I’ve been asked to share the transcript of my sermon from October 9th based on 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c.
Thank you for being a church that demonstrates to ALL that there is a God in New Braunfels!!
No person is one thing.
The one you discount or roll your eyes at will then humble and surprise you by saying or doing something profound and deep and beautiful.
The one you respect and adore will say or do something equally surprising but in the opposite direction and let you down, disappointing or even hurting you.
No person is one thing. At our best, we are all wonderful. At our worst, we all have the capacity to really blow it in unimaginable ways.
It’s messy living in this world with others, and with ourselves.
Especially now when we are all more than a little crispy, living with the lingering and as yet unresolved trauma and grief of a world torn apart by the pandemic, violence, and the perversion of politics and religion to harm and divide rather than heal and unite.
Naaman was called a “great man” and did great things to protect and serve his country. And he suffered with his own afflictions of body (leprosy) and spirit (pride and a fragile sense of self).
And in his service to HIS country, had decimated the country and lives of others, including the young girl from Israel whom he had captured and enslaved.
If you’ll notice, we were not given her name. She was female. She was a held captive. She was made to serve her captors who had destroyed her country and likely killed her family, friends, and neighbors.
She had EVERY reason to hate Naaman and wish him ill, to relish in his pain and delight in his suffering from leprosy.
But she had the love of God in her to see the suffering of another human. Perhaps she even had the wisdom to see that if Naaman found healing, and even found it in the God of Israel, then maybe, just maybe, it would help bring peace between and for the two countries.
Sure enough, when all was said and done, Naaman had the humility and change of heart to say, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
Each country had their own culture and beliefs and their own gods and religions. The nation of Aram was no different.
Everyone thought their gods were better and most often despised the beliefs and practices and gods of others.
After being born and raised in Northeast Texas and doing my education and living and working there my whole life, I finally got to my Mecca, my Holy Land, my safe space of Austin.
I joked that I had paid my dues living east of what’s known as the Pine Cone Curtain of Interstate 45 and once I finally got to the relative safety of more liberal and accepting Austin, that I would be drug out of that town kicking and screaming.
And so I lived there, where I felt mostly included and accepted, for 17 years. It was a breath of fresh air and gave me much healing.
My neurochemistry always felt on high alert in Northeast Texas as a gay female in such a patriarchal, misogynistic, and homophobic culture where crude comments and jokes and sneers and even threats were common.
When I left Austin to go back east for work or to visit family or friends, I would spend the whole drive back to Austin holding my breath and saying to myself, “It’s not a mirage. Austin is real. You’ll be back with your people again, soon.”
I joked that I would go straight to Whole Foods and hug the first person with tattoos and dreads smelling of patchouli, or biracial couple, or drag queen that I saw and say, “My people! I’m back with my people!”
And then, an amazing and progressive little church I knew and loved in an equally conservative town as the ones I came from, called me to come serve for a time as an interim pastor and to consider staying longer.
New Braunfels is a beautiful city with its own rich culture and heritage. The rivers and landscape appeal to my love of the outdoors. The quality of the music and incredible food and festivals cannot be denied.
And then there’s you. I already knew and loved this church, having preached here over the years when Pastor Scott was away. I knew many of you from being in the same conference and then association of the UCC.
I knew and loved your passion for justice, your legacy of service to those without enough food or shelter, your intentional making of space for those who felt safe in no other house of worship or for immigrants seeking to make their way as a stranger in a strange land, your creativity, your love of the outdoors and photography, environmental justice, and all forms of activism at the local and national levels for decades.
As we worked to learn to serve together, I came to love you even more. And that love increases all the time.
And. With the politics of this town, with the sneers and jokes and comments and fear that comes from being different here, with the founders of the Trump train and others STILL spreading untruths and riling up division and angst against the freedoms and rights and safety of others…it has been a struggle for me to let go of my safe space in Austin and embrace this town with so many who do not embrace me, or anyone different.
Please hear me. I do NOT mean to disparage this town that many of you have been born and raised in and raise families in and have served in and have amazing memories of and people and schools and neighbors whom you adore!!!
We have our own Aram and Israel conflicts here. “Keep Austin Weird” the bumper stickers and t-shirts say. “Keep New Braunfels Normal” say others.
Some would hear, before I moved here this past spring, that I was from Austin, and say longingly, “Ohhhhh, Austin!!!” and others would say with raised eyebrow and grimace, “Oh, Austin!”
But as I’ve worked with the big-hearted people of the homeless coalition and folks from Connections Individual and Family Services and the Comal County Crisis Center and Serve Spot and Family Promise and the SOS Food bank and the McKenna Foundation and Riverside Pride and met Mayor Rusty and members of City Council and other city leaders and folks from the MLK Association and the IDEA Forum and members of other more progressive faith communities like St John’s and Unity and New Braunfels UU, and even purplish ones like Peace Lutheran and New Braunfels Presbyterian and saw their thirst for making room for everyone in this town, and I could not help but be impressed and fall in love with them as siblings also seeking peace and justice in an area where it can often feel impossible.
And Father Rip from St. John’s Episcopal and Pastor Jake from Peace Lutheran say, “Let’s start getting together as progressive pastors and talk about ways we can work more together and bring others who are ready to work with us along”
And Ripp says, “Our people were so moved by what y’all at Faith did with the Interfaith Pride Worship Service that we want to host it next year”.
And Jake reaches out to invite us to their Ecumenical Thanksgiving Worship Service this year (November 17th) and to talk about getting us into the rotation with other purplish congregations to host one year soon even though they know how very blue we are in our beliefs.
And city leaders speak with deep and tremendous respect for our congregation for even considering possibly using our property to help families living with housing insecurity and say they wish other churches in the area would follow suit.
And I see you donning your new bright blue Faith Church t-shirts and showing up to represent at the City-Wide Worship Service, and the SOS Food Bank, and Pride Events, and speak Thursday night at a Texas Gun Sense event, and write articles in the paper about environmental faithfulness, and loving on our church grounds and property and finances and tech to make sure others can access a loving word of God even from their homes and states away, and loving on our children and youth and teaching them that faith means following Jesus in working for economic justice by paying off incredibly unjust and predatory medical debt, and providing music and other leadership for worship to make folks feel welcome and lifted up and loved, and showing up at the Habitat Restore and Habitat Home Build working alongside others to serve and be an alternative Christian voice in so many ways.
And I see the ways that this church is helping to be a connector of people in peace and a unifier for justice and I have even more hope and feel even safer in this town.
I’ve been told that the local Ministerial Alliance would not be a great place for me as a female pastor, especially not a gay one with a fo-hawk and biker boots. And my presence makes even many of the more evangelical and fundamentalist clergy at the Serve Spot ministers prayer breakfasts hold their breaths.
But then one pulls me aside and says, “I believe more like you and the people of Faith Church do, but my congregation doesn’t. Let’s grab coffee and talk about how I can slowly bring them along.”
And another says, “Can we have lunch some time and talk about ways I can disagree with homosexuality as God’s plan but not do harm to people in the process?”
Oh, you bet, brother, we can talk about that!!
And a social Justice class from St. John’s reaches out to ask me to speak to their class about what we believe about issues of social Justice and why to help stretch them further past their comfort zones.
And I see Yesenia on stage as a openly gay woman who is like a local Ellen Degeneres with people who adore her and her musical gifts and get to wrap their heads around, “How can I hate this lesbian who brings me so much joy” and who creates safe space at her gigs because folks who are different go there knowing that no one will mess with them because she will see if from on stage and with a nod to management would make sure nothing bad happens. And folks are joyful and dancing and meld together united by a common love for her music and spirit and even just for a little while forget to feel weird dancing next to a lesbian o gay couple dancing together next to them. And she says, “Baby, we’re doing it. We’re helping bring people together.”
And then I go to the rapidly growing Libbie Ladies Happy Hour where women and even now men will come and they will get choked up and say, “I THOUGHT I WAS ALONE!!!! I HAD GIVEN UP HOPE. LOOK AT ALL THESE PEOPLE who believe like I do about inclusion and equal rights and equal access and caring for each other and our planet!! I’M NOT ALONE!”
And then the organizer, Terri Truitt, whom many know as Lulu, drags me around to introduce me LOUDLY as the pastor of Faith Church and tells them all about us and they are stunned—after they get past their moment of panic that a pastor is there—and then they are impressed to know that there is a prophetic church in Israel…and they want to know more.
Then Friday night at that event a woman reaches across the potatoe skins and margaritas at a table at the Hideaway and grabs my hand desperately and with tears coming down her face says, “You and your people at Faith give me hope. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” And she places her hands together in a sign of deep respect and says, “Namaste”.
And that means, “The divine in me sees the divine in you.”
No person is one thing.
Not a pastor who preaches that homosexuality is a sin.
Not a group of women who detest and fear churches because of the ways they have perverted Christianity and sought to impose a warped version of it into laws that strip them and their daughters and their granddaughters of their rights and safety.
Not a highly imperfect redheaded pastor who can say too much too strongly despite my best intentions and can often be not my best self.
Nor the local family who are selling lies and fear and “Biden is the Wurst” W. U. R. S. T. t-shirts to pay for their legal fees for running the Biden campaign bus off the road near the exit to our church.
No person is one thing.
No town is one thing. Even as I’ve wrestled with my own fears of often feeling like I’ve stepped back in time about 30 years, back behind the Pine Cone Curtain of Northeast Texas that was SUCH an oppressive place for me, I’ve thought often, “I don’t want to be like Jonah getting swallowed by a big fish or sitting grumpily under a withered gourd tree refusing God’s command to him to go to Ninevah, the city of HIS oppressors because he knows if he tells them of God’s love they will turn toward God and change and he doesn’t want the ones who have killed his family and his people and his country to be saved.
And I’ve thought of this story. And I’ve thought of all the unnamed servant girls I’ve met seeking to bring about change so no one in this town feels alone or feels left out.
And I’ve thought of you, who have chosen to put down roots here and to, like God told Jeremiah, “seek the welfare of this city”.
How can I not fall even MORE in love with you for that?
Because of the grace and faithfulness and compassion of a kidnapped, enslaved, unnamed servant girl who dared to be an evangelist—one who bring the Good News of a God of healing—Naaman says, “Now I KNOW that there is a God in Israel”.
Because of our faithfulness to answer God’s call, because of our compassion even for those who consider themselves our enemies, even for those whose beliefs and votes and actions seek to oppress and enslave us and others, we can be, we ARE, the evangelists who will spread love and connection and justice and peace and HEALING…
And cause people to say, “Now we KNOW that there is a God in New Braunfels.”
In and through us, led by God’s UNFAILING grace and wasteful love poured out on EVERYONE in this city, and then the world…God grant that it may be so.