top of page

Open and Affirming

Updated: Feb 20

“God is Open and Affirming”

a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church – UCC

June 26, 2022

Acts 8:26-39

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

affirming God.

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

affirming God.

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.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page