Reconciling in Christ Sunday

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, The young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. "That laundry is not very clean", she said. "She doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap." Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, The young woman would make the same comments. About a month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband: “Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this.” The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”  This woman was intent on judging her neighbor - seeing things only from her limited perspective – assuming she was right and the young neighbor was in error.

Often God’s people are guilty of being judgmental. This has been a problem from the beginning of time. Jesus fought this judgmental/limiting attitude throughout his ministry. Jesus countered the dominant view held by those who grew up in the Jewish faith – a view that centered on excluding others by labeling them unclean. The religion of Jesus’ day excluded those who were ill, the dying, lepers, the lame, the blind, those with mental health issues who were labeled as possessed by demons and on and on. Limiting those included to a select group that met certain criteria was central to the faith. The circle of inclusion was small and exclusive.

Jesus broadened the circle to include all of God’s people. Jesus touched those who had been labeled unclean healing them, restoring sight and ability to walk and in the process restoring those he touched to the community that had previously excluded them. Jesus’ life ministry was about reaching those that the religious leaders of the day had taught should be excluded. Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation and restoration of relationship to God for ALL people was met with resistance from the religious establishment of his day. This ministry of reconciliation was at least in part responsible for Jesus finding himself hanging on a cross of wood with common criminals on either side of him. His widening of the circle of inclusion to include ALL of God’s people was too radical for the religious leaders of his day to handle.

I fear if Jesus were here today that his radical welcome and hospitality would be too much for some of the religious leaders of our day to handle as well. Jesus would challenge and stretch us to make the circle of inclusion ever wider so that ALL of God’s people would find a home in the church that bears the name of Christ.

The certificate in the narthex dated April 8, 2004 says that: Augustana Lutheran Church has adopted an Affirmation of Welcome to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities and is recognized as a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This designation as a Reconciling in Christ congregation is one of the things that drew me to place my name in for the call to serve as your pastor. It makes a statement that this congregation has intentionally chosen to be welcoming to a community of people that, have been, and are still being, excluded from many churches that bear the name of Christ.

It’s a statement of the wideness of inclusion in this community and in my experience here in the last three months it isn’t just words but is something that lives and breathes in the congregation. Is that where our responsibility ends? Are we only responsible for the welcome that people feel when they enter our worship space? What I have been struggling with recently is the question: Is it okay just to say that we agree to disagree on this issue and then go on with life? What type of message does that send to those who are still being excluded – those who are being judged by the churches in which they were raised – churches that once wrapped them in the nurturing arms of Sunday school teachers, confirmation guides and caring Pastors?

A woman struggling with some of these same questions shares the following story of her struggles after a young woman asked her the question “Why does God hate me?”:

The woman goes on to say: What would you say to her?  If she really wanted an answer, what would you say?  Very few would tell her that God hates her, yet this is the dominant message.  Some would tell her she needs to change her sexual orientation for God to have a relationship with her.

The reality is that most of us know something is wrong with both of those messages.  Most of us believe that God loves unconditionally and half of us already believe sexual orientation is not changeable.  We may not understand the issue well enough to verbalize anything, so we stay silent.

Ten years ago, I too was in that spot, not at all unkind to the gay community, just doing my Christian thing in my Christian heterosexual world.  I had ceded my “kinder” voice to those who stand on street corners and in pulpits and passionately preach “homosexuality is an abomination.”  This is the minority voice that is heard by the gay community.  I go to Gay Pride events often and do not see Christians equally and passionately declaring a “Jesus loves you” message.

So, what would you say to this darling young woman as she pleads with you for an answer?  It is time to find your voice in this equation.  As the silent majority conveniently avoids the dialogue, people are walking away from Christianity and hating us, thinking we hate them.  We get lumped in with the intolerant and hateful.  Have you found yourself saying, “Oh, I am not that kind of Christian,” in defense?  Well, what kind of Christian are you then?  The kind that stands at a comfortable distance while gay people hear select pieces of Scripture and not the message of love?  What drew you to God?  The condemnation or the love?  You may not know where you are on this issue, but silence and indecision occupy a position in this dialogue.  By default, your voice is thrown in with the loud “you must change” voice.

In our reading from 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation – a ministry begun in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It seems to me that a ministry of reconciliation moves beyond the walls of the church. It seems to me that this ministry is part of our daily lives – part of our very existence. By not lending our voice of support – by not refuting the most public Christian view regarding sexual orientation – we by default are assumed to be in agreement with that view. I know this is a soap box I am on right now related to many things in the church. I am increasingly convinced that we can’t just sit by and watch as the public Church judges and condemns without standing up and saying we don’t agree with that.

If churches that believe in God’s grace, and not God’s judgment and wrath, don’t find a way to stand up and say that isn’t the God in whom we all believe then we have no reason to complain that young people are drawing away from the church because they find the church irrelevant to what they have learned in their lives. It’s not that young people don’t long for a spiritual connection to God, it’s that they don’t understand the views of the church in many areas, one of which is the exclusion of people based on who they love.

Today as we celebrate our Reconciling in Christ Sunday, I invite each one of us to recommit ourselves to the continued work of seeking justice for those that society and the church continue to short change. We who have been given the ministry of reconciliation – who have been called to love our neighbors as ourselves – must continue to seek justice for those that society would exclude or limit the rights of.  Steps of progress have been made, but the journey for justice is not yet complete. Amen.