Sermon: Light of the World

horse blinders 1“Light of the World”

(March 30, 2014) As Jesus restores vision to a person born without sight, he turns the conversation from the literal to the spiritual, and from harm to healing. Where do we need our eyes opened? What systems of oppression– racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism– and of privilege keep us from seeing God in our midst? How, with our blinders removed, with the light of Christ shining in our lives, can we see the work God calls us to do, in the naming and dismantling of our own privilege, and the steps toward wholeness we seek to take? (John 9:1-41)

I mentioned a number of stories in my sermon, including a video of a newscaster being disrespected by her co-host, the flip-flop of child sponsoring non profit WorldVision, and a talk by a comedian who describes the intersecting experiences of being an Arab American Muslim woman with cerebral palsy who wanted to act.

 

 

Sermon: Living Water

well stone close“Living Water”

(March 23, 2014) At the well, Jesus encounters a powerful theologian in the form of a Samaritan woman, and their conversation looks at the literal and spiritual needs for water. This day after World Water Day, how do we understand the intersections between the literal water crisis and the spiritual need for living water? What will we do about the water crisis? (John 4:5-15, 23-30, 39-42)

Resources about the water crisis:

Press release for World Water Day

World Water Day homepage

Informational Video about Water Crisis (World Water Day 2013)

Water.org (microlending and water credit to expand access to clean water)

UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (monitoring and resources toward goal of providing access to clean water for all)

UNICEF Tap program (donates money for clean water for every ten minutes you don’t use your phone)

Sermon: The Way

path trees fog“The Way”

(March 16, 2014) Another name we call Jesus is “The Way,” but rather than a term that describes a singular path one can travel, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus makes clear that “The Way” is a journey, not a destination. Far from inviting us to accept Jesus and “be saved,” this passage teaches us that being born from above is a continual process, filled with more questions than answers and enriched by relationship with Jesus. (John 3:1-17)

Sermon: Bread of Life

Minolta DSC“Bread of Life”

(March 9, 2014) This Lent, we are looking at different names for Jesus. Today’s story invites us to imagine what it means to be fed and nourished by Christ, the Bread of Life. What would it be to trust on this most fundamental level? (Matthew 4:1-11)

The Names of Jesus series is inspired by a series from Logos Productions.

What’s Next?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my favorite parts of the tv show “The West Wing” that seems realistic to me is the refrain “what’s next?” Used to change the subject, to close a conversation, to carry on with work, to recommit to tasks at hand, these two words return again and again in the script as the characters move from one seemingly completed hurdle to the next one already bearing down on them.

That’s my question today: what’s next?

Much of the progressive and moderate United Methodist Church world rejoiced today as the New York Annual Conference took a bold step. Before them: the matter of Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree, the scholar, theologian, elder, and father who officiated at the wedding of his son and son-in-law. In this case, however, although the matter was referred to trial, it was sent back to the counsels for the church and for Ogletree (Revs. Tim Riss and Scott Campbell, respectively), for a just resolution. That resolution was announced this morning.

In summary, as part of the resolution, Rev. Dr. Ogletree has relinquished his right to a trial by his peers, and New York Annual Conference Bishop McLee has made a statement calling for the cessation of trials. Bishop McLee will convene a forum on human sexuality, and Rev. Dr. Ogletree will attend, his health permitting. From the resolution, and as I blogged at NewWineskins (a project I’m working on with many others in the New England Conference of The UMC– you should check it out!), they said:

“As the Bishop of the New York Annual Conference, in consideration of my responsibility to provide spiritual, pastoral and temporal oversight for those committed to my care, I call for and commit to a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation.” -Bishop McLee

“In recognition of Bishop Martin McLee’s publicly stated intention to approach the matter of marriage equality in a non-juridical manner, but instead to offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical reflection, I hereby relinquish my right to a trial on the charge that has been brought against me for officiating at a same gender wedding ceremony. I further agree to make myself available, health permitting, to participate in the above-mentioned Forum that Bishop McLee will convene.” -Rev. Dr. Ogletree

And there was much rejoicing.

Or was there?

As with any compromise, everyone gets a little of what they don’t want. For traditionalists, the lack of trial seems like a weak slap on the wrist or lack thereof; there will be no punitive consequences for Rev. Dr. Ogletree, and he is asked to share his opinion and expertise. For progressives, queer United Methodists and allies, and those hoping to see the church’s language overturned, this stops short of such action and returns us to the rhetoric of conversation, which has been the painful status quo for the past 40 years in the church.

And so it is a mixed bag today. A huge step forward. Charges dismissed. Relationship valued over legalism. An active Bishop joining the ranks of those calling to stop the trials. That Bishop now bound by this agreement to find just resolutions moving forward.

But. Sometimes trials push an issue that needs to be addressed. Many feel the time for talking is long gone. And the discriminatory language of the Book of Discipline remains, and with it the prohibition not only against ministry to LGBTQ persons, but the ministry of those persons. There is so much work to be done.

Until the love and ministry of all persons is recognized on an equal basis, until the Discipline does not call people sacred in one breath and incompatible in another, perhaps even until no more bodies of lesbian couples are found by dumpsters, no more teen boys take their lives for fear of embracing an identity, and a transgender person can have a life expectancy equal their cisgender peers, we have work to do.

So let me be clear: yes, charges have been dismissed against Rev. Dr. Ogletree in favor of a resolution involving more conversation. It’s a huge day in the UMC, and a big step forward. AND there is still work to be done. Conversation about 40 years of discrimination is not enough; stopping trials for people who officiate (while trials are pending for people accused of being homosexual) is not enough; maintaining discriminatory and dehumanizing language in the Book of Discipline is not acceptable. There is joy, and there is work to be done.

Alleluia. And, what’s next?

Sermon: Is it Safe?

lion mane 2“Is it Safe?”

(March 3, 2014, Transfiguration Sunday) The encounter with God is not always safe or comfortable; it leaves us changed. Are we ready to be transformed, or are we still asking that God be safe and sanitary because we are not yet ready to change? (Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9)

References abound in this sermon!

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

Blog excerpt, “When Glory“, (c) Jan Richardson, Janrichardson.com

Sermon: Blessed are the Cheese-Makers?

prayer poverty man old“Blessed are the Cheese-Makers?”

(February 2, 2014) When we read the list of blessings in the Gospels (“beatitudes,” as they are often called), we can read them both as reminders of whom God loves, and as soothing balm for the parts of ourselves most in need of blessing. What blessings do you need to hear? (Matthew 5:1-12)

Sermon: Something Fishy

fish 4“Something Fishy”

(Jan 26, 2014) Some things are harder than they might seem at first (like keeping goldfish alive–whyyyy?). Perhaps it sounds easy to “make disciples” or share faith or live the Christian life, but it is hard. The good news is that we are not called to walk solo journeys. (Matthew 4:12-23)

Sermon: Give it a Look-See

look binoculars boy“Give it a Look-See”

(January 19, 2014) When is the last time you looked at something– not just let the images assault your eyeballs, but looked deeply? This deep looking is what God is inviting when Christ says “come and see.” (John 1:29-42)

Let the penalty fix the “crime”

shame hands face coveredHere we go again…

A month after the Board of Ordained Ministry in Pennsylvania stripped Rev. Frank Schaefer of his ordination credentials for officiating at his son’s wedding and refusing to state he would follow the entirety of the Book of Discipline in the future, the United Methodist Church is back at it again.

The New York Annual Conference announced the date of March 10 as the beginning of the trial of Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree. Like Rev. Schaefer, Rev. Dr. Ogletree is an ordained United Methodist Elder. Like Schaefer, he has a son who is gay. Like Schaefer, he officiated at his son’s wedding. In addition, Rev. Dr. Ogletree is a former professor and Dean at a Divinity School in Connecticut, oh, right, Yale, and before that Drew. Where he taught such irrelevant courses as theological ethics and Christian social ethics. And literally wrote the book in the church’s witness to the world– Oh, just read about him here.

At least one friend has compared the coming trial to that time that the Ministry of Magic tried to interrogate Professor Dumbledore. Not a bad comparison.

I don’t want to get in to all that right now.

These trials have a sort of fatalistic nature to them. We all assume that the persons on trial will be found guilty. I’m not sure this should be the case– after all, the church says we can’t officiate at same-sex weddings, but does not take time to define sex, or explain how, in the absence of legal background checks, medical screenings and examinations, hormonal and chromosomal lab results and so on, a pastor is supposed to determine such. But I digress.

Let’s assume for a moment that Rev. Dr. Ogletree is found guilty of violating the unjust law as laid out in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. Where the real interest lies is in the sentencing.

Some clergy members who have been found guilty of such violations have their credentials revoked, as was the case with Rev. Schaefer (legal or not). But in 2011, the jury in the Wisconsin Annual Conference sentenced Rev. Amy DeLong (found not guilty of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” but guilty of officiating a same-sex wedding) with a twenty day suspension, and then charged her to research and write a paper addressing the nature of the clergy covenant, how it has been harmed and how it might be healed.

The old saying goes, let the punishment fit the crime. But DeLong’s “punishment” seemed more intended to fix or at least address the root problems in the alleged “crime.”

What if the jury in Rev. Dr. Ogletree’s trial took that approach? What if they used this opportunity not to punish Ogletree or scare others into compliance with laws they find unjust (how’s that working for ya?), but to address root problems in this issue?

Specifically, I would like to see the jury, should they find Rev. Dr. Ogletree guilty of a violation of unjust church law, instruct him to create or propose a system for dealing with charges that persons are self-avowed practicing homosexuals or have officiated at same-sex weddings, in ways other than trials. Church trials are a waste of time, money, human resources, and spiritual strength. They show the watching world that The United Methodist Church is divided and broken, and no better able to live together in difference and brokenness than middle schoolers on the playground. Yes, they highlight the injustices in the system and as such become a force for eventual change, but I fear there won’t be much of a church left by the time they’ve accomplished that work. If only we had a former Dean of a theological school, a professor of Christian ethics, an author who has researched the church’s witness to the world on social issues, and a pastor and parent with life experience to reflect with us on these things!

So that’s my modest proposal for the jury in the Ogletree trial: Find Rev. Dr. Ogletree guilty if you must (although try to see if you can get your terms and concepts around sex and sexuality and gender and gender identity somewhat consistent if you can). But then consider the injustice of the letter of the law. Consider the pain to the whole church and the whole world for as long as the world is still listening to anything remotely called “church.” Consider the resource and gift of the person in front of you.

Seek the Middle Way. Remain in connection. Work for justice and for healing.

Let the punishment at least try to start fixing the crime.

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