Prayer of Confession for My Denomination

I was reading through some of my old worship liturgies this morning and came across this prayer of confession. I wrote it with this passage from Deuteronomy 30 in mind:

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

As I read this I realized that part of my utter, deep sadness for my denomination right now (MCUSA) is that I see us repeatedly choosing death over life. Death for ourselves, because we are alienating–if not outright rejecting–individuals, families, and a large swath of an entire generation. Death for others, both spiritually–as LGBTQ people and allies wander away from an unwelcoming church–and sometimes physically–when LGBTQ youth believe that their deepest longings for human relationship are sinful and shameful, some of them commit suicide.

And I see us repeatedly choosing curses over blessings. We are denying our church the blessings God wants to give us through the gifts of LGBTQ people. And we are denying LGBTQ people the blessings God wants to bestow on them through the church.

I am sad to see us clinging to law over love, death over life, curses over blessings. So today, this is my prayer for my denomination; a prayer for repentance, forgiveness, and renewal.

 

Gracious and Holy God,
For those times we have chosen death over life for ourselves,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have chosen death over life for others,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have chosen not to receive your blessings,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have prevented others from receiving your blessings,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For each time we have made the easy choice of law over the hard choice of love,
Forgive us. [Silence]
O God of mercy,
Hear our prayers. [Silence]

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites, Prayer of Confession | 2 Comments

Wednesday Worship Piece: Call to Worship

Call to Worship (from Psalm 28):

Praise be to God
who hears our voice.
God is our strength;
God is our shield;
Our hearts trust
and help comes.
Our hearts leap for joy,
and with our songs we praise our God.

Categories: Call to Worship, Worship Pieces | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Welcome Table Call to Worship

Here is a call to worship for communion Sunday based on the spiritual “You’ve got a place at the welcome table.”

We gather together to worship God.

We gather together to share a holy meal.

We gather around this table

To which Christ has invited us.

You’ve got a place at this table.

And you’ve got a place at this table.

We’ve all got a place at this table.

We’ll feast on milk and honey.

We’ll give thanks.

We’ll find our home

with God

together.

So welcome to worship. Welcome to the table.

Hallelujah!

Categories: Call to Worship, Communion, Worship Pieces | Leave a comment

A Love Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

rainbow doveThe Mennonite Church USA made their report from last weekend’s meetings public today. To be honest, I feel a bit sick to my stomach. (Though it is hard to say if that is solely because of the statement or also due to the inadvisable amount of cake I just consumed to console myself.)

I want to make an eloquent argument about why the Executive Board is wrong in its refusal to acknowledge the ministerial credentials of Theda Good–and any other Mennonites who are queer and called to ministry. Morally wrong. Theologically wrong. Strategically wrong. Just . . .  infinity wrong.

I want to point out the numerous inconsistencies in the report itself. Not to mention the inconsistency with which the board is enforcing the policies and “teaching positions” of the seven “guiding documents” that it cites in the report.

But I’m tired of negativity and criticism. And I’m tired of picking apart the words of other people and of choosing my own words ever so carefully, one by one, with little linguistic tweezers. And I’m tired of being disappointed and upset and spiritually drained.

So instead of a scathing (and what I’m sure would be brilliant) critique of the Executive Board’s report, I am going to write a love letter:

Dear Queer Mennonites,

Yes, you. Gay guys and lesbians. Bisexuals and polysexuals. Transgendereds and cross-dressers and otherwise non status-quo-heteros. You. I love you. And I am sorry that our denomination is still treating you in unloving ways.

I love your gifts. Gifts of music and writing and preaching and worship leading and prophecy and discernment. The church needs these gifts, and you continue to graciously offer them even when they are not graciously received.

I love your perspective. There are times I get tired and forget to care enough about the injustice and discrimination in the church; you remind me why it is important. There are times I want to cry and yell and scream about the injustice and discrimination in the church; you make me laugh instead. Or you remind me that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the Executive Board of MCUSA. And you sing. Always. No matter what. You sing fabulously!

I love your courage. Being honest about who God created you to be. Proclaiming your faithfulness. Criticizing traditional (mis) interpretations of scripture. Showing up when and where you are not wanted–but are desperately needed. That all takes courage. And you do it anyway. Over and over again.

And I love the fact that you are still here. I am humbled and deeply grateful for your presence. There are times I don’t understand why you stay. But I am so very glad you do. You make the way of Jesus clearer for us all. Whether we like it or not.

I hardly know what to say to you in the shadow of the recent Executive Board report except that I love you. And I promise to keep fighting (in peaceful, Mennonite ways, of course) for your inclusion and equality in our churches and our denomination.

May the joy of our spectacular Creator, the deep and abiding peace of Jesus Christ, and the relentless power of the Holy Spirit surround and infuse you, my brothers and sisters.

Joanna

Categories: GLBT Concerns | 17 Comments

Prayer for MCUSA Executive Board

greendove

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA is meeting this weekend. They will be discussing the denominational response to Mountain States Mennonite Conference (since they licensed Theda Good) and talking more generally about issues of denominational structure and maintaining unity in the midst of theological disagreements–particularly related to our varied understandings of faithful sexuality.

If you know me at all or follow this blog, you know that I do not agree with the current denominational “teaching position” on sexuality. You know I have been frustrated with the failure of the Executive Board to make a clear and safe space within the denomination for LGBTQ Mennonites and their allies. You may not know that  some of the board members are people I consider friends. I know that they are feeling a heavy weight as they enter into these meetings. I have a deep respect for the work that the board is called to do this weekend. It is hard–and hopefully holy–work.

So, for those of you on the board,  my prayers are with you.

For those of you not on the board, I encourage you to join me in prayer this weekend–beginning on Thursday evening. You may pray the prayer below if you like. You can also go to the MCUSA Executive Board page and pray for the board members by name. I would love for those joining in prayer to leave a comment–or even a prayer–below.

Eternal God,

May those gathered for the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting this weekend know the powerful presence of your Holy Spirit. May the Spirit dwell in each breath, each word, each silence.

Lift the heaviness that weighs on the board members’ hearts and replace it with the easy yoke, the light burden of Jesus.

Let them discern the false wisdom of the world from the true wisdom of God, which we know in the foolishness of the cross.

Lead them not into temptations of people-pleasing and conflict avoidance, but hold their feet on the path of Christ.

Do not let the obligations they may feel to rules and institutions get in the way of their faithfulness to the Gospel.

Burn away their fear and let them be inflamed with courage.

May each word that is spoken come from love and be heard with love.

May those who are present speak for those who are not at the table, so that even absent voices may be heard and held.

Remind these leaders, and us, O God, that our church is not our church; it is your church.

And because it is your church, we pray that your life-giving, death-defying, justice-making power will be at work within and among the MCUSA Executive Board members this weekend. We cling to the promise you give–that your power is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine. Amen.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | Tags: , | 11 Comments

On the Trinity

There is a story about the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. One day after he had been writing about the Trinity for awhile, he decided to take a break and go walk along the beach. He came across a boy who had a bucket.  He would fill up the bucket, run up the hill, and dump the water into the sand. He did this over and over until finally Augustine stopped the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”.  The boy said, “I am draining the sea into the sand.”  Augustine pointed out the futility of the task, and the boy replied, “Yes, but I will drain the sea before you understand the Trinity.”

Folks, I hate to tell you that if Augustine couldn’t figure it out, we’re not going to figure it out either.

The Three are one.  The One is three.  It doesn’t make any sense. It is not clear.  It is not easy.  It is not comfortable.  But relating to God as Trinity is a profound experience for me, an experience that gets me as close to the Truth of God as I dare to go.

The point of the Trinity is not to separate out and define the parts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Trinitarian theology merely opens up to us one way—the primary way—that Christians have worked to understand the vastness of God.

Yes.  God is the Almighty Creator who spoke the world into being.
Yes. God is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth who fully embodied the extent of divine love for the world.
Yes.  God is present with us today as Holy Spirit who guides and comforts and enlivens us.

It is important that we understand the breadth of the activity and personality of God.  The doctrine of the Trinity should keep us from narrowing our vision of who God is and what God does; and this should broaden our understanding about who God loves, and what the work of God looks like in the world.

I don’t often show off with fancy Greek words.  But some of them are worth learning.  And there is one you need to know if we are going to continue this futile task of trying to understand the Trinity. This particular Greek term was introduced by the Cappodocian monks in the fourth century. It describes the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.  The term is: perichoresis.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit relate by means of perichoresis.  Like a lot of Greek words, this one is somewhat difficult to explain.  There is no English word to use as a direct translation. It suggests the mutual indwelling of the three parts of the Holy Trinity.  The idea is that all three parts are equal and their identities are based in each other.

But perichoresis is not a static concept. It has the same root as choreography.  There is both inward and outward movement involved in the Divine Trinitarian relationship.  Theologian Molly Marshall calls it “the dance that characterizes Divine life.”

To think of the Trinity in terms of perichoresis means that relationship is at the heart of the Divine identity. Relationships are not just something that God forms with creation as God sees fit, but relationship is who God is.

And if God is relationship, that means that we, too, are drawn into the Divine choreography.  And our neighbors are drawn in.  And all those who love us.  And all those who hate us.  And the stars.  And the soil. And the squirrels that jump from tree to tree and eat from our bird feeders.

The perichoresis of the Trinity means that our God exists in and for relationship.  And we, my friends, are made in God’s image.  Made to be connected to the people and the world around us.

Ultimately, the Trinity is not a doctrine to be argued and recited.  It is not even a concept to be understood. It is a mystery into which we are invited.  A dance for all to join.


This post is excerpted from a longer sermon.

You might also be interested in:
Call to Worship for Trinity Sunday
Trinity Call to Worship adapted from Seekers’ ChurchThis Prayer of Confession

Categories: Bible Study, Ponderings, Preaching | Tags: | Leave a comment

Let’s Talk About the “Third Way”

Pink Menno hymn-sing; Pittsburgh, 2011. Photo credit: pinkmenno.org

Pink Menno hymn-sing; Pittsburgh, 2011. Photo credit: pinkmenno.org

If you have been reading recent statements by Mennonite Church USA leaders, or even engaging in more private conversations about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Mennonite church, you have heard the term “third way.” A lot.

Coming from denominational leadership, third way seems to be code for status quo. Calls for people to adopt the third way boil down to: “Let’s everyone just calm down about all of this gay people stuff so that the church doesn’t split.” The “third way” is presented as simply a complacent middle ground.

And that’s a fine way to use the term “third way” in the secular world. The Wikipedia entry for “Third Way” defines it as a political philosophy that “tries to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics.” So for the sake of political sanity, if we’re seeking political expediency, we can talk about about the third way as a coming together of two opposing sides, as a place to be concerned about our “rhetorical tone”, as Ervin Stutzman puts it.

But I am not looking for political sanity or expediency in my denomination. I am looking for faithfulness to the way of Jesus. In our church discussions, we should not be invoking the secular meaning of the third way, we should be thinking hard about the theological meaning of that term.

Walter Wink uses this term to describe Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. In Jesus’ day, a Roman soldier was allowed to force a Jewish peasant to carry his gear for one mile. So if a soldier thrust his gear on a peasant, the two obvious responses were for the peasant to throw the gear down and refuse to walk or to carry the gear one mile. The third way is to carry the gear two miles. The first mile is required, but the second mile is a choice–a choice that would probably confuse the soldier, possibly even get the soldier in trouble if his superiors thought he was breaking the rules.

From a theological perspective, there are a few things we need to understand about the “third way.”

First, the third way is not for white, middle-class, straight men. Theologically speaking, the third way is for those who are oppressed. It’s for the one who gets slapped on the cheek–not the one who does the slapping. It’s for the Jewish peasant weighed down with military gear–not the Roman soldier. And, in the context of our discussions about sexuality, it is for queer Mennonites who have been demeaned and excluded by the church–not for us straight people.

Second, the third way is not synonymous with being nice to each other. I mean, there is nothing wrong with being nice to each other, but that is not what the third way is about. The truth is that Jesus’ “rhetorical tone” varied widely depending on who he was talking to–and possibly how tired and cranky he was. He spoke gently to the children and the woman caught in adultery. He got testy with the disciples. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” He turned over the money-changers’ tables in the temple. If the third way means following Jesus, then it cannot also mean smiling and nodding and trying to make everyone happy all of the time.

Finally, the third way does not have to do with compromise, or even synergy. There are plenty of texts in scripture that do talk about the early church–the gifting of the Spirit, the way that disagreements were negotiated, the importance of love and humility in community. So there is a place for synergy–and even compromise–when it comes to many of the questions we face as churches. But if we are talking about compromise, we are talking about something different from the third way. The third way is for people who have no power to negotiate a compromise or participate in the decision-making synergy.

If we are going to continue to use the term “third way” in our discussions of sexuality and the church, we need to start using it based on its theological meaning, not its political meaning. Theologically, the third way is not increased complacency to be negotiated by those in power. Theologically, the third way involves creative, peaceful resistance to oppressive forces.

Which means that, ultimately, our goal should be to have no need of a third way within the church. When all people are respected and power is truly shared, then the third way is not needed. When there are no longer oppressed people within the church, then we will be better able to live as the true church, walking the third way together with the powerless out in the world. Just like Jesus did.

Categories: GLBT Concerns | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

Jesus Gives the Spirit

Cozy and Comfortable

Cozy and Comfortable

*John 14:15-27; John 20:19-23

In John 14, the Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid. Now in John 20 we see the disciples scared for their lives, hiding behind locked doors. In both passages, Jesus offers them peace in the midst of their fear.

And then Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

No mighty winds here. No tongues of fire. Simply this: Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the comfort that Jesus had promised them before the crucifixion. His presence with them–around them and inside them–forever.

But this, you will notice, is not a warm and snugly kind of comfort. Just as Jesus says that he does not give peace the way the world gives peace, we see here that he also does not give comfort the way the world gives comfort.

Because, here’s the thing: if I were in a situation like that of the disciples–scared and lonely and sad–I would want a Comforter to come with a good security system and a warm blanket and some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. My idea of comfort would be to make sure those doors were locked tight and then snuggle on the couch with my cookies and a good book.

But this is not the kind of comfort Jesus offers. Jesus prefaces the giving of the Spirit by saying, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

The Spirit is a source of comfort, yes. But not comfort for comfort’s sake; comfort as a source of empowerment. The Spirit will not keep the disciples protected inside their locked room, but will fling them out into the world. The Spirit does not give them warm cookies and a good book–it gives them a message to deliver to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it.

The Spirit is, indeed, Jesus’ continuing presence with the disciples–and it turns out that the Spirit can manage to get them in just as much trouble as the embodied Jesus did.

Perhaps you noticed something troubling about Jesus’ words: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Think about what happened when God sent Jesus. From a worldly, I’d-rather-not-die-an-excruciatingly-painful-public-death, perspective, the Father sending Jesus did not turn out so well. And, sure enough, most of the disciples will be executed by authorities when they go out into the world proclaiming the message Jesus gave them.

This is some kind of comfort–this odd, breathy presence of the absent Christ; this sending out into a hostile world.

The Spirit comforts us, yes. But that comfort’s purpose in to empower us to go; to be sent by God the way that Jesus was sent: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, release to the oppressed.

Just as Jesus breathed the Spirit onto his disciples behind those locked doors, Jesus offers the Spirit to us today. He offers it as a gift–as a way for us to know his presence even in the midst of his absence; a way for us to participate in God’s holy work of peace and love in the world. The Spirit may not be a calm and comfortable gift; but it is a comforting gift; an empowering gift; a beautiful, life-giving gift. And we are blessed if we receive it.

Amen.

This post is excerpted from a sermon. You can read the full sermon text here and listen to the podcast here.

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In Praise of Inefficiency: Thoughts on Pentecost

5791933614*Acts 2:1-21

If we back up to the first chapter of Acts, we hear Jesus’ instructions to the gathered believers: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Wait for the gift . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” What is all of this waiting for the Spirit about? Surely Jesus, God incarnate, could have empowered them right then to go forth and witness.

Sometimes in the mornings as the kids are getting ready for school I will see that one of them has put a waffle in the toaster oven and they are just standing there watching the thing toast. This drives me nuts. There are clothes to put on, lunches to make, backpacks to pack. “Don’t just sit there waiting for the waffle to toast. Do something while you wait!”

But Jesus says “wait.” His followers could have been preparing speeches or sending letters. But Jesus says wait. They could have been recruiting friends and family or designing a PR campaign. But Jesus says wait. They could have made some picket signs and headed over to the temple: “No more robbers in God’s house of prayer!” But Jesus says wait. They could have been out on the city streets tending to the sick, feeding the hungry. But Jesus says wait.

And so these believers wait for the Holy Spirit. There are about 120 believers. And they gather and they wait. Obviously, they did not have a strategic plan.

But sure enough, after about ten days of waiting . . . a waiting that involved prayer and preaching and singing . . . after about ten days of waiting the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon them.

They were all gathered together in one place, and suddenly there was a loud, violent noise, and those things that seemed to be tongues of fire came down on them. This is frightening and exciting. They now have the power. The power of the Holy Spirit for which they have been waiting.

Now each of the believers is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! . . .

Well, not quite. But, when they speak, those who are listening in the gathered crowd hear them in their own native tongues. And this really is quite impressive considering all of the different places these people are from.

The power of the Spirit is there, for sure. But again, this seems a highly inefficient use of Divine power.

Because really, if the disciples had just spoken Greek, everyone could have understood them. Greek was the lingua franca. Anyone in Jerusalem–residents and visitors alike–probably spoke it.

We pray each week for God to lead us not into temptation. And it seems that efficiency at any cost is one of the greatest temptations of our era.

I heard an interview on NPR a few years back. I don’t even remember which celebrity was being interviewed. I just remember him saying that he was so obsessed with efficiency that at one point he actually timed himself to see if it was faster to put on both socks and then both shoes, or to put the sock and shoe on one foot and then the other.

In the 1990′s, Russian orphanages were terribly efficient. Each nurse could care for 15-20 children. The children, of course, spent basically all of their time alone in a crib. Any family who has adopted a child from one of these orphanages could tell you about the troubling results of this efficient system.

We see, Paul says, as in a mirror darkly. But our God has a deep and abiding wisdom. A wisdom that often seems as foolishness to the world. A wisdom that often seems absurd and terribly inefficient.

It is precisely in the inefficiency of waiting that those first 120 believers become a community. It is in that inefficiency of waiting that they train their hearts towards God, thus preparing themselves to receive those things that seemed like tongues of fire–without getting burned.

And after that inefficient–after that ridiculously absurd–display of Holy Spirit power at Pentecost, about three thousand people are baptized and added to the number of believers.

As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us not into efficiency, but into faithfulness.

Thanks be to God.

(This post is excerpted from a sermon. The full text is here.)

Categories: Bible Study, Preaching | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Worship Pieces: Holy Spirit

photo

An icon depicting Pentecost–given to Peace Mennonite in memory of Cindy Wiens.

Call to Worship

Come, Holy Spirit,
The wind of God, the breath of Life.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Our Advocate, our Counselor.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Teacher of Wisdom, Reminder of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Granter of forgiveness, giver of peace.
Come, Holy Spirit.
May we feel God breathing through our worship.
May we receive the Holy Spirit in this place. Amen.

Offertory Prayer

Holy One, you have given yourself to us in Creator, in Christ, in the Spirit. We now give back to you:
this money that seems so little; this worship that seems so small; these words that never quite get it right.
Receive what we offer and transform it by the power of your Spirit into:
enough money, sufficient praise, worthy words
for proclaiming and enacting your peace, justice, and love in the world.

Link to Pentecost Call to Worship and Benediction.

A sermon on Pentecost and Baptism.

And another Pentecost sermon “In Praise of Inefficiency.”

Categories: Call to Worship, Offertory Prayer, Worship Pieces | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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