Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Showing Up 10/15/17 The Rev. Kathleen M. Sturges

Matthew 22: 1-4

Several years ago our diocesan bishop, Shannon Johnston, took a four-month sabbatical.  It was unprecedented, at least in recent memory.  Certainly the bishop before him, who had served for twenty four years, had never taken a sabbatical because there was always something pressing to do.  Bishop Shannon felt that way too until the day he received a call notifying him that a good friend had died unexpectedly.  It was quite a blow.  That friend had lived in Richmond as Bishop Shannon did, but even though they were geographically close they had not seen each other in years.  You know how it goes, they were too busy - their schedules were full.  The sad truth was that in life, Bishop Shannon hadn’t found a way to carve out time for his friend.  In death, however, he cleared his calendar to bury him - vowing never to let that happen again.   So the Bishop of Virginia took a sabbatical with the sole purpose to put “relationships back into the ‘priority’ category in [his] life.”

This story came to mind as I was reflecting on our gospel lesson this week.  A king throws a wedding banquet and invites a group of people, but surprisingly this group turns the invitation down.  Their schedules, it seems, are full.  There are other things that are pressing - farms and businesses need to be tended to.  However they don’t simply send their polite regrets, no - and this is where the story takes a very dark turn - in addition to turning down the invitation they end up mistreating and murdering the king’s messengers.  Upon discovering this, the king is so enraged that he orders the people he invited to be put to death and their city to be burned to the ground.  Once that is settled, a second round of invitations go out.  New folks are invited to the banquet and they come and everyone seems to be happy until the king notices that one man is not properly attired.  Apparently the offense is so grave that he’s thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But before we get too worked up about this or check out entirely because this type of God isn’t one that we’re interested in worshipping, let me suggest to you that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole - using exaggeration to get our attention and evoke strong feelings in order to underline a point.  The key to understanding hyperboles, in general, and this parable, in particular, is to recognize that although the story it is supposed to be taken seriously, it is not to be taken literally.

So let’s seriously look at this story.  It’s about judgment - the first group that the king invites are declared unworthy and by implication the second group is worthy - but and this is a big but, the judgment that is going on here is not what we might naturally think.   For God does not judge us in the same way that we so often judge one another.  Our judgments usually have to do with exclusion - who’s in and who’s out.  But what if it’s just the opposite with God?  What if the point that Jesus is trying to underline for us with this shocking story is that God does indeed judge us, but his judgment is all about grace, forgiveness, and invitation?  That God’s judgment is not about exclusion but inclusion.

If that’s the case - that the judgment of God is about who’s included rather than excluded - how can it be that the first group of invitees is said to be unworthy and the other group is not?  Well, it isn’t because one group is morally better than the other.  Obviously the first group can’t take any moral high ground since they killed the king’s messengers.  But the second group is likely no better for Jesus makes a point to say that it was made up of both the good and the bad.  Neither group is exemplary.  And neither group did anything to earn or deserve the royal invitation.  Yet both groups are invited - both groups are included.   And the king only seems to be motivated by the desire to share his banquet feast with others.  He wants someone, anyone, as many people as possible to come and join in the party, the joy, the celebration. 

So what then is the difference between the two groups?  Apparently there’s only one: Presence - one group actually shows up.  Jesus tells us that the wedding hall was filled with guests from the second group.  In sharp contrast to the first group, that would not come.  That’s it - that’s the difference: showing up and being present.  That’s what matters most in any relationship especially in our relationship with God.  It sounds so easy, nonetheless, it’s often very difficult to do - to show up and be present because there’s always something else, oftentimes something good that needs our attention.  In the parable it was the needs of the farm and the business.  For Bishop Shannon it was the demands of our diocese.  For us...well, what takes up your time?  What is it in your schedule that tends to crowd out showing up and being truly present with others and with God?  

Woody Allen was the one who said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.”  But I suspect that he wasn’t just talking about showing up in body and not in spirit.  If you come to a meeting but your mind is elsewhere that’s no good.  Or if you’re having dinner with family while being on your phone you might as well not be there at all.  Showing up only matters if it includes both  body and in spirit - being fully present and attentive to whatever is going on - that is the ninety percent of life that really matters and keeps us from missing out. 

Which may shed some light on what’s going on with the poor soul who showed up to the king’s banquet without a wedding robe.  The king’s reaction suggests that surely something more is going on here than just a fashion faux pas.  Notice that when this guest is questioned by the king we are told that he is speechless.  Perhaps his silence was because although he showed up at the banquet in body he wasn’t really present in spirit.  Maybe if he had said something - made his presence known - things would have turned out differently.

Because the God we know through Jesus Christ does not turn anyone away - just the opposite.  We are always invited to come.  God has indeed judged us and has ruled that each and every one of us is to be included.   So the invitation goes out over and over again throughout our lives.  Come! says the Spirit.  And when we say yes to that invitation - and not only say yes, but when we show up and are present we are worthy.  But it’s not that showing up makes us worthy.  It’s that when we do show up we discover the worthiness that has been there all along.  A worthiness that God has always known and recognized in us.

That means that no matter who you are, you are worthy.  You are loved.  And you are invited.  So do what you must to clear your calendar, put this relationship in the priority category of your life so that you may join in the celebration of God’s kingdom, God’s life, God’s joy!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gathering as the Body: A Reflection by Fr. David

Each Wednesday at Church of Our Saviour, a group of people gathers for Holy Eucharist in the Rock Chapel at 10:00am. It is a healing service, and so right before the Peace, we play some choral music while people come forward one at a time to be anointed and prayed for. I am always moved by the intimacy and the power of that. People bring with them a wide variety of concerns and needs, from the mundane to the horrific, and I always have this deep sense of God's love enfolding all of us, in all of our brokenness and pain. That love surrounds us even when we are alone, but the gathered community becomes a living sign of that love and a way for everyone there to see it and touch it. When we exchange the Peace with each other, I can see us giving Christ to each other.

And even giving Christ to those beyond that service. Whenever we have a baptism scheduled for the following Sunday, our beloved Eileen Spenceley knits a blanket for the child being baptized. And the congregation assembled on Wednesday morning blesses that blanket. During the Peace, we gather in a circle, each one of us holding onto the blanket, while the celebrant prays for the child to be baptized and for the family. And we pray that that blanket will be a sacramental reminder of the love of God enfolding all of us always. This week, when we blessed the lovely yellow blanket that will go to Eleanor Ellis after she is baptized this Sunday, I was so aware of the many hands holding it, some of them belonging to people in their ninth decade of life. Many of those people will never even meet Eleanor. But their physical presence at that moment will bless her in ways she will never even know.

Such is the Body of Christ: we are woven together in ways beyond our fathoming. Our consumer culture may tell us we come to church to "get something" for ourselves, but the truth extends far beyond that. Whenever we gather, our very presence becomes a channel of God's Presence. When we participate in worship and give ourselves to prayer in community with others, we are blessing all those around us. We are greater than the sum of our parts. That's why Jesus says that when two or three are gathered in his name, he is right there in the midst of them.

Our participation in faith community is never just about us as individuals. When we show up — at worship or Bible study, in the Food Closet at choir rehearsal, anywhere and everywhere we assemble in Christ — we become sacraments to each other, the means for God's love to flow. If anyone ever wonders if their presence in church matters, I see how much it matters. Everyday.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Receiving the Gift 10/8/17 The Rev. David M. Stoddart

Philippians 3:4b-14

Imagine. You have worked so hard for years. You studied, and stayed up late, and sacrificed. You got into a great school, and then landed a plumb job. And you still never let up: you did everything it took to succeed and get ahead. You acquired a hefty income, an affluent lifestyle, and an excellent reputation. You are living the dream — and you walk away from it all, because you discover something so much better. Or you have trained as a premier athlete, devoting yourself seven days a week to being in the best possible shape. You have punished your body, refused all indulgences, gone without drinking and desserts, and pushed yourself to the limits. And there you are, in the final lap of the big race, out in front, victory is within your reach — and then five yards short of the finish line, you stop and walk off the track because you realize you want something far greater than a gold medal.

Imagine. If you can’t imagine, you won’t understand the Apostle Paul, and you won’t fully get the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul is a high achiever: super smart, dedicated, and relentless. Among Jews, Pharisees were hardcore. And among Pharisees, Paul was a rock star. He says as much today: If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. He’s got the resume and the reputation, and he’s worked hard for them. And then he walks away from all of it: Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

If we can get at this and understand what’s happening here, we will touch on a mystery that matters to every one of us. We talk about Paul’s “conversion,” but when he encounters the Risen Christ, he does not become religious: he’s already religious — he’s obnoxiously religious. And it’s not just that he goes from denying Jesus is the Messiah to believing Jesus is the Messiah: that would not be totally surprising or even necessarily cause him to give up his life as a Pharisee. After all, any number of devout Jews believed Jesus was the Christ. N0, this is what happened to him and this is why it matters: Paul had a complete change of heart and mind, and he realized that his whole way of being in the world was upside down. He had spent his life scrupulously obeying the Law to gain God’s love, and then with devastating clarity he saw that it was all pointless: there is only way to gain God’s love, and that is to receive it as gift, a gift which Jesus offers to everyone. And so Paul walked away from everything he had devoted his life to because he found something so much better.

Something which changed his life far more than years of strict adherence to the Law ever did. Paul had obeyed all the commandments and observed all the regulations. He was technically flawless. Which means he was a wonderful person, right? Wrong. He was filled with anger and hatred, and zealously hunted down Christians to haul them off to prison and even kill them. He was there when they stoned Stephen to death: he approved of it. He watched while the crowds threw heavy rocks at that young man until he died from blunt trauma. And, sadly, it shouldn’t shock us that meticulous observance of religious laws could lead to that. After all, there have been — and probably still are — commandment-quoting Christians in the Ku Klux Klan. Some of the guards who worked at Auschwitz went to church every week. You can do all the right things and be totally wrong.

The brutal truth is that obeying the law has never transformed anyone. Law is certainly important: it points us in the right direction and keeps us in line. But it’s not the reason we’re here. In Galatians Paul calls the law a paidagogos, a babysitter that guards us until the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ so fills us that we no longer need a babysitter. One might think this is irresistibly appealing, but it’s not because we have egos, and our egos like following the rules because following the rules bolsters our own sense of self-worth and our own need for control. I keep the commandments (more or less), I go to church (most of the time), I give money to worthy causes, I check off all the right boxes so therefore I deserve whatever blessings I have and I have earned a ticket to heaven. Paul realized that that whole way of thinking entirely misses the point. Do you understand that?

We’re trying to get a passing grade and get into heaven; God has already given us heaven and wants us to go from glory to glory in this life and forever. We’re worried about our report cards; God wants us to shine like the sun. Merely following religious rules won’t get us there; it won’t even make us good. Only love can transform us like that, only love can enable us to reach our full potential as human beings created in the image of God. And love can never be earned: it can only be received as a gift. But when we do receive it — oh my God, it changes everything!. It certainly changes us for the better. That’s why we call it good news. That’s why Paul regards everything as loss for the sake of experiencing it.

Jesus has already lived, died, and risen again to show us this love. God has already poured his love into us through the Holy Spirit. We are about to eat and drink Christ in a few minutes to take all that love in. If we are going to strive for anything, it is just to let the reality of God’s love sink into us fully so that we can fully come alive. We don’t even need to ask for it: we just need to let it happen. So here is my recommended prayer for all of us this week: “Thank you, God, that your love fills me. Thank you, God, that your Spirit flows through me.” Accept the gift by offering thanks for it. Not once, but over and over again, so that the love of God can begin to transform us in whatever way that is going to happen in each of our lives. As someone who spent the first part of my life desperately trying to earn and control everything, including God’s favor, I know that nothing compares with just letting God’s love fill  me and God’s Spirit flow through me. I want you to know that too, so that together we can experience, with Paul and all the saints, the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Labyrinth: A Reflection from Emily Rutledge

I don't believe there is any task more difficult than raising a child.  It seems to be the singular thing in life that doesn't get easier the longer you do it.  Paradoxically, and unlike any other challenge on the face of the planet, it actually seems to get harder the longer you push on.  Sure, those first few weeks are exhausting but I stand witness to the exhaustion of raising teenagers and know many parents who would gladly trade a sleepless night waiting for their baby to come home for a sleepless night with a newborn in their arms.

I have been a parent for 2,219 days.

I have been letting go of expectations, control, plans, and my ego for 2,219 days now.

The holy hard work of being present day in and day out; making lunches and explaining death, driving carpools and discussing racism, doing laundry and worrying about sexting... it's more than it seems anyone could or should survive.  There are moments of pure joy followed quickly by moments of guilt and frustration.  I am in awe that all across this planet people are doing this stuff daily and not just collapsing in utter exhaustion.

A month ago I was with my family at Shrine Mont for our parish retreat.  My daughter and I took a side trip to look at the labyrinth which was not in use because of the rain that had been pouring down the night before.  When we arrived, she didn't hesitate to walk the puddled path.  Watching her jump in to the messy maze was a harsh reminder that no matter what hard work I am constantly putting in trying to guide and support and love her, her life is not my life, and my life is not hers.  She is a part of my journey and I am a part of hers. Just as I have been formed and changed by the people and experiences I have walked through she will also meet people and do things that will, for better or worse, challenge and change her.

This fact does not make parenting easier.  It doesn't mean I don't have to teach her the importance of washing her socks right side out or help her with what to say to the kid at school who can't seem to utter a kind word, it does mean that it doesn't all fall on me.  The job of a parent is huge and constant and forever but it is not the determining factor of how our children's lives will unfold, we are merely tasked to be the ones who witness it.  We are the ones standing watch at the outside of the labyrinth as our children walk through the puddles and get lost and find treasures and eventually discover themselves. There will be things we can help with, we can rescue them from, and there will be times we will only be there to watch them fall and pray they are resilient enough to try again. 

I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, often since becoming a mother.  I remember that she cleaned that boy's dirty knees and fed him and disciplined him and eventually witnessed his execution.  While Jesus was God's son, God wasn't the one who wiped his bottom when he was a baby or who had to convince him that eating vegetables was a necessary evil.  God wasn't the one scared out of His mind when Jesus went missing as a boy or who had to bury His child.  God was present, yes, for all those things, but God has the gift of eternity now, we only have the knowledge of the eternity that is to come.  God could rest in the redemption He knew to be real when Mary had wait and hope for it.

Anne Lamott has said that, "there are places in your heart you don't know exist until you love a child."  She also says there, "is one thing they forget to mention in most child-rearing books, that at times you will just loose your mind.  Period"

Both things are so so true.  As we stand witness to the labyrinths that are the lives of our children I hope you will join me in letting go of some of the things that are even harder to let go of than expectations, control, plans, and our egos... I invite you to join me as I attempt to let go of

and the crushing belief that we can do it all right.

I challenge you to pause in the impossible moments (and they happen daily, so you'll have plenty of opportunities) and feel the strength and capability you embody in doing the daily work on raising a child day in and day out.

May the God of Mary, of you, of me, and of our children, walk with us through our labyrinths the way that only She can.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Divine Power 10/1/17 The Rev. Kathleen M. Sturges

Matthew 21:23-32

I remember the first time I felt the rush that comes with power.  It was my junior year in college.  I was a Resident Advisor which means I was basically in charge of a dormitory floor of mostly eighteen year old young women.  My primary role was to help get them adjust to their new life in college.  It was a great gig and I loved it.  But I realize how much power I had until one night I was startled out of a deep sleep by the dorm’s fire alarm blaring.  Once I got my bearings I went into action, as trained.  I grabbed my master key, went out onto the dorm hallway and starting knocking on doors. One by one bleary-eyed students opened their doors to me.  Fire, alarm!  I said stating the obvious, Leave now and take the stairs down to the parking lot.   There were about thirty rooms to clear.  So door after door I’d knock and command, knock and command.  It was kind of fun.  After all those years of parents, teachers, and bosses telling me what to do, now it was my turn.  What particularly sticks in my mind during that fire alarm was what I did if a door did not open after I had knocked.  When that was the case I’d take my master key, put it in the lock and open the door.  That’s when the rush came.  I had the power and authority to open someone’s locked door without their permission.  It was thrilling!  No matter that most of the time I’d discover that the room was empty.  Still I had the power to command!  I had the authority to trespass!  And I really liked it.

In the years since I’d like to think that I’ve come down from my power high.  Rest assured I turned in my master key at the end of that school year.  I’m no longer inclined to open anyone’s locked door.  And the idea of commanding someone to do something holds no appeal.  Even so the dynamics of power and authority are at play in my life and yours all of the time.  And it certainly is so in our gospel reading from Matthew.  The big deal is who’s got it - the chief priests and elders?  John the Baptist?  Jesus?  And from what source does it come, human or divine?  That’s important because the two often have very different ways of being in this world.  Human power is often associated with force, deception, manipulation and coercion.  Human power communicates, If you don’t do as I want then I will make you one way or the other.    

Don’t think that divine power, the power and authority that God wields is just a bigger and badder version of that: it’s not.  The most striking difference is that God’s power does not seek to coerce by force, but to create change by love.  Our collect this morning, the opening prayer we prayed at the beginning of the service, captures this truth beautifully.  O God, we prayed, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.  Think about that.  Our God whose power is truly almighty, who made the heavens and the earth, who can do absolutely anything chooses to reveal that mind-blowing, awe-inspiring power to us - how? -  by showing mercy and pity, compassion and tenderness, never-failing kindness and love.  God’s power in no way seeks to dominate or control, but to inspire, to call forth, to heal and to save.  We see that almighty power most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Every time Jesus encountered human power at work by force Jesus responds not with an opposing force but with God’s greater power of love. 

So what does that mean for us?  That means that contrary popular belief, God is not up in heaven just waiting to strike someone with lightening when they go astray.  Nor is God about motivating with fear using threats of hell and eternal damnation so that we might toe the line.  God does not force you or anyone else to do anything that you don’t want to do - and that’s for better and for worse.  Rather every day of your life God is seeking to show you how much you are loved so that you might respond in kind and be changed.  

With that in mind let’s look at the story that Jesus tells us today.  There is a father who asks both of his sons to go out into the vineyard to work.  On the surface it sounds like a typical setup for, perhaps, an all too familiar power struggle between parent and children.  But there really is no struggle here - no coercion is involved.  The father makes his request and allows his sons to respond in whatever way they choose.  The first says no, but later changes his mind and goes to the vineyard.  The second son says yes, but doesn’t end up going at all.   Who did the will of the father?  Jesus asks.  The chief priests and elders answer, The first. 

Don’t be fooled though.  This parable is not just an ordinary morality tale that endorses hard work and integrity.  There’s more to it than that.   Yes, obedience to God is a good thing, but what Jesus is seeking is what happens right before the first son goes into the vineyard - that is, he changes his mind.  It is that inner change, that shift in his heart that prompts the right action.  Jesus makes this very clear when he tells the chief priests and elders that what their big problem is is that even though they’ve encountered God’s message and power through John the Baptist and now in Jesus, himself, their minds refuse to change and believe. 

Thankfully, the chance to change one’s mind is not a one time opportunity nor a singular event.  No matter what our life with God is like right now, God is not finished with us yet.  There is always more.  Every day God’s power is at work to create change in our minds and hearts through love.  That love seeks to draw us into a place of deeper faith and invite us to join in God’s good work in the vineyard, which is the world. 

As much as I delighted in the power I had long ago to force locked doors open that is nothing compared to the joy that is experienced when an interior door in a heart or mind is unlocked - not by force, but by the power of God’s love.   Let that power in.  Allow it to change your heart.  Go out into the vineyard and be a part of God’s good work so that we can tell the good news that our God declares his almighty power chiefly by showing mercy, pity, love.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Infinite Generosity 9/24/17 The Rev. David M. Stoddart

Matthew 20:1-16

A couple years ago, MSN published an article on how people spend their time. Based on numerous studies and surveys, the authors calculated how much time people would typically devote to certain activities, assuming they lived 75 years. Some of the results were predictable: in that lifespan, the average person spends 26 years sleeping and almost four and a half years eating. But some other things were surprising, at least to me: the average person spends just 27 days being romantic (which includes things like kissing and hugging), 115 days laughing  . . . and 5 months complaining. The numbers are just extrapolations, of course, but they ring true. Human beings do like to complain. And so it makes sense that the Bible, filled as it is with human beings, contains lots of complaining. In Exodus today, the Israelites, who have recently been set free from slavery in Egypt, exhibit a “what have you done for me lately” attitude towards God as they grouse about life in the wilderness. And we hear it in the Gospel, where the laborers in this parable are also complaining. The Greek verb used there is wonderfully expressive: they were egungozon, “grumbling.” Nothing bad has happened to them, mind you: they are grumbling because good things have happened to other people, which of course is even worse than if something bad had happened to them. You heard the story: some folks work all day while others work part of the day, and still others only for an hour — but they all get paid the same. Terrible! . . . or so it seems to them.

I suppose one way to make this story go down easier is not to automatically and self-righteously identify with the guys who have been laboring in the hot sun all day. If we identify with the ones who show up at the end of the day, the story feels much different. Seeing it from their perspective might encourage us to realize how much we have that we don’t really deserve. We could then count our blessings and be thankful, rather than grumble.

And that would certainly be a decent approach to this passage. But it does not go nearly far enough. Jesus did not come to tweak us here and there: he came to transform us. He doesn’t ask us to modify our outlook: he calls us to die and be born again. So his parables are not meant to be comfortable: the goal is not t0 find some way of interpreting them that doesn’t upset us too much. The parables of Jesus are designed to shatter our narrow worldview so that we can envision and experience something far, far greater. And what is being shattered today is any semblance of a reward system, any pretense that we can earn anything from God.

And I use that word “shatter” deliberately, because so many people function with the myth that you should get what you deserve. But, let’s be honest, it is a myth. There are people who inherit money or live very comfortably off investments while others do back-breaking labor their whole lives and barely get by. Some people eat well, exercise, take care of themselves and die young, while others eat, smoke, and drink their way into a ripe old age. Some morally upright people suffer horrible calamities; some blatantly immoral people thrive. Natural disasters devastate the innocent as much as the guilty. But we still cling to this idea that we will get what we deserve so much that abandoning it would be shattering.

But that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do: abandon it. Let it go. At the heart of Reality is not a system of rewards and punishments, but the infinite love and generosity of God. Actually seeing that, truly recognizing that, will change your life. To do so is to live in the Kingdom and to experience the reign of God. We don’t have to love and do good to get into heaven: heaven has been given to us, and we are now free to love and do good, filled with God’s Spirt, for the sheer joy of it.

And, consequently, that sets us free from that most invidious form of complaining, which comes from comparing ourselves with others: resenting their success, envying their blessings, somehow feeling like we have less if they have more. But it doesn’t work that way. God’s generosity is infinite: you can have an infinite amount of it, and I can too. Everyone can. And it will come to us in the ways we need it to come, ways that have nothing to do with whether we’ve earned it or not. I was speaking with a parishioner this week who told me that it has been hard for her to maintain a disciplined prayer practices in part because she thinks she’s behind the ball: other people have been doing this for years, so she feels like she can’t even begin to catch up. But it doesn’t work that way. God is not like that. I have been praying for decades, but somebody could pray for the first time today and experience just as much love, just as much grace as I have. And that’s not unfair: that’s awesome! I am not made less by that. I’m not made less when others have gifts I don’t have or make more money than I make or enjoy success that I cannot attain to. I am loved infinitely and forever. Each one of us is loved infinitely and forever. It really is all good.

I don’t know how many months of your life you will spend complaining, but even one day is costly. If we honestly measured all the time and energy we devote to resenting other people, envying other people, wishing we had their luck, their looks, their lives, grumbling in our hearts about them, grumbling to other people about them, the amount would probably stagger us. That is wasted time we will never get back; that is squandered energy we could have devoted to far better things. Jesus, our Savior, comes to set us free in so many ways, and this is certainly one of them. And here’s the best news of all: God will set us free any time we want. We  don’t have to go to church for years or pray for hours a day or fast from chocolate during Lent or do anything to get God on our side. The only way to experience the infinite generosity of God is to accept it. And it is offered always. Even when the Israelites are whining in the wilderness, God’s response is to give them food and shower them with love. You could have been a mean-spirited, grumbling crab your whole life, and if you want God’s love to fill you, you can have it right now. All of it. Just as much as if you had been a faithful, loving, praying believer for years. You don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it. Deserving it is not part of God’s economy at all. It’s a gift. Take it -- and let it change you.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dear Straight Cis Christians: A Reflection by Emily Rutledge

Dear Cis Straight Christians,

The older I get the fewer things there are that really get me riled up.  It has dwindled down to about 3:

1.  the correct use of there, their, and they're
2.  individuals who believe teenagers are a burden rather than blessing on our society
3.  the affirmation, celebration, and support of LGBTQ folk especially within Christian communities.

I am a former English teacher and current minister to teenagers so the first two fall in line with what people can glean from my resume.  The third... it's a result of showing up.

From a young age I was lucky enough to be raised in a home and community full of queer and trans folk.  Hawaiian culture has always embraced a third gender and as the granddaughter of artists and daughter of a flight attendant the subcultures my family was entrenched in were often safe havens for LGBTQ folk.  I realize that most people are not raised as I was.  I am aware that as a society and as a Church viewing LGBTQ friends as whole and worthy beings has been a rough road.  Secular communities seem to have moved at a more rapid pace in understanding the complexities of human beings than churches.

I was in college when Gene Robinson was elected the Bishop of New Hampshire and the collective freak-out the Episcopal Church had was eye opening for me... we were not as far along as I had been led to believe as a child.  A friend on my hall my freshman year at Gonzaga came out.  I felt lucky to have a friend who felt safe with me so when she told me, I bought her flowers.  When she told her parents, they disowned her.  They 'loved' her but couldn't accept who she was.

I watched as the double-door slam happened left and right around me.

1st door: Family
2nd door: Church

There's a million ways I can phrase this but I'm going to be blunt:

  • God made as many people as there are combinations of gender and sexuality.  
  • God wants all Her people to give and receive love in meaningful and fulfilling ways.
  • Getting in the way of another person's ability to honor the Holy within them and be affirmed in their religious community because of their gender or sexuality is not of God.  
As simple as it sounds the past has taught people that are not cis and straight that church is not a safe place for them.  They have been shown that the community of Christ is for them only if they pretend to be different, or are closeted, or stay quiet.  

They are welcome as long as they don't reveal their whole selves.

Welcoming isn't enough.  

We have to celebrate.  We have to honor.  We have to name.

We have to affirm their creation and completion as beautiful creations of God not despite their gender or sexuality but BECAUSE of it.

We have to show up to Pride and be trained in terminology and statistics.  We have to bless the marriages and preach it from the pulpit.  We have to get loud and clear because otherwise our LGBTQ friends who are hungry for Christ are still not sure if they are safe with us.  The onus of this is on you and I.  Straight cis Christians are the people that have shunned, humiliated, and even killed... there is repair work to do.  Church has done a world of hurt -- we have to do some healing.

This one is on us.  We need to continue to be loud voices of the Loving God that created us and dwells within us.  We need to step out in support, in love, and in affirmation.

We need to BE CHRIST; unafraid of who we anger when we swing the doors open wide.


Emily (a riled up ally)