You Can't Legislate Away Grace
It seems like an eternity since I last worshiped with you. Almost two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry to be examined and considered for provisional membership, provisional ordination, in our conference. Thank you for your prayers. I felt as though I had the entire Mount Olivet community with me in Richmond. I am happy to report back to you I have been approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry to be commissioned in June at our Annual Conference in Roanoke, VA, and I look forward to celebrating with you all in June.
Much has happened in the ninth chapter of Luke up to the place we find ourselves in this morning. The disciples received their mission from Jesus. Jesus “gave them power and authority of all demons and to cure diseases.”
Next, Jesus and the disciples fed 5,000+ people with a couple loaves of bread and a few fish.
Finally, Jesus revealed to the disciples the “great suffering,” and rejection he would undergo at the hands of the elders, priests, and scribes. Jesus told his disciples he would be rejected and condemned by the theologians, pastors, and lawyers, and added the disciples themselves would undergo the same fate.
From there, Jesus went up a mountain, taking Peter, James, and John with him to pray. This is where we pick the story up this morning. Once Jesus, Peter, James, and John arrived at the top of the mountain and began to pray and an awesome moment occurred. As they prayed Jesus’ face began to change, “and his body became dazzling.” As if this were not enough, two people appeared: Moses and Elijah. Two people who were essential to the identity of Israel. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and to freedom and led them through the wilderness. Elijah, a prophet, pointed to the promised coming of Christ, reminding Israel of the promised freedom God would provide them through the Messiah. G-d’s glory had been revealed to both of them in the mountain top experiences. Moses was given the Law on Mt. Siani and Elijah contested the prophet of Ba’al on a mountain. Yet, Moses and Elijah, while being leaders, had been rejected and persecuted during their days.
G-d’s identity and faithfulness were revealed and reconfirmed on mountains.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah alongside Jesus, in full glory, confirmed for the disciples everything Jesus had told them up to that moment. Through the glorified and vindicated presence of Mose and Elijah, Jesus’ prediction of his coming suffering comes with the assurance of vindication. All of this confirms Jesus’ position as the bearer of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of G-d.
Peter, James, and John were standing in the midst of divine revelation and their first instinct was to memorialize the location. G-d was revealed, along with the fullness of Jesus’ identity, confirmation of what was shouted from the Heaves at this baptism, and Peter decides what the mountain needed most at this moment was a dwelling place for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Here is the problem: the Kingdom of G-d and the full revelation of G-d’s glory cannot be contained and thus, they, we, must continue on with our journey after the mountain top experience. This journey now turns Jesus towards Jerusalem, and suffering and rejection.
Mountain top encounters with G-d reveal not only the glory of G-d to us but also our own calling.
This revelation occurs on literal mountains but also in places where we go, just as Jesus and the disciples did, to intentionally petition and wait, fully expecting G-d’s glory to be revealed to us. It is on the mountain where the rejection and suffering to be experienced by Jesus on the cross, along with the mystery of the empty tomb are most fully realized.
By now most of you know this past Tuesday, as a denomination, the United Methodist Church chose to tighten its restrictions on same-sex marriages along with the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Their language, not mine. Not ours. Saturday of last week through Tuesday afternoon I sat in the press box of the Dome at America’s Center alongside my Crackers and Grape Juice crew to observe and report on the Special General Conference. I sat in the rafters as delegates from around the world proof-texted, taking scripture entirely out of context, weaponizing G-d’s word. I wept as the One Church Plan failed to make it before the governing body for a vote, and as the traditional plan was passed. I wept knowing and seeing the impact this would have on LGBTQIA clergy, as well as on Mount Olivet’s ability to fulfill the mission we believe G-d has placed before us.
The language used to draft the traditional plan, along with the language in our Book of Discipline is strange. “Incompatible with Christian teaching” when referring to our LGBTQIA community is oxymoronic. Our denomination’s decades-long in-fight over who is in and who is not, who can be married and who cannot, and who can be ordained and who cannot, misses the entirety of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
We have missed the point of the Gospel entirely!
It is time to be painfully clear: No one is incompatible with Christian teaching. LGBTQIA persons ARE NOT incompatible with Christian teaching. Who G-d has created us to be, imago Dei, in G-d’s own image, cannot incompatible! The only thing incompatible with Christian teaching is sin, which is why we need Jesus’ saving grace. And who people are and who they love is not a sin.
This is perhaps the toughest sermon I have ever had to write. Since Tuesday evening I have not been able to find the words I would say to you this morning. I stood in the room as clergy and lay delegates fell to the ground in agony knowing their ordinations would be taken from them and they were being excluded from the life of the church.
I stood next to Jeff and Steve, a couple I had lunch with on Monday, as they held one another, in shock of what just happened. Both of them had previously been kicked out of ministry because of who G-d had created them to be, excluded from fulfilling a calling confirmed by their local church and conference connection.
The only words I could come up were, “I’m sorry.” I am not sure if I even got the words out.
I saw people, pastors, celebrating as “their side” had won, which is odd language when you think about it, as though it was the greatest moment in their lives. I heard young people exclaim they would never again set foot inside a United Methodist Church.
It is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we recall the fullness of Jesus’ identity being revealed and confirmed, connecting Jesus with the liberators and prophets of Israel’s past. While little of what happened in a once indoor NFL stadium resembled a group of people following Jesus, today, a few days removed from General Conference, Jesus is still the transfigured Messiah, guiding his disciples down the mountain, heading towards the cross.
We are still a community committed to living out our baptismal covenant, being grounded in prayer, communal living, and service.
It is impossible for us to live this life together if people are prevented from fully being a part of our called lives together.
The General Conference is the legislative body of the United Methodist Church, a 12 million person global denomination. The General Conference is the only body who can speak on behalf of the global United Methodist Church. What was clear last Tuesday evening was that the General Conference does not speak on behalf of communities who are committed to living our calling to be a community where all people are fully included into the life of the community. The General Conference does not speak on behalf of Mount Olivet!
We will continue to be, and you need to know your pastors are committed to this, an inclusive community grounded in prayer and committed to a life of service to all people and with all people.
The mountain top experience the disciples had was not contained on that hill. As they came down, a man approached the group with an ill child. This was a moment for healing and the disciples had forgotten the power given to them by Jesus. The disciples forgot the grace extended to them just a few days prior. Where his disciples failed to act, Jesus stepped in and healed the boy.
We cannot forget the mission given to us by Jesus - to be a community welcoming of all persons into the life and ministry of our congregation regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family or socioeconomic status, education, politics, physical or mental ability or health, or faith history.
As we come down the mountain, having had the glory of G-d revealed to us in its fullest, Jesus is guiding us and revealing the pain in our midst. But we do not have to sit back and wait, after all, what good is the mountain top experience few we are not radically transformed and compelled to see the world as Jesus does.
The journey down the mountain is often full of uncertainty and chaos. There will be moments when people forget their own calling and fail to see the world as Christ does. But the journey down the mountain culminates in the empty tomb where all are freed from the pain of sin. The pain we inflict upon one another and ourselves when we fail to live as the body, globally and locally, Jesus has called us to.