Welcome to this morning's Sunday Worship (Come Together on Sunday) service, led by Deacon Jenny Jones and Martin Sykes (in church and via Zoom).
We apologise that, due to technical difficulties, we are unable to bring you a recording of the service this week, though a transcript of the sermon is given below and a link to the video to which it refers is included at the start of the transcript.
We normally worship in church each week and also via Zoom, with a recording of the Zoom meeting published by Monday morning. If you are not currently on our mailing list for Zoom please contact Rev Christine: firstname.lastname@example.org
God Bless x
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Rev Christine Fox: email@example.com
Thank you to all those who have been part of arranging this week's service.
Below you can find this weeks Message. Click here to find the whole worship sheet.
[The message was preceded by, and refers to, a video of the song "Vagabonds" which can be viewed by clicking here]
Stuart Townend’s song reminds us that we are all invited to a banquet, one that excludes no one. He refers to the wonder of God’s love and the power of His amazing grace.A place where all are welcome.Is this what your church is really like? Do you really welcome everyone from every part of the local community to the feast that God has prepared and given for us all? Is everyone in this community welcomed with kindness and love and grace? Are you sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who may feel marginalised and who desperately need to feel someone cares for them; someone who might be bothered to share some of their time, or love, or other resources with them? Have you built good relationships with those around here so that you can share one another’s stories and find revelations of God’s story being woven into the fabric of this community. If the answer to these questions is yes, Fantastic. I can stop now, let you sing a few more songs and we can go home early.
Or perhaps the reality is we forgot to send out the invitations to God’s feast here at Grangewood to those we find different, difficult, disturbing or to those who we have for some reason decided aren’t going to fit comfortably into our existing church family. Or perhaps, we truly want to welcome people, but some of the messages we send out, deliberately or otherwise, are heard very differently by those outside looking in. Whilst we are saying, “Come in and join us”, they are hearing, “You have got to become like us if you want to receive a welcome.”
The church has chosen me to work alongside the LGBT+ community in Nottingham in spite of the fact that I am a married, cis-gendered, heterosexual woman. It is an interesting appointment where I have been told by fellow Christians that I am doing the devil’s work and I have been abused on the streets of the city centre for supporting this community. Until about 15 years ago I had not really thought much about the LGBT+ issues. On those occasions when I had bothered, I had a very generalised (and wrong!) image of them – gay men were all camp, and wore bright coloured clothes, lesbians wore dungaree and Doc Martin boots and had short hair (it didn’t occur to me that I sometimes went out looking like my image of a lesbian); transgendered men had, in my misunderstood way, an odd secret and just wanted to dress up in their wives’ dresses (By the way, that is cross-dressing. Being transgender is very different). And to top it this odd grouping wanted to talk about was sex and their relationships. I mean, straight people, don’t talk about sex and relationships, do we? Oh yes, we do. Think about the films or TV programmes we watch, or how we hold hands in public, or snatch a kiss; how proud we are when new relationships develop. Our lives are surrounded celebrations of straight couples getting together.
Do my experiences sound familiar? I lived in a comfortable bubble where my experiences meant that I did not see, or look for, anything that might rock my safe spaces. What I had not appreciated was that in protecting my safe spaces, I was making those same areas unwelcoming places for others.The first chapter of the Bible tells us we are made in the image of God. Not just me; not just you. Everyone who was ever born is made in the image of God. Every time we reject someone, or make someone feel unwelcome for whatever reason, we reject someone made in the image of God. Putting it bluntly we are rejecting God. Now some will say in relation to the LGBT+ community, “but the Bible says same-sex attraction is an abomination against God”. I would argue against this assertion, saying that we must read our Bibles remembering the historical context and that translations from the original Hebrew or Greek are often inaccurate. I mean did you know that the word homosexual didn’t appear in an English language Bible until 1979? Other words were used, but each of them could be translated in different ways, but the church has chosen the most negative, the most dismissive. I am not here today to give you a lecture, but I have brought along a few copies of a booklet I wrote for Pride a couple of years ago outlining my understanding of the “Clobber” passages used against the LGBT+ community (Clobber passages are those verses used to condemn same-sex relationships). It sometimes feels like the church talks of nothing but sex, but actually there are very few passages ‘condemning’ same sex couplings and most have no relevance to committed relationships. There are far more passages on other things the Lord abhors relating to weights and measures, inhospitality, pride, false witness etc, but it is much easier to pick on a marginalised group and make them a sacrifice rather than focus on behaviours God doesn’t accept that we might own ourselves.
For many it seems that same sex attraction has been increasing in recent decades. That it is a fashion, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
Whilst it is true that more people are identifying as LGBT+, the reason is because social tolerance has increased, and it is safer to be honest about who you are now than ever before. Science does not support the notion that sexual orientation can be taught or learned. However, the truth is that, despite increasing social tolerance, being LGBT+ is far from easy.
1.4 million people in the UK identify as LGB
52% of LGBT+ people suffer depression
46% of LGBT+ do not feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to everyone in their family
20% of LGBT+ people have experienced hate crime in the last 12 months (80% didn’t report it to the police)
80% of transgender young people have self-harmed. The figure is 60% for LGB
Attempted suicide rates are 14 times higher amongst LGBT+ young people than similar-aged heterosexual groups
32% of LGBT+ people of faith are not open with anyone in their faith community about their identity.
Jesus said, ‘I came so that everyone would have life and have it fully’. I can tell you that most Christian members of the LGBT+ community do not feel they have a chance of knowing life in all its fullness because of the over-arching attitude of the church and its traditional way of thinking about them.In my experience many are searching for spirituality, but find either rejection, or a demand that they change, or hide who they are, in order to find acceptance. Whilst the church celebrates man/woman relationships, rejoicing in its sexuality, recognising the heights of fulfilment found in the most intimate joining of two people, it condemns the same acts between same sex attractions. This is one of the reasons I suggested calling this sermon, The Church and the Famine of Grace, a title I pinched from a colleague’s recent book.
For me, God’s grace is about divine, relentless love, unmerited mercy, and the power of the Holy Spirit, which contribute to our healing and our wholeness and recovers within us the image of God, renewing our soul into the likeness of God. Ultimately God’s grace is God’s love - a love that is not transactional. It is not a love that is conditional on people conforming to who the church, or society, or our family says we ought to be, but through this amazing grace, this incredible love we find life and freedom. It is grace that gives us the deep knowledge that God loves us, and it is that divine love that gives us the courage and safety to truly love all other human beings. We sing of God’s grace flowing from heaven, pouring down on us. I think it is time we shared the gifts God has prepared for everyone and not hoard them for ourselves. God’s love is endless. We will not lose God’s love if we give some away. In fact, we might find we receive even more.
At which point I must refer to our scripture reading, which you may recall was in the lectionary a few weeks ago. In our reading Jesus is quite brutal – If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believes in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and were thrown into the sea. He goes on about cutting your hand off, tearing your eye out as alternatives, but the reason I chose this to illustrate our theme today was that Jesus condemns those who puts a stumbling block to those who believe in Him. How many openly LGBT+ Christians or seekers feel unwelcome in our churches? In their own churches? Almost all of them. We must never forget that this church is not ours, it is God’s and God’s will must guide the welcome we offer. Young people who have only heard the message that they are an abomination don’t hang around to feel put down again and again. Whilst we, as Methodists, have banned Conversion Therapy in all forms, this group find that people want to pray their sexuality away rather than rejoicing in it. Do you know what, they have probably tried praying it away themselves already in an attempt to be what the church values rather than who God created them to be! Our attitudes and words may place LGBT+ Christians into exile and the wilderness. In that place they learn to see their bodies as they have been told to see them. It is there they develop low self-esteem, self-hatred and shame and it is hardly surprising that the wilderness becomes the preferable place to be rather than return to the place that considers them unclean. The church can be the stumbling block that keeps this community away from God and Jesus.
To be inclusive does not mean taking a vote at a Church Council that we will work slowly towards a series of aims. It means we must think radically; we must look to Jesus and see how he welcomed in all those who were marginalised. Jesus rejected all the legality that the Scribes and Pharisees had brought to their religion, which were just means of control and supposedly gave them the power to decide who was in and who was out of God’s favour.
What would our church look like; feel like; sound like if we welcomed everyone to the table that God has prepared? I think we might find that we discover more of the Kingdom of God around us and that we would learn more of the wideness of God’s grace from our new friends than we could ever imagine.I want to finish with the first Bible verse I ever learnt off-by-heart: John 3:16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”There are no exceptions. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is included in his salvation. Everyone deserves to hear about Jesus Christ. If we want to be inclusive, then let us work together to be more Christ-like. We may have to go out of our comfort-zone; change our long-held ideas, but with God’s help our faith won’t lose its saltiness and with God’s grace we will move somewhere more extraordinary, more exciting and we will find God is there waiting for us.