Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Called to Be Church

A Sermon for L.A. Pride  | Christopher Street West, June 14, 2015

I grew up in the Episcopal Church right here in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
And when I was about seven or eight
my Aunt Gretchen gave me a gold chain necklace
with a tiny little crystal charm on it --
with a teeny tiny mustard seed inside it.

Because I was a good little Sunday School student,
I knew the story Jesus told –
the one we just heard as our gospel lesson this morning --
but it didn’t occur to me that the story … or the seed …
actually had something to do with my life.

Because – in those early days –
I didn’t so much learn how to BE church.
I learned how to GO to church.

I learned the difference between the Apostles and the Nicene Creed
I learned that I was supposed to love my neighbor as myself
I learned to take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.
And I learned all the verses to Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
But the “be” the church part I learned later

I am here today – WE are here today –
because today we have chosen to BE church –
not settle for going to church.

I am here today – we are here today –
because of the mustard seeds sewn by those who have gone before us …
seeds that seemed little the smallest of all the earth’s seeds,
yet once sown, it springs up to become the largest of shrubs,
with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade.

I am here today – we are here today –
to claim nothing less than Jesus’ image of the kingdom of God –
the reign of God – with branches big enough
for not just some but for ALL of the birds of the sky.

I think of seeds sewn by prophetic leaders of in the Episcopal Church:
Like John Hines – who taught us “Justice is the corporate face of God’s love.”
Like Ed Browning – who opened a new chapter when he declared “In this church there will be no outcasts.”
Like Verna Dozier – who shaped a generation with her challenge
"Don't tell me what you believe: tell me what difference it makes that you believe."
And our own Malcolm Boyd – whose “Are You Running with Me Jesus”
fed the hunger of a generation of people
who had given up on the church
or anyone connected with it
having anything relevant to say.

And I think of seeds sown by grassroots activists
Like Jim White: Who walked in the first L.A. Gay Pride parade in 1970
(one year after the Stonewall riots happened)
with no bands, no politicians -- or bishops -- in convertibles.
No one watching from the sidewalks
except some random families
who had come to Grauman's Chinese to see a matinee.

Like Daniel Howells: who marched in 1990
 in an alb with a processional cross –
taking it upon himself to represent the Diocese of Los Angeles.
And by 1991 we had an organized presence in the parade
and by 1992 there was a Bishop’s Commission for LGBT ministry
in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Like Mac Thigpen, Randy Kimmler and Warren Nyback.
Donna Machado, Marni Schneider and Louise Brooks
and countless other seed sowers …
who year after year have put on their faith into action along this Parade Route –
proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus available to absolutely everybody.

This morning I also think of the seeds sown in the Equality movement –
Those who have tirelessly worked to make this a nation
where liberty and justice for all really means “all.”

Those who worked so hard to overturn Prop 8 here in California
Who have worked for legislation on hate crimes,
employment discrimination and transgender equality

And those who have been the architects of equality
building the bridge to where we stand today – on SCOTUS Watch –
waiting for what could be a landmark Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

And I think about all the seeds sown in our own Episcopal Church –
which in 1976 promised “full and equal” claim to its LGBT members
and has spent the last 39 years working to make that resolution a reality
work that will continue next week as we head to Salt Lake City
for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church
in Salt Lake City
where we will continue to harvest the seeds sown in 1976
and sowing seeds for the future.

And no matter what happens, we will not be done yet.
Marriage equality will not end discrimination
against LGBT people in this nation
Equal marriage for same-sex couples
will not end homophobia in this church

And so we are charter members of the Guild of the Persistent Widow.
You remember her story from the Gospel of Luke:
She went back again and again demanding justice
Until she finally got it –
not because they wanted to give it to her
but because she wore them down --
and that’s the work we are about, my brothers and sisters –
going back again and again, sowing see after seed –
until justice rolls down.
Until there are no strangers left at the gate.
Until that kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

And yes, it’s sometimes discouraging –
when for every two steps forward there seems to be a step back;
when we achieve one milestone only to see so much work still ahead.

I'm reminded once again this morning of the story of my son Brian
faced with trying master the mystery of Long Division.
I remember the night he proudly announced at the dinner table
that he'd finally figured it out.
"First you guess, then you multiply, then you subtract until you run out of numbers!"
And he said gleefully:
"So, now I understand math!"
And I remember his older brother,
quickly bursting that bubble with the sobering news
of algebra, geometry and calculus yet to come.
"Oh no" exclaimed Brian in disbelief and horror.
"You mean there's MORE?????"

Yes, there was more. More for Brian and more for us.

The greatest challenge we face in this moment
is settling for where we've come
rather than being open to where God is calling us to go.

As Gandhi famously said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world" –
and to be that change we cannot stop at long division –
at partial inclusion – at less than full equality.

One notable mustard seed sower is Jayne Ozanne
a long time leader in the Church of England
who will be with us in Salt Lake City.
In a recent interview about LGBT inclusion Jayne said:

This is not just a theological debate but one that affects the lives of people -- and I for one really wish that we could just get our heads around it because if we do not we ruin people's lives.

I can have political discussions with Lambeth Palace about what it will mean for Africa and the politics of the communion -- but there are millions of gay people in Africa too who are dying and I wish we had the courage to talk about that.

The time is come for a fresh revelation of what it is to be church so that were fit for purpose for this 21st-century world that we're in. The church is in a lot of pain right now but a question to ask is: Is it the pain of divorce or is it the pain of childbirth? Is it about dead religion or is it about a live Christian gospel giving birth to new understandings?

An English Evangelical
sowing tiny little mustard seeds of hope and inclusion
“across the pond.”

Remember Jayne the next time someone tells you
it’s the American Episcopal Church vs. the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Because that is most certainly NOT the case.

I close with another great mustard seed sower:
Barbara Mudge – who was the Vicar of St. Francis in Simi Valley
and one of the first women ordained here in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Barbara ended every service with these words of dismissal:

The holiest moment is now – 
fed by word and sacrament go out to be the church in the world.

That is precisely what we are called to do –
not just this Sunday as we march down Santa Monica Blvd
but each and every Sunday each and every day
as we take our place in the long list of mustard seed sowers who
choose to be church
choose to proclaim love
choose to make God’s justice roll down like waters
and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

Now let’s go be church.


Unknown said...


Thank you, as always, for prophetic, Spirit-filled sermons. Godspeed at General Convention next week. Know that I am praying for all of you and our great Church. All Episcopalians, but especially LGBT Episcopalians, are very fortunate to have your courageous witness in our midst.

Blessings and Peace,

Wayne Helmly

Pat Holmes said...

Wonderful sermon Susan. It really gives inspiration and information for the struggle ahead as we own the rights and freedoms bestowed on us by the Supreme Court.