Tuesday, February 23, 2010

From Pastor Cheri: Training and Practicing as Followers of Jesus

I have never run a marathon. To be honest, I doubt if I ever will. Lots of people set this as a life goal. They set up a training schedule. And they do it. These are ordinary people, not professional athletes. They are regular people who decide to do something extraordinary, so they train. They make a commitment and then they talk to someone, an experienced marathon runner, a coach, a trainer. They set up a training schedule. They stick to that schedule. They run a marathon. And then they celebrate a job well done!

I suppose I could run a marathon if I set my mind, and my body to the task. But I just don't like to run. So it's probably not a goal I will ever set for myself. I don't have the drive to accomplish this achievement in my life.

But I have other goals. I want to be the person God desires me to be. I want to live my life in tune with God. I don't want to be so hard on myself all the time. I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to rush around so much always trying to please other people. I want to rest in God's love for me, and trust that I'm ok, and that God loves me just the way I am.

I want to live as a beloved child of God.

Guess what? To know. . . really to know without a doubt that we are loved by God, is something that takes practice, and training, just like the training it takes to be a marathon runner. It takes the practice of daily prayer, and meditation, and resting in God. And just like a person who wants to run a marathon, and has to find a good coach, or trainer, or "running buddy," we need some sort of community to walk with us when we want to learn how to be the people God wants us to be.

When I want to practice being the person God put me on this earth to me, I need other spiritual friends, mentors, teachers, or pastors, to walk with me, to encourage me, challenge me, and ask questions of me along the way. The spiritual journey is not something to be done in isolation -- we learn from others who have gone down this road before us.

You see, somewhere along the way, we followers of Jesus have gotten the wrong idea. We got the idea, that all we had to do was make a one-time decision to follow Jesus, and then we were done. It's as if a person can decide one day to run a marathon, and get up the next day and be ready to run it. Marathons don't work that way. Neither does the life of a Jesus-follower.

The radical life of a Jesus follower means a life of practice and training. For most of us, this means a daily practice of prayer. During this season of Lent, the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, I am encouraging our Village community to take on some new practice, such as the practice of daily prayer, if this is not something you are already doing. There are two daily devotional links on our web site, that I can recommend, as a tool to help: Inward/Outward and the UCC Devotional site. You can subscribe to either or both and have a daily devotional e mailed to you. Or you can simply read a portion of your Bible or some other spiritual reading each day. Another good resource is Brian McLaren's book Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. In this book, McLaren discusses the importance of spiritual practices in our daily lives.

Or you can simply be still for 5 minutes each day, and breathe, and listen for God. This is also a spiritual practice.

In my weekly blogs during Lent, I will continue to discuss the importance of spiritual practices such as prayer, prayer walking, retreats, and fasting in my own life. I invite you to share your comments in response to this blog. What challenges do you face as you try to develop some training routines around daily prayer practices? How does the practice of daily prayer impact your life? I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, February 22, 2010


When I started blogging Cheri’s sermons, I never in a million years thought I would have to do one on slavery. I mean, I know the United States has some real issues on Slavery in our past. Millions of men & women were ripped from their homes, beaten, brutalized and shipped to the United States to do work, breed, etc, but that was One Hundred and Fifty or so years ago.

Sure, as a Democrat, I have to atone for the fact that the KKK was once a recognized part of my party. As a Methodist, I have to atone for the fact that part of our church supported slavery, and even later, tried to segregate African Americans into a second class form of membership (If you’ve seen the AME church, you’ve seen the African American community’s response to form their own denomination rather than accept this). Both of these moves resulting in a split in the denomination. Fortunately, at the Village, we also have the United Church of Christ’s history, which includes being part of the abolitionist movement (if you’ve watched the movie “Amistad”, you’ve seen our denominational foremothers and forefathers in action trying to free the people who managed to take over the slave ship Amistad).

I hate to tell you, my readers, that the Bible has been used to justify the holding of slaves and by masters to keep slaves in line. Don’t believe me, open your Bible to I Peter 2:18 and Colossians 3:22. You’ll get some wonderful encouragement to stay a slave and justification for keeping your slaves. Even when you’re horrible to them, they should keep being loyal to you and fearing God. But that’s not something we have to worry about today, do we? At the cost of millions of America dead and wounded, we took care of that in the 1860's, right? I mean, I may not be the brightest person but I got A’s in advanced placement American History, and I read the books and watched the movies.

But then I learned something I wish I never knew, the slave trade is alive and well in this world and even in America. That’s right, in 2010 there are 27 Million (that’s 27,000,000 if you want to see the numbers spelled out, or more than the populations of the states of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana combined being held as slaves worldwide. Ok, but it can’t be that much in the US, I thought. Wrong again, there are over 2 Million slaves in the United States (2,000,000). In America? Did these people not get a copy of the proclamation from the 1860's?

In fact, one of the leading hubs for this trade, I’m embarrassed to tell you, is Toledo, Ohio, you know, that town I live in. That’s right, we’re a huge hub for this. In fact, per capita, more slaves come from and through Toledo than anywhere in the United States. Doubt my facts, the Toledo Blade article is dated February 11, 2010, here’s the link - http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100211/NEWS16/2110353/0/ART13
I like Toledo being in top 10, 20, 100 lists for things, but I was hoping for new job creation, most liveable cities, etc.

These slaves are mostly not working in fields, although some get to do that then do what I am about to tell you about. They are not cleaning houses, but again, some get that joy too. No, they are being used as prostitutes. Sometimes after a day of working in a field or shop or house they are being made to sleep with dozens (not a Kurt exaggeration) of men. This after a man named Jesus Christ tried to take care of the biblical justifications in this world (see Luke 4: 14-21, “let the oppressed go free”). Also, a man named Abraham Lincoln and an army of dedicated men (sorry, the women folk made tons of sacrifices, but not directly in combat yet) issued some laws.

My introduction was not in the Toledo Blade Article though. It was not even from being in the legal community in a city where we have a huge ICE (the Border Patrol’s new name) and FBI Task Force and offices to deal with this. No, as with many of the things in my life, they come from my dear wife being connected like very few others on the planet.

A couple of years ago, we went to the Change Conference at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church. If you want to see a place that is changing the world, go there with me some time. It is incredible. They draw incredible speakers too. I have been countless times. But to be honest, this time, I was pretty burned out. I had a ton of work to do for the day job and the dream that would be the Village, and found a quiet space in their coffee shop to work while one of the guest speakers spoke in their youth center (yes, they have their own coffee shop and a huge youth center). Then, I found myself meeting up with my wife when was clearly moved, to tears.

Cheri had just heard David Batsone of Not For Sale speak on human trafficking and tell the story of Kru Nam, who is working in Thailand to save young boys from the trade. A home was being set up for these children called “The Village”. So imagine, how moving this was to woman who was about to leave her former church to form a new church to save the world, which she had named “The Village”. So, it was a no brainer for The Village Church to get involved in this. Especially as Cheri described her “Village” to David who had just described the Village in his life. Cheri got to meet with David for some time I was not sure whether this man thought my wife to be an inspired leader, a crazy woman or something in between.

Today in worship we talked about this problem from first hand experience. Mary Schmidbauer, who played music at our first Easter service, long before many of you had heard of the Village, back in 2008 (there were about 12 of us there), not our larger 2009 service (about 65), is the Executive Director of Second Chance. Started in the 1990's, Second Chance was originally targeted at getting men & women a way out of prostitution. But in 2006, with a huge human trafficking bust happening in our area, and the realization that all of the 33 young women rescued from this horrible world were American Citizens, and 22 were citizens of Lucas County, Ohio, Second Chance became linked with this issue.

Mary told us about why Toledo is such a hub for this. It truly is a perfect storm. First, we are centrally located, with several key highways nearby, destination cities within a day’s drive any direction, and an international border. Second, there’s our economy, which in case you missed it, puts us in one of the bottom twenty in the country. Finally, add an educational system in crisis and put it with in easy reach of places where slaves are needed (big cities, near casinos, etc). Well, you quickly see why.

Mary talked about how these traffickers are targeting young women (and to a lesser extent men, but they have little success reaching the young men to give them help) as early as 7th & 8th Grade. They are going after teenagers because this is when they’re most vulnerable. A time when these children are defining themselves, are insecure, have parents who don’t understand them. This is a time where children find themselves, even in good families, alienated and feeling apart. It’s also a time when kids are dreaming dreams of fame and fortune, and when they are saturated with media imagery of materialism, instant gratification and broken relationships. This is a time when they’re easy pickings to these animals.

The traffickers offer these targets a voice of understanding, a voice of encouragement, a change to get out of poverty, a chance at fame. With that, they’re off and running. The next thing they know, the victim, who was supposed to be whisked off to Atlanta to record a demo, is stuck in a different life. We don’t see this underbelly of the world in most of our lives, but it is there.

Cheri asked Mary what discouraged her most about the problem she helps battle every day. Mary’s response was the scope of this problem: How long it’s been around; how large it is; and the path to death it leads to (e.g. most serial killers target these young women). Cheri then, thankfully, asked about what gives Mary hope. Her answer was that the attention this problem needs is starting to come around. That churches like the Village are helping get this problem media attention, resources and volunteers to combat it.

At the Village, we want to “follow Jesus and change the world”, and this is one of these opportunities to do so. To help make that happen, we first took the “Freedom Sunday Pledge”. As you, reader, are a part of the Village from afar, I’m giving you the opportunity to join in, so if you agree, say “I pledge to value and affirm the worth of every human being in my life. I will express appreciation especially o the youth around me so they know they are loved and they are priceless. I am not for sale. No one is for sale”.

Now, that’s a nice little start, but we’re not about saying some words and feeling good. We need to help change the world. So, our next little step, is to take up a collection (offering for you church folks) for Second Chance the next two weeks at the Village. Finally, we will be offering opportunities to partner with Second Chance locally and Not for Sale nationally later.

Sadly, these are big steps for a church and tiny steps in changing the world for the better. That being said, every journey starts with steps and these are our first down this path. The great movements to change our world for the better have all started in churches: the original push to abolish slavery, the push for voting rights for women, the push for civil rights for African Americans, etc. Now, along with our efforts to ensure civil rights for GLBT persons, the Village is adding this to our agenda. Come, join us as we follow a man named Jesus who proclaimed “release to the captives and recover of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. Let’s see if we can change the world together, starting with the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, Ohio, one of America’s poorest cities and one of America’s worst places for human trafficking.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Invitation from Pastor Cheri: Let's Practice Following Jesus

Dear Village friends,
Last night we marked Ash Wednesday with a simple service of prayer. About twenty of us gathered in our coffee house worship space. I invited us to participated in an ancient Christian practice: confession. Of course, God already knows our hearts. God knows what we've said and done, what we've failed to say and do. But we also know a sense of freedom comes, when we say our private confession to God, when we gather in community with other Jesus-followers, and remember that God always forgives us and gives us a second chance. That second chance is grace. No matter what we do, or fail to do, God forgives us. So last night, we wrote our confessions on slips of paper, and put them in a metal can. We stepped outside and set the paper and fire, turned them to ashes. Later in the service, we used these ashes to make the sign of the cross on our foreheads.
We also talked about "practices" that followers of Jesus can take on during this season called Lent -- the 40 days (excluding Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Some of us will "fast" which means we will "give up" something up for Lent. We may give up food one day a week, or one meal a week, or we may give up dessert, or watching TV, or chatting on Facebook. The idea of fasting is this: whenever we reach for that "thing" and long for it, or hunger for it, we will turn our attention toward God. The thing we give up serves as a reminder that during this season, we have chosen to dig deeper spiritually and listen more closely to God.
Some of us choose the "practice" during Lent of adding something, such as a daily prayer routine. One person at last night's service said he writes a note to someone he cares about every day during Lent as a way of nurtuting important relationships. I invited folks to share what practices they want to commit to during Lent. I was amazed at the openness with which people shared. One person committed to sending a care package to soldiers in Iraq every day for the 40 days of Lent. Others committed to pray every day. I committed to write a blog each week here, and I invite you to "sign in" to the blog below so that you can comment each week. Let's have a conversation during Lent, shall we?
In our community of The Village, our stated vision is: Follow Jesus, and Change the World! The season of Lent has always been a time when followers of Jesus make choices to take our walk with Jesus to the next level. I for one, have committed to take a prayer walk each day during the 40 days of Lent, and simply listen and watch for whatever God might say to me or show me. How about you? How are you going to follow Jesus during these next 40 days?
Pastor Cheri

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bible Stories You Probably Didn't Hear in Sunday School: LOVE IS GOD’S GIFT

Today at the Village we read part of the Song of Songs, aka the Song of Solomon. Ever read it? It’s in the Old Testament. If not, grab your Bible and read it, you’re in for a surprise. Right there, smack dab in your Bible, is a whole book of love poems. Not love for God or God’s love for us. It’s poetry from one human lover to another, and back again. Be prepared to blush, if you get the imagery, it gets pretty intense. And, there it is, right there in your Bible. One writer describes it as “The book that doesn’t know how to behave”. Ok, for those who haven’t read it before, you can pick yourself off the floor from fainting, and move on.

One thing you can count on in this life is change. Both Cheri and I look back at 1996 and realize that was when we went on our last, horrible blind dates. Annual Conference is held in June each year. It is the gathering of the lay people and clergy of the United Methodist Church and is held in Lakeside, Ohio. Cheri remembers that she was there in 1996 and had her last bad blind date, NO it was not with me.

Cheri can’t remember the man’s name, but he was just getting back into the dating world from a horrible end to a prior relationship, and it did not go well. He thought it did, but it didn’t. About the same time, I was going out on my last few, horrific blind dates as well. Thankfully, that happened as it gave me the courage to do things that led to the next year.

Flash forward to 1997, and Annual Conference was a little different for Cheri, and a lot different for me. I had never been to Lakeside. In 1997, I was there with Cheri (and a house full of chaperones) and we were months from marrying. What a difference a year can make. Everything changed, and two people who were ready for a committed, life relationship were together.

Cheri didn’t go down that “God wanted us together” path so I’m not going there either. Too many people feel depressed to be single on Valentines Day. I’ve been one of them. I remember one year, in a moment of hope against rational reason, buying a love card. I wrote a note to my soul mate, who I was sure didn’t exist at that moment. By Valentines Day 1997, that card had a home. I’m not saying God wants us in a relationship, but God does want us happy and will lead us to happiness, wherever that may lay.

Song of Songs is about love. Read it, it’s even about, gasp again, passion! The joy of committed relationship and the joys that come with that. I have to warn you, if you get the language, it gets pretty passionate. Yes, in the Bible. Say it ain’t so.

We, Christians do a horrible job dealing with this. Just say No! Repress those feelings. Ignore your passion. These are the things the church and Christians are known for. The rest of the public thinks we are not authentic and this is one of those areas they point at. They think that you have to choose between being a follower of Jesus and being who you are.

Song of Songs is an answer to this for us and them. It is not about objectifying others. It’s not about promiscuity. It not about abusive or non-consensual or sex for pay. But make no mistake about it, it’s about passion and love. It’s about committed, love and the passion the comes with it. It’s about the love and passion that comes from love, fidelity, commitment and mutuality.

The lovers, given a male and female voice by the scholars, but it could be any couple in such a relationship are madly passionately in love. But we’re not talking about “Soap Opera” kind of love. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Desperate Housewives, et al could be put to shame by this. But, this is a couple who are in a love that has eyes for each other only. They love each other’s souls, and yes bodies, completely. You may gasp again now if you need to.

As Cheri and I planned our wedding with our friend Mebane, kept throwing Cheri by referring to it as a sacrament of marriage. Now, for me, a “Roaming Catholic”, this was no big deal. Catholics acknowledge seven sacraments, including marriage. But Protestants like Mebane and Cheri, usually only refer to two - baptism and communion.

A sacrament, for those of you who have not had an extensive religious education (God bless six years of Catholic school that my parents sacrificed to give me) is an outward sign of the inward grace of God. An outward sign of a mysterious experience of God’s presence and love for us. Communion for me is really an intense one of these. A reminder that God loved us so much that God sacrificed not only by being one of us, by becoming human in the form of Jesus, and by living one of our lives and going so far as to experience a horrible, painful death. As Father, I can’t imagine a love that required me to sacrifice my Son. As a man, I can’t imagine giving myself over knowingly, lovingly to torture and death. In the closing hours of his life, Jesus gave us one huge, last gift, an expression of solidarity, community.

Baptism too is one of these mystical experiences. Churches can debate on infant versus adult baptism. And at the Village we don’t care about the fight. We will baptize youth because it is a way to claim them in God’s grace. We also will baptize adults, allowing them to give an outward sign of their commitment to the church and to God.

But, it was confusing to Cheri about the mystical nature of our joining together. How did that show God’s love in a mystical way. But Mebane got it. You see, she had known Cheri through, and I had my own, pathetic single days. You see, both Cheri and I knew we wanted to be in a lifetime relationship. We both wanted to be parents, we wanted to be husband and wife. But for one reason or another we could not find that one person. And believe me, it will come as no surprise if you know me, that I was pathetic as a lonely, single guy. Until August 1996 that was. When we found each other. A year and a week later we had our wedding.

Let me assure you, by the end of that wedding celebration, no one had any doubt about the mystical evidence of God’s love. The wedding of a lawyer with political connections and a minster with a growing church created was a celebration of our love and God’s love. And when Mebane talked about how we had yearned to find each other and had been miserable until we did drew an Amen from the hundreds assembled that shook the room. We had a celebration that invited others to see God’s love and to have God bless our love.

Romantic love is wonderful, and it is Christian. It causes people to send flowers (Kurt still does almost every week) and write poems (not Kurt, but one sappy love card) and sing songs (again, not unless I wanted to chase Cheri off), when we would not do so otherwise. But an even greater thing is that it helps lead to that committed love that comes later.

That committed love is the love that keeps couples together. It helps them get through the times of annoying each other over bad habits (who knew toilet seats belonged down and video games were not to be turned off without saving) . It gets us through the loss of jobs, the death of dreams and the other people we love. It gets us through illness (can you say three ICU visits between us). Oh, and it magnifies the joys that come too, a thousandfold.

Romantic love and committed love are God’s gift. Whether that love is shown in a legally binding marriage, like mine and Cheri’s, or in a union service that the law does not yet recognize, like our friends Kristen & Misty (see past blogs) or others of the same gender, it’s God’s gift to us all.

As a Christian, you don’t have to choose between a love for God and romantic love. All forms of love, even passionate love between a committed, monogamous couple, are God’s gift. If no other day, than today, let us celebrate this. And for those of us who have this kind of love, let’s not forget that we are blessed. Also, let us not forget there are some out there who are not in such relationships by choice and others who would love to be, but are not.

Above all, Happy Valentines Day, and enjoy the love of God, and if you have that special someone in your life, the gift of all of the forms of God’s gift, love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Days and Forgiveness

We are having our second snow day of the year in Toledo. It's nothing compared to the "Snowmageddon" they are experiencing in DC and the mid-Atlantic states, but my kids are home from school, playing with the neighbor kids and getting a bit stir crazy. So, by 11 a.m. of day two we had a fight, and then a melt down, complete with a stand off with mom, one child being sent to their room, slamming doors, the whole nine yards. All because the kids got into a fight over who-knows-what.

The children were separated, and given a "time out." Wouldn't it be nice if God had the power just to give us a time out, when we act like children, and fight, and stomp our feet, and need just to go to our rooms, and chill out for a few minutes? Some of us manage to do this on our own. My friend, Bishop Judy Craig, used to say when things got really tough in the Bishop's office, she would sometimes just push her chair back from her desk, close her eyes and take a big breath and give the situation to God. I'd call that a "time out" of the best kind.

In less than 10 minutes this morning, my children made their peace. One wrote a message to the others on a dry erase board: "I'm sorry and if you never speak to me again I understand," to which the other two wrote, "We forgive you :-)" And they were off again to play.

Oh, if we adults could practice the act of forgiveness so simply. We will make mistakes. Jesus never expected us to have a life without conflict. He simply invites us to take a breath when we do. To ask for forgiveness. To forgive. And then to move on. The kids are headed outside to play in the snow now.

Ah, to be like a child, and have the ablity to fight, to take a breath, to forgive, and then go play in the snow! Blessing!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bible Stories You Probably Didn't Hear in Sunday School: “Yes! We Can Be Gay and Christian” by Rev. Cheri Holdridge

Their names were Cathy and Carly (at least that’s what I’ll call them today). It was the first gay or lesbian commitment service I had ever attended. I watched as they made their vows. They were so in love. So serious. So sure. Every bit as committed as Kurt and I were the day we got married. No different. As I had the privilege of witnessing Cathy and Carly make their life-long commitment to one another, it was obvious to me, their love was a gift from God, no question. Two followers of Jesus; they were standing in a chapel, in the presence of God and God’s people, making their promises and asking for God’s blessing. It was a holy moment.

At the Village Church, we believe that whether you are trans or bi, straight, lesbian or gay, you can follow Jesus. Here’s what matters. Do you love God, and love your neighbor, as you love yourself? That’s what is important. Love. But there are a whole lotta people in the world, good Christian people who disagree with us. I’ve been at this more than 20 years. I can stand firm in my truth. But some of you, have never met a preacher before who said it’s ok to be gay and Christian. And so together, we’re going to learn how to have the conversation with other folks.

At the Village Church, we take the stand that “Yes, we can be gay and Christian.” And yes, here at The Village Church we center our faith on the Bible. We have not thrown it out, even though some might think we have. In fact, it’s because we believe in the Bible and it’s because we follow Jesus that we stand firm in our belief that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons must be fully included in the life of our church. This puts us in the minority among Churches, but that’s ok. We like to be trend setters. You see, there was a day in this country, when many Church-goers, including our United Methodist fore bearers, thought it was their God-given right to own slaves. Now by the way our United Church of Christ forefathers and foremothers were some of the first brave folks to speak up against slavery (if you've seen the movie "Amistadt", the people who helped the slaves try to gain their freedom).

It was not until 1956 that the United Methodist Church would have allowed me to be a pastor, because I am a woman. We got over that one too. Right now the United Methodist Church does not allow gay people to be pastors unless they are celibate or closeted. The United Church of Christ does. Some of us believe that is only a matter of time before the UMC does too. And here is why.
Jesus always stands with the oppressed. He announced his agenda as a preacher with the bold word we read in Luke, chapter 4:

the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Whoever is on the edge of society, whoever is being persecuted, whoever is the victim of hate crimes and discrimination in the work place and in housing,” Jesus said, “that is the person I came for. I came to set that person free.”

Do you know what Jesus said about homosexuality? Who can tell me? Do you know? NOTHING. He said plenty about money and greed. Said plenty about how we should forgive one another. He did not spend one minute talking about homosexuality.

He spent plenty of time talking about love and about relationships. He said love one another. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is my greatest commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

Yeah, Jesus said plenty about love. Not one word about homosexuality.

When I see two people who love God, and who love one another, and who want to be in a committed relationship with each other, for life, and when those two people want to follow Jesus together, and ask God to bless their home and their life together – I gotta think that brings God joy – regardless of whether it’s two men, a man and a woman, or a man who has transitioned to become woman who is then in relationship with a man, or a woman. Two people – who love each other and love God – I think that’s really all God cares about.

And that’s why when we read scripture and try to understand how God wants us to live our lives, it’s important to use some other lenses as we read. So we use these lenses: church history, our own reason and our own experience. Now so far in church history, folks have pretty much agreed that homosexuality is a sin. However, those are the same folks that thought women should not be spiritual leaders; and it was ok to have slaves. So sometimes, we need to repent of our history, and move forward into a new life.

So, the other two lenses we use to read and interpret scripture are reason, our ability to think, and our experience. We have to be careful here. We need to be sure that we are grounded in a deep prayer life, and in community with others who are connected to God. But scripture has always been interpreted by people in their own context. Don’t let anyone try to tell you it’s not.

So, the other day, a friend here at The Village asked me how I become such a fierce advocate for LGBT persons? I said it was really quite simple. I went from college in Abilene TX in 1985, where I really didn’t consciously know any gay or lesbian folks; and I moved to the big city of Atlanta, where there were gay students at my seminary. They were wonderful folks who loved God and who were clearly called to be in ministry. Now I had grown up in a liberal family that taught me the value of working against racism. I was a feminist when I was in the 3rd grade. It was a no-brainer for me to join the cause of standing with my gay and lesbian classmates who were being denied ordination. They were gifted people, who loved God and wanted to serve God in the church just like me. I knew what it was like to be told I should not be a pastor because I was a woman – back home in West Texas. So I was sympathetic to my gay friends. My REASON and my EXPERIENCE told me these friends had just as much right to be pastors as I did, and that who they loved and who they chose to be in life-long partnerships with had nothing to do with whether or not they could be good pastors. And so I became a straight ally. An advocate. A fighter for justice.

So, here we are today. I promised we would look at those six scriptures that people use to say you can’t be gay and Christian, so let’s take a look, briefly, at them.
Two are in the Jewish law book of Leviticus.

Leviticus 18:22
22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (NRSV)

Leviticus 20:13a
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; (NRSV)

Now the truth is, most of Leviticus is full of laws that we modern Christians no longer worry about, things like not eating shellfish, and not touching pigskin, which means football is out. To give you a response to Lev 18:22 and 20:13, we’re going to show you a clip from the “West Wing.” In this scene the President enters a reception with a bunch of radio show hosts. One of them, is a character like our Dr. Laura who offers advice on her show.

* WEST WING VIDEO CLIP - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD52OlkKfNs&feature=related

The other Old Testament scripture that is often quoted is the story of Sodom found in Genesis 19:1-29. In an article by Michael Piazza from the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, found at http://tinyurl.com/Piazza-article, you can find more details about this text and others. I really don’t have time to go into great detail in the time constraints of this sermon. But basically, we’ve been told that the sin of the town of Sodom was that they were homosexuals and that is why God destroyed the city. But this is not a city of people in loving committed monogamous homosexual relationships. In the story, there are guests, angels, staying in a man’s home, and then a mob comes. They demand that the guests be brought out to them so that they might rape them. This is a story of abuse. And in fact the man offers his virgin daughters instead. Don’t even get me started about that – if God destroys the city because of their homosexuality then why does the man offer his daughters? In another place in scripture, Jesus refers to the inhospitality of Sodom (Luke 10:10-13).

Here is the truth. In the time when scripture was written, they did not have scientific knowledge that we have now. There was no sense that homosexuality was a natural thing. And even if there was, this story is not about two people being in a same gender loving committed relationship. This is a story of abuse and violence.

So that is the three scriptures in the Old Testament. As I have said, Jesus himself, says nothing about homosexuality that is recorded in scripture. There are only three verses in the New Testament that have been translated as having anything to do with homosexuality, and each of these present some problems in terms of translations. Here are the three:

Romans 1
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (RSV)

I Corinthians 6:9-10
9Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (NRSV)

I Timothy 1:9-11

9This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (NRSV)

Here is one problem. We are reading the Bible in English. We are dependent upon translators and they are all going to have some sort of bias. But here is the other problem. There really was no sense, in the time that the Bible was written, that it could be natural for a man to have relations with a man; or for two women. So when Romans 1 refers to unnatural relations, it’s because there was no sense that two men or two women could have natural relations.

As far as the other two scriptures, in I Corinthians and I Timothy, these really refer to prostitution. They have nothing to do with what we would know today as a loving same gendered relationship. In fact the word homosexual did not even appear in the English translations until 1958. Until then the word was translated Sodomites or male prostitutes.

So you see, the Bible really has nothing to say, directly, about two women or two men, who fall in love, and make a decision to spend the rest of their lives together, gather with their friends and their pastor, and ask for God’s blessing for their covenant relationship. So, we are on our own to read what we do have in scripture, through the lens of tradition, and our own reason and experience, and determine what Jesus would have us do.

As I think of the people I know. . . as I look around this room. . . it seems quite clear to me. Because you see, I’m not just thinking about some abstract “homosexual people” I’m seeing the faces Cathy and Carly at their commitment service, and the faces of Pat and Cindy ; and Kristen and Shelly, people who have been together in committed relationships for 25 years; People who love God, and who are single but who have always known themselves as gay or lesbian. I don’t really understand how other churches and other pastors can say you are not welcome just because of whom you are attracted to and who you love. And so, here, we say that everyone is welcome, no matter who you love.

Both of our denominations have groups of churches within them that are committed to being publicly welcoming to Trangender, Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian persons.

United Church of Christ – Open and Affirming Churches - ONA
ONA is "shorthand" for Open and Affirming, the designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the United Church of Christ which make public statements of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.

United Methodist Church – Reconciling Ministries Network
Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.

Village Church Statement of Welcome
We invite and welcome into the full life and ministry of The Village Church persons of every gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical and mental ability, age, race, nationality, economic, and social status. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in The Village Church.