Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. As a church in the process to become an officially Affirming congregation, the message we want to send out today is one of love and affirmation. To be an Affirming congregation of the United Church of Canada is to be fully inclusive of the rainbow that is human sexual orientation and gender identity, and to be a place that extends the margins of community life outward to include as much diversity as we possible can. We not only commit to challenging these particular phobias, but also to working against sexism, racism, ableism, ageism and all the other “isms” that keep us from one another. We challenge them not only in others, but in ourselves. It is a life-long process to uncover all of those secret unexamined prejudices – and not an easy one; but until we see them in ourselves it will be harder to challenge them in others with any kind of integrity.
I sometimes balk at the word “phobia” to describe these types of attitudes that separate us one from the other. A phobia is an unreasoning fear of something – but I think often what we call phobias are actually based more in ignorance than in fear. Often all it takes to turn that ignorance around is someone who will be patient and caring enough to offer alternative information to the person who has only been told and taught certain ways of thinking about people who are different from them. It is also a kind of self-righteous judgement that can create those kinds of “isms” – the reality that we often want to believe the best about ourselves and the worst about others. “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way!”. And sometimes it’s the opposite – that our own sense of self is so battered and broken that the only way we can feel good is by projecting our self-loathing onto others. But where it is truly fear that is motivating, the most powerful force to combat that force is love. A verse of the Bible I return to often when I get stuck in fear is from 1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
John is specifically referring here to love of God. There is no need to fear judgement from God, because God loves us too much for us to have anything to fear at the hands of DIVINE LOVE.
The passage goes on to say in verses 19-21:
19We love* because he first loved us. 20Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters,* are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister* whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters* also.
This the powerful message that Affirming congregations have to share with our friends in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and Questioning 2-Spirit + community: that there is no judgement against them – against you – in the eyes of God, despite what many have been taught to believe. There is only love. And from that love we all learn how important it is to try to love each other as God loves us. Love lifts us out of fear of each other, and points the path to new relationship. In fact, I wonder if it’s the only thing that can? In my experience, most people who have let go of their fears and prejudices have done so because someone they learned to love fit within that class of “other” that they rejected; or they discovered that someone they already loved was one of those “others”. Suddenly the suspicious “other” becomes the “beloved” – and it changes everything.
It is the love of God that Paul is describing in that beautiful passage from his letter to the Corinthians. In fact, if you take out the word Love and put in the word God, with a little bit of nuance, you have a fine description of who God is: God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on only one way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is God’s Love that never ends. And it is when we feel ourselves wrapped in that love, filled up and running over with it, that we begin to be able to love others the way Paul describes:
Patient, kind, generous, humble, courteous, flexible, non-reactive, truth-seeking and truth-affirming, non-judgmental, carrying each other and looking for and hoping for and standing firm for all that is good in each other and in life itself.
Perfect Love casts out fear – all fears, phobias, prejudices. We humans might not have that love perfected – but the more we open to God and to one another, the closer we will come.
So if any of you out there have heard that God hates you, condemns you, thinks you’re an abomination – I say NO. You were created in love for love by a loving God. There is nothing that can separate you from God’s love – so don’t you let any human being tell you differently. And us folks in affirming, inclusive churches – we’re committing ourselves to do our best to love each other that way too. We’re going to get it wrong sometimes – we know that – and we hope we will be open to learning from our mistakes. But YOU – whoever you are – black or white or brown or cisgender or transgender, queer or questioning or straight, walking or rolling, speaking or signing, neurotypical or neurodiverse, you are not a mistake! God made you who you are, and you are beloved. And you are welcome in the community where God’s beloved gather to worship, learn, work and serve – online or in person.
Here is where faith, hope and love abide. And we pray that at the end, above all, it is Love that will endure, for the greatest of these is Love. Amen.