Wednesday, October 23, 2013

“Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord”

Mandy Sloan Flemming
Saint Mark United Methodist Church
Sunday, October 20, 2013

“Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord”

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

One: The Word of God, for the People of God.              ALL: Thanks be to God.

            Friends, last week, we received some startling news. Even for those of us who might have known that our beloved Phillip Thomason was considering retirement, I don’t think any of us were prepared for the powerful vision of our beloved pastor taking off his stole and laying it on the altar. To be clear, this is Phillip’s choice, and one that he celebrates. He has gotten married to his beloved partner of 19 years, and they share this crazy and wonderful notion that they should be able to live together in holy matrimony for the rest of their lives. For those of you who don’t understand why he needed to give up his credentials, it is because the United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from being ordained. You and I can talk all day long about the ignorance that’s implied in this description, but they are the rules by which we must abide for now. Phillip has gladly chosen to give up the credentials he has earned and honored; no one has taken them from him. It might have been unexpected, but “No one expects the Spanish inquisition!”
I am so proud of my colleague, but I am so furious at the Methodist church.
            Much has happened since the last time I was in this pulpit, which was the Sunday after DOMA was struck down. Since June, we have heard of countless couples heading to California or Washington or … Provincetown to make their vows to one another. The only sad thing about this is that all of my beloved friends are holding destination weddings, and I keep missing them. But, this is the way the world is working right now. The IRS is officially more progressive than the church on this issue, which might be the most bizarre evolution to date.
            But, the last time I preached, I told you about the story of Ruth and Naomi, and how these women took vows to one another, and managed to create a new family together. In Ruth, Chapter 4:13, we hear that, “Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! … 17The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” 
            Today, our story picks up during this generation, as we hear about the youngest child of Jesse, the handsome, ruddy boy named David who is anointed king. Since Obed was born to Ruth and Naomi, the Israelites have found themselves in dire need of someone to rule over them. They have begged the Lord for a king, that they might be ruled as other nations are ruled. They came to Samuel, who was the prophet born of a faithful, yet barren, woman named Hannah. She prayed for a child, and the prophet at the temple, named Eli, ensured her that God had heard her cries. When Samuel was weaned, she brought him to Eli at the Temple, where Samuel lived and served God.
            When he was very young, Samuel heard God’s voice calling him, and he did not comprehend that it was God, and not Eli calling to him. Eli said, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'" (1 Samuel 3:9). From that time on, Samuel became the messenger of God’s will to others. After many years of defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the Israelites finally came to Samuel and said, “you are old, and your sons to not follow in your ways. Give us a king to govern us” (1 Samuel, 8:6). Samuel was despondent, fearing as though he had failed to be a leader for his people, but God said, “Listen to the voice of the people in all they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (8:7). Because of this, God told Samuel to warn the Israelites that the king they would receive would be greedy, unyielding, self-serving. They refused to listen to this caution, and God anointed Saul as king.
            Now, when evaluating the merits of leadership, a story cannot help but be political. Ten years ago in May, I was on the verge of graduating from seminary and was hopeful that a small, United Methodist Church in New Jersey would have the need for a pastor. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, and it is the heartland of American Methodism. Our annual conference gathering was so large it had to be assembled at the Convention Center in Atlantic City where the Miss America pageant was held. There was no shortage of people in New Jersey, and the last thing they needed was one more person trying to noodle her way into the conference.
            And yet, one week before I graduated, I got a call from a woman who was serving as a District Superintendent. She had a church near Jackson, NJ that she was wondering if I would like to serve. A few days later, I met with the good and kind folks at West Farms UMC, and a month later, I was their pastor.
            Now, I tell you this story because it relates, not to me, but to the leadership at that time. My District Superintendent was not dearly beloved by my congregation; they feared she was trying to merge them or close the doors of their tiny church home. But, she had some great gifts for ministry. She was an elegant writer and a beautiful pray-er. I have her to thank for entrusting me with my first pulpit, my first congregation. You can imagine my surprise when, two years later she retired and married our former Bishop. He had retired under allegations of inappropriate behavior, and now, they live in New York City, where he serves as the lead pastor for a United Methodist Church in the village.
            This story is the shadow side of the way the world works. It is, to me, the flip side of the coin of Phillip’s story. One pastor, serving faithfully for 20 years, chooses to marry his partner of 19 years when it becomes legal, and he must retire and rescind his credentials so as to live in peace. Another pastor, serving faithfully for 20 years, chooses to marry his mistress after being brought up on charges, and he is permitted to retire and serve a really great church. These things do not balance for me on the scales of justice.
            But, if there is one thing we know about God, it is that God’s justice does not calculate like ours. In the story of Saul, God is persuaded by the Israelites to give them a king, and so he offers them a very poor choice. Saul does, in fact, attempt to lead the Israelites. He even builds an altar (just the one) to the Lord after decades of serving as king, countless battles with the Philistines, horrific bloodshed, and irrational behaviors (14:35). The Lord is unimpressed, because time and again, Saul is disobedient, following God’s commands only in part, leaving Samuel to come in and clean up his mess, account for his behavior, or do his awful, dirty work. There is no justice in this.
            In the passage just before our text today, Saul receives word from Samuel that he is to “utterly destroy the Amalekites,” for what they have done to in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Saul summoned the people and killed every living soul, except for the valuable livestock, as well as the Agag, king of the Amalekites. The Lord is furious, and tells Samuel that Saul can no longer serve as king. When Samuel shares this news with Saul, he tries to defend himself, saying that his plan was to sacrifice the sheep and cattle to the Lord, but Samuel explains that “to obey is better than to sacrifice, for rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (15:22-23). It is then Samuel’s job to assassinate King Agag, a task he is mournful to complete. When Samuel retreats to Ramah, he grieves Saul and all that has occurred. More interestingly, the text tells us the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel. God has regrets; God is mutable – changeable – persuadeable. God lives with guilt and grief.
            This is where we find Samuel, a tired and lonely prophet, who had done his best to stop the anointing of Saul and explain to the Israelites that they had no need for an earthly king, for the God of all heaven was already their king. But, God, who never ceases to listen and be moved by God’s people, allows another king to be anointed. He tells Samuel to cease his grieving over Saul, and to go to Jesse, Ruth’s grandson – the son of Obed  - a man from Bethlehem. One of Jesse’s children has already been chosen by God to be the next king of the Israelites. Samuel comes to Bethlehem with a heifer, so as to offer a sacrifice before the Lord, he finds Jesse and his sons.
            The first son to greet him is Eliab, and Samuel thinks that this man will be the next king, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord!” But, God offers this insight to Samuel, his trusted prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on his height, because I have rejected him; the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). After rejecting Jesse’s seven sons, Samuel asks if he has met all of them. In a story that has a comical similarity to Cinderella’s, the young boy who is tending the sheep is brought to Samuel. It is David, young, ruddy, and handsome, who is in possession of the monarchical glass slipper, and this child is the one whom the Lord tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” The spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David, and Samuel departs for Ramah.
            The story line we follow from Ruth to Obed to Jesse to David is filled with utter humanity and God’s never-failing attempt to stay in relationship with God’s people. But, there is something more than a monarchy that leads us from one generation to the next. It is the Prophet, the go-between, the means by which we hear both the word of God and the advocate for the people. This story is about God and Samuel. This relationship is the means by which God and the Israelites maintain their ongoing connection. Samuel is the faithful hearer and the brave voice. 
            It may seem, today, as though our beloved friend and pastor is being taken from us by an unjust system, but, my friends, there is something we have not yet considered. We, ourselves, are the faithful hearers. Phillip may be for us an irreplaceable voice of love and acceptance, but we have being willing to listen. So, what does that make us? The new king, ruddy and handsome, anointed to lead, and pray and dance before the Lord with glass slippers in our pockets? No, because we are not a simple Cinderella story. We are not the underdog, the unexpected, the overlooked. Perhaps, but what is true is that we are to be a continuation of Samuel’s lineage. We are to be the prophets, the go-betweens. We are to be the ones with the courage to speak up, to witness to injustice, to petition God with our prayers, and who are willing to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Amen and Amen. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon: Ruth 1:6-18, 4:13-22, "To Err on the Side of Love"

To Err on the Side of Love

Ruth 1:6-18, 4:13-22, NRSV

6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ 11But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ 16But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
   or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
   where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
   and your God my God. 
17 Where you die, I will die—
   there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
   and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’ 
18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ 16Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, 19Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, 20Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, 21Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, 22Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David.

One: The Word of God, for the People of God.              ALL: Thanks be to God.
            My friends, this has been a monumental week for us. Saint Mark has always been a beacon of light and hope for the marginalized communities, and this week, the Supreme Court of the United States of America announced two rulings that put an issue close to our hearts into the headlines. Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in the state of California, was thrown out based on standing. And, the Defense of Marriage Act (known as DOMA) was struck down. Signed by President Clinton in 1996, DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states. Until Section 3 of the Act was ruled unconstitutional on Wednesday, DOMA, had also effectively barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as "spouses" for purposes of federal laws, or receiving federal marriage benefits. With its repeal, thanks to the courage and determination of Edith Windsor, the  83-year-old plaintiff, same-sex marriages will now be recognized at the federal level in the states in which they are legal.
            If you don’t know their story, Edith and her partner, Thea Spyer, were together 44 years before Thea passed away in 2009 of a heart complication after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis many years prior. Their life was beautiful, and they were the subject of a powerful documentary entitled “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement.” It chronicled their life together and their decision to marry legally in Toronto in 2007, after more than 30 years together. When Thea passed away, Edie was required to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife's estate simply because their marriage was not recognized. It was this injustice that led her to file suit against the federal government in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, where Windsor sought a refund because DOMA singled out legally married same-sex couples for "differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification.”
            Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion, which was handed down on Wednesday. In the Supreme Court decision, Kennedy writes that "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity…By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
            I was driving to the church after dropping off my boys at baseball camp on Wednesday as I listened to the news coverage of this decision. I will always remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt. This is the first time the US Government has taken a side for equality of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. President Barack Obama has taken a strong stand in favor of marriage equality, and President Bill Clinton, who signed DOMA into law, has argued for its repeal. There is still more work yet to be done. I, for one, would love to see the day when marriage equality comes to all 50 states (and the US Virgin Islands). And, I will weep tears of joy when I am permitted to officiate at one of these ceremonies. The church and state have a long way to go, but this week marked a huge step in the right direction for the personhood and dignity of the LGBTQ community.
            I spent most of Wednesday in a haze of Facebooking joy, and was glad to see so many positive responses to the news. The one argument that consistently came to my ears as journalists interviewed “church leaders” who opposed the ruling, were those who argued that this was a rejection of “Biblical marriage” and “the way God intended the family to look.” I dare say that fewer things have brought my blood to boil more than these arguments. It made me think, strongly, about what Biblical marriage was. I didn’t get very far into Genesis before running into the story of Rachel, Leah and Jacob. If you remember this great story from Genesis 29, Jacob (son of Isaac, brother of Esau) leaves his home after he swindled the birthright of his older brother from their father. Esau is furious, and threatens to murder Jacob, so Isaac sends him to take one of Laban’s daughters as a wife. Laban was his mother, Rebekah’s, brother. So, Esau sends him to marry his first cousin. Biblical marriage sounds great so far.
            When Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, he falls in love with his cousin Rachel and promises to work for Laban for seven years for the right to marry her. At the end of those years, Jacob asked his uncle for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Laban tricked Jacob, and sent his elder daughter, Leah, into the marriage tent, and when he awoke the next morning, Jacob discovered that he had been deceived. So, he served Laban for another seven years for the right to marry Rachel. 
            Unfortunately, the Lord saw that Jacob preferred Rachel, so God closed her womb. Rachel was despondent, and she gave to Jacob Bilhah, her maid, that she might have children on Rachel’s behalf. So, Jacob took Bilhah as his wife and she conceived and bore him a son, Dan. This is three wives that Jacob has wed, simultaneously. In the meantime, Leah had stopped bearing children (she and Jacob had already conceived Ruben, Simeon, Levi and Judah), so she sent her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob, who bore him two more sons, Gad and Asher. Leah prayed again to God, and with Jacob she bore two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and for good measure, a daughter named Dinah. Then, God remembered Rachel, who bore Jacob a son, Joseph (he of the Technicolor dreamcoat) and, later, Benjamin (during whose labor she died). Four wives, 12 children, and a history of deceit and broken trust (Jacob’s son, Ruben, also took the handmaid Bilhah as a wife). Yet, Jacob is the man with whom God wrestled. God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. His children are the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel, and it is upon this family that the foundation of our faith is built. Yet, I would argue that none of us would uphold the Jacob saga as being the guidepost for “traditional” marriage. And, this is just one story of many.
            Several of the Christian opponents of same-sex marriage have quoted a line from scripture that comes to us in both the Gospel of Matthew and Mark. The quote is as follows: “6But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” 7“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’” (Mark 10:6-9). This is what gets cited as the argument for marriage between one man and one woman, time and again. The trouble with this passage is that Jesus isn’t talking about marriage. He’s talking about divorce. The Pharisees ask him in verse 2, so as to test him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus responds, “What did Moses command you?” They answered “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal to divorce her.” But, in verse 5, Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” Jesus isn’t making a statement explicitly about the nature of marriage, he’s reminding the Pharisees that a woman cannot simply be cast aside simply because her husband writes her a certificate of divorce. The covenant of marriage is more sacred than that. The two have become one flesh, and what God has joined together, no one should separate. This is not a condemnation of same-sex marriage, it’s a reminder that our vows are sacred and not to be taken without serious cause.
            But nothing, not in Genesis and not in the Gospels, says more to me about “Biblical marriage” than the story of Ruth and Naomi. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, it is likely you’ve heard the words exchanged, “Where you go, I go. Where you lodge, I lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you.” These words were spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost both of her sons and her husband. When her sons died, she told her daughers-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to return to their homeland of Moab. Orpah kissed Naomi and bid her a heartfelt farewell. Ruth, however, responded by taking these vows to her mother-in-law. Vows that we use today in our (heterosexual!) Christian marriage services. Vows that make promises to remain steadfast, loyal, and faithful to a God that was not her own. These are mighty promises, and Ruth makes them to Naomi, a woman committed deeply to her own sadness. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, the whole town comes to greet them, but Naomi refuses to answer to her name, and insists that they call her Mara, which means bitter, for that is how the Lord has dealt with her.
            Over time, Ruth meets Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman. Ruth gleans in his fields and he takes a special liking to her, allowing her all the space she needs and permission to drink from their well without trouble.  Upon hearing that Boaz has been kind to Ruth, Naomi encourages her to find him in the threshing room floor, and “uncover his feet,” that he might decide what to do with Ruth. It is clear that he would like to take her for his wife, but to do so, he must consult with the next-of-kin, who would be set to inherit the land that belonged to Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, as well as the hand of Ruth in marriage. (To be clear, Biblical marriage was often arranged as a result of land acquisitions. See what progress we've made!). When the next-of-kin said that he could not redeem it for himself without damaging his own inheritance, he exchanged sandals with Boaz (thus confirming the transaction), and Boaz became the proud owner of Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand in marriage. The witnesses at the gate of the city praised Boaz, and said, “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who built up the house of Israel.”
            This brings us to the conclusion of Ruth and Naomi’s story. Indeed, Boaz took Ruth to be his wife and she bore a son. What happens in the text is worth noting, “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13-17).
            What is most remarkable about this story is not just that Ruth demonstrated such an unabashed fidelity to her mother-in-law, it is that God used these women to create a new family. When the child is born, he is not praised as Boaz’s son. No, he is attributed to Naomi, who becomes his nursemaid. She and Ruth raise the child, vows solidified and God’s blessing upon them. It is not my place to surmise anything about their relationship other than what is in the text, but what the text tells me is that they have found a new way, a beautiful way, to create a family together. They “define their own understanding of kinship and responsibility to one another” (Mona West, “Ruth” in The Queer Bible Commentary). The best part is that this child is referred to later on, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, which is the genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy begins with Abraham and concludes with Joseph, the husband of Mary, to whom Jesus was born. The only other woman named in this genealogy is Ruth, mother of Obed (Matthew 1:5). The vows that Ruth and Naomi took to one another were about more than just establishing a next-of-kin for a woman who had lost everything. This child, Obed, is the son of women who loved each other dearly; this child, Obed, is in the lineage of our Messiah. He was King David’s grandfather, the father of Jesse about whom we sing at Christmastime. This child was no less important to us than all the tribes of Israel. This child, this son of Ruth and Naomi, was meant to be. He is a part of our salvation history, the means through which God came to be one with us in the flesh of Christ Jesus. I have a firm enough faith in God’s providence to believe that this was always what God intended – for Ruth, for Naomi, for Obed … and for us.
            When Matt and I were first dating early in our seminary career, he served on a panel to discuss the issue of homosexuality and its theological understanding. The panel included students and faculty from both sides of the issue, and we listened patiently as each person told their story. Matt was invited to speak, and he told the story of his older brother, John, who came out to their family when John was in his 30s. The response from their family was overwhelmingly positive, and today, he and his partner, Mark, who are celebrating 16 years of marriage this summer, are the proud parents of two boys who are now, unbelievably, in high school. As person after person spoke about their perspectives on the issue, Matt told the story of what it was like to watch his beloved older brother endure the pain of coming to terms with his sexuality, and watching as his acceptance turned into a beautiful life together with a wonderful partner. Matt lived with his brother during the summer that John and Mark were married, and he proclaims proudly that he was in a gay wedding before gay weddings were cool. At the end of his conversation, Matt told the audience and other panel members, “I respect your opinions and your thoughts on this issue. But for me, this isn’t an issue. It’s my brother.” Matt’s argument was that the Bible says things that we are given the gift to interpret, and if we are to interpret some things literally (like the passage in Leviticus that states that a man laying with another man is an abomination), then we cannot choose to interpret other passages figuratively (like the passage in Leviticus about how eating shellfish is also an abomination). We must establish our hermeneutic, that is, our way of understanding scripture, and read the text with that hermeneutic consistently. This means we will make choices in our understanding of the Bible. But, if we are to err, Matt told us all, we should err on the side of love. (I think it goes without saying that I knew at that moment he was the man I wanted to marry.)
            My sisters and brothers, this is our call. To love God, love one another, and to do all we can to choose love above all else. It is my call to love you, which is easy. It is also my call to love my enemies, who are much more difficult to love. But, we saw some remarkable things happen this past week. We saw the shut-down of ex-gay reparative therapy organization, Exodus International, which publicly apologized to gays and lesbians for "years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the Church as a whole." The slow, steady move toward equality for the LGBT community is happening right before our very eyes. Now, it is up to us to continue the push, slowly and confidently, with the tenderness and compassion of Edie and Thea. With the quiet yet ever-present witness of Bill and Matthew or Don and Dave. With the faith and steadfastness of Ruth and Naomi. It is up to us to keep pushing, and always, always to err on the side of love.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.