Category Archives: Lectionary Reflection

You will be. You will be

Inclusivity Devotional for October 17, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45

This passage always reminds me of the movie Empire Strikes Back. In a scene inside Yoda’s hut, he and Luke Skywalker are debating if he should train young Luke as a Jedi. Yoda sees Luke’s impetuousness and immaturity. He sees the anger in young Luke and decides not to train him as a Jedi. Luke is hot-headed and impatient. He wants to be a Jedi. He wants to fight like his father. He wants to be a hero and overthrow the Empire. Yoda wonders, “Will he finish what he starts?” Pleading with Yoda he says, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” Yoda looks at him ominously and says, “You will be,” and repeats, “You will be.”

John and James come to Jesus and ask, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” He asks them “Will you drink the cup I drink?” They respond, “We can.” Ominously, Jesus answers, “You will drink the cup.”

They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left. These are places of honor. They are looking ahead to the victory. They are looking ahead to the time when Jesus will reign. They see themselves as riding shotgun and basking in Jesus’ glory. What they don’t understand is that at the height of Jesus’ glory, the ones at his right and his left will be hanging on crosses just like Jesus.

The Revised Common Lectionary suggests for us to start this reading at verse 35, but to get the full context we would be well-served to start where we left off last week – at verse 32. By going back to verse 32 we see that Jesus and a crowd were “going up to Jerusalem.” The response is a mix of awe and fear, so Jesus takes the Twelve aside and reminds them (for the third time in two chapters) that in Jerusalem he will die an ignominious death before being raised up.

When the other ten hear what James and John asked, they get angry. The funny thing is, I don’t they are angry that they asked the question. I think they are angry that James and John asked it first. None of them truly understand at this point what ambition looks like in the Kingdom. Christian ambition is a tricky thing. Aren’t we all supposed to be striving for greatness?

Jesus redefines greatness. The twelve are still operating in the system that judges greatness by how many people serve you. For Jesus, greatness is defined by who many people you serve. It is not measured by rank or status. Greatness is not marked on attendance pads, church budgets, charge conference forms, or plum appointments. Greatness is earned with kindness, generosity, and service. It is seldom rewarded in the ways we expect, or even desire.

Like John and James, we may be eager for the glory. Like Luke (Skywalker, not the apostle), we may be eager to be heroes and run off and fight the evil Empire. It is good to consider just what that means. “I’m not afraid,” you may be saying. “You will be,” comes the ominous response.

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Left behind (not that kind of left behind)

Inclusivity Devotional for October 10, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.”

Today I wonder how many LGBTQ kids have walked away from their homes. How many were forced out? How many have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms” because they simply wanted to live their lives as truthfully as possible?

I want to ponder that for a moment before we go any farther with this passage. How many young people were forced out of their homes because of their parents’ misunderstanding of Scripture? How many young people are forced to live a lie and dwell in anxiety and darkness because of how they were created by God. How much good news has been quieted by those who think they are following Jesus?

Before we get caught up in figuring out how to get a camel through the eye of the needle (spoiler alert: there was no such gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” That story was a total fabrication to make people more comfortable with Jesus’ harsh message in this passage), before we wrestle over the nature of “obtaining eternal life,” before we wonder if Jesus was talking to just one rich man or to all of us, I want us pause and think of those who have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news.”

There are thousands of brave, courageous, faithful gay, lesbian, and transgendered people who refused to lie about themselves and who have remained with Jesus. Their faith is an inspiration. They have been shamed, beaten, called names, and outcast by people who claim to love them. Yet they remain faithful to Jesus because of the good news.

This morning I stand in awe of my brave siblings in Christ who, as Peter said, “left everything and followed you.” No pastor, no institution, no Book of Discipline, no misunderstanding of a few verses of the Bible, and no reprimanding parent can keep them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I pray that you receive one hundred times as much as you have left behind. I pray that you receive truth, grace, affirmation, mission, and community. The eternal life of Christ is one of depth, meaning, joy, and peace that surpasses all understanding, and I hope you receive it all. I am thankful for the places and communities who have welcomed you. I pray for your search if you have not yet found a such a place. I believe Jesus’ promise that you will receive it. I am inspired by your faith. I will keep working for you, preaching for you, and praying for you.

Even as I search myself for the same eternal life, I remember that for humans, entering the Kingdom of God is as easy as a camel passing through the eye of the needle, but with God all things are possible. Thanks be to God.

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Jesus makes a poop joke

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 29, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-23

Jesus’ popularity was growing. Crowds were coming. Word of Jesus’ popularity had reached King Herod. Stories of plentiful food and calming storms circulating among the people. Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Wherever he went – villages, cities, or farming communities – they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.”

The Good News of Christ had come. People had bread. People were fed. Even the storms seemed to obey this wandering preacher. The movement was gaining steam and lives were being transformed. Herod wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem who had heard about Jesus. Enter the Pharisees and Legal Experts from Jerusalem. They came to see just what was going on, and what did they see?

They didn’t see the people with enough to eat. They didn’t see people’s lives being restored. They didn’t see the good news preached to the poor and oppressed. They saw the disciples not washing their hands. Germ-theory and best COVID practices aside, this is not what they should have seen. They were students of Torah – they should have seen God’s greatest commandment being lived out. Instead of rejoicing at the love of God and love of neighbor that was overflowing, they saw only the breaking of tradition.

“That’s not how we do it!” They complained to Jesus. “We have rules to follow. We have a discipline to uphold” (Mark 7:5 paraphrased).

They were worried that breaking their tradition could contaminate them. They were worried that if the proper way was not upheld, they would lose their relationship with God. They were convinced that the rules they had created were as important as the Law of God. Jesus, frustrated with their lack of being able to see what was actually happening, reminds them of what truly matters. The rules, well-intentioned as they were – had missed the point.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “Your worship of me is empty since they teach instruction that are human words. You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you” (Mark 7:7-8).

To get this point across to his disciples, he makes a wonderful poop joke (yes, Jesus makes a poop joke!). What enters the mouth exits the other end and goes into the sewer. The Pharisees were concerned about a rule that mattered about as much as what drains into the sewer. What harms our relationship with God is not breaking human rules. It is denying God’s love. They missed the gospel happening right in front of their face by focusing on what comes to a pile of waste. If they had really been paying attention, they would have seen God’s people being fed instead of hands not being washed.

In the end, we are left to reflect on what are human rules and what is God’s Law. God’s Law is love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love each other. Love yourself. To deny these aspects of love is to ignore God’s commandment. Jesus differentiates between human rules and God’s Law is love. Human rules should help us follow God’s Law. God’s focus is on the heart. So should ours. Focus on the heart. Focus on the love. When the rules and traditions stop helping us do that, they should be ignored. They are worth about as much as what flows into the sewer.

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The Armor of God

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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 Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 22, 2021

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the devastating loss of human life, the threats to human dignity, and the fear of a looming humanitarian crisis cast a dark shadow over the reading of Ephesians this week. War metaphors to describe faith in Christ should always give us pause. This is especially so this week.

As we read the author of Ephesian’s language about putting on the armor of God, it is impossible not to think about the wars waged in the name of Christ over the centuries. My mind also goes to old Sunday school posters showing a man in armor – often anachronistic medieval armor – with each piece labeled.

While the labels were things like “peace” and “righteousness” and “truth,” I can’t help but feel like images of the warrior with shield, sword, and a full knight’s steal armor were painting a more lasting image than the words that went along with them. The lesson was simple: we are to be warriors for God, and if this means fighting an actual violent war, then so be it.

It is easy to read this passage and quickly presume that we are the warriors of God, and that all who oppose us are “the rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” It is a short step then, to name those forces of evil. Once they are named, they can then be vanquished, and the armor of God can help us achieve this. For far too long and far too often, this passage has been used to justify militaristic, protectionist discrimination against those considered to be the “forces of evil” and the “darkness of this age.”

To get the full picture of this armor, we must take this letter in its context. This is not meant to be turned into a recruiting poster for God’s army. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to attack and belittle those with whom we disagree. This is certainly not a letter for those living comfortably within the dominant culture.

The letter to the Ephesians was a letter of encouragement to a people facing troubling persecution. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city with important temples and pagan institutions. It was growing much more difficult to participate in the commercial and social life of the city while still following Christ. This letter was meant to remind the Christians how to live in a pagan, oppressive community.

This still feels like a call to arms for Christians who feel they are under attack. The enemies they may name today are secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Many fear the “gay agenda” or buy into conspiracy theories about powerful cabals of child-trafficking predators who are trying to run our government, steal elections, and inject the mark of the beast into our arms. Many Christians feel as if they are fighting a valiant spiritual war by denying the full humanity of LGBTQ people, long-term effects of institutional racism, the existence of a deadly virus, and the efficacy of a vaccine that has proven safe and effective.

It is important to not fall into the same trap and demonize and dehumanize others. People cannot be easily categorized or labeled. Terms such conservative, traditional, orthodox, liberal, and progressive do little to describe humans who care, love, hurt, and learn. The only path we have is to stand firm, but to stand firm with loving kindness. The armor of God is truth, justice, and peace. So, how do we live in a world of increased polarization, misinformation, and vitriol?

The writer of Ephesians does not offer a solution but does give us some guiding principles. Stand firm, but not obstinate. Do not react in anger against your neighbors. Do not respond to violent and militaristic oppression with violent militaristic opposition. Who is my enemy? Not people deceived by misinformation, but forces of oppression, consumerism, addiction, racism, sexism, and homophobia which can be found inside ourselves as much as they are found in others.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will – and determination – to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The Bread of Life

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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 Revised Common Lectionary readings for August 15, 2021

Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58

The Gospel reading this week is the fourth of a five-week journey through the sixth chapter of John. Known as the Bread of Life discourse, chapter six begins with the feeding of a “large crowd” of people. Interestingly, John’s Gospel does not give a head count. Starting with a youth’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to all those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish. After the meal, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.

In the ensuing discussion over what just happened, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He faces opposition from those who do not understand. They compare his bread to the bread of heaven which fell for Moses in the wilderness. This is why this passage begins, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

The talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is not a helpful metaphor for a lot of people. It feels overly graphic and a little gross. This teaching however, is a great chance for us to remove the Sacrament of Communion from the blood and violence of substitutionary atonement. Jesus is the bread of life. This is very different from “this is my body, broken for you.” 

For many, the idea that Jesus had to be sacrificed for the sin of the world to appease an angry God is an illogical interpretation of the Trinity. If God is love, the violent sacrifice of God’s Son is not a helpful metaphor. Let me add here that substitutionary atonement is a metaphor. It is a Biblical metaphor, but it is but one of many ways that Paul and early Christians came to understand the atoning work of Jesus. Through the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, humanity and all creation is reconciled to God. 

Unlike what some would have us believe, there are many ways of understanding how this happens. Here, Jesus does not call himself the sacrificial lamb. He does not point to a broken piece of bread. He reminds his disciples that he is the bread of life. He is bread that is plentiful. He is bread that fulfills, satisfies, and leaves no one hungry.

Jesus uses eating as a metaphor to describe the intense and intimate relationship he has with those who believe. We cannot be separated from Jesus any more than we can be separated from bread that we eat. When we read that we are to eat his “flesh” we should remember that it is the “flesh” that is the eternal Word of God. In the prelude of John, we are told that the incarnation happens when “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

Now Jesus tells us that by eating the flesh, we have life. Jesus revealed God’s way of abundant life for all people. We are invited to not simply believe, but to abide with him. When we do, we are joined in the eternal life of the eternal Word. We eat the bread – not just at the ritual of Communion – but in the life that is abiding with Christ. 

We abide with Christ and eat the bread when we live in non-violent love and grace. We eat the bread when we live as Jesus lives, eat as Jesus eats, heal as Jesus heals, invite as Jesus invites, and love as Jesus loves. When we do this, we abide with Christ. We eat the living bread and live into eternal life.

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David and Bathsheba

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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.


Lectionary First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 (The Rape of Bathsheba)

Bethsabée *oil on canvas *60.5 x 100 cm *signed b.l.: J.L.GEROME *1889

Our first reading this week is the second part of the sad saga of David and Bathsheba. It is fraught with problems and triggers that can do harm to victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and parents who have suffered from infant death or miscarriage. There is little good news in this story, but perhaps it is a chance to undo some damage that preachers and interpreters have done over the centuries. Bathsheba is perhaps the greatest victim of “victim-blaming” in history, and the one shining light from this text makes this clear.  

The Common English Bible puts it bluntly: “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (2 Samuel 11:27b, CEB). At no point in the text is Bathsheba blamed. Generations of interpreters have read consent into Bathsheba’s actions. A blog post from the site womeninscripture.com says, “David did not rape Bathsheba, as evidenced by his subsequent actions. He vehemently loved her.” The idea that David’s love for Bathsheba exempts him from raping her is appalling.  

Womanist scholar Wilda Gafney has a different reading of the situation: “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent. I argue that Bathsheba’s going with David’s soldiers on her own two feet should in no way be read as consent, but rather as holding on to a shred of dignity by not being dragged or carried out… Rape is an abuse of power that can include relational and positional power, in addition to physical power. The power dynamic is clear: David uses the power and authority of his office to wield lethal violence to keep her. He sees her, sends for her, and has sex with her without her consent. He rapes her. In the subsequent narrative [this week’s text], Nathan and God treat David as a rapist by condemning him but not imputing sin to Bathsheba as a complicit, consenting person. Their treatment of her is consistent with the treatment of women who are raped in the Torah statues” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)  

God’s judgment is upon David. Unfortunately, the punishment of David is laid down at the feet of his children and his family. The fact that David’s children – especially the child in Bathsheba’s womb – would be punished for David’s sin is disturbing. Especially to those who have suffered from infertility, infant death, or miscarriage, this does not feel like justice.  

If, however, you read more into the story of David’s life, you may see something else is revealed. David spent his life treating women as pawns. He used, manipulated, and discarded women as was politically expedient. David set up a household built on violence against women, and violence against women lived on in his line. The narrative reveals that David’s children were torn apart by rape, vengeance, murder, and rivalry. His kingdom, while going to Solomon, crumbles soon thereafter. A student of family systems, generational trauma, and domestic violence might recognize that the patterns David set up in his own family continued. And while I do not believe that this was God punishing David for his sin, the trouble in David’s children’s lives does feel as if it is the fruit of David’s actions.  

So, where is the good news in this story? I do not think there is good news in this text. The good news is left for today’s interpreters, preachers, and commentators to see the story for what it is: a cautionary tale that has tragic consequences for all involved. Instead of ignoring Bathsheba (or worse, blaming her), perhaps we can give her a voice. We can give voice to the millions of women who have been victim to violence. We can speak against the power dynamics, misguided understandings of love (I’m looking at you, author at womeninscripture.com), and toxic masculinity that allows for men in power to thrive in their abuse.  

In the end, David found grace and forgiveness, but he was also held accountable. His actions, while forgiven by God, also had dire consequences. We who follow Christ know that Jesus came from David’s line. David’s earthly kingdom split quickly and disintegrated in time. Jesus’ Kingdom, unlike David’s, is not built on violence. It is built on the dignity of all people. It is built on love and compassion. It is built upon the things that first helped David rise to power – faith, hope, and a good shepherd’s care for others.

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Inclusivity Devotional 8 (Matthew 5:13-21)

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.

salt

The lectionary text for February 9 is Matthew 5:13-21. This come immediately after the Beatitudes, and serves as the beginning of Jesus’ most famous teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, also known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” I’ve told many people, ‘If you are only going to read three chapters in the Bible, make it Matthew 5, 6, and 7 – the Sermon on the Mount.’

Verses 13-16 include two famous lines, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Salt and light, this seems like an odd pairing. One is essential to life, the source of heat, the first step in Creation, and an eternal symbol of God’s presence in the world. The other is on our table at the diner. Salt however, is also essential to life. Some have argued that salt is the primary ingredient to civilization itself. It allowed for the preservation of food and the survival of people in times of scarcity and famine. If it were not for salt, people would have remained nomadic, simply following the food where it could found instead of settling into a place where life could be preserved. Light and salt. One is essential for revelation. The other is essential for preservation. Both are invaluable. Perhaps we can learn something from these metaphors Jesus used.

So many of our culture wars are framed in terms of “us vs them,” “liberal vs conservative,” or “progressive vs traditional.” Instead of framing his sermon in similar terms, Jesus lifted up the salt and the light. Illumination and preservation; these are the building blocks of the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ articulation of an alternative way of being, but he is not inventing something entirely new.

This passage reveals that the Kingdom of God is at the same time built upon the foundations of God. The Law is still to promise of God. It is still the way people should live in relation to God and to one another. It is to be preserved, but not in the rigid and harsh ways that some think it should be. The light reveals something new. It reveals the heart of the Law, the relationships essential to the Law, the love that is at the foundation of God’s Law. Jesus came to proclaim something new that is not new at all. He came to proclaim God’s love which is revealed not simply through the law, but in its loving interpretation and application.

And this brings us to perhaps the most important part of the Sermon on the Mount: the audience. Remember who Jesus is calling salt and light. Remember who Jesus is telling “You are essential to life! You are essential to the Kingdom!” The audience came from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River” (Matthew 4:25). Jesus did not reserve his teaching to a privileged few. He preached to Jew and Gentile, tax collector and zealot, Pharisee and sinner. He came so that all may have life. All of them – poor, oppressed, hungry, downtrodden, and rejected, they are the “Light of the world.” All of us are the “salt of the earth.”

As we are moving forward as a United Methodist Church, we can remember Jesus’ call to be the salt and the light. We can preserve what is good, what is of Jesus’ love, what is worth preserving for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We can illumine new ways of experiencing God’s love. We can lift up our light of justice, grace, and mercy. We can lift up the light of Christ to those who have been kept in shadows. As we move forward as a denomination and conference, let us be wise in preserving our mission, our Wesleyan roots, and our traditions which are life-giving, and let us carry to the light of Christ to those who have yet to see what true love looks like.

 

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Inclusivity Devotional 7 (Matthew 11:2-11)

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.

The lectionary text this week is (Matthew 11:2-11)

John is in prison. He is going to die there. He devoted his life to preparing for the coming of the Mesiah. He was a prophet of God who spoke truth to power. He baptized people in the name of metanoia (traditionally translated to “repentance”). He shouted that the Kingdom of God had come near. Despite his protests, he baptized Jesus. His ministry didn’t end when he baptized the Messiah. He kept preaching about repentance. He kept calling out hypocrisy. He criticized the puppet King for breaking the Law of God, and was jailed for it.

Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’

Are you the one, or is there another?

Some must wonder that sometimes. Sitting in the prison of oppression and exclusion, John’s question is an understandable one. What if he was wrong all along? What if the one he baptized in the wilderness was just another pretender. Surely if he was the one anointed one of God, he wouldn’t be wasting away in this pretender-King’s prison.

Are you the one, or is there another?

I am sure that many LGBTQ people have wondered the same thing. Surely dark nights of the soul have led to questions, doubt, and fear, but I don’t presume to understand the plight of those whom the Church has harmed with its exclusivity.

Have allies yearning for a more just Church wondered this too? I have devoted my adult life to a Church that I believed in. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I believe in the goodness of my Church. It was where I was raised. It was where I first tasted grace. It was where I first experienced the love of God and the peace which surpasses all understanding. Yet sometimes I can’t help but wonder, is there another? Have I made a terrible mistake by remaining in a Church which denies the humanity of my LGBTQ siblings?

Jesus’ answer is an interesting one. Like he does so often, he doesn’t provide a straight answer. He simply says, “Go, report to John what you hear and see.”

He does not declare his messiah-ness. He does not reprimand John for losing faith when the going gets tough. He tells him to see for himself. The evidence is there. People see. People are healed. People are restored. This is what Jesus points to.

John’s ministry was about pointing to Jesus. Jesus pointed to the hurting people of the world who were now whole.

Are you the one, or is there another?

I don’t have the answer for the Church. All I can do is look to hurting people who are made whole. The Church does so much good. People are fed. Communities are healed. The Kingdom of God is surely all around. And yet there is still so much harm being done. There is still so much hurt.

I can’t answer the question. All I can do is keep pointing to Jesus. All I can do is to keep pointing to hurting people – some who are being made whole, some who continue to suffer. As of now, there is no other church for me. This is the one who has embraced me and formed me. There is no other, so I will continue to repent and believe in the good news of Christ.

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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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Filed under Christianity, Lectionary Reflection