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June 29, 2003 (Reconciling in Christ Sunday)
Ezekiel 34:11–16; Psalm 87:1–2, 4–6; 1 Corinthians 3:16–23; Mark 8:27–35
Wondrous God, lover of lion and lizard, cedar and cactus, raindrop and river, we praise you for the splendor of the world! We thank you that woven throughout the tapestry of earth are the varied threads of human diversity. Created in your image, we are of many colors and cultures, ages and classes, genders and sexual identities. Different and alike, we are your beloved people. Free us, we pray, from the fears of difference that divide and wound us. Move us to dismantle our attitudes and systems of prejudice. Renew our commitment to make this a household of faith for all people—gay, bisexual, lesbian, and straight—that all who worship and minister here may know the grace and challenge of faith. In our life together, grant us minds and hearts eager to learn, reluctant to judge, and responsive to the leading of your loving Spirit. We ask in Christ’s name. Amen.
Sisters and brothers, reconciled in Christ, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
As we commemorate St. Peter and St. Paul this morning and also lift up being a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation, it might appear that we have a couple of contrasting or unrelated themes. However, it’s amazing how the scripture for this Sunday honoring St. Peter and St. Paul speaks to our desire to be a reconciling congregation, offering and affirming God’s grace to all people.
This is particularly true for our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, which proclaims a wonderful message of comfort and hope to God’s people greatly scattered during their time of exile.
What we notice is that God, like a faithful shepherd, takes personal responsibility for the sheep. “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out,” says God.
What we have here is the parable of the Prodigal Son in reverse. God does not wait patiently for the lost to come to their senses and travel back home. Rather, God aggressively pursues the lost, rescues them from whatever harm they have encountered and brings them back into their own land.
Certainly these words from Ezekiel apply to those who have been geographically scattered...across the mountainsides and into other countries...but it also applies to those who have been scattered emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
These words speak to anyone who has been wounded and exiled from community and those for whom retaining hope has become difficult.
What we notice in this fantastic Gospel proclamation is that God not only seeks and searches. God brings the scattered ones back home, and then also provides pasture, water, safety, and healing for their injuries. It doesn’t get any better than this!
This reflects the message of the beloved 23rd Psalm where the good and faithful shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and restores our souls.
Here at LCH, the beginning of our mission statement announces “Welcoming to all.” This mission statement says that we are and also want to become a community where all are received with joy and where all receive hospitality.
This also means that we want to extend the message of reconciliation not only to those struggling with their sexual identity, but also to all of God’s scattered people...whoever they may be.
It’s interesting, however, that the God described in our reading from Ezekiel is even more purposeful and more aggressive than our mission statement. This God doesn’t just hang out a “Welcome” sign. This God doesn’t merely say, “Let’s get the hospitality ready so that we'll be prepared just in case the scattered ones decide to come home.”
This God is much more active and directed. Again notice the verbs. This God searches and seeks. This God rescues and brings home. This God feeds and makes the scattered ones lie down.
This God doesn’t say, “Leave them alone, and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.” This God knows that some of them will never come home unless God forms a “search and rescue” team and carries them home.
What does this mean for us? Perhaps it means that we, too, can be more purposeful and assertive in searching for the scattered ones and bringing them home...home to God and home in a community of welcome, hope, and joy.
This is where you will find rest for your weary souls. This is where you can lie down in safety. This is where you will find forgiveness and healing for all the wounds you carry in your lives.
God only knows how many scattered ones exist out there and how many folks out there long for reconciliation and long for a community where they are accepted, loved, and forgiven.
I believe that such a community exists here at LCH and we need to be more deliberate in telling our story, and living our story for the world, which surrounds us.
We need to be more intentional in creative ways to bring the scattered ones home where they can experience the fullness of God’s grace and mercy and be at peace in the love and compassion of our Savior Jesus Christ.
This morning during the sermon time you will hear from one of our members who will share with you what it means for her to belong to a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation.
As you hear from her, perhaps her witness will also help you not only to appreciate the tremendous gift of this congregation for you, but also to share this gift with others...especially the scattered ones yearning for a home of love and acceptance.
When Pastor David asked me to share a few of my thoughts with you about why I choose to worship with my family as part of a Reconciling In Christ congregation, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to take stock and also consider my role over the past year on the Youth and Family Task Force.
Today I’m wearing my familiar choir robe. As many of you know, I first attended LCH because Carl invited me to be in the choir. Although I no longer don this attire every Sunday morning, it is important to me that my children learn to listen to and understand God's calling through this beautiful, inspirational music, so carefully chosen for each Sunday’s message. I know how it affects them. When Mitchell was two and Kathy so kindly would place him on the bench and teach him about the wonderful sounds of the organ, Mitchell would go home and use the dining room chairs to build his very own organ. The rungs on the backs of the chairs made great pedals. After Easter services this year, Niell used his Legos and Playmobil people to build our organ complete with Kathy on the bench and Alan playing the trumpet.
When I began singing with the choir, I felt like I was returning to my roots. My father grew up in a German community in Texas and the history of his home church parallels the history of LCH in many respects. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, however, and the nearby Lutheran church was Missouri Synod. Although I was encouraged to serve by providing music for services, teaching vacation Bible school, or even assisting with altar guild, I knew I would never serve as an acolyte, a lector, a deacon, or an elder. The only reason: I was born female.
The message was clear. So, when I went off to college, I wasn’t really looking for a new church home. But, because I was paid to sing, music kept me in the houses of worship. To mention a few, I sang for Catholic churches in Boston, Episcopalian congregations in Ft. Lauderdale, and learned Hebrew for high holy days at Jewish temples in Miami. And now, as a member of the music faculty at BYU-H, I find myself part of the Mormon community.
Over the years it has been interesting to note the similarities, rather than the differences, of these communities of faith. While there were, and are, many pleasant aspects to my association with these various communities, I usually continued to have the same problem. I couldn’t reconcile the invitation I heard in the scriptures with the various restrictions, limitations, and exceptions endorsed by many churches.
LCH was different. Music brought me here, but it is not the reason I joined the church. I became a member because this is a Reconciling In Christ congregation. I stay because this community strives to act upon the model of Jesus Christ...welcoming ALL, inviting everyone to participate fully in the life of the congregation. That’s a message I had wanted to hear when I was a teenager and that is the message I want my sons to hear and experience. Yes, we have a ways to go, but we’re aware of our shortcomings and we struggle with them.
Throughout my career I have had the advantage of forming friendships with many members of the gay and lesbian community. When I was still in college, I began performing with musical theater and operetta companies during the summer. Being a member of a company of performers provides an unusual opportunity to get to know people quite well because for a few intense weeks you are living and working together. There’s no time or place for much of a facade which makes it easier to get to know one another and enjoy new friendships.
I like being in a setting where my friends feel accepted and comfortable. I know when I was growing up the atmosphere was very different. I remember Paul, an older family friend who waited 25 years to mention that he had a partner. I remember Kelvin, my friend in college who struggled with his sexuality and apparently didn’t feel he could tell us he was gay. So after graduation we never heard from him, until right before he died from AIDS.
As a parent, I know that “actions speak louder than words.” My boys will see this church as normal, not special. In their world, there will be all types of couples and families. They won’t have the same appreciation for the struggles of our gay and lesbian friends because we choose to be part of this congregation. They, hopefully, will be ready to take on other challenges.
I desire that my sons feel the unconditional love of God which empowers them to become ALL that God intends them to be. This is a unique place: a RIC congregation which values the challenges and beauty of artistic expressions; a place where we are consistently blessed and challenged by the words of our pastors, a place where my boys are cared for and loved by many special people.
So, I’m serving on the Youth and Family Ministry Task Force and I’m working with the dedicated (and expanding) Learning Ministry team to make this any even better place for the children. Through their relationships and friendships with the special people who gather in this place, they will learn about God’s unconditional love. Through inspirational or challenging words, whether spoken, read or sung, they may hear and respond to God's call.
Copyright © 2003 David Barber and Vicki Gorman
Comments welcome at email@example.com