|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian – a great and courageous leader, as well as one of the leading religious
thinkers of the Twentieth Century. He’s someone that probably all modern Christians should know.
But his importance for me, this morning, is that he is the man who uttered the line that has been my primary guide in
my approach to preaching for the past 37 plus years, and will continue to be for as long as God gives me to speak to
God’s People. He said that “sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
The vast majority of the Sermons I have preached throughout all the years since my ordination have been preached
in the light of this advice – even though I seldom explicitly address the headlines or stories that give rise to the
sermons. I prefer to let you – and, perhaps (I pray!), the Holy Spirit – make the connections, over time, rather than
seem to be suggesting to you what position you “ought” to take on a controversial – often seemingly political – issue.
And another time I have been more explicit was just last week – when I spoke to you about one of the issues that
have been disrupting the life of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion: our attitudes and responses
to our homosexual and lesbian brothers and sisters. I had mentioned the divisions that threaten out Church and
Communion many times, of course, but had not attacked the controversy, itself, except implicitly and in passing –
until last Sunday.
The occasion for THIS sermon, this morning, though, is not a newspaper article or a headline – but one of our
Let me tell you, first: I appreciate it when people react to my sermons! Whether you like what I’ve said or hate it,
understand it completely or are completely baffled by it – I love it when you react and tell me what you think.
Feedback is the greatest friend a preacher can have. I love it when you love my sermons – and I love it when you
hate them – and TELL me!
Last week someone didn’t like my sermon. Actually, I’m sure more than one person didn’t like it – or, at least, I hope
so, because if no one disliked it, it probably wasn’t the sermon I’d intended to preach! But some one didn’t like it –
and let me know!
Doesn’t matter which service or who it was. The person said to me, afterward, “that wasn’t a very family friendly
A short critique – but direct! And I was very sorry.
I was sorry that anyone would think that anything I would say would be anti-family!
And I was sorry that I had apparently given someone the impression that that was what I intended! I don’t mind
offending people by what I INTEND to preach! If I did, I couldn’t be a preacher. But I hate offending people by being
As is true – again – of so much of what I preach, I have touched on the subject any number of times, but never
explicitly – and when I finally got explicit, I gave someone – at least one person – a wrong impression!
What I said last week was about homosexuality. Some of you may well be offended by the very word – and that’s
unfortunate; I regret that, too. But we’re faced with some real problems and many, many people are being hurt by the
controversy in ways much deeper and harsher than any offense we might take. And the subject does need to be
addressed simply because we need to care when people are hurting.
But in defending those people – so many of them – who are being hurt by the old, old misunderstandings
surrounding the subject, and by the political manipulations of those who use the dispute for their own, purposes, I
would never intentionally give the impression I was in any way denigrating the family – the basic building block of
ANY viable society, as well as the best way that has evolved in all the eons of Gods direction, for the care, protection
and nurture of God’s children!
But there is a real Irony, I think, in all of this, as well.
“The Family” is not in good shape in God’s world, these days – at least not in this part of it: the traditionally Judaeo-
Christian American and European culture!
In fact, recent reports (there are those “newspapers” that Barth talked about, again) recent reports have indicated
that for the first time in this nation’s history, more couples – men and women – who live together are UNmarried than
married! And that includes those who have, and are raising, children.
If there is threat to the family – a trend in this country that is not family friendly – it’s precisely this! Because “family”
without marriage, is not, and can not, be the same as family with marriage. And that’s where the great irony comes in.
As you undoubtedly know, there has been a lot of pressure, in recent years, to adopt a classification called “civil
union,” as a kind of legal semi-equivalent of marriage in that, while it’s not called marriage, it carries all of the
equivalent civil advantages of marriage – things like property rights, health insurance coverage, and the right to
make health-care decisions! In short, civil unions, as proposed, would carry – and DO in the number of states where
the classification has already been adopted – all the rights and perquisites of marriage, without the name – which
would still be reserved for a union between one man and one woman!
As you might guess, the vast majority of unmarried couples living together are in favor of the adoption of the civil
union institution – after all, what’s the downside? – with the exception of one subgroup; and that’s the great irony!
That is, according to polls, the majority of gay and lesbian couples are opposed to that type of legislation that type of
classification – and the minority who would accept it would still consider it to be settling for less than what they
REALLY want: marriage!
Marriage, as an institution, seems to be at least in danger of dieing out in this country – and in Europe, as well.
Not just recently, but for decades, now, how often have we heard people say –in the movies, on TV, and in real life –
that marriage is “just a piece of paper?” Yet it seems that the one group whom we deny the right to marry is the
group that values it most highly – and the group that most dreams of the privilege!
It seems, in fact, that gays – in much higher proportions than those we call “straights” – understand what those
others have forgotten – that marriage ISN’T just a “piece of paper,” but a commitment: a commitment to a relationship
that is deep and permanent, a relationship that is complete and whole, a relationship in which each partner finds his
or her own completeness, and a relationship that enables each to grow as he or she would and could never grow
outside the relationship – a nurturing relationship that allows each to become more than ever the person God has
created and called each to be. And a relationship in which the word, the concept and the reality of “family,” finds its
I would never disrespect or put down “family,” and if I seemed to, I’m truly sorry. What I really want – and what I pray
for – is that family in its truest expression will not only come once more to thrive, but will someday soon come to be
available to all of God’s children. We need, in our Church and in this world of ours, to work hard to protect marriage
and to restore it to the Sacramental blessing and basic structure of family and nurture it is intended to be. And in a
troubled time when our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters seem to be the ones most concerned with this
apparently dieing institution – and Sacrament – perhaps we need to ask them to help our world find its way again.
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.