Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
For some of you my sermon today might be rocky terrain because there are several topics that touch, and challenge us as a community of faith. These topics throw into question the absolute core of how we understand the Gospel message of Jesus, which is love, acceptance, inclusivity, living by just acts, ethical decision-making, kindness, humility, relationship, and above all peace.
War, racial injustice, abortion, economic justice, homosexuality, gender orientation and equality are not new issues, but ones that historically have impeded rather than advancing and enhancing the cause of Christ and Christian fellowship and understanding.
These issues can be divisive rather than unifying, which creates disharmony, chaos and sometimes violence of the most inhumane and despicable sort. I do not believe that is God’s intent, nor is it any of ours, at least I hope not. We must remember that unity in the body of Christ does not mean uniformity. Unity in the body of Christ means living with diversity, and balancing the dichotomy between tension and tolerance. It means listening to your fellow congregants even though you may not agree with them. It means hearing the opinions of others in an all-loving way. It then means finding consensus and common ground by which we may celebrate our universal humanity and faith and move into the future.
For the past 18 months we have embarked upon a journey to understand more fully what it means to become and Open and Affirming Church. Joan, Marilyn, Annette, Carol, Brad and Liz, Pat, and Stephanie have worked very hard to provide opportunities for education, to hear speakers and first hand stories, and to answer questions through our media outlets. I know that many of you have taken advantage of what they have offered. And I thank you for that as I thank this dedicated team for their loving and sensitive support and ways in which they have furthered our understanding of what would and will mean to be an open and affirming church.
The covenant that they wrote together is a beautiful, theologically based statement of affirmation of an all-loving and inclusive God and our response to this loving God. I fully support this statement with my intellect, my heart and my soul. Without any hesitation or doubt in my mind I believe that Orange Congregational is being led by God’s spirit and should become an Open and Affirming Congregation. It’s time and it is the right thing to do. It is not about fulfilling anyone’s agenda or aligning ourselves with any particular group, or getting involved in activities that we, as a whole, would not get involved in. It is simply not that.
It’s about genuine and pure Christian love. And welcome. And affirmation.
As your pastor I have watched and seen what is in your hearts over these past four years individually and collectively and I know that you love and care deeply for one another and that you care deeply for others as well. I understand that it would never be your intention to bar anyone from Christian faith and fellowship, that’s what makes you an already open and welcoming community. But open and affirming is a deeper commitment of welcome and inclusivity to a particular group of disenfranchised people, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning) community.
So why you might ask? Why now? Why should we become Open and Affirming if we already welcome all people? Because it is just time that we treat, accept and name the LGBTQ community as true members of the Body of Christ and not just political problems or issues. They are not, they are beloved and equal in the eyes of God. They are our brothers and sisters in faith who experience joy and sorrow, and who yearn to hear God’s word of hope, reconciliation and love.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon the church at large has historically done serious harm to people of the LGBTQ community. There are six passages only in the Bible and they are used to condemn homosexuality. Only six! The Bible has very little to say about sexuality in general but that’s all the Bible has to say about homosexuality.
As Rev. David Spollett of First Church Congregational, Fairfield said “There is no absolute categorical statement that homosexuality is bad nor is there a statement that it is good. This is just as true for heterosexuality.” He further notes, “I can’t tell you that the Bible affirms homosexuality. I can tell you and do tell you that it does NOT condemn homosexuality. Nor does Jesus condemn homosexuality. What the Bible does condemn is licentious behavior. It condemns abusive and violent behavior.” It is all about relationship. That is what these six passages address. We looked more fully at these passages earlier this year in study and indeed took the time to understand the Biblical context in which these passages were written.
“What the Bible does clearly stand for is the quality of relationships,” Spollett says. “The affirmation for good, the building up of one another, mutual support and respect in a relationship. The Bible affirms trusting, healing and loving relationships. God, through the words of scripture, affirms loyalty, fidelity, respect in the hope that souls gathered together in a trusting relationship may give glory to God.”[i]
And this is what we endeavor to do when we declare ourselves as an Open and Affirming congregation. To live in trusting relationship with one another allowing for varying opinions and thought and expression yet walking the way of Christ. As we put out handicapped signs to let someone who is differently physically-abled to let them know they are encouraged and accepted to be a part of our community, so too naming ourselves as ONA we let the LGBTQ community know that we encourage and will accept them as part of our community. We will not turn them away, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offered to all people. They do not have to hide who they are, but be affirmed for who they are, a beloved child of God. The Gospel of Christ does not discriminate.
I want to take a moment to read to you the Covenant prepared for us and will be considered for the vote directly after worship today.
Open and Affirming Covenant of Orange Congregational Church
Orange Congregational Church is an Open and Affirming congregation, believing that in God all people are uniquely and completely loved.
Led by our still-speaking God’s loving spirit, we welcome, respect and affirm all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, cultural background, religious back-ground, nationality, age, marital status, economic circumstances or physical, emotional or mental ability.
Our extravagant welcome is an invitation to participate in the full spiritual and organizational life of our church and to share in its joys, privileges, sacraments, blessings and responsibilities. We value the presence, gifts, companionship and contributions of all members of our congregation, even when our opinions may differ.
This covenant reflects the collective heart of our church. As a declared Open and Affirming congregation, and following Jesus’ example, we commit ourselves to the work of ending ignorance, fear, hatred, prejudice and discrimination against people considered to be different, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers.
We pray for God’s help in this journey of faith. Amen.
It is my deepest hope and prayer for you today that you will search your hearts and vote to accept this Covenant of understanding and love. Let us walk side by side in this journey together discovering new ways in which the Spirit of God is calling us here in Orange.
May God’s peace be with you this day and forever more.