07/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Sermon for Our Times: Bishop Gene Robinson in the Face of Fear

Watch this clip from the BBC.

Really. Stop now and watch it. It's less than two minutes. And it brought me to tears.

If you don't recognize the clergyman who is speaking, you have surely heard of him. He's the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the ninth bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. This is the man who stands, as his recent memoir puts it, "in the eye of the storm" that has engulfed the global Anglican Communion since his consecration as bishop five years ago.

In the video clip, taken last Sunday, Bishop Robinson is preaching at St. Mary's Church, Putney, in south London. He was on his way to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade meeting of Anglican bishops convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The conference opens on Wednesday (July 16).

Not that he will be allowed inside. To appease those who oppose the ordination of gay clergy and leaders, the Archbishop has excluded Bishop Robinson from attending. Bishop Robinson instead will stand on the margins, in an adjacent space called "the Marketplace," where products are sold and new ideas get a hearing. He intends to put a face on the controversy, a face of love in a climate of fear.

Fear was the subject of Bishop Robinson's sermon on Sunday in London. As the clip shows, he had hardly begun speaking when a protestor rose from the congregation, shouting "Repent!" Yes, lamentation is called for, but not from Bishop Robinson. Rather, it is the church itself -- not just the Anglican Church, but many faith traditions, both Christian and non-Christian -- that should lament, to consider with regret, how it has marginalized gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. Sexual and gender oppression can no longer be portrayed as virtuous and morally defensible. That is a worthy sermon for our times.

But the incident in south London calls another sermon to mind. In Matthew's telling of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt 5: 43-44).

In St. Mary's Church on Sunday, the Sermon on the Mount came to life. Parishioners responded to the heckler first with clapping hands, then with voices joined in a hymn of praise. There was no shouting back, no shoving, just an outpouring of love that overwhelmed the voice of fear. When the incident was over, Bishop Robinson continued. "Pray for that man," he said.

Pray for him. Love him. Pray for the Bishops gathered in England. Pray for Bishop Robinson, excluded from the table.

We are all challenged to create loving, respectful relationships, and to honor the many ways that people live and love. An inclusive, embracing love leads us to affirm sexual and gender diversity as a blessing in our lives.