Sermon: Re-Form- Leaving Comfortable Places

emerge series“Re-Form- Leaving Comfortable Places”

(April 23, 2017) The more we learn about butterflies (and moths) and the process of metamorphosis, the better it preaches about the transformations of the Christian life. Tombs, cocoons (or chrysalises), wombs, and locked rooms may seem like safe places, but instead are the places where Jesus finds us. Like the caterpillar, we are broken down to be re-formed in God’s hands. Are we really ready for this complete transformation? (Luke 1:26-38John 20:19-31)

IMG_0058A new favorite of many in the congregation, and as promised, my self-disclosure of how very wrong I was about butterflies’ bodies.

To Bishop KO with Love

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Bishop Karen Oliveto, who is NOT an individual respondent in next week’s Judicial Council cases, with my daughter and me in March.

Next week, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church will rule on cases concerning out LGBTQ clergy in the denomination. While the outcome of these cases will certainly have a huge impact on the global UMC, no matter what that outcome is, I’m distressed by the mischaracterization of what the cases address.

The Judicial Council is NOT ruling on whether or not Bishop Oliveto can be a Bishop. It is NOT ruling on whether or not gay and lesbian pastors can be ordained. It is NOT acting upon a complaint against Bishop Karen, or the against the individual clergy people ordained by the New York Annual Conference or the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. And it is most definitely NOT creating new rules or regulations that will bind the church.

For people who support The UMC official policy that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained or appointed as clergy (spoiler alert: this is not my position), I imagine this is a frustrating moment. For over forty years, the denomination’s legislative body, the General Conference, has codified this discrimination in our rule book, the Book of Discipline. But making legislation is not the same thing as living out ministry. As it turns out, proving that anyone is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is all but impossible. Defining marriage– both a civil and a religious institution– gets complicated, and only serves to demonstrate that marital status is not the same as a person’s sexuality, no matter how much the heterosexist patriarchy would like to think it is.

And meanwhile, while the Discipline and its supporters have spent countless dollars and hours trying to tighten and clarify restrictions, queer United Methodists have been busy doing shocking things. Like preaching and teaching. Visiting people in homes and hospitals. Baptizing and burying. Celebrating eucharist and journeying with siblings in Christ through life milestones. Being the people of the church.

And since LGBTQ United Methodists are doing these things, they– we– are also doing them in leadership. As lay leaders, deaconesses, home missioners, pastors, candidates, elders, deacons, yes, even bishops. And when it comes time to evaluate and discern leadership in the Body, a curious thing happens: congregations, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and whole Jurisdictional Conferences are evaluating and discerning a person’s gifts and graces for a particular ministry on the basis of that ministry. Not on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or other personal characteristic that is not at all a part of their gifts and graces for ministry. Scandalous.

So, in New York Annual Conference, for example, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry discerned the gifts and graces for ministry as ordained elders for several individuals, some of whom happen to be queer and some of whom do not. They rightly stated that the sexual orientation of the individual was not a relevant factor to discern a person’s gifts and graces for ministry. Likewise, in the Western Jurisdiction, the voting members discerned the gifts and graces for ministry as a Bishop in Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, a elder in good standing in The United Methodist Church. They rightly determined that Bishop Karen’s sexual orientation is not a relevant factor in determining if she will be a good Bishop. Because it turns out that how we live as Christ’s people in ministry and service matters, and that people will know we are Christ’s people by our love and service. Not by our sexual orientation.

But this is wrong! cry the supporters of the current policy. And to try to stop the natural outpouring of good, loving, faith-building ministry that is happening while people also happen to be queer, they request judicial rulings on the legality and constitutionality of the processes used by the voting bodies to ordain elders and deacons or to elect and consecrate bishops. 

That’s what is before Judicial Council next week. Not people. Processes. Did the Western Jurisdiction follow the correct process in electing a particular person, who was eligible for nomination and election, as Bishop? Did the Board of the Northern Illinois Conference exercise its own legitimate authority to evaluate candidates for ministry by the standards that are set by the denomination and the Board?

Quite frankly, I think the Judicial Council would have to violate several (United Methodist) Constitutional and polity principles in order to find these bodies in error. It would have to take up the task of legislating and punishing, rather than adjudicating. But I have seen the terrifying might of homophobia in this church. It’s possible that that power will prevail, and the Council will rule procedures to be improper. Then a whole new series of procedural questions would begin, because undoing ministry and life together is not as easy or as quick as making a Judicial ruling.

Oh, there will be personal consequences and fall-out for these procedural decisions, no mistake. There will be new struggles to journey through, and we will continue to fight whatever new injustices arise. But the Judicial Council is not ruling on the calling, the gifts and graces, the God-given beauty and love and ministry, of these beloved servants. That matter was settled long ago. And Bishop Karen and my colleagues in New York and Illinois know it, to the tips of their toes. Nothing will take that away.

Sermon: Emerge- Tombs & Cocoons

emerge series“Emerge- Tombs & Cocoons”

(April 16, 2017 – Easter) You’d never suspect that a cocoon would hold a butterfly, and yo would certainly never suspect that a tomb might hold a risen Savior. Yet, God is full of surprises, and the Easter season beckons us to break free from all that confines us, spread our wings, and fly! What transformed beauty might we see– might we be– when we emerge? (John 20:1-18)

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Easter Sunday altar

Series: Emerge

emerge seriesEaster Worship Series – Emerge

Sometimes, creation itself tells of God’s glory and of the Resurrection promise! Nature offers a perfect symbol for the journey through hardship and loss, sorrow, death, and new life and joy.

The butterfly has long been a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus as well as the resurrection of believers as we emerge from the power of death. Like caterpillars, it might be hard for us to imagine the new life that is in store for us, and we find safety and security in the enclosing darkness of our own cocoons.

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Butterflies and a cocoon grace the altar. 

A symbol of spring, the butterfly truly reflects the beauty of nature. The butterfly emerging from its cocoon represents the resurrection of Christ from the tomb.  Just as the butterfly comes forth with a new body, those who trust in Christ come forth with new and transformed life. The butterfly also represents flight, freedom, and creative thinking.

In this Easter season, we will examine our own transformations from cocoons and tombs to the unfurled beauty of all God calls us to be.

Sermons in this series:
April 16 – Emerge: Tombs and Cocoons
April 23 – Re-Form: Leaving Comfortable Places 

April 30 – Open: Into the Light 
May 5 – Unwrap: Waking Up 
May 14 – Unfold: Claiming New Possibilities 
May 21 – Let Go: Leaving Behind what We don’t Need 
May 28 – Fly: Daring New Heights 
June 4 – Journey: The Places We’ll Go 

Sermon: The Gift of Disappearing

promo-tall“The Gift of Disappearing”

(April 9, 2017 – Palm Sunday) Caught between the poles of fear and shame, we sometimes let one or the other construct an image of ourselves, when in fact, each pulls us away from who God calls us to be. Jesus, having journeyed in the Dark Wood, knows the gift of sliding past those expectations, turning sideways to them, and disappearing, to emerge as who he has always been: God’s beloved Child. (Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11)

Sermon: The Gift of Temptation

promo-tall“The Gift of Temptation”

(April 2, 2017) We think of temptation as a bad thing, but what if it is a gift– one that points us to our path? What if our temptations give us the chance to confirm our calling and commitment? (Matthew 4:1-11)

Sermon: The Gift of Getting Lost

promo-tall“The Gift of Getting Lost”

(March 26, 2017) Sometimes, only when we are lost can we allow ourselves to be found. In the silence and stillness, God is able to speak to and through even fallible people like us. (1 Samuel 3:1-11)

At a mid point in my sermon, I paused to show the first 1:45 of this clip from the movie “Apollo 13.”