Tuesday, 12 October 2010 18:46

October 10, 2010 Sermon

Prayer: Celebrated God Among Us, thank you for the gift of such a powerful, loving testimony.  Let this first sermon I preach be a blessing to all who hear it, and through it Let God’s Love Come Out.

Lessons of Love in Community (Let God’s Love Come Out) by David Coleman

On Monday, all over the country, people of every faith, culture, and ability come together to celebrate their love, celebrate their mutual acceptance, and celebrate how far we’ve all come together—straight, lesbian, gay, bi, and trans-- on a journey toward cultural healing.  Happy National Coming Out Day, University Baptist Church!

I’m not sure this close-knit church is fully aware of the amazing voice that it has—the prophetic message that it carries. . . Oh, people of God, I feel humbled and honored that Doug and the Worship planning team asked me to preach for this occasion—to preach my first sermon in a church ever on an occasion that highlights exactly why this community is already so special to me.

Yes, I am excited to be here because this is a community that deeply values people of all diverse gender expressions and romantic orientations.  Yes, I’m excited to be here-- but not just because this church has deeply sacrificed to be “Welcoming and Affirming.”  This isn’t just about queer communities.  What excites me most—to the point of thanking God every day—is that this community made its decisions about LGBT people based on principles of intentional love and respect for ALL people.

This wasn’t just about one group or “tolerating” certain “now-acceptable” people.  It’s about the all-encompassing, fundamental principle of love.  It’s a principle that Christ taught us where respect and loving consideration supersede all other thoughts.  Love is a principle University Baptist “gets”—love in the spiritual lineage of our leader who “gets” it named Jesus of Nazareth… love in the name of Jesus, who himself was in the spiritual lineage of yet another…

Introducing Faith Story: David:
In the Bible, there’s a great King who “gets” it—who “gets” love.  His name is David— you know, the guy who slew Goliath and remains an ideological center for the Jewish faith 3000 years later.  (Smile)  Maybe we’ve heard of him . . . [Pause]  He certainly wasn’t perfect.  He built his fame warring against Philistines, and his great corrupt sex scandal with Bathsheba could certainly more-than-rival Bill Clinton’s.  Nonetheless, because of David’s character and innermost heart, he is portrayed as perhaps the greatest hero in the entire collection of Older Testament literature.  Wow, wouldn’t it be great to be named after this guy?  [Laugh]

His great redeeming quality and claim as an eternal legend is that David loved God.  And, if any universal truth exists in what our own later canon says—that “God is love”—then David essentially loved love.  He “got it,” and in him God saw the next anointed King.

When Samuel the prophet came knocking in search of the next king, David’s father Jesse didn’t see his humble, handsome, and love-filled young son fit to be king or even think to call for him.  He hid him, letting him tend sheep while lining up all of David’s brothers, thinking the next king had to be one of them.  It couldn’t be David! [Limp wrist action.]  But Samuel, who had risked his life to find God’s next chosen King, bypassed all of David’s brothers.  God told him, “Pay no attention to appearance and height . . . mortals see only appearances, but YHWH sees into the heart.”

Perhaps the wise prophet understood better than most that the most impactful people who ever lived weren’t those who simply climbed the ladder of power.   **[Slowly] Those who truly understand the fundamental principle of love—who understand God—run so counter to the world that their destiny has already been sealed.  David’s destiny was sealed.  And, perhaps, the wise prophet also foresaw something else: The next King could only hope to survive King Saul’s jealousy by being uniquely able to earn the love of someone close to him . . . Saul’s son.

Not aware of David’s secret, prophetic anointing, King Saul instead learned—with a little divine intervention—of David’s talent for playing the harp.  He summoned him to his household to serve as a musician playing beautiful, soothing music whenever Saul felt tormented.  During this period of his life, it’s easy to imagine young, handsome David spending his time rubbing shoulders with the royal family including a son of the King named Jonathan.

Now, I’ve done some stupid things in my life to impress a boy . . . none of which I care to admit at the moment. (Sorry.)  But if that’s what David was doing, this one takes the cake.

While Saul’s army was hiding from this huge Philistine warrior who was taunting them… and while this giant was challenging anyone to come forward to do battle with him… This unassuming little musician who nobody thought had it in him says, “I can do this!” and “Meh, I don’t need any armor!”  (Saul’s wouldn’t fit, and oversized armor probably wasn’t in style, anyway.)

Well, we all know the end of that story.  He slays Goliath, carries the severed head back to camp, everyone notices, and whether he intended to or not, he impresses the boy.  (Score one for David.)  This brings us to our scripture, which immediately follows the Goliath narrative.

1 Samuel 18:1-4, read from The Inclusive Bible:
Once David finished speaking with Saul, the souls of Jonathan and David became intertwined, and Jonathan loved David with all his heart and soul.  Seeing this, Saul took David in, and wouldn’t allow him to return home.  And Jonathan and David made a solemn covenant with one another, for they loved each other as much as they loved themselves.  Then Jonathan took off his robe and his tunic, and gave them to David; he also gave him his sword, his bow, and his belt.
***Let us take a moment to reflect on the Word of Love.***

“…they loved each other as they loved themselves.”  Where else have we heard this in scripture?  .Jonathan literally loved David with such passion that he takes the opportunity afforded by David’s public heroism, and creates a l-o-v-i-n-g c-o-v-e-n-a-n-t with him.  Rarely, in the Bible, do we ever see such a passionate model of committed love between any two people sealed by any covenant whatsoever.

While covenants between men and women back then were still complicated with money, status, and property, the loving covenant we see between David and Jonathan isn’t like that.  It represents something wholesome that we see valued more in our modern sensibilities: it was an egalitarian—mutual— relationship-- one based not on politics but based on [pause] Are you Ready? [Pause] Their relationship was based upon the fundamental principle of love.
[I will then kick my heel back in a stereotypically gay fashion and say, “Oh my God, isn’t he dreamy?!”]

Stepping back for a moment, I have to recognize that I’m reading this passage through a particular lens, just as I’m telling this story with a particular flare.  Everybody reads faith stories differently through their own lenses and filters called—to us Seminary intern folk— a “hermeneutic.”  Each of us has a history we bring.  Each of us brings a different perspective.  My hermeneutic just-so-happens to be full of rainbows…

Really, we don’t have enough information to pin a modern concept of “sexual orientation” on these characters.  They didn’t have the language for that, and they both married multiple women, living as people of their time.  Thus, I often hear fundamentalists with their own lenses seeking to belittle a queer hermeneutic saying, “You just don’t understand ancient Middle-Eastern culture.  They could have that kind of close relationship and it wasn’t remotely homosexual.”  My response, in that case, is that “ancient Middle-Eastern culture” also didn’t have our cultural sickness of homophobia.  … a bit of a catch 22.

In the end, this covenant-sealed, loving partner saved David’s life when King Saul saw the masses rallying behind David and writing songs about his accomplishments.  You can’t have a hero other than the king in a controlling autocracy, so Saul tried to kill David.  Repeatedly.  Entire Chapters in Samuel show Jonathan laboring to save David’s life in the face of his father’s jealous political wrath.

Jonathan’s faith story is one of love.  Jonathan loved, cherished, and protected David. Through this love he found his place in our most cherished faith history.  Jonathan also remained loyal to his father, and died bravely while serving alongside him in battle.

Thus, when David received the throne upon their deaths, his thoughts were on the one whom he loved—the person whose love made it possible for David to live and see the destiny for which God anointed him.

About Jonathan’s and King Saul’s tragic deaths, David sings an emotional, heart-wrenching lament we find in 2 Samuel 1.  Here is its ending.

How the mighty have fallen!
In the heat of battle
Jonathan lies slain on your heights!
I grieve for you, my brother, my Jonathan;
You were my delight, my sweet!
Your love was marvelous to me,
More wonderful than the love of women!
How the mighty have fallen!
The war machines have perished.

This is the mutual faith story of David and Jonathan—the son of a king and a shepherd boy who loved each-other.  We can learn from their story and live lives of substance by reflecting on the kind of love they had for one-another.

What each of us sees may be different.  What I see is an egalitarian love unpolluted by money, politics, power, or social status even in the midst of ascension to power.  What you see may be different.  What I see are two lovers not limited by expected relational roles, gender roles, or social mores.  Their care for one-another protected, kept vows, and embodied a fundamental principle not seen in power-based relationships: the fundamental principle of love.

The principle of love is prophetic.  It is pure, and it doesn’t play “us-and-them” games.  When Saul and Jonathan died, David didn’t just mourn for Jonathan—he also mourned for Saul who had spent his latter existence trying to exterminate him.  He could have cursed Saul!  Yet David still loved him—his King, unconditionally.  Purely.

Application, tying in my story and the UBC Story:
With love leading the way, it seems the wind of the Holy Spirit can change everything pretty quickly.  A humble shepherd suddenly gets called to be King.  A church going along normally suddenly finds itself at the heart of the gay rights issue splitting with its region.  When University Baptist Church followed the fundamental principle of love many years ago to support the LGBT community—a faith story we’ll tell in February—in this case, was not the obvious action of a loving community a “prophetic,” foregone conclusion?

For people who operate in love, it can be dizzying-- someone shows up at the doorstep, and “snap!” – God leads and love has a new agenda.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  When we hear that loving voice, isn’t it obvious what to do?  It’s not complicated, because love leads the way.  Following love is so simple that the faith of a little child can understand it—probably better than us adults who frequently screw it up with all sorts of complications... and a little child shall lead them. (Ref Isa. 11:6)

Remember how I said at the beginning that I don’t think this beautiful church is fully aware of the amazing voice that it has?  Of the healing, prophetic message it carries?  Love makes prophetic living inevitable, because love is of God.  Much like the anointing of King David was inevitable given his relationship to the fundamental principle of love, so is this church’s prophetic journey inevitable.

It’s a journey I join with you now as someone who has never before been given the opportunity to preach by anybody else.  And up to now, I haven’t believed in myself enough to do so outside a classroom.  While it may seem obvious to some of you that, yeah, I’d preach— this is, in itself, prophetic love that you might believe in me.

Starting in 2001, I spent four years at an Assembly of God bible college where nobody believed in me as I began slowly understanding my sexual orientation.  And word gets around.  As I faithfully followed God’s call, I was denied every opportunity I sought to preach, teach, lead, or even go on a mission trip.  A young guy struggling with “homosexual desires” was too much of a liability.

I even came to truly believe that I was too spiritually weak or incompetent to do ministry.  Buying into a perverted and hateful form of love I was taught called “love the sinner hate the sin,” I hated myself, my “sin,” and did everything I could to change who I was—even submitting to attempts at exorcism.  In that mindset, they let me stick around for four years, never truly honoring my call, and then kicked me out after I was honest about who I was.

The harm is deep, and the impact visible. But that time is long gone now—over 5 years past.  I have grown.  Now, others like United Theological Seminary and University Baptist Church, operating in love, offer a different voice.  It’s a loving voice that has caught my attention for years as I’ve watched Pastor Doug and members of UBC at every single gay rights event.  Even this summer, it was soul-healing to see a brave UBC Church council member walking away under arrest because she refused to let LGBT people be second-class.  It still heals my soul when I realize that even when I went through all my hurt, a small Church I barely heard of called UBC stood up for my rights.

You stood for me before I believed I needed it.  In fact, I remember thinking, “What kind of Baptist church rallies at Gay Pride?”  I probably thought you were all going to hell.  It’s taken a while, but your message of love came through.

Four years ago, I refused to give up on the call God gave me and applied to United Theological Seminary.  Having been kicked out of my previous school and not receiving a Bachelor’s degree, I wasn’t even sure that I’d get in, or what I was getting into!  But they expressed their principle of love by letting me in their master’s program.  In love, they accepted me.  They struggled with me.  They picked me up as I fell, and over the years when I got too depressed reconciling everything that had happened to finish my homework, my professors understood and waited—patiently for me to catch up.  I learned what love truly means as they treated me in the ways of God’s grace.

Love has forever changed my life.  Love has forever changed all of our lives.  So… What does all of this have to do with National Coming Out Day Tomorrow?  What does the story of this remarkable church and the story of a remarkable couple have to do with David the King—and David the Intern?

The common thread is that all our stories are about letting God’s love “come out.”  God is love.  When you live a life of intentional love, you bring the presence of God into every situation.  Operating in this kind of love is so different than the way the world usually operates—so ahead of its time and simultaneously so timeless—that it changes everything around you.  With love, every situation is inevitably changed by the presence of God.  

1.    So let God’s love Come Out.
2.    When oppressed people come knocking, let God’s love come out.
3.    When we see our neighbors crying out for political and economic justice let God’s love come out.
4.    When we see the violence of racism and sexism surround us, (Can you say it with me?) let God’s love come out.
5.    When we see youth around America bullied to the point of suicide, let God’s love come out.
6.    And if I ever find I’m the one on the side of hate, let God’s love come out.