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Acts 11:1-18
But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'

John 13:31-35
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

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Yesterday was an historic day in our Meeting House. In the presence of two hundred witnesses I offered a blessing upon the marriage of Richard Jentsch and Donald Johnson. The marriage itself had been officially certified in the state of Maryland on April fourth. Yesterday the marriage was celebrated.

It was breathtaking in more ways than one.

What happened here could not have happened just one year ago. But, then, we live in a dynamic world energized by a dynamic spirit that’s been producing surprises for 4.5 billion years. We know it as the grand and glorious story of evolution—biological evolution by fits and starts and now cultural evolution by fits and starts.

Behold, says the Lord, I make all things new.

If you don’t like change, you’re on the wrong planet.

Recently, Richard and Donald have said more than once: I never thought I’d live to see this day. It is incredible. But then what happened in baseball 66 years ago this month was also once thought impossible.

I’ll get back to that but first the lesson for today from The Acts of the Apostles, which goes something like this.

The Apostle Peter like all of us was born without prejudices or hatred for anyone. Like all of us, he learned those things as he grew up.

Some people, he was told, were more human than others, better than others, more deserving than others, loved by God more than others. Some people are unclean, profane and depraved. Such people should be avoided and excluded from proper society. Or so he was told—as we have been told.

Peter and his people despised certain other people and refused to associate with them even though Jesus had taught them otherwise. As it turns out, first impressions are lasting impressions. Old prejudices die hard.

But, lo and behold, Peter’s mind and heart were changed. He embraced those despised people. And for that he was harshly rebuked by his Christian friends. So Peter told them how it happened.

One day while napping, he said, I had a vision. A large sheet full of animals that our people call profane descended from heaven. A voice said: Peter, get up. Kill and eat these animals.

No, Lord. I will not. These are unclean and profane. The Bible says so. And nothing profane has ever entered my mouth.

Then the voice said: What God has made, you must never call unclean.

The sheet went up and down two more times, said Peter. And each time I refused to touch those unclean things. And each time the voice said: What God has made, you must never call unclean.

And then something else happened.

Out of the blue a knock came at my door. I awoke from my dream. The man at the door invited me to come to the home of a certain man who belongs to that group of people we have always considered unclean, untouchable, despicable, depraved and downright disgusting.

I went to that disgusting man’s house and met him, said Peter. And you know what, those people are no different than us. Who and what God has made, we must never call unclean.

There’s more to that lesson but that’s enough for now.

Several weeks ago a young man who lives outside our parish came to see me. Someone had referred him. He sat down in my office and wasted no time.

I’m gay, he said. And I’m scared. I am afraid I’m going to hell because I am an abomination to the Lord. The Bible says so.

I was stunned.

This perfectly healthy, handsome young man was haunted by darkness. Homosexuality—he had been told over and over again by his mother and by his church—is an abomination unto the Lord.

Despite a college education, he couldn’t stop believing it. And he couldn’t stop dreading eternal damnation. And that in turn drove him to self-loathing and drug abuse and tormented relationships. On top of everything else, he had no father in his life. His father had abandoned him when he was just a baby.

At age 12 or so this young man suddenly discovered who and what he was. He discovered what God had made him to be. But he could not accept it.

Leaders of his church prayed over him repeatedly to release him from the satanic forces that bound him to his “perversion.” Several different ministers referred him to what’s called “conversion” therapy, or reparative therapy that promised to make him heterosexual.

I wanted to be straight,he said. I didn’t want to be stigmatized by my church or bullied by society anymore. I tried real hard but I just couldn’t change.

I listened in sorrow and disbelief. More than once during that hour I told him what you would have told him. I told him what our church believes and stands for.

God loves you just as you are. Nothing or no one that God has made is unclean or an abomination. There’s more, much more to the Bible than what you’ve been told. The Bible doesn’t proclaim a sex ethic as much as it does a love ethic. God is merciful not judgmental. God is love, not hate.

I regret to say, the young man left seemingly unconvinced of this new possibility. Alas, first impressions are lasting impressions. Prejudices—even against ourselves—die hard. It will take more than a few words, a prayer and a pat on the back for that young man to hear the liberating and saving word of the Beloved.

Creation is a panoply of mind-boggling diversity, a myriad of outrageously extravagant species and individuals who all together make up the body of God. Each creature praises God by simply being itself, by being fully alive. (Sallie McFague)

Change isn’t easy for persons or societies.

As a child, I—like millions and millions of others—was taught that God made different races and intended each to keep to itself. Inter-racial marriage was, of course, an abomination unto the Lord. And by an odd extension, mixing races on a professional baseball team was also an abomination unto the Lord. The Bible says so. Or so thought many Christians.

And then in 1945 along came two devout Methodists named Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Their story is told in the movie “42.” They shared a vision of a new kind of baseball and a new kind of world. Like creation itself, it would take time. But not just time. Like any other cultural change, it would take people—people of vision, forbearance and courage to make it happen.

In this case, it took a team owner who really believed what Jesus said: we must love one another. It also took a black baseball player who really believed a new world was possible. And it took a certain kind of spirit embodied in a movement of people to engage the darkness of that era and say: let there be light.

And, behold, there was light. Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black baseball player on a Major League team. Opening Day 1947. The first day. A new beginning.

That was then. This is now.

April 15, 1947 was an historic day at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York.

April 27, 2013 was an historic day in this Meeting House.

Change isn’t easy for persons, societies or churches.

Seventy years ago, every American with Japanese ancestry was suddenly considered a potential enemy combatant. A law was implemented to ship more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans to detention camps even though the FBI itself testified that next to none was a threat to our nation.

According to George Will in his Washington Post column this past Thursday, a report submitted in 1943 by Gen. John DeWitt claimed that a Japanese invasion was probable and that the “racial characteristics" of Japanese-Americans predisposed them to assist the invasion. Further more, he said, it was "impossible” to distinguish loyal from disloyal Japanese-Americans. “The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many are citizens the racial strains are undiluted.”

That was then. This is now.

Now our American Muslim brothers and sisters and a wide variety of immigrants are demonized, bullied and threatened even though few are a threat to our nation.

Fear of “the other” can drive people to bigotry and violence. Love casts out fear. Love one another, said Jesus.

And from what I’ve heard, no one is excluded from that love.