Easter Vigil Homily

Easter Vigil 2018

St James Episcopal Church, Bozeman, MT

“This is the Night.”

The night we celebrate all of salvation history and the ancient Christian tradition of waiting through the night for the Dawn of the Resurrection. Light is of course, the predominant symbol of the Great Easter vigil. We watch it pierce the darkness as the Christ Candle moves through the church, growing stronger with the candles being lit from it in its wake. It is the night that we celebrate the light of Jesus Risen and his message of Love, Inclusion, Mercy and Peace.

This is the night where we celebrate several revolutionary moments; that women were the first to discover the empty tomb and that Jesus first appears not to Simon Peter, and not to any of the male Apostles but to Mary Magdalene. A woman. By gender, of very low status in the ancient world. It is slightly improved today, but women are still held down by men in almost every society. It’s as if we have forgotten that Jesus never excluded women from being disciples, and never forbid them from speaking to him.

This is the night when we realize that the Original Sin of seeking the Love of Power is overcome and vanquished by the Power of Love.

This is the night that links us with 2,000 years of Christian history- some of it good, some of it horrible. The Church has always lost its way when it has sought power in this world and forgotten to be humble, merciful hard workers for the Gospel of Love. But through it all the Holy Spirit sustains us still.

This is the night when we are once again reminded that we are “to seek Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves”, and we promise “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of EVERY human being.”

This is the night that we remember that God is not found in power, but in the powerless. God is always with the poor, the marginalized, the persecuted, the imprisoned, the diseased, and those with no voice. Human beings may abandon each other- just as the Apostles abandoned Jesus- but God is always with them. If you wish to meet God, go meet those lowly people. Jesus did.

This is the night that we raise our voices in song to proclaim the goodness of creation, and the Goodness of God in Word and Eucharist. Where we take in the ancient words and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

But I think, most importantly, this is the Night in which we promise to be more like Jesus- a light to the world. Why is that important? Our world needs it now as much as ever. People are polarized, afraid, angry. We are distressed by the cruelty and violence that is inflicted in the name of politics, of religion, of money and power and greed.

The exact opposite of the message of Jesus.

This is the night we vow, for another year, to listen to the better angels of our nature- and hopefully those angels reflect the words of the angel in the Gospel,  “Do not be afraid.”

This is THE night.

The night the Light is celebrated, praised and promised- a Light that the Darkness can never overcome!

No Montana HIV Organizations applied for a Pride Foundation Grant This Year

  • I have to say that I’m very disappointed that thousands of dollars available were simply not applied for in Montana for HIV prevention and treatment dollars,

Lets get our act together, people,

Hospitality Is the Best of Humanity

Nearly all of the world’s faith traditions call their faithful to protect and offer hospitality to immigrants. Judeo Christian scriptures urge adherents time and again to welcome the stranger and offer special care for widows and orphans. We are called to welcome our immigrant sisters and brothers with compassion, and to keep families together, regardless of faith or place of birth.

Yet, in communities across our nation, including in Montana, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security routinely employs Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who subvert protocols and training, and terrorize citizenry with arbitrary practices which threaten to destroy the trust that local leaders have built with their communities and should have with local police. As a result, immigrant families and those connected to them may not ask for help or report crimes, fearing the repercussions if local law enforcement would turn them in to immigration officials.

Many methods promoted by the Department of Homeland Security tear apart families, rend the fabric of our communities, and threaten policies that would harm our local economies. Many such policies and actions are also opposed by a majority of U.S. citizens. The Montana Interfaith Network questions budgets which further fund suffering and hate. With the Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community, of Washington, D.C., we see budgets as moral documents. From private households to municipal, state and federal levels, the way we designate our common resources indicates where our priorities lie, as families, cities and as a nation. Will we designate our common resources and tax dollars for efforts that promote fear, threaten public safety and destroy families? As interfaith leaders, our traditions call instead for us to treat each other with dignity, compassion and peace.

For these reasons, the Montana Interfaith Network urges our national representatives to oppose any expansion of funding to the Department of Homeland Security. Our federal budget should reflect the values of compassion and peace, lift up families and support thriving communities. As Montanans, we do not want our common resources spent on suffering, hate, and division. We are our brother and sisters’ keeper. We belong to each other. No matter where someone came from or how they arrived in the United States, their life is of value and they deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.

We ask for an end to budget policies that would further current Department of Homeland Security efforts that incite fear and division, and we urge our federal lawmakers to deny further funding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement practices that do more harm than good. Let’s instead designate those common resources, our tax dollars, towards the things that makes us thrive like education, bridges and disaster response, care for our veterans and seniors, and maintaining this beautiful landscape that all of us call home.

In Solidarity,

Montana Interfaith Network

Clergy to Daines: Healthcare is vital

Signatures:
1) Montana Interfaith Network
Direct Contact: Executive Director Rev D Gregory Smith, STL, MA
montanainterfaithnetwork@gmail.com
406-442-5506

2) Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
The United Methodist Church
ExecAssist@MountainSkyUMC.org
303.733.0083

3) Rev. Dr. Marc Ian Stewart
Conference Minister
MT-NWy Conference United Church of Christ
marc@mnwcucc.org
406.657.0822

As leaders within our faith communities, we hold a deep respect for human life and recognize the inherent dignity of each person, regardless of his or her economic status. At our churches, we especially preach about upholding the dignity of all people: the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly, the hungry, the immigrant, and so on.

Because our faith calls us to care for others, we find the Senate GOP health care plan, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, reprehensible. Health care is a life or death matter. This unjust plan is destined to cause many members of our delegations undue hardship and suffering.

Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children. Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. These families we speak of are our friends and neighbors whom we see each Sunday to gather in prayer and reflection.

Even with a longer timeline to phase out funding, the GOP health care plan would dismantle Montana’s Medicaid program. We know this program serves as a lifeline for many across the state. Currently Medicaid provides coverage for one in every three children in Montana. Medicaid also offers critical health services for people of all ages with disabilities to stay in their homes and live with dignity.

Where will these families go when they no longer have coverage and access to care? Where can our friends and neighbors turn when rural clinics are shuttered and small-town health programs are eliminated?

As people of faith, we believe health is a community value. Cold, virus, plague, disability, and death are not something we experience as individuals but are something we experience and react to through our schools, work places, health care networks, ecosystems, and faith communities. Our holy texts often describe ‘healing’ as a return to community, and this leads me to believe that caring for others in their time of need stands as the cornerstone of a strong community. In our congregations, we help our neighbors. We do the very best we can to help each other during hard times and serve our communities. While prayer, pastoral care, and loving friends are critical for holistic health, they cannot replace quality, life-saving, life-sustaining medical care.

On the topic of the health care debate, Senator Daines has said, “Government should serve the people it’s meant to serve.” Unfortunately, the Senate GOP attempt at a health care plan prioritizes excessive accumulation of wealth for the most powerful at the expense of ordinary people’s lives, health, and wellbeing.

This is not the faithful way forward. Our faith challenges us to heal the sick and care for the most vulnerable in our society. This Republican bill does the opposite. We urge our Senators to vote NO on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Instead of making our health care system less accessible to those who need coverage most, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need. Lives are at stake.

Why Gay Rights are not Special Rights

First off: the fact that I have to write this out is problematic for me- this falls under the category of “General Sense of Decency” for me, but here goes.

I was born a gay male, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. I don’t like cauliflower or the color orange. I am interested in psychology, spirituality, social justice and equal rights for all human beings. I like chocolate- but not really bitter dark chocolate. Why?

It’s a mystery.

There are many mysteries about our humanity, but sexuality isn’t one of them. Science is on my side: I was born attracted to other men. I know that because I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this difficult life for myself. I can’t help what piques my curiosity or interest. It just happens.

There’s an excitement that happens when we see an attractive person- that’s how we know they’re attractive. I can honestly say that I have never felt that for a woman. I tried. but I realized that going against nature is a waste of time.

My church respects me. My Federal Government (for now) respects me. My State can’t be bothered to get to know me.

Or else it wouldn’t have so callously dismissed HB417.

A bill that would add a few words to take away the significant pain that LGBTQA Montanans are feeling (and if you love an LGBTQ person, you’re the “A”).  As a psychotherapist, I am privy daily to stories of LGBTQ persons feeling disrespected, feeling afraid of an uncertain future. It breaks my heart. And as a Christian, I have to wonder why our culture is so willing to promote and add to the pain of another human being?

Monsters are the only things that do that- and I need to believe the people of Montana are not monsters.

This is an easy fix- adding a few words.
A few words will be a step toward decreasing pain in the lives of thousands of Montanans. And it’s there, believe me.

Being gay is who I am- it is not a choice (who would choose to be so discriminated against?). And being who I am should be good enough to add me and my brothers and sisters to the Montana Human Rights Act.

If a landlord refused to rent to me because I am an Episcopal priest, they would be in legal trouble. Ditto if I was refused service because of my race, national origin, beliefs or disability. But as a gay man, I have little recourse.

Back in graduate psychology, I learned that a hallmark of bullying is exclusion. By definition, this exclusion of LGBTQIA persons from The Montana Human Rights Act is bullying with legislation.

It must stop.

Eulogy

“Life is difficult.”

With these three words begin a book called The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. It is a book that literally has helped me change my life- and the lives of countless others.

Today, especially, these words ring true.

Life is difficult for us- who have to try and make sense out of the pain and frustration and difficulties that he faced almost constantly.

Life is difficult for parents, teachers, family members and friends who may feel as powerless as I have felt this past week.

Life is difficult when pain overcomes all the loving words and gestures of family, of friends of therapist, of rabbis and priests- life is especially difficult then.

But how does this happen? How can we address it?

I wish I knew.

My faith tells me that we are all- all of us doing the best we can from our particular point of consciousness. My heart knows this to be true, but my brain often needs more evidence. It keeps telling me that I failed. Some of your brains may be saying the same thing.

He struggled with depression, gender identity and, quite frankly, with being an adolescent- a difficult enough endeavor without adding on the extra baggage. And I thought things were going okay- not perfectly, but there are wonderful parents here offering support and encouragement, supportive professionals taking an interest in helping, friends who do what friends do- remind us that no matter what it seems like, we are not alone. I hoped- I prayed- that he would be okay. Would come through this process with the perspective of a champion- a champion who addressed each struggle as skillfully as possible and never (or seldom) gave in to fear.

Here’s the problem- I’m always underestimating fear. I’m always underestimating the power that potential futures have of paralyzing, shutting down, creating a reaction instead of inviting a thoughtful response. Fear drives us out of our minds and out of our hearts. It’s a powerful thing. It can take the truth and twist it. It can take love and make it insufficient. Fear can make us question the unquestionable- knowing that there is never a satisfying answer- but still, trying to do SOMETHING.

And for a kid who kept things tightly held, who was a perfectionist, whose beauty was seen by everyone else- but not by the one who most needed it- fear was the final distortion.

He knew it- we talked about it- but there was still a desire to be more than just “good enough”- he wanted to be stunning. And those of us who love him saw that stunning quality. We can still see it.

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know life is difficult- once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer as difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. It’s something everyone has to deal with. It’s not just me. Or you. Or them. It’s us.

Peck ends his book with this:

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us. But we ourselves must step across it, one by one. Through grace we are helped, and through grace we know we are being welcomed. What more can we ask?”

I believe he is being helped, he is being welcomed- and yet most importantly for us today- he is being dearly missed. Because that’s the only way to respond to the loss of beauty in our world.

And how have we failed?

We can’t if we loved.

BZN NDO 2NITE!

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Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:

 

I am a native Montanan (4th generation).

I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.

I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.

I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.

Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.

And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.

As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.

I think we forget how sensitive kids are.

But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.

Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?

I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.

I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.

They did nothing.

And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.

Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.

We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.

WE HAVE TO.

That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.

This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.

Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.

It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.

If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.

Please pass this ordinance.

 

Thank you.