A Whole Church Full
I’ve told you this before, but in my former career, my life was ruled by numbers. Every year, the Board of Directors would give me one number: the amount of money that I needed to raise for my organization… so that we could do the work that we were called to do.
And I knew that that number meant that we needed this many donors at this average gift size… which meant that we needed this many donors to increase their giving by this much, and this many new donors to make up for natural donor attrition… so I needed to send this many letters and make this many calls and schedule this many events… and so on.
And, I’ll be honest with you, I still look at numbers. I keep track of our attendance and our membership and our giving. I look at the number of baptisms and confirmations and new members. I know how many people visit the website or listen to the podcast.
Sometimes, there is something weirdly comforting about being able to put numbers to things. Numbers make things more real.
So let me share some numbers. And, fair warning, these are disturbing numbers.
In 2018, a group called the Trevor Project surveyed almost twenty-six thousand LGBTQ youth, ages thirteen to twenty-four, in the United States. Of those twenty-six thousand young people, thirty-nine percent had seriously considered suicide in the past twelve months.
That is… significantly higher than the national average.
Let’s bring that closer to home.
There are about twenty-five hundred people under twenty-five years old within five miles of our church building. Let’s assume about half of them are ages thirteen to twenty-four; that’s twelve hundred and fifty people. About four-and-a-half percent of the American population is LGBTQ; that’s fifty-six people.
So, within five miles of our church building, there are, probably, about twenty-two LGBTQ people who have seriously considered suicide within the last twelve months.
That’s not a comforting number. But it is a real one.
In today’s reading, Peter and John are on their way into the temple to pray. Jesus has died and come back and ascended to sit at the right hand of God. And the church is figuring out how to make its way in the world. And Peter and John are doing what they know how to do. They are going to the temple to pray and study about that good old way.
And as they approach the temple, they see a man being carried there. Now, this man had been lame since birth. And, every day, people carried him from wherever he lived… up to the temple… and sat him at the gate… so he could beg. Every day, people carried him there, so that he could ask other people to care about him.
And as Peter and John walk by, on their way into the temple to pray, he asks them, “Can you spare some change?”
And Peter milks it a little. He pats his pockets and looks for some coins and says, “Sorry, I don’t have any silver or gold… but I, um… oh, I know what I can give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, stand up and walk.”
And he grabs the man’s hand and pulls him up. And all of a sudden the man is standing and that has never happened before. And he starts walking… and he starts running… and he starts leaping… and he starts dancing. And the whole time, he is praising God!
And the people who are there, trying to pray, see him. And they start whispering among themselves,
“Isn’t that the guy who used to…?”
“Yeah, didn’t he just ask me for some spare change a few minutes ago, as I was walking in through the gate?”“And now he’s walking and running and leaping and dancing?”
And they are filled with wonder and amazement!
There’s always a little problem with these healing stories. There’s always this risk that we might think that the important thing is that the man changed. There’s always this risk that we might start saying, “Praise God! The power of Jesus Christ can fix those broken people. The power of Jesus Christ can make those broken people… like us.”
And that doesn’t seem right.
I don’t want to take the man’s happiness away. He has every right to be happy that he can walk and run and leap and dance if that’s what he wants to do. And I don’t want to take away the wonder and amazement of the crowd. They should be awed and amazed.
But i do want to say that they never had to leave him at the gate. They always could have provided for him, and carried him in, and prayed with him. They always could have included him and welcomed him and celebrated him.
They always could have seen him.
And maybe the miracle isn’t so much the walking and running and leaping and dancing. Maybe the miracle is that the people saw the wondrous and amazing soul that had been sitting at the gate… for years… welcoming them as they entered the temple… granting them the opportunity to build up treasures in heaven.
And maybe that miracle happened because Peter and John, through the power of Christ, saw him in all of his walking, running, leaping, dancing glory.
Thirty-nine percent is not a comforting number, but it is a real one. Twenty-two people is not a comforting number, but it is a real one.
And I know that there are some people who will say, “But those folks don’t live around here. There might be LGBTQ folks in the Quad Cities or Iowa City or Des Moines. But this is DeWitt. We’re a small town. We have a few gay folks and we love them… but not fifty-six. Not twenty-two.”
But I can tell you that they are here. We just don’t see them. Because fewer than ninety percent of LGBTQ youth are out to their straight friends. And fewer than seventy percent are out to their parents. And fewer than sixty percent are out to their classmates. And fewer than forty-five percent are out to an adult at school. And maybe even fewer in DeWitt.
And how many are going to be out to some random adults… or some random church, that sits across the street from the school and looks like all the other churches and is still living into loving. Even when we’re celebrating our Open and Affirming Covenant. Even on Extravagant Welcome Sunday.
Even though about forty percent of LGBTQ youth are religious.
But here’s the thing. I don’t know the numbers for thinking about suicide. But I know that LGBTQ youth who have one supportive adult in their lives… one supportive adult… are forty percent less likely to attempt it.
Think about that for a minute: one. One adult who sees and loves the walking, running, leaping, dancing soul of that young person… that teenager… that young adult. One.
Imagine what a whole church full of people could do!
And let me take that further, because our Open and Affirming Covenant isn’t just about thing gay thing. It’s definitely about the gay thing, but it’s not just about the gay thing.
I know that there are other people who are sitting by the gate, who we pass by every day, who we do not see. All the time. And especially now.
Imagine what one person could do by picking up a phone or sending a card. Imagine what one person could do by saying, “I see your walking, running, leaping, dancing soul. You are loved and worthy of love. And I love you. Not just as a sentiment or an idea or a hope. As an action. By the grace given to me, a broken person, by Jesus Christ. I love you.”
Imagine what one person could do. And imagine what a whole church full of people could do.
After Peter and John heal the man at the gate, and after the crowd is astonished and amazed, Peter makes a speech, and it gets them in trouble, and Peter and John get hauled in front of the authorities.
And those authorities don’t like what Peter and John are saying. But they see the man… who they knew… who they had walked by on their way to pray, on their way to study about the good old way… who they hadn’t really seen before. And he’s there and he is standing. And they cannot deny the power of what Peter and John are doing.
And so they let Peter and John go.
We do not live by words. We live by the Word… who became flesh… who became one of us… who lived and died and lived again.
Our covenants are not the words that we recite in worship or that are written on a plaque that hangs in the hallway. Our covenants are found in acts of love. Wild and dangerous and full of grace.
And while there might be a few folks who won’t like what we say, when we love, they won’t be able to deny the power of what we do.
One person can save a life. One person can change the world.Imagine what a whole church full of people can do.