October 11, 2017

Covenant and Coming Out

On the occasion of National Coming Out Day, I thought I would share the sermon from the church we have been attending that is Open and Affirming for over 25 years now.

The most profound portion of the sermon in my opinion is from around seven minutes and forty-three seconds in and an excerpt is included below, though I suggest listening to the whole sermon. I don’t often talk about religion here in general, but if church-goers who are seeking the right path to following the model of Jesus—one of acceptance and assistance to those in need—aren’t speaking up, nothing will ever change within the church-going context. Nor will non-religious people ever see virtue in church-goers because the worst of us are often the most prevalently iconized. To those who are making difficult decisions about coming out today, I pray that you find those who will be your support, as I attempt to be a support to all LGBTQIA+ people in my area of influence.

Like other stories, the story of Abraham, Sarah, and the three strangers has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The strangers arrive, they accept Abraham’s hospitality, and then they depart. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, invites the church to practice this ancient moral code but with a different outcome. What if the strangers arrive but never leave, what if the story of hospitality—Philoxenia—has a beginning but no end?

In most Bibles, like the reading we heard today. Romans 15, verse 7 is translated as Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” But I prefer a different translation and it goes like this: Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

I think there’s a difference between welcome and accept. Sometimes I think of welcome as friendliness, a handshake and a smile when a visitor walks into a church and friendliness is very important, but Paul in Romans is asking us for more. The Greek verb he uses doesn’t mean courtesy to a visitor but enduring relationship, to accept one another as a companion, as a friend. It literally means to take, in exactly the same sense we sometimes use that word in our marriage vows: I take you to be my wife; I take you to be my husband; I take you to be my partner.

Paul wants us to take others into our lives, so for Paul, hospitality is more than a friendly outcome, a friendly welcome. He wants us to accept one another, just as Christ accepted you. A welcome can be transitory, acceptance is for a lifetime.

-Andy Lang, Sermon, October 8, 2017, First Congregational UCC

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