Read Luke 7:31-34
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. ‘He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,’ they grumbled” (Luke 19:6-7, NLT).
Recently I was invited by a colleague and friend, the right Reverend Salvatore Seirmarco of The Party on JohnCast fame, to join him at a Pride Flag hanging ceremony being held at a local town municipal building. First, I was strangely warmed to see the whole community coming out to support their LGTBQia+ brothers, sisters, parents, friends, and neighbors. Seriously, everyone from the mayor and county officials, to the police, to the first responders, high school students, to even the chairs of both the County Republican and Democratic Committees were their to celebrate. It was a unified community…unified around love and inclusivity.
Sal and I were there representing the clergy and very much honored to do so. As soon as we arrived in our clerical collars and pride stoles, a couple walked up to us and asked us: “Where’s your church”. Sal, who is a hospice chaplain, explained his ministry and also where he personally attends church. I also told her about the church I pastor, following which one of the women asked me, “Is your church welcoming to people like us.” Or something along those lines.
This saddened me because, I knew why she was asking. These two women were same-sex spouses who had recently moved to the area from New York City and were looking for a church to call their home. I know how awkward finding a church can be as I have been there myself; however, their asking me that question hit me differently that time. I had no clue how “awkward” it would be for them to enter a church…any church…without knowing about the church first. In fact, “awkward” is the wrong word. It would be terrifying.
Why is that? Simple. The church has been hostile to the LGBTQia+ community. First, the Biblical text explicitly calls homosexuality a detestable sin (see Leviticus 18:22) and, in churches with a more “fundamentalist” approach to understanding the Bible, this alone can cause Christians to become judgmental, try to “convert”, and even get hostile toward people of the LGBTQia+ community.
Second, within churches they may have people staring at them as they hold hands together, or they may have comments said around them that are insensitive and hurtful. Even within the United Methodist Church, in which I serve, clergy are barred from performing same-sex weddings and bishops are barred from ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”. People within our denomination are fighting to have that and other language removed, but it is clear that the church is often not a safe place or “sanctuary” for people of the LGBTQia+ community.
So, why am I writing about this. First, it is PRIDE month and, as an affirming ally of the LGBTQia+ community, it is important to raise awareness and be an upstander (as opposed to a bystander), or one who stands up for all of my LGBTQia+ sisters and brothers. Second, I also recognize that some Christians who read this might become confused and/or feel threatened (I can never understand this) and/or react in negative ways. Some may say that I am a “false teacher” (not the first time nor the last I am sure), or that I am heading to hell, or that I am not teaching the Bible.
Some people could unsubscribe to this devotion or leave my church over the idea that I would write in support of the LGBTQia+ community. I don’t think that is the case at my church, but one never knows. Truthfully, that’s the main reason why many clergy, who would otherwise be allies of the LGBTQia+ community, stay silent. Many clergy fear the repercussions to them and to their church if they speak up and out. The truth be told, that’s not only true of clergy…but many Christians in general.
Yet, as Christians, we ought to know better. Why? Because we ought to be modeling ourselves off of the chief “sinner” himself: Jesus. If you are scratching your head wondering what the heck I am talking about, then you need to read Today’s Scripture. In it you will see that Jesus points out that the “religious” leaders of his day had judged John the Baptist as being demon-possessed, and now they are also judging and labeling Jesus as both a glutton and a drunkard.
Why? Because Jesus was hanging around “notorious sinners” such as Zacchaeus and prosititutes and those who ate and drank at parties. Of course, Jesus wasn’t prostituting himself out or engaging in carnal activities with prostitutes. He wasn’t getting plastered on a daily basis, nor was plagued with the never-ending munchies either. The problem was that he was consorting, or regularly keeping company, with such people and, therefore, he was seen as guilty by association with the “sinners”.
What some of the first-century Jewish religious leaders, and some Christians, failed to realize is that WE ARE ALL SINNERS. Whether Jesus hung out with drunks, prostitutes and greedy tax collectors, or whether he hung out with the Scribes, Pharisees, and political leaders, he was still consorting with sinners. Jesus, himself, is the ONLY one who is FREE from sin. Everyone else, including us, are not. So, whether we think someone is sinning or not, which one of us is in a position to judge? NONE OF US!
That is why I have no problem consorting with people that others might get upset about. That is why you will see me in a bar or in the local Specialty Cannabis (CBD) store. You’ll see me at rock concerts, Harry Potter festivals, and all sorts of cool, worldly events. Why? Because that is where Jesus is…that is where I need to be to. The church equips me, fills me and sends me out to the community in Jesus’ name and it does the same for you too!
Jesus doesn’t just send you to the people society thinks are doing everything right; rather, Jesus sends you to ALL people and he has tasked you with including and loving them. Knowing that then, don’t worry about your “reputation”, or what people with think of you because of your associations; instead, just worry about the people Christ is calling you to know and love. Then you will be doing great work for the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s glory!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Judgmental people in a church are as helpful as backseat drivers in a car.
Lord, help me to avoid judgment and, when I can, be inclusive of all people. Amen.