Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon at the Integrity Eucharist, June 16, 2006
I want to begin by saying hello to the people downstairs. (Loud cheering from us people downstairs).
I need to say thank you to, perhaps some less obvious people. Of course to Integrity and Claiming the Blessing, and all of the people who have just worked so hard during these days. But, I need to thank some people very, very close to my heart, and have you thank them with me.
It's hard, sometimes, to have to share your bishop with the world. And, while most of my ministry is in New Hampshire that I know and love, and let me tell you--all the other bishops can close their ears--I have the best diocese! (Laughter.) And I want you to join me in thanking them for sharing me with you. (Applause).
And I've just started, and I'm getting teary--and the person who makes this all possible, my partner Mark (applause).
(Dabbing his eyes) Okay, I can't look at him anymore!
This event tonight is many things...it's a pep rally, it's a celebration of what's happened and what is happening, and what will happen. But mostly it's what every Eucharist is--a giving thanks to God for God's great goodness in creation, for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our redemption, and for the Holy Spirit's continued work and inspiration and guidance and advocacy in our midst. How could we not be thankful for the miracles we see unfolding about us every day?
I hope you will permit me to address this sermon to my brothers and sisters who happen to be gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Episcopalians. But I do invite those of you who are, shall we say, "homosexually challenged" (laughter) to listen in, and see if there isn't something here for you too.
This is not the time to talk about legislation or strategy or advocacy. This is the time to listen to our hearts. To come to this table praying that we've been delivered from "coming for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only, and not for renewal." It's a time to remember with humility and resolve that no matter how much is being asked of us by this convention, God always asks for even more.
We find ourselves beginning the long season of Pentecost. That season when the spirit of the living God comes to us as wind, and fire, and breath. "Come Holy Spirit our souls inspire!"
Mike McCloud tells the story of a priest in a large church in Florida, who decided to dramatize the Holy Spirit coming like a mighty wind in a particularly spectacular manner. He got the engine out of one of those boats that they use in the Everglades, and, you know, an airplane propellor attached to a big gasoline engine, and mounted it in the choir loft.
The wind from the propellor would blow out across the congregation when the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit was read. Now the priest and the head usher gave it a dry run on Saturday afternoon, and although it was incredibly noisy, it worked well and promised a spectacular effect for Sunday morning.
Now, on Pentecost morning, the lector read, "...and suddenly, from Heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house."
At that exact moment, the head usher gave one pull. Gave a second pull (laughter) and then gave a third pull, and that engine *howled* into life! But on Sunday morning, things were different than they had been on Saturday afternoon. First of all, now the choir members were in place. (Laughter). And they had not been there for the practice run.
And the sudden screaming gust of wind sent sheet music flying all over the congregation. Hairdos of the congregation became unglued. The preacher's sermon, literally, was gone with the wind. And a hairpiece flew toward the altar. And it was like in the play Green Pastures, when the Angel Gabriel says to the Lord, "Everything that was nailed down is comin' loose!" (Laughter) And that's just the way it is with the Spirit.
It's that part of God which refuses to be contained and confined to the little boxes we create for God to live in--safely confined to the careful boundaries *we* set for the Holy Spirit.
The problem is, and the miracle is, and the gift is, God just won't stay put! And God won't let you or me stay put, content to believe what we've always believed, what we've always been taught, what we've always assumed. But change is not just something to be wished upon our enemies, but it is something God requires of us as well.
Think of the things you and I believe and think today that we could not have imagined years ago. We used not to be outraged at Black folk being made to drink from separate water fountains. At women not being deputies to this General Convention, nor priests standing at God's altar. Nor differently abled folk being able to get into our churches.
Our change in thinking didn't come as a result of our own work, but the work of God's Spirit blowing through us like wind. Calling us away from our narrow thinking, and more nearly into the mind and heart of Christ.
More importantly, remember how we used to think of ourselves? We *believed* the church when we were told we were an abomination before God. That *our* relationships, even our lives, were intrinsically disordered. That we were second class hangers-on in the church of God. Loved, perhaps, but, only if...
And then the Spirit of God blew through us like a mighty wind. We heard God's calm and loving voice above the noisy din of the church's condemnation, and we were saved. Made worthy to stand before God through God's Son's sacrifice on the cross. Quite literally born again, and our lives changed forever.
Think of the joy we have come to know because of the Spirit's work within us. Psalm 27 says, "What if we had not believed the goodness of the Lord?"
Well, St. Peter didn't like change much either, and he was horrified in his dream to hear God saying, "Don't be so picky about what people eat!" (Laughter) "Care more about what's in their hearts. My word is broader and deeper than that, and I'm going to be calling people unto me whom you have thought to be unacceptable in my eyes. You've been wrong, and I'm going to show you a different way."
Is there any doubt in our minds that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and calling God's church to open itself to *all* those whom Jesus loves? We don't worship a God who is all locked up in scripture 2000 years ago, but rather a God whose love knows no human bounds, and blows through us like wind.
Now lest you think I'm talking only about *them* loving *us*, let me remind you that the Spirit of God wants *us* to love *them* too. Indeed, the Spirit of God longs for, *yearns* for, and demands that there cease to be "them" and "us".
Gene takes a drink of water and says, "You might just want to take a little mental break here--it's a long sermon!"
(Missed the first few words of part II as I was fiddling with the voice recorder)
...compassion for our enemies. And the few times I've used that word, people have quarrelled with my use of it, and that characterization, as though we didn't have enemies.
It's a word that Jesus used. The hard part, and the important part is that, following Jesus' own command, we have to learn to *love* our enemies. Not to like them, not to be paralyzed by their opposition, not to give in to their outrageous demands, but to love them nevertheless. To treat them with infinite respect. To listen to what drives them. To try our very best to understand the fear that causes them to reject us. To believe them when they say they only want the best for us. That is *very* hard work, and we can't do it without God's own Spirit blowing through us like wind. Breaking down *our* walls, breaking down *our* assumptions. Causing things to come loose in our own minds, and reminding us that they, too, are children of God for whom Christ died, and through whom they will be saved.
So, what are we here to do, here, at this General Convention and beyond? Once again, let us return to the stories of the first century church and its witness, which ultimately bring us here, as the church of the 21st century. Look at what they did--they didn't denegrate their enemies, they didn't doubt that their enemies were children of God. Rather, they spoke of God's love for them, and what Jesus Christ had done in their own lives. Breaking loose the bonds of sin and death which keeps us *all* from the abundant life promised by the Savior. By word and example, they proclaimed what God had done in their lives, and then let the Spirit do the rest.
So your job and mine, here at this General Convention, and in the days ahead, is what it has *always* been. To proclaim with boldness and clarity, not what *we* have done, but what God has done in us. Our lives must be lived with such joy, such vibrancy and trust in God, that all will come to see that we are indeed, along with all of humanity, children of the Most High. That will be the only thing that will change hearts. It's the only thing that ever has.
That's where the sermon should end.
However... (laughter)...I've worked really hard for you this convention, and I'm asking something in favor. I'm asking you to sit here just a few more minutes, so that I can share something with you that I really want you to hear. Something that I believe will serve us *all* well in the days ahead.
It's an answer to a question I've been asked countless times, and I must say, an awful lot in the last 24 hours since my big showing on Larry King Live (laughter). More than one person has come up to me today and said, "How do you do what you do? How do you seem calm and loving even when insults are coming your way, even when Holy Scripture is being flung in your face like mud?"
So tonight, I want to share with you my secret.
This is about as close, outside of Scripture, this is about as close as you'll ever get to what makes Gene Robinson tick. I want to read from the *other* book that changed my life. I can pinpoint the moment my life and my ministry changed. The moment I became willing to risk everything for the Gospel, and for Jesus, who *is* the Word.
The book is old, it's probably out of print. It's called Embracing the Exile by John Fortunato, published, believe it or not, by our old Seabury Press. (Oooh!) Don't you just *love* that?
John helped shape Integrity in its earliest days, and he went through a bruising, nasty, and very public ordeal when he and his partner tried to have their relationship blessed in their local Episcopal church. He endured all the hatred and vitriol you might expect such an event would incur in the world and Church of 25 years ago. In the opening and closing chapters of the book, he describes getting up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, in pain over the abuse heaped upon him by Christians and nonChristians alike for loving another man, and having the audacity to want the Church's blessing on their relationship.
Sitting there alone in his living room in the dark, he had a vision. Or was it in his imagination?
John describes it this way, and I quote:
I was sitting there, and God was sitting there too, on the couch, right in front of me. It was very peaceful and dark, but I could see him. He was bright, and we were talking.
I was saying, "You know, sometimes I think they're right, that being gay and loving a man is wrong." God smiled and said quietly, "How can love be wrong? It all comes from me."
But I was a wreck, you'll remember. It was going to take more than that! "Sometimes I just want to bury that part of me," I said, "just pretend it isn't real!"
"But I made you whole, " God replied, "You are one as I am one. I made you, in my image".
I knew he was trying to soothe me but I had just been through four months of good Christian folk trying to cram down my throat that I was an abomination, so all this acceptance was getting me just little frustrated. (Laughter) So I tried again...
"Your church, out there, says that you don't love me! They say that I'm lost--damned to hell!"
"You're my son," God said in a way that was both gentle and yet so firm that there could be no doubt of his genuineness. "Nothing can separate you from my love. I redeemed you before the beginning of time. In my Father's house there is a mansion waiting just for you."
I started to fill up. ""What do I *do* with all this?" I asked, weeping now, and clenching my teeth, at my wit's end trying to have it all make sense. "What do I do with *them*?"
And in the same calm voice, God said, "I've given you gifts--share them. I've given you light--brighten the world. I empower you with my love--love them. "
That did it! After all I had been through, I had had it with sweet words. Who was he trying to kid? I pounded my fist in exasperation and cried, "LOVE them?! What are you trying to do to me--can't you see? They call *my* light darkness! They call *my* love perverted! They call my gifts corruptions! What the hell are you asking me to do?!"
There was silence. God didn't move a muscle, though his gaze was much more intense. And with a voice filled with compassion, a voice that enveloped me with its love, God spoke:
"Love them anyway," God said. "Love them anyway."
"Love them anyway?!" I moaned. "But how?"
"You begin just by being who you are," God said, "a loving, caring, whole person, created in my image, whose special light of love happens to shine on men, as I intended for you."
"Is that all?" I asked fearfully.
God shook his head. "No. You must also speak your pain, and affirm the wholeness I have made you to be when they assail it. You must protest when you are treated as less than a child of mine. "
"Is there more?" I asked. "Yes," God said gently, "And this is the hardest part of all. You must go out and teach them. Help them to know of their dependence on me for all that they really are. And of their helplessness without me. Teach them that their ways are not my ways, and that the world of their imagining is not the world I have made. Help them to see that all creation is one as I am one, and that all I create, I redeem. And assure them, by word, and example, and work, that my love is boundless, and that I am with them always."
"You know they won't listen to me," I said with resignation. "They'll despise me! They'll call me a heretic and laugh me to scorn! They'll persecute and torment me--they'll try to destroy me! You know they will, don't you?"
God's radiant face saddened, and then God said softly, "Oh yes. I know. How well I know."
I heard his words, and something irrevocable changed in me. I went numb. Now I knew. Now I understood. And it was as though large chunks of who I had been began falling away, tumbling through time and space into eternity. I just let them all fall.
No fear now. No resistance. No sense of loss. All that was dropping away was unnecessary now. Extraneous. I began to feel light and warm. Energy began to surge through my whole being, enlivening me as though I were a rusty old turbine that had been charged up and was starting to hum.
Then two strong, motherly arms reached out and drew me close to the bosom of All That Is, and I was just...there. Just being. Enveloped in Being. And we wept...for joy."
As Gene concluded, he was choking up again, and in an automatic, almost Pavlovian way, tears welled up in my own eyes. They are doing it again as I transcribe this...
My dear beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.....all we are asked to do, by the God of all creation, is to love them anyway. No matter what gets said this week or next, no matter what resolutions get passed or not, no matter how soon or how long it takes for us to find justice, we already have God's love, and all we are asked to do in return is to love them anyway. All of them. And then trust God to do the rest. Amen.
Amen! and applause
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