October 14, 2018 // Narrative Yr. 1.5 // First Congregational UCC Ashland, Oregon // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “We’ve Come This Far” // Joshua 25:1-15, and more; “Sounds” by Suzzy and Maggie Roche
They say, the sounds we make, echo through space forever… Twenty years ago, I was a sophomore in college when 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was abducted in Laramie, Wyoming, targeted for a burglary because he was gay. His kidnapers, who had pretended to be gay in order to rob him, ended up murdering him, brutally. But I didn’t hear much about it, then, in my insulated Ohio world. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the impact of Mathew Shepard’s death really hit me through the lyrics of a song Suzzy and Maggie Roche recorded in his memory:
They say the sounds we make echo through space, forever,
Through our spinning solar system,
Through the wheeling disc of our galaxy,
Through what we imagine the world to be…
The sound goes on and on and on…
It was listening to those lyrics that the impact, the reverberation of Matthew Shepard’s killing really hit me. A few weeks back, the song came to mind again, and I did a little sleuthing. While poetically, it may be true that the sounds we make echo through space forever… scientifically, it doesn’t quite work that way. Soundwaves are transmitted, they are conducted. They can’t travel through a vacuum. Make them loud enough and they will keep traveling through Earth’s atmosphere, of course. Turn them into light, and they’ll go even further, faster. But something has to conduct the sound, has to keep the words or music going, or it will stop. (Pause)
When we touch down this morning in sacred story, in Joshua, the people of God have traveled so many miles, through so many years, from their deliverance out of slavery in Egypt, that the songs of liberation they sang at the sea could easily have stopped sounding by now. In today’s story, we have taken another leap through time from Mount Sinai last week to the time of the Promised Land, where Moses’ protege Joshua Son of Nun & Co. are about to finally settle in the land promised generations ago. Remember that wilderness wandering business took at least 40 years. Then there is the unknown amount of time it took to topple Jericho, then all the other cities and towns in the land of Canaan. (It wasn’t like it was empty space, you know. There were people there.) So, when all the fighting has ceased, the people finally appear able to rest, Joshua stops to sing the song he still can hear, the song Moses taught him. He reviews their history, enumerating how many times God delivered the people into freedom and then he invites them to renew their covenant with God again. There’s been so much time passed since Sinai. All kinds of gods encountered. Lots of paths to choose from. Joshua says, choose today who you will serve, “As for me and my house, we will serve The-I-AM.” (You may have seen that on a kitchen wall-hanging in your childhood.) You should know, Joshua is not my favorite Joe in Hebrew scripture. The way he takes possession of the land promised leaves a lot still questionable for me about what god he’s really following. The way the people take possession of the land is with violence and cruelty and bloodshed and warfare. Last week’s “Base Ten Words of Covenant” would have kept them from all manner of killing and thievery. The evidence suggests that these freed people are yet unable to live free from the violence that Sinai covenant outlawed. Maybe (I’ll going with the benefit of the doubt this morning)… Maybe Joshua, faced with his impending death, realized how much those soundwaves of covenant are still in danger of dying out. Maybe that’s why he stops to retell the story of freedom and celebrate the people’s liberation. (Pause)
Today, when it comes to sound, the world around us seems much better at reverberating with the stories of pain and violence than liberation. I’m personally finding it a challenge to look for the places of healing and success in the coming Reign of God, to attend to the places where wholeness is happening, to amplify liberation, while not checking out of the fight for justice. Hard, this week especially, it feels, in light of the Supreme Court confirmation on Sunday night. It’s been so hard in these days to see hope and to attend to healing. I want to notice the triumphs, to celebrate those places of connection and healing and growth in human peace and reconciliation. I want to look for those and celebrate those… while not checking out of the continued praying and marching needed for “thy kin-dom to come.” So, before I get to Bathsheba’s story next week, the most famous #MeToo moment of the ancient monarchy, let’s pause to celebrate how far we’ve come. Because if the sounds of the violated crying out for justice go on and on and on only with the help of conductors and transmitters… the same holds true for the sounds of liberation. (Pause)
I repeat and recount these sounds, so they might go on and on and on: In 1991, this church voted to become open and affirming of people of all sexual orientations, the first in our Central Pacific Conference to do so. In 2003, together with the Unitarian Universalists, we offered for the first time a 12-week course for high school youth called Our Whole Lives, a values-based comprehensive sexuality curriculum (Ken Brown and Maureen Hicks and Jim S. Martin helped). On July 4, 2005, the General Synod of the national United Church of Christ approved a resolution in support of equal marriage rights for all. A decade later, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, is guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 2010, the United Church of Christ released Call Me Malcolm, a documentary following my friend and colleague Rev. Malcolm Himschoot’s spiritual journey with transgender transition. This year, among the books Third through Fifth Graders get to read as part of the Oregon Battle of the Books is George, a novel about a fourth-grader who looks like a boy to other people, but knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. And she discovers that she doesn’t have to keep that secret forever. And this summer on the Elizabethan stage, in OSF’s production of Oklahoma!, a lesbian woman of color in natural hair sang – with all the bravado and confidence of any Curly I’ve ever seen in a production – “Oh, what a beautiful mornin’! Oh, what a beautiful day. I’ve got a wonderful feelin’ everything’s going my way.” Making it that much easier for those of us trying to raise kids “in a brand new world.” (Pause) Look how far we’ve come. I know there’s a whole lot more to do. But next week, Matthew Shepards’s ashes will finally be interred at the Washington National Cathedral. We have come so far. These are the sounds I want to echo through space, forever. But they only will keep echoing if we keep telling them and singing them. That’s why we gather today on Pride Sunday, that’s why we keep singing: Until that day when no child will ever have to doubt, “This is me. And we are glorious.” (Pause)
It was this story that Martha Spong cited, this story of liberation from the elder testament, this story from our Hebrew ancestors, when she wrote about finally coming to terms (at the age of 50) with the fact that she was lesbian. She served in a denomination, the United Church of Christ, that was open and affirming. But she admitted finally to a friend that she had this idol of acceptance that had been more important than paying attention to her true self. She writes, in Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, “God brought me out of my past, out of servitude to our heteronormative culture’s rules,” Martha Spong writes. “I discovered that what I believed for other people I needed to apply to me, too. If I did not, I was rejecting God’s steadfast love. We are not saved by conforming to what the world expects from us. God saves us by bringing us to ourselves.” Our true selves. Made in the image of God. (Pause)
So our choir this morning belts out “This is Me,” and we stop and celebrate all the times and places the Holy One delivered us, liberated us, set us free. We send that sound of liberation out into space, forever. Let it go spinning through our solar system, with our bodies and lives as conductors. We sing, loudly, this morning, that the praise and liberation of ALL God’s people would become a sound that goes on and on and on, on and on and on.
 “Sounds,” as recorded on the album Zero Church.
 United Church of Christ website, http://www.ucc.org/lgbt_issues_marriage-equality_index#Marriage_Equality_and_the_UCC, accessed October 13, 2018.
 Alex Gino, George, (New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2015).
 Martha Spong, “Three Cups of Coffee,” Denial is My Spiritual Practice (and other Failures of Faith), (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2018), p. 88.