Sermon. February 7, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
(Link to: Brave Space. Being a LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church document.)
This past week our Open and Affirming group launched the #RainbowMondays campaign. We began this campaign on February 1st, the date in 1960 when the Sit-In Movement began. Later in this sermon I’ll look more closely at this campaign. At its heart it is an expression of being a Loving Church Family.
Today we will focus our attention on being a Loving Church Family. This is one of our four Core Values with Spiritually Alive, Making Disciples, and Neighborhood Engagement.
Loving Church Family is based on the Love Commandment found in John 13:34 – 35 –>
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Within the Early Church the Love Commandment was formational. It guided the way early Christians practiced their faith. Statements of the key importance of loving one another throughout the New Testament. This is especially true in the First Letter of John: 1 John 2:7 – 11; 1 John 3:11 – 23; 1 John 4:7 – 21.
Paul’s well known call to love in 1 Corinthians 13 highlights the centrality of love within the faith practice of the Early Church. Paul also calls for loving one another in Romans, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians. Loving one another is also lifted up by Peter in 1 Peter 1:22 and 1 Peter 4:8.
The point is that the Love Commandment is interwoven into the very foundations of the Early Church in its everyday life and faith. The Love Commandment has always been a core value among those who seek to be Jesus’ disciples. We express this most clearly in being a Loving Church Family.
In our Gospel lesson today, from Mark’s first chapter, we have Jesus modeling love for one another. Jesus goes with his first disciples to the house of Simon and Andrew. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is ill and Jesus heals her. The text then says that she began to serve them.
The meaning of this is not that she is locked into an assigned patriarchal gender role, that of a woman serving a group of men. The core message of this passage is that once she has been healed she immediately begins to act like a disciple of Jesus. For to be Jesus’ disciple is to serve others.
That evening sick and demon possessed people from the whole area are brought to the house door to be healed. We might consider this to be the first house church. A place where people are healed and disciples are made.
Jesus then goes in the early morning before dawn to a place he can pray in solitude. When the disciples find him Jesus tells them it is time to move on to neighboring towns.
We learn from these verses that Simon Peter was married, and that he and his brother own a house. We learn that people come to this house to be healed when Christ is present there. We learn that being a disciple is embodied through the act of serving. We learn that Jesus practices self-care with times of solitude and prayer. We learn that Jesus’ call to Come, follow me is a call to engage the world with an outward mindset.
We learn that inner reflection and spiritual renewal are essential, but the point of reflection and renewal isn’t to secure a home base to safely wait for people to come. Rather, right from the beginning of his ministry Jesus understands that his mission – what he has come to do – is enacted in building a diverse, loving, inclusive community. That means to go.
Grace breaks into our lives as we practice the Core Value Actions of Loving Church Family. We celebrate diversity and love as we build an Inclusive Community.
We love and nurture each other as we connect in Fellowship. We share Christ’s love and compassion by Caring for one another.
The Brave Space work of the Tri –Conference Ministries of three Midwestern UCC Conference provides a guide to building an Inclusive Community. The “Our Faithful Commitment to Extravagant Welcome and Being an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church” document focuses on one type of welcome and inclusion. Many UCC Open and Affirming congregations have found that radical inclusion expands to embrace all people through the intentional embrace of LGBTQ+ people.
Think of radical inclusion as being like learning a second language. First you learn some words, and phrases, and grammar. At first you translate into your native language. However, as you gain fluency you begin to be able to think in that second language. Your brain has created new neuro pathways. These neuro pathways then make it easier to learn yet another language.
Learning radical inclusion creates new “heart pathways.” ONA congregations first create a heart pathway to embrace radical inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. As we become fluent this form of radical inclusion our hearts and minds are able to think and act in a new way.
We then find that scaffolding additional forms of radical inclusion becomes easier. At some point radical inclusion becomes second nature. When this happens loving one another and being a Loving Church Family becomes a core part of who we are as a community.
Jesus points out in the Love Commandant that it is by loving one another that others will know that we are his disciples. This is what happened in the Early Church. As people embraced loving one another as central to the faith practice of the Jesus Community others were drawn to this radical way of living. These new people were embraced and included fully. They became part of this community where people love one another. Which in turn set up another cycle of radical inclusion and loving one another.
In our radical inclusion of LGBTQ+ people we affirm that the beauty and blessedness of God’s creation is present in all people’s. We don’t begin by saying, “we welcome everyone.” We intentionally start with those who others marginalize. This creates the cycle of radical inclusion that radiates out to others.
We embody loving one another from the margins in, not the center out. Because going from the center out often becomes the center focused inward on itself.
By attending to the margins we actually practice being an inclusive community. If we try to start with “we welcome everyone” or “All Lives Matter” we never move from the place where the language says “everyone” but the practice means “the privileged.”
If “we welcome everyone” was actually true, LGBTQ+ people would already be fully affirmed and embraced in every church. We know there is work to be done because many churches still insist on harming LGBTQ+ people in the name of God.
Being an inclusive community where loving one another is practiced means renouncing theologies, ideologies, and doctrines that oppress or exclude anyone of any sexual orientation or gender identity. It is only by challenging the thought systems that oppress the marginalized that we can actualize loving one another as an inclusive community.
Our #RainbowMondays campaign is one way we can show the extravagant love of Jesus in a concrete, yet simple way. The basic idea is this: wear a rainbow symbol – a ribbon, a tie, a mask, a hat, a cross, a shirt – on Mondays. Take a picture and post on social media with the Rainbow Mondays hashtag. By doing this you publicly show your solidarity with LGBTQ+ people.
Imagine the impact that a local church, even a small one can have on their community if most of the people in that church took this simple, concrete action: wearing a rainbow symbol, taking a picture, and posting the photo with #RainbowMondays on social media. An inclusive community where people love one another.
Hold in prayer for a moment LGBTQ+ youth who might feel isolated and alone, with their families rejecting them, and their entire social world seemingly opposed to who they are as a person. Hold this hurt in prayer.
Now imagine the potentially lifesaving impact that a small church that affirms that LGBTQ+ youth are persons blessed as children of God. That they are persons who are fully embraced and radically included in this Jesus community where people love one another. And imagine the impact as that small church reaches out to teachers and students, and to other churches, to join this really simple weekly action.
This is the #RainbowMondays campaign in a nutshell.
This is celebrating Jesus’ call to love as an inclusive community. This is embodying our Core Values as a Loving Church Family. This is love in action.
Our Faithful Commitment to Extravagant Welcome and Being an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church
Because we affirm that the beauty and blessedness of God’s creation is present in all people’s:
We make a conscious and deliberate decision to celebrate the diversity of creation as uniquely embodied in people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+). We honor the sacredness of people’s lives through extravagant welcome and unconditional affirmation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Because we confess that harm has been done to LGBTQ+ people in the name of God:
We renounce theologies, ideologies, and doctrines that oppress or exclude anyone of any sexual orientation or gender identity. We intentionally design church systems and structures that both include and amplify the voices of all LGBTQ+ people and center the voices of LGBTQ+ indigenous people and LGBTQ+ people of color.
Because we embrace the extravagant love taught by Jesus:
We celebrate LGBTQ+ youth and work to create a world where youth grow up in loving community. We preach prophetically, witness publicly, and act boldly to live lives of unconditional love.
Because we recognize the need for greater understanding of LGBTQ+ people within our faith community:
We support one another on journeys of claiming gender identities and sexual orientation. We follow the lead of LGBTQ+ persons and families in order to learn to be allies who actively resist and overcome systemic injustices of all kinds.
Because we look forward to the time when every church in the UCC, in our country, and in our world senses the movement of the Spirit, recognizes that all persons belong to God, and fully celebrates people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in its life and ministry:
We strive for justice and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people within our congregation, and we support our ministers and laypeople who protest and speak out, and who advocate for equity in access to housing, health care, education, banking, and all other social institutions that disadvantage LGBTQ+ people.
We create Brave Spaces in our congregation and dedicate time for education, conversation, and discernment central to the journey of being an LGBTQ+ inclusive church, and we invite all congregations to create Brave Space specific to LGBTQ+ inclusion in their communities.
We hope for each and every congregation to one day prophetically and publicly commit to being an LGBTQ+ inclusive and Open and Affirming Church and to living out that commitment anew each day. We commitment to BE Church together, live into God’s extravagant welcome, and advocate for justice so that all people may know love, safety, belonging, and dignity.