Sometimes it’s difficult to believe I’ve been around as long as I have. Other times – not so hard. I suppose it depends on the day and the time and the circumstances. Several friends and colleagues, in commenting on my “dual” anniversary (10 years at First Baptist, Palo Alto; 20 as an ordained minister,) remembered older times when it was challenging to see that something like this would ever happen. Now it’s not that uncommon to find clergy who identify as lgbtq people, serving congregations that embrace them and support their ministry. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to see these changes over the years. I have been blessed to be part of the process.
50 or so years ago, I stood in my college dormitory room, captured by these words from Psalm 100 – “It is God who has made us and not we ourselves. We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.” Whether or not my interpretation was textually appropriate, that ancient word came as solace to a college student trying to sort out his sexuality and his faith. Both were important to me, essential, actually, and the tension had been fierce as I tried to reconcile these aspects of myself into a whole person. As many have been comforted by the Psalms, I found peace in recognizing that God had made me who I am and had blessed that creation. It took a while to work out all the implications of that revelation, but my reliance on its truth has never wavered.
God made me who I am; what will I do with that gift – and it is a gift – is the question. I have friends and colleagues who still wrestle with the goodness of who they are in their sexual and gender diversity. While I understand the challenges of coming to accept oneself, especially when the culture disavows or refuses to recognize or value your identity, there comes a time, if we will be open to it, when the Holy One comes to us with words of love and affirmation. My friend, Elizabeth, would remind us here of the relevance of the old hymn – “Come home! Come home! You who are weary, come home!” The arms of our embracing God are spread wide in welcome as the Holy One rushes to greet us. “My beloved child who was lost in confusion is found again in the certainty of my compassionate care, who was dead with fear is alive in my unconditional love.” If you haven’t yet been greeted by this God, then it’s time to turn around and come home. The God of love is waiting to welcome you into the Beloved Community. There is a place waiting just for you.
Friends, I hope you hear this as more than religious rhetoric; I hope you can feel its truth in your bones as I have. I hope you can sense it breathing through your lungs, beating in your heart, and tingling in your fingers and toes. God brought each of us into being, shaped us from the dust of the earth, and breathed life into us. Made in God’s own image and likeness, we are part of a creation God called “very good.” We’re born good, whatever limits and possibilities may manifest in our existence, we are God’s good work. There are lots of reasons we struggle to accept ourselves, but, in the end, God desires for us peace, shalom, well-being, rejoicing in who we are. See how good and blessed we are.
Trust me, I’ve had my struggles, as I know you have. I’m not preaching “Pollyanna” here. As I said in my anniversary sermon, from time to time “I need to remind myself how blessed I am. An anniversary is an especially good time to remember how blessed one is and how blessed he has been. Like you, I’ve had hard times. We’ve even shared some. But the advantage of hanging around for a while is that you get to see that things were not quite as bad as they seemed at the time. In the end, the blessing of our gracious God heals every wound and wipes away every tear. In the end, we can affirm that we are loved and, therefore, we can love.”
When people ask how (or why) I have persevered all these years, I guess the answer has something to do with that love. For certain it has to do with that strong sense that God both made and loves me – just as I am (the gift of grace.) But it also has to do with the love of others – family, friends, colleagues, communities, including churches. I have been blessed all along the way by those of you who have walked with me, holding my hand, lifting me up, sharing my sorrow and my joy, keeping my feet on the path, and celebrating my journey. I am blessed and so are you, for the very blessing that you are.
If I single out any of you for gratitude, I will be in trouble for omitting another. So, let me say thanks to my family; to the ABConcerned and AWAB communities; to the congregation of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, for putting up with me for 35 years and ordaining me to Christian ministry, June 30, 1996, (including my beloved pastors – Rod Romney, Bill Herzog, David Bartlett, and Jim Hopkins); to the people of Dolores Street Baptist Church, San Francisco, California, and First Baptist (now United Church) of Granville, Ohio, for allowing me to practice ministry as their interim pastor and to learn from them; and the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, California, for calling me as your pastor (July 1, 2006) and journeying with me as we seek our place in God’s Beloved Community. My heart is full and my life is rich. I am blessed and grateful.
Yours on the journey,