SERMON -ST. JOHN’S – Sunday 6th August 2017- preaching on Inclusive Church (on sexuality)
Isaiah 55.1-5, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14.13-21
May I speak in the name of the living God who is and was and is to come? Amen.
In December 1990, aged 33, I attended a Christmas dinner dance with my husband, Steve. I was happy with the new dress I wore. That Saturday night I felt especially feminine. I felt very much part of the fun and conviviality of this special dinner.
Steve’s company had paid for an artist to do ink drawings of us all. His drawings were in cartoon style. The picture he drew of me showed my nose, mouth and chin much larger than they really are but he captured my smile and character.
The cartoon artist exaggerated certain aspects about my physical appearance but minimized others so that my shoulders appeared much smaller than they should have been for the size of my head. This was so he could fit my shoulders into the picture.
I now ask you to fit yourself into the picture which Saint Matthew draws for us of the Feeding of the 5,000. Transport yourself back almost 2,000 years. Where in the crowd do you think you’d be sitting? Who might you be with?
Imagine yourself sitting on the grass with all sorts of different people, Jewish and non- Jewish. Traders, merchants, stonecutters, masons, sculptors, craftsmen and fishermen, weavers, stone carriers, non-Jewish slaves, men and women, children, lepers (standing a little apart from the others), the blind, mentally ill and disabled people. What a wonderful mix of humanity.
It had been an incredible day when hundreds of people had been healed but now very ordinary needs were requiring attention. Everyone was hungry and the nearest village was a long way away.
In a matter of fact way, Jesus took the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, looked up to heaven, gave thanks, broke the food and gave it to the disciples and then they gave it to the crowd. We are assured that all not only ate but all were filled and there were 12 baskets of left- overs. God more than supplied their need.
Most scholars believe that more than 5,000 people were fed but only the men were counted. Women and children had a low status in the society of the time but Jesus includes them in this miraculous dinner. I wonder who else might have been included? Might there have been some people with a different sexuality in that crowd? I think it is possible.
I read recently that approximately 1 in every 1,500 births are of people with dual sexual characteristics and some people are of indeterminate sex. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to be one of those people? They cannot even tick the male or female box on a form.
I would suggest that in such a large crowd that evening you would have found some lesbian and gay people and possibly some people whose sex was uncertain, in addition to the heterosexual men, women and children. All ate and were filled. Jesus left no-one out.
You may wonder why I am speculating like this. It is because the PCC has recently debated whether we should join Inclusive Church. A decision has not yet been made but Lesley and Alan have asked those who preach to preach about inclusivity as a way of seeking the opinion of the congregation. We have not been told what to preach. As individual preachers, with our own opinions and life experiences, we pray, as always, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what we preach, also in how the congregation hears and receives what we say.
The statement of belief of Inclusive Church is as follows :-
‘We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.’
Each of us is preaching on a subject of interest to us. I chose sexuality because it is the one which often causes the biggest difference of opinion. For the record, I am a heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual man but Steve and I have had homosexual friends of both sexes, some of whom have died of AIDS. I have one friend whose daughter had a sex change operation to become a man.
Now some of you may have particularly heard those words ‘scripturally faithful’ in that statement of belief. Perhaps you thought of the Old Testament book of Leviticus 18.22, warning that a man should be put to death for having sex with another man. However, I would risk a bet that no-one today avoids wearing clothes of mixed fibres which is a grave offence according to Leviticus 19.19. We must ask ourselves whether these ancient prohibitions, set at a very different time in history and culture, have relevance today. Some do but many do not. If we applied them all, how would they hamper outreach and mission?
Back to the Gospel reading. Remember the first sentence of the Gospel reading today. ‘Now when Jesus heard this he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.’ The word ‘this’ refers to the death of John the Baptist. The crowd, desperate for healing, did not even allow Jesus time to grieve. Perhaps keeping busy was what he needed and boy, did he keep busy!
Somehow John’s death is a catalyst giving a 1,000-volt injection to Jesus’ ministry in this miracle which, for me, sends out the biggest example of his new commandment to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind (in the thankful lifting, blessing, breaking and massive distribution of miraculously increased quantities of food) and to love your neighbour as yourself (in the feeding of all present, regardless of who they were). There is no other commandment greater than these.
Our Old Testament reading today also speaks to me of inclusivity. Isaiah, sounding like a market trader shouting out a bargain ‘Come all you who are thirsty… you will delight in the richest of fare’.
Should we deny people who are different to us the rich fare we receive here at the Holy Table and the benefits our faith gives us? Have we given a thought to the rich fare which these new people might bring to us and to this church?
Our Romans reading chimes with me also. It gives me sorrow and anguish when we cut off from Christ any human being who seeks him.
If it is decided that we will join Inclusive Church, it is very unlikely that we will have a rush of new people arriving but I would hope that, if we join, when we receive Holy Communion, we will be happy to have a transvestite man wearing a new dress in which he feels feminine, kneeling beside us at the altar rail, happy to share a coffee and fellowship with any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex human being who may bless us by choosing to worship with us.
At that 1990 dinner dance the cartoon artist exaggerated parts of my face.
In the church in 2017, I believe we need to try hard not to exaggerate the sexual lives of people whose sexuality is different to ours. It is just one part of their lives as it is of ours and maybe not such a significant part. It is all too easy to focus exclusively on others’ sexuality as if there was nothing else to them at all. They are children of God like us with gifts and talents, hopes and dreams, joys and fears.
Jesus said of the loaves and fishes, ‘Bring them here to me’. I say, of those with a different sexuality, ‘Bring them here to us that they may eat and be filled’. Amen.