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July 3rd, 2022

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

It is true that we are not Americans, but we live both in the sunlight and in the shadow of the United States, and it is a country that casts a long shadow. On the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and summarily stripped a half-century of constitutional right from 50 per cent of the population, in my house, and perhaps in many of yours, there was pain and fear and despair—even here in Ottawa, with a Prime Minister who quickly affirmed the right of women to choose. I heard that fear and anger, nonetheless, in the voices of the women I know, in the conversations that I overheard. It is the feeling of being trapped by an arbitrary act dictated by people (most of whom never risk having to make the same difficult decision) who have decided your life for you, who have infantilized you, as if being a woman makes you a child who has no right to her own decision. What’s more, the door has been opened to reversing rights for same-sex couples to love one another, to limiting the rights of couples to choose how, and when, and with whom to create their families. The tremors it created shook the ground here. And the voice of God was wielded like a sword. Which is precisely the opposite of what it is meant to do.

There have been plenty of times in my 25 years, now, as a pastor when people have recited the Bible not to me – but at me. But “This line,” they will say to me, “says this, Pastor. Doesn’t that make this person a sinner, or that choice a sin?” What is sad, by the way, is how much rarer it is for people to quote, at will, Bible verses as a gesture of love and acceptance. We humans certainly like to make good things into weapons, if we can figure out a way. Proof-texting is a fruitless exercise. Throw out one verse, another comes back at you. It is an exercise in mutually-assured confusion.

In seminary, I chose to write my thesis on why the church should marry same-sex couples. It is hard to believe that as a church of the gospel, we were talking about denying people love and kindness – and yet we were, and we still are, imperfect about it. As a cisgendered man, I came around to the rights of those whose gender was different from mine slowly, too slowly. There were many epiphany moments along the way, but, in seminary, one stood out. While visiting as a student pastor, I met two women living together, who were clearly a couple. But when I visited, even though I was there to help them, they pretended otherwise, they hid the truth of themselves from me. They did not trust me or how I might use God’s voice and power in their presence. And that, I felt, could never be. How can a pastor help anyone if they are afraid to show themselves? How can God’s voice be joyful if there is fear it will be used as a sword? How can compassion exist in a lie? Everything I understood about the gospel said it could not.

What does Paul say to the Galatians in his eloquent, pleasing speech in our second lesson? “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” How are we burdened? By being hated by others when we are different from them. By being judged by others when we make choices they decide are sins. Aren’t those among the worst burdens of human existence: hate and judgement?

How much worse they are when a law supports them.

As a minister, I often see people in their worst moments. They have experienced a terrible loss, they are trying to repair a life-changing mistake, they are wrestling with a difficult decision. In those very human moments – ones in which we all find ourselves – people need not law and doctrine, but compassion and kindness. They need someone to listen to them, to be there for them, to help guide them as they navigate what happens next on their own.

We are all lucky, then, as Paul says, that the law of Christ is not hate and scorn, but the call to bear one another’s burdens.

But Paul continues, reminding the crowd that they reap what they sow: So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”

We have a stark lesson across the border: we can lose rights if we don’t pay attention. Society can go backwards. At a time when we face the threat of war, climate change, and growing financial inequity – we have to ask ourselves who wins when we are distracted, fighting, or worrying about a woman’s right to choose? It is not God, who loves us as we are, who hopes, as Paul says, that we will carry one another’s burdens. It is not the gospel, a message of compassion.

We have our directions from Jesus, in his lessons to the disciples in our gospel: “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves,” he says. Go out, and persist; where you find like minds, embrace them; where you find differences, try to find common ground. In the face of uncertain success, when your feet are at their dustiest, and your bones creak, shake it off. For you must persist, always, to the next day.

We will reap what we sow. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” Amen

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