Friday, those of us who were at Helen's funeral were graced to hear words of love from two of her daughters. Words about a mother and wife whose loving embrace was all encompassing. Now many of us have been blessed with good mothers, whether natural or adoptive, but some have not. Some of us are mothers, but not all. Some of us will be spending the day with our children and some of us will not have this joy. I know that there are many times when it is easy to appreciate our mothers. Those times when their virtues - their hard work - their care - and their love are clear . In these times it’s easy to see that they are living examples of God's love .
For some people though, it is difficult to appreciate and to honour their mothers, and even more difficult to love them. Not all parents act in a loving and sacrificial way At such times it is hard to celebrate a day like today - - hard because anger and pain and hurt get in our way - hard because we do not understand how it is that someone who is supposed to love us has left us behind. If they’ve been fortunate, they’ve found someone else, some other woman, or even a man, who has given them the love and support that mothers are supposed to give to help them grow into a healthy adult.
Another important event happened this week. The Governor signed a bill passed by the Maine Legislature allowing same sex marriage here in Maine. Governor Baldacci said he had changed his mind because he felt it was a matter of justice. I want to read to you some of the testimony Bishop Lane wrote for a hearing on the bill:
The Episcopal Church, long ago, concluded and publicly proclaimed through its own legislative body that gay and lesbian persons are children of God and, by baptism, full members of the church. We have also concluded that sexual orientation, in and of itself, is no bar to holding any office or ministry in the church, as long as the particular requirements of that office or ministry are met. And we have repeatedly affirmed our support for the human and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. In many of our congregations, both here in Maine and around the country, faithful same sex couples and their families are participating in the life of the church and sharing in the work of ministry and service to their communities.
If we, as Mainers, believe that faithful, lifelong monogamous relationships are among the building blocks of a healthy and stable society, then it is in our interest to extend the rights and obligations of civil marriage to all Maine citizens. To deny those rights to certain persons on the basis of sexual orientation is to create two classes of citizens and to deny one group what we believe is best for them and for society.
The Episcopal Church continues its conversations about doctrine in relation to same sex marriage and the blessing of same sex relationships, and there is yet no consensus. We continue to search for ways to honor the varied viewpoints of all our members and to provide a place of dignity and respect for each of them.
The bishop went on to say that no clergy would be required to act against his or her conscience and be required to perform marriages for gays and lesbians. I’ve been questioning for years why clergy act as agents of the state in marrying people. I’ve thought that that function should be the responsibility of civil authorities and the church’s responsibility is about blessing relationships. I have decided that I will not perform the function of the state.I hear people say. “I support Civil Unions, but not gay marriage.” I hear others say “I support equal rights for gays and lesbians, but not gay marriage.” And I hear others ask “why do gays and lesbians want marriage so much when they can have civil unions? “ When most people marry, they do it because they love one another and are committed to each other. But marriage is also a legal contract, with rights and responsibilities. Even though each state has its own laws around marriage, if someone is married in one state and moves to another, their marriage is legally recognized. This is not so with Civil Unions. Civil Unions are only recognized in the state in which they are done and the way people in our society move about, this can be problematic.
There is a whole long list of benefits and protections for heterosexual couples (more than 1000) that ranges from federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor benefits, sick leave to care for ailing partner, tax breaks, veterans benefits and insurance breaks. The list includes things like family discounts, getting family insurance through employers, visiting spouses in the hospital and making medical decisions if your partner is unable to. Some of these benefits can be had through Civil Unions, but not all of them and to get many of them the assistance of a lawyer is needed. Yet for a married couple a marriage license is all that is necessary. I agree with the governor and our bishop that marriage should be available to any couple. That doesn't mean that any couple should get married. The divorce rate is high enough.
Same sex marriage is about relationship. Mother’s Day is about relationship. God is about relationship. Being a Christian is about relationship. Thursday, Tobias Haller a Brother of St. Gregory gave an address to the Province II Synod in which this wonderful paragraph stands out about our relationships with God and one another:
In the long run, there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. There is no Christian without the church, no church without Christ, no Christ without God. For as we believe that God is love, there can be no love without relationship. This love divine, all loves excelling, is the ultimate compassion — feeling-with — the love that embraces the other, that gives itself for the life of the other, that becomes itself in losing itself, saving its life in losing it. This is the embodied love of the Incarnation, the love that died on the Cross, the love that rose again from the dead, and in whom we will one day be raised: love that becomes so united with the beloved that the old categories that ruled the world — Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female — are overshadowed by the love which passes all understanding, yet shelters our hearts and minds under the shadow of everlasting wings.[Tobias Haller BSG, Address to Provincial Synod II, May 7, 2009]To love someone else as God loves us doesn’t require that we understand them. It doesn’t require that we approve of their actions or their lifestyle or their decisions. And it most certainly does not require that they love us, though it is always very nice when they do. To become a branch of the vine that bears fruit means we need pruning. And vine branches need pruning every year. So those ideas and attitudes that used to bear fruit in the past will only bear abundant fruit with pruning. In that way the love that overshadows all helps us to grow into the fullness of our potential. The love that gives life to all of love's children will help remove outworn categories. The love that we feel as a mother's love is a love with arms wide open to embrace and shelter all of love’s children.