Generations of Strength


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On this SF LGBTQ Pride Sunday, Rev. Victor leads us in a celebration of some faithful reformers of our time, those who would not remain silent, prophets who told the truth for the sake of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Upon whose shoulders do you stand? Who helped to make you…you?

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

As we work together with [Christ], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says [through Isaiah], “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

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This Is Me

The song[1] you just heard is from The Greatest Showman, sung by a woman with a beard. Have you ever had to say “this is me” — this is who I am, and I cannot be someone else? On this Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people pour into San Francisco for the LGBTQ Pride celebration, it’s good to hear people claim “this is me.”

Superpowers, Activate!

The call came to me through the emergency line here at Calvary. When there’s an emergency, our phone system can find me and ring my personal phone. It doesn’t work every time, and most calls involve asking whether someone has turned in a scarf or cell phone, or what time does the concert start. It’s an emergency line, people.

So, thanks to the miracle of technology, through satellites and cell towers, the emergency rang, and I answered. A deep voice explained to me that his daughter had lost her insulin and he had been pickpocketed and they used to have a place to stay for the night but now they don’t and would I please send him money from Calvary’s Care Fund.

I asked him his name. He told me, but I could not find him in our church database. “When did we meet,” I asked. “Just a few weeks ago,” he replied, explaining how we’d been introduced on the steps of the church after worship. I grew suspicious.

And how, he asked, is my lovely wife Lou?

“She’s fine,” I replied, adding, “I’m going to hang up now and call the police.”

In that moment, I was like boom! I had revealed his deception, saved the Care Fund for those who really need it, and kept my cool long enough before bursting out in gales of laughter. People think that because religious people espouse this idea that “all are one” that we are somehow idiots. We are called to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents. I assume that the caller was reading staff profiles on our website, wherein Lou’s gender is undefined.[2]

This guy’s request was grounded in deception, and it was a blatant lie. Lying is wrong.[3] His lying helped to drive a wedge of suspicion between me and the honest people who really need financial assistance from our Care Fund.  Driving little wedges of division is what sin is all about. Oneness — Unity, Reconciliation, Inclusion — is what God is all about.

Prayer for Illumination

Jewish prayer begins with this reminder (sung): Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad.[4] From Deuteronomy, “Hear this, Israel: The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.”

Imago Dei

Before we can make sense of the Bible, we must remember what God is and who we are. Before we can make sense of this world, we must remember what God is and who we are. Scripture teaches that all are created in God’s image, the imago Dei. Male and female God made us, in God’s own image.[5] That means that you are “a chip off the ole Divine block.”[6] There is something in you that has everything in common with something in me.

This is our strength, true superpower, an undefiled spark of divinity no one can ever take away. They may try, and they may get pretty good at trying. Either intentionally or carelessly, people will try to deny your imago Dei. but they cannot succeed in robbing you of your birthright. You are made in image of God!

Namaste

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Sanskrit word namaste. We encounter this word in many places: printed on candles and yoga pants,. Namaste is the name of pizzerias and gift shops. Namaste means the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you.[7] I might as well Christianize it, since I’m a Christian: the image of God in me recognizes the image of God in you. Why, then, would I ever oppress you, degrade you or harm you? If I harm you, I would only be harming myself. This sense of oneness is what the apostle Paul urged in the Early Church. A reading from his letter to Corinth:

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
As we work together with [Christ], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says [through Isaiah], “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

Do not accept the grace of God in vain. I associate the concept of costly grace with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but here it is from the pen of Paul. Costly grace means that God came to us in a human body named Jesus and then offered this very body rather than compromise the love of God. Since we can never deserve such a costly grace, we must struggle first to receive it. Once received, costly grace teaches us that we are already one, but it also teaches us this paradox: Christ has freed us by binding us together. In other words, we cannot claim Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and then turn around and degrade our neighbors. Once we are “in Christ” we cannot see suffering in the world and withhold help.

Rev. David Sindt (1940-1986)[8]

Some of you under thirty won’t believe this, but there was a time when LGBTQ people were regarded as unicorns. “We were treated as unknown, and yet we are known.” We always have been known but often willfully ignored.

In 1974, on the crowded floor of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, amidst thousands of good church people from all over the world, David Sindt mustered up the courage to stand up holding a sign. Written on it were these words: “Is anyone else out there gay?”[9] The earthly forces of hate and fear had tried to deny David Sindt’s imago Dei, imposing isolation, separation and shame, but he already knew that he worthy of love and respect because he was raised by Presbyterian ministers. You are worthy, too, no matter who you are!  Sindt set in motion a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Presbyterian Church, like the church in Corinth, resisted God’s revolutionary truth. So, the Presbyterian Church studied and debated, hemmed and hawed for decades. David Sindt, like Moses, did not live to see his land of promise, but, today I stand squarely on the shoulders of David Sindt: an out gay man, answering God’s call and calling you out to be reconciled, to be unified, to be one in Christ.

It’s more than personal. It’s why we help people in need, because we are all in need. This is why we serve at Martin de Porres: because “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” This is why we march in the Pride Parade: to live out our namaste with one another, to reconcile the living, to honor the sacrifices of the generations of strength that came before us.

“Tear down this wall.” — Ronald Reagan

Last Friday, I did something impetuous. I dropped everything, got on a plane and traveled to the Mexican border to march and pray with hundreds of faith leaders from all over California.[10]  Saturday morning, we went to the Pacific Ocean and saw the fences that jut out into the water. The border patrol told us that the double fences were erected in the nineties. There was one very tall fence and then about fifteen yards of no-man’s land and then another very tall fence. Both of the fences stretched as far east as we could see and, to the west, trailed out into the Ocean.

On Saturdays, from 10am to 2pm, the border agents open a gate allowing U.S. families to go inside and visit, through the fence, with people on the other side. This fence, a wall, separates Tijuana from San Diego. Through the wall, on the Tijuana side, people crowded a stadium to watch the World Cup, cheering the jumbo-tron. Mexico whooped South Korea on Saturday, by the way. We were warned sternly not to record video inside the no-man’s land, but we could go in and step right up to the fence, touch it, look in, and take pictures.

Looking through the tiny holes in the fence, what did we see? People, just people. Some were walking around wearing shorts, some carrying lawn chairs—ordinary people. I stood alongside some nuns from Los Angeles — one of them a famous nun from“Nuns on the Bus” —and we noticed how silly the separating wall felt to us. The same sky hung over there in Tijuana and, without border, over here in San Diego. The same ocean waves crashed into the barriers, making no distinction between the American beach and the Latin American beach. The same vegetation grew on both sides. Only the symbol of division and suspicion, the symbol of “this is mine and not yours” towered over us — patrolled by uniformed men with guns and hyper-masculinized equipment.

We started getting antsy. What are we going to do here? What’s our solution? We did not have one nor an agenda. We were witnessing. We were seeing our neighbors to the south, seeing them through holes in a wall. Next week, I will share more about our march to the detention facility, but this week I cannot get my mind over that dividing wall. Today’s epistle reading claims that Christians do not put obstacles in anyone’s way. This wall and the weapons, the imaginary lines that divide God’s people; I thought, this is what sin must look like.

God is unity. Sin is separation.[11]

Invitation: Affirmation of Faith

The Confession of Belhar[12] began in South Africa in response to the systemic segregation of people based on race. Since unity is a gift from God, the church of Jesus Christ is obligated to stand with people who suffer any form of injustice. As Paul taught the church at Corinth, he tells us today that reconciliation is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, as we stand to affirm our faith, we stand on the shoulders of generations who put their very bodies in danger for the sake of the gospel.

We believe that genuine faith in Jesus Christ
is the only condition for membership
in this Christian church.
We praise God that race, class, gender, or culture
does not determine who belongs to this Church.

We believe that the Church belongs to God
and that it should stand where God stands:
against injustice and with those who are wronged.
We commit ourselves to reject all forms of injustice
in ourselves and amongst us;
and to struggle against all forms of injustice
and every teaching that allows injustices to flourish.

We are called to confess and to do all this
in obedience to Jesus Christ, our only Lord,
even if authorities or laws oppose this,
even if punishment and suffering
may be the consequence.
Jesus is Lord! We will follow Him!
To the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory for ever and ever.[13] 

 

[1] The lyrics of “This Is Me” accessed online at <https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/34576181/This+Is+Me> (June 25, 2018)

[2] https://calvarypresbyterian.org/about-calvary/leadership-and-staff/

[3] This seems to be up for debate these days, but lying is wrong.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4

[5] Genesis 1:27

[6] Rabbi David, whom I heard at a detention center demonstration, June 23, 2018.

[7] “What Does Namaste Mean?” <https://somuchyoga.com/namaste-meaning/> (June 20, 2018)

[8] LGBT Religious Archive Network, Profile: David Sindt, accessed online at <https://www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?ID=33> (June 24, 2018)

[9] The details I have corrected by consulting this online source: <http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/religion_homosex/presbyterian> (June 25, 2018)

[10] Channel 10 San Diego report: <https://www.10news.com/news/hundreds-prepare-to-protest-family-separations?autoplay=true> (June 24, 2018)

[11] “Where’s My Kid?” NBC News, accessed online at <https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/immigration-border-crisis/where-s-my-kid-texas-border-desperate-parents-turn-attorneys-n886181> (June 25, 2018)

[12] For a brief introduction to The Confession of Belhar, check out this video <https://vimeo.com/97751502> from the PC(USA).

[13] The complete text, plus a discussion from the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is available at <http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/file_12_confession_of_belhar.pdf> (June 20, 2018)

 

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