“God is Open and Affirming”
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church – UCC
June 26, 2022
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his
mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Over 20 years ago this congregation voted to become “Open and Affirming.” We have
just read what that means. That decision took a lot of courage, so I commend you on
it. You have told me how others in your community called you “that church,” not as a
compliment. I know you lost some members because they didn’t understand or
thought somehow that decision was unfaithful. I know that the decision to stand with
God can often be unpopular and even painful, but I also know you have borne the fruit
of that decision in being a loving, welcoming, faithful community that has served God
and the people of this community well.
So this morning as we celebrate that faith, that vision, and that history I want to
salute it by refreshing your awareness of just how aligned you are with God. In the
face of those who would tell us we are wrong, we are blasphemers, we are sinners, I
will show you how God witnesses to us that God is open and affirming and that we are
not wrong to believe in such a God. You know these things, but I want to affirm them
and perhaps awaken those who have not fully understood why we make this claim that
God is open and affirming.
Those who dispute us say God is a righteous God, and they use Scripture to
defend their beliefs. But they misuse that word, and they think they have the
responsibility and right to defend God from the sins of others. That’s just wrong
thinking. God does not need us to defend God’s righteousness. The Biblical meaning
of righteousness is more akin to what we would call today justice. It is doing what is
just for all people. And in essence that means justice for those others treat unjustly. So
let’s look at Scripture and let me hit some of the high points that reveal just how open
and affirming God is.
In the very heart of the argument against God being open and affirming some
people quote the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Biblical scholars have shown they
are wrong about the point of that story. Nowhere does it mention God’s judgment on
love between people, even people of the same gender. A careful reading reveals that
God condemns people for failing to show hospitality to immigrants, for the violent
rape of outsiders, and for a failure to honor God by embracing others. Facts, folks.
Read the Scripture again and show me where it says anything about God being against
loving relationships even by those who are physically of a similar gender.
The God I know is a God who seeks what is just and loving for all people, not
just for some. The Scriptures I read confirm this again and again. Let me give you a
few more quick examples. Let me use ones from the stories we have about Jesus, the
one we call Christ. You remember Jesus met a woman by the well. She was a
foreigner, she was a woman of another religion than Jesus, she was a woman who had
been married multiple times and even lived with a man without marriage. Jesus
welcomed her, taught her, and when she believed that the God Jesus knew loved her
she became an example of someone who shared that good news with everyone in her
In another example, a Roman Centurion, a soldier of the hated occupational
army of Caesar, who oppressed Jesus’ people for hundreds of years, stood at the foot of
the cross where Jesus was executed. He watched him die and spoke these words of
faith: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Remember too, Jesus welcomed and
healed a leper, the most “outsider” kind of person we can imagine, yet Jesus did not
condemn him for his disease, he healed him and welcomed him, I tell you God is an
open and affirming God.
Matthew, one of Jesus’ first disciples was a tax collector, which meant he
collaborated with the hated foreign occupational government. It means he got rich by
ripping off his own people for his own profit. Yet, Jesus called him to leave
everything and come follow him and he did. Luke tells us another tax collector,
Zaccheus, not only was welcomed by Jesus, but he welcomed Jesus into his home and
Jesus’ love and fellowship so transformed his heart he not only agreed to stop cheating
his fellow Jews, but made a public commitment to repay all those he had cheated 10
times what he had taken from them! Jesus didn’t condemn him he welcomed him and
proclaimed salvation had come to his household that day. God is an open and
You remember Peter and the picnic dream. As the new community of believers
in Jesus was forming there was great anxiety about who could be included and who
should be excluded. God sent a vision to Peter and told him, “do not call unclean what
God has called clean.” Foreigners, those of other religions, those with all kinds of
differences from those first believers were welcome because God is an open and
Then we come to our story today. I love the question that Philip asks the
Ethiopian Eunuch. “Do you understand what you are reading?” It’s a great question.
It is a confronting question. “Do you get it? Can you make a connection between what
you are reading and your own life?” That’s what Philip is asking the man. Now let’s
talk about who this man was. He was a eunuch, which meant, whether he was born
that way, or became that way by his own choice or by someone else’s hand. He would
not have been able to be welcomed into the real center of worship of his religion. And
he was, again, a foreigner. But this story shows us that Philip understood God did not
let human boundaries define the limits of God’s love. This story shows us that
someone who is considered an outsider by others, is an insider to God’s love.
The Bible is filled with stories that show God ignoring and denying and
destroying the boundaries of hate and self-righteousness that humans set up. The
fallacy of these boundaries is that God wants us to control who has access to God. The
fallacy and falsehood of these walls and gates, of these judgments and condemnations
are simply born out of humans wanting to claim the power of God to control others.
And God keeps tearing down the walls and erasing the boundaries of God’s love set up
by humans. I tell you I believe in a God who is open and affirming.
While others want to use fear and control and power over others as the tools of
their religion, God keeps proclaiming, “fear not, I am with you, be not dismayed.”
While others want to control who God loves, God sends a son who says, “I have come
to set you free, to lift your burdens, to proclaim the favor of God.” Others claim they
have the power to keep others out of heaven. Jesus said, “anyone who prevents even
one of the least of these from coming to me,” is in danger of excluding themselves
from the very heaven for which they claim to control the gates. I have no doubt that
the real God is an open and affirming God.
“What is to keep me from being baptized?” the eunuch asks. I like this question
even better than Philips. My answer is “nothing!” The answer I hear my God shout is
“Nothing!” The promise I hear my God speak is “you are my beloved,” each and
every one of you. The promise I hear my God speak is God sent God’s beloved son to
save the world not to condemn it. The promise I hear is the one Jesus spoke to a
convicted criminal who asked for Jesus’ love and mercy: “today, I tell you, you will be
with me in paradise.”
If we can stop the silliness of saying someone chooses their sexuality as a
“lifestyle” we might be able to hear God say, “come unto me all you who labor and are
heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If we can remember we don’t choose to be
short, we don’t choose to be born white, we don’t choose to be born left-handed then
we perhaps we can forget foolish and destructive proclamations about who God hates.
If we can start believing in a God who created each of us just as we are, we may begin
to comprehend unconditional love. If we can begin to believe that God even loves us
despite how evil some of us can be, then perhaps we can begin to understand that God
is a God of unconditional love. If we can believe in that unconditional love then we
can believe in the radical promise of God that salvation is not earned but a promise
given us. And if we understand that, then we can see that Jesus Christ suffered the
crucifixion to show us the power of this unconditional love in his resurrection. His
resurrection is God’s promise of unconditional love to defeat hatred, evil and even
This I believe. And this I know: God is open and affirming my friends. Go in
peace and love others as God loves you. AMEN.