SCRIPTURE READING Romans 8:31-39 The Message
31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?
And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
LEADER The Word of God that is still speaking.
ALL: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE A Tale of Courage Pastor Donna Goltry
Psalm 19:4 Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my rock and my redeemer.
Who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? That is the question of the day.
It points to the deeper question. Who are God’s chosen?
Are they the rich? Could be
Are they the poor? Could be
Are they the strong? Could be
Are they the weak? Could be
Are they the geniuses? Could be
Are they the ones who struggle to learn to read and write? Could be
Are they the men? Could be
Are they the women? Could be
Are they those bullied, persecuted and killed because of their gender and sexual orientation? Could be
None of our attributes, those things we focus on when we size up the measure of a person, none of them matter to God. They are just window dressing, our outward appearance, our bodies as our shells.
What matters to God is our heart. It is like the pearl inside the clam shell.
Consider the story of God sending Samuel, the high priest, to anoint a son of Jesse as the future king. Jesse assumed he knew God’s choice – his eldest son. But when his eldest passed, expecting to be anointed…
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”ESV
God’s chosen are not based on appearance, or attributes, but on the heart.
Jeremiah 17:10 I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. NRSVUE
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. NRSVUE
And when we get into the judging business, thinking we can see what God sees, we enter landmine territory. Our judging may blow up on us.
Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
This is tricky, because being judgy seems to be one of the most common things we like to do.
We have to remind ourselves that it is God who welcomes all, strangers and friends. It is God who sees into the heart. It is God’s love that’s strong and will never end.
We do the best we can, trying to get it right. Not judging; being welcoming. Having courage. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we do.
Last Sunday, our brothers and sisters in the Louisiana Conference remembered an event that came out of a place of judgement and cowardice. Judgement of accepting it as ok to oppress those of the LGBTQ community. Cowardice of a secret bombing where the perpetrators were never found, not even diligently pursued. It led to a horrifying tragedy. This story from UM News June 26, 2023. And courage of a church congregation that stood up to oppression and were a witness of welcome and acceptance.
Church marks 50th anniversary of tragic fire
NEW ORLEANS — June 24 marked 50 years since a 1973 fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar, killed 32 people. When city leaders failed to investigate the suspected arson and churches across New Orleans denied the victims proper funerals, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church opened its doors and held a funeral service for all affected by the deadly fire. The congregation gathered on the anniversary to honor those lost and remember. The Rev. Todd Rossnagel has the story.
On June 24, 2023, St Mark’s United Methodist church, was filled to overflowing; standing room only, just as it had been 50 years earlier.
Frank Perez, executive director of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, says, to this day, the boldness of St. Mark’s opening its doors to the LGBTQ community in 1973 has not been forgotten.
“At the time, 50 years ago, the vast majority of churches were not hospitable and very close-minded, and many were just downright cruel,” he said. “So, we appreciate St. Mark’s opening its doors at that time, and we’ve never forgotten that act of courage.” No other churches in the community stepped forward to hold services.
And, in some ways, the crowd was also paying tribute to the bold decision by St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and Bishop Finis A. Crutchfield, bishop of the Louisiana Conference at the time of the fire.
“Bishop Crutchfield had the guts, not only to say yes to the service, but the guts to come in here and sit right up there in the middle of the balcony,” Rev. Ed Cooper, pastor at St. Mark’s, told the crowd as the service began. “His bravery, and the bravery of the church, is felt, even today as we sit here.” In a letter published in the Louisiana Methodist Newsletter in the following week, Bishop Crutchfield said,
“The purpose of such a service is to lift the banner of God’s redemptive love over tragedy and to affirm our faith in His grace and in His care,” his letter stated. “The oneness of the human family in its solidarity is also noted in the memorial service, and our need for God and dependence on Him is recognized. I felt that St. Mark’s should accede to the request of family members and friends to let the service be held in the facilities there. Personally, I could not have faced my conscience if we had turned them away.”
Bishop Dee Williamston, the new bishop to the Louisiana Conference said the strong witness of St. Mark’s UMC is tangible and still active in New Orleans to this day, a shining example of what it means to love thy neighbor.
Rev. Carole Cotton-Winn and John Winn attended the service. She recounted how both were “acutely aware of how the faith community at that time had disappointed many in the LGBTQ community by refusing to hold services for the victims. She said, “There was a spirit that day that called on us to be people of the same heart.”
John Winn added,
“Our presence created a legacy; a legacy that is important for us as Methodists, but also for the gay community. Many of them were able to step forward and no longer have to live a life of secrecy.”
The Front Door. The people came in the front door to the service. As it ended, Winn “remembers several organizers suggested clergy leave St. Mark’s through the back door.” To avoid the press, to protect them from being maligned.
But a woman from the balcony shouted, “I came in the front door, and I am leaving out of the front door.”
The mood of the sanctuary changed. “They were owning it!”
“Exiting the front door was a rallying moment.”
“Would we stand with the oppressed, or would we go out the back door?”
“When people marched out that front door 50 years ago with the press waiting, that was an act of courage.”
A tale of courage. A remembrance of a tragedy that witnessed to people who had the courage to stand up against judgement. A tale of a community of the people of God who welcomed the neighbor. And bore witness to today’s scripture that nothing, not even a bombing that took their lives, was able to separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
It is a witness that stands as a beacon for us today. Amen.