Last week was my (Marlene’s) turn to preach. As many of you heard, the lesson was chosen by council, Galatians 5: 13 – 26 to help shed scriptural understanding on our fourth guiding principle: ‘Gladly serving as the hands and voice of Christ.” The text focused on our freedom in Christ and Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors as ourselves. True freedom comes when you live a life as one who God created you to be, and in discovering who we are, we discover the richness and freedom that comes with caring deeply about others and helping them discover who God created them to be. We do this through gladly serving as the hands and voice of Christ. Some examples were given.
Our 23-year-old son was home from NY for a visit last weekend – a last minute trip. We were thrilled to see him and have him spend a few days with us. Having grown up at Zion, he wanted to come to church and see people he knows and cares about. After the sermon at the first service, I went to sit with him. He was angry and deeply hurt. I have had time to reflect on this and would like to share our story and my reflections.
About 3 years ago, our son came to us and shared that he was gay. We had previously wrestled with the “what ifs” of a parent and we weren’t overly surprised, but it did take some adjustment. The bottom line is that we love our son, and would much rather him be honest about who he was created to be, rather than live a lie and try to hide it or deny it. It is also clear that God created all people with a deep need to love and be loved. At this point our son has learned to be comfortable in his own skin, something we are very thankful for.
Last week the Supreme Court made the decision to allow gays and lesbians to marry and for the marriage to be recognized in any state. Of course, there is controversy about this decision. The ELCA neither endorses or forbids gay marriage, leaving the decision up to pastors and individual congregations to discern their actions. I chose not to mention this in the sermon at the first service for a multitude of reasons. However, when I sat with our son, his anger and tearfulness resulted because it hadn’t been mentioned. He shared how this decision was huge in the gay and lesbian community. He shared how gays have felt marginalized and do not feel comfortable coming to church, because they do not feel like they fit in. He said unless the church talks about it, that will not change.
In our country, marriage is the word that is used when two people have committed their lives to one another and bind that commitment through a legal process. With marriage come many legal benefits. Spouses can be covered by the others’ insurance; IRA, pension and social security benefits; tax benefits, legal rights; an advantage buying a home; visitation in the hospital; the list goes on and on. To deny someone equal rights under the law because of who they choose their partner to be, is a justice issue – a civil rights issue. Regardless of how we may or may not feel individually about gay and lesbian marriage itself, we read over and over in scripture that fairness and justice is important to God. The Supreme Court act was about equality in the eyes of the law, which is a justice issue.
Here at Zion our congregation voted to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation in 2011. We said that we wanted all people to know that they are welcome here and can participate fully in the life of the church. This included gay and lesbian people. It meant handicapped people and led to the decision to make our entrance handicap accessible. Reconciling in Christ congregations advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations. “They provide a place of comfort and safety, reach out to teach that Christ’s message, the Gospel, is for everyone equally and advocate for systemic change in policy and practice in church and society, working to alleviate not only the painful symptoms of oppression but also to eliminate its root causes.” (From ReconcilingWorks.org).
If we are to take this seriously, as a congregation we need to continue to discuss what this means for us and keep working to make sure people do not feel marginalized, but welcomed as a child of God.