We started attending Bethlehem when I was six. I remember a friend telling me she’d show me every nook and cranny of the church. At this point, I think I may have outpaced her.
I grew up in this place with Bill Harman and Ray Hartzell at the pulpit. Every time I preach, Loie Michaels tells me she heard me channeling Ray – I’m trying as hard as I can, y’all. Growing up at Bethlehem taught me what it is to be one of many. It taught me to understand myself as part of a larger whole. As part of this congregation, this city, this synod, this church, this nation, this world.
Growing up at Bethlehem made me weird. It made me so weird that the Christian Club at my high school asked me to leave, because my diverse viewpoints were disruptive.
It made me so weird that my college freshman roommate, who came out of an oppressive religious community, confessed to me that maybe Christians weren’t all bad.
It made me so weird that I was the only Lutheran member of the California Lutheran University Secular Student Alliance.
It made me so weird that I am comfortable singing praise to God in Spanish and in Swahili.
It made me so weird that I march through San Francisco and rally on street corners and phone bank and canvass for progressive candidates and causes while wearing my clerical collar and my rainbow pectoral peace sign.
It made me so weird that I find myself not just willing but determined to follow the example of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and demand of my church and my nation that we uphold our belief that we are all created equal.
Pastor Laura has me up here because I am a living breathing past, present, and future of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. What’s fun about this metaphor is that the future of this church does not look like its past. And it hardly looks like its present, frankly. A good pastor once told me that the ELCA’s biggest problem is that our radical theology is trapped in our conservative practice.
Here at Bethlehem, we do our best to unleash that radical theology by taking our practice outside the walls of our sanctuary and into our world. That’s where the future of the church is.
Jesus of Nazareth led a church without walls. Jesus and the disciples and the apostles and the generations that followed proclaimed a coming kingdom that turned the one they lived in upside down. And they did it without an office and without a newsletter and without bylaws. They did it by loving the Lord their God and by loving their neighbors as themselves. They did it by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and healing the sick and freeing the captive and advocating with loud, public, prophetic voices for those who were silenced.
Growing up at Bethlehem made me so weird that I believe that we as a church can still do that. There are still hungry people and homeless people and oppressed people in this country and in this world. And if I learned anything from Bill and Ray it’s that we are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another and to walk humbly with our god.
So let’s walk.