June 9, 2013: Pride Sunday: From Hate 2 Love

Posted on : Jun 6th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Cesar Chavez is a true American hero.  Cesar Chavez was a civil rights leader, a Latino farm labor organizer and a genuinely religious and spiritual figure.  He and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association.  They were the first to raise our American consciousness to the horrible working and living conditions of migrant farm workers, most of whom were, and still are, Latino.  And he, like The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were courageous early voices for LGBT equality in the civil rights movement.

I love Cesar Chavez’s words:

“Once social change begins it cannot be reversed.
You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.
You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.
You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

For some of us, the change we have experienced is unbelievable.  In the early years of the LGBT Civil Rights movement, victories were few and far between.  The oppressors always held the power and we lost many of the fights for equality.  Today, we see not only the wisdom, but the truth in Chavez’s words:

“Once social change begins it cannot be reversed.
You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.
You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.
You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

But we’re not done.  There are still many places where it is not safe to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.  And in most places it is still not safe to be transgender.  We still have a lot of work to do.

I am deeply saddened that one, if not the most oppressive institution that still dehumanizes and puts down LGBT people and our equality, is the Christian Church.  But I am most amazed and thankful for the new, young activists who are challenging inequality in places where homophobia is still rampant.  Jason Collins, who just graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the first male professional athlete to come out as gay, and Soccer player Robbie Rogers #14 of Los Angeles Galaxy came back to the team after coming out.  And let’s not forget world tennis champions, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, former World No. 1 player, who both came out years ago as lesbian athletes and as a result, lost a small fortune in corporate endorsements.

Another young professional team, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, rocked the rap world with their song “One Love.”  Macklemore, who is straight (his words), pulled off a trifecta in one song:  He named youth stereotyping where the put-down phrase, “that’s so gay” is  used daily; he challenged the religious intolerance of the Roman Catholic Church (“holy water”) and the Black Church (what’s truly “anointed?”) all in one song.  And, as he says, he’s straight!

Whenever I find myself saying, “I can’t believe this! – I can’t believe the change that is happening!,” I remember a conversation I had years ago with a colleague.  The Rev. Dr. Charles Doak was a prominent Presbyterian and the former Presbyterian Campus Minister at both USC and UCLA.  He supported, as his successor, a conservative, homophobic, anti-gay pastor.  I could never understand why he supported him, so one day I just asked him.  He said, “Because I believe in CONVERSION.”  “Conversion, I asked?”  “Yes,” he answered, “Conversion.”

I knew exactly what he meant but I had never thought of it that way before.  “Conversion” in my religious experience was usually what homophobes insisted that I needed to do, not the other way around.  But Charles was right.  The message of Jesus is all about “Conversion:  conversion from hate to love.” That’s the story of the Apostle Paul’s life.  He was a rabid hater of Christians.  He was the Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) of early Christianity.   He tortured, bullied and condemned Christians.  Then he “saw the light” – and experienced a radical conversion.  He converted from hate-monger to lover, from persecutor to activist, from oppressor to advocate of Christianity.

In the famous story of his conversion experience on the “Road to Damascus,” Paul “sees the light” and is transformed.  For me, that is one of the great spiritual purposes of our Christian faith.  We are to be constantly transformed and converted from Hate to Love. This Sunday we will celebrate the spiritual principle of conversion and honor some of the great people who have led us in that spiritual journey.  And I have one of the most touching, beautiful videos to conclude Sunday’s sermon.  We will all be filled with God’s love and Pride!

Happy LA Pride Sunday and God Bless!


~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Acts 9: 1-30

Saul encounters the light of the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus and is converted from a bully and oppressor to a bearer of Christ’s love.

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of Jesus, went to the high priest 2and asked the priest for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way [that is, the followers of Jesus], he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as Saul was traveling along the road approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

7Those travelling with Saul stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing [for he was blind]; so they led Saul by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days Saul was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. Christ appeared to Ananias in a vision, and called him by name.  Ananias answered, “Here I am.” 11Then Christ said to Ananias, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying. 12He has seen in a vision – a vision in which a man named Ananias comes in and lays his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias protested, saying, “I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But Christ said to him “Go, anyway, for Saul is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then Saul got up and was baptized, 19and after eating some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “Jesus is the Anointed One of God.” 21All who heard Saul were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who beat and killed those in Jerusalem who invoked Jesus’ name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound in chains before the chief priests?” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

23 After some time had passed, the Jewish authorities plotted to kill Saul, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night trying to put him to death; 25but one night, Saul’s followers took him and let him down through an opening in the wall – lowering him in a basket.

26 When Saul arrived back in Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27Then Barnabas took charge and introduced Saul to the apostles. Barnabas described to them how on the road Saul had seen and conversed with Jesus, and how ever since that encounter, Saul had been speaking out fearlessly in the name of Jesus at Damascus.

28Saul stayed on with them, moving freely about Jerusalem and expressing himself quite openly in the name or Christ.  29He even spoke with the Greek-speaking Jews and debated with them. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

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