(July 7, 2019) What does it mean that “Jesus sets us free?” From what are we set free? What if we don’t feel that we are free from the sorrow or pain or despair? (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)
(June 30, 2019) What happens when God asks the impossible? In this ever-challenging text, God asks Abraham to be prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Our reaction to this is so visceral, so horrified, that this alone should tell us something about God and about ourselves. (Genesis 22:1-14)
Challenging Texts & Topics
For this summer, members of the congregation were invited to submit their questions and challenges. Is there a story in the Bible or a saying of Jesus that confuses or unsettles you? Something you don’t like , don’t understand, or wish you could hear explored in a message?
Sermons in this Series:
June 16, Holy Trickery– Does the End Justify the Means?: God’s tricksters in Genesis (Genesis 25 & 27)
June 23, Careful What You Wish For!– The people demand—and God grants—a king (1 Samuel 8)
June 30, Look Up– When God asks the Impossible: the binding/sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22
July 7, Free to Be– Free for what? What does it mean that “Jesus sets us free?” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)
July 14, As Yourself– “Love your neighbor as yourself”—but what if you don’t love yourself? (Luke 10:25-37)
July 21, Martha, Martha, Martha- Martha and Mary: Does Jesus really praise the lazy sister? (Luke 10:38-42)
(July 28- Praise in the Park; Aug 4- VBA celebration)
Aug 11- Child-like, not childish, faith: Re-understanding the beloved myths of the Hebrew Bible
Aug 18- What is the point of Intercessory prayer? Are we trying to change God’s mind or give God’s power a boost?
Aug 25- (still in process)
Sept 1- Holy and Unholy anger: of fig trees and temple tables
Sept 8- “Forgive and Forget”
Sacred earth, Sacred work
What if we lived life truly connected to the origins of Creation and the Creator? In the beginning God created all things and called them “good.” Beginning just after Earth Day, our spring worship series, “Sacred Earth, Sacred Work,” invites us into the reverence and care for all of God’s creation. Come explore essential ideas found in Creation Spirituality– a way of living within the community of earth that deepens our reverence for life, participates in the creativity of the cosmos, and develops our passion for justice and human transformation. Through this series, may we be inspired to lead lives of spiritual inquiry, creativity, and prophetic action as our sacred work in the world.
(from Worship Design Studio)
Sermons in this series:
I’m taking weeklong seminar at the Kellogg School of Management (which I love) called “Constructive Collaboration,” and a big portion of yesterday and today focused on negotiating team decisions or conflicts within an organization. I had several brain-exploding moments thinking about The UMC, which prompted me to exclaim “church: we are doing this all wrong!”
Why did I say that?
Portions of yesterday and today focused on multi-party negotiations within an organization– that is, not a two party negotiation (a bill of sale, a divorce filing), but multiple people with multiple interests and/or teams represented, who hope (many of them, maybe not all) to continue working together. Most the of insights came from the work of Dr. Jeanne Brett, and I will not completely restate what she taught, so as not to infringe upon her intellectual property. A lot of her work focuses on global partnerships and negotiating or making decisions across cultural differences– applicable to our multi-national organization, yes?
Here are my key takeaways for The United Methodist Church:
Yes, but… two things:
The Commission on the Way Forward was supposed to be this negotiating body. — Or was it? The task they were given was presented as a single issue (fail #1), between three known parties (fail #2), and presumed equal stake in church unity and in reaching an agreement, neither of which were true (fails #3 and 4). As stated above, the people on the Commission were not truly representatives of caucuses, but individuals, and therefore could not force compliance (fail #6) from their caucus members who did not have the experience of building relationships and trust with one another.
The “other party” is not negotiating in good faith. — This is perhaps true. But: a- there is more than one “other party,” and b- each party accuses the other(s) of bad faith. Working through points 2 and 3 should help reveal the deeper motivations of the parties, and the nuances of the positions, revealing points of bad faith, and making clear where negotiation just won’t be possible. However, c- in negotiation, it is not bad faith to have some areas you just won’t sacrifice. Rather, that’s honest. I will not sacrifice my position that removing both the punishments and the incompatibility language must happen for the sake of the dignity of LGBTQ+ persons and the value-driven “brand” of what I know and love Methodism to be. I’m honest about that. That’s not bad faith; these are my principles.
So, is it too late?
Not at all! I think we are just entering a really exciting part of negotiation. We have determined something that we “agree” upon (by a narrow majority): that we cannot be one body with one polity together. So there are roughly a million questions remaining about process, justice, brand, values, assets, de-coupling….. and I would urge us to take the opportunity to deeply examine what we (whoever we are) need and cannot sacrifice, what all other parties say they need and cannot sacrifice, what happens if we can’t agree upon the terms of our split/structural change and it ends up happening “the hard way” (what does that look like?), and what the buy-in, influence, and implementation strategy and power will be. And, we have to look at all of these pieces together, finding points of resonance rather than issues of agreement (remember, we agree that we are divided, and that’s not really helpful, is it?).
For example, in the past 2 weeks, some moderates and progressives have found that they resonate with we cannot allow the UMC to be defined by its exclusion of people based on sexual orientation. Perhaps some traditionalist and some LGBTQ+ people have found resonance on I cannot remain in a denomination that so fundamentally attacks my ability to do the ministry God has given me to do, and I need a way out of this place (I still do not understand why the far right did not approach the far left and say “one way or the other, one of us is leaving, so let’s write a fair and constitutional model for that together, so we each can live with it.” Instead they kept saying “don’t you want this in case we win? It’s what I’d want if you win.” That’s a huge church fail for them). Some LGBTQ+ folks and non-white folks have found resonance– and poignant tension– on a position that the oppression and marginalization of any people is the ultimate evil here, and our liberation must be collective. None of these things are agreements. But they give each of us tentative allies at the negotiating table, and positions from which to hold our principles and negotiate fair terms.
So, church, let’s try to do this in a more healthy and productive way.
Have you ever misplaced your phone–which is on vibrate of course–and then asked someone to call it? We get really still and really quiet. Our ears perk up in all directions in order to be ready to hear that little buzz. It is a quieting down and high alert all at the same time.
This Lent we will quiet things down and heighten our attention to the “still, small voice” of God and our own True Self. Listening through prayer as well as meditation on holy texts is an ancient Lenten practice. Come and rest, come and listen.
(from Worship Design Studio)
Sermons in this series:
Dear Church Family at Lebanon UMC,
The most important thing I want to say is this: Nothing, nothing, nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). This is true for all of us, but it is especially important to say it to folks in our congregation, community, and families who are LGBTQ+. If you or someone you know are struggling to feel that love and worth right now, please talk to me (call me literally any time) or reach out for other support. You are beloved.
For I Am Convinced…
By now, many of you have heard that the General Conference (GC) voted this week– by a very small margin, 53% to 47%– to not only maintain our denomination’s restriction on ordination and marriage for LGBTQ+ Methodists, but to strengthen those restrictions. The meeting was tense, emotional, and painful, and did not go at all as we had hoped. Grim as this seems, I believe that there are many reasons for hope. I encourage us to keep these in mind.
1. This vote was not decisive.
What this vote reveals, more than anything, is that our denomination is deeply divided. Can you imagine if we were taking a vote as a congregation about something huge, and it passed with 53 percent? That most certainly wouldn’t indicate a consensus, but would demonstrate that we have more work to do, more conversations to have.
2. The legislation may not be binding.
More than half of what was passed by the GC had already been ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council (which is like the Methodist Supreme Court). We have no idea yet what, if any, of these new policies will actually take effect.
3. The General Conference is not the Church.
Much like the Congress of the USA, GC is a representative body of some pretty human humans. The polarization, politicking, and even the decisions seen there still do not represent the faith and service of the people of The United Methodist Church. Where is that represented? Local churches, just like ours. We are the church.
4. The voices of LGBTQ+ people were heard like never before.
The GC allowed for debate on a plan that would simply remove all restrictive language, and many LGBTQ+ and allied voices spoke powerfully to this and against the division and restrictions. The “Simple Plan” drew 40% of the vote, far better than we had hoped. The speeches and prayers and songs demonstrated that LGBTQ+ people are most certainly already Spirit-filled lay and clergy leaders in the church.
5. Moderates and allies are emboldened.
Precisely because the conversation became so ugly, and so focused on dividing the church, those in the “center” were shocked that folks couldn’t agree to disagree. These moderates joined forces with the more zealous advocates for inclusivity. Furthermore, many people who have previously been open but not sure what to do to help have entered the struggle full force. The heart of The UMC woke up, and is fighting for the inclusion of all people. Some are even starting their support from a place of listening to LGBTQ people and people of color first, which allows those most harmed to drive the movement toward their own liberation. This is holy work.
6. People are “thinking outside the box.”
In multiple places, conversations are happening about “what next?” Whether the movement for inclusion remains a faithful dissent within The UMC, or a new version of what Methodism looks like (and many options in between), things cannot and will not be business as usual. The New England Annual Conference and each individual church has many possibilities moving forward, and time to prayerfully consider them.
7. Our ministry does not change.
In the mean time, nothing keeps us from sharing the love of God. The people of Lebanon UMC will keep doing what we are doing, and being the people God calls us to be, bound to one another by our shared love, service, and faith. We continue to welcome and include all persons, and to hold fast to our conviction that the church is incomplete when anyone is excluded. No vote can take that away.
… Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God.
God is with us, and this is not our church, not our denomination, not our movement. These things– our very selves– belong to God. And God’s got us. The God who created, redeems, and sustains us is never letting us go. And God’s got work for us to do yet.
I miss you and will see you soon!
Here is a compiled list of my comments and reflections at/after General Conference:
An article in the Valley News, where both Sean and I were interviewed after General Conference.
I gave an interview on New England Public Radio, which you can listen to here.
I gave a slightly more raw statement to our Conference communication director on Monday, which you can listen to here.
Facebook users can watch, and all can read my speech on the floor of the GC (I spoke *against* the plan to remove restrictions, saying it didn’t go far enough. This took a speaking slot away from opponents who might have said more hurtful things, and pointed out that our job is to better than “say nothing”).