No Exclusions Included

Rev. Martha Jacobs
No Exclusions Included
Romans, 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Sunday, September 10, 2017

In my September Carillon article, I ended by writing about what happened in Charlottesville and how ALL are welcome to our table – even those who would not want to welcome us to their table. They are welcome here.

Well, those words came back to haunt me as I read through the Nashville Statement shortly after the Carillon went out. In case you don’t know what the Nashville Statement is or perhaps did not have the stomach to read through it, the “Nashville Statement” came out of a meeting of “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” held in Nashville, TN. It was signed by 150 Evangelical ministers, half of whom are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

It attacks and condemns “just about any aspect of sexuality, gender identity or relationship that doesn’t fall within the patriarchal, heteronormative worldview of its fundamentalist signatories.” They basically state that people like me, who are LGBT, are not welcome nor accepted by God – it says more than that, but that is all I want to say from this pulpit about their statement of hate and exclusion.

After reading their statement, I remembered what I wrote in the Carillon and found myself thinking, “I don’t think I would want them at a table over which God has called me to preside.” Now, that is antithetical to what I usually say and some of you may be uncomfortable by my having thought that. And, I know that I am taking a risk by sharing my gut-feeling thoughts with you about this, but I try to be as honest as I can when I stand here before you. And, as you know, that sometimes includes my owning up to things that I am not too proud of. But, I do know that with God’s grace, I am able to claim my feelings and also talk about how my heart has been affected by what has happened, and, is happening in our world. I am forever hopeful that as I share with you what is happening inside of me, you are able to relate to it either by sharing similar feelings about the same situation, or relating it to a situation within your own life.

Through writing this sermon, I have come full circle to where I would welcome ALL to God’s table with me, even those who would not welcome me to their table. My sermon this morning will shed some light on how I moved from exclusion of those who would condemn me and by extension you, since you called me to serve you, to inclusion of them at our table.

While doing some research through Google after reading this “statement,” a link caught my eye. It was a listing for “Christians United.” I clicked on it and it took me to an op-ed piece by Rev. Brandan Robertson.

Brandan Robertson used to be a conservative pastor, but came out as a gay man about 4 years ago. He was publicly rejected and shamed by the very community that had previously ordained him to ministry and had supported his work for many years. Brandon has continued to minister and is now an author and activist working at the intersections of spirituality, sexuality and social renewal. To his credit, he has consciously tried to maintain relationships with his Evangelical colleagues and friends. The piece I came upon was published by NBC. I will be quoting from that op-ed piece this morning because it reflects many of my own feelings and helped me deal with them.

Brandan wrote that, when he read the Nashville Statement… he “felt like [he] had come to a turning point. If in 2017, in the midst of all of the dire issues facing our nation and our world, evangelical leaders felt that the best use of their energy was to issue an uncalled for statement solidifying their condemnation of LGBT+ community, [he] felt like [he] had little reason to engage further with such people. He noticed that “there is nothing truly original or surprising about any of it. All of the signatories have been barking out the same condemnations for decades, and, none of the positions are surprising. But, as he noted, they are nonetheless infuriating.

He wrote that “they’re infuriating because they so clearly perpetuate false information that will be used to abuse and exclude LGBT+ youth from churches, schools, and families. They are infuriating because they give theological justification to the actions of [who he considers to be] an immoral President and whose actions are un-American and that [they] further marginalize the LGBT+ community. They’re infuriating because thousands of lay people will mindlessly digest this information and spread it through their churches. They’re infuriating because they paint a picture for the world of Christians that do not represent the growing majority of people of faith who are thoroughly inclusive.”

That’s why, “after reading this despicable statement, [he] decided to draft “Christians United,” a statement of Christians who support LGBT+ inclusion in the Church and society. In this statement, Rev. Robertson writes, “we unashamedly name and condemn non-inclusive religious teachings as psychologically harmful to LGBT+ people. We declare that all those who faithfully seek to follow in the way of Jesus must embrace the diversity of LGBT+ people as a reflection of God’s own creativity. We declare that the future of the Church will be one in which LGBT+ people are embraced and celebrated at every level of leadership.

This statement is the exact opposite of everything the Nashville Statement represents. Within the first 24 hours that this Christians United statement was created, over 1,000 clergy from around the world signed it, including me.

I am raising this today, because, as you know, it is not only the LGBT community that has been under attack, but anyone who is different because of their skin color, their cultural background, their religious affiliation, their gender, their heritage or where they were born or where their parents were born. Unless they meet some unwritten criteria about being of what used to be called “the dominant culture”, which, by the way, also excludes women, particularly women who are single mothers or work outside the home or who are independent thinkers and leaders, no one, except heterosexual white males (and perhaps not even all of them) is immune from this hate-filled rhetoric. Especially those in congregations like this, that support open and affirming churches.

Our readings today, fit right in to what is happening in our world because Jesus stood for those who were excluded. He doesn’t say, “Where two or three conservative ministers are gathered, or two or three Caucasian males gather, he will be present. No, he says where two or three of you are gathered, whoever you are and no matter if you are a woman, a child, Chinese, Mexican, Hispanic, Black, white, lesbian, gay, poor or rich or speak proper English, or have physical or mental or emotional challenges. No – wherever 2 or 3 of you who believe in me are gathered, I will be there with you.

Jesus is showing us the importance of relationships and Christian communities. It is not so much about settling disputes as it is about teaching us about creating an environment where Christ’s presence continues to bring forgiveness, healing and joy. As we all know, relationships take work. Community is hard to nourish. Authentic community is hard, but, as we here at FCC have demonstrated time and time again, it is powerful and healing and a tremendous witness to God’s love in our world.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul asks that people put aside works of darkness and put on the armor of light and live honorably. I believe that to live honorably, means to treat others as equals, as welcome to God’s table, as fellow travelers on this road as we try to make life better not only for ourselves, but for those who have less than we have.

These two readings, which were the lectionary readings for today, helped me move from a heart filled with anger and fear and doubts about whether or not I could sit at God’s table with those who would so blatently not only condemn me, but anyone who is different. Being in community is hard, forgiving is hard, treating those who would treat me as less than, as ones who are loved by God, is hard. But, that is what I am called to do. And, so are all of us. We can agree to disagree. We can be at opposite ends of the political spectrum but, Jesus will be with us when we are together. So, who am I to say “no” to someone who wants to come to God’s table? It is between them and God. My job is to welcome all, knowing that Jesus joins with me at our table and at every table.

I am so proud that we have open hearts and open minds and open doors. Being a sanctuary where all are welcome is at the core of this church and it is at my core, which is why I could not stay where I was – wanting to keep out those who would keep me out. God expects more from me. God expects me to gather with those evangelical leaders and show them that I am not an abomination, I am a beloved child of God, just as they are, and just as each and every one of you are.

I want to end by sharing with you a message that someone posted on our Facebook page this summer: “Recently I had occasion to drive by your congregation. It was a beautiful, sunny windy day and I saw your PRIDE flag swaying in the breeze. I wanted to say Thank You! Please know how affirming this gesture is to the LBGT! Community and to their families.” She ended with: “From the proud mom of a gay son.”

Dear ones, as we demonstrate every day that our flag is displayed outside, there are no exclusions included here and we open our hearts, our minds and our doors to all people. And yes, God is present with us, whether there are two or three or 103. I would like to end my sermon today by asking you to join me and turn to Hymn 263 – Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this place. Please remain seated and join me in affirming God’s presence with us.

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