May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.
The writer Silas House tells of sitting in his small family church listening to the minister rail against the sin of homosexuality. “Red faced, dress shirt soaked with sweat, fist slamming against the lectern” he said the pastor shouted that people who were gay or lesbian would never be allowed into God’s heaven. That in fact they were doomed to the eternal lake of fire. Silas says that what troubled him most was that the people around him were nodding in agreement. Some even stood to applaud. He recognized that he was not safe there; that these people whom he knew and loved would stop loving him immediately if they knew what he was hiding about himself. He said he got up and walked out of the church. He was 16 years old.
When Sey’s and my son, Thomas, sat us down in our living room in Austin to tell us he was gay, it shook us to our core. Of course, there was never a doubt that we would continue to love and support our son. I would have to give up the idea of adding a daughter to our family. But most of all, I feared for my precious son in the world. I worried about the anger and violence he might face. I knew the reaction of some who saw gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people as easy, even justifiable, targets of their hatred. I knew that he feared sharing this information with some of his good friends because he feared he may lose them as friends. He even expressed the anxiety that his own family would abandon him. Such was the world into which our brave son stepped.
Fortunately, we lived in a progressive town and were members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin where there was an active community of Christians who identified as gay or lesbian. I never heard words from the pulpit that implied that God’s did not include people who were gay or lesbian. In fact, as soon as the Supreme Court made Same-Sex Marriage the law of the land, St. David’s asked to be allowed to offer blessings to those who wished to marry. There were several members of this community who lived together in longstanding, loving and committed relationships. Yet there was still a silence around the issue so that a 15 year old boy did not feel comfortable sharing the fullness of his God given beauty. I shuddered for my beloved son, because I knew that the world could be a random and dangerous place for anyone labeled “other.”
In our reading today from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we hear of Peter’s introduction to the wideness of God’s love. In the previous chapter, we meet Cornelius, a Roman Centurion who we are told “was a devout man who, with all his household, feared God, gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. (10:2) His devotion is answered in a vision that tells Cornelius to send some of his slaves to seek out Simon Peter who is staying with a tanner by the seaside of Joppa. Cornelius without hesitation sends his men.
Meanwhile, in Joppa, Simon Peter is getting hungry. While he waits for his meal, he has a dream. In this dream a sheet carrying animals, reptiles, and birds slowly descends before him. The animals are considered by Peter, as a faithful Jew, to be “unclean or profane”. So when he is commanded to “kill and eat” the food by a voice he believes to be of God, he recoils in horror saying, “I have never in my life eaten anything unclean.”
But as we hear in our reading from Revelation, in Jesus, God is making all things new. Peter is being prepared for this in the vision when God tells him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God repeats this statement three times, just in case Peter needs more convincing (assurance).
At the same time, Cornelius’ men arrive with an invitation for Peter. The Spirit tells Peter to go with the men because they were sent on God’s authority. And he is told “not to make a distinction between them and us.” Peter travels to Cornelius’ home where he witnesses the Holy Spirit moving amongst these Gentiles. On returning to Jerusalem he proclaims, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord, Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God’?”
How often do we in our very human frailty and fear, fail to encounter and engage the Holy Spirit in another and in this way hinder God’s gift to us? Loving one another is hard work. Just ask someone who has been in a long relationship. And each of us are challenged when we are required to reach beyond settled biases and projections to receive gifts from those we consider beyond our comfortable boundaries.
Too often we are riled up by our leaders, the media, and social connections to create more and more “others” whom we believe deserve to be disregarded and dismissed. It is easy for me to love my good friends, but difficult to receive with grace a person whose illness causes them to be unpredictable and harsh. It is easy to engage with some of my colleagues, but very difficult to listen with an open mind and heart to people whose political or religious beliefs cause me pain and conflict.
Our world, seems to be at a breakneck pace to set apart and deny the dignity of so many of our brothers and sisters. We have lost the ability to listen to each other with humility and find places of connection on most issues. We watch as crowds zealously carry signs and spit slogans that simplistically and casually render whole groups of people to be less than human, outside of mercy and compassion, as deserving of ridicule and disgrace. We watch as policies are created and enforced that jeopardize not only the humanity but the very bodies (lives) of those who have been deemed as “other,” as unworthy of our care or concern.
But we are the church. And as the church we are called to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. As the church, we are called to follow God who shows no partiality. God who sees the beauty in all God has made.
Our scriptures tells us that what God has created, God has called “good.” That no one or nothing is unclean or profane or God-forsaken. That every person and place has the capacity to teach us something about ourselves and the world because we believe God is ever present and ever active. That God delights in the specific gifts, the distinct characteristics among humans and in all creation. That God reveals God’s glory in people of diverse cultures, places of birth, family structures, sexual and gender identities, and practices of faith and belief. That all things, at their deepest, praise God by their very being. God praises in and through them, parenting forth a world of delight.
As the church in seeking to follow Jesus we know that just as God loves all God has created, we too are to try to love in this way—no exceptions—not through our own ability, but because God loves us this way. As the church and those who seek to follow Jesus we must have the courage to be open to the varieties of ways God reveals God love. We must learn to greet those we do not yet know with hospitality rather than anxiety, allowing the Holy Spirit to expand our faith through an openness to the experiences of those beyond our own.
We are living in difficult and dangerous times. The world asks us to see each other as competitors in a scarce and ruthless world. But God calls us to abundance. God calls us to recognize that nothing God has created is outside the scope of the Creator’s love and image. And this message must be shared.
I have invited some members of our church to take a look at how we try to live out our Baptismal Covenant at Grace Church. I believe we need to be intentional about how our community shows the face of God’s unconditional redeeming love in our church and in the world. How do we create invitations that tell a story of welcome and inclusion? How do we greet people who are daring and diligent enough to come in our doors? How do we invite visitors to be a part of our worship and our service? How do we invite them to participate fully in our community when we gather for fellowship? How do we live out our faith, how do we show our love, as we go about our week at work, at the market, at committee meetings, and in social gatherings? And what inner work, study, and conversation do we need to engage in as church to uncover all the ways we may fear the openness of radical hospitality? Please hold this group and its work in your prayers. If you would like to participate in some way, please let me know.
Silas House says that even though he felt unwelcome in his community and in the wider culture, his faith would not be extinguished. God continued to stoke the “fire of his belief.” Thirty years later, he found a home in the Episcopal Church where he felt openly embraced.
My son, Thomas, and his beloved partner, Alex, continue to search for a church home. They visited a church founded by Christians who identify as gay, lesbian, and transgendered on Easter and received a special blessing as they came to the Eucharistic Table. Thomas said the blessing made them feel welcomed and whole. God will not be hindered. Despite human failings, God never fails us. God continues to invite us to join in God’s creation of a new heaven and a new earth which leads toward unity and healing—which will remove ever barrier humans create.
In John’s Gospel we are told that the last time Jesus gathered with his disciples, he instructed them to “love one another. Just as they had been loved, they were to love one another. In this way, all would know that they were followers of Jesus, in how they loved one another.” The only way forward is through love, and not just loving those who are like us, who worship like us, who look like us, who follow our beliefs and traditions and stay within the boundaries we hold close, but all creation, beginning where we are and expanding to all human communities and all God has created.
As Christians, we know that there is no them or us. We are all one together. We are all made of stars. We are all children of God’s love, made in God’s image. We are all bound together as companions on our fragile island home. Each moment we can be a part of God’s healing mercy. Every time we remind someone that they are just what God had in mind. Every time we make space to listen and learn from those who have different stories to share. Every time we offer a moment of kindness, care, regard for any person, we contribute to God’s saving work in the world. One act of love at a time. Nothing will hinder God making all things new.