My Very First Sermon Ever- July 21, 2003

In just a moment, I’m going to say a word. If you have one, nothing will
make you give it away. If you don’t have it, you’ll want one. In fact,
if you don’t have one and you know someone who does, you might even be
tempted to take it from them. Are you ready for the word?

The word is… place.

Now I’m going to say a few phrases and I want you to think about the
pictures they recall in your mind:

“You don’t have a place here.”

“I just felt so… out of place.”

“I made a place for you…”

“We go there a lot, it’s our special place. . .”

Did you feel the tension as I read the first two quotes? Did your body
physically and spiritually say, “Ahhhhh” as I read the next ones? The
call to worship, the meditation, and the reflection were all picked
because they all reflect a world in which no one is excluded… and
everyone has a place.

In my freshman year at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, I
was naive enough to tell my friends, “I think I might be gay,” and swear
them to secrecy. Now, how many of you had success with that policy in
the ninth grade? Yeah. Me, neither. The news spread like wildfire and
within minutes, I had my share of both supporters and detractors.

Bobby Simmons, an upperclassman with a strong Southern Baptist
background, and I only had one class together- orchestra. The way that
the chairs were set up, we were both on the back row, in an arc that had
us nearly facing each other.

I should have known this would spell trouble. From then on, every
afternoon, approximately a quarter of the way through rehearsal, I would
hear this loud “pssssst!” sound. Norman, the trumpet player to my right,
would look at me innocently and point toward the percussion area.

Bobby Simmons would hold up a Playboy centerfold about six inches above
his E-flat timpani… low enough to be covered by the chimes so that the
conductor couldn’t see it… and high enough for the entire back row of
the orchestra to be convulsing with laughter. My face flushed. In my own
passive aggressive, non-violent way, I wanted him to die.

Because there was also the lunchtime incident. I was sitting with a
group of friends out on the front lawn, eating my lunch. Bobby and his
friends came up to us en masse, reading all those obnoxious Bible verses
that conservative Christians love to quote as “proof” of their
righteousness. I ran into the counselor’s office, finally sick and tired
of dealing with them. When I tried to explain what was happening, Ms.
Priest looked at me with pity and said, “Well, what did you do to
provoke them?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first real taste of what it was
like to be on the outside, to wonder if I really had a place.

I might have had a little easier time of it had I known something that I
now call “promise theology.” Now, I’m sure all of you have heard of
process theology- the acknowledgement that contemporary understanding of
God and God’s expression through creation, including human beings, is
always in “process” and never complete. Promise theology is based on the
same principle, but in a very personal way. Promise theology is the
acknowledgement that God has a place, a promise, and a plan for our
lives that unfurls in small measure every day… but as humans we don’t
have the ability to see the finished product all at once.
What is in our power as humans is the ability to claim those things- a
place in the world that is uniquely yours, a promise that you will
flourish, and a plan not only for your life, but to connect you with others.

Reminds me of a sunny afternoon in September of 1981… my first day in
children’s choir at First United Methodist Church in Longview, Texas. I
was four years old. The very first song that the conductor, also known
as my mother, pulled out was a tune written by Bill and Gloria Gaither-
very prolific gospel composers that are still pumping out hits today. As
I remember, the rehearsal went something like this:

Mom: Leslie, sit down.
Mom: Leslie, sit down.
Mom: LESLIE! Do I have to get your FATHER to come and get you?!?!

I know what you’re all thinking. Leslie had to have made that story up.
There is no way that she would have ever gotten up in front of those
kids and just started belting it out like that… she is way too shy and
demure to have ever done anything like that.

Well, perhaps the message just resonated. That song was a very simple,
yet very effective tool in teaching me something I’ve never forgotten.
There is a plan for my life. I have a place. I am the very model of a
Christian individual… but that’s not all there is to it.

Now that we know there is a plan for our lives, that we are literally
and figuratively united in Christ, what do we do with it? In other
words, what does it mean to carry the name United Church of Christ?

According to Paul, “we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to
do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.”

-Good things such as making sure that everything is taken care of so
that Susan has the time she needs to grieve and renew her spirit

-Good things such as taking meals to Jane and Laurie, and watching Ben
so that baby Grace got all the critical attention she needed in those
first few weeks.

-Good things such as analyzing the budget, as the Admin committee has,
so that we know exactly where we stand and the work we need to do to
make our ministry at Bridgeport flourish

All of these things are “faith-based initiatives” that bring us closer
to realizing God’s plan for our lives, and closer to one another in
sustaining our unique bond.

But the work cannot and should not stop with the local church. The
meditation today asks us about times when we’ve turned away from someone
due to preoccupation… or even fear. The contemporary reading is about
unity despite the harsh reality of race relations. There are Christian
churches all over the country, and in fact, all over the city of
Portland that do not ordain or marry anyone within the Gay, Lesbian,
Bisexual, Transgender community. There is a war being waged against
people who want more out of life by people who accuse them of taking too

People are divided in hundreds of different ways and it seems as if
there are becoming more every day. If we are called to be united in
Christ, then we are the first ones who need to take a second, or even
third look at our lives to ensure that we are living in the moment,
cognizant of the times when people are reaching out to us, and try to
bridge the gaps that permeate our increasingly isolated, fear-driven

One of the easiest ways that we can possibly do this is realizing that
through Christ, every person around you, regardless of race, gender, or
sexual orientation, has the same place, promise, and plan given to them.
It’s just as the reading in Ephesians has said, “Christ came and
announced the Good News of peace to you who were far away, and to those
who were near; for through Christ, we all have access in one Spirit to
our God.” There is no “us” and “them.” We are all, to quote Rite I in
the Episcopal Church, “very members incorporate in the mystical body of
thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs,
through hope, of thy everlasting kindom.” Fancy language that says
simply- we’re all in. The doors have swung wide.

Thanks be to God.


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