10.11.11 Rising Above: a sermon for Coming Out Day

This is Laura’s sermon from the TN Valley Pride Ecumenical Worship Service at Pilgrim Congregational Church, Chattanooga, TN, October 11, 2011

Matthew 5:14-16

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.


This past weekend, I was in Chicago with a group of other Presbyterian pastors. Our colleague, Michael, who serves a church in the city, was giving us a tour.

As we were walking through Boystown, a gay neighborhood on the north side of town, we came up to Lake View Presbyterian Church, and Michael told us the extraordinary story of this faith community.

Lake View was an aging, declining Presbyterian church who had seen the neighborhood around them change dramatically in the 100 years since its founding.

One day, the leadership of the church began to reflect on their ministry and realized how different the community within the walls of the church was from the one outside of it. So they offered a gay Sunday School class… and then more fellowship opportunities for the GLBT community. And before they knew it, as older members aged and died, the congregation was transforming into one almost entirely of GLBT folks from the neighborhood. It was growing and thriving.

And then, after a few years, just as they were living into this new identity as a gay church, something remarkable happened:

Lots of straight people began to show up too – individuals and young families who were drawn to the church, because they desired (and wanted their children to grow up in) a community of faith that embodied the radical inclusion of Jesus Christ that they saw in the gospels.

They are not a gay church.

They are not a straight church.

They are the church.

We need more stories like this.

We need more churches like this.

More than ever, GLBT children and teens are bullied at school, on playgrounds, online, on their cell phones.

The rate of teen and young adult suicide continues to be shockingly higher than that of their straight peers. And so many of these bullies feel justified in what they do because their church says it’s ok. And not just ok, but blessed by God based on twisted interpretations of scripture. And sermons from many ministers continue to fuel this prejudice. But the church is more than those voices of hate and exclusion.

Today is National Coming Out Day. And in addition to celebrating with and advocating for those who are able to proudly declare who they are and who they love, we also remember those whose voices were silenced all-too-early.

Tonight, candles are lit in solidarity with the vigils happening around the country tonight in remembrance of GLBT victims of suicide, violence, and bullying. The candles stand as a witness to them and to our ongoing commitment to stop the cycle of hate.

Emily Heath is a United Church of Christ Pastor in New York: A few months ago, she was one of many clergy lobbying for marriage equality in the state. After the legislation passed, she was celebrating with lots of other people at a local club…. the DJ there grabbed a mic and proclaimed how happy he was that the Senate had “pissed off all the Christians” that day.

She writes of her reaction to that statement:  “At first I was angry. I had fought alongside many other clergy for this victory, and his attack felt unfair. But then I realized that the fault wasn’t with the DJ. It was with those of us in the mainline who have been too reluctant to proclaim our beliefs with a voice loud enough to counter a voice of exclusion, intolerance and inerrancy coming from other churches.” (from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/mainline-christianity-public-relations-problem_b_993126.html)

We as people of faith and leaders in the church need to do more.

In a world where the church is synonymous with homophobia, judgment, exclusion, we need to offer a different witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ – the gospel that proclaims good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free.

Good news that sits down for a meal with people on the margins of society.

Good news that celebrates each individual as a gift, created in the image of God.

Good news that offers healing and reconciliation to all.

That is the kind of church we are called to be.

We are not called to be a gay church.

We are not called to be a straight church.

We are called to be the church of Jesus Christ – where all are loved and welcomed and celebrated just as God made them.

We have hidden this good news under a bushel for far too long.

It is time for the church to come out and let our light shine . . . to rise above the walls of prejudice and homophobia that have prevented us from loving and welcoming others with the same radical love Jesus modeled for us.

Let’s rise above the hate.

Let’s be the church God has called us to be. Amen.

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