even the constitution of the United States parceled out the dignity of humanity in fractions for people whose skin was brown like mine. But the two of them were bold. They raised a family, making out of the vagaries of South Carolina society what which they believed to be right for them. And in all of this they conveyed a sense of their forthrightness and courage to their children and to their children's children and in a gracious way even to those who would be their great-grandchildren. One of Lloyd's grandsons remembered his grandfather having said to him, "Look people in the eye. Don't tuck your head before anyone. Because you have nothing to be ashamed of."
My great-grandfather, whose Christian name I bear, instilled in his children a sense of honest pride, and pride is not a bad word. It is not the equivalent of egoism: of thoughtless self-assertion at the expense of others. We can understand what true pride is when we realize that the opposite of pride is shame. It is shame that denies the worth of people when we send them into exile far out of our sight, or even worse when we needlessly hide within ourselves for fear of others or even for fear of God. People do that because they believe or are made to believe that the God who brought all into being and at the close of the act of creation blessed it and called it all good had in some notable cases made some terrible mistakes. Hear me, church: to drive hatefully or fearfully any part of God's creation into the dark corners of shame is to question the very integrity of the Creator. And that act questions the very nature of the God whose property it is never to abandon those who have been divinely fashioned in his own image and who are chosen, called, and blessed by his love.
This is what an ancient poet of Israel recognized. Out of the devastation of the destruction of Jerusalem, out of the grief of a temple removed as the central symbol of worship, and out of the true fact of the disobedience of the chosen people, in the depths of human despair, came to the poet that momentary darkness found when lament and grief rise up in which the writer looked around and began to speculate that in the things that were happening God was punishing, or even worse that God had cut and run. But then in him there grew like the grass growing from the earth by clear shining after rain a thundering truth which looked deep into the mystery of God and returned a ringing affirmation to the gainsayers, even to himself: "NO: The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER ceases, his mercies NEVER come to an end; they are new every morning." And all of this is based on the most wonderful and steady rock of all: the very faithfulness of God.
That is the God that those of us who are Gay and Lesbian members of the church and those who were our forebears as believing Christians affirm. We have made that affirmation over the years at personal risk of earned position and livelihood, some quietly and some not so quietly. We have done this in solidarity with a young White man, Matthew Shepard, who died on a fence under the sky of Laramie, Wyoming and with a young Black woman, Sakia Gunn, who recently was killed by those who shouted words of hate at her near Church House in Newark. We make that affirmation, because we believe, as one friend of mine once said, that if there is no other place where a person should be able to speak the truth about himself or herself, it should be in the church. And we make that affirmation even as we hear both at home and abroad frightened and frightening words from frightened fellow believers who wish in the name of Jesus we would just go away.
But there is plenty good news, because we believe in the God whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies are without end. We believe that the very water with which we have been baptized and the very Eucharist that feeds us make us worthy to stand before our God and never to tuck our heads. We do not go away because we believe that God has a reason for our being here and that in the family of God there are no stepchildren. Our willingness to be who we are and to claim God's blessing, just as the bleeding woman in the gospel story did as she defied laws of clean and unclean, of gender and rank, and grabbed after Jesus' robe in order to be healed, is an act of witness to that belief. For in the end it is not our righteousness, or our perfection or lack of it that makes any of us worthy to stand before our maker and redeemer, but rather God's steadfast love and faithfulness. We make the witness do because we are profoundly thankful to the God whom we love for making us who we are and as we all are: the royal sons and daughters of God's own gracious rule.
And that thankfulness remains at the heart of this particular community Christian community in Bergen County, New Jersey. God love Christ Church Parish for keeping this day of pride: not all do! God love the people of this church for its open hand and open heart: not just of welcome but of affirmation and inclusion of all whom it seeks to serve! And God bless this parish in its future as it strives in prayer, in word, and in action for a church and society where all men and women are empowered for the work of mission and service, faithful to the great God whose faithfulness stands at the very heart of our lives.
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