NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*Scriptures this morning come from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.
MESSAGE – In God’s Image
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I’ve been thinking and studying a lot lately. Like most of you here, I’ve been worried about the bills that were up for passage, I’ve mourned and fumed and cried out by those bills that were passed into law, and I’ve celebrated each time a law has been blocked by the courts or an opposing law has been passed that prevents the hate laws from happening at all.
Like others of you here, I’ve heard the hate coming from far too many pulpits and people claiming to be “Christian,” and watched as far too many politicians try to exploit those weaponized scriptures and doctrines and capture the support of those self-proclaimed Christians. I’ve watched while the self-righteous cover-up or ignore the very “sins” with which they falsely seek to dehumanize, demonize, and call for the eradication of minority communities, repeatedly and incessantly bearing false witness against those communities in the name of a tiny, invented God the accusers have created in their own image. And again … I’ve worried, I’ve mourned and fumed and cried out against their heresy and, at times, apostasy. I’ve sat with and listened to so many who were so hurt, even traumatized, or so disgusted by what comes out of those pulpits that they’ve walked away from it all … the Dones far outnumbering the Nones.
As I mentioned, those who are so quick to condemn anyone that isn’t like them, that they don’t like, that they fear, or that makes them feel “icky” have created a false god in their own image … a god who dislikes or even hates everyone they hate, judges and condemns anyone they fear, and stands guard at the door to exclude anyone that makes them feel “icky.”
Today as we celebrate the second Sunday of Pride Month 2023 however, I don’t want to focus on their tiny little false god. I want to focus on God … They who created us and all that is, that was, and that will be … God of all creation. God who created us in God’s image … I want to focus on God Who Walked Among Us … Immanuel … the Living Christ … and I want to focus on God Who Abides With Us as Spirit
As humans, when we say the word image, we often look at two things … physical appearance and reputation, with a primary focus on physical appearance. Especially here in the US, we are incredibly hung up on physical appearance and image.
But God isn’t, Jesus wasn’t and isn’t, and Spirit isn’t either. Our creation in their image is not purely or solely physical … in fact we’re not even sure our physical appearances are at all like God. Until Jesus, God With Us, came along and came in human form, no one had ever looked upon God. For all we know, God could be any shape or form.
No, beloveds, we have no proof our physical form has anything to do with it at all, nor do we have any clear definition of what God meant when they said, “male and female, we created them.”
Created in God’s image is much more about being created in God’s divine nature. God’s way of being. And that way of being is simply and totally love, grace, and forgiveness. God is far more concerned with who we are in our heart and soul than what we look like on the outside. And God takes great joy when our heart and soul … our true selves … are free to come out.
Y’all know I’m Methodist. The founder of Methodism is John Wesley. Now Wesley would have preferred I was an Anglican, but that pesky little kerfuffle with England back in the late 1700s caused the King to pull all the Anglican priests back to England at which point, Wesley and a fella named Asbury agreed Methodism should become more than a movement, at least here in the New World. Wesley was a prolific writer of sermons, and one of his sermons was called New Birth. Being born in Christ. Being born again. Why is that important?
Author Keegan Osinski likens that new birth, that being born again in Christ, to “coming out.” A shedding of all the old life, the masked life, the life of denying our true inner selves. A movement from a life of wrong-headed wrongdoing into the fullness of life promised and gifted by God.
Wesley considered the new birth one of two fundamental doctrines. Being born again, emerging into a new kind of life that reflects more truly the complete and restored image of God, is the most bedrock, foundational aspect of Wesley’s holiness and Christianity as a whole. Everything else – works of piety, works of mercy sanctification – is all secondary and dependent upon the New Birth. The New Birth marks the beginning, the fresh opening of opportunity and possibility that would otherwise be out of reach. In the moment of New Birth, God’s Spirit “works in our hearts” and “renews our fallen nature.” The Holy Spirit works in us to birth a new self, free from our old, harmful, unhealthy ways of being that reveal the worst inclinations of humanity.
For many of you hear or watching, coming out can be or was exactly this kind of renewal of a life formerly marked by a “fallen nature” – the inability to see and love oneself for who one is, usually caused or at least influenced by negative talk and ideology from family or other communities, especially other faith communities; repression of desires rather than addressing or otherwise processing them, which can lead to dysfunction and harmful acting out; lying about one’s identity and desires in an act of coming out – to oneself or others – a person can experience a release from all of these sins and begin a new kind of life marked by wholeness and holiness rather than secrecy and shame … Life changes indelibly. The old passes away, and the new begins to emerge, an open slate, a possibility for freedom.
One of the models Patrick Cheng, author of From Sin to Amazing Grace, provides for the movement from sin to grace is that of the “Out Christ,” wherein the sin is portrayed as the “closet” and the grace as coming out. Cheng talks about the toxicity of being in the closet, how it “prevents a person from truly connecting with others” and how that “has a corrosive effect on self-esteem and well-being” of people.
I realize “sin” is a hard word to hear … it’s always been a condemning word, an accusation that made us feel somehow unworthy. Sin is often described s “wrong relationship” with God or with others and, as Osinski points out, being in the closet is a fitting example of that kind of wrong relationship. To choose, or be forced, to lie about who you are and who you love is a poor foundation for a healthy relationship with others and proves to have disastrous ramifications for one’s own health and relationship with oneself as well.
Going back to Cheng, Cheng also describes the “sin of the closet” in terms of repression and the devastating results that repression can have when it bubbles up and lashes out in unforeseen and harmful ways. The harm, dysfunction, and unhealth that are consequences of the sins of secrecy, shame, lying, and denial can only be counteracted by the grace of openness, honesty, and acceptance that result from coming out – from being born again.
The “Out Christ” is the model for entering into this grace: it “reflects the very nature of God who is also constantly coming out and revealing God-self to us.” In coming out, you can reclaim your own image of God … something Wesley says was lost in the fall of sin. By laying claim to the grace offered to you in coming out, you can share and proclaim the image of God made fresh within you and share that holy, made-whole image with others. The grace or New Birth of coming out is, Cheng says, a gift from God, not only for those of you who or LGBTQ, but also to those of us around you who are now freed from the sins of the closet that affect us, too. Coming out is a birth into a new life of grace in which the sins of the closet are healed and redeemed.
Wesley saw the image of God revealed in three categories: natural image, political image, and moral image. The natural image is humanity’s spiritual nature, resultant from God’s nature as Spirit. The political image is humanity’s ability and desire for organization and dominion. And the moral image – the one most integral in understanding morality and sin – is humanity’s capacity for righteousness and holiness, that is, in Wesley’s estimation, LOVE.
Wesley says that man at his creation was full of love; which was the sole principle of all his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions. God is full of justice, mercy, and truth; so was man as man came from the hands of the Creator. God’s image as perfect love, which exists in and enlivens the first humans, is what is lost in sin. Wesley defined sin as unlove.
What is the greatest commandment? To love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it. To love one another as you are loved … as you are loved by God (and you are absolutely loved by God), as you are loved by Christ (and you are absolutely loved by Christ) and as you love yourself … the real you … the authentic you … the you that may be or was kept in a closet.
You are a beloved Child of God, precious in God’s sight, an heir to the Kingdom, and worthy. And, in the words of Broms the Poet:
You were conceived to be the courage that delegitimizes doubt, the faith that pins its wings on the forsaken. The sanctity of a psalm, the strong of a summer storm, the river that birthed the bridge, the dealer that slangs the fix, and the truth that forces fear to house regret. The soul that springs our hearts from hock, the verity that lets heresy talk, the family stone that rolls the rock, and the spell that casts its magic to the letter. A self-made renegade and nomad in no man’s land, you’re fire, the sole deity of the Devil. You are the star born phenom, the prayer that raised the convent, a messenger of God, living proof that Heaven is sent.
You are loved. Say it with me … I am loved by God.
Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world. Rainbows serve as bridges between different realms: heaven and earth, east and west, queer and non-queer. Inspire us to remember the values expressed in the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
Red is for life, the root of spirit. Living and Self-Loving Christ, you are our Root. Free us from shame and grant us the grace of healthy pride so we can follow our own inner light. With the red stripe in the rainbow, we give thanks that God created us just the way we are.
Orange is for sexuality, the fire of spirit. Erotic Christ, you are our Fire, the Word made flesh. Free us from exploitation and grant us the grace of mutual relationships. With the orange stripe in the rainbow, kindle a fire of passion in us.
Yellow is for self-esteem, the core of spirit. Out Christ, you are our Core. Free us from closets of secrecy and give us the guts and grace to come out. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, build our confidence.
Green is for love, the heart of spirit. Transgressive Outlaw Christ, you are our Heart, breaking rules out of love. In a world obsessed with purity, you touch the sick and eat with outcasts. Free us from conformity and grant us the grace of deviance. With the green stripe in the rainbow, fill our hearts with untamed compassion for all beings.
Blue is for self-expression, the voice of spirit. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice, speaking out against all forms of oppression. Free us from apathy and grant us the grace of activism. With the blue stripe in the rainbow, motivate us to call for justice.
Violet is for vision, the wisdom of spirit. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom, creating and sustaining the universe. Free us from isolation and grant us the grace of interdependence. With the violet stripe in the rainbow, connect us with others and with the whole creation.
Rainbow colors come together to make one light, the crown of universal consciousness. Hybrid and All-Encompassing Christ, you are our Crown, both human and divine. Free us from rigid categories and grant us the grace of interwoven identities. With the rainbow, lead us beyond black-and-white thinking to experience the whole spectrum of life.
Rainbow Christ, you light up the world. You make rainbows as a promise to support all life on earth. In the rainbow space, we can see all the hidden connections between sexualities, genders and races. Like the rainbow, may we embody all the colors of the world!
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
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