Sermon for the inaugural Rainbow Worship service at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Renfrew
February 5, 2023. by Rev. James Murray
I’d like start by thanking you for being part of our historic gathering this evening. This is a new step for us to offer a Rainbow Worship service that welcomes in everyone, especially the members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, along with family members and allies. It has been a long time in coming. Back in 1988 the United Church of Canada voted that everyone can be a member of the church regardless of their sexual orientation. This also opened the door for LGBTQ2S+ people to become ministers. And the gifts this move has brought to our congregations and our ministry have had a profound impact on our denomination. It took another thirty years, until 2018 for Trinity St. Andrew’s to become an Affirming Congregation that opened our doors. It’s hard to realize that it took an entire generation for that to happen. Progress and deep change takes time and we are thankful our church has evolved to become more inclusive.
We also recognize that justice delayed is justice denied. We recognize that for too long the Christian church has not been a safe place for the people who gather under the banner of the rainbow flag. So for the hurt and hatred you have experienced, for the closed minds and closed doors that have kept you excluded, I offer a sincere and humble apology.
The sin was ours all along, not yours. As an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, I ask for your forgiveness for the harm the Christian Church has done to you as individuals and collectively. I also ask forgiveness for our failing to recognize that you are created in God’s image.
While we have made great progress over the past decades, we recognize we also have generations of failures that still need mending. My hope is that we can create a more hopeful future for us all by working and worshipping together. And I believe the message of Jesus the Christ offers us a way to make this happen.
When someone asked Jesus what they must do to be right with God, he quotes a familiar Bible verse that everyone knew off by heart. He says “You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbour just as much as you love yourself.” We know his words as the Golden Rule. They are the foundation of how we are to live our lives every day. Love is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it is the key to a fulfilling life. When we love ourselves, we learn to accept who we really are. This helps us grow in strength and confidence. It helps us learn to trust in our own goodness and worth as a human being. It gives us the courage to grow and evolve. We need to learn how to love ourselves before we can reach out to love someone else. When we love someone, we learn how to care for their well being as much as we seek our own well being. And to love God is to give of yourself for the sake of the common good of us all. This is a lofty goal that inspires us to seek justice so all are treated fairly. The love of God teaches how to mend broken relationships through forgiveness and reconciliation.
In our world today, the lofty words of the Golden Rule have often been subverted as people try to put themselves first. This is what we call the Iron Rule. The Iron Rule states ‘do it unto others before they have a chance to do it unto you.” The Iron Rule is all about having power over others so everything that happens is for your own benefit. The Iron Rule is a great way for an individual to get ahead, but it creates a lot of ill will. Such ill will spawns hatred and fear. Ill will causes us to seek revenge on those who hurt us.
As Christians we are invited to follow a different way. Jesus’ teaching on the Golden Rule seeks to create good will for the good of us all. By learning how to embrace each other as we are, we can learn how to lift everyone up. Yet this is not Jesus’ final word on the subject. It’s so important he takes it one step further. At the Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment. Jesus says “I’m giving you a new commandment to follow: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. This new rule has earned the nickname of The Titanium Rule, since it even trumps the Golden Rule.
The Titanium Rule is simply this: “Love each other the way Jesus loves you”. This isn’t about being nice or showing affection to people. It’s about offering practical, caring support. It’s offering your gifts and talents to bless someone. It is to have a spirit of compassion for every living thing. It even asks us to pray for our enemies that their hearts might be changed.
We need this kind of love because ill-will is all around us. There are lots of people these days who are busy spreading fear and hate that harms us all. Fortunately, on a day like today, we do not have to look very far to find signs of good will. For unconditional love has the power to shape and change lives. It is an earthly example of the love we seek from God. It is the good will we dream of finding embodied in every person we meet. Good will seeks to build up the common good for the benefit of us all.
The Golden Rule teaches us to be ethical and just in how we treat others. The Iron Rule is all about maximizing the power you can have as an individual. The Titanium rule is about maximizing the love we can share together. For in the end, it is love that always wins over fear or hatred.
And love is love. It is the love God has shown us since life first emerged on this planet. It is the love that Jesus embodied in his life. It is the love we get to share together here today.
So thank you. Thank you for having the courage to be part of this gathering this evening. For you are loved by God, just as you are.