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June 18, 2006 (Sunday 11 • Time after Pentecost/Reconciling in Christ Sunday)
Webmaster's Note: Two members of the congregation spoke for Reconciling in Christ Sunday. Jim Sullivan is a former Council member and is active with the Property Committee. Jimmy Castro plays with the 8:00 Ensemble and serves on the Call Committee. Interim Pastor Steve Jensen began the sermon time with a description of his own thoughts on the subject, and Intern Pastor Josh Graber wrapped up the presentation.
Intern Pastor Josh and I spoke this past week about the progress that has been made at LCH over the years regarding being a Reconciling in Christ congregation and felt that it was important for us to “bookend” the homilies by Jim and Jimmy as a way of showing out support.
It was the executive committee of the council that interviewed me prior to my arrival as your intentional interim pastor, and our conversation was not made available in detail to the congregation. I believe it’s important for you all to know where I stand on this issue.
As I recall, my response to the question about how whether or not I would be comfortable as the pastor of an RIC congregation was something like this:
I have difficulty with congregations, frankly, that are NOT open to all. My understanding of the ministry of Christ was that we ALL be reconciled to God through him and his sacrifice. His words recorded during the Last Supper which we repeat each Sunday tell us that his body and blood were “given for you and for all for the forgiveness of sin.”
The Great Commission to go out into all the world and preach the Good News to every creature was given after the Great Commandment—to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Christ mentions no exceptions in those directions to his disciples and thus makes no exceptions in his expectations of us as today’s disciples. ALL are to be loved and cared for as children of a loving God.
I have been involved with churches who have struggled in recent years to debate with one another and come to a decision about the issue before the ELCA Assembly last year regarding the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian clergy. Those debates were often painful and divisive, yet they also often gave voice to family members struggling with the church’s welcome or lack thereof to their children and to GLBT members seeking simple acceptance and understanding. For some congregations the deliberations brought greater openness and purposeful welcoming of their own disenfranchised members and to visitors. For others, it pointed out that sexuality wasn’t the only thing they judged in others.
Here at LCH, however, it is refreshing to see that ALL people are welcomed and accepted for who they are. I trust that you will continue to be deliberate in your openness and welcome to those who seek the Lord.
What does “Reconciling In Christ” mean? According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, reconcile means to “restore to friendship or harmony.” It seems to me that we at LCH are in the process of restoring and being restored to friendship in Christ.
What brought me to LCH was hope that I could find a place that would accept me for who I am and not for what I am suppose to be. I grew up in an evangelical “holy roller” style of church. I could quote scripture and sing hymns from memory. But I felt like an undocumented alien. I acted like a god-fearing, righteous person; but inside I felt like an unlovable outsider because my spirit would not accept living within the strict confines of whom it was that I could love and live my life with. This conflict made it painful for me to attend church services and eventually lead to despair and to the point of near suicide. Out of self-preservation I left the church in which I was raised. But I never stopped looking for a community I could be a part of.
My life’s journey brought me to Honolulu, where Edward and I found each other. I expressed to Edward that I missed being in church, and he said that I should look for one where we would both be welcomed, and he would accompany me. I did look and decided to try LCH, and 15 years later we are still here. But it has been a process of restoring. The first few weeks I attended I wouldn’t even take communion because I was taught that communion was for “insiders.” Pastor Don Johnson noticed my reluctance and asked me to consider taking communion. I did, and the restoring began. Now I look forward to communion because it has become the time in my busy schedule where I stop and connect with God, and He lets me know that I am accepted and being restored. I even get the opportunity to help serve communion and be part of the restoring process.
The first few years in Honolulu my work took me unaccompanied to Kauai, Maui, and Kona for months at a time. I went to other churches there and tried to “fit in,” but that was like putting a round peg in a square hole. The peg will fit, but not easily and not very well. And I kept returning to Honolulu and attending LCH, and the restoring continued. This place has become my home. I feel like I have been woven into the fabric of LCH and LCH into the fabric of my spirit. When I look at LCH from a distance, I see a unified collage of colors, textures, and forms and not a segregated, well-defined group of lines and colors.
I still have inner conflicts because I live and work in a world that denies employment, housing, and dignity based on age, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion. And I have felt and been subjected to these practices. But one thing that continues to give me hope is the process of reconciling and being Christ to one another that is the ministry of LCH.
In 2 Corinthians 5:18 and 19 we find these words:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
And that is what “Reconciling In Christ” means to me.
I see a Reconciling in Christ congregation as like a wandering child who has discovered a family he didn’t know existed. LCH is the church family that attracted me, and for that I am grateful. My wife, Olivia, was already a member, and I came seeking anonymity and wanting to avoid any church involvement. But it didn’t work that way.
There are those family members who are no longer with us:
Then there are those who touched my life and are still among us:
These are the stones that make the foundation of what I call family. Interspersed among these family members are males and females, those young and young-at-heart, aficionados of tradition and some progressive-minded, civilians as well as military. I am connected to all of them because of their contributions to my life.
Perhaps one perspective of LCH may be expressed in what my friend Buzz often said, “Jimmy, we may not have it altogether, but together we can have it all.”
I once asked Jim how he defines “aloha,” and he said that for him it was a way of seeing the world and interacting with it. I think that can be our understanding of “Reconciling” as well, and I think Jimmy reminded us of that—that “Reconciling” is something we continue to do in a community and something we continue to live out at LCH.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today on Reconciling in Christ Sunday because LCH’s status as a Reconciled in Christ congregation is a big part of why I’m here. I wanted to be a part of a congregation that was a Reconciled in Christ community because I think there are far too many doors closed to people that really need love and acceptance in our society, and church doors shouldn’t be closed when people are in need. Churches should have open doors, open arms, open hands to welcome people not turn them away, and that seems to be what Reconciling in Christ is all about. By being here at LCH this year, I have seen how this community has been able to reach out to so many people, and I have seen how important this community is and how its status as a Reconciling in Christ congregation has made this community a more loving place.
I wanted to close our presentation today with a promise—a promise that is true for you and a promise that is true for all of us because it reminds us that we are reconciled to one another because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. This is a promise from Paul’s Letter to Romans. It’s an important one for me, and I hope it is or will be important to you as well as we think about that reconciliation.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We come from different places, but are a part of one community in the Body of Christ. Our faith does not separate us from each other but brings us together in Christ. This promise is true for all of us. But it is also true for each of you. It is true for you today.
Copyright © 2006 Lutheran Church of Honolulu and the individual speakers
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