Saturday, May 24, 2014

For the Unity of the Church...

Lectionary text from Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
“Why would people want to change the Discipline?” At that time I thought it was perfectly reasonable for my church to say that gays and lesbians were people of sacred worth, even if their behavior was “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I was 19, in college, and asked this question in my United Methodist campus ministry office.

Pam looked up at me from her administrative work and said very plainly, “Andy, not all Methodists believe homosexuality is a sin.”

This began in me a 15 year journey to where I am now, with many people shaping my convictions along the way...
  • Pastors like Rev. Tom Price who told me when he was young he was quite convinced gays and lesbians were living in sin, but the older he got, the less certain he was of such things. And like Rev. Bill Yeager who asked me if I really thought it was God’s plan to create gays and lesbians in God's image and ask them to live a life void of intimacy with the person they love.
  • Theologians like Justo Gonz├ílez who taught me that when we fail to listen to minority and oppressed voices we miss the fullness of what God has to say.
  • Bishops like Melvin Talbert who told me I have a moral obligation to be obedient to the Bible, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church.
But most of all, it has been the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in my life who have shaped my reading of scripture…
  • Seminary colleagues like Chase Bannister who asked me quite pointedly, “If you are empowered in any way whatsoever and believe injustice is afoot, would you stand trial on my behalf—in the service of my ordination (and one day, my marriage)? Would you speak so boldly that you're censured, dismissed, or defrocked? If you live in fear, why do you still live there? Would you stand trial for me and my kindred?”
  • Like clergy who faithfully serve and seek to serve our churches—living and loving in secret, prevented from their full humanity by the fear of being outed and persecuted. Some named, some unnamed, many more silently walking away from a vocation they were called to by God.
As I have wrestled with how to read scripture, the extra canonical stories of these people’s suffering has shifted my lens. As I have sought to practice orthodoxy (right belief), their witness of love and orthopraxis (right practice) has shaped my ministry more than anything else.

LGBTQ people have taught me what the unity of the church really looks like… a commitment to life together, even with people who disagree, so that we might all see, hear, feel, and taste the fullness of God’s love. I have continued to be made into a disciple of Christ in that I have found Christ in the suffering, hope, and resurrection living in the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people in The United Methodist Church.

I have seen Christ more plainly in two specific gay men: Robert Jackson and Tim Leslie. Individually they have each taught me so much about loving others, and together, in their love for one another, they have shown me what God’s love looks like for the world.

Bj tim

So for the unity of the church, I will continue to bear witness to how their love has changed my life, and in turn, I will stay committed to showing others how wonderfully inclusive the fullness of God’s love really is. I am committed to unity, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church to do so. When the story of our church is told, it is those abolitionists who fought to undo an institution of slavery, it is those who kneeled in protest of a segregated church, it is those women who continued to preach yes to a church who told them no to their call—it is these people who are the true builders of unity. Unity is built more by those who do the right thing, serving as midwifes to labor our church into a new future God is constantly re-creating.

I am committed to unity, which is why I will officiate weddings for all couples ready to together be a living, outward, and visible sign of God’s love. I am committed to unity not to protect a broken institution called The United Methodist Church, but because it is the best way I know how disciples are made and moved on into perfection—in life together, one with another. I am committed to unity so that oppressed, rejected, Christ-occupied people like BJ and Tim can continue to make disciples of us people who think we have it all figured out.
Philippians 1:9-11
 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Prayer for those preparing to be stoned

Acts 7
51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” 54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. 

O God, you can’t make this stuff up. Sunday’s lectionary text is the stoning of Stephen. Tomorrow, another one of your chosen prophets goes before the masses.

When Mary Ann sits before the Southwest Texas Board of Ordained Ministry, like Stephen will she find stiff-necks, uncircumcised hearts, and closed ears? Will she encounter prophet persecutors, betrayers, and murderers? 

O God, fill Mary Ann with your Holy Spirit, just like you did for Stephen. May she too see and feel your presence. 

And if she should feel the blows of stones thrown her way: words of discrimination, judgment, and fear… then O God, may we witnesses join with Stephen in this prayer: “do not hold this sin against them.” 

We know you transform stones cast in fear into stones that roll away. God, will you once again turn death into life?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A prayer for God to teach me what it means to be an ally

Praying the lectionary before the ordination interview of Mary Ann Barclay.

Psalm 116
I love God, because God has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because God inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on God: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
Gracious is God, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, God saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest, for God has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I walk before God in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my consternation, “Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to God for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on God,
I will pay my vows to God in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of God is the death of his faithful ones.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on God.
I will pay my vows to God in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of God, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise God!

O God,

Hear the cries of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer brothers and sisters. You know the hell they have been put through these past 42 years… seeking to be faithful to you, having no choice but to follow your call on their lives to serve in your church as elders, deacons, lay persons. 

You God know what their journey has been like. You are one who came to walk among us to teach a new way and yet you were ridiculed, called names, doubted, rejected by the established church. Because of your faithfulness to your calling, you had unspeakable violence done to you, so perhaps you, better than most, relate to the violence and harm done today against LGBTQ persons: physical, spiritual, emotional, personal, institutional, visible, and hidden. Whoever wrote this psalm knew you to be a God who saves: gracious, righteous, merciful, protective, abundant, deliverer—even a God who wipes tears and unstumbles feet. 

God, it sounds like this psalmist knew you as the Great Ally. God, in my privilege, I admit I do not fully know this pain that you and others suffered. Teach me how to be an ally—to stand with my LGBTQ friends, so that they may too boldly proclaim with the psalmist that 

they WILL lift your cup of salvation at your table,
they WILL make their ordination vows to you in the presence of all your people,
they WILL serve your people. 

God, I think this is what it means to praise you with loosened bonds. Amen.

Prayer for when we dismiss the outpouring of God's Spirit as drunkenness

Pentecost - by

Acts 2:15-18
15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
O God,
Even these many years later, it seems we are still making assumptions and judgments about the people on which you choose to pour out your Spirit. On Pentecost you reminded us that you would use sons and daughters, old and young, slave and free, to speak words of truth into our world—an abundant outpouring not restricted by our discriminatory tendencies. Yet, we your church, have spent the last 2000 years foolishly busying ourselves deciding who is in and who is out when it comes to receiving your Spirit and ministering to your people. You even went to the extent of coming to us in the flesh, choosing outcasts, sinners, enemies, and those not even allowed in the temple to be your disciples and lead your church. Why God do we still not get it? Why are we so focused on trying to restrict and be gatekeepers of the outcasts you continue to douse with your Spirit?
We are good at baptizing your children. We are good at making communal vows to raise that child in the faith. We are good at helping that child when they come of age to confirm the promises made on their behalf at their baptism. We are good at helping that young person have space to hear your call and respond to it. We are good at it unless you created them gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer—if that is the case we are not so good. We abandon your LGBTQ children called into ministry.
Like the witnesses of that first Pentecost who dismissed your Spirit as drunkenness, we make judgmental assumptions about your calling on people's lives. Forgive us, we pray. Help us see people like Mary Ann Barclay as you see them. Help us keep the vows we made at her baptism. Help us help her be faithful to her calling to serve your church. Help the Southwest Texas Board of Ordained Ministry be faithful to their task. Amen.
. . .
To take part in the prayer vigil before Mary Ann Barclay's ordination interview, click here.