This sermon was preached January 18th, 1998 (Victory Sunday) at Cathedral of Hope MCC in Dallas, Texas
Last year, when planning today’s sermon, the Old Testament reading jumped off the page at me.
It speaks of a time when the God’s people felt abandoned and oppressed. Then, a word of great promise came. Isaiah predicts a day when God will replace cruel names like “Forsaken” and “Desolate” with names like “My delight is in You.” Especially intriguing for us today is the verse which says, “So shall your Builder marry you.”
Those of you who know my partner Bill know that, well, he contributes heavily to the stereotype of effeminate gay men. I met Bill 17 years ago at a training class for crisis phone counselors. The first time I ever saw him out somewhere socially he was dancing with some friends at a gay bar. It was Halloween, and I started over to say hello, but he was dressed like a construction worker, and every time I started his way, I would begin laughing uncontrollably.
So, obviously, today’s sermon is not autobiographical. What does the Bible mean that our builder will marry us?
Today, we celebrate the completion of the first leg of building our new home. The first phase of design is complete. It will be beautiful, stately, and moving. It will be grand.
In the Gospel lesson, when Jesus turned water into wine, they noted it was not just any wine; it was the very best wine. Throughout his life, they said of Jesus, “He doeth all things well.”
That’s why our new home must be the best. Not the most expensive, but it must be done well. This new Cathedral will not be built with gold and granite, but it will reflect the style and passion of our devotion to God. It wil be a witness for generations to come.
The other wonderful thing about the design is that it will be unlike any sanctuary on earth. It will be unique, the perfect place to worship our God whose first self-revelation was that of Creator.
This new sanctuary with its warping walls will invite worshipers into a different place within themselves, a unique design was essential to house the unique church God is building in this place.
Every Sunday, this building is crowded beyond capacity with people who want to worship God. Most who crowd into this space were once called names by the church, but here, in this place, God has given us new names.
Wednesday night nearly 100 people attended our first membership class for the year. Church attendance is declining in America. That one of the fastest growing churches is largely lesbian and gay, and that this church is located in Dallas, Texas is proof positive of God’s amazing sense of humor.
Today, we celebrate the conclusion of the first phase of fund raising. Although I hate this part of this project, I am grateful each of us has a chance to participate in this miracle.
God is building us as a people by giving each us a chance to be a part of something of eternal value.
Someday, sitting in a rocking chair near the ocean, I want to see the television special about the 50th anniversary of the construction of this Cathedral. I will be a bit older than our architect. At that age, I want to know I have been a part of something of eternal value.
Jesus once said, “Upon this rock I will build MY church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
We are being built by God. That is the beauty of the image before us in the scripture lesson today. The prophet seeks to remind us that it is the everlasting God who is building us.
It is God who is building us into healthier people;
God who is building us into an inclusive community;
God who is building us into a people whose hope will transform a world of despair.
While others might try to tear us down – God is building us up.
God is building us in the context of an intimate relationship. “So shall your builder marry you,” the Bible says.
This is not about a building of concrete and steel; it is about God building a people. A people once called Desolate and Forsaken are now called Bride, spouse, partner, lover.
It not about a building, but about building those who have been shut-out, excluded, desolate and forsaken, into the people of God.
Our new Cathedral will be a tool for building faith in a people too long desolate and forsaken by the church.
It will stand tall to proclaim in the loudest possible voice that no child of God is desolate or forsaken.
Arthur Gordon in his book Touch of Wonder talks about life on the coast of Georgia. One day, the kids began clamoring to go to the beach. He wanted to watch TV. They were insistent, so finally, he took them in their little boat to a tiny nearby island.
Their sheepdog named Tony went with them. As they grounded their boat against the sand, Tony ran off exploring. Soon, the dog was barking up a storm, and the kids went off to investigate.
They found the dog dancing around a huge loon who apparently had dove to get a fish and had come up under an oil slick. With oil on her wings, the bird couldn’t fly. “Daddy, will she be alright?” they asked.
Gordon knew she would not. She would probably fall victim to some predator or at the very least she would starve. “There is a towel in the boat,” the youngest girl suggested, “Let’s wipe her off.”
The towel had little impact, but the attempt did result in scratches and even a couple of bites for their efforts. “We can’t just let her die,” the kids exclaimed. “Let’s take her home and clean her up.” “I can’t drive the boat and hold the bird,” Gordon explained. “We’ll hold her, Daddy.”
Covering the bird’s eyes with the towel they managed to get home without capsizing the boat and took the loon to the bathtub to try and clean it. They used various cleaners and elixirs trying to get the bird clean, getting more on the bathroom walls than the bird.
Unappreciatively, the bird bit everyone at least twice, but finally, the oil was gone. Wrapping it in a clean towel they returned her to the beach. Her feathers were still too wet to fly, but after preening her feathers back into place she swam out toward the sandbar where the other birds were gathering to roost for the night.
Gordon and the kids stood watching her swim gracefully into the sunset. The dog bounded off in search of another adventure, and the girls followed him. Gordon’s young son Dana stood rubbing the scratches and bites the bird had left behind.
In a quiet voice, almost too soft to hear, Dana said, “Daddy, she would have died, wouldn’t she?” “Yes,” said Gordon, “She would have died.” “And to think,” Dana said, “we almost didn’t come.”
Present in this room are hundreds who rediscovered their spiritual life and an intimate relationship with God in this very place.
And to think, we almost didn’t build it. They told us we couldn’t. Many thought we shouldn’t. But we did, and here you are singing your love songs to God.
In the press conference he held on his 90th birthday, Philip Johnson unveiled the design for our future building. He said at that conference, “No one has ever given lesbian and gay people a place, a sense of status, or any sense of self worth.”
Historically, that has been true. Our places have always been dark and hidden, without signs, but that is all about to change.
God is giving us a new place; a place where lesbian and gay people can be built up. A place where all people can be built together into God’s people.
Now and then I find it hard to believe God might love me like that. One day, when I was feeling desolate and forsaken, the hand of God reached down and touched me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but God’s hand was covered with scratches and bites.
As we began, I said jokingly that this sermon was not autobiographical. Actually, I hope it is. I hope it is the story of us all – how we are being built into the people of God by an intimate relationship with the God who made us and loves us enough to marry us.
Currently serving as pastor of Broadway UCC in New York City, Rev. Michael S. Piazza is a Georgia native who has also served as pastor of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Connecticut, as well as serving as senior pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta before serving as senior pastor and dean of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Valdosta (Ga.) State University and an M.Div. from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. His books include Liberating the Gospel, Liberating Word, A Daily Reflection for Liberals, Volume One: The First Testament, Gay by God: How to be Lesbian or Gay and Christian (formerly Holy Homosexuals), Queeries: Questions Lesbians and Gays have for God, The Real antiChrist: How America Sold its Soul, Prophetic Renewal: Hope for the Liberal Church, Vital Vintage Church, Fishing in a Shallow Sea and, with Rev. Cameron Trimble, Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church.