Sermon given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, October 14, 2018.
There’s at least one way that religious communities are different from the other ways people gather together. People tend to be drawn those who are like themselves; in tribes and clans, associations of like-minded people. But faith communities are meant to be a “y’all come,” kind of association, a diverse community of all souls who desire to be in community together. That the hope anyway. Martin Luther King observed that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Our gathering today is meant to be a taste of that time to come, when as the prophet said, “the lion will lay down with the lamb,” when we will see that our difference need not divide us. That we are all in this together.
One of the successes of our Unitarian Universalist tradition is that we have been at the forefront of welcoming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning people into the life and leadership of our congregations. We’ve been enlarged and enriched by your presence; you’ve expanded our perspective and understanding. I remember a workshop our former intern Rev. Dawn Fortune led here: people put sticky notes on a board, marking where on the spectrum they fell as far as gender identity and sexual orientation and preference. I was struck by what a range of expressions there are among us; we humans are more beautifully nuanced and complex that the categories we often get sorted into. And as we more fully embrace our whole selves, as individuals and as a society, things will get better. I have to believe that.
But certainly not without a lot of pain and struggle along the way. That was obvious twenty years ago, when that gentle and beautiful young man named Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence post on in that harsh Wyoming landscape and left to die, because he was gay. And it is still obvious today, when transgender people, and especially transgender people of color, are more likely to be attacked and killed. And when there’s a ballot initiative here in Massachusetts, question 3, which is trying to take away equal protection in public accommodations from people who don’t fit neatly into those boxes marked male and female. If you are troubled by this, please talk to Jane Hucks after the service; she’s been a leader in the “Yes on 3” campaign.
Even with all the progress that’s been made, plenty of LGBTQ folks still don’t feel safe or comfortable holding their partner’s hand in public. I am so proud of our own Nate De Young, and this project he has started, called Time for Love, which is about creating safe and accepting spaces in our society for people to show their love and affection for one another. And don’t we need more of that? James Taylor wrote a song that says, “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel, things are going to be much better if you only will.”
And what about the people you don’t love, and don’t even like? It’s so easy these days to demonize those whom we disagree with. But what is the cost to our own souls, our own humanity, when we diminish the humanity of another? Martin Luther King saw firsthand the corrosive and destructive power of hate. He said, “I have decided to stick with love… hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and the transformative power of this kind of love in action was never more evident in our country than during the civil rights movement. Congressman John Lewis says the movement “was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m gonna still love you.”
This is not a romantic or sentimental love. It’s acting from a place of love when it is hard and scary and the outcome is uncertain. Dr. King said the call to love needs to be combined with an understanding and appreciation of power; that these two go together. He said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
We still live in a world where too many people, and too many leaders, believe that might makes right. That if you have the power you can push through whatever you can get away with. But our faith asserts that we do live in a moral universe. That actions do have consequences. That injustice will not stand forever. And so when we feel discouraged, we need to take heart, and remember the progress that has been made and the successes that people have gained. Not by patiently and passively waiting, but by organizing and working and struggling, making their voices heard, putting their bodies on the line, standing and singing and praying and marching together.
And once people have had a taste of liberation, once they have felt the freedom to be their true selves, can you ever put that back in a box or back in a closet? No! There is within the human heart a longing for freedom that will not be denied forever. And I have to believe, I have to trust, that we live in a decent country and that the promise of our founders still applies, that out of many we are meant to be one nation. That our strength is in our diversity. That we are all in this together.
Not everyone sees this yet. There are those who foment fear along racial lines, along class lines, along cultural lines, who paint our growing diversity as a threat to be feared, rather than a blessing to be embraced. Those of you who have been marginalized because of who you are, you have something to teach us about standing up to fear and hatred. About stepping out, naming and claiming your identity in spite of the risks. Saying, “I am who I am.” I think of how the word “queer,” which had been a negative term for gay folks, was reclaimed as a positive expression. On Thursday, National Coming Out Day, one of my minister friends posted on Facebook a cute illustration of red roses and praying hands with the words, “Still here. Still queer.”
In this month when our worship theme is letting go, I wonder, what do I need to let go of, and what do you need to let go of, so we can more fully join in the movements for liberation and justice that are unfolding around us? I need to let go of my need to know the outcome. I need to let go of my fear that I will say or do the wrong thing. I need to let go of my desire to be respectable. I need to let go and be led by that force, that mighty force of love and justice, that animates the universe and keeps on calling, “Come on along!” And I ask you, what do you need to let go of, so you can join in the dance of love and liberation?
In these days when there is growing hatred and distrust in our nation, I think of how Holly Near kept adapting her song to make room for more people. She says, “We originally sang ‘we are gay and lesbian together’ but then we were surrounded by the support of allies and so I changed it to ‘we are gay and straight together.’ And now we are learning more and more about gender and sexuality and it now requires many more syllables than I can fit into the song, and so let us now sing ‘we are all in this together.’”
How might or work for justice and liberation be changed if this became our mantra: we are all in this together? Even those who stand against us, even those who say they despise us for who we are or who we love or who we want to welcome in—can we admit that, like it or not, we are in it with them, we have to share the planet with them? That the more polarized we get, the more anxious and afraid and hateful we will be, and if we continue on this path it is not going to end well. That some of us have to be the grownups in the room, and work on bringing people together and building the common good.
I am so grateful to be part of a religious tradition because it grounds me and reminds me that others have been through struggles too. That we are part of a long story of human liberation, with successes and setbacks. That what matters is how we live and how we love. That we are called to practice our faith. These days, that could include praying not just for our friends, but for our enemies.
Another practice is to pray for those who have died, to say the names of those who have gone before us. We should say the names of those who have been killed because of who they loved, or the color of their skin, or because they dared to stand for what is right. I’m grateful to Priscilla Dullea for bringing Cory Collin’s powerful tribute to Matthew Shepard to our service today:
The wind passed through Wyoming,
and held your name.
We still hear it when it soughs
through the trees—
It is a powerful thing, to call the roll of our saints and our dear departed. In two weeks we’ll bring pictures and speak the names of those who have died. But you don’t have to wait. You can practice that any time, you could start making a list now, of the souls you want to remember and honor. You might include the names of people like Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice.
My spiritual companions, in these days, let us not be discouraged. Let us be bold in proclaiming our faith that Love has already won. Let us do everything we can to spread that Love, to show that we are all in this together, that we are on our way to that freedom land, to that place where we’re bound.