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At The Intersection of Belfast and Saint Louis Park, Part 1

As is the case with all posts on this blog, the following is the opinion of Rev. Andrew Meyers and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members of Laurel Presbyterian Church, its session, or the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6

On May 10 at Peace Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted in favor of Amendment 10-A of the Book of Order. As of Tuesday, a majority of presbyteries across the country have voted to ratify this amendment to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Amendment 10-A replaces the current language of the Book of Order used to bar active gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from being ordained as deacons, elders, or Ministers of Word and Sacrament. As of July 2011, the language found in G-6.0106(b) will state:

“Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

While there is much discussion of what this wording actually implies, one thing is clear: a presbytery can no longer categorically deny ordination to actively gay persons. For some this is a momentous victory – for them justice has finally begun for our brothers and sisters in Christ who hear the call of God to ordained ministry and yet also are gay. For others this is a crushing defeat – for them the church has capitulated to cultural norms instead of standing firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ who calls all to new life in him. For Presbyterians on both sides, the past three decades have been a civil war in which for them the very Gospel was at stake.

While a student in January of 2002 I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland with a group of my seminary colleagues. We went to witness firsthand efforts to bring peace to a region dominated for decades by violence ostensibly between Protestant and Catholic Christians. (The conflict in Northern Ireland is more about identity as Irish or British rather than religion, but religion has played a tremendous role in the conflict.)

I came away from our travels to this beautiful country with two main thoughts. First, war affects everyone including the innocent. Children in Northern Ireland were brought up during “The Troubles” to identify other children as us or them. Protestants and Catholics were highly segregated into neighborhoods which reinforced loyalties and perpetuated myths for us and against them. Even those who never even considered violence against the other lived in a world constantly divided between Protestant and Catholic.

Then there were those who lost loved ones in the war, those whose grief and need for revenge was palpable. And it seemed everyone knew someone who had died in the Troubles. Everyone was affected, and everyone was put on a side whether they wanted to be or not.

Second, I learned that extricating one’s self from a war requires long, hard work. It took the two most radical parties in Northern Ireland being voted into power for the region to have a semi-stable government. I remember watching a speech by Martin McGuiness on the floor of the Northern Irish Parliament at Stormont. McGuiness, leader of the Sinn Fein party, collaborated with the IRA. At that time he was Minister for Education. I can’t help but wondering how a Protestant mother or father felt sending their children to schools run by a former member of the IRA.

While violence in the region is down, tensions still run high even now. There is a constant threat of a flaring up of violence, and the need for peacemaking is still great. Relationships must be built without reference to sect.

The PC(USA) as a denomination has been at war over GLBT folk for over 30 years now, and the war has taken its toll. Candidates who were not able to be ordained because of sexual orientation have left for other denominations such as the United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Churches. Congregations incensed that the denomination would even consider ordained gay clergy and elders have left for other denominations such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church of America. The constant debate has sapped energy, intelligence, imagination, and love from local leaders which could have instead been focused on ministry and evangelism to the poor, to the hungry, to students, to young families, to the middle aged, to the elderly.

Everyone, even the innocent or the apathetic, has been affected. Everyone has chosen a side or has been placed in one. There are those who have lost loved ones in the fight, and they grieve and maybe even want revenge. There are those who have been brought up to determine if their brothers and sisters are either us or them. We have been factionalized as a denomination, and the factions run deep. Even if we call this vote on 10-A an end to the war or just another battle in it, we still live in a denomination divided.

To extricate ourselves from this war will take a long time, require hard work, and depend on an abundance of Christ-given grace. We will need to take seriously our call to be in real relationship with God, with the Scriptures, and with each other. We will need to learn how to stop viewing each other through the lens of “Biblical or inclusive,” “conservative or liberal,” “us or them.” We will need to resist the temptation to rejoice in victory over our brothers and sisters. We will also need to resist the temptation to give up on relationship saying, “Relationship cannot be salvaged,” or, “I cannot be relationship with an apostate.”

We need to come together in the healing arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have proven time and time again through vote after vote that we are not capable of reconciling ourselves to one another. Only God can heal us and make us whole. Only Christ could possibly accomplish the massive transformation of our life together that must take place. Only the Holy Spirit can provide us with the daily opportunities to relearn how to live as the church – the body of Christ in the world.

As a new era begins in the PC(USA) I am left only to say again that which I say every Sunday, the blessing Paul gave to the Corinthians so long ago which we need to hear again and again: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever. Grace. Love. Communion. We certainly need it.

(For more information, including a letter form the leadership of the PC(USA), visit the PC(USA) website.)

Part 2 of this post can now be found here.

Holy Week Reflection – Maundy Thursday

Jesus knew it was coming. Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed, knew he was going to die. It had all started earlier in the week, when he went into Jerusalem on that donkey, with people proclaiming him king. That got everybody riled up, including Pilate and the Temple leaders. With Rome and the Temple establishment on his tail, it wasn’t going to take long. Jesus knew it was coming.

And Jesus knew how these events tended to come out, someone in his group was going to tell them where he was and when he would be alone. That would be the time to arrest him and not have the possibility of a revolt. Jesus knew that was coming too.

Instead of turning paranoid and going into a hiding place that no one knew, the gospel writer tells us, “He loved them to the end.” Jesus shared his life with others, knowing full well that someone would take his life and turn it over to his enemies. He ate with his disciples that night of Passover, knowing that he would face the fate of the firstborn of Egypt rather than the miracle of salvation, liberation, and independence.

Jesus sat at the table, and he ate of the lamb reminding them all of that fateful night when God moved. He shared with them bitter herbs to remind them of the slavery in Egypt. He dipped parsley in salt water as a remembrance of the tears shed under oppression. He ate haroset, a mixture of nuts, apple, cinnamon and wine designed to look like straw to remember the treasure houses of Pharaoh and the hope of freedom from slavery. And he ate unleavened bread with his disciples as a remembrance of the haste in which Israel left Egypt.

Before that Jesus did something extraordinary. He took the position of a servant and washed the disciple’s feet. We hear in tonight’s reading that when Jesus got to Peter, Peter refused to have his feet washed. Peter couldn’t understand how Jesus could be his servant, when Peter spent his life following Jesus. But what goes unmentioned – and that gets me all the more – is that in the middle of all this was Judas Isacariot, who John tells us had already decided to betray Jesus. Jesus washed Judas’ feet. And John tells us that Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. Yet Jesus washed Judas’ feet anyway. And I don’t understand how Jesus could be Judas’ servant, not when Judas is going to turn on him.

And after the supper was over, Jesus passed around the bread and the cup, and told his disciples that this was his body and blood. “Do this in remembrance of me.” And Judas ate the bread. Judas drank from the cup. The one who was going to lead others to kill him received Jesus’ instructions about washing others’ feet and remembering him through breaking bread and drinking of the cup.

Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And we come to the table as disciples, following Jesus through Holy Week. But we have been reminded that we come to the table not as perfect disciples, but as those who betray Jesus each day to the powers of this world. Because if we were there that night we would have seen not just Judas, who betrayed the Savior of the World, but Simon Peter who denied him and ten others who fled in fear of their lives daring not to show their faces. None of the people in the room that night could say that they didn’t betray Jesus in some form during the next 24 hours.

In Communion, we give thanks that Jesus invited us to the table. None of us is worthy of it. None of us deserves it. But in the mystery of divine grace we are invited anyway. Take the bread, drink from the cup, and do it in remembrance of the one who died and rose for us, the ones who betray him so often.

Gathering Our Pitchforks

Holy Week is a journey for all of us. We follow Jesus and the disciples into Jerusalem, to the upper room to celebrate the Passover, to Golgotha and the cross, and finally to the empty tomb.

In the midst of this journey at the end of Lent we are called once again to examine ourselves, to see ourselves for who we truly are. So often this is not a pretty picture. We are good at lying to ourselves, telling ourselves that everything is all right – that we’re just fine thank you very much – when in fact we’re not even close to fine. Sure we celebrate Palm Sunday waving greenery and singing together, “Hosanna in the highest!” But more often than not by the time we arrive home from worship we’ve turned our thought away from Jesus and on to other things, things we believe are more important.

On Palm Sunday I noted that the same people who celebrated Jesus on Sunday had gathered their torches and pitchforks like the village mob to execute him on Friday. Jesus didn’t conform to their idea of a Savior. He didn’t come in with guns blazing or massive armies to rid Jerusalem and Israel of Roman occupation. He didn’t come to set up the theocracy instituted under King David so many years ago. He didn’t come preaching of revenge or guerrilla insurrection, nor even about security.

Instead Jesus talked about lifting up the least and the vulnerable in society. He spoke words of comfort and healing to those who suffered, and spoke of justice to those in power. He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. He called the meek and poor, “blessed.” He wasn’t what the crowd, or we, think of when we think of a savior.

So by Friday when Pilate wondered aloud whether to pardon Jesus the peacemaker or Barabbas the insurrectionist they called for Barabbas. And so do we. We see the choice between peacemaking and armed security and we choose security. We see the choice between loving our enemies and hating them and we choose hate. We see the choice between caring for the poor and ignoring them and we choose to ignore. We choose Barabbas.

Holy Week reminds us of the times we gather our pitchforks and cry out for Barabbas and hand Jesus over to be crucified. It is also to remind us that by God’s grace the tomb is empty. By God’s grace our choices do not lead to our condemnation. By God’s grace we are welcomed to a new way of living and being, a way with the resurrected Christ – Jesus of Nazareth – at the center.

Holy Week – An Explanation

As we come from the preparatory season of Lent into the celebratory season of Easter, we go through Holy Week. Holy Week commemorates the final days of Jesus’ life and his final journey into Jerusalem. It begins with Palm Sunday, a day of celebration with undertones of the crisis and violence to come. According to the Bible, as Jesus entered Jerusalem a crowd gathered laying their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches. On the other side of Jerusalem, the Roman governor Pilate would be entering to his own parade. Palm Sunday sets the scene – Jesus took on the Roman authorities, claiming to have more power than even Caesar himself.

On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the Passover with Jesus, and the institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion (also known as The Last Supper or the Eucharist.) Christians do not celebrate the Passover described in the book of Exodus, but Maundy Thursday would not exist without it. Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room of house to celebrate this Jewish holiday.

When we celebrate the Last Supper, we commune with Christ. We also remember how Jesus took bread and broke it, saying, “This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” The bread broke would have been unleavened bread, in remembrance of Israel leaving Egypt so quickly they could not add leavening.

Jesus took a cup of wine and pass it to the people assembled, saying, “This is the new covenant, shed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins. Take, drink, and do this in remembrance of me.” The cup passed would have been the cup of Elijah, the most major prophet of Israel’s history. Jesus intentionally claims to be both the incarnation of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfills God’s plan first made known to Abraham all the way back in Genesis.

On Good Friday that plan goes into another act, this one a political and religious drama which culminates on the cross. Jesus is taken before both the religious authorities and the Roman occupational authorities. He is mocked, beaten, and forced to carry his own cross up Golgotha. There he was crucified. To the Roman government, crucifixion was meant to show the world how powerful the empire was. To Christians, the crucifixion reminds us of our sin and of the willingness of God to forgive. The cross reminds us also that death is not final, and that Good Friday is merely a way station on the road to the final act.

This final act is Easter Sunday. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead and this day we celebrate the resurrecting power of God that made Jesus come alive again. Easter celebrates that death is not final – that the light of God always pierces the darkness of sin and death. Easter is a celebration of hope: hope in God’s Son, hope in the resurrection, hope for the world in which we live.

Join in celebrating Holy Week this year from April 17 through the 24. Palm Sunday worship begins at 10 am on April 17. Maundy Thursday worship begins at 7 pm on April 21 and includes a cantata sung by our wonderful choir. Easter Sunday brings two opportunities to worship, including a sunrise service at 7 am held at Westhunt Baptist Church and our regular 10 am worship. Come and worship the Risen Lord this Easter season!

 

Keep Your Eyes on the King

One of the most well known card tricks ever played is the Three Card Monty. A mark who doesn’t know what’s going on comes up to the dealer. Three cards are laid down on the table, one of which is a Queen of Hearts. The mark is shown the Queen of Hearts, and then all three cards are turned face down and the dealer starts exchanging the cards one for another, back and forth, all the while chanting to the mark to “keep your eye on the Queen.” Eventually the shuffling stops and the three cards are lined up. The mark is asked to choose a card. Inevitably the mark is wrong no matter how much they kept their eyes open, because the whole thing is an illusion. The dealer has hidden the Queen up his sleeve; the mark is intently watching a bunch of superfluous cards.

Jesus once saw the eyes of many trained on the superfluous. He was in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Sukkot (or Booths or Tabernacles), a celebration of abundant harvest given by God. In the midst of the feast Jesus is teaching in the temple courts and doing quite well – he is the Son of God after all, he knows more than a little about Judaism! Yet as some in the crowd begin to wonder out loud if Jesus is indeed the Christ and others wonder why the authorities who want to kill him are dithering on the sidelines, a new trick emerges. “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”

They’ve taken their eyes off of what is important – is Jesus the Messiah or not? – and begun staring at where he is from on the map. Now at first this seems important: ancient prophesies had dictated that the Anointed One of God would hail from the City of David (aka Bethlehem). But in the midst of overwhelming revelation such as signs, wonders, miracles, teaching, is geography really that important? I would say, “No.” Although Luke’s gospel goes to great lengths to tell us Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.

In Lent, we are challenged to discern what is important. We are called to keep our eyes on the King, to search intently for God’s kingdom and pray for its coming, and to know when we are being given an illusion. So often we lose the forest of the Gospel for the trees of the Law, and Lent challenges us to step back for just a moment an reorient ourselves towards God’s kingdom.

An Invitation to Lent

Shannon and I were watching television while feeding Jamie the other night and we saw an advertisement for fish sandwiches at a fast food joint. I immediately picked up on the theme, turning to Shannon and saying, “You know Lent must be coming when the fish sandwich ads appear on television.”

Many who grew up either in Roman Catholic families or who had friends who were Roman Catholic may remember that during the Spring before Easter fish was traditionally eaten on Fridays. Other than that, however, Lent remains a mystery to many of us.

Lent is a period of preparation for Easter. Lent was observed in the early church as a time when people who were ready to join the church (known as catechumens) received their training. Catechumens would join the church on Easter Sunday, almost always through the sacrament of Baptism and the public profession of their faith.

Within the first four hundred years of Christianity, Lent had become a forty day period for all Christians to consider their own lives, to learn more about the faith, and to through fasting to spiritually connect with Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. (See Matthew 3:13-4:11.)

The season itself begins on Ash Wednesday (March 9 this year) and continues through the Saturday before Easter (April 23). In some circles, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. Sundays are excluded in Lent because they are a day to celebrate the Resurrection.

Lent is a season of self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. During Lent we traditionally fast (give up certain foods or possibly all foods), rededicate ourselves to the disciplines of prayer and studying Scripture, make a concerted effort to give to the poor, make changes to lead a simpler life, or a combination of these things. In our time where life moves so quickly, Lent invites us to slow down and reflect on who we are, what we have become, and most importantly who Christ is calling to be.

So come and try Lent for a season, or continue to observe Lent if you have done so in the past. Come and dedicate yourself to God, preparing for the wonderful day when we hear that Christ is Risen. Take time to think, to pray, to study, to reflect. Slow down, and wonder at the love of God to come to us, die for us, and rise for us so that we might have life in Christ.

Come and observe a Holy Lent.

(An Ash Wednesday Service is planned for March 9 at 7 pm in the Sanctuary.)

Prepare By Waiting

Maybe you remember the first time you cooked a full turkey. Maybe it was for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I remember the smells of the bird cooking in the oven as I waited for Thanksgiving dinner to arrive on the table. Those are smells that remind me of holidays in my family, and I suspect in many of yours as well.

A friend of mine who will never be confused with a chef tried cooking his first turkey a few years ago. Maybe the oven temperature was too high, or it was cooked too long, but the smells coming out of his kitchen did not remind me wonderful holidays, but mostly of fire drills at school. Smoke was everywhere, turkey was blackened – and not in the Cajun sense of the word. I wondered aloud what had happened. He told me that he was trying to overcome the fact that he hadn’t had time to defrost the turkey properly, and upped the oven temp 50 degrees and cooked it longer, thus the smoked and charred bird for Thanksgiving. All I can say is I was glad I had other family to visit that holiday, or I might have gotten very hungry.

Just as you need time to defrost the turkey before you cook it, we need time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s coming. “I know that,” you may be thinking, “I need time to get and wrap presents, put up a tree, hang lights, write Christmas cards, and do all that other stuff.” But to defrost a turkey, what do you have to do? You have to take it out of the freezer, put it in the refrigerator, and then let it sit there for days on end.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was going to have God’s son Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

During Advent we have a chance to say to God, “Here am I. I am here, I am ready, I am waiting for your command, Lord. I want to live out your will. Help me to see what that is for me.” This requires waiting and listening more than doing or running. In this process of waiting, we also say as Mary did, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Let it be. We are called to let God be in our lives and to recognize that all the running around we do cannot bring us closer to God, but only farther away.

Prepare, wait, listen, and be. Let God be the source of light in your life. My prayer is that even in the midst of busy Advent season here at church we slow down and let ourselves get ready for Christ’s coming. And then on Christmas day we can rejoice fully in the good news God has for us.