I wonder what would happen if we could unleash into the world the life-saving good news that we are enough, that we are accepted, that we [are] created in God’s image and loved unconditionally?
A friend posted these words on her blog this week. They resonated. The profound simplicity resonates. What would happen if we unleashed the life saving good news that we are enough, accepted, loved unconditionally?
Jesus’ life work was about unleashing that good news, about tearing back the layers and exposing our prejudices, lifting people up from under all that had been thrown on their backs and inviting all of us to dare to imagine a world where we behave as if we trust that we are all created in God’s image and loved unconditionally. But it’s hard and there are so many ways that we push down rather than lift up. I know this is true. I do it.
The suicides of two American celebrities this week remind us that mental illness continues to hold stigma, continues to be a place where we fall short of understanding that even you are loved unconditionally. The fact that we need an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls reminds us that we fall short of understanding that all are loved unconditionally.
Today this congregation is being asked to vote on whether to become an Affirming congregation; to join a network of ministries that seek to go beyond issues of gender diversity and sexual orientation to work for justice and inclusion of all. And we do this because we still fall short of embracing the truth that we are all created in God’s image, loved unconditionally.
In 1988 the regional governing body of the United Church in London Ontario sent a petition to the national Church asking, among other things, “that the United Church affirm that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.” The wishes of London Conference weren’t heeded that year as the denomination took the decision to say that all people regardless of sexual orientation were eligible to be members and ministers in the church. The thirty years since have not been a story of one success after another. There has been no linear upward trajectory. The 1988 decision was more like a starting place than a destination, more like an invitation than a badge of honour. And if we’re honest, those of us who lived through it will admit that at the time it was truly hard, gut wrenching, painful. There was blood on the floor. We wondered if a church so divided by hatred and fear could pull through.
Who’s in and who’s out, it’s a tension as old as time, in churches, families and whole societies. It starts in the schoolyard and goes from there. None of us are immune from those quick judgments and deep-rooted assumptions. It’s nice to be with your clan, with the people who make you feel safe. But sometimes that can turn into a place that we hide and use as protection and we begin building walls. We fill ourselves up with comfortable people and miss a world of potential deepening. We begin to think, often not even consciously, that everything is scarce, that there just isn’t enough love or grace or charity or justice to go round.
Who’s in and who’s out? Is God’s love really big enough to accept all unconditionally? Is ours? It’s a question that Jesus didn’t shy away from. Though human sexuality was not in his consciousness, other issues were. He kept breaking down walls and letting folks in. And it really annoyed the powers that be. They didn’t have the science to understand that change pushes our amygdala-buttons but they knew change when they saw it and they didn’t like it!
Time and again Jesus was breaking the rules and word was spreading and no one knew what to do with him. And so his family shows up, which honestly I think is lovely. There are plenty of us who come from families who don’t care enough to show up and so the fact that Jesus’ mother and siblings walk twenty hours from Nazareth to Capernaum to look out for him, says a lot. I expect they made the effort to talk some sense into him, maybe in hopes of taking him home, help him get out of the spotlight and certainly out of the trouble that was brewing.
No doubt they’d heard it all. They’d heard all the stories of God’s love being big enough, about: Simon’s mother in law up, lifted up from her fever; the leper he’d knelt down beside. They’d heard about the time the crowds grew so large that the roof had to be raised to lower in the paralytic. Maybe they’d even heard the rumours about how the unclean spirits would see Jesus and fall down shouting “You are the Son of God!”
And they’d heard that those with power were beginning to mobilize, there were whispers of what to do about the Jesus problem. They knew that only someone out of his mind would set out to unleash the life saving good news that we are enough. And so the scribes blame it on Satan and the family, well they just try to cover it up with a quick escape.
Jesus admits to being out of his mind, if out of your mind means being one who offers radical welcome. We could stop right here. If the rest of the world, the people in the know, your family and those who hold the power, if they think you’re out of your mind because of who you love, well then maybe you’re on the right track.
But there is this thing that can happen when we start thinking we’re on the right side of history, when we start thinking that our values of radical inclusion and breaking down walls are the right way. There is this thing that can happen when we put up church signs that read: If Jesus were here he would have made the cake and danced at the reception. It’s this self-assured arrogance and it wasn’t part of Jesus’ message.
People like to say that the church is counter cultural, it’s a particular favourite throw away line of those who like to align themselves with the more progressive side of things. You may have heard me say it from time to time. The assumption is that we are called to be counter cultural, like the crowds who followed Jesus in the first place, not giving in to the entrenched biases of family or scribes but open to something new and different. Out of their minds!
The problem with being counter cultural, argues Karoline Lewis, is that it is a slippery slope to a sense of superiority. “Too soon counter-cultural becomes us verses them,…“ when in truth, we’re not different from everyone else. Do you not judge too quickly, dismiss too readily, ignore the stranger too easily? Do you not prefer to stay in the safety of your “family” however you define it? No we’re not different from anyone else. The difference, “What makes the church stand out, perhaps truly out of its mind, is that we tell the truth of our own sinfulness. We’re willing to admit it. Our story gives us the stories and words and theology to admit our failings… and yet we still believe that forgiveness is possible.”
We’re not meant to go around criticizing the world, at least never as our starting place. We’re called to “choose a different starting point” We begin by naming our own sin. We dare to name it because when we name our failings we ground ourselves in “mercy, compassion, and justice — not fear or condemnation or judgment.” Where you start matters. This isn’t a question of left or right, certainly not a question of political correctness; it’s a question of identity. What is our starting place?
It’s hard to believe that it’s taken this congregation thirty years to engage a process that will hopefully lead to an explicit affirmation of the LGBTQ2S community in our midst and beyond. It’s a good reminder that if we vote to become Affirming today, it’s not an invitation to pat ourselves on the back any more than it is a chance to say “that’s over with.” It is more of a starting place.
Last weekend, thirty years after first voting in favour of a petition that said homosexual acts are sin, the governing body of the United Church in London passed another proposal saying: “we apologize and further declare that proposal is no longer the conviction of London Conference.”
Hanging a rainbow flag on our door is the easy part. Jesus asks more, for a commitment, a promise, to name our failures and shortcomings, to know we’re forgiven and to keep on trying. Today, when the Board and the ministry team and the dozens and dozens who’ve actively participated in this Affirm process ask you to vote, what we’re really asking is whether you’re willing to unleash into the family that gathers in these walls the life-saving good news that each and every one of us is enough, accepted, created in God’s image and loved unconditionally? It’s just a start and it might just help sustain our hearts when people start asking if we’re out of our minds. Amen
 http://www.londonconference.ca/files/documents/dh-2018.pdf See proposal 3, page 44
 https://kellybbrill.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/cherish-your-one-wild-precious-life/ Based on the words found here and used to open this sermon.