The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

All Are Welcome—A Sermon on Love, in Sadness

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

It was, um, sparsely attended, but we did our first Tea-ology Tuesday on Facebook Live yesterday. We’ll be back every Tuesday for the foreseeable future, at 2pm, talking for a few minutes about the scripture for that week. A little teaser, if you will. And it’s a place for you to ask questions about the reading or about whatever other theological thing you’re wondering about, frankly. If you’ve been part of Bible Study or book group here at The Belfry, you know that we are a tangential people.

Of the scripture laid out in the lectionary for this Fourth Wednesday after the Epiphany, the most relevant one, in my professional opinion, was the letter from Paul to the church at Corinth. So I talked about that. You can go watch the video later if you really want to, but also we’re just going to talk about it now, and you’re already here. [Hey, reader. You can go watch that video on The Belfry’s Facebook page if you are so inclined. Also, next week’s Tea-ology Tuesday is live at 2pm, if you want to get in on the fun.]

This letter is one of the more famous pieces of the New Testament. If you’ve ever been to an even vaguely Christian wedding, you’ve probably heard these words. Love is patient, love is kind. It is beautiful.

We usually, though, do not read this entire passage in its context when we read it at weddings. The beginning is my favorite part. It’s so over the top! It is written, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Basically, we can say all sorts of things, but if we don’t back it up with love, we’re just making noise.

It continues: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). The Apostle Paul had a flair for the dramatic. “If I give away my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). We can do all the things we think are right, but for all the wrong reasons.

And furthermore, we may claim that we are doing something out of love, but we may be wrong about that. We talk about love a lot in church and in our wider culture. But do we really know what we’re talking about? Is the cheap chocolate of Valentine’s Day really the same thing as the love we share as Christians? Not even close.

For Christians, Paul insists, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:4-8a).

It is easy to understand why people want this read at their wedding. It’s beautiful. And certainly a worthy goal for two people in a relationship.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. I’m not sure any of you are still teens, but it bears repeating. “Nearly 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.” Members of the LGBTQ community experience intimate partner violence at rates equal to or higher than their heterosexual peers. People in these relationships are being lied to by their partners when their partners say they love them. Love is never violent. Love never controls or dominates without consent.

You are a beloved child of God, and no one who actually loves you will actively cause you physical, emotional, or spiritual harm. You are a beloved child of God, and you therefore must not cause physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to someone you love.

If someone you know is in a relationship that you see as controlling, or weird, or potentially dangerous in any way, there is a lot you can do to help. CARE, the Center for Advocacy, Resources, and Education on campus is an important place to start. I am also a place you can start. I want you to know that you can trust me, and your friends can trust me. In Christian community, this is part of what we mean when we say we love our neighbors. We support one another, pray for one another, and tell each other the truth.

Some members of the UC Davis community recently told the truth about some harmful “love” they were receiving. They were part of a ministry where leadership opportunities for LGBTQ folks were not the same as for other folks. They were expected to suppress their attractions and identities, and not openly love who they love. They were expected to receive the concerns of the staff with grace, and understand that they were loved, but loved differently. This is just noise.

It is important, in our work of welcome, to be inclusive of all people. It is also important, in moments like this, to be specific. Students and community members of every gender identity and expression and every sexual orientation are welcome here. If you consider yourself part of the LGBTQIA+ community, you are welcome here. If you are new to the discourse and do not know what those letters stand for, you are also welcome here. We are all in this together.

And when we say welcome, we do not mean welcome to sit on the sidelines. We mean welcome to receive communion, welcome to read scripture, welcome to play music, welcome to help cook dinner, welcome study the bible, welcome to come on retreats, welcome to nap on the couch, welcome to be free.

Last fall, Emily and Kenton drafted a statement, and the rest of the student leadership voted to adopt that statement, declaring The Belfry a Reconciling in Christ Community—a designation in the Lutheran church that means we do our best to welcome everyone into the family of God, especially our queer siblings. I am not going to read you the entire statement (though I can get you a copy of it if you would like), but I just want to highlight for you how it begins:

“The Belfry is comprised of a wide variety of people. We are diverse in passions, cultural background, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ethnicity, body shape, artistic preferences, physical abilities, emotional maturity, educational goals and focuses, and we have different ideas on how best to change the world. In places where we lack diversity we strive for inclusion, openness, and welcome.  We actively welcome and affirm all people. No one is turned away from our community or our table.”

Each and every one of you is loved by God just as you are, in that chair right now. You were created to be that way, on purpose, with love. When God created the first creatures, God smiled—I presume—and called them good. And God did that over and over and over and over again, as each living being has come to walk, swim, fly, creep, and crawl on this earth. Including you. Beautiful, perfect, wonderful, complex, human you.

Welcome.

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