Those Who Abide in Me

Those Who Abide in Me

a sermon by The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, President, Integrity

St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California. May 9, 1999, Easter 6(A)

1 Peter 3:8-18; John 15:1-8

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

As President of Integrity, I get the occassional inquiry that goes something like: "How can you teach that homosexuality is OK when the Bible clearly says it is not?"

Let me say first that as a gay man and a Christian (not to mention a priest of the Church) I will know that the kingdom of God has advanced in a significant way when I stop getting these inquiries, when I stop having to live my life and exercise my ministry with that question hanging over my head nearly all the time.

In the meantime, one by one I answer the questions, and so do my fellow lesbian and gay Christians. It is our time in the history of the Christian faith to account for the hope that is within us, as Peter exhorts us to do. I, personally, do not always have the patience or gentleness he asks me to have in doing so, although you'll be relieved to know that today I'm feeling very patient and at least relatively gentle. What keeps me from going over the edge--and, in fact, keeps me in the Church--is the belief that the gift of my sexuality and the uncertainty of the Church in dealing with it, is an extraordinary opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hope no one is surprised that the president of Integrity is going to speak about gay and lesbian people in the Church this morning. I hope by the time I'm finished, though, that you also know that you've heard the Gospel preached.

This Gospel is simply the steadfast, mother-like, love of God for you, for me, and for the whole creation. Of that love for you and for me, straight or gay, I am absolutely, utterly convinced. I am as convinced of the love of God for me in season and out of season as I am of that of my own mother, even though most days I am a great mystery to her. The challenge is, of course, God's love filtered through Mother Church.

The Church has struggle for all its two thousand years with its own vocation to motherhood, not sure whether it is a vocation primarily to control her children or to love them. She is, at best, a fickle mother, the Church, who has trouble treating all of her children the same, has trouble even recognizing all of her children as her children. The question before the church today in regards to her lesbian and gay members is whether she wishes to own them as her children and, if so, whether then to treat them among the pride of her litter, or as bastard mistakes.

It seems to be that last summer's Lambeth Conference of the world's Anglican bishops, which I attended and from which I bear the scars, sent the latter message, that lesbian and gay members of the Church are bastard children at best. How else can one take it's inconsitency of saying that we are members of the Church, and we ought to be listened to, but our life story has been pre-judged as incompatible with Scripture? It appears as though Mother has decided she can't get rid of us (at least in certain parts of the house) but she's going to make quite certain we know our place and stay there.

This treatment by the Church brings me back around to that occasional question I get (one I heard over and over again at Lambeth): "How can you teach that homosexuality is OK when the Bible so clearly says it is not?"

There is, of course, at least one major problem with the question that ultimately reveals its bias. What is homosexuality? I am sure there are clinical definitions or dictionary definitions, but that is rarely what the questioner has in mind. What they usually have in mind is some image of the infamous "gay lifestyle"--sometimes they even use the term in asking the question.

But again, what is that? I suppose that it means the really rather dull suburban life I and my partner lead--the mortgage to be paid, the lawn to be mowed, the job to be worked, and the spouse to be faithful to, to be keep love alive in the midst of a sometimes wonderful and sometimes insane world.

How are we to judge whether this "lifestyle" (or any other) is worthy of God or under God's condemnation?

In the thinking of John's Gospel, this is the wrong question. "God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17).

The right question in John's Gospel--which is asked over and over again using many different and rich images--is, "Are you in union with Christ?" Does Jesus dwell in you? Are you born again?"

John's presupposition (what Jesus keeps calling "the truth" in John's Gospel) is that God desires to be one with his creation. Jesus is the physical manifestation of that desire, so that if you see Jesus, you see God; if you are connected to Jesus, you are connected to God.

How do you know if you are connected to Jesus, and therefore to God? When you are changed. When life is different. Love happens around you, love being the highest ideal in John's community.

In terms of this morning's Gospel reading, the image of our connection to God in Jesus is the vine. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. The branches live and bear fruit because they are connected to the vine. Bearing fruit is the image in this passage for the result of connection to God. The fruit a life bears is how we can judge that connectedness.

The point is not whether a "lifestyle" is pre-judged worthy or un-worthy, evil or sinful. The point is what fruit it bears.

What is this fruit? It is, for John, primarily love, "Love one another as I have loved you." For St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, it is a list of virtues: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christians are called to bear this fruit, whatever their "lifestyle." Of course none of us bears this fruit all the time. God has pruning to do in each of our lives so that good fruit may be born.

So the right question in John's Gospel is not, "Is the law being followed?" but, "Are the fruits being born?" Changing that question was one of Jesus' fundamental agendas. I believe it is also a fundamental agenda of lesbian and gay people in the Church today.

This agenda is not a new one. In fact, it is very, very old.

Recall the end of the first creation story in Genesis. "And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28).

That commandment--the first commandment in the Scriptures to humankind--has never been solely about the procreation of children. Certainly the need to procreate children was vitally important, and Jewish law backed that importance up by forbidding any sexual intercourse that could not produce children, including the law prohibiting sex between males in Leviticus.

It seems obvious to me, however, that we've done pretty well at filling the earth and subduing it. The procreation of children is certainly less of a priority at this point in history--which in no way lessens the importance of the vocation of parents and all of us in raising our children. It simply means that it is less imperative that as many people as possible undertake it.

And being fruitful was always about more than making babies. It was always about love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, and joy, or, in the words of a Hebrew prophet, "doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

So how can I teach that homosexuality is OK when the Bible clearly says it is not?

I don't. What I teach is that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (and, I would add, continues to give his Spirit) so that all who believe in him might have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

And I teach that those who abide in Jesus bear much fruit: they make the kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven. They practice love, joy, kindness, patience, self-control, and peace. They do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God.

"By their fruits you will know them," another Gosepl writer says (Matthew 7:20). What gay and lesbian people have been doing for at least 25 years in this Church is to say, "Come and see! Look at the fruit we're producing! Judge us by the fruit our lives are bearing."

This has been criticized as overly personalized, experiential theology. Don't blame us! Blame Jesus! It's the only kind of theology he seemed to practice.

Jesus didn't leave us a systematic theology or even an orderly ethical system. Jesus didn't even write the Prayer Book. Jesus left the Gospel^ืthe Good News^ืthe Good News of God's undeserved, unconditional love in your life and in mine.

Love that changes us. That enables us, in spite of the mess our lives so often are, to bear fruit--to be Good News for others. In the end, this lifestyle is the only lifestyle Jesus cares about, a lifestyke that bears the good fruit of good news in the lives of our fellow men and women.

I said to the few bishops at Lambeth who would come and listen to lesbian and gay Christians speak about their faith, that this issue is not primarily about sexuality, but primarily about the Gospel. I believe that with all my heart. It is time for the Church to do so as well. Mother Church needs to love her children as God loves them. She will be amazed at the fruit that is born when she does.


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