Monthly Archives: November 2019

Inclusivity Devotional 6 (Romans 13:8-14)

This devotional is a part of my effort to create weekly devotional readings based on the Revised Common Lectionary that look at a Biblical passage through the lens of inclusivity. It is my firm belief that the Bible points me toward an inclusive and fully affirming attitude toward LGBTQ people. Some devotions will be more explicitly about LGBTQ inclusion than others.

This is the first Sunday of Advent. For those in many Christian traditions, the time of Advent is the four weeks before Christmas. Each week of Advent is marked with a different theme. There is no standard for these themes, but the most popular is probably Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Each week Christians focus on one of these themes and light a candle in preparation of the coming of Christ.

When we think of getting ready for Christmas, we often think of decorations, shopping lists, and gatherings. Even if we move to the more spiritual realm, our images of Christmas are usually that of the baby in a manger, shepherds gathering, and wise ones traveling.

There is another element of Advent that we often ignore. Advent is not just about welcoming a baby. It is about welcoming the resurrected Christ into our lives and our world. Advent is as much about preparing for the second coming of Christ as it is about the first. I know that much talk about the second coming is wrapped in scary stories of people disappearing, famine, wars, and destruction. Most of this comes from Biblical apocalyptic literature that has a very specific cultural and historical context that is not meant to be taken literally.

Most applications of apocalypic literature that take the imagery literally, or apply it directly to current events are dangrous and irresponsible. They are nonsense stories of sci-fi fans who want to scare people into buying their books or coming to their churches. Often called “Left Behind” or “Tribulation” theology, it’s mostly nonsense. The Second Coming is about the coming of the Kingdom which will make all things right. It is what we are working toward as people of God, watching and waiting for the promises of peace, justice, and love to be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.

The text from Romans 13:8-14 is a reminder that to prepare for Christ, we must first wake up. “You know what time it is,” says Paul. It is time to wake up to what is going on all around. It is time to wake up from old systems of racism, sexism, and homophobia. It is time to wake up from closed-minded religion that does harm in the name of Christ. It is time to wake up to what Jesus actually taught us the first time around – love one another.

This passage tells us that our only obligation is to love each other. “Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law.” I have yet to hear a good response to this from those who want to exclude LGBTQ people from full inclusion in the church. How is loving another person a sin?

Some will point to the end of the passage, “Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not partying and getting drunk, not sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires” (Romans 13:13-14).

It is an old-fashioned tactic to paint LGBTQ people as fitting directly into this category. There are still many who falsely believe that to be gay is to be immoral, that the “gay lifestyle” is one of promiscuity, sex on demand, and debauchery. They believe that anyone who has a physical sexual relationship with one of the same gender is “giving into selfish desires.”

I agree with Paul that to follow Christ means that some behaviors are no longer acceptable. I agree that it is wrong to give into selfish desires, but there is nothing inherently sinful about falling in love with another person. There is nothing inherently sinful about expressing love through sexual contact. Sex is a natural expression of romantic love. To prohibit a person from sex with someone with whom they have an intimate, romantic, loving connection would be the true abomination. Whether or not sex is an expression of love has nothing to do with the biological parts involved. Sex that is destructive, abusive, manipulative, or coercive is wrong – regardless of the sexual orientations of those involved.

It is time to wake up. For those who wish to exclude LGBTQ people from the full participation in the life of the church, wake up to the first verse of this passage. Wake up to Paul’s reminder that all of the commandments can be summed up with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Please stop telling LGBTQ people that you love them while you reject the love they feel for another person.

If someone were to tell me that they love me, but that they think the most important, loving, life-giving relationship in my life was an abomination to God, I would not feel very loved. If you think that LGBTQ people are only interested in debauchery and licentiousness, wake up. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t indulge in your own selfish desires to keep some people from the grace of Christ.

In this season of Advent I have hope that the coming of Christ can break the hard hearts of those who cling to their fears, misconceptions, and ill-conceived interpretation of Scripture. I have hope that the light of Christ can overcome any darkness. I rejoice in Paul’s declaration that “salvation is nearer than when we first had faith.” I believe that people of faith can grow and move closer to the beloved community that includes all people. This is my Advent hope, that we may all may wake up to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.

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Inclusivity Devotional 5 (Luke 23:33-43)

This devotional is a part of my effort to create weekly devotional readings based on the Revised Common Lectionary that look at a Biblical passage through the lens of inclusivity. It is my firm belief that the Bible points me toward an inclusive and fully affirming attitude toward LGBTQ people. Some devotions will be more explicitly about LGBTQ inclusion than others.

November 24, 2019 is known in the Christian year as Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. This is a relatively new observance in the Christian year. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. and has only been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since the 1970s. The purpose of the day is to recognize that Christ is the sovereign over all creation. Some call it a response to the rising secularism and nationalism of the day.

World War I was only a few years in the past. Europe was still cleaning up after the destruction of the war, which was the result of rising nationalism and alliance. At the same time, new nations were starting to rebuild and claim their place in the world stage. 1925 was the year that Mussolini rose to power in Italy. It was also the year the Adolf Hitler restarted the Nazi party. In Europe, there were the first inklings of fascism rising. In the United States, there was an increased sense of isolationism and anti-immigrant legislation.

While Mussolini marched in Rome, the Pope declared that Christ is King. This historical moment seems very important in today’s world political climate. Nationalism is on the rise in Europe. President Donald Trump’s “America First” populism is well documented. The world in 2019 is very different than it was in 1925, but many see similar trends and disturbing parallels.

Enter Christ the King. It is in this climate that we must declare that Christ is the King. The national powers, military might, and economic forces are not what reign on Earth. God created all things, and the universal and eternal Christ reigns. And just what kind of King is Jesus? What does it mean to say “Christ is King”?

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 23:33-43, which details the story of Jesus on the Cross. This is the image of Kingship for Christians. It is not the triumphant victor, riding in on a conquering war-horse. It is the lamb slain. It is the self-sacrificial love that would forgive even those who held the hammers. It is the peace that comes even to two men also being crucified.

Lest we forget, Jesus was executed by a King for treason. He was killed in the name of the Emperor for claiming to be “King of the Jews.” In his mightiest act on earth, he submitted to the worst punishment that the kings of the earth could hand out. The Kingship we need now is not that of the Emperor. The King that saves is not the one who punishes, executes criminals, and carries out wars. The King that saves is the one who loves, even to the end. The King that saves is the one who rises over violence. The King we need is Christ the King, Christ the Crucified, Christ the giver of grace. Lord in your mercy, hear us.

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Inclusivity Devotional 4 (Luke 21:5-19)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
   The Gospel reading for November 17 in the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 21:5-19. This is one of those weeks where the lectionary, and most of the subtitles of modern printed Bibles, do a disservice to the text. Many Bibles separate verses 1-4 from the story we have for today, which is a huge mistake. In fact, to truly see this passage and its power, the reader should go back to at least 20:45.
   But first, let’s look at the passage the lectionary gives us. In verses 5-19 Jesus predicts not only the Temple’s fate, which is disastrous, but also predicts the coming troubles for those who follow him. Verse 5 opens with people talking about the beauty of the Temple. Jesus responds that this beautiful structure will all come crashing down. What’s more, in the coming days things are going to get worse. He reminds his followers that remaining faithful to him will come at great cost. Many of the things Jesus mentions, earthquakes, famine, and epidemics were not altogether uncommon. These things however, were often interpreted as signs of God’s punishing judgment. Instead, Jesus is reminding them that even in the midst of trial, God’s plan is still unfolding. The disasters are not a sign of God’s wrath, but instead should serve as reminder’s of Jesus’ predictions. The disciples could take comfort in the midst of disaster knowing that their God is still with them.
   Of course, the destruction of the Temple did occur some 40 years later. It is difficult to overstate the trauma of this event, even to the early Christian church. Instead of seeing it as a disaster though, followers of Christ were called to see even this devastation as a sign that God was working in the world – not causing the destruction, but working even through such destruction to bring God’s Kingdom.
   Now, let’s get back to verses 1-4. This is known as “the widow’s offering.” Jesus saw a widow give the last of what she had to the Temple. In the very next scene, the people are marveling at its beauty. Jesus did not see its beauty – although it was quite magnificent. Instead, he only saw an institution that was taking a widow’s last coins. The beauty of the outside of the institution did not match the fruit that it was bearing. Instead of being a place where people were inspired to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien, it was a place where marginalized were pushed farther away. In the verses immediately before the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against those who “cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.”
   The widow’s offering and the beauty of the Temple served as a perfect object lesson for Jesus, and it should serve as a timely warning for us in the grand temples of Methodism today. We live in an institution that has appeared to have a beautiful facade. It is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. There are great cathedrals in our cities, first churches in our towns, General Boards and Agencies that wield power and influence. The Cross and the Flame is indeed a beautiful ornament dedicated to God. Perhaps on the inside though, something has been ill. Does the fruit of exclusion match the fruit that Christ calls us to bear?
   Jesus’ prediction against the Temple came on the heels of witnessing first hand the “devouring of widow’s homes.” What would he say about the Church who continues to marginalize and do harm to our LGBTQ siblings?

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Inclusivity Devotional 3 (Haggai 1:15; 2:1-9)

This is my weekly devotional, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, with a theme of inclusion. I started this exercise as a part of the IGRC For Unity newsletter. IGRC for United is a group of centrist and progressive United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan (and its punitive exclusion of LGBTQ people and those who support them), and are working for a United Methodist Church that is truly for all.

One of the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary is from Haggai. This is one of the “Table of Contents” books of the Bible. If I had an actual printed Bible, I would be turning to the table of contents to find it. I know its somewhere near the back of the Hebrew Bible, but its short and easy to flip past. It’s safe to say that the pages of this prophet are not well-worn. This does not mean it’s not worth reading.

Like any of the prophets, Haggai’s historical context is important; and unlike some prophets, it Haggai’s context is remarkably clear. “The second year of King Darius” can be translated to August of 520 BCE. Darius was “noted for his administrative genius and for his great building projects” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cyrus the Great officially ended the Jewish exile in 538 BCE, 18 years before Haggai. The people were trying to rebuild the Temple, but it was not going well. There were some who considered it of secondary concern. Some were conflicted over how it should get done.

Haggai came to try to set the people on the course of rebuilding. He saw the construction of the Temple as an essential part of their relationship with God, and the people were too busy on their own pet projects to get to work on what mattered. There were some that thought that building something new wasn’t worth the trouble because there was no way that they could recreate what had come before.

Rebuilding is not about re-creating what came before. Pining for the “good old days,” while neglecting what needs to be done now is the most toxic impulse connected to nostalgia. If the Church is to be in the business of renewal and revival, it should not be trying to recreate the 1950’s. We are to seek a relationship with the living God. We are not called to build a museum to what things used to be.

In this passage, God promises restoration and salvation. The promises are rooted in how God has saved in the past, but this does not mean God is doing the same thing as before. God saved and will save again. We are to do our part, rebuilding our hearts, rebuilding our communities, and yes, rebuilding our churches – not in the image of what was before, but in the image of God who creates all, redeems all, and sustains all.

 

 

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