Sunday, August 23, 2009
As For Me and My Household...
Friday afternoon, I sat with my laptop in my lap and watched, with better fidelity than the participants had, the Church Wide Assembly of the ELCA not only affirm the Human Sexuality Statement with a few amendments and then go ahead and provide a way for Lesbian and Gay pastors in partnered relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. I watched the discussion, some of it very painful. I heard some leaders of congregations say that if this passed, their congregations would leave the ELCA. I also heard others speak for Lesbian and Gay clergy that have served their congregations faithfully and plead that they be allowed to have the partnered relationships of their heterosexual brothers and sisters.
As one who is unfamiliar with the way that the ELCA does business on the national level, I was moved by the primacy of prayer throughout the whole discussion. I was awed by the candor and the honesty of the discussions. Quite frankly, after my experience in the Episcopal Church, I was surprised that the resolution to allow partnered lesbian and gay clergy to serve the Church passed the way it did. And the audible gasp that came from the Church-wide body was a sign that I believe that most did not believe it would pass either. Those who attended the meeting afterward said that they felt a movement of something on the floor of the meeting. They identified it with the Holy Spirit. Those who were opposed, I am sure did not think it was from that source!
I immediately sent off an email to Bishop Jerge to offer my assistance if there were congregations who needed to talk with a gay pastor to calm their fears about this legislation. I really offered her the efforts of YOU, the congregation that went out on a limb and called a lesbian pastor even though some of you are still uncomfortable with it.
I have not spoken on the “gay issue” from the pulpit except in passing. And if I am making you squirm by talking about it now, please bear with me. I figured that like being one of the early women priests when I was first ordained, I didn’t have speak about it. I just needed to live into the calling God had given me in being your pastor.
I am not comfortable being out. I grew up knowing that I was different, but at a time when being out in Texas could have been a death sentence. It was a fearful way to live. I ignored my own sexuality by entering the convent and making vows of celibacy. I have lived by those vows knowing that I could not serve Christ in his Church in any other way, but I would not recommend it. Celibacy cuts off intimacy—not just sex, but that whole realm of tenderness that comes when two people come to respect and honor one another with their whole beings. I am thankful that the ELCA and the Episcopal Church have chosen to open the ordained ministry to those whose lives are directed by Christ to live in monogamous, life-long relationship as gay people and to live within the confines of what we have always declared as marriage.
The Church-wide Assembly did go so far as to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. We may have to deal with this in the civil realm as there is legislation already passed in some states to allow for same-sex marriage. It will not be long before that is upon us in the state of NY. What we do here at St. Luke’s will be the decision of the congregation, not the bishop and not the pastor or even the council. Bishop Jerge’s wisdom is that it is the congregation’s mission to support people in their lives together. So if it becomes an issue in this congregation, it will be the topic of a congregational meeting. And we will make that decision together.
So what does this new law in the church have to do with the gospel? If we look at the reading from Joshua we hear the successor of Moses saying to the Israelites who have come into the Promised Land to make a decision. He outlines all the things that God has done for them and then asks them to make a decision to either follow the gods of the Moabites or to follow the Lord. And Joshua declares that as for him and his household, they will follow the Lord.
It takes a decision to follow God. It takes an act of the will to follow God. Yes, the grace to follow Christ is given by God, but somewhere each and every one of us has had to say “I will follow the Lord”. It is the way that we respond to the grace that is given in faith. It is what underpins a covenant. A covenant is basically an agreement between God and the faithful. Worship and allegiance is what God asks of us, and God will provide protecction and love.
There are those in the ELCA and those in the Episcopal Church who will leave our traditions simply because gay folk are being held to the same standard in their relationships as heterosexual relationship are held to. They may leave because they cannot abide the thought of being led by a lesbian or a gay man or as is the case with many of the opposing clergy, having to be collegial with us.
It has nothing to do with morality, it has to do with having to get used to the idea that what was thought to be foreign is really very much a part of them. They blame the “ELCA” or TEC as being too worldly, unwilling to hear the hard sayings of Jesus, but what I saw in that video of the Church Wide Assembly, was folks just like us grappling with what it means to be Church in the world today. The ELCA is US. Those who would leave, are just going to have to deal with the "US" of themselves where ever they go.
In the Gospel today we hear the last of this great discourse on the Eucharist. We find that with the thought of eating Christ’s body and blood, some are unable to hear the call to community in that act. Some of Jesus’ followers leave because the thought of eating the body of Christ and the Blood of the covenant is contrary to what Kosher laws had taught for centuries. They cannot hear the newness that Christ is calling them to in Holy Communion.
Some denominations so discriminate against gay folk that they do not allow them to receive Holy Communion. Some continue to find truth in biblical passages that that are so arcane that they cannot be intelligently rendered even in Hebrew. They cannot find in Christ’ love for the Gentile or those outside of traditional Judaism, the image to accept the newness embodied in those who are different from them.
Faced with the same kind of rejection, Jesus asks his apostles if they too will leave because of his opening faith to that which is new and different. And Peter answers for all of them. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
There it is! There is the conundrum! It is Christ who has the word of life. It is this tribe of followers who listen to his voice about accepting others who are different, about finding the gifts of ministry in a group that was once far off who are now are brought near. It is in this gospel of hope that God welcomes all strangers, all those who are willing to make that decision to follow the Lord. We as Church have no other place to go—-no other way to live. We have a Way to follow—Christ’s Way-—a way that says that we can love one another and support one another in our relationships, that we can entertain the new because of what God has wrought in the past. We have a way to live out our baptismal vows in ways that not only support what has been in the past but which takes us into the future.
I am humbled and freed by the actions of both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA this summer. I am astounded at their votes to reach out in loving ways to those who have been vilified which drag our churches into a new millennium. I have been humbled and freed by this congregation in your willingness to accept me. Last Sunday I signed a new one-year contract to continue my pastoral duties here at St. Luke’s. Because like you, I have no place else to go. The word of Christ’s eternal love is lived out here for you and me. AND AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSEHOLD, WE WILL FOLLOW THE LORD. AMEN