Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Discussion, disagreement, directions...

Lectionary passages for Feb. 1, 2015.  Deut. 18:15-20, Ps 111, 1 Cor. 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

One reason I write this blog is to discipline myself to read scripture each week, but the more important reason for the blog is so that scripture can help me as I "read" daily life.

It's amazing how often the lectionary passages speak directly into my personal life and my life in the church.

Last night our congregation held a meeting to have open discussions on the issue of sexual orientation and welcome with our church body. What are our hopes? Concerns? The turnout was very good, the discussions respectful, our desire clear, our direction....we're not sure. It was clear that the 50 or so people who showed up (on a Wednesday night!) desire to move toward being a church that welcomes and includes people regardless of sexual orientation. It was also clear that we desire to do this well, respecting each other's beliefs and place on this journey and respecting our valued connections within the larger church bodies we are part of, and bringing some sense of hope and healing for those hurting because of our lingering inability to work through these issues. 

We have some disagreements about how to do this well. Should we have a "yes-no" vote right now to clearly and officially makes a statement? There are good reasons for this. Should we avoid a vote and instead work at a different model for decision making, such as seeking consensus? There are good reasons for this. Should we table the motion for one year, to engage with the national, area, and local church bodies a bit more and then make our decision? There are good reasons for this.

1 Cor. 8:1-13 speaks into a situation of discussion, disagreement, and directions. Like in our situation, the people involved in the discussions are at all different stages in their understandings and practices. Paul begins with an encouragement to let love, not knowledge, guide the decisions. He doesn't discount knowledge, but tells us that knowledge applied without love and understanding is harmful. He has no issue with the eating of food offered to idols, because he knows the idols are inert. His issue is that not everyone has the same knowledge, and their well-being is important too.

We don't all have the same knowledge either. Some have studied, (the Bible and current science), discussed, prayed, and experienced friendship and faith discussions with lgbtq people. Others have not had, or taken, these opportunities, or have different information. Some of us are clearly decided, others are still struggling. That doesn't mean the church can never make a decision, but it reminds us that any actions must be taken in love and humility and openness to continue to walk with each other as we struggle. We have to extend care and genuine hearing to all "sides." Even if we vote, we are not finished with our struggles to understand and respond faithfully.

For myself, studies of the Bible, discussions with gay and straight Christians, reading of some of the science of sexual orientation, prayer, and concern for justice ---have lead me to a place where I want to work to become an officially open and welcoming congregation. I want to do this well, with respect for all, with openness to change should new truths be revealed (the same openness I expect of those who have a different opinion than me!), and with respectful engagement with the larger church. 

I don't know how all of this will play out, I'm not sure yet what direction is best. I am sure that Paul's words; "love builds up" will be a helpful guide. Unlike Paul, we don't have the simple option he has in verse 13 (avoiding the meat). Paul says the meat doesn't matter. He's right. For us though, our brothers and sisters and friends and parents and children do matter. There is nothing easy here, any decision will be hurtful to some. We have to keep praying, discussing, disagreeing, and finally, setting direction. We may not get it all right, but if we decide with love, trusting in God, we will be right enough. We'll have to trust God to sort it all out with us as we make our best efforts.

The following is a little piece I pulled from the "Rumours" newsletter Ralph Milton used to produce. I like his thoughts, sort of a modern Paul.

This passage is, it seems to me, is primarily directed at those of us who are in positions of leadership in the church. It’s tempting, as our understanding of our faith grows, to change our way of acting and to expect others in our community to follow us.
This has been particularly true in our changing understanding of human sexuality. Leaders in the church find themselves with a new and more open understanding, and then feel a sense of anger or confusion when others don’t quickly follow their lead or actively oppose them. But they may not have the educational background or the intellectual tools to follow our thinking.
This passage warns me that when my convictions lead to changes in the way I act or speak, I need to be very aware of how my ideas and actions are heard and seen by others in my church community. I especially need to be careful not to respond in anger or defiance or confusion.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Humour and Meaning

Lectionary passages for Jan. 25. Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 62, 1 Cor. 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

I held off blogging this week until I could meet with Liz, our preacher for Sunday. I'm glad I did that, because it helped me reaffirm something I already knew but always need to learn again. That is; it is crucial for people of faith to talk together about the meaning of scripture! We traded insights, ideas, and encouragement. So much better than doing this alone!

We are both captivated by the story of Jonah. It's a humorous, ironic tale thoroughly soaked through with meaning for those who wish to see it. The humour helps to lower the defences and inhibitions of the reader, opening them up to deep consideration of the core issues. (You have to read the whole thing, not just the suggested snippet!)

Jonah tries to run from God. This is the first "funny". For the original readers, the idea of anyone, let alone a respected prophet, thinking they can escape God is simply ridiculous. Then there's the whole idea of this respected man spending 3 ignominious days in the belly of a fish. The fish takes him, completely against his will, to the place he doesn't want to go. Nineveh, a city full of people that Jonah considers wicked, depraved, and valueless. He only walks partway into the city, and "bang, even the cows are wearing sackcloth!" (When Liz said that, I burst out laughing. The mental picture is too funny!) The thought that a whole city could convert this quickly and thoroughly because of a reluctant prophet is staggering.

At issue is the battle between human will and control and God's grace. God is able to use Jonah against his will and beyond his skills, and accomplish something amazing. It is ironic that in the story it is God who is able to "relent and change his mind" (verse 9) whereas Jonah is stubbornly stuck .

This story is hugely encouraging when we are faced with problems we want to run from and tasks we feel are impossible. Take courage! This is about God, not the innate ability of any person or the complexity of any problem. There may be no avoiding the hard times, in fact, they might even be necessary along the journey to something better.

The Jonah story also bears an amazing resemblance to the passion of Jesus. Jonah is thrown into the sea, spends 3 days in darkness in the chaos of the deep. His emergence results in the salvation of many.  The Jesus story is similar, except that Jesus is not a reluctant savior. He fully and willingly sacrifices himself and goes into the darkness, knowing that when he comes out of it,there will be a new life possible for us "Ninevites" if we are open to hearing his call.

There is a lot here to laugh at, but also to chew on. We know that life is hard, that sometimes we have to deal with situations that are beyond our skill, understandings, and abilities. Running doesn't work. Entering the darkness and trusting in God that eventually we'll emerge onto (or be spit out onto) a sunny beach has promise.

"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us." Psalm 62:8

We need to enter into that place of trust, especially when we feel swallowed by a big stinky fish of a problem.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Who is responsible?

Lectionary Passages for Jan. 25, 2015
1 Sam. 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Cor. 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

This week I heard a story of a teenager’s bad decision. Apparently, friends had dared him to put his lock onto a piece of the school’s sprinkler system. It set off the system and caused significant damage in the school. The parents were held liable to the tune of $40,000.00

                The incident raises a lot of questions about who should be held responsible.

                In Samuel, Eli’s house is; “punished forever…because his sons were blaspheming God and he did not restrain them.” Verse 13.  Eli’s sons were self centered and “in it for the perks”. As priests they were living high at the expense of their people. Eli had reprimanded his sons (read chapter 2 for the details) and they refused to listen to him.  The punishment seems overly harsh, after all, how much power did Eli have to stop his adult sons? They were in an inherited position and seemingly only accountable to themselves. Did Eli do all he could? When is a parent’s job done?

                As a parent, Eli’s heart must have been breaking through all of this. What is a parent to do? At some point a child becomes responsible for themselves and the consequences of their decisions, but where is that point? Where is the point at which the parent is free of the consequences of their child’s actions?

                Parents are never truly free. While they may not have legal obligations to house or feed or pay for their child after a certain age, the obligations and ties of the heart are not limited by age. It is excruciating for parents to watch children make decisions that go against their beliefs and values. They second guess themselves and experience guilt feelings, they hurt for the heartaches they see coming, they feel crippled or powerless in responding to their adult child. There is a delicate balancing act between the crucial maintenance of relationship and the actions of holding the child accountable.

                On top of all of his suffering, Eli is told (by a child not his own, a child he is mentoring) that he is to be punished along with his sons.

                Eli is an old man. He is overweight, nearly blind, and in emotional distress over the choices of his sons. He’s already under a terrible load when he gets this news of the obliteration of his family from the priesthood and from life itself.

                Eli’s response is humbling. He could have made Samuel’s life horrible, after all, Samuel’s report may have felt insolent. Who wants to be condemned by a child, your own student? Eli, however, says; “it is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him.” He completely gives himself to God. He continues to nurture Samuel. He continues to serve the people of Israel when there truly is nothing in it for himself.

                I’m a parent too. I do my best and know that it may not be enough. My sons will eventually make their own choices and, if I disagree, I will be unable to do anything except voice my concern. How much am I responsible for then? How will I respond?

Eli’s example is challenging and inspiring. He is condemned for not stopping his sons which infers that there was a time he could have done more than just talk. There are times for hard action. Then, there are also times when all we can do is talk and pray that the child will listen. At that point, I hope I am able to be like Eli and accept what God wills. It was a brutal situation for Eli, but in accepting the consequences, he stopped the cycle of dysfunction. He let go of the hopes for a priestly succession in his family and he actively helped Samuel become the priest that God’s people needed.
                 I don’t know if the “sprinkler kids” parents should have to pay $40,000.00 I think maybe they should-but that's pretty harsh too.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Move your lips, raise your voice!

lectionary passages for Jan. 11, 2015. Gen.1:1-5, Psalm 29. Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

I read these passages out loud, expressively. (Okay-yes, I was home alone at the time so it wasn't embarrassing!) Go some place where you feel uninhibited and then go for it. Try it-move your lips, raise your voice, even shout if the words inspire you that way.

These passages are meant for verbalization, for proclamation, for vibrant storytelling to groups around the fire, to crowds in a theatre, to families at supper, and to people in pews.

The opening lines of Genesis, read aloud in a actor's dramatic voice, are riveting. They invite me into the story and leave me wanting more. (I know this story, and I still wanted more!!)

I dare you to try to read Psalm 29 without raising your voice. Try it. Move your lips, raise your voice! Reading this one out loud causes the air to vibrate with an almost electrical feeling of power. You might notice the importance of repeated words and the rising currents of the stirring of your spirit in response.

Acts tells us that when some disciples in Corinth received the Holy Spirit, the first thing they did was speak! Again, here is the power of voice expressing and encouraging the vibrations of the soul.

Finally, in the Mark passage, John uses his voice too. He proclaims. (The word proclaim is used twice in verses 4-8, this is important stuff to speak out loud!) The hearers respond, and moved by the words they accept baptism as a sign of turning toward God. Jesus is one of them. When he is baptised, there is a VOICE. Words from heaven speak to him and God claims Jesus as beloved and pleasing. No silent contemplation here!

In our world of information, of email and twitter and texting, and snapchat, and recorded help lines, a real voice is refreshing. The voice of scripture, proclaimed aloud, is invigorating. Heard in community it might even be revitalizing.

Let's not always read our scripture silently by ourselves. Or in soothing monotones. Or in stumbling, unpracticed flatness. Or in a rushed babbling tangle of nervous syllables. Slow down. Move your lips, raise your voice, really hear the power of these stories!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Gifts with some assembly required.

Lectionary Passages for Jan. 4, 2015.Jer. 31:7-14, Ps. 147:12-20, Eph. 1:3-14, John 1: 10-18

Happy New Year! The extra services are finished, the company gone home, and I'm starting to think about putting decorations away. The Christmas season is done.

Packing up our olive wood nativity scene, however, makes me think. We've just celebrated the arrival of Jesus, God incarnate in the world. Can I really pack baby Jesus away in a box until it's convenient to pull him out again next year, like the Christmas lights?

Jesus comes into our lives as a gift, and like a good gift, is not meant to be packed away. There is some assembly required to make this gift do what it is supposed to do. I think of the under counter lights my husband gave me last year. Left in the box, they would have been less than useless, they would have been a waste of money and space. He assembled them, built them into our kitchen, and they have been tremendously helpful all year as I prepare food for our family. The gift was for me, since I do a lot of the cooking (and complained the most about the lack of light), but it has benefits for all of us.

The scriptures today talk about gifts we have received from God. Gifts meant to benefit everyone. Jeremiah talks about the gathering back together of a broken people and of physical provision. Psalm 147 does the same thing in more poetic language. Ephesians tells us we are adopted by God and given the gifts of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. In John, it says that those who believe receive the power to become children of God, as well as grace and truth.All of these gifts require some assembly, some response and responsibility on behalf of the recipients. What use are the gifts if they are packaged up and not used?

So, how does one assemble redemption or forgiveness, or grace, or  truth? Ephesians says we are destined for adoption-that implies that we aren't quite there yet, we've got work to do. John says we have to accept the gifts, taking the power to become children and using it. That means practice.

We are to practice grace and forgiveness with each other. This is hard. God gives valuable gifts-this isn't "cheap grace" or unthinking forgiveness. This isn't taking our lumps and forgetting, or sweeping things under the rug, this is actually dealing with life. This is the hard stuff of swallowing pride, speaking constructively, accepting failings, trying again, and trusting that God works out what we cannot.

What did I get for Christmas? I got some of the same things again-good things.Reminders of grace and forgiveness. Reinforcement of the belief that God speaks words of light into human darkness. Inspiration to keep trying to assemble and use those gifts so that they are helpful to everyone.Grace upon grace and truth. (Jn 1:16-17) Now, if I would just spend some time with the instruction book and with others before trying to do all the assembly myself...

What did you get for Christmas? What sort of assembly are you looking at in 2015?

**Note: for those coming to worship at FMC on Jan.4-the passages we will use are different than these. We will be using Isa. 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Eph. 3:1-12, Matt. 2:1-12. These are the passages as listed in the "Leader" magazine which has formed the basis of our worship services through the season.