Emily C. Heath
"Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 'Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.' When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching." - Acts 5:17-21
When I was 18 I was scared to death to tell my dad I was gay. It wasn't because I was scared of him. It was just that it was 1994 and every friend I had who had come out to parents far more progressive than my own had faced immediate rejection. And so, I told my mom first. And she told my dad. And when he called me in my college dorm room I braced myself for what he was about to say.
45 years ago, in June of 1969, police came to arrest the patrons of the Stonewall Bar in New York City. And in that moment they did what few other LGBT people had ever done before: they refused to go quietly. That day was not the start of the LGBT rights movement, but it was a major early catalyst, which is why in most places we celebrate Pride weekends right about this time of year.
So what does any of this have to do with the book of Acts? At first glance, maybe not that much, but for me the stories of the early disciples remind me that there has always been a cost for those who wish to tell the truth about who they are, and what they believe. The disciples are jailed for testifying about their faith. But that's not the end of the story. Because Scripture tells us that the Lord refused to allow the fear of some to imprison God's people. And when morning came, the ones who would have kept the apostles captive got quite a shock. Not only could their fear not contain them, but more importantly they could not silence them.
When I picked up the phone in my dorm room, my dad's voice filled the line. "So, your mother tells me you're gay."
"Yeah, dad…I am," I said.
"Well, there's nothing wrong with that. And I'll tell you this. There's are going to be people who are going to try to hold you back because of who you are. And you can't let them. Okay?"
He was right. And so every time I come up against a barrier, I remember that day. And I remember that even when we find ourselves held captive, either by the fears of others or ourselves, God can help us make a way back out into the light. Whether it's in a jail in Jerusalem, or a bar in New York City, or a dorm in Georgia, God is ready to set us free.
God, thank you for calling us out from our fear, and into the public places. Grant us the strength to not allow anything to hold us back from claiming the life you have in mind for us, and the love you give so graciously to us. "No matter who we are or where we are on life's journey." Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the pastor of West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in West Dover, Vermont. She also serves as the chaplain of a local fire department, and as a speaker and writer on Christian faith and social justice.