Deuteronomy 10.12-22

Acts 10.9-15, 28

Pride & Prejudice

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.

How do you measure, measure a year?”

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes ago – that is, just a year ago this week – I attended two LGBT Pride parades. On Saturday morning, I marched in the Salem, Massachusetts parade with members of my former congregation; one week later I stood on the sidewalk watching the Pride Parade in Chicago. Now Chicago is a much larger city than Salem, but step for step and participant for participant and float for float, the Witch City yields nothing to the Windy City. Both parades were equally joyful and raucous and love-filled and loud and fun and edgy all at the same time. I was proud to be present for both.

            June is Pride month, a time when people who for centuries were effectively closeted and oppressed and worse, solely because of their sexuality, proudly and publicly claim and declare their identity. And to the extent that the church of Jesus Christ has in the past shared responsibility for that closeting and oppression and worse, in our own day you and I are doing our part, in Paul’s words, to break down the walls of division and build relationship and community with all our brothers and sisters, every single one of God’s children.

            Here at the United Church, we have been an Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ since 2009, and God bless Kathy Peters for shepherding us through the process. I especially appreciate this paragraph in our church’s Open and Affirming Statement:

“We believe each of us is a unique creation of God. We believe that Christian unity is grounded in love and acceptance of each other. We welcome all people of any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic, educational and marital status, physical, emotional and mental capacity, and those in traditional and non-traditional families.”

I’m sorry I did not share this piece of your history, your story with you, but if I may, I thought I’d share my part of the O & A story, because for every congregation, that story is different.

            In late 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry; the court said that in six months, by May of 2004, same gender marriage would be legal across the state. For a lot of clergy and congregations, this came as a bolt from the blue; some welcomed it, some did not, but all of us had a narrow window to decide how to deal with it. Six months is not a long time. As a local church pastor, I needed to know how my congregation would feel about my officiating same-gender weddings in the sanctuary, and I knew better than to perform one first and ask questions later. So together we embarked on what turned out to be an eighteen month process of Bible study, congregational conversations, and prayer on the subject. As you surely experienced yourselves, these were not easy conversations. Some people didn’t like the fact we were talking about it at all, while others didn’t see what the big deal was. Love is love, right? But as pastor, I needed to listen to and consider all opinions, those I agreed with and those I did not. Finally we scheduled a Congregational meeting, and the question was a simple one: are you comfortable with your pastors deciding whom they would marry in our church, the way we always have? And the genius of that meeting was that we did not put it to a vote, where there would be winners and losers; we simply asked for consensus, and more than two-thirds of the congregation affirmed that, Yes, they trusted us to make these decisions regarding marriage, just as we were trusted to make decisions about baptism and Confirmation and all the other rites and sacraments of the church. To this day, members of that congregation remember this conversation to be one of the most moving, respectful, sensitive and spirit-filled moments in recent church life.

            And so it was that, a few years later, when we actually embarked on the Open and Affirming process, we undertook similar study and conversation, but it was in a far more relaxed and less super-charged atmosphere, and when the day came to vote on approving our O & A statement, it was unanimous but for one vote. It was a gratifying moment in ministry.

            However. However. During the entire process, I encouraged our congregation to listen to the voices of our youth. Because in the midst of months of difficult conversation and people on both sides threatening to leave the church, our young people, my daughters included, asked the question that continues to perplex so many of their generation: “What’s the big deal? Why wouldn’t we allow two people who love each other, to marry? Why is this even a conversation?” And of course, the cognitive, left-brain Alan has a whole list of logical reasons why this conversation was necessary. But our children have it right: who are we to say who can be married in a church or not? Whose church is it anyway? Is this our church? Or is this God’s church? And so there is a sense in which our even voting on this seems to miss the point.

            But same-gender marriage is only a part of what Pride is all about, and aside from the occasional baker, the matter is fundamentally decided. Pride is about inclusion across the board, and it shouldn’t require the assent of any body of people, the church included. Peter’s dream in the New Testament book of Acts is illustrative. Peter had a dream in which all kinds of animals paraded before him and God invited Peter to eat, but Peter’s understanding of ritual rules and regulations kept him from doing so. But God’s reply to Peter was clarion clear: “God has shown that we should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Or to put this in positive terms, God has shown that we must consider all people sacred and pure. Every human being is a beloved child of God. This is the same God who, as Claudia read in Deuteronomy, “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger,” the God who says, “You shall also love the stranger and the sojourner [in your midst], the person who is unlike you, for you were once strangers yourselves.” You shall also love the stranger and the sojourner in your midst, the person who is unlike you, for you were once strangers yourselves.

            The definition of stranger and sojourner of course changes, both over the generations and across cultures. In the days of Deuteronomy and Acts it was the gentile, or the non-Jew, the person who was considered to stand outside of God’s covenant with Israel – this is why both lessons make it clear that this person too belongs to God, and to us. During Pride month we make it clear that our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and ally brothers and sisters are children of God and we are their siblings. And in these parlous days and weeks of tension at the southern border, the church of Jesus Christ must also make it clear that our Mexican and Central American siblings who come to our country seeking better lives for themselves and their children are likewise beloved of God.  Part of both the genius and the responsibility of being an open and affirming congregation is that we are called to continue to find ways to expand the church’s wide and loving embrace, just as God’s loving embrace is wide and expansive. And just for the record, I did mail a copy of last Sunday’s sermon, with all of your signatures affixed, to the Attorney General’s office, because we are an Open and Affirming congregation and we accept and own the responsibility to expand that holy and loving embrace. It is an embrace that holds every one of God’s children, in particular the most vulnerable among them, in holy love.

The 1996 Broadway play, “Rent,” is an updated version of Giaccomo Puccini’s opera, La Boheme. It is set in New York City’s East Village, in the early 1990s among a community of young men and women who are living through the ravages of the AIDS/HIV crisis. The signature song from the play, “Seasons of Love,” in a way asks the same question those young people did about the rights of the LGBT community: love is love – isn’t it? And because some ideas are expressed better in song than in spoken word, I’m going to let the musical take us to the end of this morning’s sermon.

Amen.

 

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, / Measure a year?

 

In daylights? / In sunsets? / In midnights? / In cups of coffee?

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?

 

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a year in a life?

 

How about love? / How about love? / How about love?
Measure in love... / Seasons of love... / Seasons of love...

 

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a life of a woman or a man?

 

In truths that she learned, / or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned, / or the way that she died?

 

It's time now to sing out, / though the story never ends.
Let's celebrate remember a year in a life of friends

 

Remember the love... / (Oh, you've got to you've got to remember the love)
Remember the love... / (You know the love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love... / (Share love, give love, spray love, measure your life in love.)
Seasons of love... / Seasons of love...

 

“Seasons of Love,” Rent  (Jonathan Larson, 1996)

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