(November 17, 2013) We are invited to serve others as we have been served, but we can’t be good servants to others if we forget our place at Christ’s table. In this sermon, we are invited to consider our financial commitments to the church’s ministries as flowing from the abundance and grace we receive as those who share bread together with Christ. (Luke 22:24-30)
Days like today, I think about the denomination of The United Methodist Church, and why I’m a part of it. Days that follow trials and verdicts, personal vendetta turned to personhood- and livelihood- stripping arguments and actions make it hard to remember.
There’s beautiful theology, and a structure that is imperfect but has room for movement (hey I used to be Roman Catholic, so I’ll take it!). There are great big denomination-wide programs that do amazing work all over the world, like the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
And there are people. Oh, Love Divine, the people. I love those people called Methodist. I love the vast network of Methodist(s) Federat(ed) for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries.
But the people, nearly all of the Methodist people I love, are hurting on days like today, and wondering why we stay “United,” and why any one of us stays in the denomination.
And so days like today, I have to stop thinking about my denomination, and start thinking about my local church. Amid rumors of schism or individuals leaving, what would happen in my local congregation?
There are two men in my church I think of in particular. Let’s call them James and John. The one I’m calling James is an openly gay man, leader of some of our strongest mission programs, voice for inclusivity and justice, and occasional participant in things like Pride, and is actively saving all his extra cash for the next Reconciling Ministries Network Convocation. John, on the other hand, is chair of a couple of important committees, the go-to cheerleader for church revitalization and transformation, and has been known to give speeches at annual conference stating that he believes that the Bible says homosexuality is clearly a sin.
James and John have each said things that the other finds hurtful, or offensive, or wrong. They would, in isolation from one another, appear to be on opposite sides of a debate. Should each United Methodist have to choose to be Reconciling or Good News (a traditionalist group that believes homosexuality is sinful and wrong), they would most likely land in different camps. If our congregation voted tomorrow on whether or not to schism, James and John would raise their hands at different times, and the whole congregation would grieve the division between members held so closely to the heart of this local church.
Because, you see, James and John love each other.
James and John love each other more than they love agendas and arguments and “issues.” In fact, they love each other more than they love denominations and schisms and their understandings of what is right and just.
And Trinity United Methodist Church, at least for now, is the place where they grow in love for God and for one another, in their differences. It is the place where they love each other, and find out that love is more important than rules or ideals.
James. John. The love they have for one another as siblings in Christ, in a local congregation of The United Methodist Church.
They are a reason I stay.
Tim’s father, Rev. Frank Schaefer, was found guilty yesterday in a United Methodist Church trial for officiating at Tim’s wedding to his similarly-gendered partner six years ago. An inactive member of Schaefer’s church, angry because his mother and Schaefer had a disagreement which led to her being fired from her position as organist by the church’s personnel committee (SPRC, for Methopeeps), hunted down the marriage license and filed a complaint against Pastor Frank, just after his mother’s termination and just before the statute of limitations ran out.
Today, the jury will hear testimony to decide a sentence for Rev. Schaefer, which could range from a reprimand to being stripped of his credentials as a United Methodist clergy person.
Much has been made about Pastor Frank’s love for his son, which motivated him to officiate at the wedding. While this is beautiful and true, I rather think that all clergy should be motivated by their love of other people’s children as well. Nevertheless, Pastor Frank’s action is rightly heralded as heroic, courageous, and loving.
But what about Tim and his partner? What about the couple dragged into the spotlight for doing what couples everywhere long to do when they are in love and want to spend their lives together?
The sad fact is that when a United Methodist clergy person officiates at a wedding for persons who are of similar genders, that clergy person takes a risk with her or his livelihood. But the couple getting married takes a risk as well. Their names get printed online and flashed across TV screens. Their pictures are plastered on newspaper articles and church websites. Their marriage, relationship, sexuality, and very personhood are dissected, debated, shamed, and stigmatized. The counsel for the church yesterday used his closing argument to rant, not about a violation of church policy, but about the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality.
It takes a special sort of couple to be willing to subject themselves to such a spectacle, centered around what should be a celebration of their love and commitment before God and their loved ones.
I think this is why we see so many trials and cases in mediation involving pastors officiating for their children: Frank Schaefer, Tom Ogletree, Steve Heiss. The couple married have to agree to journey with their officiant into the dark pit of church policy, hateful rhetoric, and punitive judgements. It takes a trust that perhaps these children share with their parents. It takes courage on the part of the couples, to become the faces of the pain inflicted by the church’s injustice.
I have talked with similarly-gendered couples contemplating getting married, and we have discussed together (something I’ve never had to discuss with a heterosexual couple!) whether or not they are willing to be part of this frenzy, whether they want to take and disclose an action that could make their wedding day a political hot topic. Across the board, they have said that they did not want to be subjected to such public scrutiny, and I affirm their choices to maintain privacy and sacredness for themselves. The outcomes of those conversations are not mine to disclose; they belong to the couples themselves.
And so today I give thanks and I pray for the courageous couples who are so willing, who allow their love for one another to also be a call for justice, who invite the world to come barging into their relationships, so that God’s justice might one day barge into our church.
Today I give thanks for Tim.
(November 4, 2013) We like to live our lives in shallow waters, where all is “smooth sailing,” but Jesus calls his disciples– in the first century and in this one– into the deep waters. There, we have to first surrender our control, giving God our trust before we are able to give anything else. Are you willing to traverse uncharted waters? (Luke 5:1-11)
This is part of a three week sermon series, based on resources from Logos Productions and focusing on how we are Called to Follow, Challenged to Grow, and Sent to Serve.
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