light

Outside the sanctuary a bitter wind was howling. On this first Sunday of the new year the intrepid gathered to celebrate the power of light to guide us to new life. It was Epiphany Sunday.

We heard the story of how it was three wise men followed the star.

Most enchantingly, we heard the scripture read by young people. Both the prophet Isaiah and the writer of Matthew’s gospel were given voice by children and youth who call our church home. Their moms and dads had cell phones at the handy to record their young wonders and every person in the place leaned in and leant their breath and energy in order that the story might be told. Through the hearts and sounds of our very own beloveds the story was told.

The woman who directs the Little Angels children’s choirs – preschoolers who sing open-hearted beauty – shared a solo. Witnessing her singers watch their teacher bear witness with shine and beauty broke my heart open with wonder.

What is this glory that we share? What is this light we seek to follow?

On a wretchedly cold Minnesota morning the light of Christ drew us near and we bowed and offered our gifts. We offered the gifts of our presence and our intentions and our longings and our shine and we were warmed in the doing of it.

And the winter did not overcome it.

this year

I am United Methodist by choice. I wasn’t born into the tribe called Methodist. I found my way into the denomination through a church that lived piety and practice. It got my attention.

First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh took my family in when we were far from home with two young children. They helped me learn a living faith.

It wasn’t because their choir was the best or their preacher the most eloquent. They taught me incarnational church because in a time when AIDS was becoming scourge they were willing to stand in solidarity with those physically and spiritually devastated by loss upon loss. The church was unwilling to practice willful disregard.

I want to unpack that. By “willful disregard” I mean churches who see pain or disruption of creation around them and do nothing to reach into that pain with compassion and care; even the elemental care of naming and noticing.

I became a United Methodist because I saw what church can be and always I long for institutional United Methodism to recall its roots and grounding. The Wesleys taught, among other things, that faith is a practice meant to be lived and willful disregard is not the way of the gospel and not the way of the people called Methodist.

This year I want the church be a place where we will name the ache of racism and generational poverty grounded in racism. I’m praying for a movement that names the despoiling of creation and the devastation that results from the pillage of the sacred in the bodies of women and children and men and the earth. I’m desirous of leaders who choose to use their gifts to work with their faith kin to build low income housing and feed hungry children and provide access to education.

I can’t give much more energy to the soul-sucking debate over full inclusion of GLBT folk. Really, Jesus and the grace offered through him are sullied by the pitched slug-fest over a paltry number of lines in scripture. To squander the gift of the gospel through the barricading of grace is willful disregard.

I want to lead a discipling center where people know that we are not there to play church.

Rather, we are mindfully grounded in the teachings and practices and wonderings of faith and because we trust the invitation of our God and our own foibled and hopeful selves, indeed all things are possible.

All things.

All things.

good news

 

The United Methodist Church is in the news these days.

We are not in the news for the ways we reach into places where typhoons decimate and poverty gnarls, though we could be.

We are not in the news for the ways we have fought for justice through a conviction that we are called to “be in ministry for and with all persons” (Para. 161F, Book of Discipline),  though we long to be.

Instead we are in the news for the ways our church polity trumps gospel imperative.

At Richfield United Methodist Church we have sought to listen deeply to the heart of the Holy.  In our discernment we have turned to scripture, tradition, reason and experience to lead us to the recognition that we cannot collude with the barricading of grace.  We desire to welcome all families into a transformational relationship with Jesus the Christ.  We want to provide a church community through which people are held and known as they move ever deeper into communion with a God who welcomes and sustains love in all its manifestations.

Jesus welcomed all to the table of grace.  We believe we are called to do the same; in fact, we feel powerfully blessed to be able to do the same.

Our conversations, prayers and deep listening prompted us to adopt the statement shared below*.

We pray that through this United Methodist Church the wildly inclusive love of God in Christ will be proclaimed, lived, shared and celebrated by all.

We would like for that to be good news of great joy.

How else would we live the gospel of Jesus?

RICHFIELD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Commitment to Marriage Equality

As a church in the Methodist tradition since 1854, Richfield United Methodist Church’s ministries are grounded in Jesus’ call to love both God and neighbor. We acknowledge that we have often failed to extend the radical hospitality that God asks of us, even as we continually strive to do so.

In 2007—seeking to open our hearts, minds, and doors—we publicly welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families into full participation in the life and ministries of the congregation, and we continue to do so today.

We recognize that when two people come together to form a primary committed relationship, they often ask the church to bless their wedding. With due consideration, the church responds by celebrating, in the presence of their families and friends, the work of God’s Spirit in their lives.

We lament that in our time, so many courts, legislatures, and religious institutions still deny same-gender and transgender couples equal access to marriage and all the blessings, rights, and responsibilities thereof.

We rejoice that at this point in history, the arc of justice now bends toward equal recognition of marriage for all couples.

Today we affirm that God’s grace is open to all, and we witness to that grace through our commitment to justice and equality in our congregation, the state of Minnesota, the United Methodist Church, and the world. We will honor and celebrate the wedding of any couple, licensed in Minnesota, who seek to commit their lives to one another in marriage.

Approved by the Administrative Board of Richfield UMC

Signed on September 17, 2013 by

Sue Restemayer, Ad Board Chair, Nick Dewey, Trustees Chair, David Couillard, Lay Leader, and Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay, Pastor

*We are grateful for the work of Dumbarton UMC.  Our statement is patterned after theirs.

invisible

“When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game done with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul – and not just individual strength but collective understanding – to resist this void…and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard. Adrienne Rich

I have been blessed with powerful teachers in my life. One is a seminary professor who has written extensively and agitated consistently about the issue of language, particularly language used for the Holy. She is a part of the church community I serve. Amazing grace, that.

Her wisdom is with me as I write worship week after week because I know so very well the psychic disequilibrium that has been perpetrated against women through the ways we name God as male male male. The United Methodist hymnal – all three iterations currently in use – has perhaps a handful of hymns that name the sacred using feminine imagery or pronouns. This from a denomination that proclaims a desire to welcome all into transformational relationship with the Holy.

Parker Palmer maintains that “the soul is shy. It won’t show up unless it feels safe.” How can soul show up in a culture that asks it to participate in “a game done with mirrors”?

Every week this tension of finding hymnody capable of inviting embodied praise. Every week the realization that the soul crush of non inclusion is perpetrated in uncounted sanctuaries.

According to Adrienne Rich, it takes individual strength and communal understanding. As community, will we welcome those who stand up and demand to be heard? Can we unpack the depth of woman-demean that provokes disgust at the very notion of feminine divine?

I’m tired of psychic disequilibrium. I’m tired of trying to choose the least offensive hymns when song is meant to sing – not silence – the soul.

Words matter. Mirrors contort.

This is no game.

don’t know

I don’t know much about a lot of things.

I don’t know how it is governments can poison their own people (or any people).

I don’t know how it is children are victims of gunshot wounds at the hands of those who are barely out of childhood themselves who are armed with metal death.

I don’t know how as the planet continues to wobble in ways more and more dramatic there is a continued unwillingness to claim culpability for global warming.

I don’t know how it became politically incorrect to share sorrows and questions.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is Holy Heart beating in the midst of the pain.

I do know that when people come together to remember who they are the world breathes hope.

I do know that what I can do is “love from the center of who I am” (Eugene Peterson’s voicing of Paul, Romans 12) and trust that in so doing I am naming and claiming the source of life.

I do know that in our flailings we are not alone. We can chose love and resistance to thuggery and we can use the wonderings of our heart to get us out in the world in order that grace might be communal heart beat.

Is there any other way?

What would we live that does not have hope in it?

I don’t know.

This past week Minnesota United Methodists gathered for our Annual Conference. It is a reunion and a marathon of meetings and always Annual Conference stokes my desire for fruitful ministry to a fever pitch. I serve a church pregnant with possibility and sometimes being patient is teeth gnash.

This year’s conference, like those preceding it, was marked by a speaking of how it is the larger church is so very wounded.

There are some eighty clergy in the conference (myself included), and over 1,000 across the United States who have signed a document stating that we will joyfully offer services of marriage to same sex couples. In Minnesota, it is now legal! And, this offering of grace routine to heterosexual couples is against the polity of our church. Persons violating said polity can be disciplined for facilitating the speaking of love and covenant.

I feel such grief. I feel grief for the judicatories in our system who are tasked with upholding policies they may not agree with. We are compatriots in the preaching of the good news of the nothing-can-seperate-us-from-the love of God in Christ Jesus. And, there may soon come a day when polity trumps grace and preachers are exiled by their kin in Christ. Surely God weeps.

I feel such grief because the expanse of grace opened to us by Jesus seems so jealously guarded by fear and surely, God weeps.

I feel such grief because this mother is watching her children and their compatriots turn from the Body of Christ known as the United Methodist movement. They cannot understand a denomination that barricades from some the very grace said to be offered to all.

I feel such grief because there is so much work calling to the people of Jesus: poverty and racism and ecological devastation and the people of Jesus are called to respond and heal and bless and while we natter on about who it is who ought be united in marriage by our pastors, the world continues to be wounded and about this I know God weeps.

I’m a United Methodist pastor. While my church is pregnant with possibility it so very challenged by its being as a United Methodist Church. We are a people meant to welcome Spirit breath and life transformation. We want to live in the way of Jesus.

May the God who weeps hold us in this time.

wow

Yesterday the Governor of Minnesota signed into law a bill making it legal for same-sex couples to celebrate their love through marriage.

The signing of the bill represents the heart longing of legions through decades of cloaked love and hurtful distancing of same-gender loving people from full participation in communal grace.

I am still not able to name my joy around this wild and wonderful thing that happened in Minnesota; it is too big, too long in coming, too beautiful to speak.

I’m a preacher. I shared the sermon below on the Sunday between the House and Senate votes. It is no small thing to lay the power of the gospel over the raw hopes of those longing for justice.

It is a good church I serve.

Ascension of Jesus
Luke 24: 44 – 53
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23
Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay
May 12, 2013

There are emotional strands aplenty to name on this Sunday. I will name three.

First, It is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a jumbly sort of holiday, dense in so many emotions.

The early intent of Mother’s Day is that it be a day set apart to honor mothers.

And, it grew to be a day on which mothers, tired of sending their children to die in war joined together to organize a witness for peace. Sprung from the heart of a belief that God’s vision is that swords would be made into plowshares and that war, and the mangling of children it brings with it, would be no more.

We don’t hear so much about that facet of Mother’s Day. Instead, Mother’s Day has been domesticated and Hallmarked into sweetness and that which can be marketed and consumed.

The second strand present this morning is that this Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday is a day when followers of Jesus mark the forevermore movement of God in this world:

We remember the ongoing movement that is Jesus: the heart of God became Flesh through the body of a young mother – Mary, by name. When Mary found she was to bear the holy one, she sang a song of revolution: a song that spoke of how it is God’s vision for the world means that those who have power at the expense of the poor will have it no more.

In Mary’s song, she speaks of the brining down of the powerful from their thrones and the lifting up of the lowly.

Jesus, Mary’s son, nurtured by that justice song, grew and taught and sought out the marginalized and said “come in. God is especially excited to name YOU as beloved and welcome.”

Jesus, whose message of love got him killed. Jesus, who could not be silenced. The love of God in Christ bursts any bond – even death. Jesus rose and appeared to his disciples and reminded them that his teachings were ALL about taking up and sharing and living his teachings: together they were called to building an ongoing movement for justice and communal grace.

Jesus taught his disciples that discipleship must be shared and when he knew he was to complete his time on earth he took the opportunity to open the minds of his followers in order that they understand that God’s heart desires this:

that they – that God’s people throughout time – would give to the Holy our brokenness – our fears, our addictions, our inability to see the pain of others, our unwillingness to welcome all to fullness of life. Jesus taught that we are to open to our God those places that cause us so much pain.

We are to name those places – some call those places “sin” – and ask God to help us with them in order that we might move into the expanse of wholeness and grace God longs for us to live – what we in the church call “forgiveness”.

On Ascension Day, Jesus calls his disciples to witness to that kind of revolutionary love – a love in which the poor are fed and the vulnerable tended and the wounded made whole.

Jesus calls his disciples to organize a witness of justice and love lived by all of God’s people.

But like the original intent for Mother’s Day, the world often doesn’t much associate Ascension Sunday (or Christianity writ large, for that matter) with witnessing for peace and grace because Christianity, like Mother’s Day, has all too often been Hallmarked into sweetness and that which can be marketed and consumed.

Heaven knows I savor the sweetness of honoring the many women who have stood as mother to me – including my own mom. And I love the ways my kids mark this day with me.

And, Mother’s Day is made even more meaningful to me when I remember the heart-wail that led to a movement of women using Mother’s Day to demand peace.

And, heaven knows I savor the sweetness of sharing Sunday worship and life with beloved community.

And, being a Christian is even more meaningful to me when I remember the Holy heart-wail that led the Word to become Flesh and dwell among us in order that we might live peace, one with the other.

There is a third emotional strand that needs to be named on this day. On Thursday of this last week, Minnesota lived communally caught breath.

The House of Representatives voted on whether all couples – same sex or heterosexual couples – be accorded equal rights through legal marriage.

The result of the vote was that the House passed the bill and it will go to the Senate on Monday where it is assumed it will be passed and then it will be sent to the governor to sign into law – something he has already said he will do.

The vote taken Thursday raised the roof of the state capitol and that vote has the state resonating yet.

A number of the Representatives named their faith as a reason for voting against the measure. Their understanding of scripture holds that God’s word is static and must be interpreted literally and immovably throughout time.

And, a number of Representatives named their faith as a reason for voting for the measure. One quoted the prophet Micah about God’s most passionate requirement being that we would do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Their understanding of God’s vision as voiced in scripture is that God’s word is alive and especially directed to the plight of those marginalized and oppressed.

They see the denial of marriage to same-sex couples as the sort of oppression their faith calls them to challenge and work to overturn.

In today’s scripture, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be witnesses to the vision of God.

Paul tells the church in Ephesus that they are called to “open the eyes of their hearts” in order to know the powerful working of God in their lives.

In today’s world, we are called at just such a time as this to consider what it is we witness to with our words. our lives, our actions.

What does it matter?

I have heard horrible things said in the past week. People naming their faith on both sides of the issue have bashed each other with hate speak.

We all have endured this toxic wash. But for some, the collateral damage is heart-wail.

I share with you the the words of a past parishioner, a man who anchored the church band with his amazing talent. A man whose heart speaks in this way, after encountering yet more hate speak shared this past week in the name of Christ Jesus:

IN MY 50 YEARS, EVERY DAY I HAVE ENDURED INTOLERANCE PURELY DUE TO ONE ELEMENT OF MY BEING… of being gay.

I am a spiritual being… do not think that violating my spirit is ordained by God. Nor is the silence of our family, friends, and colleagues. Silence is a passive embracing of every day attacks on my spiritual being.

For my hundreds of friends and family… take a stand. Speak up… and don’t tolerate spiritual attacks in your name. None of us owns the market on faith, love, prayer, or belief in Christ. As Christians, and as my loved ones… take a stand. Will you continue your silence because you think it keeps ‘peace in the family’? Is that justice?

For those of you who have spoken up, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those of you who will publicly speak up for the first time, there is not better time to do so than now. For those of you who continue to speak against my being, or equally so through silence, know that it hurts every time it’s done.

Take a stand. Speak up.
Timothy M Robinson, Christian

As Jesus was ascending into heaven he reminded his disciples:

You are witnesses to the healing power of God.

Share that good news.

Know that the movement of Jesus is not Hallmarky sweetness:

The movement of Jesus is:

working for justice.

It is organizing for peace.

It is speaking out.

It is choosing love.

It is using the power God gives us each to witness to the movement of Christ Jesus; among us yet.

Amen