Friday, March 27, 2015

New Creation (3/22/15)

New Creation
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

March 22, 2015

Awakening people to newness is the baptismal experience of rebirth.  It is metanoia, waking up.  What is newest about our times is the global demand on our consciousness.  The global pain, the global interconnections of beauty and pain.  The invitation to create a global civilization of love/justice and ecological harmony is a new invitation.  And so too are the global means to carry out this New Creation.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us.  The kingdom/queendom of God is among us; and it is a kingdom not just of words but of power.  The New Creation will be God’s work and our work.  We will truly be co-creators in this process of transformation. 
--Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 255-6.

                                                   2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (Scholars’ Version)
From now on, therefore, we don’t look at anyone from a worldly point of view.  Even though we thought of God’s Anointed in that way, we think of him in that way no longer.  Consequently, for anyone in solidarity with God’s Anointed, it is as if there is a new world order.  The old order is gone, look—the new order has arrived!  All of this comes from God who changes our relationship with the divine through the Anointed and has made us agents of this change.

Welcome to Spring.   What can I say about Spring? 

The great thing about the Bible is that contains wonderful arresting images.   Great one-liners.   Here is a welcome to Spring.  Second Samuel Chapter 11, verse 1:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go to war…

Isn’t that a great line?  Then King David goes with his army to ravage the Ammonites.   It is Spring.  Cherry blossoms and daisies.  Puts me in the mood to pillage the neighbors.   

That is one way human beings us their creativity.   We have created incredibly impressive ways to blow up stuff.  And people.   Creativity is not enough in and of itself to bring in a New Creation.   It must be directed toward compassion and justice.    

That is the fourth spiritual path that we explore during Spring, the via transformativa.    It is a path of action.   It is action directed at wholeness, healing, justice, and sustainability.    It is the Book of James in the New Testament:

·      Faith without works is dead. 

·      Be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

·      If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. saying:

Any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that can scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.

He didn’t pull any punches with that one, did he?  

It is my colleague and friend Aric Clark who preached at my installation and the book he wrote with his two buddies called Never Pray Again.  The subtitle:  “Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work!”

This season of Spring is a season to explore the action part of faith.  

We are agents of a New Creation.    Agents of wholeness and healing.

On the bulletin cover for today you will find the Presbyterian symbol in rainbow colors.    I have no idea why this rainbow cross is on the bulletin cover.  Could someone please enlighten me?

(cue music)

Jeff: First off the longer you are here, [John]  , you’ll know to just come to me for answers.  Hi! I’m Jeff Tefelske ….  

Sue: Toot!!! WooHoo!!!

Jeff:  Ah…Sue—WHAT are you doing??? Can’t you see I have important church news to share?

Sue: Jeff, Ammendment 14F has been ratified! That is important church news!

Jeff: OK…right…14F—the amendment to the PCUSA Book of Order that states marriage is between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman”.
Well what’s that got to do with Southminster?

Sue: As you know, Southminster has a long history of taking a stand for LGBT rights,  for full inclusion, and to work for a church that reflects the awesome love of God for all people.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah I know… we’ve supported ordination of LGBT people for decades…since the 80s! What’s the big deal!

Sue: Taking that stand at that time was courageous…it was unpopular .We and a few other fearless congregations were seen as troublemakers, rabble rousers, even unfaithful --within the PCUSA.

Jeff: Yeah but…Big Deal! –37 states now have legal marriage for same gendered couples…and the Federal Government recognizes those marriages….So aren’t we kinda just jumping on the band wagon here?

Sue: It is a Big Deal, Jeff! We want a church where all loving couples and all committed relationships are honored and fully embraced. And the amendment started with an overture right here at Southminster in a little class called Sunday Starters.

Jeff: Sunday Starters…Isn’t that the group that puts up with…I mean meets with some charming, good looking , funny and terrificly smart  guy before Worship each Sunday?

Sue: Ok…I’ll give you that one…yeah that’s the guy and group!… with Pieter, Greta, Matt, Val, Sharon, Wally, Sandy, Marylou, Greg, Pam, Ron, Ellie, Peg, Doug, Patty, Pat, Kirsti, Curt, Mark, Joseph, Marci Sue, Sue and Sue, …

Jeff:  and Kathy,Damon…BillyBob, Jim Bob, MaryEllen and John Boy!

Sue:  So what compelled this group of folks to want to work for change?

Jeff:  Ah…ah….because we’re followers of Jesus?

Sue: Right… and Jesus taught that….

Jeff: Jesus taught that…. (help me out here !!!)
—We should love each other
—All are welcome at the Table

Sue: and what sort of people did he associate with?

Jeff: the poor, the sick, tax collectors, women, children…I guess his life was one of Radical Inclusion for his day.

Sue: Jesus was unpopular -- a trouble maker and rabble rouser—you might say . But he worked to change the world around him, even though it angered the powerful establishment that was invested in keeping the status quo. And he commissioned us to do great things, as well!

Jeff: So if you think about it…the work that the Sunday Starters did, and then our delegates June and Laura at General Assembly, were just one part of a long history of Southminster and other churches and folks working for change.

Sue: And sometimes we don’t even get to live long enough to see the fruit of that work…but here, today, we have a wonderful moment to celebrate that long list of people and moments, disapointments and triumphs in bringing about and a more loving and just church …and world!

Jeff: Maybe Martin Luther King Jr was right when he said: “Although… change doesn’t come overnight, we must work as if is possible in the morning.”

Sue: And the beloved community said: “Amen!”

Jeff: So that’s my minute for mission today…and we hope you will join us in celebrating the passage of 14F with cake in the gallery after worship.
Oh Kenn…a little music please!

(music Going to the Chapel Chorus!)

We are celebrating the passage of an amendment to the Book of Order.   The Book of Order is a constitutional document of the church.    It isn’t easy to change the Book of Order.  The General Assembly that meets once every two years must pass the amendment.  That amendment must then go before each presbytery and 51% of the presbyteries must approve.   Of the 171 presbyteries in the United States, 86 needed to vote yes.  The 86th yes happened on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Book of Order now defines marriage instead of a man and a woman as between two people.   Here is the text of the first paragraph:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

That change, that New Creation in our Book of Order is the result of a long struggle.   This struggle in the church has paralleled the struggle in civil society.   It is a struggle for equal rights and for human dignity.     By having this change in the Book of Order the PCUSA is saying that these marriages are blessed, sacred, and holy.   

What a change from a few years ago, as recently as 2008, when an authoritative interpretation of our constitution said this:

“…the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life.”

The toxic, misinformed language is gone. 

What a change from a time not long ago at all when ministers were brought up on charges for officiating at marriages or holy unions for same-sex couples.  

I think of my colleagues who acted up and officiated at weddings and holy unions as a matter of conscience.   Rev. Janie Spahr was brought up on charges so many times she probably spent more time in church court than she did in church.    Always gracious.  Always engaging.  She would send out invitations to her trials.   It is a party.  It is an opportunity to bear witness.    

I don’t think change happens automatically.  It feels like a wave of change sweeps over us.  But I think it happens because individuals acted up.

Individuals like David Sindt.  In 1973 David and a few gay and lesbian friends held up a sign at the 1973 General Assembly that read: 

Is anyone else out there gay?

That started the movement for full inclusion of LGBT people in the Presbyterian Church.    For four decades the struggle in the church was over ordination.    The Shower of Stoles project is a collection of thousands of stoles that signify ordination in the ministry that signify the thousands of lgbt people denied ordination or removed from ordination in many denominations. 

The fight for equality and dignity has been a battle. 

I remember working with a PFLAG group, PFLAG stands for Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays when I was serving a church in Billings, Montana.   This was back around 2002.   A high school student was telling his story.   Rejected by his family.   He said, “Well, you know, they are Christian.”   Everyone groaned and nodded.    I was reminded full force that that is what Christianity meant.  It meant exclusion and rejection and condemnation. 

I thought how crazy this was.   What have we done in the name our founder?

It matters what religious groups say. 

It matters that religious groups say it. 

It matters that religious groups act it. 

Yes we welcome and celebrate and provide sanctuary and bless and hold big gay weddings in the church because it is the right thing to do.  And if Jesus were here in the flesh he would probably turn water into wine for the occasion.

Every time acts of justice and compassion are done, no matter how small, it hastens New Creation.   Every time we tell our story or we create a space for another to tell her story or his story, every time we act to make the world safer, we make the world safer.  Because people follow examples.   

Southminster was in the news this week on television, radio, and newspaper about this congregation’s role in this historic decision.   We are in the news not because we are so great but because we are bearing witness to New Creation.    The more people see justice happening, the more people act on behalf of justice.   

Oh, I thought churches were against us gays.  I guess not all of them. 
Oh that is what churches do?  Maybe my church will too.

It is the spring of the year, the time when people act with compassion and justice.
Thank you for acting up.


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