ETERNITY

Hate takes us down.
Hate takes us down all the time.
But if your hate takes me down,
it’s a very slippery slope.

If your hate takes me down
the people who see it
will be offended,
they will be motivated,
they will be ready-
for, that hate which takes me down
will not
take down the people
who love me.
The hate that takes me down
will raise me up higher
than you could ever believe.

And that’s the paradox.
You may hate me.
You may loathe me.
But when you take me down
and make me part
of your hate
it becomes something bigger
than just you and me.

It makes me immortal.

You and your hateful life will die.

In the end, hate gives you what you hate.
It is useless.

But not so Immortality.
Eternity is freedom from fear,
freedom from hate-
knowing that I am always safe-
even should I die.
~DGS

Easter Vigil Homily 2016

Darkness.

Light.

Cold.

Fire.

Fear.

Hope.

Pain.

Resurrection.

 

Christians have gathered for thousands of years on this night to remember the history of Salvation. To remember that no matter how dark and cold the world is, no matter how often we are afraid, no matter what pain we must endure, there is Light. There is Fire. There is Hope. And there IS Resurrection.

We see it- if we look- we see it in the joy of a new mother.
We see it when we refuse to answer violence with more violence.
We see it when those who are wronged refuse to pursue revenge.
We see it in the face of our beloved- a hope that will never die.

We’ve come close to giving in.

We’ve created weapons that could destroy this planet. We’ve created laws based on fear and not hope.

We’ve built walls and fences- both physically and with words of hatred toward one another.

We’ve been victims of fear mongering.

We’ve been guilty of fear mongering.

We’ve looked past those in need because it makes us uncomfortable.

We’ve turned other human beings into evil creatures in our minds.

We’ve created idols.

We’ve become narcissists in the way we feed our egos with the illusions of power and wealth and status. Sadly, I think I have to say we’ve not learned that much in 2000 years.

For example, we have turned the fully human and fully divine Jesus into Superman- someone so far above us that we can never get close. We’ve glorified him so much that the glory of his humility- his humanity- means nothing. If you listen to some of our brother Christians, you might as well believe that some alien visited our planet from Krypton- and we need to be very afraid of him.

I saw Batman vs Superman today. I loved it. Because I love Superman. Always have.

Superman represents the power and strength of hope- the might of the good. And that is helpful and hopeful for us as human beings. He represents our better nature. He also represents a fighter- a soldier- who uses his powers to crush the enemy.

For many Christians, Jesus IS Superman.

But I think it’s worth noting that there can be no comparison.

Jesus forbids violence. Jesus refuses to defend himself. Jesus sits and eats with people who are seen as the dregs of society- people that many of us scorn today. In this town filled with Christians, why do we have a $4 million dollar animal shelter, but no homeless human shelter?

Jesus doesn’t fight for justice- he becomes it. He becomes it by embracing those who are downtrodden, broken, diseased overlooked and alone.

It is no accident that women discover the empty tomb first. Women were among the least of Jewish society- suddenly become the vital heralds of a miracle- exactly what the Kingdom of God is about.

“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

This is crazy talk.

Crazy enough to get you executed. Even today.

We are here tonight to celebrate the light that has come into the world- and we are here also to pray that the darkness will not overcome it.

Because there is no guarantee- that’s part of the definition of HOPE.

If we knew it was all going to be ok, we could just go home and watch tv or Youtube or Facebook and forget that we have a job to do.

We forget often enough anyway. I know I do.

But we do have a job to do. What’s that job? To imitate Jesus. As fully as possible. As best we know how. Because our baptism unites us with him in his pain, his death and his resurrection. It’s not about following the rules in order to get to heaven- it’s about imitating the Master so that we can change the world.

Just like him.

By being crazy- at least in the eyes of the world.

Crazy Christians.

The Biblical scholar NT Wright said, “You can fulfill the commandments of the Bible better by falling in love with God than by trying to obey him. The Christian faith is not a business transaction. It’s not an arranged marriage where you receive a dowry of riches for compliance. Christianity only works if you’re in love.”

And an alien is hard to love- unless you’re Lois Lane.

My point is simply this: Jesus is lovable. And loving Jesus helps us love each other. And loving each other-unconditionally- is what will change this world.

Darkness. Light. Cold. Fire. Fear. Hope. Pain.

All a part of the mix. All meant to be part of our human experience. And resurrection?

Well, that only happens if we sacrifice our egos.

Just like Jesus.

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.

June Becomes Even More Beautiful

My sermon from today at Living Waters UMC:

(Mark 5. 21-43) The gospel today says much to us about faith.

The faith of Jairus- a man who, out of love, calls Jesus to help.

The faith of the woman in the crowd- who dared, out of the desire to cease her suffering-

to touch the robe of Jesus as he passed by.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have such faith?

Or are you a person of that faith now?

If you already have that faith, you can relax, because I won’t be talking directly to you this morning- but you can help me if I stumble.

I don’t think that will be very many of you.

I know, because I’m not sure I have that kind of faith.

I would like to believe as an ordained person, a professional Christian, that I have some sort of leg up on that faith, but it’s just not true.

I believe, but I’m not sure if it’s always faith.

I have many things that get in the way of that simple trust that God is greater than I am.

Fear does that.

Gets in the way.

Love of money gets in the way.

Anger and resentment and cynicism and pain- they all can keep me from trusting that God has things under control- or at least- like a parent watching a child make a huge mess and then helping them clean it up- God is still waiting with us to see how much of a mess we make before he has to step in again.

This week has been a particularly significant one for me. June usually is- with Gay Pride and my ordination anniversary and it’s such a beautiful time to be in Montana. June is beautiful, but it became even more beautiful for me in the last week, because there were three additional  things of major significance that happened in my life.

Because of chronic illness and preexisting conditions, I am subsidized in my healthcare by the Federal government. There was a chance that it could be taken away from me by the Supreme Court. But, in a move that allowed my soul and my family to rest more easily at night, those subsidies were preserved.

I seriously did not know what I (or tens of thousands of Montanans) would do if the decision were not in our favor.

But it was.

And I knew I would handle what I had to if necessary, but it felt like a wind of grace blowing through my life.~

Like you, I watched the news in horror to learn of the Charleston Massacre in an African Methodist Episcopal church. During a bible study. By a man who was embraced by that congregation as a seeker- before he shot at them- causing death and destruction and injury to a peaceful place dedicated to Christ Emmanuel “God with us”. That’s what Emmanuel means- God with us. It didn’t seem like God was with them, did it? ~

I am a man whose relationship was not acknowledged legally across our country until Friday morning. And I have to say, that for the first time in my life, I feel like a full citizen of these United States- even though many people still hate me for what I am without ever caring about who I am. I feel grace in the affirmation of my dignity by the court we hold Supreme in this land.~

Three different and yet enormously important moments in my life packed into a few short days. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel a little giddy, drunk with the craziness of this week.

Right now you might be saying, “Two of those things were really good for you, Greg- but the other one, the shooting was very horrible. How can you put them together?”

Fair question.

Notice I didn’t say they were all happy moments- they were significant.

Significant is the daughter of a murdered mother looking at the killer and saying “I forgive you.”

Significant is the amount of compassion that allowed a symbol of oppression to be swiftly removed as an accessory to murder.

Significant is a nation that mourned the good people who lost their lives for trying their best to have faith in a world that so seldom supports it.

Significant when the President of the United States gives perhaps the best sermon I have heard in my life to a grieving nation and especially a grieving race of Americans who have been particularly plagued with violence, oppression and prejudice.

Like I said, significant.

If you haven’t seen that eulogy offered by President Obama, I officially recommend it. And I’d like to quote a few lines from it, because it gets right to the point of the message today. We can have all the faith we want- but without grace- we are nothing.

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and shortsightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.”

At some point, my friends, we have to allow our imperfect faith to meet God’s perfect grace.

And we have to believe that our feeble attempts to love will be assisted by the Grace of God and become an offering of sweetness and peace and substance and good.

That’s the story of the gospel today.

Even when we but try, God meets us in the person of Jesus Christ and offers us help with the power of the Holy Spirit.

He has raised those from the dead we have thought were lost forever.

He has alleviated our suffering- and the suffering of many throughout the world, because we have simply -with whatever small faith we possess- reached out to touch his garment.

So maybe this Gospel isn’t about faith after all.

Maybe it’s just simply about God’s grace- which is just another word for love- about God’s grace being unstoppable.

That’s what we call the Gospel, the Good News. God’s crazy love for us is unstoppable.

Amen

Christmas Sermon 2014

I wonder how many of you remember Art Linkletter. He originated this program called Kids say the Darndest Things. He would get a child or two or even a small group and ask them questions and the responses (at least the ones we saw) were truly hilarious. I remember two interviews in particular. The first was a little girl about five or six with a heavy Brooklyn accent:

Mr Linkletter: How do you feel about being in school?

Girl: I LOOOOVE School!

What do you think of your teacher?

I LOOOOVE my teacher!

Well what do you think of your mommy and Daddy?

I LOOOOOOOOVE my Mommy and Daddy!

Do you like ice cream?

I LOOOOOOOOVE ice cream!

You seem to love everything I ask you about.

Well, I’m a very loving person!

I love that story because it’s really true, isn’t it? Deep down we’re very loving people. There are things that we love, people that we love, animals that we love, places that we love, foods that we love, seasons that we love, books that we love, movies that we love music that we love- and the list goes on and on.

We love what speaks to us.

The other interview was with a group of kids and Art Linkletter asks them:

Have you ever been in love?

And this boy, who’s probably again five or six says “Oh Yes!”

Mr Linkletter asks “With whom are you in love?” He was very correct in his grammar.

And the little boy, without missing a beat, says pointing to a girl in the group “I’m in love with her!”

The little girl memorably shrieks and starts crying.

Whereupon Mr Linkletter says to the little boy “I’m not really sure, but that little girl doesn’t seem to share your love.”

The little boy says “Well, I’m In love with her, I don’t just love her. And I don’t suppose she can do anything about that.”

Out of the mouths of babes….

Today we celebrate Christmas- The feast of the birth of Christ. The Christ Mass.

The celebration that God’s love for us became manifest in a baby born in a barn. Not a palace or the suburbs or a gated community or a hospital or even a house.

He was born in a barn.

In a country occupied by a foreign power.

To poor parents who probably didn’t really know what they were doing- as most parents of their firstborn will attest.

Born also to a people who yearned for God’s light. And to the whole world as well.

I love the Christmas story because it’s so simple.

And because it’s so filled with complicated richness.

For centuries the Jewish people had walked in anticipation of Isaiah’s words “you who walk in darkness shall see a great light”.

I’ve known a few Rabbis in my life and one of the things they have taught me is this:

For hundreds of years The Jewish people had cultivated a relationship with this God who delivered them from oppressors and violence and injustice and who asked them to wrestle with theology- to get down and dirty with questions and curiosity- because if anyone can take a question God can.

Being an Episcopalian means using our heads as well as our hearts. We get to question things. We get to wrestle with things, just like Jacob wrestled with the angel.

Today, I’m going to ask you to wrestle with this: God is in love with you.

God is in love with you.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Who’s been in love?

When a person falls in love, the world changes, does it not?

And if that love is returned- well, we might even say that we’ve experienced the Divine.

Being in love is not about doing the right things, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, showing up at the right place, ordering the right food…. Love is much simpler than that.

True love is delighting in the presence of the Other- and knowing that they delight in the presence of me.

This is the essence of Christmas: God delights in us.

I’ll say it again- God delights in us.

Yeah, I know we don’t always get it right, but we’re trying.

And when someone is in love with you, they forgive when you apologize, right?

So does God forgive us.

God delights in us so much that that delight became a person.

It became Jesus.

He is the manifestation of God being in love with us.

Which is pretty amazing if you stop to think about it.

God is in love with you. God is in love with me. Are you wrestling?

We celebrate it in the words of scripture we hear and in the Eucharist- the ultimate sacrifice of someone in love.

Listen to the words “This is my body broken for you- this is my blood shed for you”-

Words of love from a parent to a child. “I give my life for you.”

Words of the lover to the beloved “All that is mine is yours.”

I also want you to remember something else:

God is in love with the people we find it hardest to love- that’s the most important thing to remember.

When you find a person hard to love remember this: God not only loves them, God is in love with them.

God is in love with some “miserable people”.

And sometimes those “miserable people” is us.

And when you have a bad day and feel unloved and find it hard to believe that anybody loves you, remember this: God not only loves you but God is in love with you.

And I don’t suppose there is anything you can do about that.

Except to try and love back.

Like Jesus did.

Amen

Transgender Day Of Remembrance Prayer

I was asked to give the opening prayer of the TDOR at MSU this evening- it was a memorial- it was a celebration.
The truth sets us free….

Loving God,

You have created us all in your complicated image.

But the love you ask of us is not complicated.

It is universal.

It is unconditional.

It is simply and perfectly- love.

With no distinctions or preferences for

gender, sexuality, race, religion, geography, education,

wealth, social status, language, practice or belief.

I have to believe that you are sad that we must gather tonight to remember

your children who are and have been victims of violence and ignorance.

But I also believe that you are delighted to celebrate the great courage of

your trans* children- and the courage of those who love and defend them.

They are the bravest and most wonderful people I know.

Made in your image and likeness, God.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

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