Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthian 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-171
As a person whose history and roots are indelibly linked to the separation of parents from children, I was utterly dismayed this week as more and more reports have surfaced of violence, abuse, and neglect against immigrant parents and children at our borders. I ask myself how can these things be, yet again; especially since not so long ago, Native American children were also separated from their parents.
Who among us – what father, mother, or grandparent – does not yearn for the safety and well-being of their child? The opportunity and the possibility of providing a better life? I mean, we are celebrating Father’s Day today; those men and persons, natural and surrogate, whose primary goal is and has been to provide safety and well-being for those they love and are responsible for.
The image of children being snatched away from the grips of parental love, subjected to physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse – one article said they were denied clean drinking water, adequate food, medical care, and literally imprisoned – is a daunting one. And then, to have it all justified in the name of a loving God!
It occurs to me how easy it is to find a Scripture passage, or two, or fifteen, taken out of context to make a case on almost anything. And this has historically been one of the great detriments of the Church, in my opinion.
There are passages like:
Women are to be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
We have heard them all, haven’t we? Does this look and sound like the kingdom of God in which you want to belong and raise your children in the 21st century? Is this the kind of Church you feel good about and welcome in?
My brothers and sisters, the Bible is to be read carefully as a collective. Read, studied, and explored; it must be wrestled with and engaged. The Bible is a book about God. A story about the faithfulness of God; one central theme throughout, including the Old Testament, that gets us to God’s passion for humanity – all of humanity – for all times as expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection binds us together into one family, one human race. This Christ who declared that “Come to me all of you who are burdened and weighed down, and I will give you rest.”
In every generation and every time, we the Church have our work to do. We must constantly be evolving and being relevant in our age. Just a little while ago, the hot topics of the Church centered around the inclusion of women and our leadership. And a little further back, the issue was around slavery and race and what it means to speak for God on these matters. We clearly still have a lot more work to do, but we must.
In our lifetime, we must endeavor to do all we can to advance the kingdom of God here and now. To open ourselves up to the mystery and wonder that God is enacting in this present moment through the Holy Spirit, because so much is at stake. Generations of people are at risk. Minds and bodies and civilization; our humanity is at stake. Our consciousness ought to be on constant high alert. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ in a broken world.
The Church – capital “C” – has done great good. I say it all the time, and it is true. But we must also admit, and, I think, sometimes repent of the fact that the Church – capital “C” – has also done great harm. We have shut people out. In our attempt to love God we have become so self-righteous that we have often been guilty of allowing our anxiety, fears, wounds, and even ignorance to wall ourselves in while walling others out. And in our piety, we have become insensitive and indifferent; immune to those who need the Church most.
Whether we participated directly or not, it occurs to me that our collective sins is worthy, every now and then, of falling down on our knees and acknowledging the error of our collective ways, and asking God to forgive us our sins and help us to see the way forward. Help us; give us courage, and strength. And then, rise to our feet with a renewed sense of intentionality, openness, and resolve,so that in our lifetime we may be a more perfect Body of Christ in the world.
Did you notice the quote on the front cover of our bulletin this morning by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? I think he’s right about it:
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he [she] must take it because his [her] conscience tells him [her] it is right.
Jesus said that even a little bit of faith is enough. A little bit of good faith, truthful faith, authentic belief in the power and love of God for all people – as simple and plain as that – a mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds – can set us on a trajectory that can grow into a mighty tree as tall as a house that provides shelter, comfort, safety, and sustenance where others find rest.
For great is our God and great is God’s faithfulness. When we turned away and our love failed, God’s love remained steadfast. This is what the kingdom of God looks like; a kingdom where all are kinfolk and less about kingly power and might.
We ask ourselves, do we have even the smallest amount of faith? Enough to open ourselves up to let people in? Do we have the kind of faith that reaches across the aisle and fully embraces the “other” as who they are, as they are?
Do we have a tiny mustard seed of faith planted deep in the ground that grows at night, invisible to understand that the love of God claims us all?
Next Sunday is Pride Sunday. And I’m glad about that. We’ll be celebrating here at Park Avenue. Invite a friend; any and all who are broken. They are welcome here. And as I think about it, every Sunday ought to be Pride Sunday. Black Lives Matters Monday. #MeToo Movement Tuesday. Women’s, Men’s, and Children’s day every day. It ought to be our life’s work.
Like other denominations, the United Methodist Church stands at a critical moment in time and history. There are those who fear, as I do, that this denomination will soon split, but it won’t be the first time. The Church also split over the issue of slavery not so long ago.
I’m not advocating for a split necessarily, but it occurs to me that there are times when we can no longer go on as before. We have to decide which side we’re on; who we are and what we truly stand for. And we are not going to be able to escape – thanks be to God.
For years now, the Church has been debating the issue of inclusion of our gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer brothers and sisters, gay marriage, and whether self-avowed homosexuals can be ordained as full elders.
As it currently stands, the official United Methodist policy is that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth;” however, it also says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Therefore, ordained clergy are prohibited from officiating same-sex weddings, and “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are forbidden from ordination.
At Annual Conference last week, a delegation of clergy and lay persons were elected to attend a special session next February to review the Council of Bishop’s Commission on “A Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church.
Let us be prayerful and let us be willing. Jesus said that it all boils down to this: love God; love neighbor.
We stand on holy ground and we ask the Spirit to help us because the ground is always the ground and the ground is messy. We track in dirt into every room of our lives and we track it back out into the world and back in again.
We understand that the heart of God is about being kin – brother, sister, mother, father, child –not about kings and kingdoms, power and might, but family as granted to each of us in our baptism. Imagine that!