April 11, 2023

From the Rector…

Faith and inclusion seem as if they would go hand in hand. Jesus was all about relationships. Relationships with his followers, with the marginalized and outcast, even relationship with the Temple and religious authority. He might call people out on their bad behavior or poor beliefs, but he was also always trying to help them reframe the way they saw the world and understood God. He was always trying to draw them closer in.

The church has spent the last two thousand years slowly figuring out how to be inclusive. We have always been really good at excluding people, and just in the last couple of hundred years have gotten better at acceptance over judgment. Don’t get me wrong—we are still good at judgment, unfortunately—but the Episcopal Church is growing into a place in which it can allow God to do the work of judgment as we try to figure out how to love one another versus exclude one another. (The big secret, of course, is that God’s work of judgment is to simply love us—all of us.) Though we are becoming more inclusive, we still have some work to do as I was reminded at a recent meeting of the Faith and Inclusion group at Huntingdon College where I was invited to speak this past week.

 A local Lutheran pastor, The Rev. Stephen Renner, and I sat down with students and faculty and had a conversation mainly in which we described our denominations and their views on inclusion. It was an interesting conversation and the students’ questions were courageous and demonstrated a desire not simply for knowledge but for acceptance. One particular young man, came up to me after the meeting was over and wanted to know more about the Episcopal Church. He told me several of his friends were Episcopal and they had told him how open and accepting the church was of people “like him.” He didn’t say it, but I realized he meant of LGBTQ+ people. Then he asked me, “Do y’all just say you accept people like me even though they are sinners? Or do you accept them because they are sinners?”

My heart broke. I realized that his sexuality, the very core of who he was—and something he could not help or change—had defined him as unacceptable to God and to the church. I looked at him and smiled and told him that I think the deeper question is how one defines sin. I don’t think sin is something you do—be it sex, drinking, smoking, cussing, lying, stealing, cheating, whatever. Those actions or behaviors might be signs of sin, red flags you need to pay attention to—but sin is something deeper. Sin is separation from God. When God created each of us, God put a little bit of God’s self into us. We call it our soul. Whenever we deny our soul, then we are in essence separating ourselves from God. To not accept who you are at the very core of your being is to not accept who God has created you to be and thus it is to separate yourself from God. Our job is to always move closer to who we truly are and thus closer to Christ—to God. 

The young man looked at me with a rather blank look and for a brief moment I thought I had completely misread the situation. But then he said, “Where is your church? Can I come to it?” I told him of course he could and how to find us. And then he told me that no church had ever told him that about sin.  It was a completely new way of thinking. He had always thought sin was an action not separation from God. In that moment, I could feel him begin to love himself for who he was—who God made him to be—instead of judging himself because he couldn’t live up to other people’s standards. It was one of those moments when you know that even though you are being pulled in a million directions and have so much on your plate, taking time out to talk to a group of people who have been wounded by the church and excluded in so many ways from the life of Jesus Christ is the most important thing you can do at Easter. I never even talked about Resurrection, but that is exactly what I think happened that night—a renewal of faith, a hope in what God can really do, a joy in discovering that one is acceptable no matter who you are.

Easter is a time of renewal and hope. It is an opportunity to focus on all that is good in the world because that is what God created the world to be. Instead of being distracted by all that is wrong with the world, spread the hope. And while you’re at it, tell some jokes and help people find their laughter again. Remember, Jesus is the LIFE of the party!

Light and Life,