Sing, O barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labour! For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says our God. Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns. Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your spouse, the Leader of hosts by name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, who is the God of the whole earth.
For the Holy One has called you like a spouse forsaken and grieved in spirit, like the spouse of a one’s youth who is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Holy One, your Redeemer. This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Holy One, our God, who has compassion on you.
“When the Human One comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the ruler will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by the Creator, inherit the realm prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Sir, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the ruler will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Sir, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Will you pray with me? God of all people, open my mouth and heart to speak and share your truth and your love; give me grace to set aside my words, my thoughts, and to utter only what you would have me say to these your children. In your own glorious name, amen.
Today we’re observing Stonewall Sunday—remembering the day in 1969 when a police raid on a seedy bar in New York City sparked three days of riots and a true beginning to the civil rights movement for gay men, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. No one was killed; no one was badly injured. But GLBT people served the world notice that we would not be passive in the face of discrimination anymore. Riots and protests had happened before—in San Francisco, at Compton’s Cafeteria; and in Toronto, after a raid on a bathhouse. But for some reason, it was a bit different in New York—the momentum carried on after the riots into organizations and planning and helped birth the LGBT liberation movement. It is somehow fitting that the state of New York passed their equal marriage law so close to this anniversary; and in doing so, they doubled the number of US citizens living where marriage is equal—New York has a very high population!
Stonewall was a time we shouted aloud and said, we are not to be forgotten and maligned and pushed aside and made to feel less-than. Like so many other groups, we had had enough and were not going to accept that this is simply how things were meant to be. A group of our forefathers and foremothers stood up and insisted on change. We’re still working on that change. When our private lives are still up for debate by other people, when people like us are executed simply for who they are (whether legally by the state, as is true in places like Iran, or by lynching, as happens in the US and Canada), when young people take their own lives because they see no way to simply live—there is still much work to be done.
It begins within ourselves. It begins when we recognize that we are worthy in God’s eyes—we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, in God’s own image, as we are. We do not need, in fact should not, try to be what we are not—because that is a denial of God’s blessing on us in our creation. Each of us knows who and what we are—whatever that may be for you. Each of us has had to insist on who we are, in some way—our sexuality or gender identity in spite of what our parents or teachers or friends said or thought; our career choices, our decision about a life partner. Perhaps it was more abstract—our individuality when others wanted to slot us, or make us over to be like them—whoever they were.
Isaiah tells us that God simply loves us; not “if only we do XYZ God will love us;” not “if we have XYZ, or say XYZ.” “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” God says. Everlasting, unconditional love. Absolutely nothing keeps us from God’s love, from God’s desire to be near us, to be our spouse, our partner, closer to us than breathing, as the hymn says. Sometimes it is difficult to trust that God is there—when others shout us down, shove us in a corner, shut us away. And sometimes it does seem that God’s face is turned away, hidden from us—but God has compassion and love for us. “Enlarge the place of your tent,” Isaiah says, “for more are the children of the desolate than of the married one.” There is something about the love of God for those whom others have turned away, the ones who are thought to be less than. Always, God’s heart has yearned to the ones who are pushed down and aside—the poor, the ones whose beauty is hidden, the lost and bereaved, the ones the world in general deems unworthy or unwanted.
The overwhelming good news is that God loves us as a partner, a spouse, a lover. Not in an abstract, distant way, but close and intimate—God knows our pain as well as our hopes and joys. What is it we desire? God desires that for us. To be loved, to be whole, to be all that we are created to be—that is God’s desire for us.
Can’t you hear that yearning in Isaiah? “You will not be shamed,” God says; God is with us, loving us even when it seems no one else does. God will be our spouse—even when it seems God is far away, that God has turned away, God is in fact with us, close at hand, near to our hearts, in love and compassion.
When Jesus talks about the sheep and goats, and who will be in God’s realm, he does not mince words. The people who treat others with compassion and love will be the ones in bliss; the ones who do not will be in agony. Personally I do not believe in a literal hell; I believe we create our own heaven and hell here. People who behave like the goats—ignore the hungry, say the people in prison are lazy, refuse to allow the weary rest and will not care for the abandoned---they have created their one hell, because they are so far from God in those behaviors. They often don’t realize it—some even think they are very Godly—but the truth is that those who do not care for the brothers and sisters God has sent them do not really care for God, either.
I do not want us to be passive about this. We are not simply the oppressed in this story. Or rather, we are—but we are also more. And this is true of all of us—because every one of is oppressed or put down in some way, because each of us is different in some way and the world generally has difficulty with differences. Maybe you’re a woman; maybe you’re gay; maybe you are a person of color; maybe you’re physically or mentally challenged; maybe you come from another country. Maybe several of these things are true of you—and there are others we could mention too, aren’t there? So we are both the marginalized and the ones who are called to do something for the marginalized; we are called to help our brothers and sisters. We are called to remind them that God will have compassion on them; that the days of their loneliness are over, that God loves them with an everlasting love. And we need to remember that for ourselves, too.
We are not cast into outer darkness, but are caught up in God’s everlasting love. That love is so great, so overwhelming that our “tent,” our hearts, can barely contain it—we have to enlarge them, to receive that great great love—to give it a home in our hearts and spirits.
My friends, know that without a doubt, God loves you as you are. Don’t say, “Well, sure, if I would just do this and that; or if I hadn’t done the other, it would be easier for God to love me.” The simple fact is that God just loves you—not because of or in spite of—God loves you. Period.
And that is what gay men, lesbians, drag queens, bisexual men and women, transgender people, affirming straight people, and people who didn’t like any label—that’s what crystallized for them that night in New York City. They might not have put it in these words, but this is what it boils down to. “We have a right to be here; to be who we are, God made us perfectly and loves us as we are. There are no second-class citizens in God’s realm. We are all God’s children equally.” With that knowledge, they were strong and insisted on their place in God’s love, in God’s family of choice. With that knowledge, we are strong and insist on our place in God’s family . And with that knowledge, we will continue to be strong and to resist any diminishing of our place in God’s family, our humanity, the image of God within us.
Be as God made you—strong, beautiful, blessed, and beloved of God. Amen.