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Services and special presentations from
Houston Mennonite Church in Houston, Texas.

10-3-21 Sermon Transcript

Oct 5, 2021

In 1922, the Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen wrote:

The South is crucifying Christ again
By all the laws of ancient rote and rule:
The ribald cries of “Save yourself” and "Fool"
Din in his ears, the thorns grope for his brain,
And where they bite, swift springing rivers stain
His gaudy, purple robe of ridicule
With sullen red; and acid wine to cool
His thirst is thrust at him, with lurking pain.
Christ's awful wrong is that he's dark of hue,
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women, too,
Shout, battling for black and brittle bones.

It is not just the South that is crucifying Christ—it’s America; it is all of us. Any time an innocent person is executed, Christ is crucified again. Christ was crucified again at a grocery store in Boulder, and metro Atlanta, and at a fed-ex facility in Indiana, and in early Septhember here in Houston, and countless other places. Christ was crucified again at a school in Columbine, CO and Newtown, CT, Parkland, FL, , santa fe, at a mental hospital in San Bernardino, CA, and a movie theatre in Aurora, CO. Christ is crucified again every week on the streets of Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and New Orleans. 6 years ago on June 17, Christ was crucified again at a Black church in Charleston, SC, and 5 years ago on June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL.

Everyone needs sanctuary. Many people find their sanctuary in a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or a temple, but those who have been excluded from communities of faith, breaking them from our faith security so we often have had to find sanctuary somewhere else. For many in the LGBTQ community, the first place where they could be safe, the first place where they could connect with their true selves—the first place where they could find sanctuary, was at a bar or a nightclub. Back in the 50s and 60s, there was nowhere for the LGBT community to go. They were not welcome in restaurants or community centers and they were certainly not welcome in churches. The only place they could go to be themselves were bars, and one of the first nightclubs that opened to the LGBTq community was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York.

The Mafia owned the Stonewall Inn and it was not the nicest place in Manhattan. It had no running water, no liquor license, no fire exits, and the toilets were constantly overflowing. But it was the only gay bar in the city that allowed dancing, and so it catered to a racially diverse assortment of patrons and was popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the LGBTQ community: drag queens, transgender people, lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless gay youth. Police raids on gay bars like the Stonewall Inn were routine in the 60s, and they were used to terrorize and humiliate. In 1969, the growing tensions in America around civil rights for women, African-Americans, and LGBTQ people increased the frequency of these raids on gay bars by the police and, on June 28, the gay community had had enough. The Stonewall Inn was their safe place, their refuge, their sanctuary, and they were not going to let that be taken from them. When the police came to harass them this time, they resisted, and, over the next two days, there were riots in the streets of New York.

Harriet Tubman, the famed Black fugitive slave, who became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and helped hundreds of the enslaved escape to freedom carried a gun on her missions. Near the end of her life, someone asked how often she used it to defend herself from slave patrollers and bounty hunters. She is said to have answered, with a gleam in her eye, that the gun wasn’t for the bounty hunters, but the escapees. She explained that the journey to freedom was long and challenging, full of hardship and danger, uncertainty, brokenness and fear. And it would happen that some wanted to give up and return to the familiar place they left. But doing so would put everyone else in danger, compromising the safety of those on the road to freedom.

It was then that Harriet would pull out her gun, declaring, “You will live free or die!” and force the frightened to keep going. Once they were on the road to freedom, she would not allow them to turn back.

In the reading of today’s liturgy, we join the Israelites after their freedom from enslavement and rescue at the Red Sea. Between Egypt (enslavement) and the Promised Land (fulfillment) was “the wilderness” – a place of vulnerability, fear, and uncertainty. Here they wandered anxiously, unsure of when or where their journey would end.

Over and over, they grumbled and complained, “We want to go back. It was easier in Egypt. We knew what to expect. Life was simpler. We could die out here.”

Over and over, God kept pushing them on. Not with a gun. But with food: manna – a mysterious daily bread. Every day, she sent them a “just enough” portion for that day, just enough to keep them steadfast on the path to freedom, liberation, and fulfillment. This daily “just enough” portion was their assurance that even in the wilderness, God was with them. It was God’s way of saying that once you’re on the journey to freedom, there’s no turning back.

I think of these sacred stories as we celebrate Pride . It’s a time of celebration, rejoicing, and reflection on hard-won victories. And there is so much to be thankful for. Personally, I am of a generation who never imagined living in a time like this:

· a time when our loving commitments are legally recognized and protected;
· a time when we can serve openly and proudly in the military;
· a time when our history can be taught and studied at colleges and universities;
· a time when we can run for President being out and with our same-gender spouse at our side.
The times in which we live are truly astonishing. We have much to be proud of and to give thanks.

But in so many ways we are still a people in the wilderness, still on an uncertain and perilous journey:
· We still are not legally protected from employment or housing discrimination in too many states.
· We are still being dismissed from employment despite years of exemplary service.
· Our love is still publicly denigrated by too many, both in and outside the church walls.
· Many religious leaders still live closeted lives, fearing to be publicly known for how God made them to be.
· So many young people are still closeted to their families, or homeless because of their parents’ rejection of their sexuality and/or gender identity.
· For so many younger queer people, school still is a dangerous environment which negatively impacts their opportunities to thrive.
· And even now, so many queer people still live with the fear of abuse and the terror of death, especially those of us who are Black, or persons of color, or trans women, or “all of the above.”

We are still in the wilderness; we have not yet arrived at liberation. And, to be honest, like my Black forebears and our faith ancestors, at times we are tempted to go back to “Egypt”: to go back into the closet; to take refuge in the rewards and protections it offers; to mute our voices; to dim our “fabulousness” in order to be approved and accepted. To belong and fit in. To be like everybody else.
Here is where you might expect me to make a pivot and speak of the Eucharist as our “manna,” as our strength for continuing the wilderness journey to liberation. But this Pride sunday we are in pandemic times, when the Eucharistic manna is not available for many, perhaps most, of us.

So, we need some reminder to us that WE are the body of Christ! WE are called to be the “just enough” daily bread to support, care, and love each other on the road to freedom. “We, many though we are, are one body.” In our care and love for one another, we become life-giving manna – Christ’s presence, Christ’s embodiment – that keeps us steadfast on the journey to freedom. We help one another to be witnesses of personal authenticity and agents of social justice. We become signs of God, present with us.

Our manna sustains us for a world where all people in the LGBTQ community are loved and protected, offered sanctuary, and treated with respect and dignity. Our manna sustains us for a world where all people of color are loved and protected, offered sanctuary, and treated with respect and dignity. Our manna supports our work towards a world where there is less brokenness, less gun violence, less death of innocent people, and less violence and death in general. Our manna nourishes a world where Christians, Muslims, and Jews treat each other with love instead of hate. Most importantly, manna fuels the hope that does not sit around and wait for the world to change or turn back from the wilderness, but that actively works towards liberation - to make the world more like the kingdom of God, a beloved community.

We are called to be manna – the Bread of Life – for one another. We help each other believe in the holiness of our bodies and the sacredness of our loving. Thus we become the rainbow body of Christ, sustenance even in the wilderness. This is how we celebrate Pride while still on the journey to freedom.