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VDS Worship Service


Patricia Shropshire, MDiv '2013

VDS Worship Service
GABLE and Black History month
February 29, 2012

Good morning! Good morning! I am honored and humbled to be before you this morning, honored that GABLE asked me to speak and humbled by God’s calling in my life. On behalf of Gable and me, we are both honored and humbled by your support of this worship service.

This is the final worship service for the month designated Black History Month, though many of us celebrate black history everyday…Amen? Amen.

Truth be told, black history is American history…your history and my history.

The worship committee here at Vanderbilt, on which I serve, chose as the theme for the month, “Reflections on Dr. King: Building the Dream.” We have had four weeks of wonderful, stirring, thought-provoking messages from Dr. Anderson, Dr. Lim, Dr. Watts and Dr. Baldwin.

I am not a professor but I am a preacher in training here at the School of the Prophets, and I love the Lord; would you please pray with me.

Lord, not my will but Thy will be done. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Thy sight, my s Savior, and my Redeemer. Amen.

The Scripture for this morning is Romans 8: 38-39. I shall read it once more; For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

NOW, if that ain’t good enough news to get your shout on, I don’t know what is! It serves as a prophetic word for us still. Paul said “Nor things present nor things to come … nor anything else in all creation … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But I tell you, I come to you today with a heavy heart, troubled about our children being bullied to the extent that they can no longer cope with life. They can no longer cope with their everyday existence; some would rather die than live in the misery caused by today’s bullies.

You see, today’s bullies have a much wider reach than the bullies when I was a child. When I was a child, you had the bus stop, the ride to and from school on the bus, the cafeteria and the playground. That was brutal for those who found themselves bullied and for those that bullied. Bullies had a tremendous platform from which to do their deeds. If you made it through the day, you at least had a little break before it started all over again.

I am not saying that to lessen the effect. It was hurtful and devastating for the victims when I was a child, too. I know. I sat on the side of one being bullied and I also participated in the bullying of one of my classmates in elementary school.

To this day, I am still so ashamed of my behavior. I have looked for this person on Facebook and other sites and cannot find her. I did get to show her a better side of me later in our childhood, but boy do I wish I had apologized for treating her poorly earlier in our childhood.

Today’s bullies, however, have cell phones and computers to help them continue their relentless quest to make someone else an outsider, an object of ridicule, someone else the focus of attention rather than themselves. Today’s bullies have Facebook, texting, tweeting, phones with cameras and all kinds of means to get their point across.

As you know, recently there has been more press coverage of children that commit suicide because they are gay and just can’t take the bullying anymore. There have been two white males that have committed suicide here in Tennessee, one in Ashland City and the other in Gordonsville.

WSMV reported: Students at a local school are grieving a classmate. Friends say the young man took his own life because he couldn't take any more bullying.

And they say school officials knew about the torment but didn't do enough to stop it.

Friends say that kids bullied Jacob Rogers at Cheatham County Central High School for the past four years, but in the past few months it had become so bad he dropped out of school.

And Wednesday, he ended his life.

He started coming home his senior year saying, “I don't want to go back. Everyone is so mean. They call me a faggot, gay, a queer.”

"Jacob told me no one was helping him. He constantly was going to guidance,” a friend said. "No one would listen and stand up for him," she said.

Jacob lived with his grandmother. In notes Jacob left for her, there were passwords to his email and his phone so investigators could determine why he chose to kill himself.

There was a candlelight vigil held for Jacob prior to his funeral services. My pastor, Cynthia Andrews Looper, attended the candlelight vigil. As she spoke with the organizer of the vigil, she learned that the organizer had called 33 churches in Cheatham County and not one of them would donate candles for the candlelight vigil.

There were approximately 300 people at the vigil and she was the only clergy. His funeral was held in the chapel at the funeral home and the funeral was led by a minister who was a friend of Jacob’s father. Holy Trinity has since established a relationship with Jacob’s family and friends.

In January of 2012, a Gordonsville boy's parents say bullying caused their son to take his own life. Phillip Parker, 14, died this week. His parents said he was constantly bullied for being gay.

More than 100 people gathered in Gordonsville on Saturday night, grieving the loss of Phillip. To his many friends, Phillip was known as the boy who told everyone they were beautiful.

"He kept telling me he had a rock on his chest," said Ruby Harris, Phillip's grandmother. " He just wanted to take the rock off where he could breathe."

Phillip's family said they reported their concerns over their son's bullying to Gordonsville High School on multiple occasions, but the bullying by a group of students just got worse.

And let us not forget the young man, Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, who had a bright future as a violinist. Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge because his roommate had ridiculed and shamed him on Facebook and had taken pictures of Tyler and another male with a webcam. Tyler’s parents knew he was gay; his father supported him; reports say his mother rejected him.

How long will it take, how many lives will we have to lose?

These are the stories we have heard about in the press, stories of white boys.

You and I know that there are other stories of girls, children of color that are bullied for the same reason. We don’t hear their stories, but you and I know that communities of color often times struggle with these issues, and hence the children and parents struggle in silence, in damnation, in shame.

The children and the parents do the best they know how for there are few support systems.

Just two days ago, a young man went on a shooting rampage in Ohio; he killed three students and injured more. We still don’t know his motives, though initially it was reported that he was bullied a lot.

I tell you my heart is heavy, my heart is broken, for these children and many more who for whatever reason are bullied to the extent that they want to disappear off the face of the earth.

I wonder: Did a pastor pour water over these children’s head as infants; were they welcomed into the body of Christ? Did these children know Jesus? Did they have a church family? Were they told they were going to hell because they were gay?

Would you go to church if you were gay and the constant message was: If you are gay you are going to hell? As a child, you might not have a choice.

Many of the people sitting in this chapel have had the experience as a child of sitting in church and hearing the pastor say exactly those words: “If you are a homosexual you are going to hell.”

A child thinks and acts as a child; their reasoning skills are not developed completely. If the preacher says they are going to hell, they believe they are going to hell.

According to the Apostle’s Creed: Who is it that will come to judge the quick and the dead? Not me, not you, and not those that preach damnation from the pulpit! Jesus will come to judge the quick and the dead. The same Jesus that was marginalized, walked amongst the disenfranchised, walked on water, was baptized by John the Baptist and the same Jesus in whose name we receive the Holy Spirit—yes, thatONE, thatJESUS.

Jesus walked among those that were poor in spirit, those that were downtrodden, those that needed healing, and those that no one would stand up for.

These children were God’s children, as you and I are God’s children, , but somewhere down the line they were told, “You are sick; you are not of God; you are a faggot; you are a dyke; you are not normal; you are going to hell.”

How long? How many suicides have to occur before we refer to the Scripture in Romans that says nothing …. nothing …. nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing! Not even a preacher that from the pulpit preaches damnation when referring to same-sex love, but in his personal life finds himself molesting boys and young men who are fatherless and in need of guidance.

It seems that it is the very clergy that preach that gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered people are going to hell often are the very ones that end up in sexual abuse scandals.

I tell you God is still speaking!!! He is speaking to us, to the clergy, and God is asking, “Have you forgotten that I have called you to a higher calling, a calling that which Jesus laid out for us in the Sermon on the Mount?”

Many of us spend time trying to answer the question: “What would Jesus do?”, instead of asking, “What did Jesus do?”

I tell you my heart is heavy, and yet my heart is hopeful. Hope! Such a powerful word Hopeful a powerful concept.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was hopeful. He hoped for a time when his children would be judged by the content of their character instead of by the color of their skin.

Hope, laid out in a dream, that one day little black girls and little black boys would play with little white girls and little white boys. He had hope!

But hope was not enough, for he also had love. Love for his fellow man—a love so great that it puzzled all who knew him all that wanted to know him, all who watched him and all that followed him. He had the kind of love that God speaks of: we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves and love our neighbor as God as loved us.

I tell you it is hard; it takes a special kind of love, not eros, the romantic love,not philos, the affection for dear friends.

It is not eros or philos but agape love that allows one to love in a spiritual realm.

Don’t you know that one has to go to the spiritual level to see and understand the kind of love that Jesus instructs us to have for our enemies, for those who are unkind to us, who do harm to us? Who will teach the children about this love?

Dr. King had agape love for those that bullied him, that threatened his life, that let dogs attack him, that spit on him, that turned water hoses on him and his followers. Water aimed at Dr. King and his followers from a hose under insurmountable pressure was not a blessing into the community of God, it was not a baptism by immersion, it was not a sprinkle across the forehead.

Those “Christian folks,” law-abiding citizens that they were, released THATwater with the intention of doing great harm. They released that water as a means to deter, as a means to defeat and discourage. Those dogs were NOT released to guide. They were released to attack, to rip, to bite, to harm—much like the dogs that were used to sniff the trail of runaway slaves of yesteryear.

Slaves led by Harriet Tubman and other brave and courageous folks , when danger was coming or the law was near, used the code to tell them to move to the water with the song “Wade in the Water.” The dogs could not pick up their scent in the water, and there were no footprints indicating the direction of their footsteps.

The slaves had Harriet Tubman. Black folks had Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Who do these children have? Who will lead them to freedom, to their promised land? Who will teach them that they are a child of God, made just as God intended, with a place and a purpose in God’s kingdom? Who will lead them? Well, Harriet? Well, Martin, well?

It will be you and it will be me. We have been called for such a time as this to help the children, to care for the marginalized, to care for the least of these, to speak the truth, to provide a model for the acceptance of all of God’s children just as God made them— straight, gay, black, white, male, female, bisexual, transgendered, disabled, Asian, Latino, or Native American. However God made them, it is our responsibility to abide by the Sermon on the Mount, to help our children and grown folks to love themselves just as perfectly as God made them.

And so, be reminded that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us—whose whose blood, sweat, and tears allows us to sit right here at VDS.

I invite you to get in the water—to ; wade in the water. Let us wade in the water together with those seeking freedom. Let us be Harriet, Martin, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Barbara Jordan and Harvey Milk. Let us challenge our own denominational beliefs.

Let us study and learn about straight pastors like James Forbes and Edwin Sanders who have a greater understanding and hence a greater ministry for all of God’s people.

Come visit Holy Trinity Community Church UCC. Let us read A Whosoever Church by Gary Comstock. Let us take a class here at VDS on sexuality. Let us challenge ourselves to get on in the water, stand on the forefront of what is just, not only for you, or for me, but especially for our children, the least of these.