I was honored to have the opportunity to preach and celebrate the Eucharist a few miles from where I grew up, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Prince Frederick, Maryland. The texts can be found here (I reference the Genesis, Romans, and Matthew texts). It was pretty amazing to preach and share the Eucharist with so many of the people who were part of the “Tribe” that helped me grow into the adult I am. Including my Kindergarten and First Grade teachers!!! But true to form, I think it’s important to speak to the realities of the world we live in, and this sermon is my faithful reaction to the realities of this world.
I have to be honest with you all, I really, really wanted this to be one of those weeks where the sermon just came. Where the sermon just flowed through my hands as easily as my fingers running through water. But that just didn’t happen this week. This is one of those weeks when life, and the world, just got in the way. This is of course also the week when I finally get to preach at home. In this room are many who regularly gather to worship together here. But joining today are many of my friends, family, and people who have been part of my becoming the adult I am.
I’d hoped to have an incredible sermon for you all. One that came as easily as breathing.
Instead, this week confirmed in me that there is no denying that we live in a particular point in history. Regardless of what we think about this point, good, bad, or incredibly confusing, it is a point.
This is our time. This is our context.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about our faith, in this time. In our context.
If you are a bit uncomfortable about this, think I’m wrong, or maybe think politics has no place in church, I point you to this Romans text. Paul is absolutely, without question or debate, talking to certain people, at a certain point in history, in a particular context, and an active political climate. Now, the interpretation of what Paul is saying might be debated. But that he is talking to the fledgling church in Rome, is not up for debate. And Paul is addressing real concerns. In their lives.
And those early Christians were under attack. Literally. There was always an undercurrent of fear for the earliest Christians. And Paul is giving them a pep talk. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As I stand before you today, I am not personally under attack. My rights as an American citizen are, but we’ll get to that later. My life however, in this moment, is safe. My faith, however, the faith I love and learned from studying Scripture and ancient context – that is under attack.
And because I have actually done what the Gospel said, I have given everything I have for this faith, I’m not going to sit back and let it be taken away.
We live in a time. We live in a context. As much as I’d like to preach a sermon that is eternal, I can’t. I’m a product of my time, place, and circumstances. And so are my words.
This week, my words are influenced by what is happening in the world around us. Our government is in upheaval. Those elected to serve, on both sides, have forgotten the importance of working together, of compromise, negotiation.
This week, I, along with 20 million other Americans, almost lost my health insurance.
This week, 15,000 American soldiers are on the verge of losing their jobs and livelihood.
This week, the signals came that the long awaited attack on gay rights is beginning.
Everything that I am about to say is absolutely grounded in my understanding of Scripture. What I say today is my faith influencing my beliefs as an American. My faith comes first. Not my politics.
My faith tells me to love and care for everyone, especially the least of these among us. That leads me to believe that repealing the Affordable Care Act, without having something in place that will actually be better, not just better for some, goes against my faith. Many of the voices attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act claim Christianity as the reason. But I struggle to understand that this faith that I love, which teaches me to love and care for everyone, how this faith can be used to justify taking away the healthcare of so many of the least among us.
My faith tells me that we are all made in the image of God. That’s in the book of Genesis – the very beginning point of our faith. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell me that each human has inherent worth, and is worthy of love and respect. Which makes sense, since we’re all made in the image of God. It doesn’t matter if I agree with a person’s gender identity. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s right or wrong. What matters is that God tells me to love everyone and treat them with respect.
There is nothing else to that sentence. I am to love everyone and treat them with respect. And if any person is willing to sacrifice their life in service to this country, that person is doubly worthy of my respect.
I have said this a lot, but I’ve never said it here: it doesn’t matter what color you are, your nationality, your gender, if you are able bodied, if you are gay, straight, bi, sideways, purple, covered in spots, Republican, Democrat, you prefer dogs over cats, your immigration status, if you’ve ever been in prison, if you struggle with addiction, if you have health insurance through work or if you get it through the Affordable Care Act, if you know what the Affordable Care Act is or if you don’t. None of that matters. God loves you.
I love you too. Even if you disagree with me.
Now, of course, there are things in the Bible about homosexuality. Except that the word homosexual wasn’t even invented until the 1800’s. What we do have are a few sentences describing behavior that is very different from the loving and committed modern relationships we assume those texts refer to. There are, however, plenty of examples of Biblical marriage, like what we have in this section of the Genesis text.
Jacob wishes to marry Rebecca. He ends up married to Leah. And then also Rebecca. And then both Rebecca and Leah allow Jacob to impregnate their slaves. So what we have in this Scripture is a justification for polygamy (and an understanding that certain types of adultery were acceptable). This was perfectly okay in the ancient context in which this text was written, but which we now understand to not be acceptable.
Let’s also remember that Laban said “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man” referring to why Laban is okay with Jacob marrying Rebecca. But Laban is Jacob’s uncle. Laban is Jacob’s mother’s brother. Meaning that Rebecca and Leah, are Jacob’s first cousins.
Today, it is unacceptable to marry your cousin. It’s just wrong. We know that because of modern values and modern science. But they didn’t know that then.
My modern faith does not have to be free from my intellect. I get to think. I was blessed with a beautiful mind, and I get to use it in attempting to understand how these ancient words are applicable to my life today.
My faith teaches me to love everyone; that everyone has worth. But I also get to reconcile that I am lovingly and perfectly made, even though I was made gay. There’s nothing wrong with me. I actually think I’m quite wonderful! I am worthy of God’s love, and equal to anyone else. I am equal because I am perfectly made in God’s image. And so are you.
And I also truly believe that when applying the ancient words of Scripture to our modern context, what we are left with is that if consenting adults are agreeing to a relationship, it’s okay. It doesn’t matter if those people are gay, straight, male, female, or trans.
If these words are read or repeated in 50 years, or even 5 years, they might not make much sense. My words today are in response to what happened in this country this week. And a reaction to what might happen next week.
I wanted to have beautiful, eternal words, but these are the words I have. These are the words that grew out of the mustard seed of faith planted within me. I worked hard to nurture that seed. It took time, and effort. My words today are the product of an incredible amount of work and study. And of reconciling what I instinctively know to be true about God with some of what I was taught by others.
To the people of my home, those who are neighbors I know, and neighbors I haven’t met yet, I offer you this: love. Love everyone. Remember that the image of God is in each and every one of us. Your faith is your greatest treasure. Love it, and love it in those you meet. It is hard to do that in times such as these.
But we are called to be more than our political beliefs. We are called to be Christians.
So walk in love as Christ loves us. Offer yourself. Let us be known by how we love. Not how we distinguish, divide, and discriminate. That’s hard. But if we can do that, the rewards are greater than any pearl, any earthy treasure, any measurable thing. Work towards the good of God as Paul calls us to do. Let us search our own hearts to find the imprint of the Holy Spirit left there. That will make it so much easier to see the imprint of God in others.