Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In September 1995, my bishop, Rt. Rev. John S. (Jack) Spong, sent me as his official ambassador to a conference on “The Decade of Evangelism.” It was held in Kanuga, North Carolina, and was attended by many leaders from all over the Anglican Communion, including then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Linda Strohmeir, then the chief evangelism officer of the Episcopal Church, introduced me as an evangelist and noted that through Integrity, the lgbt ministry that I founded in 1974, over 30,000 have come into, or back into, The Episcopal Church.
In retrospect, the conference seems to have been a warm-up for the 1998 Lambeth Conference two years later, when attacking homosexuality and homosexuals reached new watermarks on the agenda of the Anglican Communion.
Linda’s introduction bestowed upon me instant notoriety.
- Several foreign visitors publicly decried the presence of a gay minister in their midst.
- My business cards became a collector’s item for many foreign visitors.
- A person from New Zealand said in our break-out group, “Louie, we love you, but you are a defilement on the body of Christ.”
- A person from Vermont clinched my arm in the same group as she repeatedly said, “Be healed! be healed! be healed!…..” I realized that if I tried to pull loose, I would appear to be thrashing her, so I endured her unwanted attention in silence until as a surprise I screamed as loudly as I could, “Let go of me!” Fortunately she did.
- At a plenary of the same conference, a woman with a tambourine approached me. “Louie,” she said, “God has anointed me to tell you that you must leave your African American husband and be saved.” I thanked her for her concern for my soul and explained that God has already saved Ernest and me and wants us to “proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.” She retreated weeping at what she took as her failure, into the arms of nearby Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, Retired Bishop of South Carolina. Had he counseled her to try her hand at saving me?
There is a sad cartoon that shows a distinguished person leaving a huge church saying to a companion, “Evangelism??! Isn’t everyone already an Episcopalian who ought to be?”
Indeed not! But like Jonah, I find it a fearful thing to bring to Nineveh news that I do not expect Episcopal Nineveh to want to hear: if God can love an old quean like me (and God does!), God can love absolutely everybody (and God does!)
See also my article in The Episcopalian: Evangelism: How to Do It, How to Stifle It
Today’s collect will make many Episcopalians uneasy. What does it mean “to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation”?
- Must I start going door to door clutching my Book of Common Prayer the way Mormon missionaries arrive with the Book of Mormon?
- Must I cluster with others in a public park passing out copies to all takers of The Watchtower?
- Must we hire John Stott or John Guest or Alden Hathaway to teach us how to do Fervor in an Anglican way?
- Should I start asking strangers on planes or trains or buses or in public hallways, “Are you saved?”
Those measures may work for some. I have found it effective to say to the scores of congregations that have allowed me to speak, “God loves you, and God needs you to love some who won’t believe God loves them until you love them first, in God’s name.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s embrace. No one can defile the body of Christ by returning his embrace.
I have not been called to judge the earth, nor even to judge those who so readily and so frequently judge me. I am called to love them, to proclaim forgiveness even before some know that might need it, from the same source of my own forgiveness.
That is still news to most of the world, news for which most are spiritually starving, news genuinely good. “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim [it].
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Today’s text comes just after the Israelites have rebuilt their country following their long captivity. They weep when they hear the law read to them from early morning to midday. One would think they would rejoice, but they grieve. Their bodies are now free, but their souls remain captive.
Grief can become a drug, as can guilt -- addictive and destructive. Nehemiah and Ezra correct them: “Do not mourn or weep… Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
It is easier to be unhappy than to be happy. It is easier to live in fear of what might go wrong than to live in joy about what God may accomplish with our help.
In 1958 I was a junior at Baylor and frequently depressed. I felt cut off from God and was terribly afraid of my incipient sexuality, which I labored hard to repress. I did not want the involuntary fantasies that would wrack my soul. Night after night I would fall asleep in tears.
Early one morning I was awakened by the radio still tuned to KRLD in Dallas for Jay Andres’ program “Music 'til Dawn.” Andres was playing Haydn’s version of Psalm 19, “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God.” Suddenly my room flooded with bright sunlight. Like Wordsworth, I was “surprised by Joy, impatient as a nun in breathless adoration!”
Some days are too glorious to waste on being a sourpuss.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
All of us can take delight that Saint did not extend his metaphor to include those among us represented by various parts of the body that we keep covered.
I wish that parishes would take the time to inventory the talents of members, not just our pledges.
Identifying our own talents is not always easy. Sometimes we stress the talents that we long to have without looking closely and valuing the ones that we do have.
Sometimes those who are almost ghoulish in mien gravitate to being ushers and greeters, perhaps hoping to compensate. They might be much more effective to identify a definite skill which they have but perhaps devalue (accounting, e.g., or decorating or …). Put those talents to work for the Body of Christ.
Nor does the Church always value our gifts. Perhaps I would have been more effective had year after year I worn sandwich boards saying, “Queer! For Christ’s Sake” or “Flasher for Jesus.” That’s all that many have seen when I have tried to give my mind to the task, but in the marvelous arithmetic of faith, being a flasher for Jesus has been redemptive challenge and a blessing.
David Allen White, a dear friend of mine for decades, told me in great excitement several years ago, “I now understand what God has been doing in my life. I knew as certainly as I know day is day and night is night that God called me to be a priest, yet in three dioceses I have been turned down from the ordination process because I am gay. ‘How can God expect the impossible?’ I asked myself. And now I see. God has used me as one clearly called to be a priest yet rejected by a church not yet ready to receive one whom God has so clearly chosen." Being a flasher for Jesus can indeed be a redemptive challenge and a blessing.
The Rev. John Peterson, while Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, preached at the 1995 Kanuga Conference (see my commentary on the Collect above). His credentials as a progressive are impressive. When David Virtue created an infamous hate deck of cards to identify enemies in the Anglican Communion, he named Peterson the Ace of Spades. (Alas, he named me as only the Queen of Spades!)
Today’s Gospel was the lesson appointed for the night Peterson preached, and he was well aware of how dangerous it is
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
Jesus is reading Isaiah 61:1,2, the text within Luke’s text. Peterson pointed out in his sermon that soon after Jesus read it in the temple, Jesus narrowly escaped from enemies who tried to hurl him over a cliff. (That part of the story, Luke 4:21-30, is next Sunday's Gospel.)
Taking his cue from Jesus, Peterson did not stick around for the rest of the conference on evangelism as Linda Strohmeir and I did.
A highly placed lesbian was in the breakout group where I was excoriated, and she said not a word publicly or privately. Perhaps that’s why she began to miss most of the group’s meetings. Today she is a bright and positive presence, out to the church and to the world.
Peter Carey, son of the Archbishop, interviewed me at length and knew of these matters. His father heard me excoriated in plenaries. Yet when the Peace was shared, the Archbishop remained fixed only two rows from me and spoke not a single word.
Hundreds more who know better ducked in silence.
One bishop sought me out and thanked me for being there: “I never realized it could be this bad for lgbt people,” he said.
God deploys angels carefully. We are never without them. Listen for their wings.