Posts Tagged ‘United Methodist Church’

Presence; Out Here

October 15, 2019

Will you support the church with your prayers, your presence, your service, and your gifts? Last week we talked about what it means to support the church with your prayers, what is prayer, how does it work, how do we practice? Today… What does it mean to support the church with your presence? What does it mean for the church to be a presence? And in particular in the context of today, joining the other Reconciling UMC’s of Omaha… what does it mean to be a presence on this National Coming Out Sunday in support of our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings?

I want to begin by touching on what are considered the primary biblical passages many that are not supportive of our LGBTQIA+ siblings use in defense of their position as people of faith. They are often referred to as the six clobber versus, or passages.

First – Using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality in any form. Let me just say this is unequivocally not true. This is the story of angelic beings visiting Lot and the men of the city showing up on Lot’s doorstep demanding lot send the men out so they might “know” them, “know” in the biblical sense of sexual relations.  This is not homosexuality; this is a demand of gang rape. Not only that, it gets worse when Lot offers his daughter instead of his guests, of course that is not mentioned when this story is used to condemn homosexuality. The clearest definition of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in the bible comes from Ezekiel 16:49 – “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about same gender relations.

Second – Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 – these are found in the Levitical Law… the purity laws, these prohibitions citing male same gender relations are contextually about a warning against practicing in the temple prostitution that was common in the culture that surrounded the Hebrews and as a result would make one ritually unclean… thus the context within the purity laws…also within this context in the early tribal nature of the Hebrew people, sexual acts were understood to preserve the tribe so if it did not produce children it was seen as unacceptable. These passages do not address same gender relations as we understand them today, in the sense of loving, relationships grounded in the science of orientation, they simply do not apply.

Third and Fourth – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:1-10 – These passages deal with the practice of pederasty… the practice of an older male and a younger male. Pederasty…where we get the word pedophile. These relationships were often non-consensual in which a younger male was purchased as a slave… perhaps not unlike sex trafficking today, this and temple prostitution and a promiscuous lifestyle. These verses are about particular practices of the day which would be considered unhealthy and inappropriate relationships regardless of orientation. Thus, once again, these passages do not address same gender relations in terms of what we know about the science of orientation or loving, monogamous, long term relationships today.

Fifth – Jude 6-7 – These two chapters cite Sodom and Gomorrah as the resource, which we have already spoken of as well as temple prostitution. For the same reasoning as already discussed… these passages are not dealing with same gender relations as we understand them today.

Sixth – Romans 1:25-27 – Likewise, these verses in the Letter to the Romans are dealing with temple and cult prostitution. Paul is addressing a particular practice common in his day and time and in Rome that would be seen as wrong regardless of orientation.

Suffice to say, as one of my favorite Bible professors at seminary says, “In terms of biblical condemnation of same gender relations, and in particular loving, equal, relationships based on orientation and the science of orientation we know in the 21st century… It Is Not in There. Period.”

Growing up in the church, I do not ever remember my dad preaching on these passages or on same gender relations… He would have been in his prime, preaching-wise, in the early to mid-seventies… when the UMC added the discriminatory language to our discipline. I would like to think it was because he knew we were called to love and support all God’s children… I don’t know though, I never had that conversation with him. I wish now I had been able to be better present to him so I could know where he was.

What does it mean then… to support the church, to be the church with our presence? I think about my dear friend when I was in junior high. He and I had become fast friends, best of friends. I was at his house as much or more than I was at my own. So much so, I called his mom… “Mom” she called me one of her other sons. We were constantly together. As we both moved into high school… he began to push me away, we hung out less, he was always busy doing something else, we grew apart… I didn’t know why… at that age I am not sure I could have understood. I moved away.

Years later I ran into him at a mall in Wichita. We visited for a bit, I asked if he ever got back to our home town. He replied, “No, there is nothing there for me.” I remember the comment seemed strange and alien to me but I didn’t say anything.

After I was in the ministry I reconnected with him. We were eating lunch together at Carlos O’Kelley’s when he looked across the table at me and said, “Kent, I am gay you know.” I replied something to the effect of, “Yeah, I think I had figured that out. I’m straight you know.” We both laughed. We had numerous years of reestablishing our relationship and friendship. He died some 10 or so years later… I had the honor and privilege of officiating at this service.

I think of him often and wonder if I could have handled, understood when we were young about how to be present to him in those years. I have thought of all the youth I have worked with in youth groups at churches I have served, or at church camp, those who I know have come out and those I still wonder about… and how I might have been better present for them in their young years. How the churches I have served might have been better present for them when they were young. How much better it would have been to be able to celebrate them then, rather than they feel the need to hide.

It is why I have invited Terry to share with us this morning part of her story… so I…so we all… might have a better understanding about the stories we may resonate with… or the stories we may need to hear in order to better support by being more present as individuals and a church.

Terri – Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into things, and then can’t seem to find my way out. But here I am and here’s my story, it might be different but I think they all are. I didn’t have good experiences with males from the time I was a child into my adulthood. I didn’t think that made me gay though. I really didn’t know what that was about because I was Catholic and, I mean, Catholics aren’t gay.

I remember in high school someone saying something about, I went to an all girl high school, saying someone was gay and I didn’t really know, I guess I know but I really didn’t understand. It wasn’t until in my thirties that I met a woman and we fell in love. I realized, that’s what it’s like; falling in love. It’s all about love. That was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. But, it didn’t last and so I backpedaled and said I must be bi because I surely can’t be gay.

Then I met this man and he had two kids he was raising and I had a daughter I was raising and she had never had a father because he had opted out, and their mother had left them. So, I saw that this perfect family could be formed and they could have a mother, and she could have a father, and then there would be us. I liked him, but I didn’t love him. With my luck he turned out to be one of those Jekyll Hyde characters and had only one thing on his mind, and I was to serve him in any way he wanted.

So, the marriage didn’t go well, and he encouraged me to seek out women for his pleasure. When that didn’t happen, he found one and began having an affair. I had a history of mental illness and he decided to divorce me, which on one hand was fine, on the other hand I would be alone. I then came out, not by choice, but when he told his kids and my daughter that I was gay. My daughter was sixteen and she moved out, and they moved out, and I tried to kill myself because I thought I lost everything.

It took a long time, my grandma, I didn’t have to come out to my parents because the died when I was in my twenties, but my grandma, she was all knowing, much like God, she said she knew I was gay, and I said, “Why didn’t you let me know?” She just always knew everything.

So, I just kind of bounced around and lived with friends, I wasn’t able to work. Then I met Jo online, we were both volunteers in the women’s network on AOL. She lived in Baltimore and I lived in Omaha and we just, I think we needed each other. We hit it off and the next thing I know we moved to Baltimore. Once again I found out it doesn’t matter who you love, it is that you love, it’s the people you love. Love should be the reason for the relationship, it shouldn’t be about sex. I have been happy; we’ve been together for twenty years and I hope we have at least twenty more. Thanks.

Kent – So, Terri what brought you to First Church?

Terri – Duh? God! I left the Catholic church and I said, “Okay, I need a church,” so, I got on the internet and narrowed down to this place and Countryside, then I said, “Which place? Which place?” I just kept being drawn here. It was actually closer, then I talked it over with my therapist and my nurse practitioner and they both said, “First United,” so, I came here and the first time I was here I felt like I was home. And the next week people new my name! Not everybody, but nobody in the Catholic church knew my name after going for a couple of years. So, it was just a real eye opening experience and just a real comfortable feeling knowing I was where I was meant to be.

Kent – In honoring this National Coming Out Day and Sunday there are still a lot of LGBTQIA+ persons who either aren’t ready to come out or are fearful of losing jobs, losing families etc.. What word of encouragement would you share with them?

Terri – Well, first of all, take your time. Don’t push yourself before you’re ready. God led me to a therapist who changed my life, so I’m a big believer in therapy. Not conversion therapy! Just someone to talk it out. It really helps if they have that kind of support and someone who, you know, would set their parents straight if they needed to be.

Kent – As a community of faith, you know, we strive to be present for LGBTQIA+ persons. What words of encouragement would you have for our whole community of faith, and especially for those of us who are allies, are there things we can do to be better present and supportive?

Terri – That’s a hard question, because I’ve been so impressed by this church and the acceptance I have seen here. I never saw that anywhere else. I would just tell people to keep spreading the word, and talking to people, not in a judgmental way, but maybe saying, “Hey, you know, have you considered this might be about love?” That’s what God preaches, to love one another. He didn’t say only certain people. So, if they can just, if people can wrap their heads around the idea that it’s about love, like any other relationship, their half way there.

Kent – Thank you Terri for your courage and your willingness to do this.

We are called in this stewardship month to consider at what level we might be able to resource our community of faith… it is not only the way we support FUMC with our prayers… It is how we facilitate and resource our ability to be present in support of our community and especially those who seek a safe space and place to be who they are.

Looking back now, I wish I would have had these biblical scholarship tools earlier. Looking back now I wish I had known more how to be present for my friends and students and youth who lived in fear because of who they are.

However, I have the tools now. I know better now how to be present. Though I am far from perfect. I do not fear the hierarchy of those powers that be who continue to hold improper interpretations of scripture in order to oppress and dehumanize our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings.

And so… how will I support, how will we support FUMC with our presence?

By creating space here… in this building and on these premises that ALL are welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine they are.

By creating space here, in these hearts where ALL are Welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine you are.

The Church should be a Presence of Grace. A place where Love is a given. A place where “coming out” is no longer necessary. A Place where we, all of us, simply are. A Place Paul envisioned where…

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer gay nor straight, bisexual or transgender; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Today and every day… we celebrate YOU. This. Is. So! Amen!

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Clergy – First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Nebraska

*Special thanks to Terri for her vulnerability and courage in sharing her story. And special honor and recognition to all LGBTQIA+ persons who have come out and who have yet to come out. May we continue to journey toward that day when “coming out” is a thing of the past. That day when all persons are celebrated for their authentic and unique selves. May it be soon!

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We Stood.

March 4, 2019

Let me share first, after the four days I spent in St Louis this past week, it was and is difficult to stay on task with our sermon series as we wrap it up this week. There is much occupying my mind, much laying on my heart, much disturbing my soul still today, five days later. But we will carry on, perhaps this morning with a little different focus, but we will carry on.

Our faith, our journey as followers of the life and ministry of Jesus, is grounded in, passed on by, immersed in … story. We carry within us the stories that have shaped and molded our lives, our beliefs, our hopes, our faith. This story we have heard this morning in the context of our last sermon in the series of Jesus and Buddha… Right Effort, is a familiar one for those of us who have grown up in the faith. If you have been a long-time traveler in the context of Christianity you have perhaps read this story countless times, you have perhaps heard countless sermons interpreting the story… I know I have, and I have preached many times on this text. Each time the text has been a part of my experience, and my interpretations of it… while nuanced differently, preached in different contexts… the theme was generally the same.

This story of an obviously rich man going on a journey, he entrusts at least some of his wealth into the care of three of his servants. I believe it is important to note, he does not tell them to do anything with the money, simply that he has entrusted it to them each according to their ability. To one he gives five talents, one two talents, and to a third one talent. It is important to note here as well, a talent was a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds, and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of sliver. As a unit of currency, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A denarius was the usual payment for a day’s labor, the value of a talent was about 20 years of labor by an ordinary person. By contemporary standings, at the rate of Nebraska minimum wage of $9.00 per hour, the value of a talent would be approximately $432,000 over twenty years. This was no insignificant amount of money. So, one might understand why someone would be fearful to have been entrusted with such a large amount.

The common theme and interpretation of this story, has long turned the third servant into the fool, a fool of his fear to have buried the money in the ground and made no good use of it. The common theme and interpretation have long, intentionally or unintentionally pointed to the rich man and the first two servants as heroes of the story, who used the man’s money wisely. It is a story, a parable, with a point. Let me say, this long held interpretation is well grounded, good exegesis, contextually solid. It, is a story that shapes our understanding and molds who we are as followers of Jesus life and ministry.

We gather here this morning people of stories. We all carry with us those stories that make us who we are, that make us whose we are. As I sat in the convention center in St Louis I began to think of story, as I watched the events unfold. I recalled a book I had just finished before leaving for the Conference, “Together at the Table,” by Bishop Karen Oliveto, she is the First out Lesbian Bishop elected to the episcopacy in the United Methodist Church. A good portion of her book is about her story. She tells of being asked by both ends of the theological perspective, why she doesn’t leave the UM church, by those who want her out, and by those who do not understand why she stays. She very eloquently speaks of the UM Church into which she was born, the church that held her in her baptism, the church that confirmed her in her faith, the church with God’s help who called her into ministry and ordained her, and the church who elected her as bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. It was a story I deeply resonated with for many of the same reasons. It is a story many sitting here this morning in our church resonate with and why watching and hearing the story out of St Louis has been so painful and disheartening. There are also those of us who do not have as deep a relationship with the UM Church, who also wrestle with why we stay, will we stay, what is next for us.

I recall when I was confirmed in the UMC, thirteen years old, after we had finished the confirmation classes and before Confirmation Sunday, we were all, one by one, called to the pastor’s office to meet. We were called to visit with the pastor about whether or not we wanted to join the church. We were called there to visit about what we thought that meant. We were called there not to convince us to believe in a particular doctrine or theology, we were called there not to have us promise to believe without doubt in the virgin birth, the trinity, the literalness of the bible. In my conversation with my pastor I was not asked if I was gay, or what I believed about homosexuality… I was asked if I loved God, I was asked if I loved others, I was asked if I loved myself. I was asked to tell my pastor my story.

These were many of the things that ran through my mind as I watched from the observer seats the dismantling of the UMC, or at least that is how it seemed. It was like sitting at the bedside of a loved one watching them die. While I clung to hope as long as I could, there was part of me, when I walked away on Monday night, before the last day of the conference, part of me knew the UMC of my youth…was dead.

I wondered, as I considered the parable of the talents, if I could relate to the third servant, burying the last of the resources, the fear, the grief, the loss… buried…gone… knowing it would never be the same again, I went back to my hotel room to wait, until the return the next day.

The last day of conference was the worst. It was a day where 53 percent of the delegates again and again visited harm and verbal abuse upon the LGBTQ members, clergy, friends, and family of our church and beyond. It was a brutal day and difficult to watch and listen to, I cannot begin to know what it was like for the LGBTQ community to listen to and witness this again. It has to be a special kind of abuse to have the story of their lives beaten, broken, dismissed, ignored, and diminished again and again. Their stories, the story of the church I remember, my own story… welled up in my eyes as I watched the waning hours of that last day.

Let me say, the 47 percent of moderates and progressives, straight, gay, lesbian…. the 47 percent of these delegates, and especially delegates from our own Great Plains Conference fought a valiant battle… they tried everything…but it would not be.

As these hours ticked away… one of our delegates, Rev. Mark Holland from the Great Plains stood to the microphone to speak… He held up the discipline and a bible… challenged the conservative 53 percent to think about what they were doing, putting the Discipline above the scriptures. And in a rousing, passionate, rather loud voice… said the progressive 43 percent would amend, and amend, and amend until there would be no time to take a vote, he turned to his colleagues and encouraged them to continue offering amendments and vote down any attempt to bring the Traditional Plan to a vote, which takes 2/3rds…   in the middle of that challenge the cut his mic. Which he really didn’t need one because by now he was shouting… and in terms of Roberts Rules of Order it was probably proper to cut the mic… but in that moment… I stood.

I stood because earlier in the week a young man gave a rousing speech, I would even say it was a 3-minute sermon, that had the observer seats on their feet, delegates on their feet, even many of the bishops on their feet clapping and cheering him on in his plea against the traditional plan. After things settled down a delegate from the right wing 53% went to the microphone to ask the chair of the committee to tell the people to sit down and be quiet. Another went to the microphone and said he would be standing for the remainder of the day to protest such a request and many of us did… so, in this moment I stood once again…

I stood as my thoughts were drawn back to the parable of the talents.

I stood because perhaps in this context we are interpreting it wrong.

I stood because how many times did Jesus teach about the accumulation of wealth? How many times did Jesus teach about the dangers of power and authority? How many times did Jesus warn about colluding with the powerful against the least of these and the abused and oppressed?

I stood because I think it is time to rethink our interpretation. Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of defiance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of resistance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent because he refused to participate in the evils of the love of money and power. Perhaps the third servant buried the money out of fear of being oppressed and a tool of that powers that be, the principalities who rule and influence not with love and welcome, but with corruption and fear, and bigotry! Perhaps the third servant’s act was resistance… “Here is your money, every last penny… and I will not be a part of who you are a harsh task master of greed. My story…. Will not be a part!

I stood in honor of my colleague Mark Holland and all those delegates who were trying to move the church to an inclusive place in the world.

I stood in honor of Bishop Karen Oliveto who sat with the bishops on the stage.

I stood in honor of the LGBTQ persons in the hall, here and home, and around the globe who have been silenced by the church for far too long!

And, in that moment, I stood for FUMC Omaha. I stood because of who we have been, who we are, and who we will continue to be.

I stood because First UMC Omaha… First Church…literally THE First Church in Omaha has persisted and persevered for too long to not stand!

I stood because you, you, have been through the fire…literally, burned to the ground and rebuilt and carried on.

I stood because you stood with Native Americans and Standing Bear against the powers that be.

I stood because you stood with Rev. Robert Naylor who stood in the pulpit with the courage to say black and white and equal and will be treated that way here at FUMC.

I stood because FUMC literally weathered the storm against the power of nature and a tornado to repair and carry on!

I stood because against all odds, when others said you would not survive the fallout after Rev. Jimmy Creech performed a same gender wedding here, you stood up for what is right, and you not only survived… you thrived.

I stood, because I know, FUMC will continue to be a light on the hill. FUMC will continue to stand up for equality and equity regardless of race, religion, gender, or age.

I stood because I know, FUMC will never be silent in the face of homophobia and the diminishing of another human being. And especially in the context of this recent ruling from the UMC General Conference solidarity with LGBTQ persons will not be dissuaded in any way, this 2019 General Conference does not speak for us… we dissent!

I stood because I know, no Conference, no doctrine, no “Plan”, no Discipline, organization, no vote, no amendment, no one… not one thing…. Nothing… will separate us from the love we know in God who immerses us in justice, connection, and community.

I stood, because FUMC will continue to deepen our spiritualty, advocate and participate through action and presence justice for all… in a community and world where we will make justice happen, love as God loves, and be the very reflection of God in the world. At this moment… we may be unsure of the context within which we do this work… but we will never be deterred… we will persist…we will resist…we will continue to rise. And Love…Love…will win. Love and Compassion ALWAYS WINS!

This my friends, is not a “May it Be So” moment….

This is a “THIS IS SO” MOMENT. AMEN AND AMEN!

Rev. Kent H. Little

Here We Stand

February 28, 2019

A public statement from our Lead Pastor, Rev. Kent H. Little. His words will also be published in the Omaha World Herald in the “from the pulpit” section.

 
I recently attended our Special 2019 General Conference of the Global United Methodist Church in St Louis. It was a difficult and sad experience. You may have heard about the conference on the news or some other news media source. The Conference was to address our denomination’s position on human sexuality, specifically the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus persons in the life of the church. I am sad to say, not only did our denomination uphold its discriminatory prohibitions toward LGBTQ persons in the church, it made those prohibitions even more punitive.

 
Let me say first, using appropriate, quality biblical scholarship, there is absolutely no biblical mandate to discrimination against homosexual orientation in the scriptures. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures have nothing to say about loving, mutual, equal, same gender relationships, period. It is not in there. However, for far too long religious institutions, leaders, and others have used the bible to discriminate, do violence to, and oppress LGBTQ persons in the church and in the laws of the land.

 

I want to be clear, the recent policy decision of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church does not speak for First United Methodist Church of Omaha in any way, and does not reflect the unconditional love of God we know. First United Methodist Church of Omaha affirms the dignity, sacred worth, and identity of all persons, especially LGBTQ persons in the church and the community, and society at large.

 
To the LGBTQ members and attendees of FUMC Omaha, and the wider community of Omaha and across Nebraska, we see you, we hear you, we grieve with you in your pain, and stand with you against any form of oppression, hate, discrimination, exclusion, or violence of word or deed. You are welcome here.

 
Here we Stand.

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor
First United Methodist Church Omaha

Sitting at the Bedside of the UMC

February 26, 2019

I was born into a Methodist family in April 1959. I was baptized that same year in the Methodist Church in Meade, Kansas. A Methodist/United Methodist preacher’s kid I would have to unique opportunity to be confirmed thirteen years later in that same small western Kansas town of Meade while my father was serving as pastor. I was nurtured in Sunday School, UMYF, and other activities by the church. For me it was always a place where questions were welcome, inclusion seemed to be a given, and love and welcome were the norm. It was in the United Methodist Church I was married to my best friend and both of our children were baptized and confirmed. I have loved the UMC all my life.

I write this pondering now in part because I cannot sleep. I write this pondering because this is often how I process. TruDee mentioned the other day, perhaps, I write these ponderings because they are one way I pray. However, I cannot sleep right now because there is something amiss in my heart and soul. It is something that has been a troubling for some years now, an empty spot that has longed for the UMC of my youth. That church has seemed absent for a good number of years. It has felt as if it had lost its moorings in justice, compassion, and love. It has felt to me my beloved United Methodist Church had been consumed with a legalism and letter of the law kind of existence that had choked out the openness and welcome of earlier years, like a creeping kudzu of sorts. There is part of me that knew it was happening, however my tendency to wear rose colored glasses, the inclination to believe the best about people, and an idealistic optimism refused to let me see the obvious symptoms.

Today, attending the third day of this Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward felt a bit like I was sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one as I watched the events unfold. That kudzu of fear and control, legalism and judgment ruled the day. I watched as the life was sucked out of the large convention hall with a plan for a way forward that is anything but grace filled, was filled with exclusion and harm toward LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. I watched as we put money and exit plans ahead of people’s lives and the notion of finding a way to live together. I watched as it seemed the breath went out of the church I have walked with for so long.

I know, many of my colleagues and friends have not given up hope yet, and I will say neither have I. There is just enough rose color in my glasses and just enough faith still deep within my heart and soul that maybe somehow, with the work of our incredible delegation, and the move of the Spirit, perhaps someone can jolt this body back to life. I am praying for a little resurrection this night, however, right now in my heart of hearts, it looks pretty grim. It feels like someone has their finger on the off button of the life support and is just waiting for the moment between now and tomorrow evening. I pray it is not so.

I confess, and I know it is because of the way I was raised, I do not understand the kind of fear that continues to plague not only the church, but our society and culture, fear of the other, fear of disagreeing, fear that we will not all think alike, fear that smothers the very love of God until there is no breath of life left. From where does this kind of controlling, consuming, power hungry, and bitter fear come?

I think of how deeply I grieve this night and how it cannot hope to compare to the pain and suffering LGBTQ persons have felt and feel and experienced in the hall today. My struggle holds not a candle to what they have experienced and continue to experience in these days. Their perseverance, persistence, courage, grace, and love shame me and my sense of struggle. However, they inspire me and remind me it is not my fight to give up. To you, my LGBTQ friends, family, and colleagues, I see you, I hear you, I stand and march with you. We cannot be the church, the beloved community of faith without you and I am grieved at the harm we have once again caused you this day.

I think it is too late for part of my beloved United Methodist Church. I think a little bit of me died this afternoon sitting watching the gasping for air in the room. I think a little bit, or more, of the United Methodist Church died this afternoon, even as a good number tried to keep it alive.

That being said, I will trust the Spirit, I will trust those who are working tirelessly to save this church’s soul to do what they can tomorrow to breathe some new life into what we seemed to have pulled the plug on today. Regardless of what happens tomorrow though, even if those who wish to watch it wither and die succeed, Wednesday will come, Thursday just behind it, and I am confident the church… the church, the beloved community of faith, will rise and make justice happen, love as God loves, and BE the very reflection of God in the world. May I be on the other side of the darkness with the community of faith who knows no walls or exclusions, no bigotry or hate. I pray it will be so.

May We find Peace and Light on this continued Journey Together.

Rev. Kent

‘Twas the Night Before General Conference…

February 23, 2019

I found myself ruminating while making the trek east toward Saint Louis for the Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward. It was an interesting experience as I drove. I found the emotions welling up within me looking ahead as the white divider stripes on the highway flashed by. I wondered why the emotions were so close to the surface?

In part, I suppose, it is the metaphor of journey. Closing in on being a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist of nearly sixty years this has been a long expedition. For our church it has been near forty-seven years. The prospect of coming to my first General Conference, and a historic one, that may finally open our church to full inclusion of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer friends, family, members, and colleagues is a moving thought for me. Just to consider that possibility is reason to shed tears of hope and joy.

I have not always been an ally, sad to say, though I would not place myself as a full-fledged homophobe in my early years. However, I do remember in middle school, high school, and early adulthood using derogatory language directed at gays and lesbians in general, though not to any specific person or situation. It is embarrassing and heartbreaking to me now as I recall those times.

My earliest recollection with personal experience was with a school mate. We were almost inseparable in my middle school days and early high school. I spent as much time at his house as mine, maybe even more. As we grew older, we grew apart, I did not really think about it much then, but in hindsight I know now why. It would be years later when we reconnected, I would discover he was gay. I was honored to have been welcomed back into relationship with him before he died several years ago.

My second most profound experience was with a young woman in seminary I had in a human sexuality class. She was very openly out as a lesbian and one day after class as we were walking to the dining hall, I caught up with her on the sidewalk, introduced myself, and asked, “Would you tell me your story? I do not understand, but I want to, as best I can.” We spent many opportunities meeting over lunch or coffee and I listened. I lost contact with her over the years, I regret that. However, this experience solidified my already growing ally-ship with LGBTQ persons in the church as well as the broader culture and society.

So, perhaps the emotion comes from deep in my hope and optimism that we are on the cusp of finally doing the right thing in this our beloved United Methodist Church. While this has been a journey for me, I cannot begin the know what must be pulsing through the hearts and minds of LGBTQ persons in our church and the, albeit surely cautious, hope they may be feeling.

But as I pondered and considered my own journey and this long drive into St. Louis, I realized I was caught in this tension between hope and fear. There is this gnawing fear of the possible atmosphere in the Dome in St. Louis. And while I may have fears about what may transpire, my fear does not compare, cannot hold a candle to the anxiety the LBGTQ persons in our church must be feeling. For they are here again, again…after continuing to suffer at the hands of the church they love as much, or maybe even more than I. The bravery and courage of the LGBTQ members, friends, family, and clergy who continue to fight for the soul of the United Methodist Church puts my journey to shame. These soul-filled children of the Divine willing to subject themselves to the abuse and rejection of the church…inspire, challenge, and give me hope for our future. For we cannot be the church without them.

But my emotion is also caught up in that fear that the church, this weekend, will throw back any sense of the veil it has hidden under and show the world just how viscous, degrading, and horrible we can be to those with whom it disagree, and especially toward our own LBGTQ among us. As I pondered that possibility driving down the road, I told myself perhaps, I hope, I was letting my pessimistic imagination run away with me. Surely the church will not do such a thing this time.

I arrived at my hotel this afternoon and while waiting for my room to be ready I was reading some of the national media coverage of our General Conference. Let me just say it did not alleviate my fear. I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal in which they had interviewed Rob Renfrow of Good News. Here is an excerpt from the article,

“We’re in a cage match,” said Rob Renfroe, a conservative pastor in Texas who believes the denomination should break up. “The loser can’t get up off the mat. The winner is beaten up, bloody, battered.”

“We’re in a cage match…the loser can’t get up off the mat and the winner is beaten up, bloody and battered”? Really? Seriously? This is the church he is describing? It’s not the church I know! Right now, I am not sure what to do with that. What a sad commentary on what we are to be about this weekend! I am sure I will address that more as the weekend progresses, I am rather speechless at such a, well, dare I say…un-Christlike comment?

So here I am, on the night before this General Conference, hanging in the tension between hope and fear, joy and grief, anxiety and love. I cannot do a lot while I am here, however I can BE here, present, prayerfully, and bringing what little bit of positive light into this gathering that I can. I will be praying and putting forth thoughts of peace, civility, grace, hope, compassion, and love as I observe and hold all those present in the Light of the Divine. To those who would promote images of violence of word and deed I will hold you in prayers of love and light. To LGBTQ persons present here in St. Louis and around the globe who await justice rolling down … I am grateful for you in the church, I am a better human being, a better Christian, a better pastor because I have been influenced by your grace, ministry, faith, compassion, and love.

Love will prevail. It will. It always does.

May it be so. May it be in the next four days.

Peace, Light, and Love as we begin…again.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Attempts at Hostage Taking

January 30, 2019

I have seen the tactic before, unfortunately it has been around along time. I used to encounter it on the grade school playground when those who want power would threaten if they did not get their way. I have seen it as a teenager from those who tell others it is their way or no way. I have seen it as an adult among groups who try to hold other groups hostage by threatening retaliation, withdrawal of support, or threats of leaving in order to inflict damage. It happens in families, in communities, it is common practice in politics and in our culture and society, and unfortunately it continues to be prevalent in the church.

The practice is a shared strategy among bullies and the power hungry. This may sound harsh, but it is what I see happening in our United Methodist Church and what is known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association. There was some sense of understanding they planned to leave the denomination if their preferred plan does not pass at the upcoming Special Called General Conference in St. Louis. But up until this last week it was innuendo, leaked conversations, implication, and speculation. Now they have put it in writing for all to see. Unless their preferred plan, without revisions, passes they will exit the denomination with significant demands. It is a move, in my opinion, to take the denomination hostage, “Give us what we want or we will exit and do our best to cripple what is left of the UMC.”

As much as I would like to see the Simple Plan pass in St. Louis, this scenario is exactly why I continue to support the One Church Plan. To practice what I preach, if I am a true progressive and want my faith open and welcoming to everyone…EVERYONE…I have to include even those with whom I disagree. Continue to engage them? Yes! Continue to resist injustice and bigotry? Yes! Continue to advocate for our denomination to finally stop discriminating against LGBTQ+ persons in total? Yes! Continue to try and change minds and hearts to an inclusive and welcoming place where LGBTQ+ persons are welcome in all aspects of the church? Yes! However, to respond in kind by walking away from those Jesus calls me to love, even those I vehemently disagree with? I cannot.

This is what the one church plan does. Do I wish every church in the UMC would be welcoming and inclusive of all persons? Yes. The One Church Plan allows our denomination to stay in tension with those who disagree and continue to work toward the Kindom into which we are all called to live.

I grieve for those who feel it is necessary to threaten the UMC with tactics that say unless we get what we want we are going to turn our backs on the rest of the church. It is unfortunate, disingenuous, and anything but in the Wesleyan Spirit.

I will continue to pray for our United Methodist Church and the upcoming General Conference in St. Louis. I will be present at the Conference as an observer and a prayer. I hope in those four days we do the right thing…the thing that is immersed and grounded in grace, and not dripping in threat and hostage taking. We can be better than this. We are better than this.

May it be so. May it be Now!

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor

First United Methodist Church Omaha, NE

 

The Magnificat; Love is Resistance!

December 23, 2018

We have journeyed through Advent this year through the lens of the wisdom of Mr. Rogers addressing the traditional themes of the season; Hope, Peace, Joy, and today…Love. Love. I confess sometimes I struggle a bit with the word itself. It seems to me in our culture and society, even in the church, there are times if not most of the time we have watered it down, relegated it to a gentle, non-threatening, innocuous, rose-colored glasses kind of sentiment. We use it in so many ways it can feel like it has lost its edge, like a once interesting, unique, rock in the rough after being polished smooth in a rock polishing machine. We love so many things now… I love coconut cream pie, I love my shoes, I love that haircut, to an entire car ad campaign, “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru.” Every time I see that ad, I want to say… “Really?” We have spread the use of the word love so thin it has lost its meaning.

To some degree…I think we can be in danger of doing the same thing with the whole of the traditional themes of Advent and Christmas. We have domesticated the season into a manageable and tame mawkish time of gentleness and warm fuzzies. We have turned hope from a driving force to a pie in the sky attitude, we have turned peace from an active way of life into individualistic isolation, we have turned joy from a frame of mind contagious to those around us to something that denies the struggles of life, and we have turned love from a foundation through which to change the world to a feeling that only feeds to ego.

Too many in the church, in society and culture, dismiss love as some kind of mushy, dreamy, emotion without force or cause. I have heard colleagues say to me, “All you liberals ever preach about is love, love, love.” To which I rely, “Well, yeah, what else is there?”  But too many have lost its edginess. Granted, it is still there if one looks for it… but we have done it to ourselves in a culture and society, in a church who refuses to do the difficult work of looking for the depths of the meaning in the simple nature of what love is suppose to be and look like.

Too many in the community of faith, this time of year, look at Mary’s song we read this morning and only hear her simple words of gratitude and the praising of God…

With all my heart I glorify God! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. The Divine has looked with favor on the low status of this servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors God.

We celebrate the young woman who is pregnant with the child of God and sing songs and feel hope, peace, joy, and love in our hearts. And we leave our churches feeling warm and fuzzy and for too many of those who have worshipped on Sunday morning this time of year that is as far as it goes until the next week. Mary, meek and mild, humble, submissive, and obedient to the end, and this is where too many in our communities of faith end the reading.

As I pondered this simplistic notion of love and the season of Advent over the last couple of weeks, words of Mr. Rogers came to mind from the book of his sayings…

Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re ‘equally infinite.’ Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too. Perhaps you can hear him saying that in your mind like I can, the simple, inviting, gentle way he spoke and welcomed us into his home. I remembered an episode of Mr. Rogers that they spoke of in the documentary about his life. It was an episode in which he spoke of the many different ways we show or tell others we love them. The episode began simplistically and uneventful. Mr. Rogers arrives at home as he does every time, singing his song, putting on his sweater, and taking off his shoes. But this time he does something very different, he has a pair of “slippers” he calls them, I would have referred to them as flip flops but I suppose for a national television show slippers sounded more appropriate. Anyway, in this episode he takes off his socks too, he points out that it is different, that he has never done that before. He puts on the slippers and goes outside to soak his tired feet in a plastic wading pool. He says he has been thinking about the many ways we show or tell someone we love them. The camera shifts from Mr. Rogers sitting on a chair soaking his feet to images of children and adults being present to one another in wide variety of ways. This goes on for several minutes. One, like myself, might be carried off into their imagination of ways I have been told or shown I am loved or ways I have told or shown others I love them. It is a hopeful, peaceful, joyful, gentle journey through the memories in my mind, certainly sentimental.

Love in our faith tradition has been, or at least should be, the foundation of who we are. However, I recognize with the 40-some thousand expressions of Christianity in our world to ask each one of them to explain or define what love means, one may receive numerous definitions and explanations that may be similar or not and certainly not agree. We are in the midst of that right now in our own Global UMC, we are in the midst of that right now in our own country here in the U.S.A. What does love look like? What is it suppose to be? What is it suppose to do? Makes me think of the Tina Turner song… “What’s love got to do with it?”

In his book, God Believes in Love, Bishop Gene Robinson writes of the love of God… [The Divine] is all about love. Whatever is at the center of the universe, whatever gives meaning to creaturely existence, whatever we mean by “God,” it is all about love. There is no more fundamental belief among people of faith. Many adjectives are used in the holy texts of major religions to describe God – what God is like, as experienced by human beings, what God is apt to favor, what God abhors. In Christianity, God is defined quite simply in the [Second] Testament’s First Letter of John: “Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

No religion can claim to know all there is to know about God. Each religion, and each practitioner of religion, can only claim to know a part of God. But this is a startling claim that the First Letter of John makes, that to love is to know God. I take this to mean that there is something about loving another that participates in the reality that is God. For those who desire to know the nature of God, indeed to “know” God, this is very significant because it plots a pathway to the Divine Mystery. It beckons to those who want to experience the divine: If you want to know God, you will find God in the loving of another.

According to Robinson, according to the Sufi Poet Rumi, according to our faith tradition, Love is all there is! And it is not some sentimental, rose colored glasses, emotion that is only about feeling good about ourselves and the world. Love is a world changing force for the common good of all. Love is edgy, love is challenge, love is prophetic, love changes us and the world from the inside out.

Too many in the church stop reading or stop listening after the first part of Mary’s song when she is praising God and giving gratitude to the power of God. They do not hear, or refuse to hear, the deeply political and prophetic words in her song… this is not a simplistic song just about humility and being favored, this is a song about the Kindom of God… the coming Way that will be… this is a song about Love… the love of God, the love of the world and the Love to which we are called to participate…

The Spirit has shown strength with its arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. The Divine has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The Spirit has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

Scattered the arrogant and the proud…pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty handed.

THIS is the Love of God. THIS is Love come down at Christmas. THIS is the coming one for which Mary sings.

Love is Resistance! Just Ask Mary….

As I continued to watch the episode of Mr. Rogers the images of those sharing loved ended and the scene cuts back to Mr. Rogers sitting and soaking his feet. About that time Officer Francois Clemmons comes strolling into Mr. Rogers yard. Mr. Rogers invites him to join in soaking his feet in the pool with him, retrieves a chair, and they both sit and visit about the day and about love. Francois sings a song about the many different ways of loving. Finally, he must leave, Mr. Rogers helps him dry his feet and away he goes. It is a statement about love. It is a statement about race relations as Francois is African American. Mr. Rogers is showing us love is not just some sentimental emotion… love is about taking a stand against those things that diminish and belittle love.

That being said, it is important to note that while Mr. Rogers was willing to take on racism at the time he was unwilling to address full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Francois was gay, as a result the show would require him to stop going to a gay bar at which he had been seen and he would never be allowed to stay with the show as an out gay man. It would not be until years later Mr. Rogers would come around and be fully accepting and embrace Francois as he was.

It is an important lesson for us all, it is an important lesson for the church and in particular the United Methodist Church. It is a testament to the love that transformed Mr. Rogers’ heart to finally embrace Francois. It gives me hope for our denomination.

Mr. Rogers, in our context today…is taking a knee in solidarity with the those who are oppressed and discriminated against. And Mr. Rogers is a testament to the transformative power of love.

Love transforms us from the inside out and…

Love is resistance! Just Ask Mr. Rogers!

I look at our current state of church, not only the UMC but church in general and the exclusion and hate that is done in the name of love and I wonder where is the voice of Mary… where is the voice of Mr. Rogers? Where is the voice of the church who knows what love ought to be about? I look at the state of our nation and our administration and I wonder where the voice of the church is.

When children are ripped from their families filled with uncertainty and fear. When a 7-year-old Guatemalan Child turns ill and dies while in the custody of our government. When the government shuts down denying payroll to those who count on those wages and vouchers to pay their bills. When spending an estimated between 12 and 21 billion dollars [with a B] on a border wall…and we are told health care for all is too expensive, clean water can’t be cleaned up, sustainable energy is too costly, adequate housing can’t be provided… where is the resistance of the people of Mary, this prophet, this voice of one crying out to portend the Way things ought to be in the Kindom of God. This wall, this government shut-down, this treatment of immigrants and refugees, …these are not just political issues… these are moral issues… these are theological issues… these are children of God… each and every one of them. And the Love of Mary, the Love of God calls us into the fray this Christmas Season…to be a voice, to be active in the Way of Love.

Love is Resistance. It is So. It. Is. So.  Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

One Church

August 23, 2018

It’s no secret I consider myself a progressive when it comes to my faith, theology, and my politics. It is also no secret where I stand on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer persons and my passion for their full inclusion in the United Methodist Church. I confess prior to Thursday, August 16, 2018 while I believed I could exist as a clergy in my beloved UMC if the One Church Model being proposed at the Special Called General Conference in February passes, I was not a big fan of the plan. I was not a big fan because it doesn’t go far enough for full inclusion. The plan, while it gives local control to clergy, churches, and Annual Conferences, it still allows clergy, churches, and Annual Conferences to discriminate against LGBTQ persons. I still unwaveringly believe that is wrong.

I had the opportunity to attend an informational meeting with Rev. Mark Holland and MainstreamUMC for a presentation on the One Church Model. After an hour and a half of solid biblical interpretation and political analysis of the upcoming vote in February regarding the role and place of LGBTQ persons in our church I came away convinced the One Church Model, though I still believe does not take us far enough, is the only model with a chance of passage that holds to true Wesleyan roots and belief as well as the Gospel of grace and love.
There are so many references and stories in our biblical texts speaking to unity, grace, inclusion, and love it is difficult to focus on just one. However, as I consider the state of our denomination I find myself pondering Paul’s letter to the Romans. A community of churches deep in conflict not only among its own, but in the culture and society in which it existed. And here are some of the words and encouragements he shares,
“Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

 

These are words of challenge and admonition to remain in unity with those the church disagrees with. Welcome strangers. Bless people who harass you don’t curse them. Don’t think yourself so smart. Show respect for what everyone else believes is good. And…my favorite/least favorite…If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people… in other words it’s up to you….me.
I guess, as I ponder these words of Paul and as I reflect on the consequences of the vote to come in February…the consequences that each plan, and which ones stand the best chance of passing it really boils down to two, in my opinion. The Traditionalist Model, and the One Church Model approved by nearly two-thirds of the Council of Bishops. And when I think of these two models it once again boils down to two things. The Traditionalist Model is based on exclusionary language, divide and conquer, so to speak. Clergy, bishops, churches, and Annual Conferences must certify they will not disagree with and will uphold this plan or will be invited to leave the denomination. And the One Church Model is based on inclusionary language, taking a step to recreate the Broad Tent Denomination we used to be. A community faith that made room for difference, that thrived on tension, and made the table wider and longer and deeper, and more welcoming rather than building walls of separation and forced agreement.
This One Church Model seems to me to not only be the one grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ but grounded in and echoes the theology and faith of our founder John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit” and the words, “Is your heart is as my heart,” do you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: Give me your hand.”
All this being said, while I will continue to be passionate and work for full inclusion of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our beloved United Methodist Church, if I am a true progressive, truly inclusive, I must be willing to extend my hand across the aisle, to better understand where those who disagree with me are and what and why they believe, I pray others will give me the same grace and inclusive stance.
I cannot support a plan and policy that is specifically designed to exclude and separate. I can only support a plan that includes and welcomes… even those with whom I disagree.
As a progressive United Methodist, I too must love those with whom I disagree, I too must be a promoter of that Big Tent denomination I so remember of my youth, and embrace my Wesleyan heritage more robustly by extending my hand in peace and hope.
To practice what I preach every Sunday morning, to…
Love One Another.
Every. Single. Other.
Until there are no others, only one beloved community of all.
May it be so. May it be soon.
Rev. Kent H. Little

A Weed in the United Methodist Church

July 25, 2018

I was on my hands and knees in the cool morning hours a week ago pulling weeds out of the rock landscaping we have in front of our home. I do not know what kind of weeds they are, someone told me they call it Creeping Charlie, though looking at pictures I really do not think that is what it is. It may be Spurge. Anyway, I was pulling weeds, and though it is not a favorite pastime of mine, these weeds were pretty easily uprooted. While the tap root is long and can run deep, it is thin and brittle. The plant creeps along the ground, or in our case the rocks, and sets down roots, the roots are shallow, and while the plant is very invasive, unsightly, and annoying, it is easily uprooted because of its lack of depth.

It was the first thing that came to mind as I was reading the recently released United Methodist Church Commission on a Way Forward’s Report to General Conference. Let me qualify that statement. The image of the invasive weed in my rock bed was not related to the whole report but rather, a certain section of it. Let me explain.

The Commission’s report contains three possible plans for our Denomination’s continued struggle to include, or not, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Queer persons in the full life of our church. I finished reading the entire report yesterday and came away rather depressed, heartbroken, and even angry.

I did fine reading through the One Church Model, which in essence creates local control in the denomination for clergy, local churches, and Annual Conferences in terms of whether they will officiate or host same gender weddings and whether Annual Conferences will ordain LGBTQ persons. While my conviction is I cannot sign on in full support of this model, to me it is the sanest of the three. I believe I can probably exist in the environment this model would create though, I cannot fully support it because it continues to allow the United Methodist Church to discriminate and do harm to our LGBTQ members and clergy. It is wrong and needs to be rectified and should this pass I would continue to be a voice of advocacy and change until the denomination makes available to the whole of the church the grace and life we claim to all persons including LGBTQ persons in our communities.

The second model I read was a little more difficult to get my head around though in theory I think I understand. The summary version is it would create three conferences in the U.S.A., a Progressive (Fully Inclusive) Conference, a “Traditional” (as we have now) Conference, and a Uniting Conference (agree to disagree). Once again, while this seems to be an attempt at a step forward, it allows our churches to discriminate and do harm.

The third model is called the Traditional Model, herein is where the image of the weed in my rock bed began to take shape. This model would leave our United Methodist Discipline as is, continue to discriminate against and do harm to LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. But it would not stop there. This model creates even more punitive reactions to those who long for an open inclusive church. Clergy, churches, boards of ordained ministry, conferences, and bishops who we unable to sign on to an agreement that they support this model would in essence be invited to leave.

While this model is referred to as Traditional it is anything but. It is certainly not in keeping with Wesley’s model of grace, for in my opinion, this model is devoid of grace, compassion, and understanding. Such legalism and punitive faith is not traditional as its literalness is only two hundred to three hundred years old at best. Its roots are shallow, thin, and brittle, invasive and unsightly.

When looking at loving relationships between same gender couples, the prohibitions are simply not in the scriptures. The clobber passages that are cited in our bible do not address same gender relationships as we know them today. To continue to cite these passages to discriminate and do harm to LGBTQ persons is uninformed at best and disingenuous at worse. John Wesley’s commitment to education should lead us further to understand this. To continue to cite two thousand to four-thousand-year-old understandings and writings without consideration of twenty first century education, science, reason, and experience is ludicrous and unfaithful.

As I read this so-called traditional model it occurred to me in my fifty-nine years in the Methodist/United Methodist church and my twenty-six years of ministry I have never read a supposed United Methodist/Wesleyan document so devoid of understanding, compassion, and grace. It boggles the mind that we as a denomination, founded by Wesley and his commitment to grace, understanding, and education, are even giving this model a voice and place on the floor at General Conference.

It is a weed. A weed with at best a thin and brittle taproot creeping across the landscape of our beloved United Methodist Denomination setting down shallow roots in an attempt to cover the foundational bedrock of the Grace and Love of God so treasured by our church.

February is still months away. There is much work to be done in preparation for this Special Called General Conference. There will be much work to be done after it is completed regardless of what the decision is. I will be there, not as a delegate, but as an observer and in prayer. I hope you join me in earnest prayer and action for our United Methodist Church, its soul is at risk. May we once again be a church grounded in grace, immersing in love…a church making justice happen, loving as God loves, and being the very reflection of God in the world.

Love is Love!

Love will Win. Love Always Wins…

when we Love One Another. Every. Single. Other.

Until there are no others. Only one Beloved Community of All.

Peace and Light for this Journey.

Pastor Kent

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!