A few weeks ago, I was flipping the channels trying to find something to watch. And I stopped on a program that I don't normally watch, called America's Got Talent. I stopped because this young dancer had come on stage – a little 10-year-old boy in a green sparkly jacket. Before he performed, the judges were talking to him, and asking him questions, and that little boy just broke down in tears.
They asked him what was wrong, and he explained to them how he is bullied at school, every day, how the kids at school, especially the boys at school, have made his life such a living hell. They make fun of him, they taunt him, they mock him for not being masculine enough, and for dancing and doing what it is that brings so much joy and light to him.
But the boy then wiped his tears, the music started playing, and he began to dance for the judges and the audience. And they were all so amazed at his incredible performance. He was doing these high kicks and splits and cartwheels. And when he was finished, the audience got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. And when the applause died down, one of the judges said to the boy, “So how do you feel now? And the boy said, I feel powerful.”
I feel powerful. That's what it's all about. That's our purpose for being. We are supposed to be empowering people, especially people who are made to feel less-than by others. Because we as followers of the way of Jesus need to do what he did. And that's what Jesus did. He empowered people, especially the people he called “the least of these,” those who are made to feel less-than by religious and political leaders, those who are made to feel less-than by society.
Jesus empowered the marginalized and the oppressed. He empowered women. He made them leaders in his ministry. And he told them, ‘You may have been made to feel less than, but I'm here to tell you, you are wonderfully made, in the very image and likeness of God.” He told them, “You’re sons and daughters of God,’ he told them, ‘You are God's beloved.’
And as we heard, he told them, ‘You are the light of the world.’
So that's what we're celebrating today, on Open and Affirming Sunday. That's the whole purpose. It is the one Sunday on the church calendar that we in the United Church of Christ put our focus on the LGBTQ community, and the wonderful gifts that they bring to our church and to our world. In your bulletin today, you received a brochure that's all about the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming movement.
When you get home and look through it, you can see it has a timeline of the movement that began more than 50 years ago, when the United Church of Christ ordained the very first openly gay minister. We were the first Christian denomination to do so more than 50 years ago. And then more than 40 years ago, we ordained the first openly lesbian minister, and you can read all about her on the back cover of your bulletin today from the UCC.
Andof course, we're so proud here at our little church. This little church became one of the very first open and affirming churches in the entire United States, more than 30 years ago. We are so
proud of that, because as you know, we're living at a time right now when so many Christian denominations are struggling over this issue.
The Southern Baptists, the Christian Reformed Church, the United Methodist church, the Catholic Church, they're all still at their synods, every year or two discussing and debating and deciding whether LGBTQ people in their churches are worthy of being fully included. It makes me so sad.
We're living in such a divided country right now. Shouldn't church be the one place where you won’t hear that you're bad and broken and unworthy? Shouldn't church be the one place where you come to hear as Jesus said, “You are wonderfully made. You are wholly perfect in God's sight, you are the light of the world.”
So why do all of these Christian churches say that gay people aren't worthy? Well, when you ask them, they say, it says so in the Bible. Being gay is a sin.
But guess what? It doesn't say that in the Bible.
I'll repeat that: It does not say that being gay is a sin in the Bible.
Look it up.
In fact, the word “homosexual” did not appear in the Bible until 1946. Some of you were alive in 1946! So it's not that long ago!
What it does say in the Bible, is that a man who lies down with another man is an abomination, and should be put to death. That's what it says. But that line comes from an Old Testament book written by primitive people 1000s of years before Jesus even lived.
And in this book of laws, they said that it was okay to whip your slaves. They said it was okay. It was a law that you could throw stones at a woman who committed adultery – not a man but a woman who committed adultery. They said if someone sinned, you were allowed by law, by Scripture, to cut off their hand and gouge out their eyes. It said you could slaughter animals in sacrifice to God. And it even called for the deaths of unruly children.
Now, how come we don't follow any of those laws anymore?
How are those Christian denominations okay with us no longer following those other laws?
And when you ask them, they say, “Well, we've evolved as a species.” So my question is, when are we going to evolve on the so-called gay one?
Thankfully, we have evolved as a species. We have. It's what I was trying to get across last Sunday in my message about feeling hopeless at the state of the world. The fact is, we have come a long way.
Can you imagine 2,000 years from now how evolved we will be? These Christian denominations no longer follow any of those other biblical laws, but they still follow that one.
Now, let me tell you what Jesus had to say about being gay. You know, homosexuality was well known in the ancient world during Jesus's time. Here's what he had to say about it: Nothing.
If being gay was such an abomination, that someone should be put to death for it, don't you think Jesus would have mentioned it at least once? I mean, in all of his many teachings about all these different topics, don't you think he would have mentioned it once?
Now, we're very fortunate. We live in Saugatuck-Douglas Michigan. I just drove past Center Street here in downtown Douglas and almost every single business is flying the rainbow pride flag. It's wonderful. But as we know, we're living at a very scary time right now in our country. This year alone, more than 500 anti-gay bills have been introduced around the country. Most of them target the transgender community. And a very scary movement, largely led by the evangelical church in this country, wants to ban books with LGBTQ themes, wants to forbid teachers from saying the word gay in the classroom, wants to ban drag shows, and wants to cancel corporations like Target and Anheuser Busch for aligning and celebrating the gay community during pride month.
And what they're doing is what those bullies did to that little boy dancer. Their objective is to intimidate, to belittle, to silence, to cancel, and to shame the LGBTQ community.
And that's why it's important that we have pride. Because pride is the opposite of shame. When we talk about pride, sometimes those evangelicals say pride is a sin. But it's not that arrogance of pride, it means the opposite of shame. You told me my whole life, that I was less-than, you wanted me to dim my light. But I'm gonna shine it. That's pride.
Jesus, in today's Gospel reading says, No one takes a light and hides it under a bowl, you've put it on a stand for everyone to see.
That's what that little boy dancer was doing. Shining his light for all the world to see. But the boys at school want him to hide it under a bowl. We, my friends, if we are to truly call ourselves followers of the way of Jesus, if we truly say we're members of an open and affirming church, then we have to empower those people in our lives, the members of the LGBTQ community, who have often been forced to dim their lights.
Jesus, in one of his very last words to his disciples, gave his wish for us. And he said, “My wish is that they may all be one.” Jesus wanted us to recognize our oneness with one another.
Oneness is not sameness. That's why we have the rainbow. Now, again, the evangelical church, if you've been paying attention recently, they now have a website, which is called Takebacktherainbow.com. Because they say that the LGBTQ community has stolen the rainbow.
I didn't know we were so powerful.
And they point to the Old Testament reading that Chris read for us. The rainbow is God's symbol of love for and covenant with us.
Well, that's what I'm saying. It is. That's what the rainbow symbolizes. When you see a rainbow, it's to remind you, God loves you, beyond your wildest imagination, just as you are. It's a symbol of God's love for you. And as we heard in that Old Testament reading, for all people. So we have the one white light of God, and it is refracted into all of those beautiful different colors, that diversity. That's what we celebrate during Pride.
And that's what we're celebrating today, my friends on this Open and Affirming Sunday, and in this season of Pentecost. Let us continue to pay attention to the workings of the Spirit, which doesn't fly backwards. The Spirit flies forward. It's always moving us forward. Let us continue to be builders of the kingdom. Let us continue to build a bigger table, to draw the circle ever wider so that we can invite more and more people to it.
A person’s worth is not up for doctrinal debate.
All people are worthy and all people are one
Words of Integration and Guidance
Toby Johnson, from his book, Gay Spirituality
Being gay gives a perspective on human experience that is different from that of the great majority of people. There must be something special and useful to humanity about this perspective, since a disproportionate number of important artists, poets, religious leaders, and spiritual guides in the past were what today we’d call gay. Happy, flourishing gay people transform the world around them. Because the social condemnation of homosexuality is almost always couched in religious terms, this perspective necessarily forces gay people to seek to understand what religion really is. Indeed, gay perspective is itself a religious phenomenon. Gay people have an acute sense of the phenomena of transformation that is at the heart of mystical spirituality. Since the 1950s and ’60s, gay people have transformed themselves and their lives—and their place in society—by changing how they conceived their sexuality. Instead of thinking of it as illness or sinfulness, they chose to think of it in the way that's natural: as love and as attraction to beauty and joy. This shift in perspective has changed everything. Signified by the embrace and proclamation of the word "gay" as a badge of community pride, this shift in self-perception has transformed being gay from a terrible burden to a gift from God. No longer a sin, it is evidence of grace.
What did you think?