Ray Of Hope Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.
The Church in Central New York founded and consistently fostered by the GLBTQIS community. October 31, 2018 was the 35th Anniversary in our 36th year in Ministry.
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Sermon for April 24 & 25, 1999
Resurrection Week Four, Year A

The following are the Scripture readings as scheduled in the "Revised Common Lectionary," an ecumenical schedule of readings of Holy Scripture. Our sermons are based on these readings.

Acts 2:42-47
Reader: This first reading is in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, verses forty-two through forty-seven, and it may be found on page 120 in the Christian Testament of your NRSV.

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. This is the Word Of The Lord; Thanks Be To God.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 24:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 24:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

1 Peter 2:19-25

Reader: The second reading is in the Book of First Peter, Chapter 2, verses nineteen to twenty-five. You will find it on page 233 of the Christian Testament of your NRSV. 2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 2:20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 2:22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 2:23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. This is the Word Of The Lord; Thanks Be To God.

John 10:1-10

Reader: The Gospel reading is in the Book of John, Chapter 10; verses one through ten. You will find it on page 103 in the Christian Testament of your NRSV. We sing an anthem before and one after the Gospel. You will find them in your notebook on page W-1. Please rise as you are able to Celebrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (We Love Your Word…) Reader: The Gospel according to John: 10:1 "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 10:7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Reader: This is the Gospel of the Lord; Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Our readings for this weekend are very powerful again. We really praise Jesus for the power of the living Word Of God! The Bible blesses us every week as we open to hear what God has there for us. It is beyond our human capacity to understand how God could give us written books that are eternal books. By eternal books, we mean, these books of the Most Holy Sacred Scriptures contain Wisdom, Knowledge, and Spiritual reality that is relevant today, relevant since the beginning of time, and shall be relevant for the rest of all eternity. For this reason, the Church Of Jesus Christ at Ray Of Hope reveres the Sacred Scriptures. When we read the Sacred Holy Scriptures in the public worship service, we want people to know that we reverence the words read as the very Word Of God. Christ Jesus is really and truly present in every word of Sacred Scripture. The very ministry of Reconciliation, which belongs first to Jesus, is present in every Service of The Word Of God. Today we have added a special book cover for the Gospel reading that we shall use in the worship service. Worship at Ray Of Hope Church involves a lot of activity. The People Of God come together here to give praise to Almighty God for all God has done, continues to do and will do always. When we worship we use music, art, decorations, and movement. We "stand" to hear the Holy Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for a few reasons. One reason we "stand" is the early Christians stood to hear the Gospel as a sign that Jesus is our Resurrection and our Life. Our standing is our celebration and our proclamation that we believe in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. A second reason we "stand" is we want to draw the attention of those around us here in this place to the words of Jesus Christ. Our "standing" says in effect to those around us, "listen closely, for Jesus has the words of everlasting life." Another way we can draw attention to this glorious moment on our worship service is to ask those who are privileged to read the sacred words of Jesus to raise this golden book up high and hold it in the front of the eyes of each hearer so that everyone will be put on notice that the sacred words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ are about to be read. What a marvelous honor it is to proclaim the very words of Jesus in His Name. When you read the Word Of God in the worship service, you are speaking to the People Of God in God's Name! So to add reverence to this sacred moment, we shall read the Gospel from this specially decorated book. When you finish reading the Gospel, please place it standing upright on the Table Of The Lord so as to continue to draw attention to it. It works out very nicely that we start this today because one of the most significant verses in our readings to day is: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers." (Acts 2:43) We are the church of Jesus Christ because we worship God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. We are a part of the Holy catholic, which means the holy Universal Church of Jesus, and the apostolic Church of Jesus Christ because we too devote ourselves to the teachings of the apostles, to the fellowship of the Body Of Christ, and to the breaking of the very Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. In the Ray Of Hope Church Statement Of Faith (Short Form) the second to last sentence reads; "In Ray Of Hope Church we believe in remaining faithful to the Apostle's teaching, the Community of believer's, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers." In the Ray Of Hope Church Statement Of Faith (Long Form) in the Prologue, section 5 "Biblical Church"; we said; "We revere, the Holy Scriptures as the incomparable textual center of orthodoxy. The Doctrines, practices, and teachings of Ray Of Hope Church are built first, upon Holy Scriptures, and are thereafter aligned with the historic Creeds of the Christian Faith; explicitly the Apostle's Creed, and the Nicene Creed, and then upon other teachings from the "early church" Therefore, our Doctrine, Teaching, Polity, and Practice is Biblical, Apostolic, and historically orthodox. As the Body Of Christ gathered in this Faith Community at Ray Of Hope Church, we are saying we desire to be part of that continuation of the true Church of Jesus Christ on earth as it is in Heaven. We are saying the Lord Jesus has given us all the tools we need to follow His Holy Way. First and primarily we have the Scriptures, and after that we have the testimony of the Christians of the first four centuries who carefully left us record of their experience of Christ. Friends, we should be so filled with joy that Jesus has cared so much for us that He has not left us to wander and wonder on this earth looking for His Way. As Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, and Heterosexual Christians, we are particularly grateful that we are not wandering aimlessly and wondering constantly if we are in the Salvation of Jesus. No, He has seen to it that His Way is clearly marked out for us to follow. O happy is the Soul that has found the Way, the Truth, and the Life in Christ Jesus. What more do we desire in this life? Having found Christ Jesus my life feels complete. To me, it seems that whatever God asks of me I will be able to do because the most important accomplishment of this life is done, that being to find Christ Jesus, and to dedicate my eternal destiny to His loving care. Knowing Christ in the power and presence of His resurrection, I experience Him always with me. Life isn't always an experience of feelings of joy. There are many moments of intense frustration, intense sorrow, intense disappointment, and times I wish I understood some of the things people around me were doing and thinking. It is by the very real Grace of God that these challenges have no effect on my faith, thanks be only to God. Why is it these circumstances do not hamper or injure my faith? Jesus assured us that we would suffer. He said; "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Jesus also said; "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt 5:10-11) Paul invites us to imitate his devotion and steadfast faith when we suffer; "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." (1 Thess 1:6) Here is a great word of wisdom for us; "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and not hear that I still have." (Phil 1:29) Paul also says; "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…." (1 Thess 3:4) Peter wrote; "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name …. So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19) There are more references on this subject available. These I have quoted here so that you may be comforted to know that our suffering is not a sign that we are not in the faith and Grace of Christ. No, in fact, we are enduring much suffering as Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning Christians and often our families and friends suffer for loving and supporting us. It is difficult to proclaim the truth of Christ in a world that truly does not want to hear it. The world church seems to be intensely challenged by the reality that we are full and blessed members of the Body Of Christ. Almost any day of the week we can listen to a so-called "Christian" radio or television station, or pick up a so-called "Christian" publication and hear or see the evidence of homophobia in the church. Pastors regularly preach that effeminate males and masculine females are going to Hell. I heard gender jokes on the John Hagee television show this week during a sermon he was giving on "Honor Your Father and Your Mother." I felt a sword piercing my feelings as he robustly made his joke and the audience approvingly applauded. I felt empathy for the children in the room. When I hear that church leaders have written to political leaders and have encouraged them to work against hate crimes legislation, or equal rights legislation that is extended to the GLBTQS community, I feel persecuted for Christ's sake. The Gospel I proclaim is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is His desire and stated Will that this Gospel be known to all people and for all people. I am not responsible in any way for this being God's plan of salvation. So, when I am persecuted as a Gay Christian, I praise God and I unite my pain to the sufferings of Jesus and His sacrifice for the sin of the world. Sometimes I want to thank the one or the organization persecuting us because they surely do not realize they are blessing us and calling God's attention to our circumstances. Remaining faithful to the apostle's teachings, the prayers, and the breaking of the Bread is possible when I keep it in the context of the whole picture God has made for us. I praise God for the honor of being mistreated by others and especially by the "church" because I must tell them the truth: As a gay man, I am a Christian, and Christ extends salvation to people of all sexual orientations. One of the tragedies of homophobia in the modern church is the vast numbers of GLBTQS Christians who have left the church. Under the pain of persecution, many GLBTQS persons have reached their limit of tolerance and walked away. This is exactly what Satan wants to accomplish. What better way to destroy a person than to convince them they are not loved and cherished by God. We are made for the praise and honor of God. Without God in our lives we are so very incomplete. Satan wants us to experience that sense of incompleteness so Satan can lie and tell us God has rejected us. The ultimate goal Satan has is for us to self-destruct, all for his lies. The Lord Jesus is reaching out to our community in very strong ways in these last days. One way Jesus reaches out to us is through the Holy Scriptures. This is why we revere them so highly at Ray Of Hope Church. When we hear the Word Of God, we hear the intimate and real voice of our Shepherd. In today's Gospel, Jesus assured us we would recognize His voice. He said; "The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." (John 10:3-4) Alleluia! If I may play with these words just a bit…. I must testify that Jesus indeed led me out! I have heard His voice all my life in the Church. It has always been vividly clear when even the highest officials in the church were falsely claiming to be speaking for Christ. Whenever I heard words of condemnation for the GLBTQS Community over the last 30 years, my soul would say things like; be still, trust the Lord, God is with you, Christ is at your side, let nothing disturb you. What a wonderful gift from God, to have this enduring sense of peace in knowing the truth in Christ. God is good, alleluia. The next sentence of the Gospel reading today is just as meaningful. It says; "When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the seep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:4-5) Praise God! I hope you hear the promises of security that are surely in these words! Jesus is not saying we "might" be able to follow Him, He is not saying "perhaps" we will be able to recognize His voice! No, He speaks affirmatively and with authority over confusion and aimlessness. He is Lord and He is promising that we will not get lost on His way, which means His road. We can walk with assurance through this life if we know we are passing through on the Way of Christ. Today I call on each of you to refresh your commitment to Ray Of Hope Church. Become serious about your attendance at worship services, classes, and the governing activities. Show to other that you believe He brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. When we fail to come to worship, or fail to come to class we are choosing to miss what God has given us to feed on at that time. It is essential to our remaining healthy that we feed often on God's word for us as a community. God speaks through our studies and through the teachings given for us. It is essential that we be available for God to deliver the goods!! We pledge to remain faithful to the apostle's teaching, the community of the Universal Christian Church, the prayers, and the breaking of the Bread. We also pledge to renew our sense of commitment and availability for God to work with us as a congregation. We must be willing to be here for God to form us. We rejoice for the opportunity to be persecuted for Christ's sake, for preaching the Gospel to all people. Most of all, we are so grateful for God shepherding our lives and our eternities. Our gratitude extends past our ability to express it in English words. Join us as we proclaim the marvelous news of Salvation in Christ to the entire world. Join us as weekly Jesus "prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Psalm 23:5) Come and see that our "cup overflows." (Psalm 23:5) Come and see that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6) Listen for the voice of Jesus. Invite Him to speak to you directly. When you hear Him, rise up and follow, for by no other name in heaven or on hearth is anyone saved but the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. May Almighty God bless you: In the Name of God, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen +

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