Sunday, May 27, 2012

Holy and unholy spirits: church yesterday and today

Text: Acts 2 1-21 (the Day of Pentecost)

Today is Pentecost -- the birthday of the church, born almost 2,000 years ago in the wind and fire of God's Spirit. So today, a sermon on the church . . .

While I was in Edmonton last week, I went to Sunday worship at a Roman Catholic church with my younger sister and a mutual friend. We went because our friend had loved a man named Kevin whose funeral will be held in that church later this week. Kevin faced many challenges in his life, including poverty and addiction. But in his later years, he had found a new life of sobriety and love, in part through his connection to this Roman Catholic parish.

The church is called Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. Most of its members are of First Nations descent, although the priest, Father Jim Holland, is from North Carolina and of European descent. Sacred Heart is located in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of downtown Edmonton, and I was pleased to worship there.

We went to the second of three Sunday services, and it was packed – perhaps 300 people in all.  Sweetgrass and sage were burning; a huge medicine wheel wrapped in the colours of the four directions was displayed at the back of the chancel; native paintings of the life of Jesus adorned the walls; and a statue of the Virgin Mary was draped with a shawl, which looked like it was from native Guatemala.

I didn't love everything about the service. Like most Roman Catholic masses, the 1700-year-old Nicene Creed was recited during the service, which is a practice I don't like. Then there was Father Jim's sermon, which was only about five minutes long. And as you can tell from my services, I consider that to be too short! Finally, the Gospel reading for last Sunday's celebration of the Ascension of Jesus was one that never appears in the Revised Common Lectionary used in most Protestant churches, including the United Church.

The reading was from the disputed longer ending of the Gospel of Mark -- Mark 16, verses 9-20. All reputable scholars declare these verses to be a later addition to Mark by scribes. Perhaps these scribes wanted to bring Mark into line with the other three Gospels. Perhaps they did not like the downbeat ending that Mark had given his Gospel. Some of you may remember that I preached on this downbeat ending --- Mark 16, verses 1-8 -- on Easter Sunday six weeks ago.

At that time, I did a search on the official website of the Revised Common Lectionary, which confirmed my guess that its creators never included readings from the disputed last 11 verses of Mark. Our Lectionary is based upon the Roman Catholic one, so I also assumed that these controversial passages were never read in Catholic churches. But last Sunday's service showed that I was wrong. Catholic churches read from these verses when celebrating the Ascension of Jesus.

Beyond being what I consider to be an illegitimate part of the Bible, the passage read last week in Roman Catholic churches around the world contains a detail that seem ridiculous to me. The risen Jesus commands his followers to perform the miraculous signs of handling dangerous snakes and drinking deadly poison in order to show the power of their faith.

I was pleased that Father Jim preached against this text.  But given that we now know that Mark didn't write it, why bother reading it in the first place?

The Bible is a huge and amazing collection of ancient stories, poems, and songs written by 100 or so mostly anonymous Jewish leaders over a period of about 1,000 years. But when Jesus ascended to heaven, he did not leave his disciples the Bible. Instead, he left them God's Holy Spirit, which fell on them like wind and fire at the celebration of the Jewish festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem after Jesus' ascension almost 2,000 years ago.

The church is founded on this Spirit and not on the Bible. Liberal churches treat the Bible like any other text, as a product of history. We research and study it in order to help us find meaning in it for our lives as Christians today.

On the other hand, there is part of me that appreciates the Roman Catholic Church's disregard of biblical scholarship about the Gospel of Mark. There are a lot of troubling biblical passages that many of us would rather ignore. But anxiety can be a barrier to faith, including being anxious about who wrote what in the Bible and whether we should use a passage in worship.

The Protestant churches of the last 500 years ago have always taken the Bible more seriously than the Catholic Church. When we broke from the Catholic Church, Protestants led a spiritual revival that came from translating, printing, and studying the Bible. Unfortunately, along with this revival also came anxiety about "getting it right" -- in our scholarship, our worship, and our understanding of these texts.

Perhaps, then, my dismay that the Catholic Church still includes Mark 16 verses 9-20 in its worship life reflects my anxiety more than it reflects a real problem.

Nevertheless, my dismay remains. I also feel something similar about the Nicene Creed. In a class at Emmanuel College a few years ago, we talked about this creed  based on a line from the United Church of Canada's 1925 Basis of Union: "We acknowledge the teaching of the great creeds of the ancient Church," it reads. Some of us who dislike the ancient creeds questioned this part of the Basis of Union. Our professor countered that at least these creeds came from a time when the Christian church was united.

In turn, I replied that the unity of the church in the Fourth and Fifth centuries was created from above by the Roman emperors who had adopted Christianity as the state religion at that time. They used the terrible power of the imperial state to create one universal church out of many.

From the time of the birth of the church at the festival of Pentecost in the Year 30 until 300 years later when Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea at which the Nicene Creed was adopted, the early church was wildly diverse. Each city had its own unique type of Christianity. They each used different Scriptures, had different theologies, and worshipped in different ways. The diversity of the church in its first 300 years was much greater than the diversity we see today between liberal denominations like the United Church, traditional churches like the Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and conservative ones like the Alliance or Lutheran churches.

Unity came after Emperor Constantine and his successors decreed it. But it was a unity built by murder, torture, jails, book burning, and other coercive measures of the brutal Roman state. For this reason alone, I never recite the Nicene Creed or the others that followed it. They remind me of the time when the church was captured by the state 300 years after Jesus. They remind of the time when the Holy Spirit that descended on Peter and the other disciples at Pentecost in that first Easter season was replaced by a spirit of war, conquest and conformity.

Now, Sacred Heart in Edmonton is not a place of coercion or war. I loved the atmosphere of the worship and the singing, which was in both English and Cree. I loved the fact that Father Jim smudged before celebrating communion. I loved the beauty of the space and the warm spirit of the faithful who had gathered there. I believe that other churches could learn a lot from Sacred Heart, especially its outreach to the poor and marginal people in its neighbourhood.

Nevertheless, the Scripture and creed used there last week reminded me of the sorry history of our church for much of the last 1700 years. From the year 325 until well into the 20th Century, the Christian church was not just a place of healing, love and mission in the name and Spirit of Jesus. It was also an instrument of state power. The church was not just a place where the God who is Love was worshipped. It was also a place where the Bible or the nation were worshipped instead.

We believe that the Holy Spirit is available to us in any moment. We seek it in worship and in mission. But the Holy Spirit is not the only one that beckons to us. The history of the church from the late Roman Empire through the Protestant and Catholic European empires that succeeded it shows us that our church can be captured by the spirit of war and conquest as well as by the Spirit of Truth and love.

No church can claim purity. No one of us can ever know if we are correctly discerning the spirits that compete for our allegiance. But when the church becomes a vehicle for Empire and its terrible wars, as it did for many centuries, then the promise of Pentecost with its vision of salvation becomes instead a nightmare of pain and conquest.

So what can be done? If Pentecost is the birthday of the church, then I fear that my birthday greetings today are pretty grim.

The good news is that grace and forgiveness are available not just to individuals but to institutions like the church as well. As a human institution, the church will often get things wrong, even disastrously wrong as when it uses the violence of the state to further its own ends. But a church that is sometimes captured by nationalism or war can still be a place where grace is preached and grace is found. A church that sometimes worships the Bible as an idol instead of the God who is Love, can still be a place where grace is preached and grace is found.

Last Sunday at Sacred Heart, I detected traces of empire and idolatry. But I also experienced a place where God's Spirit of Truth and Love was alive and well. This helped me understand how someone like Kevin could have his heart opened to God there and could find a community in which to turn away from addiction and towards love and service.

It is the same in this United Church today as well, I believe. We are all holy fools and broken sinners trying to respond to the flame and breath of God's Spirit. We hope and trust that this Spirit leads us to the God who is Love. We won't always get it right. We may sometimes get it disastrously wrong. But in the end, we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us home to God -- for us as individuals, for the church as a human institution, and for the whole of God's groaning creation.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Commanded to love

Texts: 1 John 4 7-21 (God is Love); John 15 9-17 (commanded to love)

"Love, love, love. All you need is love." So sang the Beatles in June 1967 in the world's first live satellite TV broadcast. Their song came to my mind as I thought about today's Gospel reading in which Jesus commands his friends to love each other and our reading from First John that reminds us that God is Love.

I remember that 1967 satellite broadcast -- I was 10 at the time -- the novelty of it, and the excitement we felt to be part of it. 400 million people watched around the world, which meant it was the biggest TV audience to that time. I also remember being disappointed in this Beatles song, despite its popularity and its message. By 1967, the Beatles were at the peak of their popularity and they were revolutionizing popular culture. But "All you need is love" was one of their simpler songs both in its music and its words -- too simple, I thought.

Given that the Beatles had just released "Sgt. Pepper's," which is arguably the most influential pop album of all time, I can understand my disappointment. Of course, none of us would disagree with the message "All you need is love." But in its simplicity, the song does not hint at the difficulties many of us have in finding love, giving love, and living a life that reflects God's love.
The music of the Beatles was central to the latest episode of "Mad Men," which was broadcast this past Sunday night. The year is 1966, and the executives of an advertising agency in New York City are trying to find a Beatles-like song for one of their clients. The lead character, Don Draper, at age 40, feels out of touch with the youth culture of his time. So he turns to his 26-year old wife, Megan, for help. At the end of the episode, she hands him the latest Beatles album, "Revolver," which happens to be my personal favourite, and she directs him to the final cut. This song, "Tomorrow Never Knows" plays over the end credits of the episode. 

In "Tomorrow Never Knows," John Lennon again makes a simple statement about love, singing "Love is all and love is everyone." But the music, which uses Indian rhythms and sitars, and the rest of its psychedelic lyrics are more complex and evocative than "All is You Need is Love." Here are those lyrics: 

"Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. It is not dying, it is not dying. Lay down all thought, surrender to the void. Is it shining? Is it shining? That you may see the meaning of within. It is being, it is being. Love is all and love is everyone. Is it knowing? Is it knowing? That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead. It is believing, it is believing. But listen to the colour of your dreams. Is it not living, is it not living. Or play the game "Existence" to the end. Of the beginning, of the beginning."

It could be true that all we need is love, for God is love, and Jesus commands us to love one another. But in the puzzling poetry of "Tomorrow Never Knows," Lennon in 1966 hints at the complexities of life and love in a way than his 1967 song does not.

This morning, nine young people in our communities commit their lives to the God who is Love and pledge to follow in the way of Jesus on his path of faith, hope and love. This commitment does not mean that they now know all there is to know about love. None of us could ever make that claim. What it does do is officially admit them to the church's longstanding and never-ending conversation about love. 

Love is our most sacred value. Despite its difficulties and complexities, we believe that love is our source, our calling and our destiny. We carry on a never-ending conversation about love in the church because the topic is too important, too difficult and too interesting to ever stop. In this conversation, we stand on the traditions of centuries and use the inexhaustible source of the books of the Bible to inspire and guide us.

Today's sermon is just a small part of that ongoing conversation. By discussing two of our Scripture readings from today, I try to point to this centuries-old, sometimes frustrating, and always important conversation about the God who is Love and about the way of Love shown to us by Jesus.

Given the importance of love in our lives, why does Jesus command his friends and us to love one another in today's reading from the Gospel of John? Can we not just love each other without prompting? Is love really that difficult?

Jesus is speaking to his friends at their Last Supper on the night before his death. In this passage, he does not repeat his earlier commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself, nor his difficult commandment from the Sermon on the Mount to love one's enemies. At the Last Supper, his command to this small band of dedicated students is simply that they love each other. This chosen family of friends will later will become the kernel of the early church.

I can understand why it can be difficult to love one's neighbours as oneself; and how very difficult it can be to love one's enemies. But surely in a family of chosen friends, we don't need to be reminded to love one another. Or do we?

Life, for all the we adore about it, is often not easy. In all loving families, there are moments of conflict and hurt. In all lives, there are moments of pain and fear. We all have to live within the boundaries of what is possible in our times. Though we may strain against these boundaries, they exist.

When Jesus spoke to his friends, he was well aware of the terrible boundaries that surrounded him. Jesus knew that later that night, one of his friends would betray him and that the next day, the Roman Empire, which had occupied and oppressed his people for a century, would torture and kill him. Despite these terrible conditions, Jesus showed to his friends a way of service, love, compassion and joy. 

Today, most of us don't live in such fearful circumstances. Nevertheless, we still have much to fear. Despite the peace that exists in Canada, our world is filled with violence, war, and terrorism. Despite the prosperity that most Canadians enjoy, many of us struggle, and billions around the world suffer needlessly. Despite all the opportunities that exist for young people like those being confirmed today, there are many forces that restricts us and make finding and giving love more difficult that we wish it were.

These difficulties are some of the reasons why Jesus' words to his friends are still relevant to us today. Talking about them can be an occasion for us to discuss what facilitates love and what continues to make it difficult.

I was glad that another of today's readings is the one from First John. It contains the simple and important statement that God is Love. But it also contains much that I find puzzling and challenging. It talks about perfect love casting out fear, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and the connection between loving brothers and sisters and love of God. I imagine that it contains a whole universe of possible meanings. But like much in the Bible, I do not find it easy to understand.

Christians give authority to the Bible on big questions like Love. In particular, we give authority to the words of Jesus since he is the Holy One who was shown us the path to love most clearly.

But the authority we give to the Bible does not mean that it contains easy answers,  which we can simply read off of it. It has authority because it inspires our worship, our service, our social justice work -- and our conversations.

People of my generation gave the Beatles authority in terms of pop and rock music. This did not mean that all musical truth was found in their music nor that the lyrics of their songs contained all the truth one could ever want to know about love. It means that many of us found a never-ending source of inspiration and interpretation in their music and that this fuelled our own music and our conversations.

Likewise, we come to the Church to discuss readings from the Bible not because they contain all the answers -- that would be too easy and would therefore not be believable. We come to the church and the Bible because we need help with the difficulties of life; and because generations before us have given us the treasure of their ever-changing and growing conversations that centre on the Bible, and on the God of Love in Christ to which the Bible points.

Church is a place where small or large groups worship together to try and clarify our values and remind ourselves of the Way of the Cross. In church, we seek God's grace to make it a place of humble service, for it is in serving one another that we are reminded of the gift of community and are taken out of our small concerns into the large concerns of God's Spirit. We seek God's grace to make church a place to discuss social problems and resist forces that lead to violence, habitat destruction, or the other diseases of our times. 

At church we hope to find companions for the journey. At church, we hope to find others who see in Jesus a reason to trust life despite the many things of which we are afraid. At church we hope to find others who want to serve the community and resist social injustice. And so we give thanks for this community of faith and others like it around the world.

In a few moments, nine of you will officially join the church by reaffirming the vows made on your behalf as infants when you were baptized. In doing so, you take a small but important step forward on God's path of faith, hope and love. Among other things, we hope that it will encourage you to continue to be a part of the puzzling but life-giving conversation in the church on what it means to worship the God who is Love and to give and receive love amid life's fears and difficulties. 

Church is not all that we need to remember that "love is all and love is everyone." But it can play a crucial role at many different moments of joy, pain or heartbreak in our lives, especially when it helps point us to the God who is Love.

Love is all we need, for perfect love casts out fear. For Christians, God's perfect love is shown to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As mortal humans with much to fear, we will not always show perfect love to one another. But the perfect love of God in Christ give us the confidence to respond to God's call to love. It guides us, inspires us and is always available to us when we most need it in this world of wonders and in lives of joy, pain, and grace.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

"What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

Text: Acts 8 26-40 (Philip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch)

Four years ago in a class at Emmanuel College in Toronto, our professor asked us to share our favourite passage from Scripture. I can no longer remember which course it was, but I do remember one student's response to the question.

Cindy Bourgeois, who was settled two years ago as an ordained minister at Central United Church in Stratford Ontario, told us that for her the answer was easy. Cindy's favourite Scripture passage is our reading from Acts today, the one that tells the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Immediately, I understood why this might be the case for her; and I will return to that in a few minutes. But to start, I take a closer look at the passage. Like many stories in the Bible, this one has a lot of different things happening in it.

Philip is one of the Greek-speaking apostles chosen by Peter, John and other Hebrew leaders of the early church to help spread the goods news of Jesus to those Jews who spoke Greek instead of Aramaic or Hebrew. At that time, millions of Jews worshipped in synagogues around the Mediterranean and even outside of the Roman Empire. Most of them spoke Greek and used a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in worship.

When God's Spirit sends Philip to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch on a road leading away from Jerusalem, it has been several months since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The apostles have fled persecution in Jerusalem. They are now preaching outside of the capital city, and their numbers are growing.

The Ethiopian is an important person. He is in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia. He has come to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, which suggests that he is a devout Jew. He is wealthy enough to travel by chariot and to own his own copy of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He is highly educated person for he is reading aloud from Isaiah.

But despite being educated and devout, the Ethiopian asks Philip to help him understand Scripture. Phillip uses the passage from Isaiah to proclaim to him the good news about Jesus.  Perhaps Philip shows how the portrait of a Suffering Servant in Isaiah could point to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Having heard this good news, the Ethiopian then asks to be baptized. Philip does so, at which point the Spirit of the Lord snatches Philip away and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.

For me, the most prominent feature of the story is that this convert to Christ is a eunuch. Though rich and powerful, he is also a man who was emasculated at a young age so that he would be incapable of fathering children and would be considered less of a threat to the Queen whom he serves.

The first readers of the book of Acts might have been shocked that God's Spirit sent Philip to baptize a eunuch. Eunuchs were never part of the royal court of Jerusalem, and most Jews considered men who had been emasculated in this way unfit for worship. The biblical books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus mandate discrimination against eunuchs.

However, this African eunuch is not reading from Deuteronomy or Leviticus. He is reading from the biblical book Isaiah; and Isaiah takes a different approach to eunuchs than Deuteronomy or Leviticus. In Isaiah 56, which is only a few chapters after the part of Isaiah 53 being read by the eunuch in our story, we find the following:

"This is what the LORD says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant -- to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever."

The fact that Acts contains this story about a eunuch shows that the early church came down on the side of Isaiah instead of Deuteronomy or Leviticus in regards to sexual minorities. Just as Jesus shared meals with sinners and tax collectors and embraced every oppressed minority that he encountered, the early church embraced people from every background, including people like eunuchs whom others might despise.

This background adds poignancy, I think, to the question the eunuch asks Philip: "What is to prevent me from being baptized?" Perhaps he fears that his black skin might be a barrier to his acceptance by God. Perhaps he fears that his difficulties in understanding Scripture might be a barrier. But above all, he may fear that his despised status as an emasculated man might be a barrier to his baptism. Philip, however, sees none of this. Immediately, he baptizes the Ethiopian who then travels on rejoicing and becomes the first person to bring the good news of Christ to Africa.

This story shows us again that God's grace is available to everyone regardless of nationality, race, or sexual status. Although sexual minorities encounter disgust, fear, or hatred from many of us, God creates no such barriers to His Love.

All of which brings me back to four years ago, to my fellow student Cindy Bourgeois, and to her attachment to our reading from Acts today. Cindy was one year ahead of me at Emmanuel College in the Master of Divinity program. Although I didn't have many classes with Cindy and did not get to know her well, she made a big impression on me. Cindy is a trans woman; a person who was assigned to the male sex as a newborn but who had decided later in her life that her sex and gender identity were female.

Cindy is hard to ignore. She is about 6 feet tall, heavyset, and at the same time always feminine. She has long curled hair. She wears dresses and uses makeup. Unlike many trans people, it is difficult to meet Cindy and not notice that she is trans. She is clearly a woman, but is also clearly someone who was not always a woman.

I imagine that Cindy chose today's reading from Acts as her favourite because she found validation for her risky status as a trans woman in Philip's embrace of a  eunuch.

I hesitated to preach today on issues of sex, gender, sexuality in relation to our reading from Acts. But since this reading is assigned by the Lectionary only once every three years, since I always think of my friend Cindy when I read this passage, and since issues around sex and gender have been key battlegrounds in churches for the last 100 years, I decided to go ahead.

Two years ago, Cindy Bourgeois became the first trans person to be ordained as a minister by the United Church of Canada. You can read an interview with her about it in the March 2011 issue of the United Church Observer.

Our United Church has been at the forefront of struggles for justice and equality since our founding. We were the first Christian church to ordain women, starting with Rev. Lydia Gruchy, who was ordained in Moose Jaw in 1936. We were the first to allow married women to be ordained starting in the 1960s. We were the first to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian people beginning in 1988. And now we are probably the first church to ordain trans people. This history is part of our treasure even as it has also sometimes felt like a burden for the church.

People like me are pleased that the United Church consistently takes these stands on the grounds of hospitality, inclusion, and justice. But others may be dismayed by it, or perhaps are just tired of this aspect of our history.

I will always be reminded of Cindy when I read today's passage from Acts. But it could be that I am the only one here today who has personal experience with trans people. Perhaps I am also the only one of us who would use the contradictory passages about eunuchs in different books of the Bible as a window into the church's struggles around trans people. I can understand if some people would rather not deal with these issues.

This week, I read a column in the British newspaper the Guardian that urged liberal Anglicans to stop harping on the issue of equality for homosexuals. The author argued that "this focus has led straight young men to keep their distance [from church] . . . Most young heterosexual men are wary of a subculture that is highly exercised about gay rights."

He continues to write that "the relationship between Christianity and maleness has always been a bit tricky. This religion is pretty tough on the obvious male propensities: aggression, greed, cool scepticism, sexual pride. It encourages certain attitudes that contravene adult maleness: contrition, admission of vulnerability and weakness, empathy, and so on. Aren't these womanly qualities? Isn't this whole religion … a bit gay?"

His comments reminded me of something that Barack Obama wrote in his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father." In his 20s when Obama first lived in Chicago, he decided to become a Christian. He writes about a conversation he had with the minister of Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright, who later baptized Obama, said to him that "nothing is harder than reaching young brothers like yourself. They worry about looking soft. They worry about what their buddies are gonna say about them. They tell themselves church is a woman's thing -- that it's a sign of weakness for a man to admit that he's got spiritual needs." (Dreams from My Father, p. 282-3)

While I don't agree with the idea that liberal Christians should tone down our support for homosexuals or worry too much about the supposed femininity of church, I can see the points made by both Rev. Wright and the columnist in the Guardian. For many of us, changes in our culture during our lifetimes can sometimes feel like too much.

100 years ago, life was simpler in many ways. Virtually everyone was a farmer, which made choosing a career a non-issue. The best place to get news was at church on Sunday or at the train station when the mail arrived each week. There was no cable television, no Internet, no Twitter, no Facebook.

100 years ago, no one ever talked about homosexuality or about switching gender roles. Men had a standard script that led to masculinity and women had a standard script that led to femininity.

Today, some of that simplicity still applies for many of us. Some of us still get more of our news on coffee row than from Facebook. Some of us will never use a computer. For instance, my mother refuses to adopt the Internet no matter how much it would improve her ability to be in touch with her grandchildren. And I believe that all of that is OK.

It is the same thing with gender roles and sexual orientations. Like many people, I never question the places where I landed in those regards as an teenager. Probably the only time I will ever wear a dress is when I am preaching in an alb, as I am doing today!

And yet issues of sex, sexuality and gender keep landing on the agendas of our churches. Do all of us who worship in church have to continually deal with these issues? Well, I think the answer is "no." But at the same time, one never knows who is going to come through the church door.

When a trans person like Cindy asks a church if there are any barriers to her pursuing ordination, it has a decision to make. Almost all churches, I think, would have turned Cindy away at their door. They would have told her that she was a sinner and that the should repent lest she burn in hell for all of eternity.

But when the United Church of Canada was approached by Cindy Bourgeois, we chose the path shown to Philip by God's Spirit in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. We embraced her as a child of God and realized that one's sexual status is not a barrier to being embraced by God's Love.

"What is to prevent me from being baptized or ordained?" Nothing. Nothing at all.

Thanks be to God.