Who is excluded in today’s church? For many years, women, people of color, and gays and lesbians were actively excluded from full participation in the church’s life. While we have made strides in our society toward inclusion, significant barriers still exist. Women are still denied full ministerial status in some Christian traditions and even in those that do the balance of leadership continues to tip toward male-dominance. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once lamented that the most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning, and even now, fifty years after he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, we must admit that far too little has changed. As I write this, the Rev. Frank Schaefer is facing the prospect of getting defrocked over his support of gay and lesbian unions in the United Methodist Church.
While we may have come far in the Christian church in terms of inclusion, we still must confess that we have a long way to go. A challenge that I would offer today for preachers or other leaders in churches is to see that we have a clear Biblical mandate for inclusion. It’s not just the cool thing on today’s political landscape. It’s imbedded in scripture, embodied in our tradition from our earliest Council and the very foundation of Christian beginnings. Epiphany is not just a nice time of thinking about the light of a star and the Christ child getting some neat gifts. It’s about the full inclusion of the people of God everywhere. As we consider some different readings this year, hopefully this will provide our churches with an opportunity to see this truth more plainly and celebrate it more fully than we might otherwise do.