Thursday, February 25, 2010

Great sermon: We ARE light, all of us

Rev. Karen Ziegler preached an unforgettable sermon on AIDS, grief, sexism, friendship between gay men and lesbians, and the parable of the “wise and foolish virgins” during the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.

I listened to the sermon again recently while duplicating tapes of worship services. More than 20 years later, it is still just as powerful and inspiring!

I have never forgotten the sermon that Ziegler delivered on Nov. 8, 1987 at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where most of the congregation was HIV positive, there was no effective treatment for AIDS, and many people were dying. I had just joined the staff as student clergy and women’s programming coordinator. More than 500 MCC-SF members died of AIDS between 1982 and 1997.

Like me, Ziegler was a lesbian whose primary relationships were with women, but she unexpectedly grew much closer to gay men as they faced death. She never stopped challenging sexism in the church, but a “transformation” happened. “My heart has been opened in a way it never has before,” Ziegler said in her sermon. She was pastor of MCC New York at the time.

She urged us to think of ourselves in an empowering new way. Decades later I still remembered this part of her sermon, and now I transcribe it here:

“Keep your light burning. We ARE light, all of us. The light of the world, each of us. We’re all like little lights, like in space suits, you know. That’s all our bodies are, like these space suits. Men’s suits, women’s suits, gay suits, straight suits, different color suits, differently abled suits. They’re just SUITS! We are lights really, that’s what we are. Lights that nothing can quench. But the world needs us, and we need each other to keep our lights burning brightly and clearly.”

Ziegler interacted with the congregation and spoke eloquently about the importance of loving oneself in the midst of the AIDS crisis -- especially because we have been wounded by the homophobia of the church. “Growing up in the church, we learned that our very capacity to love was the thing that God hates,” she said.

Ziegler’s life partner, blues singer Randa McNamara, gave a powerful performance of “Old Devil Time” at the same worship service. The Pete Seeger song brought everyone to tears and we all talked about it for weeks. It still made me cry when I listened to it again recently. If you have never heard this song, it’s a definite MUST, and nobody sings it better than McNamara. You can hear it on Randa’s album “Living in My Heart.”

Ziegler went on to become a nurse practitioner who teaches at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. A preaching prize was established in her honor at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. It is awarded annually to the student who “represents the highest ideals of feminism and liberation theology in the present day by articulating anew a vision for a more just church and world for all God’s people.”

Thank you, Karen and Randa, for helping our light shine.
This post launches a series on great sermons from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Click here for the whole MCC-SF history series.

Photos: Karen Ziegler (above) and Randa McNamara (below)

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Yewtree said...


Trudie said...

This is a fabulous idea. Any chance that some of these sermons might actually be published in complete form? I remember some great sermons from the early days of MCC in Atlanta, when the church was named MCC of the Blessed Redeemer. Unfortunately, these weren't recorded as far as I know.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Yewtree and Trudie! Trudie, your comment is especially welcome because I’ve missed hearing from you lately.

A book of sermons is not impossible. I did hear from the MCC-SF member in charge of archives after he read this post. He said he now wants to make a written transcript of Karen’s sermon, so that’s a good start. Even transcribing one sermon from a tape is a lot of work!

I’d also like to see the best sermons released on CD -- because it’s powerful to hear the tone of their voice and congregation responding with applause, laughter, footstomping, etc.

Finding and listening to the MCC-SF worship service tapes from the 1980s has been an amazing process! I plan to blog about it all in more detail in the future. Now I’m submerged with copying tapes and photos in time for MCC-SF’s 40th anniversary in April… plus getting ready for Holy Week and Easter here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

My experience tells me that maybe some tapes DO exist of the early worship services at your church. But over time people forget where they are, until the Spirit somehow brings them to light.

Anteater said...

I loved this post. One sermon from a committed feminist, is like a treasure for all the ages! Thank you Karen Zeigler for everything you have done,and when we remember and celebrate, the world is better for lesbians everywhere. This was so lovingly written; a very special moment in herstory!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for the invitation, Mike. Your site looks interesting, and I hope to get back to it. The next site I plan to join is Twitter.

C.W.S. said...

A lot of that morning in 1987 comes back powerfully even without hearing the recording again.

Thanks for resurrecting it.

Kittredge Cherry said...

CWS, thanks for your support. Do we know each other? From your comment, it sounds like you were also there at MCC-SF in 1987 when Karen preached. Back then I had a circle of friends whose goal was to build a hymnal. Maybe you are one of them. Feel free to email me privately if you want to reconnect without pseudonyms.

Michael Leslie said...

How about a Podcast on "MCC-SF Historic Sermons"

Kittredge Cherry said...

Michael, A podcast of MCC-SF historical sermons is a great idea. I will be glad to announce it at this blog when they're available. I'll contact you directly with more details.

Betty P said...

Please contact me if historical sermons from SFMCC are made available--I have heard many wonderful sermons there.

Audrey said...

Hey Betty P. what a delightful surprise. I well remember your memorable talks from the 80s too!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Great to hear from you, Betty! Like Audrey, I remember YOUR great sermons at MCC-SF... but I don't have any of those on tape.

At the MCC-SF website, you can listen to sermons going back to 2003. Here's the link:

I do plan to post summaries of at least 3 more great MCC-SF sermons from the 1980s in the next few months.