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Message given at Sixty-First Avenue UMC, Nashville, Tennessee

When my daughter started 1st grade, the school allowed parents to walk the child to their classroom on the first day. When I got there, Marissa wouldn’t turn loose of my hand! Each time I tried to leave, she started to cry out, so I just stayed there. While the teacher took roll, while she began lessons, up until recess. We walked outside and I was trying to tell her that she would be ok without me. A little girl who had just moved to Mississippi from Mexico came up and without saying a word, pried Marissa’s fingers off my hand and taking Marissa’s hand, led her to the playground.

Have you ever suffered a problem that nobody seemed to understand? You may feel lonely and alone and frightened, even isolated. And then one person comes along who has experienced something similar themselves and suddenly you don’t feel alone anymore. Cinthia, the little girl from Mexico, knew what it was like to be scared in a new place and she understood what Marissa was feeling. She was in a position to help her like none of the other kids or even me, her mother, could.

A shared experience among people who are suffering is powerful. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other similar groups often see powerful results…people who understand can help each other get to the next place in life.

Tonight we recognize World AIDS Day as we celebrate the first week of Advent. Tonight, we recognize that there are human beings among us, who understand our sufferings – and that Christ Jesus, who came and lived as God with us – Emmanuel – not only understands, but has broken through to the other side – so that one day all these present sufferings can be transformed to beauty. When we walk alongside Christ and those who seek to live in His light, everything changes.

According to the aids.gov website, “1 million are living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 5 are living with HIV without knowing it, and 1 in 4 new HIV infections is among youth ages 13-24. Globally, 33.4 million are living with HIV/AIDS. While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

AIDS is a preventable, treatable disease, but a lack of awareness, knowledge and good practice has been at the root of its spread. I’d like to share a video now about the impact of AIDS on children in Africa, and how their newfound community has impacted their lives.

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjgF0u7Y3fU

Purity – the young girl in the video – found someone to help her – to walk alongside her – who understood her plight, and it impacted not only her life – but that of her whole community. Having someone who understands walk alongside you can make all the difference in the world. It can impact the path you take, the things you do along that path, and it can even build your character – the essence of who you are meant to be.

Tonight’s Scripture gives us a vision of what can happen when we walk alongside God:

Isaiah 2 1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:

 There’s a day coming

when the mountain of God’s House

Will be The Mountain—

solid, towering over all mountains.

All nations will river toward it,

people from all over set out for it.

They’ll say, “Come,

let’s climb God’s Mountain,

go to the House of the God of Jacob.

He’ll show us the way he works

so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of the revelation.

God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.

He’ll settle things fairly between nations.

He’ll make things right between many peoples.

They’ll turn their swords into shovels,

their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;

they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob,

let’s live in the light of God.

This vision of how life will be impacts the individual and the community. For the individual, the vision is God: “show[ing] us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”

We’re made in the image of God. We’re made to be loving, grace-filled, gift-bearing, obstacle-overcoming, community-driven, creation-building creatures! Each and every one of us! When we walk alongside God, we can live that way – the way we’re made.

Have you ever had a problem with a piece of equipment that had to be reset back to manufacturer’s settings? Maybe it got bogged down with too many programs and didn’t have enough memory to operate! Sometimes we’re like that! We have to be reset to manufacturer’s settings so we can operate the way we were made to…in the image of God.

This Scripture also speaks to how we will live in community when we walk together alongside God: They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.

Can you imagine no more war? Can you imagine the millions and trillions of dollars spent the world over making machines of war, instead making machines that create life? Food, shelter, education, health, meaningful work?

The Christian faith is based on God who created the universe, loved humanity so much, that when sin separated God from human, God sent Christ to become human – showing us the way that we should live – and overcoming death so that nothing could separate us from God again. Christians are people of hope, because if death can be conquered, isn’t all else possible?

Advent is that time of year that we think about God becoming human. God leaving the perfection of heaven to enter the realm that we live in – to experience the things we experience.

The lady I stayed with in the Philippines is from Seattle, Washington and she told me about a time when ladies from Africa came to stay with her. She said that their reaction to her home was interesting. The lady said, “Kristin – your home is so beautiful. You have a beautiful house, food, a lovely family. If I lived  here, I would never leave. Why would you come to Africa?”

We can ask God the same question – why would you have left Heaven to come here? Why would you want to experience the pain and suffering of others? Why would you put yourself in that position?

The answer is the same. Love. Love can take you to difficult places. And God loves you so much that God bears that pain. God’s love is beyond any love we can conceive. We see glimpses of it through stories from ZOE Ministry – where families are based on blood relatives, but on the blood of Christ that creates new family that walks alongside through pain and joy. We see glimpses of this love through people like Kristin who leaves the comfort of her home to go to uncomfortable places and be in ministry with strangers. We see glimpses of this love here at 61st Avenue – where people are planning and preparing to bring Christmas joy to children we may not meet till we all get to Heaven. But all the love we experience here, is just a fraction of the love that God has for us – it’s not dependent on us looking a certain way, speaking a certain language, living in a certain neighborhood or country, or being free of infectious diseases. God’s love blankets the world and includes you – no matter how unlovable you may feel at times. It’s a free gift…all we have to do is open our hearts and our hands.

Tonight we begin the walk towards the manger. It’s a walk that we don’t need to take alone. Remember – who we walk with can impact the direction we go, the things we do, and the character we become. During this period before December 25, commit to walking with the church. Praying and reading Scripture daily. Practicing the actions of the person you want to become. God will be with you in your practice, God will walk alongside.

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Tonight I want you to think of roadblocks. Things that get in the way – that stop you from going where you want to go, doing what you want to do , being who you want to be. Sometimes these roadblocks are physical things – perhaps disabilities, financial limits, you name it. Other times roadblocks are inside of us. Negative thinking, addictions, generational expectations – you know – limiting your own thinking because that’s the way your family’s always done it.

Roadblocks. Obstacles. Things that get in the way of us being who God calls us to be as people living an abundant, thriving life. That’s the focus tonight. But as we think about what limits us, we will also see how there is nothing that is insurmountable with the help and guidance of God. Let us pray.

Tonight’s scripture reading is from Mark 2:1-5, 12. You’ve heard the story before – about a paraplegic whose friends lowered him through a roof so he could be healed by Jesus. Remember the story? Before I read, I’d like you to think of this person – someone who didn’t have a motorized scooter to get around, wheelchair ramps, elevators, etc. This person, living in ancient times, would have lived a life on the ground most likely crawling to get anywhere on unpaved, rocky roads. This person would have relied on friends to carry him when necessary. Dignity would have been something long lost, but community would have been key to his daily survival.

Now think of his friends. These would be people whose efforts would have been tapped on a daily basis. People whose muscles were built up by carrying their friend, and whose food supply would have been diminished – not increased by their friend’s ongoing needs. Friends who had seen their friend suffer, and who wanted to help him in any way they could.

Now listen to the Scriptures:

1-5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

(he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

Roadblocks. In this scripture, we can think of a few. The large crowd of people surrounding Jesus who made it difficult to get their friend through. Have you ever been to a concert or large public gathering? If you’re like me, you’re quick to just stand towards the back, rather than push my way forward. But these four men, carrying their friend on a stretcher didn’t give up. When they couldn’t see Jesus easily, they persevered, climbing to a higher spot, and getting to him any way they could. They persevered for their friend – maybe even he was uncomfortable and wanting to give up. Can you imagine hearing them concoct their plan to get on top of the house? What would you say if you were on that stretcher and someone wanted to climb on a roof with you? But something within them pushed them to give it their all – to be daring – and bold – to believe that healing would come, if they only made it through the roadblocks to the other side.

When you are down and out, what gives you strength? When you feel in your gut that you can’t go on, what pushes you to persevere? When roadblocks get in your way – internal and external – where do you turn? How do you get to a higher place to see Jesus?

Romans 8:26-28 tells us:

 26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Isn’t that something? That the God of the universe would care so much about you and me, that he would yearn for us? When we can’t pray for ourselves, God is yearning for us – rooting for us –wanting the best for us. This is called prevenient grace – the grace that goes before us before we even know it.

Now God is not just yearning for us to acquire personal satisfaction – God is yearning for the world of which we are a part. God wants the whole world to experience abundant life. You and I are a part of that full creation. When you and I are made whole, the world around us is made better. In our thriving, the world around us becomes more alive. It’s not just individuals – it’s the whole world that is waiting salvation – wholeness – completeness – freedom from sin – freedom from roadblocks.

Romans 8:22 says:  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

We are made for connection – that when you have what you need, I am better off as well. I’ve been reading a document this week that taps into this very subject – through an African concept called Ubuntu.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, who helped South Africans move peaceably away from segregation said,

“Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God’s dream.”

We have personal responsibility in overcoming these roadblocks – in living into God’s dream – not just our own. We rejoice that the Holy Spirit prays for us – yearns for us – but that does not relieve us from our own responsibility. God’s grace empowers us to make different choices – to knock down roadblocks – for ourselves and for others – just like the friends in tonight’s scripture did.

Too often, we fight roadblocks with the wrong tools – tools that only create more roadblocks. We can look around us and see all kinds of examples.  We see political leaders around the world using language of hate and violence, when God’s world deserves unity and peace. We see celebrities gaining in celebrity status by drinking and engaging prostitutes, rather than using their God given gifts to inspire. And right around us, we see those we love go back to the very things that destroy them, rather than striving to live the life that God intended – a life not of chaos but of order – a life not of brokenness but of wholeness.

A friend of mine had knee replacement surgery this last week, and is spending time in a nursing home – going through physical rehabilitation. That is painful! The exercises that she has to do each day don’t feel good, yet if she doesn’t do them she will not be able to walk.

Isn’t it like that in our lives? We want to take the easy way out when we really need to put in the time, the effort, the exercise to get where we need to be – past those roadblocks. A disciple of Christ is always in rehab – sin is always ready to hold us back but our exercises keep us standing. We have to strive to thrive.

We have to exercise our spirits through prayer, scripture reading, worship, Holy Communion, doing things for others. We have to do the things that will make us stand up, take up our stretchers and walk.  God’s grace goes before us, the Holy Spirit walks alongside us, and the church – the great connection –  pushes us towards something far greater than ourselves – the kingdom of God.

Thurgood Marshall said,

“None of us has gotten where we are…by pulling ourselves up from our own bootstraps. We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.”

We do not walk alone. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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Many local churches feel squeamish about leading mission efforts – thinking they will be drawing upon the same overtaxed leaders one too many times and may fall short of their goals. But then there’s Sixty-First Avenue United Methodist Church. This congregation of about 100 members (most of whom live in poverty) know obstacles – but they have one strength that many small-sized, non-denominational churches don’t have: connection. It’s the connectionalism of The United Methodist Church that makes them strong – and that connectionalism has now made a big difference in the lives of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.

Connecting with Rev. Jodi McCullah of Austin Peay State University’s Wesley Foundation and SAFE (Soldiers and Families Embraced) Network, we learned of a need to encourage troops deployed to Afghanistan by sending care packages. Lay Leader and UMW co-chair Brenda Hix began notifying the United Methodist churches who have ongoing relationships with Sixty-First Avenue so they could contribute to the collection of socks, crossword puzzles, candy and more. Jackie Shields of Brentwood UMC said, “My interest in facilitating donations of items for the deployment kits was a response that embraces John 13:35, plus a long time personal association and respect for the military members, their service and their needs. I also wanted to connect members of my Sunday School class to America’s Sunday Supper, our conference and national ministries. This is a way to demonstrate first hand we are The UNITED Methodist Church and what that looks like real time.”

Lucille Jackson adds handwritten notes to care kits.

Lucille Jackson adds handwritten notes to care kits.

Roger Parker, retired elder from Franklin First UMC, regularly organizes a “Lunch and Learn” for senior citizens in the Sixty-First Avenue community. So at the “Lunch and Learn” on Monday, January 21, we concluded the session with packaging items for the deployment care kits. Lucille Jackson was one of the senior citizens who participated in the activities. “We’re feeling the happiness now that the soldiers will feel when they open this package!”

Delivering the kits to the SAFE Network.

Delivering the kits to the SAFE Network.

A total of 49 care kits were assembled that day and driven to Clarksville (along with an additional 31 previously packaged at United Methodist Communications) where they were accepted by two Army wives of husbands who will receive the kits and a staff sergeant from the same platoon. “With this war having gone on for over 10 years, many people have moved on and forgotten about those still fighting.” said Sergeant Longest.

In addition to the support from the connection, we also had strangers who learned about what we were doing online and participated in a variety of ways. A young woman from Texas passing through town, delivered over 100 handwritten notes to encourage the troops; an elderly man from a close by retirement home brought a bag filled with treats; and a student from Vanderbilt Medical School came to help assemble the kits. Sixty-First Avenue’s youth group donated treats to the effort – giving from their own stock.

Faith as small as the grain of a mustard seed can still yield results – especially when it’s watered by the connection and has the light of Christ shining on it. Local churches are never too small to make a big difference.

This effort was part of America’s Sunday Supper – a nationwide effort to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through dialog and service, which Hicks promoted as part of her work at United Methodist Communications. Learn more at www.sundaysupperumc.org or http://www.pointsoflight.org/mlk

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Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Elizabeth Michelle Smith…a member of 61st Avenue UMC. “Liz” as we all called her died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. The last time I saw her was three days before she passed. She excitedly told me that she had finally gotten a disability hearing scheduled – hopeful that she’d start getting disability pay.

She was one year younger than me, but she had illnesses that took away her vitality. I remember the time when she had her first amputation and I was with her at the hospital. She leaned over and touched my foot to show me what they were going to remove from her foot. That hit me hard –it made me feel her pain a little deeper.

When Liz got off the streets, she was so happy – not simply because she would have a place to stay, but excited because she was going to take in all of her friends who didn’t have a home. It was her way of living! If she got something good, she had to share it with other people – whether it was information or her “own” things. In the end, a few of her street friends spoke at the service – one of them calling Liz his godmother, and saying that it’s because of her that he enrolled in barber school and is living into her belief that he is “too smart” to not better his life.

In attendance at the service was another lady who is so dear to me – Linda. Linda is intellectually disabled and her appearance is one that I’ve written about before. Linda came to me after the service and said that even when she passes she will pray for me every day. Because of her looks and disabilities, she’s gotten ridiculed and put down all her life. She told me that she loved me, Pastor Paul, and Brenda because we’ve been kind to her. I thought when I left there that I feel more privileged being loved by someone like her than if I were loved by a superstar.

Leaving the church, there was a man lying by the side of the road – in the opposite direction from where I was going. The weather here in Nashville was 109 yesterday! I drove to him and got out of the car. He had collapsed and couldn’t walk, so I called 911. People from the church all walked down the street once they knew so they could be there for him as well. He was treated with care and taken to the hospital accompanied by his girlfriend.

Just a little while before this incident, I’d heard the medical caseworker at Liz’s service say, “No one is a nobody in Christ Jesus.” Truer words could not have been spoken in a church where the down and out are received and welcomed as loved guests. This is my church home. This is where I’m planted and growing in faith because I come face to face with some pretty hard stuff every day. So when I write about my support of “Obamacare,” equal rights for gay and lesbians, the right to vote for those who do not drive and have no home, immigrants, etc. you’ll know why. I sit amongst people who are rejected by society because they may not contribute to the financial growth of this country. But for a country of so many citizens who claim we are a Christian nation and that we should be pro-life, I say, these lives are worthy of fighting for as well…they are worth listening to and letting their opinions count.

Christ said that when we serve the naked, hungry, thirsty, poor, those in prison, we serve him. Yesterday I got a good taste of Christ’s presence, in the broken hearted and outcasts. The taste was sweet…God was touchable and real among those who embody the scriptures:

Matthew 5 (The Message)
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

So, rest in peace, Liz. We’ll do our best to care for those you loved. And say a prayer for the rest of us, ok? We need it.

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Irene and Bianca

Mother and child

Irene Carrera is a member of Sixty-First Avenue United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, where I serve as deacon. Irene’s thoughtful reflections on those in need continually challenge us to rise above complacency and do something. It’s a privilege to have her as my guest blogger.

Hi, my name is Irene Carrera. I am a mother of five, and my family and I have faced some very tough times, but we are still fortunate.

I have watched the news and heard first-hand experiences from my fellow sister-in-Christ, Neelley Hicks on the extreme starvation, dehydration, illnesses and famine in Somalia and other African Nations. The need of the children as well as adults there tug at my heart, because no matter how hard I have it or many Americans have it, we have resources to get assistance and in Africa they do not.

They are suffering with illnesses due to very poor or no medical care at all. They are starving due to not having safe water to drink or cook with, and they also have a low supply of food. In Africa, there are no food banks, no free or low-income clinics, no hospitals for miles, no Department of Human Resources and no public housing. They are living in tents in mud cottages or just on the ground.

I feel that it’s my human responsibility to do all that I can to inform my children of the extreme suffering that they face over there. I want them to understand that there are people worse off than we are. I also feel that it’s my responsibility to make people here in my church and community understand that we need to do all that we can to help our brothers and sisters in Africa – they are not only our neighbors, they are our family.

In hard times, family is supposed to pull together. I proposed that our church takes a five-gallon water bottle, and start a collection with the children’s Bible study classes to collect any spare change they may have. I want them to understand that there are children their age (even younger as well as older) who do not have enough to eat, drink, wear or make them well when they are sick. I also want them to know that there are families that need us, and, as their neighbors, we have to do all that we can.

“Love they neighbor as thyself” does not only mean the people next door, on your street or in your neighborhood.

To learn more and to give, go to http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/newsroom/releases/archives2011/hornofafrica/

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Walking through a neighborhood the other day, my husband noticed how beautiful a large oak tree was, but lamented that the yard around it was so dry and desolate. It was obvious that in the heat of Nashville, that tree had soaked up so much water for itself that it left little behind for grass, flowers, or anything else to grow.

Later in the week, I sat around a table with the women of Sixty First Avenue United Methodist Church at what became for me a deeply meaningful experience. I began to think of that tree as a metaphor for what is happening in the U.S. these days. For the common laborer, years of working hard has provided little to live on and nothing to save. Many laborers (laid off, retired or disabled) now stand just beyond the shade of these vast “trees” in what has become a barren space in America’s landscape.

The little they’ve come to depend upon is drying up further. Distant bickering of elected leaders echoes in their daily lives, as they worry if a father will get the medicine he needs to prevent heart failure; if insurance will pay to stop infection in a friend’s recently amputated leg; and how they’ll survive if Social Security cuts are made. People who have contributed much in their lifetimes have so often been used up and tossed aside for cheaper labor pools, and greater profit. I’m reminded of a favorite movie quote: “A country’s character is defined by its “everyday rustics”…They are the legs you stand on and that position demands respect.” (Ever After, 1998)

Distinctions between “the wealthy” and “the poor” become chasms if we fail to engage one another, especially if we do not relate with persons living in poverty. It’s easy to judge a group of people, if you’ve only labeled them generically and remained at a distance. When you come to know “the poor” by name, hear their stories and realize their gifts, preconceived notions dissolve. Complexities arise. Shades of gray become varied, and what used to be easy judgment becomes greater understanding.

In the humble walls of Sixty First Avenue’s sanctuary, I’ve realized that perhaps the greatest spiritual challenge is to love more than we think possible. If we leave presumptions on the altar and let something new arise, maybe we’ll be able to mimic the love that Jesus showed others while on earth. When we love more, we think beyond our own endless desires, personal growth and financial independence. The barren spaces start to matter and we imagine how we too can be suppliers of lifegiving water.

For further reflection:

Check out this living wage calculator and compare it with the minimum wage those who serve you may be making: http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/

 

 

 

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Lately I’ve been thinking about this and that, but especially “the other.” Jesus gravitated toward others who society had deemed unworthy and empowered them to share their encounters. These stories have helped faith come alive through the years. Jesus went to homes with thresholds rarely crossed by the righteous. He engaged and ate with people whom others would not associate. Today, when we look at pictures of the poor, the homeless and the vulnerable, we get a sense of who we need to be with.  But as followers of Jesus, we’ve got to move knowledge into engagement – getting past our own biases in the process.

In essence, we need to turn inside out the concept of good people at the center of church and put Jesus there-along with the “misfits” he cares so deeply about.

Yet here we are – still actively turning away from so many. These “others” live in community with us, but their lives are so often kept outside the gates of the church. These others may be persons just released from prison, who without accountable love and support, will gravitate back to the only secure space they’ve known. Or, perhaps they are persons with cognitive or mental disabilities whom we exclude from full engagement. When the church shows the radical love that first attracted so many to Christian community, we get a glimpse of the kingdom on earth we’ve been praying for. We see people integrated into the life of the church to share the image of God that’s in them too.

Recently I heard for the first time the song, “Sing a New Church” which describes the kind of alternative reality where one human family uses their variety of gifts to share faith, love and praise to the one who created us all. When I think of that alternative reality, I envision full inclusion of all persons. This includes gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual individuals being ministered to and ministering others. I would venture to say that since the beginning of the church, LGBTQ persons have served in ministry. What we have required these church leaders to sacrifice is their integrity – to live lives hidden from those in community. Hidden, secret lives can never be a good thing – for anyone. And it’s not how God asks us to live in community.

Scriptures, ripped apart, rather than understood as a whole, can prove most all of us unfit for ministry.  A study of denominations and sects can easily demonstrate this point. This is especially true for me – I am a divorced, remarried, woman. The thing is, I never counted on my own righteousness to make me fit for ministry, but the fact that I have a story to share of God’s love and empowering grace. This grace empowered all the “others” of Scriptures – from Moses to David, to the woman at the well so they could share their encounters with God. When we allow persons to openly serve God, even more people from all walks of life are brought into the faith. Why would we want to limit the sharing of God’s grace and gifts in the world today?

A thread that runs throughout Scriptures is humanity’s dependence on God’s mercy and grace, which can’t be earned but is freely given. John 8:1 illustrates this well as Jesus said, “Let the sinless one among you go first: Throw the stone.” Jesus was the only one qualified to throw a stone and he refrained. Instead, he said:

“…my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me.” (The Message)

May we count on the largeness of God’s experience and love to guide us to do simply what Jesus commanded. May we love God and one another.

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