A Sermon for Good Friday

Yesterday, one of our readers shared a link to a Holy Week sermon on our Facebook page (you can click “like” in the box on the right if you haven’t already done so to support us on Facebook and get new post notifications in your news feed).

I’m sharing the link here in hopes that more people will see and read and pass along this powerful, moving sermon:

http://www.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/04/17/a-sermon-for-passion-week

As I read this sermon, I was reminded how one of the things the evangelical church often struggles to do well is lament. When it comes to the treatment of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our churches and our communities, there is a deep and urgent need for us to lament. Today is Good Friday. Today is a day on which the church laments. Today we hear the lament of Jesus himself, from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That cry of forsakenness, loneliness, humiliation, and abandonment is echoed by countless marginalized groups today. May the Church give ear to that cry and always remember: it is the cry of Jesus. We must hear, and join in, the lament if we are to be able to bring the hopeful light of the Gospel. We can’t just skip past Good Friday. But even from Friday’s darkness, we can’t forget: Sunday’s coming.

(Also, be sure to go back and read yesterday’s post from Darlene if you haven’t already! We are grateful for her willingness to share her journey so honestly with us.)

Darlene: “My Journey as a Minister”

Darlene

I’ve contemplated the idea of sharing my thoughts about this topic for some time now – not sure whether I should or even could piece words together well enough to produce anything worth reading. This is mostly because I am still learning. I am discovering that it is possible to walk away from a careful study of Scripture and come away with a host of differing interpretations, and that I am not exempt from error. Not only that, but people who think differently from me can also be right.

I also must admit that I have some concerns (that border on fear) in sharing my thoughts. First, I worry that I will be misunderstood and even rejected by people I consider friends. Second, that I will become the victim of assumptions regarding my sexual status. I am a single heterosexual woman who desires to remain single indefinitely (I know that’s rare). I believe that God’s call for me is celibacy and I embrace that and celebrate being a happy and fulfilled single woman. As a woman for whom this is true, I risk being attacked by unwarranted assumptions and conclusions that many may draw regarding my sexual orientation. This is not because I frown upon those who are gay/lesbian, rather because of my utter dislike for assumption and misrepresentation. A third concern is that I will hurt those who read or that my thoughts may be misconstrued – my apologies in advance. And finally, I can’t help but consider that I will be misunderstood or have some distance placed between me and my fellow African American sisters/brothers because of what I say or refrain from saying in this brief space.

Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to playing it safe, being held hostage in the prison of the personal opinions or objections of others. Jesus modeled risk-taking exceptionally well! Continue reading Darlene: “My Journey as a Minister”

Ralph Sturdy: “My Journey Through the Maze of Human Sexuality”

Rev. Ralph Sturdy

Earlier this year I wrote a letter to the Covenant Companion exhorting my beloved denomination to have open hearts and open arms to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I wept when I read the “first person” letters of response in the September, 2010 issue of the Companion. The pain reflected in them haunts me.  I keep thinking of words written about Jesus that applies to those families:  “He came to his own and his own did not receive him.”

I am not new to the question of welcoming lesbian and gays into the fellowship of the Church.  I am a retired Covenant Pastor. My father was a Covenant Pastor. His father was a Covenant layperson; his father came from Sweden and was a founding member of a Covenant Church. Because I am a “work in progress” I thought it might be helpful to the Covenant family if I shared my own journey through the maze of human sexuality.  I’m sure it is not the same for everyone. Each of our journeys is different, yet I suspect there are threads in the journey that bind us together. Continue reading Ralph Sturdy: “My Journey Through the Maze of Human Sexuality”

Rick Sindt: “A Little Space”

Rick Sindt

My name is Rick Sindt and I am a sophomore at North Park University, where I am currently pursuing an Art and Psychology double major. I grew up in a small town south east of the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, along the Mississippi River. I grew up with two loving parents and one brother. We lived in the country and always had an assortment of animals around ranging from barn cats to sled dog teams. I have a large extended family and I grew up much like any other boy. This past fall I started the process of coming out.

What has surprised me the most about coming out is that when I come out to people I am not given space to be me. People who I come out to still hold me to the image they had of me as a heterosexual, or they expect me to become their preconceived notion of who a gay man is. I first started telling people in September of 2010. The first person I told was one of my closest friends. I decided to tell her because she continued to ask me about girl interests in my life. I grew tired of putting on a charade, I felt like I was living a lie, and I knew the only way to liberate myself from that feeling was to name my sexuality to someone. She handled it well and graciously. At the time she was alone with me in this journey and it was difficult for her to be the only one who knew. I was finally willing to talk about my sexuality with someone and I talked about it persistently. Continue reading Rick Sindt: “A Little Space”

Michael Satterberg: “My Story”

Michael Satterberg

It is the stories of others that help promote dialog and understanding.  Most people that I know who have once held anti-gay viewpoints but changed their view on the subject, whether their anti-gay view was based on religious convictions or not, have stated that it was personally knowing someone or hearing someone’s story that made them think about the issue in a different way.

Here is my story:

I was born in 1981, so much of my childhood was during a time when LGBT individuals had no or very little positive presence in the public sphere.  Although not everyone does, I knew that I was gay from a very young age.  I knew I was different and that this difference was not accepted in society and especially not in the church, so I kept it all inside and told no one of my feelings.

I come from a line of deep rich Covenant blood.  I am almost 100% Swedish and can trace many of my relatives back to Sweden (for non-Covenanters, the Covenant Church was founded by Swedes).  There have been numerous Covenant clergy in my family history dating back three or four generations.  I attended church every Sunday and unless I was on death’s doorstep, I was there.  I attended a Covenant camp in the summers and even worked at one during a summer in college. I went to CHIC, and then completed the perfect Covenanter’s journey by going to North Park University.  Throughout all this, I prayed to God to fix me, or heal me, or change me.  I wondered what I had done wrong to be so different from everyone else.  It seemed like a cruel joke.  I thought maybe if I prayed harder, or was a better Christian, God would make me “normal.”  Nothing changed so I just put on the happy perfect Covenanter mask and continued living.  This only lasted so long before resentment and anger started to brew, and eventually I distanced myself from the Covenant and stopped attending church altogether, but never completely abandoned God.  I always knew that even though I might leave a denomination, I could never turn my back on God or deny his existence or presence in my life. Continue reading Michael Satterberg: “My Story”

Scott Erickson: “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

Scott Erickson

Text for reflection: [Three men] said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And [Abraham] said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:9–15)

I often have wondered about Sarah’s laugh in this text from Genesis. Was it a laugh of disbelief? “You have got to be kidding, God. The idea of having a child at my advanced age is worthy of great laughter.” Or was it a laugh of pleasure? “After all these years, I can finally have my own child and not share my husband’s son Ishmael with my husband’s mistress.” Or was it a laugh of sarcasm and cynicism? “This time you have gone too far, God: You know that the only role for women in this culture is to bear and raise children. After all these years, it still brings me great pain that I have been unable to have children.” Or was it a laugh that provided a cover-up for a great deal of shame – shame that was a result of years of pain?

When I a teenager, I walked around with a great deal of shame, which I quickly covered up with lots of laughter – just like Sarah. I was ashamed of being gay, and I wondered why God would have created me gay and not straight like everyone else. Even saying the word “gay” did not happen unless it passed my lips as I sang a Christmas tune in the local Covenant Church Sunday School pageant: “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday; that’s why we’re happy, and that’s why we’re gay, for Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.”

Of course, we were “gay” if you mean happy, but we certainly were not all gay in my Sunday School. But I was – and I hoped for a long time, through middle school and upper school, that somehow God would work a miracle and make me to be just like everyone else. Continue reading Scott Erickson: “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

“Above the Influence” (sermon excerpt)

Andrew Freeman

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of preaching at North Park University’s Sunday evening service, collegelife. At the time of the invitation all I knew was that they were beginning a series on characters in the Bible, and how we can “mind the gap” of 2,000-plus years between their time and cultural context and our lives in our world today. How can their lives, experiences, and stories inform us in the similar challenges we face today? Only later did I learn the specific topic for the night I was asked to speak: “living above the influence.” I was less than enthusiastic. It seemed to have old youth group “peer pressure” talks written all over it. They picked the wrong guy for this one, I thought.

I had to choose a character that exemplified a life above the influence. So I picked Peter. Yes, Peter. Impetuous, imperfect Peter. Peter, the one who stepped out of the boat in faith, and then sank. Peter, the one who vowed to follow Jesus even unto death, and then denied his Lord three times. In many ways, Peter was such a doofus. And in many ways, Peter was just like you and me. He sank. He denied. And still he was called the rock on which the early church was built.

Peter was a loser of a fisherman, not among the social elite. He didn’t hesitate at Jesus’ invitation to be a part of his inner circle. Just like us, Peter wanted a place to belong, he wanted to be accepted. But this desire for belonging would take over him in such a way that in order to fit in with an accusing crowd, Peter would have to deny his faith. And as with Peter, our innate desire to belong easily becomes idolatrous, which compels us to compromise.

I’m afraid the same is true in the Church, that great fellowship and place of belonging. All too often, we feel forced to compromise or to cover up truths about ourselves in order to find acceptance and welcome. We advertise with the message, “all are welcome here” while often communicating an implicit message that some are welcomed as second-class members. And so, for many the options appear to be to hide and remain accepted, or to be honest and face rejection. It’s no wonder that so many of our sisters and brothers sitting in the pew next to us are, in fact, hiding in plain sight. This has become the price of fellowship. It is denial. Just like Peter. Denial of one’s very identity.

When it comes to relating with members of the LGBT community, we like to disassociate ourselves from the purportedly Christian churches whose vitriolic speech communicates hate more clearly than love. But when we welcome others without offering them the freedom to be honest about who they are, and together celebrate and embrace all that God has made them to be, we too fail to communicate the radically inclusive love of the Gospel. Instead, we find that we’ve fallen under the influence of a culture of mere tolerance. Tolerance is convenient. Tolerance is cheap, and it is easy. But tolerance is not Gospel. Tolerance is a denial of the Gospel.

In striving to live above the influence, we must continually return to our baptism, to remember who we are and be thankful. This is the Good News of the Gospel: you are accepted. There is no second-class citizen in God’s Kingdom. There are no second-class seats at Christ’s Table. I refuse to tolerate second-class membership in Christ’s Church. And I refuse to deny the radical love and acceptance of the Gospel.

Here is a 17-minute clip from the second half of the sermon I delivered at North Park (complete with my sniffles and strained voice as I struggled to preach while at the peak of a cold!):

[audio:http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3181966/collegelife022011%201.mp3|titles=”Above the Influence”|artists=Andrew Freeman]

If you are interested, you can listen to the full sermon, about 38-minutes (which includes an introduction and the beginning of the communion liturgy), in the player below or download the audio file by clicking this link.

[audio:http://www.npumin.com/content/podcast/collegelife022011.mp3]

Rebecca: “My Story”

Rebecca

I was 20 when I first heard someone say that God might be OK with me even though I’m not straight. I spent the next two years at North Park as a transfer student, trying to figure things out on my own. I really felt that there wasn’t anyone I could share it with at the time. In high school and my first bits of college I had done a lot of spiritual leadership-y things – led a prayer group at school, led a lot of worship – and I felt that I had trapped myself. I did well in school, I led all these things, but privately I was lonely and intensely sad. I was deeply unhappy (but it did make for some good songwriting material). I could not believe it was possible that God, my family, my churches, or most of my friends would ever accept me. It hid parts of who I was; I could never just let go, be a friend to my friends, be open, be myself.

I didn’t have anyone to go to with something so unimaginable and unacceptable – I say unimaginable because when I first started coming to terms with my sexuality, I really honestly could not imagine what my life would look like – it was terrifying. So when I got to North Park, I kind of tried to stay under the radar. I was torn because I was encouraged in doing things with the church, but at the same time I felt that if I was honest with people, that my orientation would cancel out all of that. Covenant churches were spaces where I felt that if I got close, if I was known, it would necessarily lead to pain and rejection, so the easiest thing to do was back away. Continue reading Rebecca: “My Story”

Rev. Arthur Nelson: Prayer

Rev. Arthur A. R. Nelson

Over many years my heart and soul have been churning with the desire to enable release and freedom for those in our Covenant family who have carried the pain and sorrow of the misunderstanding of their sexual identity and orientation, and in particular their disappointment with their church continuing to send clear signals of judgement and separation. I am deeply grateful that the current dialogue is finally become broadly public, which can only lead to a healthier and more loving Covenant family.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for my recent publication – Prayers Public and Personal – in its original form.

Holy and Compassionate God,
bless with your abiding presence and sensitive, loving, and faithful friends
those whose loneliness is deep and dark by virtue of their being
misunderstood and rejected.

Knowing that the issue of sexual identity too easily leads to the hasty
prejudice of others and sorrowful self-judgement, in the name and power
of  your son Jesus, who had unusual and unconditional love for those
often ostracized and moved to the margins of the culture of his time,
bring your refreshing and healing Spirit to those persons whose soul and heart
have embraced your saving grace but find your church and society
unkind and demeaning. And help us to keep reminding them that they are
dearly loved by us and by you.

Amen.

Nathan Albert: “Belong, Believe, Become”

Nathan Albert, The Marin Foundation

During my years working as a professional singer and actor I was often quiet about my faith, especially around my countless gay or lesbian friends.  I quickly learned that their experiences with the Church and Christians were almost always negative.  Many were kicked out of their churches, shunned by family members, and even spit upon by Christian roommates.  They didn’t have a positive view of Christians or the faith we professed.  From their experiences, I saw that many churches excluded rather than included LGBT people, had a closed-door policy rather than an open-door policy, and taught a type behavior modification rather than Gospel transformation.

These churches worked on the model of Behave, Believe, Belong.  Christians have told countless LGBT individuals that they must behave a certain way (be celibate or become heterosexual), believe a certain set of doctrines (this is right, that is wrong; this is sinful, that is holy), and then they are allowed to belong to the church community.  My fear is that this model might actually be more damaging than helpful.  My fear is that this model can distort our understanding of grace and our understanding of God.  My fear is that this model might force us to think that if we behave a certain way, believe a certain thing, then God will accept us.  Or worse, I fear that people will give up on God entirely because they are forced to behave rather than belong.

This is a very religious attitude.  Religion says we negotiate with God to try to get help in exchange for our good behavior.  We do what were told and, hopefully, God rewards us.  Because of religion in churches, we’re told you must be a certain way, act a certain way, behave a certain way, believe a certain doctrine, then belonging to our community can happen.

Instead, I think the Gospel presents a better model: Belong, Believe, Become. Continue reading Nathan Albert: “Belong, Believe, Become”