Sunday, August 12, 2018
Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
1 Kings 19:4-8 Elijah given bread for his journey
Ephesians 4:25–5:2 Put away evil, live in love
John 6:35, 41-51 Christ, the bread of life
Title: Satisfied Sojourners
It’s been an interesting week. Scott and I had the opportunity to keep kosher for much of it. No, we are not considering a conversion. Well, I’m not. Scott can speak for himself. Although, no bacon cheeseburgers could prove a serious deal breaker for him. Also, I helped lead a sing-a-long around a camp fire and for the first time I saw people pulling up lyrics on their phones so that they could sing along. Call me old fashion, but I must admit all those screens glowing their cool blue took away from the warming glow of the fire. These unique experiences and a whole lot more were part of a retreat we attended this past week. As noted in last Sunday’s bulletin, this is an annual gathering that brings together members of an organization called Proclaim – of which I am a member. Proclaim is a fellowship of LGBTQIA+ Lutheran pastors and seminarians that offers support to candidates for ordained ministry, pastors, and the congregations they serve, as well as, encouragement and resources for the doing of ministry, and it continues to challenge the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (the national body that St. John’s is a part of) to recognize, celebrate, and employ the ministries performed by our members. Proclaim is one of the ministry expressions of ELM (Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) of which St. John’s is a supporting congregation. (Oh, while Proclaim does not normally keep kosher, this year the gathering was held at a Jewish retreat center outside of Baltimore that keeps a strict kosher dining hall.)
Now, I bring all this up because as I hear these readings assigned for this morning, I see that the truths articulated in them are regularly witnessed to by my Proclaim colleagues who I learn so much from and gain great inspiration. While my path through candidacy and on to ordination was fairly smooth and I’m sure that there is not a more supportive and courageous a congregation than St. John’s at practicing radical welcome and a “let’s try it” adventurous spirit – all for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ; some of my Proclaim colleagues, in more conservative parts of the country, continue to struggle against lack of understanding regarding gender, attraction, and orientation. I’m sure as they hear the story of Elijah they can certainly relate to this poor old prophet who has had more than enough with trials and tribulations. He has proved himself as a man of God with that spectacular victory over the prophets of Baal on top of Mt. Carmel. Remember the story? Both camps have their sacrifices ready to go. They agree to let their respective gods provide the fire. The prophets of Baal dance and cry and shout, and nothing happens. On the other side of the mountain top, Elijah decides to make it hard for the one true God, and he soaks the wood and the sacrifice with enough water to float Noah’s arc, and, wet as it is, God sends fire and it consumes the sacrifice. And in his thrill of victory, Elijah orders all the prophets of Baal killed. Queen Jezebel threatens to return the favor and have Elijah killed. We pick up the story with Elijah who is in despair and just wants to be done. He seeks to end both his service to God and his life.
Some of my Proclaim colleagues have had similar experiences. I don’t think any of them have successfully called down fire from heaven, but they have had the life of their call to ordained ministry threatened. Whether one of the candidates who by being out was told they could not be ordained prior to the change in church policy in 2009, or those who have had to wait a very long time for a first call because so many congregations still will not even consider an LGBTQIA pastor. One of our members waited 10 years from completing seminary and all requirements to getting his first call. But each of them have remained faithful to their calling from God and to their passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of them continues to look to the bread of life for nourishment and to the Spirit for the energy to journey on, even in the midst of wilderness. Each time the Proclaim community gathers, I am inspired by the joy and hope the community expresses even in the midst of these frustrations and challenges.
One would understand if some of these folks just gave up and left the process. Or maybe even left the church. But they have not only heard this passage from Ephesians, they are living it. They are putting away falsehood – that tells them they are not worthy of their calling – and they speak the truth through trust and faithfulness. They may be angry but they are not letting that anger lead them down roads of despair and hopelessness. And even in the face of injustice, they continually put away bitterness and wrath and live as beloved children of God.
And as imitators of Christ, my Proclaim colleagues certainly can relate to being misunderstood just as Jesus is when he speaks of his identity. As we continue to work our way through the 6th chapter of John, this morning we hear again Jesus tell the people who he is. He comes out, if you will, as the bread of life. And all the listeners can do is look with limited eyes and try to keep him in the closet of their own understanding. At the news that Jesus is the bread come down from heaven, all the people can say is “But you’re Joseph’s son. God can’t be working in your life the way you say.” The church for too long said to LGBTQIA people that God could not be working in their lives in the way that they were witnessing to. Not to mention, women, people of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds, those who are differently-abled.
But the big challenge to this limited thinking came in the late 80’s with the four young men known as the Berkley Four – four California candidates who agreed to come out to their candidacy committee. And though they had done everything necessary for ordination, they were denied. And so the practice of Extraordinary Ordinations began. Extraordinary, because they were done outside of the ordinary process. An extraordinary candidacy committee was established and leading up to 2009 almost 20 called and qualified people were ordained. With the policy change in 2009 this Extraordinary option was no longer needed. And Proclaim was born to offer support and relationship, because we all know too well, that policies may change with a stoke of a pen on paper or a delete on a screen, but hearts and minds take much longer.
And so here Proclaim is today. Nearing 300 members. Which includes about five from ELCIC (the Lutheran Church in Canada). I am indebted to this organization for all the support and collegiality that I have been blessed with since joining seven years ago.
I share all this with you for a few reasons. One, it is good to hear the faith stories of others. It can inspire and encourage each of us – lay and clergy alike. Another reason, it is good to see that the truths found in Scripture are being lived each and every day by those around, and to reflect on how it is lived out in our own lives. Also, I tell this story because, as I mentioned, St. John’s is a contributing congregation to ELM and I want you to know what important work our financial support is doing around the country, in lives of people you probably will never meet.
So as we gather at the table today, to take and eat this living bread, this bread from heaven that is the presence of Jesus our Savior, this bread that nourishes us for a journey that is not always easy as we live our faith that is not always welcome in this crazy and confused world; as we feast, let us be reminded that we are joined with countless others as Christ’s body, called and strengthened to live as beloved children of God, disciples of Jesus, and instruments of the Holy Spirit – for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the world. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in God.
The Rev. Mark Erson,