Sunday, December 04, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Today's sermon

Today I am preaching at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, Virginia. This is more or less what I will say (and you will probably notice the strong influence of my mentor, Wacoan of the Year 2011 Bob Darden):

I received a note from Geoff [the Rector] about giving this sermon, telling me that the sermon should be about justice, and hope, and same-gender Holy Blessings, and also about John the Baptist. Which is, let’s face it, a lot to wrap up in 15 minutes, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Two decades ago, I was in law school. In the summer, I worked in Chicago, and lived in a small room in Streeterville. On Sundays, I would often walk up a few blocks to Michigan Avenue, and into a beautiful cathedral. That church, Fourth Presbyterian, was a rich and fascinating place, overwhelming. I didn’t know anyone there, or really anyone at all in Chicago. I was alone on a hot summer.

One Sunday I found myself sitting beside a woman and a girl, a mother and daughter. As the sermon began, I saw the girl writing on an envelope, the way children will do. It was… different, though. She was counting something, making hash marks in groups of five. I looked for a pattern, and couldn’t see it for a while, until it clicked—she was making a mark every time the minister, John Buchanan, used the word “love.”

That’s it, isn’t it? Justice and hope and new social institutions and the riot of John the Baptist do not usually all live in the same place. We have to pick them up and take them with us to somewhere unfamiliar. There is a… journey. And it must be a journey defined by love.

That was the thing that was most revolutionary about Jesus. His answer to everything was “love.” They were stoning a woman, and he loved her despite her sins; they brought him children and lepers and those who were despised, and he showed them love; they asked him which of 600 rules was most important, and he announced two great commandments of love… to love your God and to love your neighbor. Every time he was confronted with a rule, he responded by talking about the principle of love. Not easy love, either, but a love that required sacrifice and heartache and change.

There is this, too… that when Jesus was to leave this earth, he told people there would be one to come after him—the Holy Spirit, the Holy Comforter. I’ve always found that remarkable, that there is this sharp breaking point there, with prophets before that time who had come to shake things up, and the Holy Spirit afterwards, to challenge and comfort, a spirit of love in full.

That love, God’s love and our love for God, does not always provide us with easy answers, or even any answers at all. It's often troubling and unformed. When I read the story of John the Baptist, what amazes me isn’t the bug-eating and the beheading, but the fact that his message was so vague. He told people to repent and be baptized in the name of… well, he didn’t know who yet, someone who was yet to come. And somehow, people bought into this! He told them to share their possessions, and they came. He told them to sacrifice for love, and they came. With no Messiah but a promise, with no riches, with no theology, really, they came. Love is that strong.

The Gospels are full of journeys. The people journeyed to see John the Baptist. Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, great with child. At Passover, the pilgrims would journey to the Temple at Jerusalem, as Jesus did.

This church sent me on a journey.

As many of you know, I worked for ten years at Baylor University, which bars gays and lesbians from working there as faculty or staff, or as students. I confess that I did not think much of this while I was there; it didn’t seem that any of my students were gay.

I was wrong. After I wrote an article about my own repentance from bigotry, I heard from many of my former students who told me about the problems they had, being forced to hide their true selves when they were studying with me. They were some of my favorites, too (you know there are favorites), the ones who were bold and sharp and questioning. I was stunned, and ashamed. What we at Baylor had told them, quite clearly, was that there was no love for them, on earth or in heaven, and I knew that to be wrong.

So I went back to Baylor. I wrote an article urging the school to change its policies, and set up an interview with the NPR station there to talk about it. The local paper, the Waco Tribune Herald, agreed to run my article on August 28, and I booked my trip for that week. I also asked my old church in Waco, Seventh and James Baptist, if I could speak there about the issue.

It all fell apart. I woke up on the 28th of August and looked online at the paper—the article wasn’t there. A Baylor Regent had stepped in (as was his right-- he owned the paper). I found that my interview at the NPR station (located in a Baylor building) was also off. Perhaps hardest of all, I got an email from the minister of my church, saying that not only would I not be welcome to speak that week, but that it would be an inappropriate topic any week.

I was at a loss, and heartbroken. This church was my spiritual home, and turned me away when I needed it most.

There was a moment of hope, though. I pulled up a message from a member of this church, reminding me of the importance of what I wanted to do. So, I regrouped. I submitted the story to the Huffington Post, and it was read there by over 100,000 people. I went to Waco, and ran into an old friend who asked me to speak on campus. I did, and found an informal group of Baylor students who wanted to examine issues of sexual identity. They had been denied student group status, and they would be meeting the next night in the dining hall. They asked me to come speak.

I did, of course. A local TV station came to cover it, and something remarkable happened. I spoke, and then some of the students, and then the President of the group concluded, giddy with excitement. During this time, other students had come into the hall from a pep rally across the street—the cheerleaders and the freshmen and the sorority girls. They sat quietly and listened. When the president finished, they all started to cheer: first the members of that group, but then the rest of them, too, the cheerleaders and the freshman and the sorority girls. It was a moment of grace and love and redemption and, yes, justice. They are still meeting every few weeks, too, and their numbers grow.

Of course, I heard from those who disagreed with me. They would also oppose same-gender blessings in church, I suspect. They stood on rules, for the most part… rules from Leviticus, rules from what they called “common sense.”

But I know what Jesus said about rules and the principle of love, every chance that he had. There may be judgment, certainly, but that is God’s work. Ours is to love one another, and to love God. Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it, and he did fulfill it through his life and death and life again, allowing us to move forward under the principles he taught.

In a world where two men or two women can blessed before this altar of God, things will be unfamiliar. That is the nature of the journey. That is the cost of justice and hope and love.

I am here to walk with you.

When I was a child, my mother would sing a song whenever we were going on a trip. We called it the “Packing Up Song,” and it went like this:

Packing up.
Getting ready to go
Packing up
Getting ready to go
Packing up
Getting ready to go
I’m all packed up getting ready to go.

I found out years later that it was an Appalachian version of an African-american spiritual, about the journey to freedom. But isn’t that every journey we make with the Holy Spirit, a journey to freedom, to the unfamiliar?

Let me walk with you.
I'm packed.

Lovely, fulfilling and coherent message for this Sunday morning.

p.s. I hope the sunrise in Richmond was beautiful like it was in Durham this morning.
Mark, I am honored to know you.

P.S. That song, makes me think of the 2011 Wacoan of the Year, Bob Darden.
I cannot think of better words one could read the morning that happens to be on their 46th year of being around in this world.
Happy Birthday Anon 9:05
Wow! What a wonderful message. I am so lucky to have read this and to know you. Thank you.
"A journey defined by love. - Let me walk with you." Reflections from Osler's Razor and Creo en Dios this past week...

“A Thanksgiving Prayer” preceding the dawn of Advent, endings and new beginnings, a gentle emersion and entrance of the Holy Spirit. Posts speaking eloquently of …

Gathering to “share tears of loss,”

Moments of melancholy and humor as we reflect upon, “Come let us set things right, language that soothes my soul.”

“Jesus looked at the lepers and saw them. …he gave them an enormous gift simply by seeing them. By seeing them, he gave them dignity. By seeing them, he made them, not only lepers, but persons.”

“…each person, … is a bearer of the image of God…”

“Our Children, Our Hope For the Future”

“You Are Special, No Matter What”

A Sunday sermon –

“That’s it, isn’t it? Justice and hope and new social institutions and the riot of John the Baptist do not usually all live in the same place. We have to pick them up and take them with us to somewhere unfamiliar. There is a… journey. And it must be a journey defined by love.”

Reality’s reach snares us all. From the moment of birth, the illumination from the light of day, the salty scent from breath, the warmth of parental embrace, to the voices of joy and thanksgiving, our gift of life, the clay of our life, is being shaped, transformed, hardened and fixed. The unlimited potential, possibilities, dreams and opportunities destiny calls us to seek, discover and nurture are being culled, categorized, limited and established.

Painfully pushed, forced and thrust into the unknown and then severed from the safety and nourishment of shared existence, new life begins to shroud us from our awakening before our eyes can see, before our heart can love, before our mind can discern and before richness in soul defines.

Consider His love that offers each new day as a manifestation of His grace and blessings, encompassing the entirety of the Liturgical Season – an anniversary each morning of our letting go and experiencing the warmth and comfort of His embrace.

Encouraged to continue weaving the blessings received from our encounters with all of His children (past and present) into the fabric of our lives.

Challenged to be a bearer of the image of God, accepted for who we are, who we are with all of our blemishes, our faults and also with all of our gifts and talents.

Exhibiting with each beat of our heart Dorothy Day’s “… deep love of God and her unwavering ability to see God in those the world shuns.”

Forgoing all else and responding when a child’s gaze illuminates unconditional love and an innate desire to “…more fully give birth to Christ.” Responding when children seek the wisdom to balance the rythem of their heart with ours, with our intentions and actions in word and in deed.

My reflections during Thanksgiving embodied a manifestation of God’s love, reinforced by family and friends – an overwhelming experience as love came softly and settled upon me while reflecting upon “your” Thanksgivings and the love your shared with each other - a love emanating from the Body of Christ, from the Family of God, from each of you.

I pray you continue to “let me walk with you. I’m packed.”

To our loved ones and friends we are never far away. The experiences we enjoy and share are the grace and blessings we have received. They are the grace and blessings that have been attracted to us. They are our extraordinary experiences and our true rewards.

In God’s eyes we are perfect, and when we follow our heart, accept His love, love Him, love each other and love ourselves, today will become our best day. When we do, “Each ordinary moment will become an extraordinary experience” and an eternity of today will seem like Heaven.
Your words remind me of what is best about having been at Baylor, and about being a person of faith. Thanks, Mark, for sharing this.
Thank you Christine!
A love supreme.

We all live by making judgments, but perhaps the most important judgment, and thus the most difficult one, is to love.
Let me preface this post with the following admissions: I am not a Bible scholar, but I try to read and understand it; I am a Baptist; I strive to love all human beings (including homosexuals); and I believe that engaging in homosexuality is a sinful act (much like I believe that engaging in pre-marital sex with a person of the opposite sex acts is a sin). Based on the belief that engaging in homosexuality is sinful, I don’t think that Christians would be fulfilling their purpose by accepting it in churches or Christian institutions. I am not trying to convince anybody that homosexuality is a sin, so please do not respond with proof that it is not.

This post is written based on my belief that engaging in homosexual acts is sinful. You can disagree with that if you want to, but I would hope that you would at least acknowledge that there is foundation for this belief. Yes, it is in the Old Testament. No, I won’t argue that it’s common sense. It’s also in the New Testament (“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Even if you disagree with this, this post is meant more as a response to your point that Christians should seemingly accept all acts within their institutions, even if they believe them to be sinful.

I was quite disappointed in your post because it seemed to assume that you were morally correct, and those in Waco were legalists who had devised an evil scheme to keep homosexuals down. I believe that the post was very judgmental and showed little empathy for the amount of prayer and thought may have gone into those decisions.

(Continued below)

Living a Christian life is very difficult and complex. There are many Truths scattered throughout the Bible, and it can be very difficult to discern how to live out those Truths in everyday life. For instance, you focused on love. I completely agree with you that Jesus was all about love. However, the Bible does not teach us that loving means accepting any act that one does. One of the stories that you pointed to was the stoning of the prostitute. Yes, Jesus loved her, but he also told her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He showed great mercy on her, but he didn’t simply allow her to keep on living that life. Would the act of loving people engaging in homosexuality really mean that people such as myself ignore that we think that it is against God’s will by encouraging it to be celebrated within the walls of a church? There are many instances scattered throughout the New Testament about how Christians should try to keep their brothers from sinning, should flee from sin, should flee from sexual immorality, etc. (let me know if you need examples). So the question really comes down to this: how do we live a loving Christian life without judging others while still following those pieces of scripture? As I said, it can be difficult and complex.
I don’t believe that loving somebody means accepting everything they do, even if you believe it is wrong. I don’t think that a parent telling their kid not to do something that the kid wants to do means that the parent doesn’t love them. Our role is not to judge them. This is where it may get tricky. I think that many Christians do judge homosexuality, and that gives us a bad name. We should try our best to separate the act from the person and not judge the person. However, it can be our role to try to keep fellow believers from engaging in acts that we know to be wrong. Thus, without judging them, I do believe it can be our role to help them from committing a particular sin. Practically, this can be very difficult, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the parts of the Bible that tell us to do this.

I believe that we should treat homosexuality as any other sin (assuming you believe that it is a sin). We should still try to minister to those who engage in homosexual acts just like we treat those who are engaging in pre-marital sex or those who are stealing, etc. I don’t believe that we should accept it within in the church. We shouldn’t be allowing them to be celebrated within the church if we believe it is a sinful act. That does not make any sense. Loving and not judging does not mean we encourage and accept it within the church or Christian institutions. We don’t celebrate the fact that people are having pre-marital sex (sorry, this is just one example of something I believe to be a sin, so I keep using it). We don’t celebrate any other act that we believe is sinful. If we do, we should stop it.

I take offense to the statement that you made where you said that “What we at Baylor had told them, quite clearly, was that there was no love for them, on earth or in heaven.” It’s as if you’ve decided that accepting their acts shows love and not accepting sinful acts shows hate. However, I don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches at all. Jesus showed so much love to the prostitute without accepting her sinful ways. It showed love for him to tell her to go and sin no more. I don’t think it would have been loving for Jesus, knowing that prostitution was sinful and leading her further away from God, to tell her to come and do it in the church, so that she could feel loved. At the very least, I wish that you would at least acknowledge this as an extremely difficult issue instead of posing this as a clear cut answer.
Happy Birthday, anon. 9:05! 46 is a great age....

For me, your comments about the acceptance of homosexuality (whatever that might mean) are wholly uncontroversial. I actually find it difficult to process objections and counter-arguments to it.

Your piece was useful to me in another way. When I felt I was getting into conflict with my church...I left. I wish I hadn't and am trying to go back. My conflicts weren't entirely ideological, just a disappointment with the Christians who surrounded me.

Your courage in engagement with the Christian community despite what sounds like a number of challenges is inspiring. I have never really considered engagement as a viable solution. If you can have faith that good can come from Christian conflict, maybe I can too.

Thank you for that.

Thanks for using your real name. It shows much more courage than I have found in your fellow travelers, who usually issue such opinions anonymously.

First of all, don't think you can decide it is your role to help other to identify their sins and pretend that isn't judging. Of course it is. That's what calling another person a "sinner" is. If you think It is your role to do what you say-- steer others from what you have decided is sinful-- then you are judging. You can't have it both ways.

Second, in John 8, there are four types of characters: the pharisees, the woman being stoned, the people with stones in their hands, and Jesus. It baffles me that you so easily put yourself in the role of Jesus. Really? Out of that group, the one most like you is God on earth? Do you realize how arrogant that is? We are, at different times, the members of the mob, the sinner, and the pharisee, but I would never pretend that I am God. Do you, really? That story teaches us to be better when we are in one of those three roles-- legalist, sinner, judgmental part of the mob-- but I can't believe the point is to help me be better at being God. That's not who I am. It's also not who you are.

Look, if you are a Christian, make Jesus's clearest directives paramount in your life (on the other hand, if you are Jewish, then make the Torah primary; if you worship Paul, then put the Epistles first). Jesus said this: "Judge not."

That's not an "extremely difficult issue." It is clear cut.

Your position, above all else, belies an utter lack of humility. You read John 8, and see yourself as God on earth; you read "judge not," and somehow read it as the opposite.

Jesus was good at giving "clear-cut" answers. The two Great Commandments are exactly that... love your neighbor. Excluding people (i.e., from Baylor) is not love. Yes, that takes away your power to judge; perhaps that was the point.
Professor Osler,
Thank you, as always, for articulating a well thought out response. I understand what you’re saying. I am simply saying that it’s not as easy of an answer as you’re making it out to be for a lot of people. I must say that I’m quite nervous writing a response because I am quite intimated by your intelligence (not being sarcastic at all). I never post on things like this, but I felt a need to express my views.
First, no I don’t think that I am most like God, and if that’s what you got from my post, then I did not do a good job of expressing my thoughts. God’s job is to judge, not man. My point was that there are no parts of the Bible, that I know of, where Christians are commanded to allow everybody to do any act that they want to because that is what love it. I used the story that you referenced to try to illustrate this. My point wasn’t to say that we should tell people to “go and sin no more” as Jesus did. My point was to show that Jesus didn’t show love by simply accepting her behavior.
I guess that we have a different opinion of what judging is and what loving is. If we as Christians are not allowed to decipher based on the Bible what a sin is and whether we should allow that behavior to take place in our churches, then I don’t think that it would be possible to have orderly worship. Taking your “don’t judge” and “love others” arguments to their logical conclusion, we would have to allow pagans to worship other gods in our churches because it would be judgmental and unloving to exclude those acts that the Bible has taught us to be sinful. I don’t consider that to be judgmental.
I cannot believe your old church did that. Seriously. You were like PART OF that place...
I just deleted several paragraphs because I can't figure out how to say this, so please read this with maximum grace and respect for all.

First, good article.

But second, is there a tension between the attitude you object to in Mr. Bufkin and the one you have toward him? I know there is for me, and I'm not sure what to do with that.

I feel like fidelity to conscience is important and yet so is not being "judgmental." So what to do in the face of conviction?

You object to Bufkin putting himself in the place of Christ, but I probably do the same thing as he does when it comes to the things that I strongly object to.

I think we all share the same challenge when it comes to our convictions. When it comes to calling something wrong and at the same time trying to love the one doing the thing we feels is dangerous and even devastating.

Often I don't even bother. I am quick to pick up rocks to stone the banker caught in the middle of an illicit foreclosure. Quick to judge anyone caught in an adulterous relationship between church and state. Especially when their commitment to state security causes them to contribute to a climate of torture and death at the highest levels of government. I too sit in the place of Christ... when it is an issue I feel strongly about.

Thoughts? This is THE conundrum I can't seem to find my way through.
The Bible (OT/NT) never speaks of sexual orientation (hetero or homo). Sexual orientation is purely a modern concept derived from psychology. Thus, we, on the left or right or in the middle, must be careful when we read our categories back into these ancient texts. We also hyperfocus on issues regarding human sexuality; the ancients, including the people of Jesus' generation, simply did not have this same kind of focus.

To my reading, the arc of Torah and of Jesus' ministry does not point to who is correct or "righteous", but to who loves.

The act of creation (along with redemption) is judgment and the judgment is for love.

Scott Davis
Bryan, I don't like my original response much. I was in a mood, I guess. Anyways, let me offer you this-- I really do think it is good to have that point of view from someone willing to put their name on it. If you'd like, I would put your thoughts on this on the blog as a guest commentary. What do you think?
Professor Osler,

That sounds good to me.

Great! Just write up what you want (you might want to include some introductory info, such as where you live, for context) and email it to me at
Excellent sermon...simply blown away by it. I would have loved to hear the voice speaking those much of the strength of a sermon is the combination of physical presence and voice and words and those present to hear it.Bravo. I have always wondered if we hear Jesus himself speaking out against homosexuality. I don't think he even mentions it. The accent is always on love,on inclusion.
Renee - EXACTLY. I do not know Jesus.. I just do not. That ship has sailed for me, I am convinced and My Unitarian / Athiest Agnostic whatever they were parents did not raisie me with a belief in God. I cannot speak wiht authority on God or Jesus but almost everything I have ever heard people say or read about RE: God and Jesus is that it is all about inclusion, and warm welcoming love, unconditional love. and HOME. They speak of people being HOME When people die they "go home" to Jesus.etc

Makes NO SENSE that He would exclude God Fearing Christians because of their sexual preference. In MY OPINION ONLY gay people are gay from birth and it is not a choice for them it is just how they are... so WHY WHY WHY would Jesus, this benevolent loving man ever want someone to conceal or hide a huge part of who they are?

This HOME that God and Jesus provides people of faith should be open to anyone who wants to enter it. INCLUSION.

I think the way to understand Bryan's position is to look at our own views on racism as an example, particularly the type of racism that moves people to actively hate and hurt other human beings.

Is the person of Jesus, real or mythological, just love and good feelings towards the one who would drag a black man to his death?

I don't think so. Jesus had harsh words for some caught in sin, particularly the unrepentant, and particularly the powerful. The money lenders taking over the temple, and pharasees that would heep up burdens on the powerless and then not lift a finger to help them.

Catch the nuance here, I am not comparing being gay to being raciest, or comparing being anti-gay to being raciest. Not at this time anyway.

What I am saying is that I think that maybe we can stand up and call some things wrong. Maybe this is one of those things. Maybe. This is something I wrestle with.

Is over consumption wrong? Racism, mistreating the planet, predatory lending, depriving people of their civil rights, their due process when they encounter the justice system? I think so.

I don't think it is Bryan's attitude that is wrong. (I think you represented your position well Bryan.) But I do think his position might be dead wrong. And if it is, if that position is wrong and hurtful, and enables others to do truly evil things to people who are gay, (even if Bryan does not intend that to happen.) Then maybe we can and should pass judgment on his position. Somehow we have to do that without hatting Bryan and those like him.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm not completely sure Brian is wrong. I use to think he was right. Today I'm not sure what I think. The safest position for me is to join Osler and simply not pass judgment on anyone.

But imagine if we were having this conversation 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, and the topic was inter-racial marriage. Would I be comfortable standing on the side line, saying "I'm just not sure. Inter-racial marriage might be unbiblical, might not, so I'm just not going to say anything."

Tough questions I don't have answers to. But I do think that in some cases, some type of judgment is appropriate. If only we knew when.
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