June 14, 2020, Fifth Anniversary of Becoming A Reconciling Congregation, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Click here for the MiniMusicale YouTube presentation, which premiered Sunday, June 14th
Matthew 10:16-23. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
Let’s take a moment for silent prayer, taking a couple of deep breathes as we reflect on this reading and what it might mean for God to come to us right now.
June 14, 2020 The End of the Present Age - Fifth Anniversary St. Luke UMC
When I was a Boy Scout back in my United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, we learned respect for the flag of the United States. We learned how to carry it, how important it was to keep it from touching the ground, and how to honor it’s meaning. It was a symbol to us of a country that stands for caring for all people and standing up for democracy. My love for the flag of the United States has been tested over the years, but I still hold an ideal in me that I think is worth fighting for and working for.
Somewhere along the line in Cincinnati, on the other hand, the Confederate flag became popular with some people. The love of the Confederate flag has always seemed strange to me, even though some of you still notice the edge of my sort of Southern accent. (Cincinnati is right on the border of Kentucky and we have a lot of people there who came from the south, so I came by the accent honestly, though it has faded quite a bit in my 40 years of living in Philadelphia.)
Those folks who wave the Confederate flag say that it stands for honoring their roots in the South and their love for the South, but I strongly suspect that most of those who fly it or put it on their cars are really trying to surreptitiously or boldly declare their allegiance to White Pride. They might not use the word, but they are saluting white supremacy.
This week NASCAR banned the use of the Confederate flag on their race cars and at their race tracks. This is a real sign of progress and hope for me. NASCAR racing has been one of the most popular sports in the country for years - especially appealing to working class people in this country. Taking down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol & at NASCAR sites is a symbolic victory for our country and our ideals of democracy and liberty and justice for all.
Symbols are important and powerful. The taking down of the Rizzo statue and Rizzo mural last week in South Philadelphia meant a lot to people, especially those of us who remember Mayor Rizzo’s targeting of Black people and LGBTQ folk in the 1980’s. For our city to finally repudiate that legacy is a big symbolic victory - not popular with the folks down in Lauren Nunnelee’s South Philly neighborhood, but important for the whole city and region.
A few years ago, Lauren helped to design another flag - a new version of the rainbow flag, which is a symbol of the LGBTQ community, a symbol of inclusion and respect for the gay community. Lauren’s version added a black and a brown stripe to include the sentiment that Black Lives Matter, to make the flag as inclusive a symbol as possible. That flag now hangs above City Hall in Philadelphia, above the Pennsylvania capitol building in Harrisburg and, as of last week, out front of our church.
The company that made the flag had manufactured a few extra, and our church council decided last year when the United Methodist Church voted to become even more restrictive around the marriage and ordination of gay people that we wanted to show the world that we are not a church which will go along with those kind of discriminatory practices or beliefs. We purchased the last two flags they had, sold one to Grandview church in Lancaster, and this week, Jon and Jon Cumming hung it above our church door.
Hanging this flag in front of our church is a bold step forward in declaring our welcome to people who are sometime marginalized in our society. It will certainly be noticed and we may find some people in our community or in the broader church disagreeing with the sentiment, even vehemently disagreeing. Jesus, in our passage this morning tells us to expect disagreement when we take a stance in the world for the gospel.
In fact, Jesus in the gospel of Matthew warns that, as we come to the end an era, when God’s new realm is starting to come to fruition, when new life is shining forth into a world of repression and oppression, the opposition could be fierce and divisive. Jesus in Matthew even says in the passage right after this one, “I don’t come to bring peace, but a sword.” In our Bible study this week, Terri felt like that sentiment goes directly counter to most of our understanding of who Jesus is. We think of Jesus as bringing peace and harmony.
But friends, there are times to stand up for the gospel, to stand up for what you believe, to stand up for brothers and sisters who need us, even when it creates ripples of disagreement or even rifts in our community or families. We have to risk that at some important times in order to move toward the liberation that Jesus promises to all God’s people.
For too long the church has been complicit in the exclusion and derision of LGBTQ people. Some of my colleagues argue that our policies of excluding gay people from ordination and from marriage is what God demands and we can love people but hate what they do, or something like that. They claim that those exclusive stances by the church don’t have any ripple effects in society where people take exclusion and derision even farther.
Just day before yesterday, the body of Dominique Fells, a transgender woman known as Rem’mie, was found in the Schuylkill River. Black transgender folks like Rem’mie are targeted and killed regularly. She was 27 years old. Seven transgender women have been killed in Philadelphia in the last seven years.
It made me wonder this week — was there anyone that Jesus excluded? anyone that Jesus treated with no compassion?
We as a church fly the rainbow flag on this Pride Sunday, the fifth anniversary of becoming reconciling, because we want to denounce in no uncertain terms the killing and mistreatment of people like Rem’mie Fells. By flying this flag on Flag Day, we declare that we worship with and welcome all God’s people. We proclaim God’s compassion for all, not just for those who look like us or grew up like we did or make us comfortable. No one should ever be treated like Rem’mie Fells was, or George Floyd, or Rayshard Brooks.
Let me just mention here: I found out this morning that someone started a GoFundMe account to try to raise money for a memorial service for Dominique Rem’mie Fells. The goal for the fund was to raise $1,000. In two days people have already given $100,000 to memorialize Ms. Fells.
On this Flag Day we declare the respect and compassion shown by those donations is who we are as a country and not the shunning of marginalized folks, let alone the murders. We will struggle in this critical time to open the doors for all God’s people.
And because it’s Flag Day let me say one last thing about the flag. When my father died, the army was at the funeral to present a flag in honor of his service in the army, his willingness to fight if necessary. I assume many of you have been in a service like that, but I want to let you know it is very moving. Soldiers in full uniform carefully and ritually unfold a large US flag, salute the flag and then fold it again with ritual and respect. Then they presented it to my mother and saluted her and the flag and our family. When I thanked the soldiers for their taking time to do this service, they looked me in the eye and said sincerely, “It’s an honor!”
When my mother was nearing the end she gave that flag to me and it is in my office. I see it whenever I am there. When she died, the army came and presented us with another flag with the same ritual and respect in honor of her service as a nurse in the army. My brother took that flag and treasures it as well.
These flags are powerful symbols, symbols of who we are as a people, symbols of our struggle to be who we are called to be, symbols of an ideal we work for and are determined to uphold. We disrespect that flag if we mistreat, exclude, or demean LGBTQ folks or marginalize anyone just because of who they are. God gives us the strength, God gives us the courage God gives us the voice to stand up for God’s people, for all people, even when it’s controversial, even when it’s a struggle or a fight, even when it makes us have to rethink who we are, to become God’s beloved community.
This is God’s good news.
Responsive Hymn 2175 Together We Serve