Most of you know that UCUP is affiliated with two different denominations – UCC & UMC. We have lived together for 49 years – holding the tension of the different ways each denomination operates. Some of you joined this church specifically because of its affiliation with one of those denominations. Some of you are a part of this congregation simply because you realized you could make your spiritual home here for a time. Or you liked the music, or the quirky people or pastor, or because of our emphasis on social justice, or because of our progressive theology. Many of you have followed what’s been happening on the national and world stage of the Special Called session of the General Conference of the UMC where they voted to maintain and add even more punitive language on human sexuality – singling out the GLBTQ community. I am deeply wounded and angry – as many of you are – by the decision against inclusivity made by the recent UM General Conference. I am deeply saddened for the pain of rejection experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. And it hits me at a deeply personal level. While I know that God’s grace is bigger than any one denomination, I am soul-weary and sad for the heart and soul of the UMC, and words are not sufficient to express my gratitude to be serving a church that has already done it’s work to become an Open & Affirming, Reconciling Congregation AND is ALSO affiliated with the United Church of Christ – a denomination that has been out there leading the charge on civil rights, women’s rights and ordination, human rights and ordaining those who identify as LGBTQ, AND whose denominational structure is grass roots instead of hierarchical. Each church is able to live out its calling to be in ministry in its community and create it’s own constitution rather than being a world-wide religious institution following a Common Book of Discipline. Being appointed to a church that is affiliated with both UMC & UCC offers me a certain amount of privilege and perspective, and I am profoundly grateful.
Five years ago almost to the day, on March 2, 2014, I invoked the ancient spiritual practice of testimony on Transfiguration Sunday when I told the congregation I was serving that I was in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship. Up until then – six months before I was appointed to be your pastor – Angie was invisible to ALL the congregations I had served, she would sometimes sneak into worship on Christmas Eve or Easter, and sneak out without connecting with or talking to anyone – she was also invisible to other people in our lives because holding knowledge about someones life that should be a natural thing to share placed a terrible burden on those who were tasked in holding our relationship a secret. I can attest to the fact that wearing that mask, tiptoeing around what I said, what I didn’t say, was soul-wearying. Today we celebrate Mardi Gras and Pamela graciously loans us a few beautiful masks she’s picked up along the way, and the kids and a few others will be making masks, and that’s a fun thing. But no one should ever be asked or forced to conceal who they are or who they love. I remember growing up that Uncle Jack always brought “Uncle” Frank to our family gatherings, but no one EVER talked about what their relationship was – and to my knowledge they never told anyone in the family. They were simply roommates who had served together in WWII in the Navy. We all live our lives wearing masks of different kinds. We learn to don masks at an early age – because we are afraid to reveal who we really are, what we really think, what we have done, to protect ourselves. Sometimes we fear the reaction we will receive from others or fear what people will think of us.
Five years ago, I finally took off the mask, and that was the most transformational moment of my life. On that day, I adopted the spiritual practice of living an integrated, authentic, undivided life of wholeness. At the time, I was no longer afraid that I could lose my ordination in the UMC. I lived an unspoken life because I didn’t want my life to be a divisive flashpoint in any of the churches I served. But for the first time in a really long time, I had the thought this week that my ordination could be revoked because of the harmful vote at GC2019.
It feels like a good thing that Lent is around the corner because it’s time for sackcloth and ashes and mourning and maybe even some gnashing of teeth. But I also remember a powerful speech a Sikh woman gave – Valerie Kaur’s words from Watchnight 2016 in DC – Google it. An amazing speech about race and acceptance.
“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our story is one that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind now, those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detentions and political assault? What if they are whispering in our ears: “You are brave”? What if this is our nation’s greatest transition? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”
There is a parallel to this issue with human sexuality in the UMC, but why in the world are we still debating human sexuality in the 21st century?!?!? When there are so many issues we need to give our energy to like families at the border seeking refuge, under and unemployment, hungry people, racial divide. But this “Womb not Tomb” can be a paradigm shift for re-framing this devastating moment in the UMC. What is waiting to be born? This “Womb not Tomb” is a paradigm shift for re-framing this devastating moment in the UMC.
Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes picks up the same sentiment in this week’s focus on the transfiguration. It is called, “I have seen the risen church.” Jesus is about to “set his face toward Jerusalem.”
We are in the shadow of the cross. In that awful place when Jesus prays he speaks with Moses and Elijah about his “departure”— let’s not be polite about it: his terrible death. And in that awful place what do the disciples see?Even before his horrible death they see him already resurrected, shining in glory!
The Transfiguration is not a proof-of-Jesus’-divinity.
It’s a resurrection appearance, before the resurrection.
Jesus, having given himself to God, is already infinitely alive.
That’s the promise that bears him onward.
This week my church, the “United “ Methodist Church, just voted to exclude & persecute gay people.
OK, so that’s that. We’re not United any more.
We have officially abandoned the gospel of love. For many of us our hearts are broken.
We are in the shadow of crucifixion. In this awful place what do I see?
I see that God in grace makes life out of death, victory out of failure.
I see the church, risen.
The terrible death hasn’t come yet, but already the light of resurrection illumines our way.
God is at work, unseen and victorious, even as the soldiers of death pull on their boots.
It is time for the church to die and rise. We will suffer; some will suffer greatly.
But we will go on, and God will raise us up, and the radiant Body of Christ, crucified and risen, changed into a new form, will shine.
Love will prevail. It will not be defeated.
Love cannot be voted down.
In all your struggles—for justice in the world, or for peace in one neighbor’s life—whatever your failures, whatever ruinous collapses you foresee, know this: before the tragedy, before the awful descent,
in love you are already risen, already shining.
Go in peace. Go with courage. Go in hope.
I want to share with you what’s happening in the PNW & the WJ and all across the nation. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky: This past week, the General Conference gathered in search of a way forward out of a decades-old conflict over attitudes toward LGBTQIA people. Rather than finding a way forward, the church chose to turn back the clock and to intensify its exclusion.The church reaffirmed its restrictions and intensified punishments for bishops who ordain and appoint gay clergy, and for clergy who perform marriages for same-sex couples. The outcome was devastating for LGBTQIA people, whose very self-worth was debated, and for all persons in the church who believe Jesus models and invites us to become a radically inclusive community of faith. I join many of you who feel abandoned by your Church home. I am ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called. I cannot and will not abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience. My soul cries out to God. I know that many of you also find yourselves adrift. I hear questions like, Is our Church redeemable? Or, is it time to leave the church that has left us and form a new expression of Church that opens doors to affirm people, rather than closing doors and denying or punishing them. Practices of candidacy, ordination and weddings will continue unchanged for the time being. As your bishop, I don’t intend to lead us backward. We have come too far together to turn back now. A majority of the N. American delegates to the recent General Conference opposed the actions taken. The Church should and must be a place where people who love Jesus, but don’t see eye to eye, are in fellowship, prayer, study, and conversation with one another. I hope that our love of Jesus, and the people Jesus loves and asks us to love, is stronger than our differences of opinion. I believe we must stay together in charity, if we can. For, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, With trust in God, who will lead us even if the Church wanders away and loses itself.
Western Jurisdiction statement: Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body. We acknowledge the harm inflicted during this Special Session of GC, especially towards LGBTQI persons. Once again, GC has turned you into an issue instead of recognizing how essential you are to the body; we have talked about you, rather than with you. You are precious children of God, and you help us all see a fuller glimpse of the face of God. We have not deserted you. We stand in solidarity with you. The Western Jurisdiction intends to be fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum.
To United Methodists in the West Our Jurisdictional has led the UMC in crossing boundaries of inclusion. It elected the first Asian-American bishop, the first African American woman bishop, the first Hispanic American woman bishop, the first out gay bishop. A bishop in the West was the first to appoint an out gay clergy person. We have helped to lead the Church in border ministries, with refugees and immigrants. We are committed to full inclusion of all God’s children in the body and be a courageous church in mission and ministry including with our ethnic and marginalized communities. We prioritize this work because Jesus prioritized this work in his life and ministry.
I am grateful for the justice work and ministry of this congregation of UCUP that will continue. Grateful I have received support from leaders in the UCC conference that we are affiliated with as well. I am grateful the the Pacific Northwest Conference and the Western Jurisdiction will be leading the way for inclusive love. The bishops of the conferences won’t take one step back on inclusive love.
THE UMC is in the birth canal of a new way of being – and new birth is holy. We are a people who believe in grace & hope & new birth. We believe the life of Jesus transforms our lives, that in the death of Jesus God knows our pain, that resurrection is possible in proclaiming the inclusive love of God holds us together. We are being transfigured even now. Every breath taken together is a sign of our commitment to the Spirit’s daring. Every touch felt is a sign of the reassurance that we are not alone and that we are loved beyond measure. These things as we experience them HERE in this place– no matter what the denominational uncertainty– our breath, our singing, our touching our insistence, our commitment, our reassurance, IS the path we are already on and can continue to be on.
At UCUP, we will not waver. We will stand firm in our belief that ALL people are beloved children of God. We will continue to be a church that welcomes everyone regardless of their gender identity, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, national origin, political opinion, ability, or age. We will strive to be a people that work for justice so that all people might experience an abundant life. We will continue to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by loving our neighbors, feeding the hungry.
INVITATION TO THE TABLE
All are invited to come to this feast where there is enough–enough room around the table, enough grace for all, no matter what your journey has been to get here. You need only be hungry. Hungry for love, for justice, for change, for reconciliation, for whatever your heart yearns for.
You can even just be hungry for food… for the bread of life or just bread.
God knows what you need. Come and receive it, and be inspired to offer it to the world.
And so here we are, baptized by water of restoration – baptized by tears we have shed – baptized by fire of passion, and baptized and called for this very moment!
We open ourselves to the waters of justice that are rolling down and the new thing that is rising and will rise from the ashes of the long-burning struggle!
Let us come to the table, for Jesus is always ready!
Sing For Every0ne Born – a Place at the Table, v.1
For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star over head. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace; yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice, and joy.
Passing the Peace Many need a word a saving word – a liberating word – an encouraging word And you have called us to be your community of faith to encourage each other. With the significance of this moment, let our peace with each other be the peace felt around the world, the peace that has always been and will always be for all people. The peace that we will spread across the land! The unconditional love of the Christ be with you! And also with you!
I invite you to Pass the Peace of Christ with each other.
(After the Peace Sing For Every0ne Born – a Place at the Table, v.3) For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong.
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace; yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice, and joy.
May the God of grace and justice be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks for the bounty that is life.
It is right and good to want this feast for all of creation, for everyone born.
I invite you to open both palms upward in the sign language for “give.” We thank you, Creator God, that you formed us in your image.
Now place your hands together in the sign meaning “to be with.”
We thank you, Sustainer God, that you are here with us.
Bring your hands to your face, in the sign for prayer. Become aware of your breath on your hands.
We thank you God for breathing into us the breath of life. You have always been there… every time we raised our voices together, every time we cried alone, every time, every time…. you remained with us, close as breath. When we have been frightened, hesitant, you have been patient. You have time and again reached out your hand, for your promise is steadfast.
It is good to cry out for the waters of justice to roll down bringing heaven on earth, watering it with God’s will for love-soaked humanity since creation began.
For God continues to stand with and for all peoples.
And so, we lift up our heads, we raise up our hands and hearts to your will for us now as told to us through your prophets. We join our voices together praising you along with all who have ever done so:
O Holy God, Lord God of Hosts, we sing your praise over all the earth. Blest are the ones who come here now and sing hosanna, and proclaim new birth.
New birth for creation broke forth upon us in Jesus.
Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.
In these acts of love and justice we see the birth of our call as a church to let the waters of justice roll, knowing we have been delivered from death through a covenant of water and the Spirit.
In this moment, we remember all who suffer in our day. Imagine how Jesus would respond to them. I invite you to call to mind and heart, remembering to God the people and places, known and unknown, that need our prayers, that so desperately need a place at our table of inclusive love.
By the power of this message and the surprise of resurrection in the face of death, the world is immersed again in the baptism of love, passion and redemption. Through the life and ministry of Jesus, we will imagine and live into a new community of love.
Just as he said it that last night with his disciples, Jesus says to us “come, gather around my friends.” He took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you. This is the brokenness of the world and I feel it as my body. Do this in remembrance of me.” Whenever there is suffering, I suffer with you. I am broken for you.
When the supper was over, he took the cup, Liquid full of bitter wine and sweet tears, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Drink from this, all of you; this is the blood shed for the sake of a new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the binding up of wounds. The blood of innocent ones is too often shed at the hands of oppressors. Whenever there is suffering, Jesus says, I suffer with you. I am poured out for you. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And so, We remember… We offer ourselves … We claim a new freedom in this truth…
We proclaim this truth: Death is part of life. Christ has died.
But death will not have the last word. Christ has risen!
And suffering will end. Christ will come again…and again and again, every time suffering is alleviated, comfort is given, food is offered, hope is restored.
(Sing For Every0ne Born, v.5)
For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace; yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice, and joy.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the vision of your Reign Realized, so that we may be for the world your Dream Come True.
By your Spirit open us to each other and to the world, making us one in You, through Christ, in the power of Your redeeming Grace!
(Sing For Every0ne Born – these words not found in the music)
For gay and for straight, a place at the table, a covenant shared, a welcoming space, a rainbow of race and gender and color, for gay and for straight, the chalice of grace And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace; yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice, and joy.
A version of The Lord’s Prayer from The New Zealand Prayer Book
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen.