TAKE A SAD SONG AND MAKE IT BETTER
12bThey are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; 13wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever…19It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. 20But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear…24Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 12b-13, 19-25, NRSV)
Last Friday night was among the most profound and moving times I have ever experienced in our church. It was the first in our series of three Concerts For A Cause, this one featuring our church’s favorite singer/songwriter, Chely Wright, raising money for the Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs at Manhasset High School, as well as Port Washington’s Schreiber High School and Weber Middle School. The night was full of music and joy and tears as Chely Wright shared from her heart about the difficult journey she took from knowing she was gay at age 9 and living a lie until she was 39. It was deeply moving as Chely spoke directly to the Gay/Straight Alliance students, heart to heart. Chely commended their courage for taking a public stand in support of people who are LGBT. Some of the kids were gay or trans, while others were friends and supporters of LGBT rights in their schools.
After the concert, many attendees greeted the GSA kids as a show of love and support. It seemed like everyone came away from GSA tables with tears in their eyes. I know I did. GSA kids were giving me huge hugs and smiles and thanking our church for making this happen. One of students said, “This was the best night of my life.” Another said, “I can’t believe this is happening in a church. You are building a bridge.”
We all remember how hard middle school and high school could be with cliques, the “in” people, the most definitely NOT “in” people, the awkwardness of adolescence, the craving to fit in, to find a friend, to find others who will accept you for who you are, no strings attached. And now imagine that you are a gay kid. You have all of the typical teenage angst but that’s the least of your fears. It is as if you have a life size target on your back and you feel like you can’t trust anybody, can’t be honest about who you are and who you have always been.
The statistics associated with LGBT teens are heartbreaking. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of other teens. They are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to other youth. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. And this statistic which literally hits close to home, gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as their LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection (https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.00beapvf1aqcduz 10zy2717mxgy7u).
I can guarantee you that the majority of the rejecting families do so for religious reasons. I know so many people who grew up in fundamentalist churches, people who knew they were gay and hated themselves for it because they were told time and again that God did not love them like God loved everybody else. I had close friends in seminary who came out to me but could not come out in the school community because they could have been kicked out of school. We have gay and lesbian members of our church who grew up in fundamentalist churches and still have the scars to show for it. They did not know that churches like ours existed. But they have found us and we have found them and we love them dearly. When they found our church they found a place of unconditional love and unconditional acceptance.
I wish you could have seen Chely and her ministry, yes ministry with these students. She sat at a table just outside of our Congo Café signing books and CDs, being as kind and gracious as you would expect. One by one, the GSA students sat down beside Chely and had her full attention. She sat face to face with each and every one of these students listening to them and nodding her head because she had been there too. Then she spoke with them, offering words of hope and encouragement. One young man went through the line twice because he needed another dose of her compassion and attention. I watched all of this as parents of the students thanked me profusely for hosting the event. I turned it around and thanked them for coming and told them they were good parents to give up their Friday night to bring their children to hear Chely.
Which reminds me of the words from Jude we heard earlier, “20 Dear friends, keep building on the foundation of your most holy faith, as the Holy Spirit helps you to pray. 21And keep in step with God’s love, as you wait for…Christ to show how kind he is by giving you eternal life.22 Be helpful to all who may have doubts. 23 Rescue any who need to be saved, as you would rescue someone from a fire. Then with…[respect] in your hearts, have mercy on everyone who needs it” (Jude 20-23 CEV).
Which reminds me of some other wonderful words written by the Saint Paul…McCartney in his epic song, “Hey Jude.” He wrote the song for John Lennon’s son, Julian, who was struggling with his parents’ divorce. McCartney wrote,
And anytime you feel the pain,
Hey, Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder…
Hey, Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better
Which brings us back to the Manhasset and Port Washington Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs. These communities of students and faculty advisors serve as an oasis for kids who, like Chely Wright, grew up knowing that they were different and that this secret could ruin their lives. But the students on Friday night have something that Chely didn’t have in her school, a place for fellow travelers who are in the same boat. Imagine a gay kid with little hope who hears about her school’s Gay/Straight Alliance Club. She wonders if it could be too good to be true. But it isn’t and she needs to know that. The money we raised Friday night will help even more students know that they are not alone.
This brought tears to my eyes. On Friday night here in our church, a student met fellow GSA students for the first time and said, “I felt so alone, but now I have found my people.” Now this student is less likely to harm himself or commit suicide than he was 24-hours ago. That happened here in the oasis of love and acceptance that we call our beloved Congregational Church of Manhasset (UCC). It happened in this good place where we strive to live up to our own ideal heard every week in the words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Please say it with me (yes say it out loud and in unison), “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” And it is even something we can say to ourselves, “No matter who I am, or where I am on life’s journey, I am welcome here.”
And so you are. And so am I. And so is everybody. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
June 3, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, we give you thanks for people who bring your light to places dimmed by pain, who bring your wholeness to people who are broken, who bring your love to people who feel unworthy. Make us life bringers too, as Jesus brought healing to a hurting world. As he loved the outcast, help us love those who feel left out. As he loved the lonely, help us connect with those who feel alone. As he cleansed the temple, help us purify our own hearts and souls until bitterness turns to compassion and hate into sweet reconciliation for one and all.
Through your eternal Spirit we pray. AMEN.