When you were a kid, do you remember belonging to a club? It may have met in one corner of the front porch, or maybe in the hayloft, or maybe even in a treehouse. Your club may not have had a name, but one thing it surely had was a sign – and probably the sign said something like, “No girlz allowed.” In the comics, that’s girls with a “Z” at the end.
Probably down the lane a ways there was another clubhouse that also had a sign out front, only this sign said, “No boyz allowed.” That’s boys with a ”Z” at the end.
Either way, you get the picture. Whoever else might be in your club, you sure didn’t want one of that other kind. Here’s it’s boys only; there it’s girls only. These are exclusive clubs, you see. They have standards.
There are still plenty of clubs like those, though the signs may now be invisible so as not to violate antidiscrimination laws. If yours is a public club, it must be open to everyone. If yours is a truly private club, it may be a somewhat different story.
You may be surprised to hear that the church is neither a public nor a private club. The church is altogether a different thing. The church is a creation of God. It is open to all God’s children.
Some churches seem to think that their members, and theirs alone, are God’s children – and all those other folks, well, presumably they’re somebody’s spawn but certainly not God’s. Let me say this plainly. These churches have it all wrong. Every human being is precious because every human being is created in the image of God. You’ve heard the saying, “God don’t make no trash.” Let me add to that. God don’t make no bastards either. Every human being is a beloved child of God.
Well, now I’ve done it. Not only have I offended some people who want to think that their church is an exclusive club. I’ve doubly offended them by using a word they think should never be said in church. But I think there are a lot worse words that should not be used in church, and those are words of exclusion and bigotry and hatred. When we use those words in church, we might as well be cursing God right to God’s face.
I have a confession I must make. It requires a little introduction. We are one of only two Reconciling Ministries churches in the Five Rivers District. That is, we publicly support the full participation of all persons in church life. As our website says, “We believe that all people are called to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.” And all means all, right?
The Reconciling Ministries people recently decided to update their statement of inclusion. We’ll eventually have to decide as a church whether we want to sign off on the change. The new statement is not a lot different from the old one. It’s mostly just longer, because it lists more people who might be unwelcome in some churches.
It begins: “We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation…”
The first time I read that, it occurred to me that the statement includes people who are transgender. For a moment, I was unsure about that. Do I want to “welcome and affirm” people who’ve changed from one sex to the other?
Then it occurred to me. First, how am I going to know? Second, what business is it of mine? I don’t think I know anyone who’s transgender. But I recall that some years ago I didn’t think I knew anyone who was gay, and God sure opened my eyes on that.
Whatever your sex or sexual orientation, you are made in the image of God, who transcends all sexual differences. Therefore, you ought to be welcome in any church that claims a relationship with God. I just can’t see it any other way.
I know some people cry, “These people are sinners!” Find me someone who’s not. “No,” some say, “These people are special sinners!” Well, what kind of special sinner are you? Do you really think your sins make you superior to anyone else?
Abraham Lincoln said it well in a speech he made in 1858 Lewistown, Illinois, during his debates with Stephen F. Douglas. He said the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence was that no person “stamped with the divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.”
Friends, this is Human Relations Day. It’s a day set aside by the United Methodist Church in anticipation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday. Today we especially remember King’s dream that one day all Americans would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and one day all Americans might be united in what he called “beloved community.”
We are as far from that ideal as ever. In recent weeks we have seen the election of a black man and a Jewish man to the Senate from Georgia, and the election of a woman of color as vice president. These are huge leaps forward in human relations, but they are leaps forward from so far back that they seem hardly measurable.
We measure such progress in inches, while every moment of every day millions of Americans are still deprived of basic rights – not just privileges but basic rights – because of the color of their skin or the country they were born in or their birth language or any of the many other idiotic ways that some people seek to enforce an advantage over others. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about some people trying to take advantage of others; robbing them of what’s theirs by birthright as children of God.
If nothing else, fairness demands that we change – fairness, and our national charter and, oh yes, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to announce grace and peace to all the world, with no exceptions.
After the assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, our bishop also has declared this a day of healing and hope. We are a long way from healing, but maybe there is some hope.
January 6 was Epiphany, a day of revelation and unveiling of truth. Surely what we saw in Washington was a sort of epiphany. We saw clearly that day how deeply our nation needs healing and how much we need hope.
We also saw clearly that some people want vengeance rather than healing, and they place their hope in the violent destruction of their enemies. While relying on our police forces to maintain order, we have to stand firmly against the forces of disorder without resorting to violent means ourselves.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:6). You can tell who the peacemakers are. They’re the ones who have bruises all over their bodies because they’ve been pummeled by both sides.
The prophet Isaiah calls such people “repairers of the breach” (Isaiah 58.12). To repair the breach in our land, we cannot be ones who lamely say, “There are good people on both sides.” Because some of the people involved are not good people.
The ones who stormed the Capitol last week with weapons and other implements of destruction, who savagely beat police officers who got in their way, who randomly destroyed public property, who ransacked the quarters of legislators and carried rope and zip ties in case they encountered one – these were not good people.
Nor can we excuse the behavior of those who helped incite this insurrection by reckless rhetoric and lies about a stolen election. Was it only last week that we renewed our pledge to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”? If only we’d known how timely that pledge was.
It is never easy to stand up for truth and goodness and stand against falsehood and evil. But we who are committed followers of the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life must take this stance. And if that makes us unpopular in some quarters – well, we already know we aren’t welcome in some clubhouses, don’t we? We also know that we are welcome in that great assembly that counts the most – the great family of God.
Even then, there will inevitably be disagreements among us. I’m sure that some among you may take sharp exception to what I’ve said today, or the way I’ve said it. As I’ve said previously, you are free to disagree with me. I’ll still love you, and I hope you’ll still love me. But we must stand united in the hope of Christ because we share the love of Christ.
In the spirit of that love, I invite you to join me in a prayer that captures the gentle spirit of Saint Francis, whether he actually used these words or not. Would you pray with me?
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith in you.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
and to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
These are words of hope that remind us of our God of hope and healing.
I think my grandson Theo can instruct us today. Theo is six years old, but sometimes he shows an understanding and maturity that surpasses that of many adults.
In a phone call the other day, he remarked, “We all need to do things to make people happy.”
Theo suggests that one way to make people happy is to send them a fun box. A fun box could contain some jokes (Theo loves jokes, the cornier the better). Or it might have a puzzle in it, or a game or a book, or maybe some cookies or a plastic flower. Your biggest limit here may be your own imagination.
But there’s more. Once you receive a fun box, Theo says, you need to send one to someone else. That way, we’ll all get a fun box in the mail from someone, and we’ll all know that somebody cares for us.
I think those are splendid ideas, and not just because they come from my grandson.
In coming weeks as you pray daily for healing and hope, why don’t you try contributing to healing and hope by doing something to make another person feel loved? If not a fun box, maybe you could send just a card or a note. Keep it simple, and keep it going, for as long as you are able.
This message was delivered January 17, 2021, online to Edgerton United Methodist Church, from Isaiah 58:10-13.
Isaiah 58:10-13 (NIV and NRSV)
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Benediction from Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.