WHO YOU LOVE
Scripture: Micah 6:4; Luke 2:13-20
The Reverend Dr. Kristina "Tina" Campbell
Black Mountain United Church of Christ
June 18, 2023
"Marginalized people from every community know what it feels like to be outsiders, unwelcome, made fun of. We know shame, fear, loneliness—always wondering where is it safe, to whom can I turn, what gifts can I offer. At some time in our life, this happens to nearly all of us in one way or another. We do not fit in. We are not who they say we are. We need to learn from our own mistakes, and learn we do.
When families and churches abandon us, we are left to create a spirituality of integrity from the bottom up. And as a result, we often emerge as mystics, prophets, culture changers. We find the sacred within when we are refused access to the sacred without. We create lives we are proud of and we place our gifts on any threshold that is open to us."
These are the words of Jan Phillips. Jan is a woman of strong faith, and in her early years, Jan was a novice at St. Joseph's Provincial House in Latham, New York. After three years, she was abruptly dismissed, and the cause given for her dismissal was a euphemism for her being gay. Following her dismissal from the convent, Jan went on to become a respected theologian, writer, poet, and photographer, and her writings are based on loving kindness.
I must have missed the part of the Bible where it says that we are to make people like outsiders, to make people feel unwelcome, to make fun of others. I must have missed the part that says we should make people wonder if they are safe or if we want their gifts. That doesn't sound like what we say at the beginning of each of our worship services. It also doesn't sound like the Gospel of a Resurrected Church.
Jan Phillips observes, "You can tell the real Christians by their acts. They are the ones serving, the ones loving, the ones sharing whatever they have. They are withholding judgment, offering compassion, being that light they want to see in the world. They are the hands and the feet of God on earth, vessels of holiness, chalices of generosity. The next time someone says they are a Christian, look for these qualities for the living proof."
From the get-go, there were interesting and sometimes previously marginalized people in Jesus' world. At the Bethlehem baby shower, we don't see a balloon-filled ballroom with properly dressed guests bringing gifts of pink or blue onesies. Instead, we see the invitation extended by a band of angels fluttering about the countryside, inviting some stinky shepherds to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. The only gift the shepherds had to offer was their faith, and the Holy family welcomed them.
There is really no Biblical evidence that there is a stereotype of those who are called to service, those who are called to share their gifts:
Noah was a drunk.
Abraham was old.
Isaac was a daydreamer.
Jacob was a liar.
Leah was ugly.
Joseph was abused.
Gideon was afraid.
Samson was a womanizer.
Rahab was a prostitute.
David was an adulterer and a murderer.
Isaiah preached naked.
Naomi was a widow.
John the Baptist ate bugs.
Peter denied Christ.
Martha worried about everything.
The disciples fell asleep.
Those pesky Southern Baptists are at it again. After overwhelmingly voting to finalize the expulsion of two churches with female pastors, Southern Baptists voted on Wednesday to further expand restrictions on women in church leadership, potentially opening up hundreds of churches to new investigation and expulsion. On Wednesday, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention approved an amendment to their constitution that their churches must have "only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture."
According to my Scripture, women are qualified to lead. In our Old Testament reading, we see Miriam first described only in terms of her relationships to men, but later referred to as "Miriam the Prophetess." To refresh our memories, Miriam is the one who watches over her baby brother, Moses, in the bull rushes, certainly putting herself in danger—maybe in the same way that people who guide immigrants in the desert put themselves at risk. The Bible would have quite a few empty pages if the women were eliminated in the manner the delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention are attempting to eliminate them.
These were the words of Jimmy Carter when he announced in 2000 that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention: "I'm familiar with the verses they have quoted about wives being subjugated to their husbands. In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture. I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God."
Extravagant welcome is not a wishy-washy thing. It is not an invitation to a brief cocktail party where we engage in polite conversation. It is a full-blown invitation to jump in with both feet, to become involved, to get to know one another. It is the assurance that we will not form opinions based on stereotypes; rather, we will delve into getting to know one another as real people—people who love and laugh and sometimes make mistakes. People who experience loss and grief. People who celebrate together and people who roll up their sleeves to make a contribution to the Beloved Community and the wider community. If we do this, the world might really know we are Christians by our love.
In order for any of this to make any sense, we have to make it personal. Let's look at Black Mountain United Church of Christ. If we were to marginalize women, saying that they are unfit for leadership and refusing their gifts, we would not have anyone in the pulpit this morning, and we would not have a Moderator elect. If we were to marginalize gay people, we would be without a Moderator who has contributed his heart and soul to our congregation. If we were to marginalize the parents and grandparents of gay and trans children, we might be looking at some pretty empty pews. Some of us would simply walk out the door.
I have had every emotion imaginable in my experience of being a female pioneer in a male-dominated profession. I have felt fear. I have felt disappointment. I have felt extreme sadness. I have felt rage. And yet I have always felt hope. The words we say at the beginning of our worship service mean a great deal to me. We are welcome no matter "whom you love." And the Gospel, my friends, makes it very clear whom we are to love. We are to love each and every person we encounter. We are to fling open our doors, and we are to accept each person's unique and God-given gifts. We simply can't afford to marginalize people. We need them too much. We need their gifts and their contributions, their songs and their dreams, their love and their faith.
We are Black Mountain United Church of Christ. All are welcome here. This is God's home, where everyone is welcome, no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, regardless of gender, age, ability, faith, whom you love, or how you identify. We are all beloved in God's eyes. We are here to celebrate the joy of joining in Jesus' mission: a Just and Compassionate World for all. Thanks be to God. Amen.