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Sunday, June 9, 2024

“Including You”

(The manuscript below may deviate from the sermon delivered in worship)

Twelve years ago, you became an open and affirming church. You joined a movement that started in the 1970s and 1980s, a movement to encourage churches to become inclusive of LGBTQ people, not just to tolerate them in the pews, but to welcome them and celebrate their lives. Unlike some churches where LGBTQ people are only allowed to worship in the pews, we fully affirm their many gifts and ways they can serve Christ through the church by participating fully in its life. We can be pastors and ministers, to be chaplains, to be open about who we are as we serve on church boards and church councils.

As an early church father wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

The open and affirming movement has led to a more inclusive, wonderful, and vibrant church. The most common response an Open and Affirming congregation hears from people interested in joining is that we truly are a welcoming place. They want their kids to be raised in a place where whoever they are. they will know that they are loved.

To be an open and affirming church is to see God in each and every person. Being a welcoming church for LGBTQ people is a marker that we welcome all people, that all people are worthy of love and dignity, and that all people can fully experience what it means to be human. Of course, the open and affirming movement is near and dear to my heart because you have called me to be your pastor.

Today, I’m going to talk about what it means to have a chosen family, what it means to think of the kingdom of God, and to think of a chosen family as a reflection, a microcosm of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’s family hears that he is back in Capernaum, the town where he based his public ministry. His family goes to find him and to restrain him, for people are saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” The Gospels do not paint a clear picture of whether Mary and Jesus’ brothers always understood what he was doing.

After Jesus is accused of having a demonic spirit, Mary and his brothers find where he is. They pass a message through the crowd. We can imagine it: Jesus’s mother wants to see Him. Jesus’s mother wants to see Him. His mother wants to see Him. His mother wants to see Him.” Then, the message finally makes it to Jesus. Jesus hears it, and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He looks around at the people circled around Him, the people who have been listening to Him, who have been feeding on what He has been saying to them, and He says, “Those who do the will of God are my brother and sister and mother.”

The people around Him are a chosen family. They have decided to answer the call, to gather around Him, and to know Him as the head of their family.

Chosen families are the people to whom we are not related biologically but are related by common interests that have formed a bond greater than friendship.

Stories like this have inspired so many LGBTQ people over decades, perhaps centuries. When some LGBTQ people were expelled from their houses by their parents, they often went to big cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Denver, and others. Places where they could find people like them. They went to places where they could be themselves. Many of those places were local bars. Church wasn’t a place they could go.  So, they socialized and met in these places, formed friendships, and chosen families. They took care of each other.  During the AIDS crisis, when parents continued to disown their children, the bonds of friendship and solidarity of that time grew. Funerals were held not with their biological family but with their chosen family.

This remains to be true: 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. This is a proportionate percentage. Only about 10% of youth identify as LGBT in the United States. While not the only factor, one of the major factors is they have been kicked out of their homes. 

Chosen families are not just for those who have been abandoned by their families and societies. Churches are a kind of chosen family. We’ve been called together to be a family dedicated to living the will of God, to living the kingdom of God. 

Jesus tells some parables about what it means to do the will of God.  Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. 

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A mustard seed is tiny, but when planted, it grows and expands. It becomes a shrub and grows into large branches so birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

As a parable, we can interpret it. The kingdom of God may start small, but it does not remain so. It expands and grows, and it says you are included too.

All kinds of people are welcome to be in the protective shelter of God.

The kingdom of God is a place of diversity.

Some of the most spiritual times, I have had is walking in the Pride Parade. It is one of the most diverse crowds you will ever see. Every different type of person is there: there are moderates to liberals, moderates to conservatives, anyone who embraces LGBTQ people, and there are people who protest against it.  Black and white, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, atheist, people with kids, people without kids, people with chronic conditions, people with mobility issues—they’re all gathered. It is a festive celebration, to show support, to be a sign that we are not alone.

It’s a joy as we churches walk in the parade. People are shouting happy Pride and we are wishing them happy pride, too.

I want to make a quick note about that. Often a response to hearing Pride Month, a person thinks of the seven deadly sins. 1. Is that that you won’t find that list in the Bible. It was a list compiled after the Bible was written (Tertullian). You can find biblical verses that list these as sins but not as a list. 2. The pride reference in this list really is hubris and arrogance.

This kind of Pride is best understood in the context of shame.

Before denominations like ours helped shape American culture to be more open and inclusive, gay folks were made to feel bad about themselves. A friend of mine, who is over 90 years old, tells a story of being a teenager and seeing the cover of a magazine. On the cover, it had pictures of people: a picture of a murderer, a picture of a robber, and A picture of a gay man; the point of the pictures on the cover, all of these are criminals.

At the time, having a gay child was something to be ashamed of. It was something for a gay person to be ashamed of. Don’t be who you are.

When we say Pride, we are saying I will no longer be ashamed of who I am and will no longer hide who I am.

 When we churches walk, oftentimes as we do so … people clap.

When we church walk past, I like to say God’s blessings to you to the people. I have never been yelled at for doing so. Most times, the person says thank you. Sometimes even apperceive tears.  Their response is a spiritual moment for me. I, as a clergy person, recognizing them helps heal some of the pain the Christian Church has inflicted upon them.  I get to be a sign of God’s unconditional love.

Everyone who walks in the parade leaves with the same experience of joy. 

Have you ever offered a blessing for someone, anyone? Perhaps try sometime. We all need a blessing from time to time. 

The LGBTQ inclusion movement isn’t just for us. It encourages everyone to be who they are and to express themselves as they want.

So long as you do not harm yourself or others, be who you are.

We are so blessed to be a congregation that says, you are included, including you.

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