The Bishops’ Apology

Rev Sue preached this sermon on Wednesday 8 February. Here it is for you again:

A few weeks ago the Bishops of the Church of England agreed to propose that gay couples can have their relationship blessed in church. That proposal is being debated by General Synod, the governing body of the church, today. The bishops also issued an apology.

“We are deeply sorry and ashamed and want to take this opportunity to begin again in the spirit of repentance which our faith teaches us. This is not the end of that journey but we have reached a milestone and I hope that these prayers of love and faith can provide a way for us all to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships.”

“We want to apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people – both those who worship in our churches and those who do not.

“For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent.

“As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people. We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.

“We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.”

You may well feel that the church is lagging behind society on this issue. There have been civil partnerships in the UK for nearly 20 years, and gay marriage for nearly 10. It can be very difficult to explain why the church is lagging behind.

It is a very important that the bishops, on behalf of the whole church, have apologised. Christians are often accused of hypocrisy because our words and our behaviour do not match. Sometimes that is unfair, because it’s OK to have high ideals but not to always manage to live up to them – we are only human, and we will always, from time to time, sin. That’s better than not having the ideals in the first place. It becomes hypocrisy when we are dishonest, and bluster or make excuses. The risk is that we behave like the Pharisees, the people always most criticised by Jesus. If we choose to turn the spotlight on other people and to represent ourselves as the ones who behave well, we become judgemental and although God longs to forgive us he cannot until we face up to our own weaknesses and faults.

In today’s gospel Jesus lists all the ways we can have darkness in our hearts which robs us of joy and peace. Don’t forget that he is always on our side. He is not criticising and condemning – he is inviting us to identify those false avenues we have gone down thinking that they were the way to happiness, or simply giving in to things we knew we should not think or do. We need to name them and then to ask for our Father’s forgiveness. The moment we ask for his pardon it is freely granted.

When we have the courage to honestly search our consciences and explore the depth of our hearts, we find the Holy Spirit dwelling there. The commandments are not just a set of rules, but as we look inward we become increasingly aware of the Spirit’s promptings, and little by little we learn to know instinctively what is right.

God knows us through and through, and yet in spite of everything he sees he calls us to love and serve him. He has confidence in us. Perhaps if we keep reminding ourselves of that, we will begin to have confidence in ourselves.

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