And they are breathing out violence:

A Sermon by Louie Crew

at Integrity/NYC

meeting at General Theological Seminary

February 10, 1999, 7 PM

Texts: Psalm 26, Habakkuk 3: 2-6, 17-19; 1 Cor. 2:1-11; Matthew 5: 13-20

In the wake of Lambeth, have you experienced unwelcome in the Episcopal Church? Many now threaten to petition the Anglican Communion to support an autonomous province of hetero-righteousness in North America, especially if General Convention in the year 2000 dares to pass any resolutions more inclusive of lesbians and gays. Do hear the bombardment, the coercion in that?

The psalmist speaks to our condition:

When evildoers assail me

to devour my flesh--

Though an army encamp against me...

though war rise up against me...

for false witnesses have risen against me,

and they are breathing out violence....

Before I came out of the closet, i.e., back in the Dark Ages, I used to be terribly embarrassed by the Psalms, especially when they talk of enemies. Not standing for very much, and not yet using my backbone, I did not see many enemies, and talk of them seemed delusional self-pity. In the spirituality of my closet I preferred to drown out such psalms with grand organ music, articulate and well-reasoned sermons, a neat and ordered universe from which people like me could dispense graciousness to any and all.

We who are lesbian and gay know that God has indeed prepared Her feast for us right in the presence of our enemies. They are watching us at Godís holy table with itching eyes and a gossipís tongue. They want us to stumble. They want us kicked out, or at least silenced and hidden again.

They persecute even our friends. No bishop can undertake to speak compassionately about us without remembering the Righter Trial and the hisses of Lambeth.

Our enemies consider it seemly to mock even our holy commitments. Last week Ernest and I celebrated the 25th anniversary of our life commitment. To note the occasion, an American correspondent for the Church of England Newspaper, published a satire in which he said our relationship "pioneered inter-racial sodomy.... Many of us have had to refrain from throwing up just thinking about it."

Like many others, he sees lesbigay faithful committed relationships as disgusting, not even as good as a heterosexualís loveless one-night stand.

Speaking to our condition, the psalmist invites us to proclaim Godís inclusion:

When evildoers assail me

to devour my flesh--

my adversaries and foes--

they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,

my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me,

yet I will be confident.

Yes, right here in this chapel of General Seminary we have boldly counterstated the assaults of our enemies:

Now my head is lifted up

above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in [Godís] tent

sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,

be gracious to me and answer me!

"Come," my heart says, "seek his face!"

Your face, LORD, do I seek.

We donít have to wait until the Church gets it right. We donít have to wait until the wars have ceased and the bitter acrimony has become history. Right in the midst of it, God already has loved us. We are here tonight to seek Godís face.

We donít have to be strong. We donít have to be worthy. We donít have to confound the world with arguments for our inclusion. God has always used the humble and the meek, and Godís mighty acts of redemption are at work in this place tonight, in you and me.

St. Paul reminds us, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

But how can God do a new thing? Were not the rules fixed by the time the canons closed and is not the testimony against us reasonably certain?

O LORD, I have heard of your renown,

and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work.

In our own time revive it;

in our own time make it known;

in wrath may you remember mercy.

--Habakkuk 3:2-6

In our own time! in wrath may you remember mercy

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds [present tense] from the father and the son, who with the father and the son is worshipped [present tense] and glorified.

In some congregations of the Episcopal Church I cannot resist moving into italicized speech when I say this part of the creed. I believe in a living God, in a God who already has welcomed to the banquet all who are weary and heavy laden.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

What does it mean for a gay male or a lesbian to lose her saltiness? Can one keep oneís flavor passing for straight?

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Can one proclaim Godís mighty acts of inclusion while hiding in a closet the one whom God has included?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I am persuaded that God wants to do just that with you and me. Our inclusion, Godís love of us, is not for solace only: God is doing with lesbians and gays what God has done generation after generation with others who had previously been excluded: God wants to use us to bring good news to still others who have not heard it.

Millions tonight are lonely and cut off from any awareness of Godís love for them. Most will not believe us if we tell them that God loves them, but many might start to believe if we love them first.

One of the great benefits of being a lesbian or gay male Christian at this time is that we donít have to bring with us all of the baggage of our own righteousness. Our claims to righteousness have but limited credibility with those taught to devalue us; but more importantly, God does not require perfection. God has already fulfilled all the requirements for the sins of absolutely everybody. It is Godís goodness and mercy that we proclaim, not our own, and Godís righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. It is in our humility that we can best serve Jesus.

As part of our 25th anniversary, Ernest and I invited friends to share with us a paragraph about how our lives had intersected with theirs. Dozens and dozens of marvelous memories came flooding back as we read these statements. We have collected them in a scrapbook which we will long treasure.

A note that surprised me was written by a Haitian friend in Newark, a person I have known only a few weeks, as my mentor regarding social justice issues in Haiti. I serve with the Bishop of Haiti onThe Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, and we will advise the next General Convention regarding the needs of Haitians. This young man is straight, in his 30ís, and is a medical student. Before fleeing to the United States, he was a political activist during the military dictatorship that preceded the election of Aristide. Since I have not known him in any social context, it would never have occurred to me to invite him to our renewal of vows, but he spotted the notice of our service on my website and wrote:

The only time that I took part in such an event was a wedding in Haiti when my cousin was saying yes with heart and soul to his beloved Max. . I am proud of you, and you are special to many of us.... This is what I call Love... Ernest and you deserve all the blessing on earth, and may heaven open the doors of thousands stars that will brighten your family. I am proud of you because you hold what is great for my Generation, and my face in the world as Black. Love is really king. I am glad to know you, and I will be for the rest of my life.

A straight Methodist couple who had lived next-door to us 25 years ago wrote about how paranoid they were then, and how they used to look even at our clothes on the line questioning whether their lives could be so colorful -- their mindís eye turning my simple homemade lavendar pants suit into something exotic and wondrous.

Another colleague shared some of the hateful things said about us where we worked and marveled that we had survived it joyfully loving the community. In truth, day in an day out God blessed us with the faith to live simply in the space the psalmist describes

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

Will you say it again after me?:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?


The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?