I asked permission from my dear friend and colleague, the Rev. James Daryl Schimmel, if I could post the text of a sermon he preached last August at First Christian Church, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  As I have come to expect from Jim, he provides us with some wonderfully refreshing and powerful theological grounding for why churches, and The Church, should become fully and unapologetically Open & Affirming of ALL God’s Children.

The sermon can be downloaded as a Word .docx document at: http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/SocialJusticeOpenNAffirming.htm#JimSchimmelFaithfulResponse

Thanks, Jim, for letting me post this on my blog!  Allen

[P.S. The pictures are not from FCC Cuyahoga Falls, but from another event at which Jim was preaching!]

FAITHFUL  RESPONSE

SCRIPTURE – MATTHEW 28:16-20

“Faithful Response” is a sermon based on the premise that the Commission of Jesus to the early disciples, and thus to the “Church,” is best responded to faithfully in our particular time by churches that seek to be anti-racist, open and affirming , and intentionally accessible to all persons.  In this particular sermon, I wish to lift up specifically the need of churches to be open and affirming with regard to LGBT persons.   That is not to imply that  anti-racism and accessibility are not important, for they are crucially important.  It is simply to recognize that for focus, this sermon will center in on LGBT affirmation.

I believe that each generation needs to answer the call to “make disciples” depending on the particulars of the circumstances of its time and place as well as the historic context of the original commission.  It is clear that in the first century  church one of the big questions was the inclusion of gentiles as the church tried to be faithful to Jesus and his commission to them.  This is not the primary question of the twenty first century.  In this time and in this culture, the question of reaching out in full inclusion to LGBT persons, however, is relevant to the contemporary church’s attempts to be faithful to the Commission of Jesus.  I would argue that attention to this specific community of persons is long overdue, and that quite frankly the church owes LGBT persons an apology for its neglect at the very least and its overt homophobia at the most.

This sermon “Faithful Response” is prepared specifically to be preached on August 7, 2011 to the First Christian Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  I am grateful to this loving congregation for inviting me to share with them in this matter and look forward to further opportunities to work with them in the area of the full affirmation and inclusion of LGBT persons.

~ James Daryl Schimmel

FAITHFUL RESPONSE

PROLOGUE

The Rev. James Daryl Schimmel

Current studies and reports by the “Barna Group,”  and “Pew Research,” among others, indicate that younger generations to a large extent regard the church as “judgmental, hypocritical, and too political.”  These studies also report that an overwhelming percentage of younger adults, especially those who have not affiliated with a church, consider the church to be “anti-homosexual.”  Figures indicate that 91% of young “non-Christians” and 80% of young churchgoers believe that present day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.”

Another statement in a recent Barna Report tells us that in this younger age group, both  “non-Christians and Christians explained beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians….”

In a meeting with younger gay men and lesbians, I was asked what I did for a living.  As the group had engaged in a considerable amount of  “church bashing” during our conversation, I was almost embarrassed to respond to their question.  [One of the prominent comments that I had heard was that for gays and lesbians the “church is the enemy.”]  “I am retired,” I replied.  “Retired from what?” a young woman asked.  “Well, I am a retired Disciples of Christ minister.”  I got almost astonished looks as another young member of the group spoke up: “That is hard to believe.  You seem to be a really nice guy.”

Are whole groups of younger adults dismissing the church as irrelevant and unviable?  It would appear as though they are.  The church appears to be incapable of really embracing all people.  It seems as though both “straight and gay” younger adults are making that critical judgment of the church.

We like to claim that we are not homophobic.  The truth, however, is that by remaining silent, we are letting churches and religious leaders who are homophobic  speak for us.  They speak for us by default. They speak for us because we do not speak out for ourselves.  Regardless in the eyes and to the ears of many in younger generations they speak for us in terms written in bold letters and voices loud and clear.

I believe that until we speak up and do so with conviction, we deserve to be considered irrelevant, hypocritical and homophobic; and we deserve the fate of that irrelevance.  I also believe, however, that it is not too late for us to speak boldly as a church that strives fervently to be faithful to the call of Jesus to reach out to all people and to embrace lovingly all God’s children.

I definitely believe that we are called to love indiscriminately and extravagantly as God has loved us.  I call you, therefore, to a “Faithful Response” to the commission of Jesus to make disciples of all peoples.

FAITHFUL RESPONSE

SERMON

Let us hear again the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded for us in Matthew 28:19-20:

Rev. James Daryl Schimmel

“Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I would like to share with you a few thoughts that relate to the phrase in the text that we are to reach out to “all people.”  I believe that in this early part of the 21st century, these words  have poignant and specific significance for a church that is trying to be faithful to the call of Jesus in our time and place.  In that context let me note what the text does not say.

It does not say that we should go out and change black people into white people so that they might feel welcome in the church.

It does not say that we should go out and change women into men so that they might be allowed to serve in positions of leadership in the church.

It does not say that we should go out and change gay people into straight people so that they might be included in the church.

It does not say that we should demand that people with accessibility challenges overcome those challenges in order to enter the church buildings.  It does not say that we should require people of limited financial resources to achieve financial success so that they might be acceptable in the church.

In fact the text does not tell us to change, alter, save, fix, demand or judge anyone at all.

Jesus has clearly shown us that the process by which we are to make disciples is for us to love people unconditionally and invite all persons to share in this faith journey along side us, as together we attempt to follow Jesus.

There is special biblical significance in words like “all,” “every,” and other designations of “wholeness”.

“…so all will be made alive in Christ…”  I Cor. 15:22

“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…”  2Cor.  5:19

“…there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Gal. 3:28

“…there is one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all and in all.”  Eph. 4:6

“…My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Mk. 11:17

“…all mankind will see God’s salvation…”  Luke 3:6

“I have other sheep…there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”   John 10:16

“When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself.”  John 12:32

Consider as well:

Acts 10:34-35                   Romans 3:23-24              Romans 5:18                   Romans  11:32                    Ephesians 1:9-10             Philippians 2:10-11      Colossians 1:19-20           1 Timothy 2:3-6               1 Timothy 4:9-10        Titus 2:11                 Revelation 5:13

And in the Hebrew Bible:

Genesis 12:3                      Psalm 22:27                       Psalm 65: 1-2                 Psalm 145:8-10                   Isaiah 25:6-8                     Isaiah 45: 22-24           Isaiah 49:6                             Joel 2:28                              Zephaniah 3:9

And this is just the short list.  Did you get all those references or did you find it somewhat overwhelming?

If you kept track of all the passages as I cited or referred to them, you will be able to check them out at a more leisurely pace when you get home.  But if you were really listening, you should have felt overwhelmed.

The references to inclusion and completeness  in the biblical text are overwhelming, just as the love and grace of God are overwhelming.

We cannot impose our limitations on God’s nature no matter how hard we try, and try we often do.

God’s love and grace are overwhelming, boundless and unconditional.  Those who would challenge God in this matter will lose the challenge, and we should give God thanks that they do.

We are grateful recipients of God’s grace and love and should be grateful as well that God is not restricted to the narrowness that too often afflicts the churches in their attitudes and behaviors.

From the beginning of the Christian Church there have always been issues and questions as to who could or could not be included.  Human narrowness has ever and fortunately been challenged by divine grace.

In the first century of the church, a big issue was the question of acceptance of “gentiles” into the church.  Could “gentiles” join the church without first being changed into Jews?

Paul argued forcefully for the inclusion – should we say for the open affirmation – of the gentiles.  In a very real sense Paul is the first person on record, following the inclusiveness of Jesus himself, to promote an open and affirming mission statement for the early church.

The “gentiles,” we remind ourselves, were all  those peoples (nations) of the world who were not Jews.  This, of course, was from the Jewish perspective, and that perspective is the starting point for the early church.

Paul did not hesitate to put the issue of inclusiveness in writing extensively.  As a result, Christian history answered the question in favor of that inclusion of gentiles.  That particular issue, however, is not our issue in this twenty first century.

In the twentieth century we began to deal with the questions of racial inclusiveness at all levels of the church, though that is far from completed.  Racism is still alive and well, and we need to continue to affirm racial equality and harmony in the church, and as such in witness to the whole world,

We have come a long way in affirming the leadership role of women in the church, though this too is still a work in progress.  And certainly in the wider church, it is still a work that in many cases is yet to be started.

At the same time, the affirmation of LGBT persons is largely in its infancy.  As I speak to you now there is only one Disciple’s Church in Ohio that is on record as an “Open and Affirming” congregation.

Just as the early church had to respond to the question: “Can gentiles be Christians without first becoming Jewish?” so also much of the church today has yet to respond positively to the question: “ Can LGBT persons be Christian without first becoming ‘straight’ ?”

And following Paul’s example, we should not be shy about putting our affirmative answer to that question in writing, and guaranteeing that LGBT rights in Christ’s Church are recognized as God-given.

Paul was both open to and affirming of gentile Christians without first changing them into something else.  He said it, he preached it, and he wrote it out to the early church.

All that I am suggesting is that we follow the biblical example and be just as open and affirming of LGBT persons to the point where we, like Paul, say it, preach it, and put it in writing.  If not, I must ask how can we respond faithfully to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all people?

Some will ask me, as many have, why must we write it all out?  Why does it have to be a definite statement?  Why can we not just assume that the church is already open to all people?  First, we cannot make that assumption because, quite frankly, today’s church in large part is simply not open to all people.  Even more, it is not that affirming of many of the some persons to whom it claims to be open.

We need to speak up because the whole world is always hearing the loud rejection, condemnation and denunciation of those voices in so many churches and hate groups who like to use the language of Christianity without incorporating the actual spirit of Christianity.

As to the question: “Why must we write it out?” We might as well ask “why did Matthew feel the necessity of writing out this section of the gospel story?”  Why not just assume that everyone already knew the message and mission of Jesus?  Thankfully, Matthew, along with other gospel writers, did not make that unfortunate assumption.

Too often what is not claimed and written down for all to see is soon lost and forgotten.  And we need to put it in writing for the same reason that Paul chose to write it down in his day.  I believe that we are obligated to do  so because the Spirit of God is leading us to do so.

I AM COMPLETELY CONVINCED AFTER LONG STUDY AND PRAYER THAT THE CHURCH WHICH IS POSITIVELY OPEN AND AFFIRMING; AND THE CHURCH THAT COMMITS ITSELF BOTH IN THE WRITTEN AND SPOKEN WORD, AS WELL AS ACTION AND DEED; AND COMMITS , AS WELL, ITS RESOURCES TO REACH OUT TO CALL ALL PEOPLES INTO DISCIPLESHIP –

IS THE CHURCH THAT IS MAKING A FAITHFUL RESPONSE IN THIS TWENTY FIRST CENTURY TO THE GREAT COMMISSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

AMEN AND AMEN

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