It’s going to be a great day at my church tomorrow. My congregation has been open and affirming since before that was a thing. So at our place, the news of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage will be met with rejoicing. There will be a special prayer. There will probably be cheering. We might haul the kids’ noisemakers out of the closet. I know, and it’s not even Christmas!
But in other congregations, there will be a sharp, icy chill in the air. I’m not talking about the churches where everyone—pastors, leaders, and members alike—are CERTAIN that this decision signals the end-times, and that all LGBT people and allies have just purchased a 1st class, 1-way ticket to hell. I’m talking about the places where SOME of the members feel like that… but not all. Places where maybe the pastor and many members are quiet allies, knowing that there would be a mass exodus if they ever said so out loud.
In other words… most congregations in most mainline denominations.
Those churches have found ways to peacefully co-exist, up until now. Maybe there’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach… unspoken but agreed upon. Or maybe they’ve just “agreed to disagree,” and have found ways to focus on the things they hold in common, rather than rocking the boat with controversial issues. While I question the authenticity of both those arrangements, I respect them—and appreciate the pastors who live faithfully in those places, seeking to build bridges where they can, while also keeping their jobs. I know that’s an impossibly tough job sometimes.
But this week, it is nearly impossible for a pastor to step into the pulpit and not address the news—and what it means for the Church in our time and place. So, if you’re in a church that is not exactly cracking out the noisemakers tomorrow… what can you say? Here are a few sermon ideas, for the weary leaders in that middle place:
- 1 Corinthians 13: On love, and loving mystery. You can talk about love all day long, and how we are called to love each other above all else, etc. But also in this scripture is an interesting connection of love to mystery… You explore the theme of how vast God is, how little we truly know of the universe and the human experience… and how our assumptions that we have ANYthing figured out—much less that we have EVERYthing figured out—are harmful to the human family, the church, and the gospel itself. God is a mystery. Love is a mystery. How do we find some comfort in the unknowns, and love each other where/when we are?
- Matthew 7 ““Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Well… and I guess that one is pretty dang straightforward. If you were REALLY cool, you could just read that passage and then go sit down. Mic drop.
- Ephesians 4 (or any one of the Epistles) re: Unity in the Body of Christ. We don’t have to agree on everything to be Church together. And we don’t have to agree on ANYthing to be part of human family together.
- Just about ANYthing from Acts, and discuss the value of community, over and above the value of who is right or wrong. This value is, and always has been, important to the spread of the gospel.
- Any of the miracle stories— Jesus doesn’t just heal people. Jesus restores to community all who have been rejected. No conditions, no big conversion. In Jesus’ ministry, bringing people back into the fold of human relationship was an important part of their overall wholeness and well-being. How might the church follow that practice of reaching out and restoring relationship—with ALL people?
- Matthew 7, take two. Hey, man, you’ve got something in your eye there… Oh, wait, it’s a LOG. Yeah, I’ve got one too… So, this one can get tricky. Many of us don’t believe that homosexuality IS a sin—and suggesting otherwise can be really harmful. However, if you know that much of your congregation is CERTAIN it is a sin… you could preach a really powerful sermon questioning whether they are willing to put their own ‘sin’ under a microscope… If you are brave enough to go this route, I’d suggest you couch it with a big “IF you believe _____ is sinful,” and then go from there to discuss/question why some sins have become so socially acceptable, while others have become a pariah…And then focus on the sins that we ALL commit, (probably daily); and begin to change the conversation. Again, this one’s a risk. But it’s also got transformation potential.
- Genesis 1, and Romans 8. Yes, both together. We are, all of us, created in God’s image. And as such, Nothing (neither height nor depth, etc) can separate us from the love of God.
- Galatians 3 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman, etc. … This letter was written to a specific community in a specific time and place. What do you reckon it would say now, if Paul was writing to us? Neither black nor white? Progressive mainliner nor conservative fundamentalist? There is neither gay nor straight. There is neither Democrat nor Republican (!!) You could go on for a bit like this…
- Of course, you could just skip straight to Communion, and talk about all the things we have in common—even down to the basic need for bread. And all the ways God holds us together in these bonds of faith and witness.
- Micah 6: What does the Lord require of you? Justice; kindness; walk humbly… It can really be just that simple. This is what has been asked of us. We aren’t the boss of anybody. We don’t have to manage or manipulate someone’s life in order to love them or be kind. The law of our land does not have to reflect our own personal beliefs. etc. Be loving. Be kind. Be HUMBLE. Emphasize that last point, and we can all get along just fine.
Of course, you could do any combination of these scriptures and talk about how the Church has changed and evolved over time—from one conflict to the next, from Acts until now. For each generation, the most difficult, but most important task of ministry is finding places to be together, in the middle— and at the edges —of great change.
In some of our places, this is not a time to celebrate moderation. It is a time to embrace the radical love and inclusion that is beginning to move outwards, from our congregations and into the world around us. There is a tremendous need right now for churches that are equipped to welcome and embrace LGBT folks; it is critical for the survival of our own communities, and for the gospel itself, that we have all of their gifts and voices at the table. There is an urgency to begin (or continue) the healing that must be done, if they are to feel safe and included.
But we also need churches for the people who are not yet sure… places for those who are struggling, questioning, wondering… Even for those who are angry and afraid. We do not have to let those voices define us, or stop progress… But if we mean what we say about unity, and places at the table, we are all still one Body in the meantime; even as we figure out how to be all “together, in one place.” My prayers are with the leaders of those churches right now, as they teach their folks to live together in uncertainty, and love through seasons of discomfort.
All this said,: Many congregations that THINK they are stuck in the middle on this—whatever that might mean— do, in fact, have the gifts to be welcoming, inclusive and diverse; they are ALMOST READY to move ahead. They just need some good leadership to nudge them ahead.
More on that to come next week…
Meanwhile—blessings and peace all around. Say what’s true. Love your folks. All will be well.