We had recording difficulties during worship this morning. We might be able to recover the recording, but for now I am posting the scripture and sermon here.
This was well received in worship. There will be some who are unhappy with what I shared– and it’s not my intention to alienate. It is my intention to include, especially when voices of exclusion have spoken in our United Methodist Church.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 The Message
With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
Sermon Title: True Selves Revealed
I need to talk about what happened in General Conference and I also want to spend most of my time talking about how this relates to the word we attach to this day: transfiguration, and how we might name being transfigured ourselves as witnesses to God’s love in Bemidji.
But first– about General Conference– and Here I will read Pastor Adam Hamilton’s succinct account of his experience there. Hamilton is pastor of the largest United Methodist church in the United States– Church of the Resurrection in Kansas city.
“It’s been an exhausting week as I’ve been at General Conference. By now you likely have heard the results of the General Conference, results that are deeply disappointing to me and to many in the U.S. Church. The plan that was approved is hurtful to LGBTQ persons and their family and friends. The Conference was intended to find a way forward, but instead approved a way backwards. It’s important to note that 66% of US delegates voted against this plan and for a more inclusive plan I supported.
(Here he writes to his congregation) What happened at General Conference does not change who we are as a congregation. We are a church that welcomes and loves members of the LGBTQ community. We will not treat them as second-class Christians. United Methodist Christians across America, including bishops and pastors of some of our leading churches, are in conversation about where we go from here. This end’s Adam Hamilton’s quotation.
Many if not most of you have heard the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top. It was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, accompanied by his disciples Peter, James, and John. Once on the mountain, Jesus appears to be in conference with Moses and Elijah, his historic ancestors in Jewish faith, discussing the journey to the cross. All three of them are transfigured, meaning that they glow with revealed light. From a cloud, a voice is heard: This is my son, Whom I have chosen; Listen to him.
For Jesus’ disciples, it is a moment of religious ecstasy in the midst of a dark and troubling journey to the cross. The light of Christ illuminates the cross. The light reveals the cross transformed from an instrument of torture to an instrument of healing. And so, Jesus and his disciples leaves this place of spiritual ecstasy to return to a broken world where the cross is a symbol of a broken world. This is usually where interpretations go: to come down from the mountain to face the ugliness of our broken world. But this week we have had more than our fair share of ugliness. Today we need to experience Transfiguration Sunday more than we need to experience “Down from the mountain Sunday.” Today we need to experience and reclaim the transfiguring light of Christ that we may be healed and made whole. Today we need the expansive view of God’s grace from on high. Today, we need to recover our identity as the church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors. I pray that we may be opened to new light, new hope, new love, new possibility.
Years ago, I was blessed to be a church member sitting in the pew at Macalaster Plymouth Church for a transfiguring sermon. A seminary student named Stephen Hadden was preaching that morning, near the completion of his first year with the congregation. During that time with us we experienced his gift for building relationships. We received his love and respect– and we very much love and respected him. He was a beloved leader in our church.
Stephen came out as a gay man to the congregation that morning. To some, this was a surprise. He also told the story of coming out in another church– a church where he had sung in the choir, been part of the church family, and shared in faith. This other church rejected him completely. They kicked him out of the choir, out of the church, and out of their hearts. Stephen’s heart was broken.
How he recovered from this– how he healed enough to continue his faith journey in a Christian church is perhaps one of God’s miracles, but it happened.
It’s hard to imagine being persecuted for being a Christian in this country– That is if you are white, male, heterosexual, married, and with children. Yet persecution is what Jesus’ disciples and the early church experienced– Including the apostle Paul. Followers of Jesus were making a difficult choice in claiming Christian identity: It was the choice through which they would become most truly themselves– but also a choice for which they would suffer. This is true for many LBGTQ people throughout the years– they begin to discover their true selves, only to be crucified by people around them. I watched and walked with a generation of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic; many were rejected by family and friends. Thankfully, this happens less often in our part of the secular world. But it still happens in many countries where gay and lesbian people are put to death. In our time and place, it is more often churches which persecute LBGTQ people. Among the more difficult experiences is to claim their gender identity and orientation while claiming their identity as Christians. In this country, LBGTQ folks have been under attack by many who identify themselves as Christians– and this is where we are part of a communal sin. When we reject and judge others for who they are– it is our sin, not theirs which breaks God’s heart.
Through God’s love, and through the perseverance God inspired in the early followers of Jesus and LBGTQ Christians– their light– their transfiguration– can bring us to faith. Through this light we are transformed to Jesus disciples– so that we may participate in making disciples so that the world may be transformed from shock and horror– sorrow and brokenness– to light and hope
Stephen was not rejected by my church. If anything, the light of his faith shined more brightly in our church– and this light changed the hearts and minds of people in my church. It ultimately opened the doors of grace in new ways. People who, in the past, had rejected homosexuals loved Stephen: reconciling this transformed their view. People who had started in a place of being more open became more active– Mac-Plymouth became part of movements in both of it’s denominations: Open and Affirming and More Light. A few years later the church called its first openly gay pastor– and many LBGTQ people became part of the church family: together they prosper. In the midst of all the sad news coming out of General Conference, this memory is like salve to a deep wound. It inspires me towards a hopeful vision for our church.
I dream of our church becoming a church where LGBTQ people and their families can find an open home. A place where the light of God’s love can be shown in their growing faith. A place where love grows for all. I dream of people in Bemidji coming to a church which not only accepts them, but embraces them head and heart. I dream of our church where others who have experienced rejection for being most fully themselves will find a home. I dream of a church with a bold and audacious rainbow flag. I dream of Bemidji Open Church, which just happens to be United Methodist– not like the United Methodists you heard about in the news this week– but a church where the words open hearts, open minds, open doors is not a motto which smacks of hypocrisy– but a place where being open and fully ourselves is embraced and loved. I dream of our church family as a beacon of hope in a broken world. Amen.