May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you, O God, my strength and my Redeemer. +
This Lent has been like none other for me. I am not totally sure why, but I think much of it has to do with my own intentionality. I was ordained as a deacon in September 2020, but I didn’t really feel like I stepped into my ordination until this year because last year so much was closed down due to COVID. This year feels like many of the “firsts” of my deaconate journey. And that has caused me to be very reflective of the journey that brought me to this point today. So, as Mother Miriam mentioned 2 weeks ago in her homily, I am going to evangelize a bit today and share some of my testimony.
All I have ever wanted in life, for as long as I can remember, is to have relationship with Divine. Real relationship. Even though I didn’t know what that meant or what it looked like.
I grew up in central Illinois on 18 acres surrounded by woods. Birds of all types – hawks, cardinals, blue jays, purple martins swooping for bugs. There were Bambi-like deer prancing through the yard. Garden snakes slithering through.
Squirrels, cotton-tail rabbits, red foxes.
Lightening bugs, butterflies, & June bugs to chase.
Crawdads & tadpoles.
The yard was full of soft grass & wild purple clover. Red & black raspberries grew at the edge of the woods and tall cattails rose up beside the creek.
And the trees—oaks, maples, walnuts, elms ... all growing together side by side. If you have ever had the pleasure of gazing upon a mixed wood forest, then you know that there are more shades of green than Crayola could ever reproduce!
From the very beginning, I knew in my core that these were gifts from God, and I wanted nothing more than to have real relationship with this Creator God. As Deacon Mildred shared Psalm 63 with us last Sunday, my heart was singing:
God! My God! It’s you—
I watch for you!
My whole being thirsts for you!
My family were regular church attenders, and I also attended a Catholic school 1st through 5th grade. Our teachers were Franciscan nuns who wore full habits. You saw only hands and faces. They were lively, caring women and I thought they had the best job in the world! Teach a few kids and then talk to Jesus the rest of the day. Nothing could be better than that in my child-mind.
They loved me and accepted me. They became my church family, which meant, that they too, like the animals and trees, were now part of my God family.
In high school I met a group that I lovingly call the Jesus Hippy Freaks. As young “born-again” Christians, we had religious tracts in the pockets of our bell bottoms, huge crosses embroidered on the back of our jean jackets and King James tucked firmly under our arms. We went to prayer meetings & tent revivals, sang praise songs and told everyone who would listen about the love of Jesus.
They loved me and accepted me.
They told me I was a “beautiful sister in Christ.”
And so, my God family grew to include them as well.
As a young adult, both in Illinois and here in Texas, I attended several different churches and Christian fellowship groups with a variety of friends. I loved learning and hearing about God. And, I always loved the people and the fellowship as I continued to seek relationship with Divine alongside my God family.
However, things changed drastically for me when realized I was gay. To my face I was still called a beautiful sister in Christ. But from the pulpits and Sunday school teachers, it was either said outright or strongly implied that gay people were some of the worst sinners of all.
I tried to ignore it. Tried to see only the positives.
But it got to the point where I could not do it any longer.
And I quit. Church. Not God. My desire for relationship with Creator God was as strong as ever. I quit church, because it felt like God and my God family was no longer there for me.
For the next 25+ years I sought relationship with God in Spirituality, books, nature, journaling, and occasionally meeting with small groups of others who felt disconnected to formal, denominational churches.
I learned a lot. I met great people. But my relationship with Divine was a struggle because of two main things. First, anyone who has met me for even a few moments, knows that I am a people person who lives and loves best in community, lots of community. And secondly, I carried so much anger and sadness over the loss of my God family.
Then my partner and I decided we were going to adopt a child, and I could not help but to think of those Franciscan nuns and the church of my youth who loved and supported me in my first stages of relationship with God. And I wanted that for my child!
I wanted her to know the love of a God family.
And that’s when my friend told me about St. Andrew’s.
I came and sat by myself in the back because my friend was in the choir.
In all honesty, I don’t know if anyone said anything to me besides, “Peace of the Lord be with you”, because I had so many walls and defenses built up.
I met with Mother Jo and she told me that it didn’t matter to her or anyone else that my family was two women and a child. After an adult formation bible study class, I was so agitated and told Mother Jo, “I don’t think I believe this stuff”. She never batted an eye. Only said, “You don’t have to. Maybe you will someday.”
When my family later came with me, I sat in the pew with defenses up, Spirituality battling liturgy in my brain, just waiting for you, any of you, to tell me that I was the worse sinner of all. But you didn’t. None of you.
Instead, you knelt or stood with me as we ALL confessed our sins against God and our neighbor.
You told me that I could ask questions, that I could grow in relationship with God at my own pace, in conjunction with you, and -- you meant it!
From minute one, you loved me. You loved my family. And as any parent can attest, you gave the greatest gift of all-- you loved my child. You became my God family.
So why am I telling you this on the Fourth Sunday in Lent?
Because, beloved people, I am the Prodigal Child1
I am the one who would not pick up a Bible for 25 years, let alone read it or study it. I am the one who was done with religion and was leery of everyone who called them self a Christian.
And you…YOU… St. Andrews, you are the compassionate father who saw me when I was still far off. You are the ones who put your arms around me and welcomed me home.
You broke bread and raised the cup of wine and invited me to this Eucharist table in celebration with you. And you became my new God family.
But you know what? I am not the only prodigal child here.
There are more of you here today. Many more.
I know, because I have met you. I have listened to your stories. I have hugged you through your tears.
You see, a deacon is supposed to speak truth of what they see in the world. And what I see today in the world is too many people hurt. War. Hate. Prejudice. Injustice. And unfortunately, too many times that hurt is inflicted in the name of God.
The compassionate father saw his son when he was still far off.
You saw me when I was still far off.
And I tell you now, when I look back down that path from where the prodigal son came, from where you and I came– there are many more weary and wounded travelers on that road.
There are other LGBTQ children, like me, on that road.
Their families are on that road.
There are women on that road who have been held down & told they are less-than simply for being female.
There are divorced people on that road.
They are persons on that road who are mentally, physically and emotionally other-abled.
There are brethren on that road who thought they had a God family, but that family is now fighting, maybe even splitting apart, because of who some believe should be included versus who should be excluded.
Compassionate, loving people of St. Andrews, prodigal children have come, and they will continue to come.
They are coming with wounds and hurts and defenses…
and they are coming with HOPE.
Hope that we really will accept THEM… them, just as they are.
Hope that we really will see them while they are still far off. Hoping that we will put our arms around them, in Divine love, and invite them as equal participants of this God family.
Beloved, for the remainder of the Lenten season, in your time of contemplation, I ask that you pray for the prodigal children. Children who have lost their God family and are seeking to return.
Pray that when we see them far off that we may know how to embrace them, that we will know how to help them in their healing, and love them for who they are,
who we ALL are—
beautiful, unique gifts,
created by a loving Divine
to be each other’s God family.