“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
I don’t believe I have ever been a part of any group of people who listened to Micah’s words more than the people of this faith community.
Churches are like people. Over time the character of a church becomes clear. If I were asked to characterize the spirit of Highlands, I’d do it this way. The hallmarks of this faith community are worship, fellowship, commitment to serving and advocating for the least of these, the generous sharing of our resources and spiritual gifts, a firm belief in the importance of interfaith relationships and dialogue, and promoting the full inclusion of all of God’s children in the life of the church.
In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James said that we can know that God is real when God produces results. Dr. Bill Dean, one of my seminary professors, wrote a book titled “The American Spiritual Culture-And the Invention of Jazz, Football and the movies. Dr. Dean said that God is made known in God’s role in history. The God worshipped and served here at Highlands has produced results and has been made known to the community in the 50-year history of this church through the development of our character.
None of that is made more manifest than through the decision Highlands made three years ago to become the first and still today the only More Light Presbyterian Church in Wyoming. We embraced the mission statement of the More-Light movement, which reads:
“Following the risen Christ, and seeking to make the Church a true community of hospitality, the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society.”
And so, this Sunday we celebrate not only Gay Pride. We also celebrate our pride as a faith community in knowing that God has shown us what is good, and what then is required of us. To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
We celebrate our pride in following the Jesus who says: Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. How often do the Gospels tell stories about Jesus veering from the beaten path to touch, hug, share meals with and walk alongside those the culture puts on the margins of life? That’s the Jesus we follow.
We celebrate our pride in the willingness we have displayed to listen to the Spirit who leads us to say, “Come,” for all are welcome here…black and white, Indian and Hispanic, documented and undocumented, strangers, the young, the old, the rich and the poor, children who sometimes laugh and cry during the worship service, single, married or divorced, gay or straight. Even if others have judged and labeled you…especially if others have judged and labeled you…you are welcome, loved and included here.
As a More-Light church, we join our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in celebrating Pride Month. In case you wondered why June…the month of June was chosen for LGBTQ Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. Stonewall is a small bar in NYC where gays gathered and one night as the cops busted the bar and began arresting people for no other crime than their sexual orientation, gays fought back…throwing bottles and rocks and saying “no more.”
How I wish it were different, how I wish gay pride month recalled the time in which every Christian stood and said “enough, we can’t follow Jesus and, at the same time, condemn these our brothers and sisters for the way in which God created them as God did us…in God’s image.”
How I wish Pride Month celebrated a time when all of the followers of Jesus stood together as one for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the life, ministry and witness of the church and in society.”
But the larger church remains unhappily divided on whether to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. The membership of our own denomination is in decline, largely over this issue. But, this isn’t the first time the church divided and its membership suffered over cultural issues.
The church divided when some Christians stood for abolition over slavery, it divided over women’s rights when some Christians spoke up for the inclusion of women in the life of the church, and the church divided over the war in Viet Nam when some Christians stood up and said too many people were dying. But church divisions over cultural and political issues started before the US was even born…the first time the American church divided was over whether the colonies should seek independence from Great Britain.
Dividing the church is the risk but should never be the goal. The goal should be to have a thoughtful dialogue about our faith and where it leads but in the final analysis we follow Jesus who told us there would be times when we would be divided brother against brother, sister against sister.
When Rev. Richard Crocker came here to survey the impact of cultural issues on Wyoming Presbyterians, he was told by one faith community that the PCUSA decision allowing each congregation to decide for itself whether it would sanction same-sex marriages, meant that the Presbyterians don’t believe in the Bible.
Well, we here at Highlands believe in the Bible. We believe the Bible tells the story of a God who created us all, red, yellow, black or white, gay or straight…created us all in God’s image. We believe in a Bible that tells us to speak the truth as best we can discern it through prayer and study. We believe in a Bible that teaches us that there are no Biblical laws or religious doctrines that stand in the way of loving one another.
Yes, we know there are a handful of verses that appear to speak to same-sex relationships and can, if the reader so chooses, they can be interpreted to render such relationships sinful. But, their interpretation to that effect is questionable even if you take the Bible literally.
Because of the numbers of inquiries I receive from people in the community about what the Bible says about this matter, I have prepared an essay addressing the verses that speak to the matter and what they mean. There are copies on the table in the Narthex if you are interested.
Jesus spoke of many things, provided us with guidance and direction on so much of our lives but said not one word about homosexuality. But he did speak about love. He said there are two great commandments; both having to do with love. Love the Lord your God, he said, with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself…adding…all of the law depends on these two.
Twelve-year-old Savannah stood before her church community last month and told them she identifies as a lesbian and believes that God intended to make her that way.
“God loves me just this way, because I believe that he loves all his creations... I believe he made me this way on purpose. No part of me is a mistake. I believe that God wants us to treat each other with kindness, even if people are different” and then she added, “especially IF they are different. END QUOTE
And we are all different…in very different ways.
your father or mine, somebody should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour for the lack of it."
And so, here at Highlands we choose love. We take pride in following Jesus. And we take pride that we worship God alongside our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, together with whom we seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. AMEN