Friday, July 5, 2013

Equal in Every Way

Sermon preached at a celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the Eve of Independence Day, celebrating a new step forward in equality (the striking down of DOMA):  Colossians 3:10-17, Luke 13:22-20

          “Equal in Every Way,” was the headline in the Democrat & Chronicle           “Equal in Every Way,” was the headline in the Democrat & Chronicle this past Thursday.  It took my breath away for the third time in twenty-four hours.  The first was on Wednesday when the ruling was announced, and the second when I read Justice Kennedy’s decision later that day.  A few words from it deserve to be quoted:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state­-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, …. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities. By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law…. By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state­ sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects …, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives

          Wow.  He got it (so I can’t for the life of me understand why he did not get the Voters’ Rights Act).  Anyway, it was one of those “I never thought I would see this day” days.  And what I felt myself overwhelmed with was gratitude.  So we are here this evening, doing what the Church in the sacramental tradition does whenever it wants to say thank you, celebrating the Eucharist together, that word that all on its own means “thanksgiving.”

          A reporter asked me if we were holding this Service to make some kind of statement.  I said, “Yes, a very simple one, ‘Thank you.’”  As Christian people that is our bounden duty and service.  Is it a helpful side effect of saying public thanks that at least some of the world gets to see and/or hear that not all Christians are opposed to equal marriage?  Sure.

          Because my husband John’s name and number were on the press release, it was he who got the call form a Roman Catholic gentlemen who was very concerned that our church was not reading the Bible and listening to the church’s teaching.  You know, it’s true, because they’ve told me so, that many traditionalist Christians actually believe that people like me stand up on Sunday and say things like, “Whatever you do, do not read the Bible. Only believe what the world is telling you!”

          No, we read the Bible and it is the same Bible as you, I have said, but we read it with different assumptions, and both of us need to be very careful about what those assumptions are.

          The Gospel reading we just heard is a very fine example.  If you assume that the Christian religion is primarily about exclusivity and judgment than you cannot hear it when Jesus actually makes a mockery of that religion.

          “Lord, will only a few be saved?”  It was a question from either someone who was worried about how to get in good with God or a rhetorical question from someone who wanted to justify herself.  The assumption is exclusivity and judgment.

          And it sounds like that is just what Jesus gives them, but pay attention.  Jesus does something in this passage that he does all the time.  He gives the questioner what he wants to hear—aha, there is a narrow door, difficult to enter.  Good, the door will strain out all the evildoers.

          But then Jesus turns the image on its head and says to the self-justifiers, “Your assumption of exclusivity is the narrow door that will keep you out.”  Because there is going to be a party, of people from places and times you cannot imagine—from north and south and east and west.  And you will be weeping and gnashing your teeth because of the people who are at that table whom you are sure were an abomination to the Lord.  You thought you would be first in all your moral uprightness and they would be last because they were unrepentant sinners.  But you were completely and utterly wrong.

          And folks who read the Bible and find a definition of marriage that is one man and one woman are only reading what they want to find.  It is not there.  At most you can say that it all began with one man and one woman, Adam and Eve.  Not Adam and Steve, as they say.

          Well, there was a black preacher in Washington, DC back when John and me lived there, who confessed to his congregation one day that he had been saying that all his life.  And he had to confess that it had suddenly dawned on him:  But who made Steve?  Somebody had to make Steve?  Where did Steve come from?

          And that’s the sum of the religious argument, isn’t it.  Who made Steve?  If homosexuality is a natural part of human creation, than the answer is God.  And if the answer is God….

          So let me say it loud and clear.  The Episcopal Church said it first in 1976.  Gay men and lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are children of God.  Their love for one another is no more or less sinful than any other people’s love for one another.  They deserve a full and equal place in the church and as citizens of this country.  Love is love is love.  The love between two women or two men can produce the fruits of the Spirit as outlined by St. Paul in Galatians, and if they can do that then they can be used for the glory of God, and if they can be used for the glory of God, then…well, you get the point.

          I know I am preaching to the choir, but the choir can say, “Amen.”

          To believe that love that glorifies God and helps fulfill Jesus’ most fervent prayer that the kingdom of God come “on earth as it is in heaven,” is still inherently sinful because of the genders of the participants is to miss the main point of the Gospel.  It is not biblical to say that God sees gay and lesbian couples as inherently sinful.  It is, in fact, wicked to do so, and about as close to a sin against the Holy Spirit as any of us should ever want to get.

          Yet that is the message that people in 37 states are still getting, and it serves only to demean and weaken families of all kinds and causes the self-inflicted death of untold numbers of young people who think they do not deserve to live because God hates something that is at the very heart of who they are and that they cannot change.

          Which is why, of course, we are by no means done, especially in the church.  Even progressive churches have a ways to go.  Yes, we in the Episcopal Church can practice equal marriage, but only as a “generous pastoral response.”  Our Prayer Book and Canons still define marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

          I have spent my entire life as a gay man—30 years now—trying to change the church and being blamed for its decline.  First equality for the black people and then ordination for the women and then openly gay couples in the pews, it is no wonder that God fearing people have left the church in droves goes the argument.

          I have two things to say about that.  First of all, I suspect that God does not care half as much as we do about the number of people in the pews.  Second of all, what God does care about is love.  It is the only thing that matters. It is the only thing that has saved us; it is the only thing that is saving us; and it will be the only thing that will save us forever.  And if it has taken draining the pews for the people of God to get that and develop the urgency to act on it, then so be it.

          “Christ is all in all!” proclaims our brother Paul.  Forget about dividing the world up into categories, good, bad or indifferent.  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful.”  It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.

          Thank you, God for bringing us a little closer to your kingdom, even if it was two steps forward and one step back.  Just give us the courage and the urgency to tell the truth about love and live it like the life of the world depended on it. Because it does.

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