Sermon for June 30th Gay Pride

Today is Pride Sunday. 50th anniversary.

So many years ago, those who were different, who were not like others were ostracized, made fun of, locked up – in the name of the law. 

And sometimes in the name of God.

God’s creatures, God’s children – treated horribly.

Because they were – DIFFERENT.

 Things have changed in these 50 years, at least in some places.  And today, siblings from around the world have come to NYC to celebrate freedom and love.

Last week we acknowledged Refugee Sunday – and had Nancy Tomicic tell her moving story of when she was a refugee – so many years ago.  

(Some of you were not able to hear her – so we are working on possibly getting copies of her remarks.)

Why do we recognize Refugee Sunday?  Because today, in so many places around our world, and even here in the USA – even in our own city! –

People who are different, who are not like others are ostracized, made fun of, locked up – in the name of the law.

And in the eyes of some – even in the name of God.

God’s creatures, God’s children – treated unfairly.

Because they are – DIFFERENT.

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is calling people to follow him into his mission and ministry.

Because he is a practicing Jew, he “sets his mind and face toward Jerusalem, knowing that he must go there to complete his ministry – to die for the sake of the world.

He is different from the Samaritans in which he finds himself. 

He is DIFFERENT from them.  So they don’t receive his ministry or acknowledge him.

What do some of his followers do?

SHALL WE COMMAND FIRE TO RAIN DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND CONSUME THEM?

What does JESUS do? Rebukes his followers for even thinking of such an act.  God is not about condemning those who are not ready to follow.

In commenting on our 2nd lesson from Galatians, Pastor James Klockau states:

Paul spells out the mission before us. Last week, he pointed out the power we’ve been given through our baptism. 

Now he explains that with the Spirit of God within, our lives should be different.

Paul tells us: 

22: By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is 

love, 

joy, 

peace, 

patience, 

kindness, 

generosity, 

faithfulness, 

gentleness, 

and self-control.

We who follow Jesus, who answer the call, are challenged to live differently than the world.

We are called to be accepting, of all, and especially of those different from us.  But not only accepting, welcoming. 

And not only welcoming, but also seeking what is best for them.

For all are children of our Loving Creator God.

The message of the ancient covenant is clear:

Take care of widows, orphans and the strangers in your land.

Be a voice for the powerless.

The prophets called the Children of Israel to be faithful to their calling:

Seek justice.

Show mercy.

Walk humbly with God.

My friends, the task of following Jesus is not costly – for us.

But for God it cost everything.  It cost Jesus his very life.

Being light, 

bringing hope, 

living love 

is not THAT difficult.


It just means that we live a bit differently from everyone else.

We find ourselves in another political season.

Well, come to think of it, when are we NOT in a political season???

And candidates are promising everything under the sun for us.

Different folk have varying visions of what is best for our country.

Some emphasize one thing; others another.

And honestly, some are filled with hate.

Is this the best we can do?  Is tearing down those with whom we disagree the best that we have to offer?

And let’s be honest, President Trump is not the ONLY one that likes to tear down opponents.

It seems to me that God has a different reality.

That God has a different vision for us.

That the prophets called God’s children to a different way of living.

That Jesus came for a much bigger, deeper, broader purpose.

I don’t know whether those folk who protested at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago could have imagined a world that would accept them for who they are.

I don’t know if the first followers of Jesus had any idea that the world could be a different place because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I DO know that WE can make a difference in this world.

We can live differently.  We can dream differently.

On Pentecost Day, Peter, in speaking about what had happened with Jesus – and he pouring out of His Spirit, quoted the prophet Joel who says:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

THIS IS WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO BE.

THIS IS WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO ENVISION.

THIS IS WHAT WE ARE CALLED BY GOD TO BRING TO LIFE!

 There is a wonderful movie, one of my recent favorites:

The Greatest Showman.

The story of PT Barnum and how the circus began.

I love the music; so many wonderful songs.

Perhaps my favorite is A Million Dreams.

While all of the words don’t exactly fit with the vision of the church, of Trinity, for me – so many do.

Words like: it feels like home.

And

A house that is filled with things from far away (our diverse international family right here at Trinity and in Astoria!)

And

Special things to make you smile within that house:

The Word. The Sacraments. Our children. Our elderly. Our outreach to the community. 

God is giving us a vision for a brighter, better world. For those who are like us. And for those who are DIFFERENT from us.

I finish the sermon today by letting you listen to this amazing song. The words are found in your bulletin on pg. 22.

I close my eyes and I can see
The world that's waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one's been before
But it feels like home

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make

There's a house we can build
Every room inside is filled
With things from far away
The special things I compile
Each one there to make you smile
On a rainy day

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say we've lost our minds
I don't care, I don't care if they call us crazy
Runaway to a world that we design

Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make

However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you'll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see

Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
A million dreams, a million dreams
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make

For the world we're gonna make

Songwriters: Benj Pasek / Justin Paul

Are you ready to dream big? Are you ready to share in God’s dreams for the world?

Amen

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Paul Milholland
Sermon for Easter 7 on the Conversion of the Philippian Jailer in Acts

Powerful story about the ministry of Paul & Silas, helping others

In a jail

To other prisoners

And to the one who had put them in the innermost, jail cell.

Beaten with rods, not because they were really doing anything illegal in the eyes of the Roman authorities, but because they had made the financial well-being of the idol sellers DRY UP.

Not unusual for Paul.  He seemed to cause trouble in almost every town he went to – with his message about Jesus Christ.  In Corinth at one time, he almost caused a riot, so that the political leaders had him removed from town, rather than allowing him to debate others about his beliefs.

In the 1980s miniseries: the Story of Peter and Paul – one of my favorites – today’s lesson for Acts is told. And in it, after the earthquake, the jailer comes to find that Paul and Silas are not in their own cell.  And he fears for his life, and figures that killing himself by his own hand will be swifter and more merciful than at the hand of the Roman authorities.

Paul calls out – for he and Silas are in ANOTHER jail cell ministering to fellow prisoners and their needs, and singing hymns of praise to God.

The story is so very powerful because of the contrasting images within it.

Paul and Silas beaten with rods and imprisoned. 

The jailer is afraid for his own life and decides to take it.  And then, when he realizes that they did NOT escape but were still there, he falls on his face and in affect asks: How can I HAVE LIFE?  THE LIFE YOU SPEAK ABOUT AND OFFER?

They tell him, believe what we say about Jesus – believe IN Jesus, and you will be saved, and not only you, but your WHOLE HOUSEHOLD.

Then, the JAILER ministers to his prisoners.  Washing their wounds from the beating.

And he and the ENTIRE household are baptized WITHOUT DELAY.

Then the prisoners brought up into the jailers house as honored guests.  And all rejoice about their new faith.

Powerful story filled with paradoxes and contrasting images. 

The tables are turned, so to speak.

Because of Jesus Christ, the chains of imprisonment are broken.

From the worldly view: Christian missionaries Paul and Silas were in chains.

From God’s view, the jailer – just doing his job, was ACTUALLY in chains – of fear.

And because Jesus came, in the presence of God’s servants, Paul and Silas, chains were broken and new life was given.

IT IS THE SAME TODAY:

This VERY day, the Risen Jesus is walking down a street in Jackson Heights along with a number of our Trinity Family members and friends: for the Queens Pride Parade.

Children, older folk, Boy scouts, gay and straight are sharing the Good News that God in Jesus Christ is welcoming to ALL people, and that one can find a place of welcome and safety here in Astoria, at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Chains may well be broken, as our sisters and brothers make public witness that God does not condemn God’s children. 

For those who have felt for too long that no church would welcome them, and have heard messages of intolerance, and yes, hate – chains will be broken as this public witness of God’s love in Jesus Christ is shown by feet walking in a parade.

Conversación biblicas en Espańol and others are going to help us in tangible ways to break other chains and bring a message of hope, of freedom and especially of love.

Through the AMMPARO program, Trinity Lutheran will give tangible witness to immigrants, and especially immigrant teens and children that God in Christ loves them and they can find, at least in some ways, a sense of welcome, of safety and a community they can trust.

No matter your political persuasion or what you think about the issues we are facing at our southern border (this time is not the time for us to debate this) we are being called by GOD to do something to help.

I’m going to share a story with you – and it is going to be shocking, so prepare yourselves:

Christopher Vergara & partner Roberto Lara.

Legal Guardians for a 19 year old from Guatemala. 

Did all they could to get papers, IDs, etc. so that the young man is now living in one room of an apartment, and has a job to not only pay his bills, but to have a sense of dignity.

Why did their “son” as they call him, run away?

Gangs, threatening.  Join or else.

No thank you.  Packed his bag.  Left his mother and younger brother, and came to US for safety.

About a month later, he heard something that was very tragic, and to us shocking.

Younger brother approached by the same youth gangs to join.  No thank you.  And went off to another part of the village.

Several hours later: a knock on the door of the house.

Mother opens the door to find a box on the door step.

Inside, the head of her younger son who refused to join the gang.

God is calling us, in the midst of the great tragedy of people’s lives, to DO SOMETHING. To minister to the needs of those who are imprisoned by fear, by impending death, by insecurity, by having no hope and not knowing where to turn or to run.

Just like the beaten and shackled Paul and Silas, we, who have been freed in Jesus Christ, are called to minister to others who find themselves in prisons of all kinds.

And to bring hope.  And to say, to those who, like the jailer, think it is better to end their own life swiftly –

DO NOT HARM YOURSELF. 

WE ARE HERE

AND SO IS JESUS.

For the son of Christopher and Roberto, the older brother to the youth that was murdered in Guatemala?  You know one thing that helped him in his documentation here in NYC?  He was baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  To be saved.  Not just for eternal life – but for now. 

Dear Ones, we are called to be hope.

We are called to be a safe place.

We are called to bring welcome, in REAL tangible ways to those who have not felt welcome in the church or in our world.

We are called to be the very presence of the Risen Jesus

        Right here

                Right now

God give us the strength, the vision, and the courage to do so.

Amen.

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Paul Milholland