That the Next Generation Might Know

That the Next Generation Might Know

A sermon by Louie Crew
at the 110th Commencement and Eucharist
of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Berkeley, California, May 21, 2004
The Propers for Education: Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25, 2 Tim 3:14-4:5, Matt 11:25-30, Ps 78:1-7

"That the next generation might know."

What a treat to be assigned to "tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done." For the last 30 years I have been a missionary to the highways and hedges, yes even to the uttermost parts of the earth, spreading news genuinely good -- not about how good we are, but about how good God is.

Hear, O seminarians, followers of The Way: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a symbol on your hand, as a tattoo on your forehead, and write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates. When your children ask you in time to come, "What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?" then you shall say to your children, "We were once slaves in the fleshpots of San Francisco, or Atlanta, or....., but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.... Then the Lord commanded us to ... fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right."

Congratulations, graduates. What enormous gifts you manifest, and this occasion celebrates those -- not just your gifts, but also the gifts and love of others who have brought you to this moment in your holy piligrimage as disciples of Jesus. {ask parents and friends to stand and be applauded}

The graduating class chose for our readings today the Propers for Education. As a professor, for 44 years, I offer of two bits of counsel to the faculty:

  1. Our own disciplines can betray us: Be sure to give primary attention to primary sources and secondary attention to secondary sources. Many in academia reverse these priorities.

  2. Resist the acts of General Convention that would make CDSP into a trade school. As a deputy to the last four General Conventions, I well understand how we are tempted to tell the seminaries to solve each new problem that we identify. Your students will be nourished by their encounters with ancient texts long after trends of the church and the academy have shifted.

And for the students, "Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it."

Nurture your faith, your minds, your imaginations. Most of you will never again have the opportunity for unrestrained study that you have enjoyed here. No one will be requiring you to read books or write papers -- no one, that is, but you. The efficacy of your education will be marked in large part by how responsibly you sustain it when "you don't have to" after you leave this place. Continue to read and write.

Nurture intellectual friendships. Nurture friendships across culture and class. Nurture friendships, not just clientele, with the 'least' among us. What you do on Saturday night will say as much about your faith and nurture as what you do on Sunday morning.

Today you will have new credentials, and those are important. Have you already made new business cards. I have, but will not dare give one out until we have the diplomas in hand.

As a disciple of Jesus, I urge you to use your credentials not to serve yourself, but to serve others. These new degrees can enable us to open doors for others. Servant ministry or careerism: choose you this day whom you will serve.

A few month after earning my doctorate, I came out as a gay academic and gay Christian, I was told that my career would be ruined, that I was throwing away my degree, that I would never have career mobility.... After I founded Integrity, my parish which had welcomed me, asked me to leave. Many family members cut me off (but of course, said I had cut myself off from them).

I lost the life I had planned and trained for, the life my family had handed me on a silver platter.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39.

What a wonderful life God has given me to replace it. I could never have had it without losing the life I was born to.

Good missionaries recruit, and I want to use this occasion to recruit you to take this flagrant good news to absolutely everybody, especially to those who least expect to hear us say it, "God loves you."

I warn you flat out that if you put it that way, most will think you are a nut, or a fanatic, or at best, just a nuisance. To succeed, you will often need to go as a missionary incognito. And we can best prepare people to believe that God loves them if we love them first and show it by our actions more than by our words.

You who are straight will have some special advantages working in the gay and lesbian mission field of the unchurched. When I tell them that God loves them, they think I do so to seek Respectability, but when you tell them that God loves them, or better yet, when you stand in for God and love them yourself, they see that you risk losing Respectability, and your claim has added cogency. Those who lose their life for my sake will find it. What a marvelous religion, this.

Never underestimate the power of God to work through you as God's disciple. Let me tell of two disciples who worked powerfully in my life.

Two or three years after I founded Integrity, I was traveling cross country on a Trailways bus, and as I was wont, set up meetings to importune bishops along the way. Late one afternoon in Jackson, Mississippi I sat in the office of Duncan Gray, Jr. He graciously heard me tell of my Damascus Road experience, of the need to get good news to lesbians and gays and better news to the church. At one point he said, and I paraphrase, `As the Bishop I know my several gay clergy and they serve God well. I have had far fewer problems with them than with my straight clergy. Serving in this time and place, I won't be able to speak out publicly on this topic, lest I diminish my effectiveness with other risks that I have taken for racial justice, but your ministry is immensely important, and it is important that you live your own life faithfully, lest your bring discredit to is." O how sweet is an Oasis. Don't miss out on the opportunities that will come to you to speak as disciple to another disciple whom most others would scorn.

On Palm Sunday in 1977 AP reports indicated that my bishop was summoning me for discipline for "disturbing the peace and good order of the church" -- his response when I refused to honor the vestry's letter asking me to "find some other place of worship." One of the many callers was from a lawyer/theologian I'd heard of but never met, Bill Stringfellow. "Don't go to that meeting without a lawyer!" he insisted. "But I am a poor teacher at a small black college in the middle of Peach County, Georgia, and I cannot afford a lawyer." He said he knew a lawyer who was an Episcopalian and would go with me pro bono. "And if they so much as mention ex-communicate again, promise me you'll stand up on the table and say `I double-dog dare you!'" Stringfellow said.

I'm not talking about namby-pamby sympathy: I am talking about life-affirming commitment from disciples.

Don't have itching ears, seeking out what is trendy, but just the opposite, seek out those whom others ignore. Serve those in need long before they have become the "cutting-edge" issue.

As disciples, we need to establish the priorities of our ministry by routinely updating our sensitivities to those living as "the least" among us. St. Paul counsels Timothy: "Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable," "in season and out of season."

And serve them not for what we bring to them, but for what they bring to us. The Judgment Day scene reminds us that it is in serving the least among us that we encounter Jesus, in them.

Two years ago I was invited to participate in a consultation on sexuality in the Anglican province of Brazil. It was moving to observe gay and lesbian Brazilians witness to the mighty acts of God in their lives, and to observe the affirming responses of a large number of straights, clergy, lay, and bishops. One of several bishops who stayed through the several days seemed deeply introverted. Even in break-out groups, he said little. People spoke to me about him with great respect, especially for his advocacy for the poor indigenous people in Brazil, but he did not say much, . "Something is wrong with this conference," he told us on the last morning, "Gays and lesbians are taking all the risks. But everyone here has a sexual history, and I am going to tell you mine."

You could have heard a pin drop.

"I cannot begin to express my great gratitude to the Anglican Church for receiving my mother as a prostitute when I was fourteen years old. And because she had a real conversion, she did not think that she was made better than anyone else, only that she had been blessed. So even to this day many of those whom I consider to be closest family are prostitutes. Recently a group of other prostitutes asked me whether they might form a church, and we are going to do that.

"And there is more. When I was in my late teens, a cousin and his male lover came to live with us, and much that I know about the love of God I know because of how those two loved not just each other, but everyone around them."

"Open the door and let Mary Magdalen come in," I wanted to shout. "What will the Episcopal Church look like if it become a safe place for sinners?" I urge you to spend your ministry demonstrating the answer to that question.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls....