“A Love that Grows in Knowledge and Insight”
Psalm 119 & Philippians 1:3-11 ~ Northwood UC ~ July 31, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Where does our love end? Where does it cease? Where are the boundaries of our love? Our love extends, certainly, towards our family: we love our children, our grandchildren, our partner. That love might extend towards other communities we are involved with: our church family whom we worship with, community groups we gather with, sports teams we play with, and the list continues. But where does that depth of love towards the ‘other’ stop? Jesus asked those with ears to hear many challenging questions, and his question on the limits and boundaries of our love would be among the most challenging. This morning’s focus asks the challenging question on the boundaries of our love. We follow a God who is reflected in the way of Jesus. Who taught us, more than anything else in his life, the commandment to love. Love would be ‘the greatest commandment’ that Jesus teaches, it would be forever named as ‘the Golden Rule’. Love would be the common thread running through Jesus’ teachings. And the early letters of the church would distill the very presence of God as love.
Yet, we know that the action of loving is not only the ‘greatest commandment’ and ‘the golden rule’, this universal commissioning to loving others presents a deep challenge in our living. For, one the one hand, we spiritually seek to be ‘Jesus’ people’. On the other hand, we are humans who have historically used our differences as a means to dominate others. Our gender has been the basis of discrimination: look back and remember the different treatment afforded others based on gender. Consider the pioneering work that allowed equality to be moved further and further forward as the boundaries of inclusive love expanded. Where does our love end? Our skin colour has been another area used as a boundary for limiting our love. Look back and remember the different treatment given one colour over another. Consider the pioneering work that allowed equality to be moved further and further forward as the boundary of inclusive love grew. Where does our love end?
And, as we assemble in church, thousands will do so for one of the largest Pride Parades in Canada on the streets of Vancouver. And as the parade marches, we lament how the diverse range of our human sexuality has been, yet, one more limit that our world has placed on the boundary of love. Where does our love end?
It is important to note how scripture has been twisted to form the basis for this separation. While this will not be the subject of this sermon, the shocking truth is that scripture has very little to say about same-sex relationships. And what scripture does say is ambiguous and almost always taken out of context. Would anyone care to guess how many references are found in scripture? There are six. Do you know how many instances Jesus’ about same-sex relationships? Zero! We do know, however, that Jesus spoke about many subjects repeatedly. It would be over 2,000 times that Jesus would speak about proper treatment of the poor and immigrants. We find: 133 verses condemning gossip, 50 verses on charitable practices. And of the 31,102 verses throughout the Bible, we find 6 (.001%) where some have founded set its boundary of who is lovable and who is not. Sadly, the use of scripture to withhold our love towards people based on their human sexuality says more about us, than it does about the scriptures we seek guidance and truth from.
So, how are we charged to live as followers of the way of Christ? I believe that we are charged to shift from past ways that were based on judging and excluding; to shift from more recent ways of toleration; to shifting now towards affirmation, towards embracing, towards welcoming. Looking back in our history we drew boundaries of our love based on people’s human sexuality. The medical community diagnosed it as an illness; government criminalized it; it limited one’s employment; it was a basis used to exclude the boundary of love. Yet…slowly, ever so slowly, the shift towards toleration began as the medical community changed its views; as laws were changed; as awareness began to broaden.
The faithful shift that we are seeing in our world today is from acceptance towards affirmation. Within our own denomination of the United Church, we have the “Affirm United” as our movement in this direction. Congregations who feel strongly in this area, can engage in learning how to be a fully inclusive community and become part of the ‘Affirming Church.’ Their logo is on the bulletin. It unites two symbols of our faith: the Christian fish and the cross and it adds a third symbol. The rainbow wrapped around our faith.
As you know the rainbow is a very important symbol used by the 2SLGBTQAiP+ community. The rainbow is a reminder that there is not just one form of light. But rather, if we could see the diverse refractions of light, we would see this tremendous diversity of colour that is found in the rainbow. The sun does not just shine down one beam of light; the sun shines down a diverse rainbow of colours that we are invited to have eyes to see, and shout hallelujah for its beauty. Theologians point to the Creation story as evidence of this vast diversity of God’s creation. God was not limiting in God’s Creation. Rather, God was generous and created a wonderful tapestry quilt of Creation.
People who have been seeking to expand their boundaries of love have taken the time to learn the meaning behind the letters 2SLGBTQAiP+. I find the learning behind the “+” part of the acronym to be powerful as we consider the diversity of God’s Creation. The “+” is the symbol of all ways of gender, identity, and sexuality that lie beyond the limitations of this acronym. The rainbow encourages us to broaden our view of light to the many colours of the rainbow. The “+” encourages us to see beyond the limitations of our language and simply…love…simply do that thing which Jesus calls us to do…to love without boundary and limitation.
I am, perhaps, not the best person to be giving this sermon because I am still learning A LOT in this area. A brief story about one of my learnings over the years, if I may. I was serving a congregation in Burnaby when same-sex marriage became legalized. We were a loving community. Like Northwood, we had a bold mission and vision statement about Jesus’ radical love and our call to live that out. And then, one day, reality came knocking on the door asking us to live our faith. A gay couple asked to be married at the church. I met with them and heard their love story. They asked to see the sanctuary. I showed it to them. They were moved to tears as they held hands in the spot where they would exchange vows. We spoke about the beauty of this ceremony, and they wept. They shared how they never thought the day would arrive when they would be allowed to marry. I had NEVER heard such limit on love before. And then I began to get it. What I took as a right and privilege ~ to be married if I so choose ~ had not been extended to everyone. The boundaries of love ended at heterosexual love when it came to holy matrimony. And my heart felt so full on the day we celebrated their wedding. And my heart was even more full, at this congregation’s choice to call a lesbian minister to succeed me.
In the Philippian text before us, there is a heartbreaking problem. Paul loves this community of faith. His address to them throughout is familiar, not formal. It is loving and intimate. Paul didn’t play favourites with his church communities, but the people of Philippi are clearly ones he holds closely in love. The heartbreaking problem is that he they are separated. Prison bars separate, and he is forced to offer this letter. This section is his prayer to them is so poignant. He prays 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.” In our areas of separation from those whom are different, might be a good prayer for us as well…that our love overflows more and more with knowledge and insight? May we grow, more and more in knowledge and insight of others, so that our love grows…that it (even) overflows towards the diversity of others in the world.
In one of St. Augustine’s famous homilies Love and Do as You Like, he challenges us to grow in our knowledge and insight of God. For if we grow to deeper understandings of God, and God’s immense love for all Creation, our love will necessarily overflow towards ALL parts of Creation. We will love and do as we like, for we will come to increasingly understand the breadth and depth of God’s love. Where does our love end? Where does it continue on more broadly? May we see the rainbow of God’s Creation and embrace it with love. For all of Creation is God’s.