Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What We Believe (For Pride Sunday)

Sermon preached at the Church of St Luke & St Simon Cyrene, Rochester, New York on July 20: Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

How many of you have ever been asked, “What does your Church believe?”

Apropos of this being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride weekend, how many of you have been asked to explain how is it that we can include gayfolk in our congregation, even as our priest?

Our readings this morning provide us with some ways to answer these questions. I’ll grant you up front that most of the people who ask you them are not going to like these answers, but that much is not our problem. We should, however, be able to answer the questions for ourselves with some, shall I say, “integrity.”

Our first reading is from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book of the Apocrypha. It is proof that the good news that Jesus proclaimed was not new to Jewish thought.

There is no god beside you, whose care is for all people…although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us…you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind…because you give repentance for sins.

We believe that God forgives sins and one of his primary characteristics is forbearance. To put it simply, God puts up with us. Moreover, we must do likewise, put up with one another.

This means we strive not to judge; we leave judging to God. That gives plenty of room for sinners of all sorts and conditions to be members of the church. That really means all of you who have assembled here. We do not judge although we all know we will have to face a judge one day. But we know that judge to be the One who is in love with us.

As far as gayfolk go, in a very important sense it doesn’t matter whether or not they are sinners. In fact, we assume they are, since everyone is. We all depend upon the forbearance of God.

The primary objection we will get to this is that there is right and wrong, and God requires sinners to repent. We are opening ourselves to an “anything goes” philosophy.

My response to that is that it is God who is opening himself to an “anything goes” philosophy. But if you want a standard than use St. Paul’s from Galatians 5:22-23. If Episcopalians were to memorize any verses of Scripture I think it should be these two. They should be our John 3:16.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

As far as gayfolk go, if they exhibit these fruits of the Spirit as much as the rest of us sinners, we have no bone to pick with them.

So we believe in forbearance, a God who puts up with us.

On to Romans. Paul is consistent with the bit from Galatians that we just heard.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

How do we know someone is being led by the Spirit of God? The aforementioned fruits of the Spirit.

We believe, with Paul, that we are all children of God, that God does not want us to be afraid of him. God’s only real desire for each and everyone of us is that we cry out to God with our own spirits, “Abba! Father!” The desire for relationship with God is enough. God’s own Spirit working in us will do the rest.

Furthermore, from this passage we also believe that the whole creation is good. It is all “eagerly longing” for its redemption. God will waste nothing he has created.

In terms of our inclusion of gayfolk, we do admittedly have to make an assumption here. Gayfolk were created that way.

One of the responses will be the old saw, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Too which I reply, “Then who created Steve? Somebody had to create Steve, because Steve is real.” This is to say that the creation stories in Genesis were never intended to be the first and last word about the creation.

Another response, which is, by the way, the official response of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, is that even if gayfolk were created that way, God requires that they not act on it.

To which I respond with words of Paul from this morning:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

It is about freedom from fear. That is the glory of the children of God. Or, as St. Irenaeus put it near the beginning of the church’s life, “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.

How can we possibly ask a whole segment of humanity not to be fully alive? And how do we know what it means to be fully alive? We are right back to the fruits of the Spirit.

Speaking personally, for me to be fully alive, and to produce the fruits of the Spirit that I am able by the grace of God to produce, I need to be, among other things, in relationship with John Clinton Bradley. That is my witness.

And finally the Gospel reading, another farming parable like last week’s parable of the sower. And once again, God proves himself to be a lousy farmer, this time allowing weeds to grow along with the wheat. No, it’s not how they did it in Jesus’ day. Jesus was turning practicality on its head. No farmer in his or her right mind would let the weeds grow because they would do what weeds do, take over. And who could actually do the sorting out at the end?

Jesus’ answer is, of course, God. God can and will sort things out at the end. For now we do the counterintuitive thing and let the weeds grow.

I think to many people the Episcopal Church looks like a very weedy field. So be it. There’s biblical precedence for keeping at least what look like weeds and letting God sort it out later.

We believe in a messy church. And we believe in a messy church not just because we like it or it is more convenient for us. We believe in a messy church because we believe God wants it that way. For us to be a “bible-believing” church means to be a messy church.

If you want things neat and tidy this is not the church for you. I might suggest this is not the religion for you, either, but lots of our brothers and sister Christians don’t see it that way. They have managed to come up with a pretty neat and tidy version of Christianity.

God love them. It is not our way. Messiness for us is the way, the truth and the life.

This brings me to a last point—a kind of reality check for us Episcopalians. We have got to get used to and comfortable with being a minority church. That’s not the way it once was. There was a time when we were firmly among the majority. But now, most of our fellow Christians disagree with us—and not just on the issue of human sexuality, but certainly, yes, on that. They, in fact, think we are nuts, and, worse, heretics. That’s what a heckler called Gene Robinson as he was preaching in London this past week—a heretic.

A great deal of the culture around us thinks we’re nuts as well. And part of that reality means that our messiness is not a state that naturally leads to growth. This truth creates a dilemma for us. We need to grow, but we can’t do so without sacrificing our principles.

On the other hand, I do think there are folks out there who would be quite open to the news of a messy church, a church of radical forbearance. We have to get better at telling them about it, which means we have to get comfortable with who we are.

Who are we?

We are a forbearing people, radically so. We put up with everybody who walks in the door unless they want to harm someone. Everyone’s welcome at our table, perhaps except someone whose mission is to tear it down.

We believe that what God makes is good, and he makes human beings to be unafraid and free to be in relationship with him.

We believe in a weedy, messy church as a biblical mandate. We strive to leave judgment to God.

Above all we believe that the followers of God are those who strive, under the grace of God, to produce the fruits of the Spirit, and exhibiting these fruits overcomes anything else that is true about us.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

And so, by the mercy and love of God, we are a welcome table for all. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

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