Sunday, July 05, 2015

Independence Day, Gay Marriage, and the Mission of God

This morning, I preached for the first time following the gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Court. What I shared is written below. 

July 5, 2015
Mark 6: 1-13

As many of you know,
    I was on vacation last week…
We had a lovely time in Florida
    and I was so grateful to be able to spend the time
      with my family and friends

It also happened to be one of the most active news cycles
     we have seen lately…
     some commentators have reflected
     that with the shooting in Charleston
      and the supreme court rulings on the Affordable Care Act
     and gay marriage
It may have been one of the most historic two weeks of my lifetime..
   time will tell

Before vacation,
    we reflected in worship upon the shooting in Charleston
      and now that several black churches have also been burned
    we need to continue to keep this issue before us
    through prayer and action

I was out of the pulpit
   immediately following the gay marriage ruling
    and on this weekend when we celebrate and give thanks
    for our nation, it seems an appropriate time to pause
   not only to give thanks for our nation,
   but to reflect upon the happenings in our great land

“The fact of the matter is
      that we are a divided nation,
          a divided people.
 In today’s culture,
       every possible division between people
          is emphasized and expanded
        and exaggerated and exploited.
Everything is turned into an “either/or” scenario.
       Either you agree with me, or you’re a bigot.
            Either you agree with me, or you’re completely immoral.

This week, there are people who,
       in the midst of their story and their struggle
          are celebrating equality.
But this week, there are also people who disagree,
         people who have a different story
           and a different experience.
The reality is
      that there are not “two sides” on this issue.

There’s not a singular gay experience
         or a singular straight experience.
Each of us has a different story,
     unique experiences, particular struggles,
       and when we make anything a simple “either/or,”
          we miss the mark.
When we proclaim from our soapboxes
        that you’re either in favor of this decision
         or you’re a hateful bigot,
            we’re being shortsighted.
When we say you’re either against this decision
       or you’re championing immorality,
         we’re failing to understand the complex reality
            in which we find ourselves.

What I’m feeling this morning
       in such a divided time and cultural landscape,
           is a deep sense of gratefulness
            that I believe in a God who loves all people.
I’m thankful to be part of a church
           that has an open table:
             all people are invited to sit at God’s table.
Which means, by the way,
          that people with whom I strongly disagree
           are loved by God
      and invited to sit at God’s table.

 People who are and have been hurtful to me
          are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table.
After all, Jesus died for bigots.
     Jesus died for the immoral.
Jesus died for all of us.[1]

Our gospel lesson for us this morning
   has, as always, an important word for us this morning…

It is the story of Jesus returning to his hometown
   and finding no welcome there
The social conventions of the day
    proved more powerful than the good news Jesus brought
Jesus was appalled by their unbelief

So Jesus shook the dust from his feet,
    and he set off for the surrounding villages…
     he went looking for the places that were ready to hear
     a Word from the Lord

He refocused upon the mission before him..
    and he redoubled his efforts to share the love of God’s kingdom
  He sent the disciples out in pairs
     with instructions to trust radically in God
      by taking nothing for the journey
    He charged them with sharing the gospel of healing and peace

Whether you are dismayed by this week’s ruling on gay marriage
   or heartened by it, as I am,
    I submit to you that the word from the Lord this morning is the same:
We are to go out, two by two in community,
   to proclaim the gospel of love and peace

I am so grateful for this community of faith..

As I begin my fifth year of service as your lead pastor,
    I have been thinking about
         what God has taught me through you

You have given me deeper appreciation
    for what love for God and country looks like
You, my church, have given me my most significant experiences
    with active duty and retired military service men and women
Before being sent among you,
    I was not blessed with so many experiences
      in such abundance
  You continue to witness to me about courage, duty, honor,
      respect for authority, and diversity.
What you have witnessed to me about diversity
   has been the biggest blessing…
   we are a church that knows how to tolerate differences of perspective
    and opinion
At its core,
   this is of course a fruit of the Spirit…
      because loving our sisters and brothers,
    even when they disagree with us,
     is rooted in love and commitment….

  Here, you have shown me that tolerance for difference of opinion
      is reinforced by military service…
   So long as we are all focused upon the same mission,
        we will find a way to get there together…

The gospel of Mark reminds us this morning
   of the importance of remaining focused upon our mission
 We are to shake the dust from our feet
       and share the gospel of healing and peace
   We are taught to do this together,
       in community

We are a diverse church in many ways…
    theologically, socioeconomically, racially, and in sexual orientation
 we are a beautiful mixture of perspectives
    held together by the same Lord

We have a diversity of reactions to the gay marriage ruling….
  I know that for many,
     hearing your pastor say that I am supportive of the gay marriage ruling
    are very hard words to hear…
  While others celebrate the ruling

Regardless of your reaction,
   I hope that you will hear the words from Mark
Inviting us to shake the dust from our feet
       and share the gospel of healing and peace
 and to do this together, in community

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism,
     published a sermon entitled Catholic Spirit.
John Wesley has an important word for us to hear…

The sermon is based on Jehu’s question to Jehonadab in 2 Kings 10;
       ‘Is thine heart right,
             as my heart is with thy heart?’
And Jehonadab answered:
          ‘It is. If it be, give me thine hand.’

 While acknowledging that Jehu was not exactly a model saint,
        Wesley urges that his example here
            is one that every Christian should imitate.

Jehu’s question is not about Jehonadab’s opinions
        but about his spirit,
              his attitude and his affections.
How does he regard his neighbour?
         In a word, is there love in his heart?
 And then Wesley writes a glorious sentence,
        pleading that even allowing our differences of opinions,
             we must not let this stand in the way of brotherly affection.
 ‘Though we can’t think alike,
       may we not love alike?’

John Wesley wrote much in defense
         of that understanding of Christian sanctification
              that he understood as love perfected,
                and this sentence is as good a practical summary
       of it as anything he argued elsewhere.

Wesley taught and preached the essentials of the Christian faith..
   and yet in a time when people being executed for their faith
    as a part of recent history in England,
    he urged unity across a diversity of theological perspectives..
   focusing upon unity in the love offered to us
    from the Cross of Christ
‘Though we can’t think alike,
       may we not love alike?’

The Supreme Court ruling
          does not directly address how pastors, churches,  
              and individual Christians must or should view
           the issue of same-sex marriage. 
Pastors and churches are still permitted
         to refuse to marry same-sex couples,
   and indeed in the United Methodist Church,
    I continue to be barred from performing these marriages
As an ordained elder,
     I have vowed to follow the Discipline of our Church
         and the Discipline specifically prohibits clergy
    from performing these ceremonies

And yet, even as I grieve that I cannot provide
    this kind of pastoral care
    to members and family of Wesley Church
     (and yes, I have been asked)
  I trust that God is at work in all of us…
       and that we see through a mirror dimly
    as the Apostle Paul reminds us

I trust that even though we may not think alike
    we can love alike…

Even as we struggle with knowing God’s will concerning same- sex marriage
    I trust that if we are faithful,
     Jesus will not be amazed at our unbelief
      as he was in his hometown,
    but that he will send us out,
      two by two,
     to love, and teach, and heal…

Even as I find it persuasive
    to understand scripture as complicated and sometimes contradictory
  I hold Scripture as the normative Word for my life
    and for our lives together

“Within its pages we learn of the heart, character, and will of God,
         but we also find on its pages things that we might question. 
Things that seem to reflect the culture and times
         the biblical authors lived in
                 more than the timeless will of God.
We find that women were often seen as second class
           in much of the Bible.
Concubinage and polygamy
       and the use of slave girls as surrogates in childbirth
         were all acceptable family values in the Old Testament.
 Slavery was found to be morally acceptable
      in the Old Testament
          and slave-owning Christians in the early church
           were not asked by the apostles to set their slaves free.

Priests were commanded
        to burn their daughters alive if they became prostitutes,
         and rebellious children were to be stoned to death.

Women who were raped were required to marry their rapist.

 And when Israel went off to war
       she believed God called her to destroy
       every man, woman, and child among the nations she conquered—
         what today we call genocide. 
The writer of some of the Epistles teaches
        that women are to pray
           with their heads covered
               and to not wear their hair in braids. 
They are not permitted to teach a man,
          and Corinthians notes that it was “shameful”
             for a woman to even speak in church.

 The Bible, in its writing, content, and canonization,
          is wonderfully complex
            and we do not do it justice,
              nor are we always able to discern God’s will,
                simply by quoting a handful of verses. 
If it worked this way we’d still embrace
        slavery, polygamy, and concubinage. 
Victims of rape would still be forced to wed their rapists.”[2]
Yet, even as I find this persuasive,
    I respect and admire many faithful Christians and staff members
     who feel very very differently about gay marriage..
   and I say to our whole community

And so to all of us
  Though we can’t think alike,
       may we not love alike?’
  We agree on the main points of Christian teaching
       we are all sinners saved by grace
       we are all dependent on God’s healing love
and we are all sent out by the same Lord
   to shake the dust from our feet
       and share the gospel of healing and peace
 and to do this together, in community

On this weekend of celebration our nation’s independence
    let us not only focus upon the overarching truth that
      we are all loved by the same Lord…
Let us also remember
    that we are blessed to live in this nation
      which enables us to live peacefully
   among a diversity of opinions and perspectives
     united by the truth that we are all Americans

For truly, though we may not think alike,
    surely we can love alike
To this truth we must hold fast..
    for God has work for us to do

[1] Travis Garner, UMC Pastor
[2] Adam Hamilton, UMC Pastor