Theology of Inclusion
This is a great opportunity on Pride Sunday to talk about why it is that we practice a theology of inclusiveness or a theology of inclusion.
There are a couple of reasons why we intentionally affirm, why we're an open and affirming congregation, why we're a progressive Church that believes that it's important to welcome to affirm to love and to incorporate folks from the LGBTQ community into the life of our church, the full life of our church.
The first reason is that's what Jesus did and it's how Jesus lived. We practice this radical inclusivity because that's how Jesus lived out his ministry. In his teaching, there are plethora examples in the gospel of Jesus going out intentionally reaching out to the people that both his culture and his religion had decided fall out of bounds or were not clean enough or were not worthy enough to be included into God's realm of love. And Jesus turned everybody's heads and expectations upside down because he intentionally went out to those people who were being excluded and pushed out by culture and by religion. So we practice this theology of inclusivity because that's what Jesus did.
The second reason that we think it's so important to practice this theology of inclusivity is that Jesus' great commandment is to "love one another as I have loved you," and I'm reminded of that song that says "and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. And they'll know who we are Christians by our love." So it's the great commandment to love one another.
Coupled with the great commandment is both the Good Samaritan story which says who is it that we're supposed to love. Which neighbor? Whoever needs us. And related to that is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where he said "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." So if we call ourselves Christians, that love that we are to share with one another pushes us out of our comfort zone. And it invites us. Well, I would go beyond that and say it really demands that we love people who are like us and people who are not like us.
Love and Marriage
So as I prepared the sermon for today, my definition for love is the art and discipline of offering caring concern to others. Of course, those "others" the story of the Good Samaritan says is whoever needs us. Jesus even says "love your enemies," So we are a work-in-progress community of Christians, and we are not we are not without our faults, without the times when we have not been as loving as Jesus would have us love.
And yet, I contrast our efforts to be an a radically inclusive community with some of the other Christian traditions, some the other churches that have shaped folks who seek us out. The Orthodox Christian belief is that yes, we will love members of the lbgtq community. We will love you, but we will love you so that you'll change, or we will love you as long as you're celibate. That is, you don't actually live out the expression of who you are. And I'm not sure about you, but that doesn't sound a lot like "love one another as I have loved you."
I've got an illustration of how it is that we have lived into our open and affirming identity. Just a few weeks ago, a couple from our congregation were married here in the sanctuary, Nikki and Monique. It was one of the most joyful days in my 13-year ministry here at Bethel. We were joined by at least 100 or more members of our congregation who were here to both witness and to celebrate Nicky and Monique's love.
One of the things that was truly unique about the wedding was their use of the guestbook. Not their traditional hallmark guestbook, no. What they wanted was a version of the Bible that they valued, with invitations for us to write in the margins how we were affirming of their marriage based on our favorite verse. So you could go to your favorite verse in the Bible and then put a little signature and a little note in the margins.
Now the interesting thing about that is that UCC'ers are notorious for not being too familiar with their Bibles. You can chuckle with that if you haven't already. I think part of that is that those UCC'ers who have looked at the Bible have looked at it enough to be scared by it and know that there's there's stuff in there that's inconsistent. It may feel like it's too old. It's ancient. It's a culture that's no longer alive. And so why should we bother studying?
Well, the reality is that the Bible continues to speak to us regardless of the culture from which the the stories came, because they were stories that were written by people who were inspired by their experience of the Living God in their lives. And yet, they were people at a particular time and in a particular place, which means their cultural biases come through in Scripture. So yeah, some of us are unfamiliar with the Bible. But I was so happy that Monique and Nikki chose to have their guestbook be the Bible, because it gave me opportunity to think about my favorite scriptures.
And so this wasn't even a plan but it does fit with Orthodox Protestant scripture reading where you have an Old Testament reading and epistle reading and a gospel reading. Just worked out this way. My three favorite texts are Micah "Oh mortal you know what the Lord requires of you but to do justice love kindness and want humbly with your God." My second text that's one of my favorites is from Romans chapter , the Epistle that's where Paul says to the church at Rome "there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that was revealed in Jesus the Christ." And third (and not necessarily in any order), the gospel lesson that popped into my head was John chapter verse. "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly."
So I'm going to focus on the abundance that the John theme because I think this is so critical for our ministry. In our theology of inclusion, to know that all of us live into God's dream and desire for us to not just simply plod through life one step at a time like we're going through quicksand or deep mud, but to thrive. To thrive, to have life, and have it abundantly, more than you can even imagine. That's what this wish is for all of us. Now the footnote I would say is that we all know that there are times in life when crawling along or plodding along is the best that we can do because life can be so challenging sometimes. It's all that we really can expect of ourselves and all that God would expect.
But what this text tells us is that God does not desire for any of us to be in a chronic state of disappointment or despair or feeling that we we don't belong or that we don't fit or we're not quite good enough. "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." This is God's vision for us, all of us.
I want to share with you how it is that I've seen this gift of abundance offered to folks in the lbgtq community this past week. I met with a transgendered woman, a young transgendered woman who so desperately wanted to speak with a pastor of a progressive church because she had been mistreated, ignored, picked on, abandoned by her family, and by her church, and the scars are deep, and the pain is real. So to give this transgendered woman an opportunity simply to tell her story and to share the pain created an opportunity for a connection with my opportunity to simply say it may be time for you to begin a new chapter with a community of faith in a church that will affirm you and welcome you because of who you are not because of who we think you should be.
Because we think you should be the person you are intended to be. And if you are intended to be a transgendered woman, we want to support that. We want to walk with you. We want to cry with you. We want to laugh with you. We want you to feel God's love, your tears in her eyes, we pray together. And every once in a while, I have one of those moments when it feels like my purpose on earth has been fulfilled, and I clearly see why I am here. And in that moment, with that particular person from the lbgtq community, I knew that our community had offered an abundant kind of living to break out of the cycle of a low self-esteem and a sense that nobody cares for me, and that that God has actually done this to me, because God thinks I'm evil or wicked or terrible. That is too much of a shackle for anyone to live with.
Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly." I want to talk for a minute about the John text from chapter verses through. And what's interesting about the scripture is that it actually offers two images or two metaphors for Jesus. One, the Good Shepherd, which we're very familiar with, especially because we read the Good Shepherd in the Book of Psalms, and in many other places in the Bible where Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepherd, where there are there are histories of there being a Good Shepherd, and of course as Christians we believe it's Jesus.
But I want to focus on the other image, which is the gate, Because I want you to think for a minute about how gates work. Gates are the way in, which you gain entry behind a fence or some kind of boundary. They can be used as a source of security to make sure that anyone who might harm the community is not able to do that. Also, gates have been used to prevent people from coming, because those who are inside believe those who are outside are not worthy to be part of God or Jesus' flock.
So here's what I want you to think about this morning. Think about the way the gate works. Now the reality is we know that there are some genuine security issues. That's why it's important to have a gate. For example, most of us lock our doors at night as just a wise precaution. But in the life of the church, I'm afraid that the image of Jesus as gate has been used to protect the institution and to advance the concern for the purity of the flock in order to help clarify and be clear about what does it mean to be Christian, so we can be clear about that and protect those who are Christian from any influence.
Now there for sure is reason to have clear boundaries about what it means to be Christian. But my fear is that over the years the church has used the gate to reinforce cultural values and individual values about what it means to belong to God. So my hope is that we can all perceive of Jesus as being that gate that allows for those to come who, as the text says here, recognize Jesus' voice and respond to it. After all, those are the criteria for the gate swinging, not whether you're straight, not whether you're well-educated, not whether you're wealthy, not whether you know the Bible inside and out or don't know the Bible at all. It's do you hear? What are you even listening for? The voice of Jesus, which is from my perspective the Holy Spirit, inviting you to be conscious of who is it that I am to be loving of and how am I to be loving in each moment.
Remember, I said love is the art and the discipline of caring concern for others. So sisters and brothers, the criteria for that game is the willingness to listen, willingness to follow, and the will and willingness to act as Jesus has acted towards us and continues to act in and through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I'm grateful that you are here this morning. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be able to March and have the public witness. I'm wearing my collar because typically I don't on Sunday mornings, but when I'm out in the public realm, out in the public sphere, I think it's incredibly important to carry the message, to carry a symbol that yes, I am an ordained minister who believes in the theology of inclusiveness. And that means any and all who seek to listen and to follow the way of Jesus, which is the way of compassion and love and grace and forgiveness.
May God continue to bless us, and may God send us forth today to be radically inclusive in all aspects of our life. May God bless you and keep you. I'll see you again soon.