Thursday, May 5, 2016

Can All mean ALL?

My goal in talking about homosexuality and the issues surrounding it is not to tell you you are right or wrong about your point of view, I’m not going to try to convince you to change your mind on the issue.  

I also can’t in one sermon go through all the Biblical texts that relate to homosexuality.  There are too many and we’d have to go into Hebrew and Greek etc.  But I hope we can do that sometime soon.

My goal is to talk about how the fight about homosexuality is affecting the ministry of the church and the mission of Jesus Christ, and the mission and ministry of Calvary United Methodist Church specifically.

The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights is not new.  These issues have been around for 2,000 plus years.  They ebb and flow between levels of acceptance and levels of how much it is discussed openly in culture – but they have been there.

When its about your family, your people that you love, then this “issue” is deeply personal and touches a part of your heart that is tender.  I first want to encourage everyone to be careful with your words when discussing LGBT rights and roles in the church.  You may be talking to someone for whom this is personal.  And while we can always disagree, please do so with respect and gentleness.

The United Methodist Church has been arguing over LGBTQ rights in the church for 44 years.  Before 1972 there were no rules in the Book of Discipline (BOD) about homosexuality and each local church could do as it felt right.  Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco did many same sex wedding that were not legal but meaningful.  Since the adoption of the phrase “We believe homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” in the BOD in 1972 the fight over that language has been constant.  PBS did a 30 minute documentary about the UMC’s fight over the issue highlighting the clergy trials conducted for pastors who came out and pastors who did same sex weddings.  Most recently Rev Frank Schaefer was put on trial in the UMC and his clergy credentials taken away because he conducted the wedding for his son and his son’s husband.

What happens when the world at large sees us, the church, fighting about this issue is damaging to the Mission of Jesus Christ, the Ministry of the Church and the call of Calvary United Methodist Church.

The Mission of Jesus Christ was spoken by Jesus in two places: 

Matthew 22: 37-38  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Matthew 28: 19  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So Jesus’ mission can be summed up as: Love God, Love neighbor, Make disciples of all.
When the world sees the church arguing about whether or not LGBTQ people are welcome or not, spending thousands of dollars on church trials, then the mission of Jesus is called into question.  Does the church really want to love our neighbor?  Do we really want to make disciples of all people?   If we are going to start excluding certain groups of people then we really aren’t taking Jesus’ words – make disciples of ALL – seriously.  All means all.  If all doesn’t mean all then who else can be excluded?  Anyone who doesn’t fit our narrow picture of the right kinds of people? 

The Ministry of the Church is in its rituals that enter into people’s lives at special moments.  Baptism, Confirmation, Weddings, Funerals – these are the moments when people who have ignored God all of a sudden feel the tug to connect with the Sacred.  They are open to seeing how God is at work in this new time of their lives.  When we are forbidden from allowing certain people from participating in these moments then we are telling them that God is not with them in the midst of their lives. 

In 2005 I came to Calvary UMC married to a man who promised to love, respect and be faithful husband.  Soon after arriving, I learned that he was not being faithful, and even after being caught and repenting he continued to lie and be in relationship with other women.  I was deeply hurt and broken by the betrayal.  That winter the opportunity came to go to a young clergy conference in Washington DC to learn about the Social Principle of the UMC and how to use them in our ministry.  In a discussion exercise we were asked to listen to each other for two minutes on a topic.  The leader read this statement on marriage from our BOD:

“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”

The young, female clergy I was partnered with spoke first.  She spent 2 minutes telling me that the most important part of that statement was the man/woman part and that the church really needed to focus on God’s vision of marriage that was just for men and women. 
When it was my turn I started to cry.  I told her: I had a husband, he had all the right body parts, but he wasn’t loving, committed, or faithful.  For me the most important part of that statement was the quality of a relationship, how people care for and love each other faithfully and that the body parts was the least important part.

I probably get one or two phone calls a year asking me to conduct a wedding for a same-sex couple.  It breaks my heart to have to say “no” because I know that they have been hurt by the church before and that I am being another church person that is rejecting them when deep down I believe God is with them and wants to bless them.  I believe it is the quality of a relationship that God wants us to focus on, and that what is between our legs is not God’s priority.  And we turn not only LGBTQ people away from the church, but many people like me who have been in marriage and know that marriage is more than sex. We long for a church to focus on helping build quality relationships.

Finally, Calvary United Methodist Church has a special place of ministry in this area. When I first came to Calvary UMC I had a bunch of get to know you coffees at people’s homes and I was surprised to find at each one a person or family who was or had a close family member who was LGBTQ.  I had not served a church where I had so many persons affected by this issue and it was humbling.  You are also not alone.  My cousin from California I had not met until we were both in seminary about to become pastors in the United Methodist Church came out to me at my grandmother’s house.  I am saddened that after having an appointment to a church where the senior pastor was not supportive of her she left the UMC and is now clergy in another denomination.  I wish she was Methodist, but I am joyful that she and her wife are happy

Truth in advertising is very important.  20 years ago the United Methodist Church launched the most successful advertising campaign of any denomination in history.  “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors”  was our slogan and the world loved it, attendance went through the roof.  But 9 months later attendance was back down.  Why?  People found we weren’t so open.  We talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk.  It was disappointing.

Calvary’s mission statement for 10 years has been:  “Sharing God’s unconditional love with all”.  If we really mean that, then all must mean all and we must be prepared to welcome and accept all of God’s children without judgment.  Or else lets change our mission statement.  Lets be honest.  Are we going to welcome everyone – can we decide to welcome people even those we may not agree with morally?? 

I believe that we can.  I believe that this church has the heart for the mission of Jesus:  Love God, Love Neighbor, Make all Disciples.  And I believe all can mean all.  May God help us.

#GC2016  #RMN  #allmeansall

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