Last week, as the people of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church in Portland, Ore., prepared to march in the annual Pride Parade, the two congregations held a joint worship service where Matthew 25: 31-46 -- some of the most familiar and important words spoken by Jesus -- were read.
At the moment of judgment -- and these moment actually occur more frequently than we perhaps understand -- Jesus tells those around him that the Kingdom is available only to those who have done acts of mercy for the least of these, those who are the outcasts of society but front and center in the heart of God. As the hymn goes, God's eye is on the sparrow. Our God is a God who watches over the powerless and keeps the powerful in check. There are no strangers in God's house. We are all known and loved. And we are all called to do acts of justice and kindness as we walk humbly before our God.
We hear the Kingdom talked about in at least two different ways: as eternal life and the realm of God in the here and now. It was in the here and now that Jesus seemed to place most of his attention.
In a world such as ours it is difficult to envision the Kingdom existing but it is here now -- all around us -- in small places, in short moments. Each time we act to improve the lot of others the Kingdom comes and we are closer with God. When we act against God -- when we hate, fight unjust wars, ignore the hungry and those living in poverty -- we move further and further away from God and exile ourselves from the Kingdom God has envisioned for us.
Right now our nation is in the midst of a great civil rights struggle that will one way or another define how we as a people will regard those who are gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning about their sexuality. This is the kind of debate that would have been familiar to Jesus. The debates of his time often centered on who was welcome in the community. Were women welcome? Were foreigners welcome? Were people of different religions welcome? Were those society deemed unclean welcome? Jesus always welcomed everyone. He set an example for us to follow. He taught that the great test of life was how we treat one another. Do we respond with love to one another or not?
A female clergy person wrote last week to say my views on "homosexuality" were Satan inspired and that I was leading Portland into hell with my teachings (who knew I wielded such power?). In response, I wrote:
"If you truly believe this you should be consistent and submit to my Biblical authority as a man and believe as I do... Of course, I don't actually want you to do that. You should think for yourself -- no matter what the Bible might say."
After all, a "literal" reading of Scripture generally assumes that women should not preach or be clergy. She replied that I had surrendered my Biblical authority by preaching that "homosexuality" was not a sin. Had I preached a message she agreed with this person would have apparently submitted to me but since she disagreed she has her own viewpoint which only goes to show you should never respond to emails like these.
You see, homosexuality is still not a sin. It is a sin to discriminate -- against gays, people of color, women, children, immigrants... It is a sin to exclude whereas Jesus welcomed. The Greatest Commandment is to love. I think Satan, however you want to define evil in the world, would disagree with me on this but this is how I understand the word of God.
This person offered to pray for me. I hope she will. I prayed for her. Not a prayer that she finds a way to agree with me but a prayer that she and I both find better ways to generously love what we might not understand.
It is a Christian tradition to walk. Jesus and the Disciples walked as he taught. Paul walked as he evangelized. In more recent years, Christians have marched to join campaigns to end slavery and then to extend civil rights to all people not matter the color of their skin. So to have Christians walked on behalf of women and immigrants and children and for peace in every corner of the globe. Last week we walked again with fellow Christians and other people of faith as part of the Pride Parade as a symbol of God's extravagant welcome for all. Some of us walked as gays and lesbians. Some of us walked as allies. But we all walked as one in Christ who called us to stand up for the least of these in society, and to show the love we would to God to our neighbors, no matter who they might be.