Rev. Emily C. Heath

Inseparable: God's Love, Norway, And Us All

Filed By Rev. Emily C. Heath | July 25, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: Christian beliefs, fundamentalism, Norway, Oslo, religion, religious faith, sermon, terrorists

Bells.jpgThis may be a first for The Bilerico Project: a sermon. I'm sure some people don't want to see it, but I don't really want to see the shirtless pictures of Prince Harry, so let's all agree that there's something here for all of us to hate. That's the beauty of Bilerico.

At any rate, this is not an attempt to evangelize, but rather one Christian's response to a terrorist who has hijacked the name 'Christian.' The hijacking is no surprise. Those of us who are LGBT know far too well that Christ's name has been used to stigmatize, torture, and kill for centuries. This weekend I wrestled with this week's lectionary text, Norway, and what to say to my congregations this morning. This was the result. Take what you need and leave the rest:

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Every Sunday in worship, right after we confess our sins together, I ask you, "Who is in a position to condemn us?" And I then say, "Only Christ, and Christ so loved us that he gave himself for us. In Jesus Christ we are all forgiven. Thanks be to God."

That line is from a prayer book, but that prayer book took it from this passage that we are reading here today. These words to the Romans that brought them comfort and hope two millenia ago continue to bring us comfort and hope today. They assure us, as the passage reads, that nothing, not "death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

That's good news for us humans who will do everything in our power to try to separate ourselves from the love of God. We are born with our hearts turned towards God and, no matter what we do or how we try to ignore it, we are at our best when we stay turned that way our whole lives. And yet we do all we can, maybe even subconciously, to create a separation and to fill it with everything in the world that is bad for us.

And we are creative. We can find a hundred ways to move away from God without even realizing it. Yet in the end, no matter what happens, God decides that separation is no obstacle. And the love of God always wins.

I was thinking about that this week. It was hot out there. You've heard a born and raised Southerner who prides themselves on not admitting to Yankees that their weather is hot say it is hot. So, it was hot. And when I finally gave up I went down to the Rock River in Dummerston and jumped in.

I had never swam there before, and I wasn't expecting the current to be so strong. I'm a pretty good swimmer, but I found places where I could swim with all my might and not make any progress back upstream. But if found that if I stopped fighting, let go, and let the water do what it was made to do, I realized the current would take me right back to a safe place.

The love of God is a lot like that. We try our best to fight our way upstream, swimming against the unstoppable current of God's love, but we find that when we just let go and accept it, we are safe. And that current keeps moving downstream, and in the end, even we can't dam it up. It always wins.

Paul knew that when he wrote to the Romans. He knew that no matter how horrible things were, no matter what utter devastation and tragedy would befall us, God's love would, in the end, win.

And that's the sort of passage you need on a day like today. A day when we are still asking, "Why?"

Last Friday a man detonated a car bomb in the middle of Oslo killing at least seven people. He then walked into a youth camp and killed 89 more. We immediately began to ask why. And the answers that have come so far are more related to you and I than we'd like to believe.

The man who carried out these acts was a Christian. And he points to the faith he claims as the reason he felt compelled to kills dozens of people. And he wasn't a madman. He wasn't someone who snapped and went on a rampage. He was methodical and deliberate and deadly. He was, quite simply, a terrorist. A Christian terrorist.

We don't like that idea. We don't like thinking that our faith, which has always respected the example of the non-violent Jesus Christ, would be twisted by someone who was filled with hatred. We don't want to claim him as ours. We want to believe that terrorists belong only to other faiths, and not our own.

And yet, that's not true. Of course this man is in the extreme minority of Christians, just as the men who flew planes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania represented an extreme minority of Islam. He is not indicative of the beliefs of the vast majority of Christians. And yet in the aftermath, in more places than you might believe, our faith is being painted with a broad brush as violent and deadly and inherently wrong.

The people who say that - they're not right. They're simply reacting to what happened with the same knee-jerk thinking that targets any group after one of its members goes on a violent spree. But how many of us who feel uncomfortable now have done this to other groups?

But the even harder question is this: What are we as a church, a worldwide church, doing wrong that someone would so misinterpret the teachings of Jesus this way? Why is a message of love and grace being heard as anything but? It would be easy to dismiss it if this man were the only one to so mishear the message, but he's not.

Today in New York City, the Westboro Baptist Church is spreading its message of hatred there and protesting weddings. It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with whether people should be marrying today. I've always said there are good Christians on every side of that issue. But it does matter that someone claiming our name is standing there telling people that God hates not only them, but all of America. It matters that they are standing at the funerals of fallen service members and, instead of comforting their loved ones with the words of hope from this passage, the words that say that not even death can separate us from Christ, they are shouting that their family members are in hell.

It's easy to dismiss them as well. But for every extremist Christian individual or group that we dismiss, there are a dozen more that we don't even know about yet. They are claiming our name, and they think that they are right. And in the process people across this country and around the world are thinking that this is what Jesus Christ was all about. Their violence and hatred and mean-spiritedness is not what Jesus died for. It's what he died to save us from.

And so what do we Christians, who stand here reeling from what was done on Friday in our name, do to respond? Do we fight violence with violence? Do we call for the blood of the man who did this? Or, conversely, do we just talk about how terrible it is and pray for the victims and then let it slowly fade into our subconscious?

I hope we do none of those things. I hope we choose a third way. I hope we choose a way that is consistent with everything that Christ taught us about grace and compassion and love. I hope we honor who he was, and is, by proclaiming this passage that we read here today to the whole world.

Nothing on earth, not death, nor life, not things present, nor things to come, not a gunman hijacking our faith nor a woman with a hateful sign, will separate you or I or anyone from the love of Christ. No matter how hard they try.

Jesus loved the young people whose lives were cut short in his name on Friday. He loved them when they were afraid. When they were in pain. When they were confused. This gunman couldn't change that. And when this happened, as the Rev. William Coffin said about tragedies like this, God was the first of all of us to cry.

And today the love of Christ surrounds Norway, and it surrounds our country, and it surrounds the whole world. But the thing about Christ's love is that it is most often, and best, felt when it is shared between people. Today in Norway, and in a hundred other places where people have been hurt in Jesus' name, the word Christian may bring with it some pain and some fear. It shouldn't be that way.

Our job as Christians is pretty easy: Be loved and love. Be loved by God, love God, and one another. It's the simplest job description in the world. And the hardest job you'll ever have. I'll save you some worry and tell you that you will never get a pink slip. You'll never be let go in a round of layoffs. For better or for worse, nothing can separate you from this work because nothing can separate you from the love of God.

And today there is a world of people who have been hurt by those claiming our name, and they need to know that Christ's love is real, so it's time for us to get to work. As you head back out into the world today, I give you these words as your guide. When I first heard this prayer, attributed to St. Francis, when I was 17, I knew it was all I wanted to do with my life. It's when I really knew I wanted to be a Christian. May they comfort you as you seek to comfort the world:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

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Honestly. Anyone with one whit of brains doesn't believe in the genocidal sky daddy or his witless imaginary manifestation of a "son" on earth. When will this rag get a clue?

Mykel,

While you are entitled to your beliefs and opinion, so are we. Name calling and insulting the intelligence of those (particularly the Rev. Heath) reflects far more about you than it does about Christians or the Bilerico project. I applaud this excellent (as usual) piece and Bilerico for giving a queer voice to people of faith.

Best,

Heidi

The bible: The most disgusting piece of garbage created by man, next to the koran and the torah. We're talking about a book here that has instructions on how to sell your own daughter into sexual slavery. I'd be dead at least three times according to the bible. Stoned to death for being Bi, stoned again for being trans (wearing the wrong clothes that's how imbecilic this particular sky daddy is) and burnt or drowned once again for being a witch.

You can create a better moral compass for yourself by watching and following the teachings of Pokemon. I'd rather watch pokemon and skip all the rape, torture, genocide and hatred in those books.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 25, 2011 5:53 PM

I think it's far and away more truthful to say that you've hijacked the monstrous christer murder cult and that your attempt to declaw and defang it is not going to work - it is what it is. Its history is written in the blood and burnt flesh of millions and the world will never forget that.

Attempts to whitewash that history can't succeed because we know the truth about the history of the abrahamic cults - the mass murder of enslaved Africans, entire natives nations in the Americas, hundreds of thousands of women and gay men and millions of Jews, Africans, Chinese, muslims and even christers of competing faiths.

That history is constantly being 'refreshed' with the blood of new victims. We hold that history close to arm ourselves to fight the abrahamists who caused the events in Norway, Iran, US occupied Iraq, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. That history is being 'refreshed' in parts of Africa because of the disgusting work of scum like prot cultists Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin, Barak's BBF's and the roman and anglo catholic cult hierarchs.

I suspect the good reverend is uncomfortable being associated with Norway's mass murderer. But proselytizing, which is what this is, for the christer equivalent of the Good Witch of the South will not erase our memory the far more numerous christer Wicked Witches of the West.

And therein lies a hint for those who get tired of the justifying themselves, explaining that it's the 'other kind of abrahamists' who did this.

Move to Hollywood. Their kind of fantasies for sale are much better, pay more and don't actually involve mass murder.

(AJ made me do it.)

Yes, Mr. Perdue ... and if you don't learn your lesson soon, I'm going to tie you down and make you watch Anita Bryant, Richard Nixon and Billy Graham re-runs -- and hire a German nun wearing fishnet stockings and way too much cologne to smack you on the thighs with a ruler during the commercials.

No, forget that last part about the nun -- you might enjoy it too much.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 26, 2011 6:55 PM

Is that nun thing what they mean by projecting?

Keep in mind that personal attacks directed at authors or commenters are a violation of our terms of service. Although we are not deleting this comment, keep in mind that we are watching. The best cure for bad speech is more speech.

"We don't like thinking that our faith, which has always respected the example of the non-violent Jesus Christ,"

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLROFLROFLROFLROFLROFL

I literally hurt myself laughing at your statement. Deconstruct and rewrite history much?

Have you actually read the bible? Do you know the history of your own church? Do you know the amount of people it's murdered throughout history? Are you aware of the amount of terrorist acts throughout the world that have been committed in the name of your zombie saviour? All these fundies and nutjobs have every right to call themselves Christians they're only following the teachings of your disgusting rag of an unholy book.

Well, Rev. Health and all other theists here, read the above two comments and understand how much good it does to say "Take what you need and leave the rest."

OTOH, thank you to all the hardcore atheists that didn't go out of their way to leave such comments.

Rev. Heath, Thank you so much for this moving message. I am praying for all Norwegians in their time of need. My congregation did pray about this Sunday during worship and I will forward your sermon to our members if that is OK with you. Christ's message of unconditional love, continued striving for peace, and radical inclusion is one that we all need to hear in these trying times.

Brad Bailey | July 26, 2011 2:29 AM

Thank you for your words of comfort, Reverend Heath. I love you for that. I know you must often feel you're between a rock and a hard place when ministering to both atheist gays and Christians. It shows me your spiritual strength, and inspires me to follow your example.

When I started studying conservative philosophy, one idea which struck me was the concept that our nation represents a gradual unfolding of God's will for us, and that as long as we seek that will in our personal lives, in society and in government, we would continue to grow and prosper as a nation.

God's will can be something as simple as doing right by others on a daily basis, or writing to a local paper or U.S. congressman to protest some injustice done by the government or some other entity.

As long as I have my spiritual connection, I have the ability to let go and let God take over in situations where my actions alone have little effect, like the possible default of the U.S. credit debt. It could be the next Great Depression and/or some blessing in disguise. It's not for me to know. All I can do is rest in the knowledge that I tried my best to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

Bless you, Reverend Heath.

Since I once considered myself a Christian and now an athiest I have been on the other side. The one thing that always baffled me even when I was a Christian is how we can follow a book that frankly has and advocates a lot of violence and follow a God who is a vengeful God who is ready to smite anyone who dare question yet the argument is made that it is a peaceful religion. As a poster said above that Christianity is littered with violence, prejudice, misogyny justified by this one book. And it's very easy to see why. I never understood how someone can reconcile the two without doing mental gymnastics.

Wow. Usually it's hateful anonymous comments from Christians in Christian forums on the topic of sexuality that make me want to cry; today it's hateful comments from non-Christians in a queer forum on the topic of Christianity. It seems the intersection between the two is always something of a dangerous place.

Rev. Heath, this was lovely. I wish I had the opportunity to read your sermons more often. Unfortunately, I'm getting the sense that many Bilerico Project readers have no patience for those of us here who are both Christian and gay - religious, but not bigoted or stupid. I wish this were a better forum for sermons like these.

To those posting angrily above: I understand your pain and skepticism in the face of a religion that, especially in the US, has caused the LGBT community untold harm. But you are painting Christians, Christ and the Bible (which many of us do not read literally) with a very broad brush. And you are demonstrating the very kind of hateful, ignorant speech that you accuse Christianity of perpetuating. Could we all perhaps stop and breathe for a second, and be willing to listen to each other without judgment?

Some of these nasty responses are so sad. So many people mistake Christianity, and religion, for God. They are not the same. Religion is man's interpretation of the divine, not the divine itself. We can understandably condemn Christianity, and the nutjobs, and all that has been done in the name of religion. We must never condemn the love. It is real. We can have an intense, personal relationship with that divine love, and reflect that in our lives. We can choose who we be. We can be Christ followers. Jesus was not a Christian. We can live as the prayer of St Francis instructs, no matter who we are.

I got as far as the "No true Scotsman" bullshit in the second paragraph and gave up.

TRiG.

Hate is hate is hate whether it's wrapped in truth, prejudice, or misinformation. Hate generally responds more hate. Those of us who are gay should have learned that by now.