A Sermon by the Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches The Reverend Nancy L. Wilson
Delivered at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, Houston, Texas, on April 30, 2006
Scripture: Acts 3: 1-16
Greetings. It is a joy to worship with you in this season of Easter, this season of Resurrection!
As Rev. Elder Freda Smith, a wonderful MCC pioneer, is fond of saying, "MCC is the most exciting church since the Book of Acts!"
I love the Book of Acts. It offers a little glimpse into the tumultuous and often chaotic times of the earliest church. I see Metropolitan Community Churches all through the Book of Acts, which is the history book of the New Testament. It includes the story of Pentecost (this year is the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival that launched the modern Pentecostal movement) and MCC's Pentecostal roots are very important for us. In fact, this weekend, in Southern California, there is an LGBT-friendly celebration of that 100th anniversary. I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit that came on Pentecost is the same power that gave Rev. Troy Perry the courage and freedom to start MCC.
The Book of Acts includes one of my favorite nominees for "lesbians in the Bible" - Lydia, the seller of purple, the woman in whose home the first church in Europe met. It also includes Paul's Damascus Road experience, in Acts 9, which I had to memorize in 6th grade, and the great story of the earthquake and Paul and Silas' miraculous release from jail. The story of the Acts of the Apostles is full of twists and turns and adventures, and most of all, the "unhindered gospel" of Jesus Christ. It tells the story of a church that is stretched, challenged and growing in spirit, in maturity, and in its vision of life with the Risen Lord Jesus.
The passage we hear today follows the dramatic post-Easter, post-Pentecost healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate. In the biblical story, Peter and John are going up to prayer in the synagogue, minding their own business, when a lame man cries out to them, begging. They stop, and actually notice him, and they look him in the eyes and utter that wonderful line, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk!"
And, of course, he did!
What follows is a dance between the disciples, the people and the religious authorities that ends up with Peter and John being dragged before the Council. Every chance they get, Peter, John and the other disciples use the amazing stories of healing to also share the story of Jesus and his resurrection power. They were an Easter community, and everywhere they went miracles happened! Healing happened! Liberation happened! And people doubted it. They questioned it. They tried to stop it. But the message was unstoppable. They were full of resurrection faith and power, but the world was not necessarily ready to receive it! Many felt that lame beggars should just stay lame beggars, it was the natural order of things!
Imagine, Jesus gave that lame beggar "perfect health" in front of God, the people, everyone! And instead of being a source of joy, it became the source of enormous controversy.
MCC, God has given us, too, perfect health, if we will claim it. And true to form, the world still does not want to believe it! The world is more comfortable if LGBT people and our families and friends remain full of shame and hopelessness, full of un-health. The world is perfectly happy for us to stay in dark bars, stifling closets, in patterns of addiction, and in spiritual despair. But we are truly an Easter community, the most exciting church since the Book of Acts. And God is moving, loving, healing and using us in this time in history.
We are at a crossroads again, and, dare I say it, at a tipping point. There are some who might say that other denominations are now accepting LGBT folks and the need for MCC is diminishing. Those people have never visited Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, Texas!
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that there is movement in some denominations, and in every large city in North America, and in a few other places, you can find some Open and Affirming churches of different denominations. Of all of them, the United Church of Christ has taken the greatest risk to stand in solidarity with LGBT folks, and they have paid a price for it. Still, only 10% of UCC churches are officially open and affirming.
Other denominations are presently poised for stalling, backsliding. Many continue to be embroiled in controversy. The two largest Christian Churches in the U.S., the Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, are a long, long way from opening their doors, and the third largest, the United Methodists, have warm fuzzy ads on TV at the very same time as they are moving further and further to the right. And there is a whole generation of un-churched LGBT folks who will never darken the door of a mainstream church, no matter how affirming they are. Who will touch their hearts with the fire of the inclusive love of God?
Whatever other churches choose to do, I say to us this: It is time for MCC to put the "move" back in movement. We are needed more than ever before in history not only in the U.S. in large and small cities but in cities and towns and villages around the world.
MCC has a global calling. And it is an unfinished calling. The Holy Spirit is not done with us yet, and the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is alive and active and creating new chapters in the Book of Acts before our eyes.
In Eastern Europe, they are calling us the "Human Rights Church. We are a church that has always connected Jesus and justice. Some think you can have Jesus without justice not so! Jesus loved the prophets and quoted them. He spoke of a God of grace and inclusion, who blessed those who hungered and thirst for righteousness, for justice and for peace. He knew the words of the prophet Amos who cried out "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream!"
I am not ashamed of Jesus, or of our rich, diverse Christian nature. And I am not ashamed of our passionate commitment to justice. From the earliest days of MCC, this has been our calling.
Why are we in Eastern Europe right now? Why are we sending a team half way around the world in May and June of this year? We are there because our LGBT people are there! And because we have an amazing opportunity. There are young, Christian gay activists there who are risking so much to bring hope and liberation to our community. The European Union has provided a window of opportunity to tear down walls and build up hope. In the post-communist world of Eastern Europe it just so happens that in order to join the European Union each country must pass legislation that supports LGBT rights. Even though these countries are passing that legislation, they are still steeped in cultural and religious-based homophobia, and too often they still actively persecute our people.
MCC has the powerful opportunity to be on the ground floor in the struggle for human and civil rights, while overcoming religious homophobia. It is through this struggle that we are also preparing the way for there to be church planting. We cannot have churches there until we have helped change the culture enough for them to safely meet and minister. Young LGBT Christian men and women are risking their jobs, their lives to make possible what we take for granted, and MCC can help make a huge difference.
Last year, for the first time, we helped a young community hold their first Pride parade. When the President of Romania and the mayor of Bucharest said no, and withdrew police protection, we asked MCCers and our allies all over the world to send e-mails to the President and the mayor to protest. And it worked! They relented, and 300 people, including Rev. Elder Diane Fisher and other MCCers marched in the march, safely, and they held an MCC service, along with workshops on overcoming religious homophobia. This year, we are organizing in 5 countries Romania again, Serbia, Moldova, Bulgaria and Latvia. This is a moment of resurrection and Pentecost for our communities in Eastern Europe.
Recently, many of us were in Tampa, Florida, for a wonderful MCC People of African Descent Conference. We heard from a young man named Gareth from Jamaica. Today, Jamaica is the most lethally homophobic place in the Western Hemisphere, where dozens of gay men have been brutally murdered in the past couple of years. AIDS-phobia and homophobia have combined to make life for lesbians and gays hell on earth there. Gareth told us the heart-wrenching story of the murder of his best friend and roommate, Steve Harvey, an AIDS worker.
What is so painful to hear is that no one in Jamaica will stand up for our LGBT people. And even though this story has been reported in the press in the U.S., no one, not even in the LGBT community, seems to care or want to take the risk to help them. This is where MCC comes in, because we will not turn our back on the Gareths of the world. We must become involved. He is our brother in Christ. What Gareth says they need most of all, besides safety, is spiritual; and pastoral help, which we are going to provide! We have to stop the violence and share the good news of a God of love and justice whom we know in Jesus!
In this cause, we need you, Resurrection MCC. We need all MCCers everywhere. We need you to be bold, and strong, and out in the community. We need you to model the "perfect health" that God bestows even on the least of these, as we are being resurrected. The world needs a denomination that is also a movement, one that lives an ecumenical vision of church. We need churches that are into saving lives, healing broken hearts, and stirring up vocation.
We need you to be about movement, here in Houston and around the world. That may mean that some of your literally have to move, go to school, find your God-given vocation. We need church planters, lay and clergy, as the Board of Elders identifies the top ten cities where we do not have an MCC and where we are desperately needed. We need to be a church that is not afraid to tackle tough issues such as crystal meth addiction and the changing face of HIV/AIDS. We need churches that reach out to youth and young adults, to families with children, offering them a safe place that seeks to put their gifts and energy to use.
Today, all over the world, there are people who are wounded, injured, hopeless - people who think that their destiny is to beg for crumbs at the Beautiful Gates of our day. God needs disciples of Jesus Christ who will actually notice them, look them in the eye and say, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, be whole and be free!"
Sermon Delivered By:
The Reverend Nancy L. Wilson
Metropolitan Community Churches