When Paul started to share his story to the people gathered as followers of Jesus in Galatia and Colossae and in Corinth, he was compelled to include an admonition – this from Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
For Paul, the dividing labels and distinctions used by the world are no longer in effect for the people of God. The binary world – where racial, social, and sexual barriers thrive – should no longer be in effect for Christ Jesus has broken down those humanly-erected walls of division. Yes, Jesus came to break down the walls of division so that a new reality of inclusion leading to unity could become. And Jesus invites his disciples to that work as well.
Now we know that we live in a deeply divided world, where one group can have their cake and eat it too but the other group – well they apparently are allowed to even have their cake. But this isn’t news and, if we’re honest, it’s probably not all that surprising. Human history is wrought with the “uses” and the “thems”.
But oddly, I think, the followers of Jesus have not come to grips with the wide – and sometimes wild – diversity that exists in our world. We have been fearful, easily intimidated by inclusivity. But in our history, some of the most appalling behavior you can imagine was perpetrated on some in the church by others in the church in the name of the Church. Some of the most horrific statements were made by some in the church against others in the church in the name of the Church. But, bearing the wounds and bruises of a long struggle, we finally came to the answer that no one should be excluded from the fellowship of God’s people.
For over forty years, the Episcopal Church has wrestled with what it would mean to be truly inclusive of its LGBTQ children. At its General Convention in 1976, the Episcopal Church declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” In 2015, the canons of the Church were changed to make the rite of marriage – the last stronghold of exclusivity – available to all people, regardless of gender. At this year’s General Convention, that same Church will propose making those changes permanent and binding.
And this is because the binary world – where racial, social, and sexual barriers thrive – should no longer be in effect for Christ Jesus has broken down those humanly-erected walls of division. And this is for all barriers that we put up – against the poor, against immigrants, against Muslims, against Hispanics, against those who just want a cake for their wedding….So, how do we relate to these neighbors in our town?
About a year ago, I came across an article about a new branding effort by the city of Evansville, Indiana. “E is for everyone,” the new slogan went. What great potential! I was thinking about that for Lakeland – “L is for love” or maybe we could borrow from a local un-named business, “Lakeland, were loving everyone is a pleasure.” It offers a vision of who we can be in Lakeland. And it offers a challenge for each of us to reach out to another, to make the whole even more whole.
It also offers a vision of what the church should be – a place for everyone where everyone is loved. That’s because God is for everyone and God’s people are for everyone.
“I say to you all, once again,” to quote the fiery headmaster of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Dumbledore, “in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
Division, discord, enmity – these we have in abundance. With authentic welcome, true community, deep bonds of friendship in the Spirit of God, and trust in our God’s promise to be with us and never leave us or forsake us,
“Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard, And loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter, All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
For now and evermore. Amen.