Gary SmithI’m left handed. By birth, not by choice. On first recognition that I might be left handed, my parents handed me stuff in my right hand, but I always just moved them to my left…
Still, they loved me and soon affirmed me by buying me a left handed baseball glove. My dad and I played a lot of catch as I grew.
Over the years, I have come to prefer being left handed. We south paws like to say “The creative people are left handed”…. My comfort in myself as a left hander in turn has helped me respect and love those who are less fortunate…, right handers.
Cathy just read my favorite Bible passage. “Love God with all your heart and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Jesus called this the Great Commandment, and the 2nd commandment). An important message that I hear in the passage is this - Loving yourself well is critical for loving your neighbor well. Hear it again… “Love God with all your heart and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”. That is, Love yourself well in order to love your neighbor well.
In turn then, if I can do anything to help raise your self-love, it may increase your ability to love your neighbor.
I’m glad to be part of an Open and Affirming church because by being O and A, we are saying that everyone here is loveable and God-loved (gay, straight, left, right handed). This affirmation… that we all are loved, may increase our self-love and in turn increase our ability to love our neighbors – as ourselves.
So, I am glad to be here for a very basic reason. If I love and affirm you more, you may love yourself more and be more fully able to fulfill Jesus’ 2nd commandment, that is love your neighbor (and me).
Okay, so I’m pulling double-duty here today, so if this thing runs over, well, it’s all my fault ;-)
Today’s scripture reading is from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 1-8 and 13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Now, I would like to focus on these three things: Faith, love, and hope. Both my experiences with them and your role as members of an Open and Affirming congregation.
1. As for faith: As a young child, I was a very devout little Southern Baptist. My earliest memories are of being in church. Walking to church. Singing in church. The potlucks. Sunday School. I took this all very seriously. I prayed before every soccer game, I fretted over whether my friends were going to “hell,” I wondered if my teachers could surmise that I was a Christian simply through my actions, I was going to read the Bible cover to cover
However, this all came to an end, due to a simple little thing called love.
2. As for love: As I grew older, I became conscious of things like romance and love and dating, but they never seemed to click for me; they sounded dull and intolerable. Ever the scholar, I remember poring through my parent’s old psychology textbooks, trying to figure out when these desires might kick in. Imagine reading what Freud had to say at that age!
Over time, I became worried that I was hopelessly behind my peers. I remember going to my mother, wringing my hands, and noting that I STILL did not have crushes on boys yet. What I left out was that I thought my teacher was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen…
I had no words for what I was. Eventually, I gave up waiting to have crushes on boys and just dodged their advances as politely as possible. I envisioned myself as a “spinster” one day.
But this all changed one day when I heard a DJ on the radio talking about a concert he had gone to the night before and joking about seeing another woman there wearing his same sweater. I knew he was making fun of her, but it didn’t matter- looking down at my own attire, something about what he said resonated with me…
So, I researched this singer and found some website where it mentioned that she liked other women. And it all clicked. Feeling like we may very well be the only two people out there with same gendered attraction, I felt like I simply HAD to get a message to her to let her know that there were others out there like her in case she felt as lost as I did. Little did I know… ☺
Now that I had a word for it, I saw it everywhere. I intercepted my father’s monthly newsletters from Liberty University. You can imagine what they had to say about homosexuality. The depression set in. God HATED me.
The verse says, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” As I understood it, my faith, as it was, could not allow for both my love and my faith to coexist. I struggled to disentangle faith from such things as ex-gay conversion camps, Westboro Baptist Church, and the words of Pat Robertson. Suffice to say, I went through a very low period in my life as I tried to understand all this new information about myself, my faith, and my future.
3. As for hope. Now-- this is where you come in. This is where HOPE comes in. One day, when discussing the role of faith for our daughters, my partner, Michelle, shared with me some information she had gathered about the UCC. Your rainbow comma was like a beacon of hope to me; however, I was still skittish.
If it were not for your phrase “Open AND Affirming,” I would not be here in the UCC today. Being Open was not enough. Because to me, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a welcome sign may be immediately followed by a series of denouncements and vitriol. But you’re not just open, you are affirming, and that tells me not only am I invited to share in worship with you, but I am safe here. In the end, thanks to the love and support from people like you and the rest of the UCC family, I have come to understand that my faith and my love are not mutually exclusive. And that, THAT gives me hope.
Thank you, for all you have done and continue to do as part of an Open and Affirming congregation.
(Suzette Roach's testimonial will be soon be added here.)