Integrity USA, the group that works for LGBT inclusion within the Episcopal Church, recently announced the winner of their St. Aelred’s Day sermon contest. Rev. Heather O’Brien from the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, was honored for her sermon “The Heartbeat of God”. She preached about how her relatives’ homophobic attitudes prompted her, a straight ally, to search for a better way to imagine the God of love. Read her sermon in PDF format on their website. Here’s an excerpt:
It wasn’t until I got to seminary that I found people who knew the God I had been looking for. The God whose most core trait was love, not judgment.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Aelred. Aelred was a monk who eventually ended up leading the monastery of Rieveulx. One of his most famous works is called Spiritual Friendship. In that work, he writes that God is not our Judge but our Lover. Judgment can only inspire change through fear. But love transforms us; changes our hearts. Aelred saw Christ as a companion for our soul, longing for union, rather than a ransom to be paid.
Aelred wrote at length about the ideal relationship of love between Jesus and his beloved disciple John. As one author describes it, Aelred portrays John as striving to hear the heartbeat of God in Jesus and Jesus showing the secrets of his heart to John.
Imagine, in the chaos surrounding thirteen men eating dinner, John quiets, leans over and presses his head to Jesus’ breast. Jesus accepts the show of love and affection as John closes his eyes and allows his heartbeat to begin to echo the one beating against his ear, beating in his soul since before he was born.
God’s grace and love are not forces that must twist and change us into something new and stamp out our true nature in order to re-form us. Rather God’s grace and love are a reminder of a memory so old and so basic that it was a part of us before anything else was. Our hearts have forgotten in a world grown loud – like trying to remember lyrics to a favorite song when the radio is blasting music so loud you can’t think.
God sent Jesus not to sit in judgment over creation but rather as a showing of God’s love for creation. Through his life and death Jesus’ lifeblood beat out the rhythm of God’s heart beat for all to hear and remember themselves. Though we are often weighed down and may feel like we have cotton in our ears. The beat remains a clarion call to all who would remember, to all who would dance.