A Portrait of Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is a difficult thing to grasp.  It means to pardon, to absolve of guilt.  The adage “forgive and forget” is not biblical, and God never says God will not recall our sins, but rather God will forgive them when we seek forgiveness.  Forgiveness means that we are willing to clear the wrong from the slate, and seek the relationship over punitive measures.  Forgiveness is not about vengeance, but reconciliation.  We may never forget what was done, but in forgiving we promise to not hold it against the other, to wield it against them when we feel angry or hurt.  That promise is difficult, and human sinfulness would quickly and all too readily use the wrongs of the past as a weapon in a future conflict, so even as we forgive we must always be on guard not to slip back into the state that preceded our granting grace to another.

“I can never forgive.”  I have heard that many times in my life, personally and professionally.  I understand the sentiment.  I have felt the feeling, but I have also known grace from God.  I know that there have been times in my life when nothing meant anything until I had that assurance that I had been forgiven my sins.  Those times when you are seeking to be reconciled to God can be the most barren and spiritually painful of human existence.  You can feel the weight of the world and be keenly aware of the magnitude of your sin, and the shame is unbearable.  The thought of being cut off for all time from the life force and sustaining love that is the Lord even now makes my chest tight.  To recall how close I have been to that, and then remember the flood of grace into my consciousness and into the fabric of my being is a liberation like no other.  I try to remember that when I need to forgive.  I try to remember what it felt like that moment I knew that God had once more let the blood of the cross cleanse my sin sick self.  I want that knowledge and visceral feeling to motivate me to do likewise for others.

I have known my share of pain and suffering at the hands of others.  I have known the ultimate betrayal, and I have survived.  I now thrive in the aftermath of all of those times precisely because I have forgiven.  I do not seek retaliation, or suffering in kind.  That would only perpetuate the cycle of suffering, and I see no reason to continue the pain I have known.  I want it to die.  I want to hang it up on the cross and leave it there to wither and fade.  I want life and hope to grow forth from the space that forgiveness makes in me and in the lives of others.  I know the hard and too often unspoken truth that reconciliation is not synonymous with restoration, but forgiveness does not rest on the certainty of restoration.  Restoration is something God can do for us, not something that we can make happen here in this world.  Even when I have been willing and wanting, restoration has not always been possible, but the forgiveness made something new possible.  I have learned to live out a new way of being, one where I am free to leave the chains of pain and suffering in the past.  I have been liberated by Christ’s offering on the cross, and I offer that to all who offend me.

If I could paint a picture of forgiveness, it would be a small, but perfectly crafted ice sculpture of whatever image you prefer.  Its beauty carved, and meticulously so.  So lovely that we wish for it to remain that way for all time, but then sin happens, and it fractures, maybe even breaks in two.  We grasp it in our hands, holding it together as if by doing so we could will it to mend.  Yet the image has been destroyed from the form it once held.  Our hands become cold, achingly cold.  We could open them and let what remains of the sculpture fall to the ground and shatter, or we could let the life blood within us circulate in our hands, warming and morphing.  With time, it becomes transformed from the application of body heat, and the ice melts.  Water rushes out from every seam.  It flows between our fingers and down our arms.  It drops to the ground and nourishes whatever lies beneath the soil.  Something hidden and unknown soaks in the life-giving water, and will grow forth in time.  But now our hands are free, liberated to open and grasp something new.  They may reach out to others, or clasp themselves in prayer.  They can become the means by which we help what was thirsty under the ground and out of sight emerge and thrive.  While we thought we would hold tight to that ice sculpture forever and wanted nothing more than to do just that, we now have the opportunity to do something different, but just as loving and amazing.  Perhaps if the other is willing, we will carve a new sculpture together, or maybe we will accept that the sculpture of before is forever lost.  Either way, God wants to help us discover a new purpose for our hands and our lives.

God wants to let forgiveness be the beginning of healing and a new wholeness, not just for us, but for the other one too.  If you have pain and have suffered at the hands of another, then forgiveness is not something God is making you do.  Forgiveness is something God models for us, so that we can discover how incredible it is to be emancipated from the bitterness suffering breeds.  Rancor would suffocate the life out of the spirit, smothering the joy God intends for every person.  Forgiveness is opening the door to a world of hope and new blessings, unknown but promised in Christ.

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The Sin of Scapegoating

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The Sin of Scapegoating

“Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task.  The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22 NRS).


(Image by Sarah Wastella)

While the term itself, “scapegoat” is not in the Bible, the concept comes directly from Scripture.  In the Book of Leviticus, the Law of the Lord, made provision for the collective sins of Israel to be expelled from their midst.  The text outlines the High Priest laying his hands upon the head of the goat, transferring the sins of the people, and then sending it off into the wilderness.  Thus the sins are sent out of the presence of people and the Lord who dwells in their midst.  The notion of scapegoat is one humankind seem to have a natural affinity towards, probably because it takes the burdens of our guilt and bears them.  We do not like to be wrong, guilty, or at fault.  We appreciate the notion that someone else can be to blame.  I have always suspected that this is why so many Christians cling so tightly to the concept of a devil who cajoles us into sinning against God.  Jesus, while explaining what it truly is that defiles a person, tells the disciples: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.  For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matthew 15:18-20 NRS).  Jesus blames our sin and the evil it creates in the world on our sinful inclinations, the evil intentions of our heart, not a devil, or Adam and Eve.  If we are looking for a scapegoat for our sins, someone to hold responsible, we need to look no further than the closest mirror.

We are held responsible for our sins by God.  We break the will of God when we sin, and we seek God’s forgiveness to be absolved of our guilt.  When the High Priest transferred the sins of the people to the goat, it was with full acknowledgment of who had sinned, and what those sins were.  It was a purposeful action.  It was not a case of “we are not really at fault, so this is just a fail safe.”  They had to repent, and that requires acknowledgement and ownership of the actions that caused evil to God and others.  There is no forgiveness without repentance, no grace without the will to receive.  We have to be honest about what we have done; honest with God and ourselves.

I believe that the lack of responsibility for our actions and words is part of the moral decay in the world today, especially in American culture.  I have been the one who has hurt others, and I have been the one hurt by others.  There are times when I might have been able to stave off pain and suffering I have endured, but maybe not.  Sometimes nothing we can do could prevent our suffering when someone else was determined to cause it.  The sin of causing suffering is only compounded when we try to blame someone else for inciting our sin.  No one makes us sin.  It is a choice to do what we know is wrong according to the Lord.  It is to speak or act in such a way that we know will cause harm.  Granting grace and forgiveness does not mean that we should ever blame the victim, the one who bore the evil sin brought.  No one deserves the evil another’s sin visits upon them.  That’s why I was taken aback by the words of Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, in this article published by The Washington Post: “Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde says women can be at fault if they are raped”

Sexual assault is one of the greatest perversions of sex.  It is to take something meant to bless and turn it into the means of hurting another.  Nearly one in every five women in the United States have been sexually assaulted, whether successful or not, even to attempt it is a violation, a sin against the intended victim.  With so many of the female population being victimized, this is statement about the way women are understood, rather than the way women act, speak, or present themselves.  As someone who was sexually assaulted in Middle School, I was shocked to read Ms. Hynde’s remarks.  I was further stunned to discover that she was once raped.  According to her own words, Ms. Hynde blames herself.  It is a dangerous line of thinking.  This is where legalism and God distinctly diverge.  There are no sins of opportunity.  We will ourselves to sin, and God makes no distinction between planned sin and improved sin.  It is all equally sin.  Perhaps like so many others Ms. Hynde makes a distinction.  Maybe she thinks she could have prevented what happened to her.  Maybe, maybe not.  We can spend all our lives conjecturing, but that will never change was happened and what is: a sin was committed, someone was violated, and suffering entered into a life against the will of God.  God never blames the victim in Scripture.  Only the sinner is held responsible for their sin.  Legalism can forget this, and strip the victim of their dignity by placing the blame sinfully back on the one who was hurt.

People make poor choices.  This cannot be denied, but in the face of the truth that people who make good choices can still be made to suffer from the sins of others, our choices may have nothing to do with the sins others commit.  I believe that connection can only be made and validated by God.  If God wishes to make that known to a victim, then that is God’s business, not mine or anyone else’s.  We do not have any right to lay the sin of one person on the head of another.  God never told the High Priest to lay his hands on a human being, but an animal.  When I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a tunic length shirt, leggings, and sneakers.  I was trying to get my books out of my locker before my next class.  I cannot imagine how I incited the assault.  The reality is that a male wanted to express his dominance and in a sexual manner.  He did so, and that was his sin.  He didn’t even know me.  If I had been twenty-five, dressed to go out dancing at a club, and with someone I had once dated, it still would have been his choice to sin, his guilt, and not my fault.  We are all inclined to sin, and God has given all of us the power to resist.  The tragedy is that some will not.  They will sin, and then add insult to injury by blaming the one they hurt.  Follow that line of thinking and meet with disastrous, sinful consequences: “she wanted me to hit her,” “the child kept testing me as if he wanted to get beat,” “he disrespected me so I shot him.”  The battered wife does not deserve her beatings.  The abused child does not deserve their abuse.  A false sense of respect does not justify violence and death.  The victim of sexual assault is not at fault.  Jesus did not deserve the abuse and death he suffered either.

We scapegoat because it makes us feel better, spreads the guilt around.  By making someone else even partially responsible, we have lessened our burden, but God does not share that mindset.  My sin is mine.  Your sin is yours.  Only I can take responsibility, and only I can repent of what is mine.  The same goes for all people.  While we spend so much time and energy trying to pass the blame, we could just be honest and seek forgiveness.  God is ever ready and willing to forgive the one who repents.  Even if other people are not willing to model this graciousness, God will exonerate the victims we have failed to shield from scapegoating.  Then we will all have to account for the times we participated in scapegoating another person.

Prayer:

Have mercy, my God.

Forgive me for my sins, those I commit according to my will.

Help me rid myself of the will to blame others.

Help me take responsibility for my sin, so that I can repent.

Sin destroys the good you created, and the love you give.

It perverts the blessings you bestow, and makes evil a real presence.

For those I have wrongly blamed, I cry out my shame.

For those I have made suffer, I reject those ways.

I cling to you, and seek your grace.

Let me stand with others against the sin of scapegoating.

Let me speak up for those who have been silenced by unjust words of condemnation.

Allow me to be a vessel of your love.

Amen.

What Worship Really Means

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This past Sunday, during the 9:45 Emergent Worship service I lead, I was preaching on the Minor Prophet Zephaniah, whose prophecy emphasized the deterioration of worship by God’s people, and the ways in which the leaders had contributed to this decline.  There are other messages in the book, but worship kept jumping out at me each time I sat with the text.  Through the discernment process over the course of the week before, I kept thinking that I often hear people incorrectly interchange worship with private devotion.  I address this in my sermon, an educational moment if God ever presents one.

Worship is corporate in Christianity, and underscored by Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20 NRS).  Christ tells is that when two or more gather in his name, as we do in communal worship, then he is present too.  Not only is Christ in our midst, but he is made manifest in a miraculous way: the transformation of a group of Christians into the Body of Christ.  This transformation and real presence of Christ is one of the things that cannot be duplicated by an individual Christian, and I suspect that Jesus thought it would be hubris for any one person to think they could fully manifest God the Son on their own.  As clergy, I cannot do it all by myself either.  My God appointed role is to lead others in worship, and whether that is just one other person or a thousand, my purpose is the same, but requires at least one other person to fulfill it.  Honestly, I enjoy being able to lead a large gathering in our worship, but mostly because it is powerful to hear many voices united in proclaiming the mighty acts of God, singing the praises of the Lord, and lifting up their prayers as one.  It is not about me, but us together.

Personal devotion is just as important, and bridges the gap that would exist between Sunday worship of one week and the next.  Acts of devotion include: reading Scripture, being part of small groups like Bible Studies and prayer meetings, family and personal prayer, spiritual disciplines like fasting and abstinence, and singing hymns and other sacred music.  While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does give some insight into the kinds of religious acts and activities that are important for individual Christians to grow their faith, deepen their wisdom, and sustain them over the course of time and during the midst of tribulations.  God gave us these means of grace knowing that worship once a week for an hour or so would not be enough.  A decade of ministry and a lifetime as a Christian confirms this.  Worship is crucial, but it also needs additional commitment and fuel of personal devotion.  Just as no personal devotion could ever fill the void that exists when we do not come before the Lord to worship together in community.

We worship together to give glory to God and praise for the blessings we have received.  We also benefit from God graciously granting us God’s presence during worship, offering us insight into God’s Word through its proclamation and expounding in sermons, and being in the midst of others like us.  As I said Sunday, we are not perfect or worthy to be in worship before God.  We are those who recognize our need for God and God’s grace, and come to give our gratitude for receiving it through Christ Jesus.  We come together with other imperfect and sinful vessels to be filled with hope, God’s love, and the limitless grace for those who repent, which we also do in worship.  It is in the context of worship that we take part in the sacraments, those tangible signs of God’s grace: baptism and holy communion.  During both sacraments, God cleanses us of the guilt we incur from our sin and discover justifying grace, which empowers us to go forth as renewed people freed from sin and death.  However, we will all sin again, even if it is only unintentional sin, so we can come back to worship, continuously take holy communion, and receive the grace that comes from confessing our sin and receiving forgiveness.

As clergy, I can see the vast difference between the time when I am clearly engaged with my personal devotion and when I am not.  My personal devotion fuels my passion and productivity in worship.  It strengthens my connection to God through the Holy Spirit and that bond bears fruit.  I come to exist in a framework of theological reflection, filtering everything I hear, see, and encounter through the lens of Christ.  It provides me with limitless material for sermons, lessons, worship series, and blog posts, not to mention prayers.  It becomes a means by which I provide current, contextual reflections for my congregation.  It makes me a better pastor while making me a better Christian.  When I am in a vibrant, healthy place in my personal devotion, then I am able to take the worship I lead to the next level also.  I believe this to be a reciprocal statement for lay persons as well.  I notice who sings with passion, singing the words as if they were your own.  I hear those who speak the creeds and affirmations of faith with conviction.  I can see the engagement on your face when I am preaching, and see the Holy Spirit moving through you as we worship.

So worship really isn’t about us.  It has always been about God, and the community within which God is calling us to take our rightful place.  We come as individuals to be melded into the Body of Christ, and we depart to carry that experience back into our lives, the spheres of influence that comprise our world.  While back in our daily lives, we partake in the various means by which God connects to us, and sustains us until we can all come back together again in worship, and share in the rejuvenation that it brings to those who yearn for God.  Worship and personal devotion are not the same, nor can one be a complete substitute for the other.  They complement one another, and bring us to a fuller faith, a more mature relationship with God.  The Church must respect the vital role of personal devotion and individual Christians must honor the place of worship in their faith.  Together we will all grow into the Body of Christ God has called us to from the moment of our creation.

It’s Alive!: Bringing Scripture to Life

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(Image by Sarah Wastella)

(Image by Sarah Wastella)

You may have heard someone refer to the Bible as the “Living Word of God,” or some variant of that.  At a time in human history when Mainstream Christianity is atrophying, I find myself wondering why Scripture seems so dead to an entire generate of young adults.  In a study completed by the Barna Group in 2013, it was reported that Americans between the ages of 18-28 read the Bible less than three times a year, if they read it at all.  That same study discovered that 88 percent of the households who completed the survey report owning a Bible.  I suspect there are a lot of neglected and dusty Bibles on shelves and in drawers all over the country.  Are we treating the Bible like a piece of memorabilia, a collector’s item?

God always intended for God’s Word to be internalized, becoming part of the very fabric of our beings.  We need to read it, so we can know it.  We need to know it, so we can live it.  At this point many people will immediately think of all the boring or often abused portions of the Bible.  I know the long, very long genealogies can seem over the top and filled with names no one wants to even attempt to pronounce, but they all make sense when you read the genealogies at the beginning of the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke that trace Jesus all the back to Adam and Abraham.  I know the 613 commandments contained in the Torah/Pentateuch/first five books of the Old Testament, and mainly in Leviticus, seem antiquated to say the least, and abhorrent in certain cases, but Jesus illuminates much of that for us, as do the prophetic books crying out for social justice.  Do we really case off all 66 books that comprise the Bible because of some admittedly large chunks of difficult to digest portions?  Where is the justice to the less read and almost completely uncited texts that celebrate life, turn even our modern societal norms upside down, and expose the injustices we perpetuate?  There are a lot of wonderful things to be discovered within the pages of the Bible.

For me, the most crucial things to be gleaned from its pages is this: God loves first and foremost, and God’s love is the only thing that will last.  Even sin, evil, suffering, and death will pass away, but God’s love is the eternal constant in all the universe.  When we love, loving God and others, then we enliven the text of the Bible.  It lives in us, and lives on through us; our lives become the vehicles for that love entering into the world in new and relevant ways.  Otherwise the words of Biblical Hebrew and Ancient Greek are meaningless to the everyday lives of modern-day Americans.  The wisdom of God’s Word is not limited to the people who first received it and their several subsequent generations afterwards.  It has a core truth rooted in the omniscience of God, and the view of all the world from on high in heaven.  From there God can see all the way into the hearts of human beings not yet conceived and born.  God has never been one to only see the bad, the sinful inclinations that lie in wait there to be unleashed in our lives.

From the very beginning there was this faith in us, a confidence in we who are created in the divine image, that we could make decisions to walk in the ways of the Lord, to turn aside from sin, and embrace the grace God would continuously pour out.  That faith is cataloged in every page of the Bible, sometimes in bold text and sometimes whispered in the spaces in between.  When we read the Scriptures, and meditate on the divine wisdom therein, we begin to embody that trust God has in us.  Perhaps this is how we will once again regain the trust of the future generations, and bring revival to the Church Christ founded to be a means of grace, not gatekeepers of it.

Grace and Love, Not Shame and Hate: A Reflection on Legal Gay Marriage

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I had never been to a Pridefest before.  I knew it was a communal event to show support for the LGBT community, and I knew that the one being held last weekend in my city would be celebratory in the wake of the monumental Supreme Court decision to allow for legal gay marriage in every state.  When I was invited to attend, I thought to myself that I had never been to one, and so I wanted to experience it for myself.  Even getting dressed to go became a difficult endeavor, because I don’t have a lot of rainbow apparel.  I decided to focus on my jewelry: two cuffs that are precious to me.  The first is from India, made by women who used to be objectified and used in the sex trafficking industry through heterosexual sexual sin.  It is embossed with one simple word: LOVE.  We all need love, and no matter what anyone says, I think we all yearn for it.  The second cuff is a recent acquisition from Annual Conference, that statewide gathering of United Methodists from all over Virginia who descended upon Roanoke two weekends ago.  It is up-cycled from leather remnants and an old spoon.  It was hand stenciled with the phrase, “SAVED BY GRACE.”  The combined statement of those four words on my wrists made me feel ready.  I may not be gay, but I do have numerous family members and beloved friends who are.  As a heterosexual person, I wanted my only statement to be consistent with Christ: grace and love for all.

(Image by Sarah Wastella)

(Image by Sarah Wastella)

I do not believe that I have to agree with everything about you to love you.  Yet I do not like the implication of that old adage, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”  I mourn sin, but I think hatred is a seed planted in the heart that is antithetical to the love Christ calls forth.  If God wants to hate sin, then that’s God’s business, as God cannot be corrupted by hate as humans can.  I’m focusing on loving and granting grace, leaving space for transformation, as I feel called in Christ’s name to do.  I have many people in my life whom I love with all that I am.  Some of them practice a lifestyle that can be harmful at times.  Some sin regularly and openly.  Some are trying to change their ways and their life.  They are all in different places, and I consider myself a vessel of God’s presence when I love in spite of sin.  I seek to be one who looks beyond the brokenness to search out the potential in each person to magnify the Lord.  I do this because I want someone to do it in me.  I want to forgive as I know I need to be forgiven, and I have been by God through the grace of God.

So it was that I walked into the park where Pridefest was being held.  It was a plethora of rainbows, and flamboyant apparel.  None of that bothered me, as I am rather colorful and flamboyant myself.  The rainbow is an ancient Biblical symbol for peace.  Genesis recounts how God, the Father, hung his bow, his weapon of war, in the sky after the flood that destroyed all the earth except the life preserved within the ark (Genesis 9:8-17).  It was to be a perpetual reminder of the loss that had occurred and the promise never to destroy the world with flood again.  The rainbow has been used by the LGBT community as they have struggled against constant threat of violence, both physical and verbal.  They long for the day when their heterosexual adversaries would hang up their weapons of violence, and let them live in peace.  Since we do not round-up other sinners and subject them to this kind of abuse and torture, I see their point.  I regret the suffering they have endured, and the deaths that have been for no other reason than a hatred unleashed.  This is not who God created humankind to be.  While people argue that God did not create us to be gay either, I believe that I can only control how I react to what is before me.  I reject violence.  I renounce the forces of wickedness that allows one group of human beings to dehumanize and seek to destroy another.

I am not without internal conflict about the practice of homosexuality.  I know the nine references to the act in the Bible, five in the Old Testament and four in the New.  I have read them over and over for a decade now, and I remain as confused and overwhelmed as ever.  I also consider that four of my top ten people in my life are gay.  They have done for me, when heterosexuals have not.  They have loved me in spite of my sinfulness, too.  I cannot hate them.  I will not hate them.  I wonder if we would treat them this way if their sins were struggles with addiction, stealing, or another form of sexual sin.  I think not, because I know we do not treat other sins this way.  We have singled out one sin and elevated it above others.  We have set ourselves against an entire group of people, and for what end?  Have we changed hearts to look like Christ’s through this?  Have we revealed the grace of God in transformative ways this way?  No, we have created enemies of the Church, and turned an entire generation sympathetic to their LGBT loved ones away.  We are losing our image of Christ embodied in our grace and love, and it is being replaced with one marked by judgment, hypocrisy, and hatred.  It makes my heart-break.  I suspect that God is not pleased with this course of events either.

I stayed quiet and did a lot of observing.  There was a lot of public displays of affection, but less than I observe in the heterosexual population on Valentine’s Day.  There were LGBT people of all ages, multiple races, and any other signifier I could conjure up.  They were human and expressed the same flaws and fabulousness any heterosexual might.  There was a lot of talk about the marriage equality ruling.  I think it was time.  As someone who is tasked with presiding at weddings, I think we made a linguistic error in the Church.  We allowed Holy Matrimony, a life-long covenant made before God and ratified in the Church, to be referred to in the terms of legal marriage.  I officiate Holy Matrimony.  It just so happens that the Commonwealth of Virginia accepts this Holy Matrimony as legal marriage.  But not all heterosexual marriage is Holy Matrimony.  We have untold numbers of heterosexual couples who have been wed legally outside of the Church, and many of those unions would not have been performed in the Church, at least not by me.  I refuse to perform a wedding for a couple when I know there is abuse going on.  I will not perform a wedding at a drive through for people I do not know.  I will not perform a wedding when people spent a wild night in Las Vegas and decide to get married to someone they just met on a whim.  Yet all of these happen and regularly so, and they are legal.  So those heterosexual couples have legal rights that unmarried couples, heterosexual and homosexual do not.  I don’t see the justice there, if we deny homosexual couples the right to marry legally.  People who have been dedicated and committed to one another should have the ability to share in healthcare insurance, property rights, and end of life decisions.

The book of doctrine for my denomination, the United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits clergy from officiating a homosexual union.  Regardless of how a clergy person feels about that personally, we vow to uphold the Book of Discipline professionally as part of the investiture of Apostolic power and authority in us.  If that is ever changed in the course of proper Church polity, then every clergy person will have to decide how they will live that out, but this is not the case today.  So while I cannot and will not perform a homosexual union of Holy Matrimony, I can still see where a secular, legal change to marriage outside of the Church can be a good and joyful thing.  I see people who have been together longer than I have been alive, and now they can enjoy legal rights denied to them solely because of their sexuality.  The day could come when the State no longer recognizes Holy Matrimony as legal marriage, but I would still perform them, because that is my charge as clergy.  Sometimes we need to recognize that the affairs of the Church are not synonymous with affairs of the world.  When people articulate a fear that this will destroy marriage, I tell them that I have yet in the past five years to perform a single marriage where the couple was not already cohabiting.  There is an all together different threat going on to Holy Matrimony, and it is the ease with which we are willing to cast off the vows for divorce or adultery, and forsake the biblical parameters of celibacy before being married.

In the end, I attended my first Pridefest, and tried to see a people who were not truly any different from me like I see myself.  We all sin.  We all fall short of the glory of God.  We all need grace, and we all want to be loved.  I am done shaming someone for one sin, when no one does so for a different sin.  I am done allowing hate, when we are a people born out of God’s redemptive love.  I choose to love.  I will love in spite of any and all sin, because I want God to do this for me in spite of mine.  I will grant grace that every person I know will grow in their love and deepen their relationship with God, who alone can transform us from the unrepentant sinners of our birth into the beloved saints of the Kingdom to Come.  There is no sexual identity requirement for Christ’s forgiveness, and if we keep acting like there is in the Church, then we will have sealed our fate.  It is time we let God do the interior work in the hearts of all humankind, regardless of their sexual status.  This is the purview of the Holy Spirit, and we are wholly unqualified to co-opt it.  The grace Jesus gave to sinners during his earthly ministry was not about judgment and condemnation, which was abundant in the Pharisees, but divine encounter and love.  I pray the Church will become more about the latter, and forsake the former.  May God work in all of our hearts, and change us to be more Christ-like.

A Prayer of the Exhausted Servant

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Lord, who rested on the seventh day of creation,

In your infinite wisdom, you call me to rest.

To take the time to stop my rushing about seems like insanity.

But I can sense my exhaustion seeping into my body and infecting my spirit.

I do need to take time to rest, and rest in you.

I recognize that I cannot do it all, by myself, and non-stop.

I need you.

I confess that I have not always looked to you, as if I did not fully trust you.

Forgive me that slight.

Help me to recognize my limits, and appreciate your limitlessness.

Rejuvenate me with your Spirit.

Wash my aches and pains, my burdens and my sins in your grace.

Cleanse me even as you restore me.

May I wake up tomorrow refreshed and ready to serve you, and others in your name.

I pray this day will be a time to reconnect to you,

For you alone can carry me when I fall exhausted.

You will never let me down.

You never have.

Thank you for that.

Amen.

Corporate Mad Libs Prayer of Peace & Patience

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Yesterday I shared a new way of praying we practiced in the Emergent Worship service I lead in my church.  The next week after we did the individual Mad Libs prayer cards, we did a corporate Mad Libs prayer.  This time each person was invited to take a strip of card stock and write their name upon it.  Decoration and personalization were encouraged.  The prayer text was posted on the wall, and people were invited to add their name wherever they wanted.

Before

Before

Soon people were doing multiple cards with their names on them, and then people started making name cards for others who were not present, but in need of prayer and support.  Children were getting help from adults, and those who were not tall enough to place their name where they wanted were assisted by the taller ones.  It was a perfect example of peacefully working together and everyone was patient to take their turn at the prayer wall.  Sometimes we are given experiences that underscore precisely what God is conveying in Scripture, and this was one of those blessed occasions.  Before I knew it, the wall had been transformed into this:

(Image by Sarah R. Wastella)

After

Maybe this is something you can offer where you worship.  Or perhaps it is something you want to erect in a private space of your own, to keep a visual prayer for your beloved.  I offer it here, so that it might bless others as it has been a blessing to us.  Here is the prayer itself:

God of the Meek and the Strong,

The Poor and the Wealthy,

The Sick and the Healthy,

We, your people, lift up our prayers to you…

__________ needs your peace to wash over their relationships.

__________ is thankful you are patient with them.

__________ asks to feel your presence more fully.

__________ wants to become more patient with others.

__________ desires to experience a deeper relationship with you.

__________ asks for healing.

__________ wants your grace to wash over them.

__________ needs your help with a struggle.

__________ needs your strength during a time of stress.

__________ yearns for direction and divine guidance.

__________ seeks your comfort as they mourn.

__________ is grateful for forgiveness.

__________ gives thanks for your love.

__________ celebrates a triumph over adversity.

__________ seeks the peace that comes from you.

__________ wants to grow in love.

__________ wants to follow the path of Jesus Christ more fully.

__________ asks for the power to resist sinful inclinations.

__________ desires to embody the Risen Christ for others.

All the people say amen.