Celebrations and parties do not come easily for me.? The older I am getting, the sadder I get at funerals.? But, that?s truly an acceptable reality in my hard-forged personality.? I was taught early on in life that some losses are just so sad; now mind you, I was also admonished for being too sad in public?that was not so acceptable.? But happiness and celebration are tenuous in my psyche.? I think in the old-time religion and tightly wound puritanical piety that named my growing up years, happiness was somehow akin to sinfulness.? It was like, ?How dare you be happy with all the bad stuff that is the world.?? We would then be sent out to the barn to do chores to rid ourselves of our propensity toward feeling joy.
With that confession in mind, I, with many of you, could not be any happier that last week the Supreme Court, those same activist conservatives that allow mindless amounts of money to influence politics and who have given corporations religious rights, those same jurists refused to hear Indiana?s appeal of the ban on gay marriage, not only in our State but in many others.
I am still anxious to be happy because I?m afraid of what might yet be a hurdle and I don?t want to be disappointed.? But God knows the depths of despair and the sense of alienation and utter confusion that have lived in the hearts, souls, minds and bodies of our GLBTQ friends and their forebears since the beginning of time when traditional marriage and heterosexuality became chiseled in stone in most societies understanding of human sexuality.? A new day has dawned to be sure.? It has been coming into popular awareness for many years and we are alive and able to smile and celebrate and witness legally the joining together in love not only men and women, but now woman and woman and man and man, and recognize the fluidity that exists between all those people.
In my computer files I have one for marriage ceremonies.? I can go in and very quickly add new names and have minimal time involved in preparation for a standard ceremony.?? A few weeks ago someone?s wedding ceremony was thrown into crisis because the family minister who was to do the wedding got mad at someone and pulled out with only three days before the event.
I got a call from a former acquaintance here in Bloomington who now lives in Florida.? Her niece was the upcoming bride and she asked if I could step in and do the wedding.? I responded in the only way that I believe represents the reality of God in the face of love that wants to be joined together and do more as a team.? This wedding was down around Harrodsburg in a horse barn and it was hot.? Under my robes I was dripping on the floor.? In addition, I really didn?t know anyone at the wedding. I was the substitute just trying to get my job done.
For the second time in forty years, the bride discovered 10 minutes before the ceremony that she did not have her veil.? I was standing outside and I heard her cuss and exclaim, ?I will not get married without my veil.?? Life is just this way.? She lives on the east side of Bloomington and so we entered a waiting period of an hour, and, fortunately or not, they decided to open the bar, which kept most of the crowd happy.
The long and the short of it is that I don?t memorize sermons or Scriptures or wedding words.? I?m lazy.? I count on my script.? I got to the end of the wedding and was ready to pronounce them as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs?, but my script was left over from my last gay wedding and I read, ?I now present to you as husband and husband?.?? It is a new joyous day and I am so happy to be able to make a mindless mistake that names the new realities that we are living into.
First United Church of Bloomington?..I take us for granted more of the time than perhaps I should.? We are in our congregation denominationally linked to both the American Baptists and the United Church of Christ.? We are a merged congregation.? It?s not that one person is American Baptist and another United Church of Christ.? We are merged, together, we are a new one, more, I prefer to think, than either or.
This day of highlighting our status of being Open Welcoming and Affirming of our GLBTQ status was begun by the American Baptist side of our denominational partnership.? There are around 1.5 million American Baptists in our country.? There are only 100 ABC/USA congregations that have gone public like this congregation, and although there are over 300 congregations on the UCC side that are open and affirming, the number of so-called Christian church organizations that have chosen to date to be faithful to openness and diversity is extremely and sinfully low.
To some degree the Supreme Court makes decisions according to the law and more often than any of us cares to note they make decisions on social issues only after a majority of the country agrees on an issue.? That methodology left Africans in slavery and segregation for centuries and our GLBTQ friends as second class citizens.? Even our friends who are disabled did not find Supreme Court favor until 1990 and we still treat mental illnesses more often as a sin rather than as the diseases they are.? It is sad beyond belief for me that the plurality of citizens now recognize equal marriage and gay rights while a vast plurality of those in our churches do not.? It is appalling to me that our court system is more moral and reflective of equality than are our churches.
Our member and friend, Dr. Mark Hickman, whose funeral we held here yesterday, visited our church for three years before he officially joined.? I was trying to pick on him one day about his reluctance to become one of us.? He said to me quite sternly, ?I had to wait to see if you were serious about being different and able to maintain your position of being open, welcoming, and affirming over the long term.?
A plurality of people in our society think of themselves as being significantly religious.? Fewer and fewer of them will bother to attend any church because they think that we are, at the heart of our organizations, more interested in the saving of our organizations, demanding adherence to creeds whose meanings have ceased to be, and that we are not seeking above all to be about solving the true and obvious needs of people and the earth.
Most of you know I am a decidedly Jesus oriented preacher.? I am always seeking to remind myself of what was most important to Jesus.? He fed the masses both literally and figuratively.? He challenged the abuse of power in government, religious, and family authority.? He gathered together and affirmed the eternal worth of the masses abused under the heel of powers over them.? He demanded that employers be highly ethical and moral and that workers be fully invested and valued by their employers.? He sought out the minorities in his society and lifted them up to be seen as equals.? He sought to bring healing to the sick, the imprisoned and the maltreated.? He demanded justice and provided mercy and he died rather than walk backward in the face of opposition.? He lives because the love that he marshalled would not stop simply because of his death.?? The followers of Jesus came to believe that God was so moved by the love of Jesus that Jesus was exalted in the life after death and further was to be exalted by our living like him in our daily walk.
The church of Jesus Christ came to believe over the centuries that Jesus came to provide us with eternal salvation from our sins and that by joining the private club we could be among those saved.? I suspect that, while that was a very successful stewardship campaign, it misses the mark, sinfully so, at the salvation, the wholeness that Jesus lived.
Living like Jesus, dedicated to the people and the causes that Jesus was dedicated to, means that we are saved to be free of the controlling organizations and methods of this world?governments, religions, families, corporations and tribes.? We are free, living lives of loving compassion to show the world that, if God had God?s way, the Kingdom of God, if you will, there would be no scarcity, for there is more than enough for everyone.? There are no immigration concerns in God?s realm because there are no national and international boundaries, because everyone belongs intimately in God?s family.? There is no racial disparity and certainly no color blindness.? When God sees black people God delights because God gifted them with color and wonders why we see it any differently and certainly not with personal malice and violence and continued participation in systemic racism.
When I was a child my oldest brother was so blind to reality.? I remember when my folks would leave to go somewhere, I would always have to remind and ask him, ?Who died and left you boss??? We should not ever assume that just because we have the power, that God intended for us to have it?that is a pathetically arrogant supposition.
And, if we have power, we must always be asking ourselves the question, ?How would God have us use the power that we have been gifted to exercise??? ?The answer undoubtedly somehow has to be how Jesus used power?sacrificially, generously, with forgiveness, with mercy, with an eye toward the outcast, and with demands of fairness and equity from those were abusing their power.? Our faith requires us to be aware of the way the world works, but to do it, to live it, the way God prefers it to be done.
I hope that you rejoiced with me when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to seventeen-year-old Malala for her heroic struggle and how she has shown by example that children and young people can contribute to making all the difference in the world.? Also honored, of course was 60-year-old Satyarthi, who has led the movement in India against the exploitation of children for financial gain.? Both of these people, a Muslim and a Hindu, are committed beyond themselves, at a deep spiritual level, which speaks not shrilly or ever out of fear, but with a positive strong gentleness that injustices against the least of these are not acceptable and indeed are injustices against all loving, supportive people in the world.? They are not moved, these two recipients, by money or profit or fame, but by justice for the oppressed.
They are living in the heart of God, and so far, against tremendous odds, the world is changing, individual lives are changing, and hope is being born in the darkest of places.
Let us join them.? Let us risk being in God?s heart. It is selfish to say I have God in my heart, as we are called to give ourselves to God.? I celebrate and am so happy as we celebrate our open, welcoming, and affirming realities, but I am feeling the call of God to go deeper still and look forward to our walk into the light of God, the lure of God, the love of God, the challenge and the risk of God.
God is calling you, us, me to more than balloons and rainbows.? Will you follow where you know you are called to go?