Monthly Archives: April 2017

For the Love of Jesus, I am not going away

Yesterday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) released its decision on a request from the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC concerning the application of certain paragraphs from the Discipline on the nomination, election and consecration of bishops. In shorter terms, the question had to do specifically with the nomination, election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the paragraphs have to do with “self avowed practicing homosexuals.”  Here is the link to the full review of the case before the Council.

There are a “lot of words” out there on this case, before the Council met and now since they have released their decision. For non United Methodists, the Judicial Council is basically our Supreme Court. They make decisions based on requests from United Methodists that question acts by bishops or pastors or annual conferences and rule on what is “lawful” or “constitutional” within the UMC. The Judicial Council doesn’t make the laws or the rules that are within the Discipline, they only make decisions as to whether entities within the church are following them, or upholding them. The General Conference is entrusted with writing or rewriting or changing the Discipline every four years.

The church, for some time, has wrestled with the issues surrounding human sexuality. This is not the first debate the “church” has had over biblical issues. The church has split over many other kinds of issues, over power, over structure, over biblical authority, over slavery, over women in the ministry, divorced people in the church and in the ministry, over the use of alcohol, playing cards or dancing. I am not making light of the conversation and deep divide that is in front of the UMC right now. I am pointing out, that the church is constantly struggling to figure out how to be the church and how to live out following Jesus Christ in a real way in each generation.

The Methodist church divided over slavery a little over 150 years ago. Each side believed they were right. Slavery is biblical, there are verses in place as to how to treat a slave appropriately. And yet…..I do not believe there is a church left that still believes that “owning” another human being is Christian. Women have been in the pulpit just a bit over a 100 years, and yet it was not until 1956 women were full members as clergy. There are still people who walk away from the church when a woman is appointed as pastor. There is plenty in the New Testament to cling to if one wants to deny women the opportunity to live out their call as pastors and preachers and teachers. It has only been since the 1970’s that divorced people could be ministers. If a pastor went through a divorce he (and at that time it was usually a he) had to turn in his credentials. Of everything that I have noted, divorce is the one thing that Jesus had some very strong and judgemental words to say. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

I was saddened by the Judicial Council’s ruling, but not surprised. Their job is to rule on what the Book of Discipline states. As someone who has been clergy for 35 years, I know what the Discipline states and have worked to change the language. Our, as in United Methodists, statements that all people are of sacred worth and that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings is contradictory. Obviously I disagree, but the Discipline states what it states, so the decision by the ruling should not surprise anyone. Judicial Council’s function is not to question or change what is in the Discipline, it is only to rule on whether or not the question before them is valid and then what if any acts are in violation of the Discipline. The Western Jurisdictions College of Bishops released this statement. The College (which is the name of the group of bishops for a particular area) already has had Bishop Oliveto’s “case” under review. The sad thing is that her jurisdiction elected her with no dissenting votes, which is practically a unanimous vote. They elected Bishop Oliveto because they believed she had the gifts and the graces to lead the church forward. Her assigned annual conference also have many who agree with her giftedness for the church.

I am saddened by this because I continue to see the best and brightest and most gifted people turned away because they are gay or lesbian. Men and women are told they are sacred worth, but not holy and sacred enough to share their lives and their gifts for ministry in the church. Some congregations won’t even allow them to be on staff or in leadership. I, divorced and remarried, am allowed to stand up Sunday after Sunday and preach grace, love and hope and promise and faith and the good news of new life in Jesus. Yet, someone, who happens to have a different orientation than I, is denied that privilege not because of an action that Jesus clearly condemns, but on the basis of their “being.”

I have been told that those who think the church needs to change should just go away or start a new church. What if those who had worked diligently for slavery to be abolished had just gone away? Or those who worked for full inclusion of people regardless of the color of their skin had just gone away? Or those who worked for the full inclusion of women just went away? I have loved the United Methodist Church my whole life, I am not going away. I am not leaving. I want to be part of bridging the divide that honors what I believe is the real grace and love of Jesus for ALL people.

There are many bumps and mountains and disappointments in the long round to justice, to the reign of God. I never thought I would see in my lifetime, all the changes that have been made. I never thought I would live to see gays and lesbians being able to marry legally, to have the same basic civil rights that I enjoy. And yet, it is now the law of the land as well as the law in many countries around the world. In the church, I have seen many things that are disappointing, but I have seen a movement towards equality and justice. Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Pope Francis spoke these words, “”History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” While I know Pope Francis was not speaking about the UMC, he was speaking about equality and justice. I will continue to work for what I believe is true justice in the UMC. I will work with and walk with those who are most hurt by our lack of compassion and grace. I will not walk away or leave, because I believe that I am called to do the working of inviting, including and proclaiming God’s grace for ALL. For the Love of Jesus, I will continue to Stand Up!



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Good Friday

Good Friday is always a day of pondering for me.  I have a few rituals that I engage in each year during the final week of Lent, called Holy Week.  I ALWAYS listen to Jesus Christ Superstar ( the original cast) and Godspell ( the original cast recording) and then add some other music that seems appropriate for these last days of Lent, this year that included the soundtrack from Joseph and the Technical Coat and the soundtrack from Leap of Faith.

Tonight, I will participate in the  Tenebrae service at First United Methodist Church. This will be the first time since I was in high school I have remembered (celebrate seems the wrong word for this service) the last day of Jesus’ life at this church. Following the service tonight, I have another tradition.  I watch the movie Jesus Christ Superstar.  I know it is SOOO 1970’s, but it has been my tradition for many years.  When it first came out, it was shown at the midnight movie each year on Good Friday.  After that, I searched for it in video stores and finally purchased my own copy. My poor children were, of course, subject to this every year.  I am happy to say my daughter continues the tradition of listening to this “holy week” music.  It is not Good Friday, until I watched this movie. Then the holy waiting begins.

This is another piece of music, however, that has become very profound for me..  It is from the Psalm Project.  It is a new version of Psalm 22 put to music.  That psalm is difficult at best to read, but this musical rendition is hauntingly beautiful.  It is a sign of hope for me that Jesus knew what it felt like to feel abandoned, betrayed and all alone.  On this Good Friday, I share this piece music with faith for presence, peace and new life promised in Easter.

Psalm 22

On this Good Friday, I am graced to serve.

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Maundy Thursday

Today begins the Holy Triduum (three days of prayer beginning with Thursday evening services). Maundy Thursday begins this holy and sacred time. “Maundy” comes from the latin word mandatum from which the English “mandate” is derived. In John 13: 13, Jesus gives his disciples a mandate or new commandment, which is “to love another.” Jesus has washed their feet as a sign of what is often called servant leadership.

The day in most churches is used to remember how Jesus gathered his disciples around a table and asked them to remember him every time they gathered to eat or drink. Many churches hold services of Holy Communion on this night.

Following communion, Jesus goes out and prays and from there he is betrayed by Judas and all the other disciples.


Arrested, and paraded from place to place, Jesus ends up with a death sentence. This hours and days are invitation to ponder Jesus’ life and death, but also to pay attention to our own acts of betrayal, or unfaithfulness and unwillingness to stand against injustice and evil.

In a fun devotion I do during the season of Lent, Lent Madness, playing off of the “March Madness” model, this devotion has “saints” set in competition for the “Golden Halo.” Their stories are shared, and the saints are both biblical, literal saints of the church and some people that could be saints. All have been faithful in different ways. Yesterday the final two saints came down to Florence Nightingale and Franz Jägerstätter. I found Franz’s story compelling, particularly as the end of Holy Week approached.

He was an Austrian who stood up to the Nazi’s. He was the only no vote in his village to the Nazi annexation (and in all of Austria, the annexation was approved by 99.7%.)He was encouraged to take the military oath and serve in the German Army. He refused and was thrown in prison. His village priest came and tried to convince him to change his mind. He refused and was abandoned by his friends, the church turned its back on him. Only his wife stayed by his side until he was beheaded by the Nazis.

Franz was a farmer, not anyone of any power or influence. Yet his faith convinced him that the evil of the Nazis had to be named. He chose a most difficult path. He wrote these words that I find perfect for this Holy, Maundy Thursday:

“God’s love for us human beings is so great that we can never comprehend it with our human understanding. Although we often offend him and even seriously offend him, God still persistently loves us. Otherwise, God would not time and again forgive us. Could you imagine a greater love? … Therefore, love of our neighbors is the greatest act of gratitude that we can show God for his love.”

I pray that I might find the same kind of courage and faith that Franz had. God’s love for us is so great….therefore love of our neighbor is an act of faith and love and grace and courage.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

Today is known in some Christian traditions as “Spy Wednesday.” It is a quirky name to give voice to the timeline between Palm Sunday and Easter. Today, according to the gospel of Matthew (26: 14-16), this is the day Judas makes the decision to betray Jesus. It’s called Spy Wednesday, as in the meaning of ambush or snare.

Leonard Sweet shared in a facebook post earlier today

Today is Holy Wednesday, when Judas resolves to betray Jesus. There is a sliver of Judas in each one of us. 

There is an old legend in which someone has pictured the “Last Day,” the end of history. Everyone is celebrating, dancing in the street, shouting “hallelujah.” Everyone is caught up in the spirit of high jubilation, everyone, that is, except Jesus.  Jesus is standing very quietly over in the shadows by the gates of paradise. When someone asks him why he is standing in the shadows, he says quietly, “I am here waiting for Judas.” 

 The quality of God’s mercy, the depth of God’s forgiving love, is unfathomable. But we have to accept it. We can choose to be estranged from God.

Dr. Sweet’s posts often make me stop and think.  I have meditated on these words off and on for several hours. There is a similar legend that I often think of that has to do with the “heavenly banquet.” I can’t remember when I first heard the story, but it was at least 20 years ago. The Feast has been spread, Jesus is at the head of the table and the story goes, if even one person is not redeemed and has said “no” to the grace and mercy offered there will be such a cry from Christ that the heavenly banquet will be eaten in silence.

Both legends speak to the depth of God’s love and grace for all people, even those who would turn their backs on that love and grace. Holy Week is one way Christians can focus on our own personal brokenness. It is simple for me, maybe for all of us, to see others as some how more broken, more wrong, more immoral or sinful. But “there is a sliver of Judas in each one of us.” Perhaps more than a sliver.

Judas was the first to betray Jesus but not the last. His sin is often lifted up because he sold his his friendship with Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas later repents of his action, but the events are already sent into motion and his sorrow doesn’t change anything. There are two stories that share the end of Judas’ life, one he hangs himself, they other he falls down and dies. Either way, Judas’ part that is played in this divine drama is hard to ignore.

The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar portrays Judas in a more friendly light, as one being driven to understand, as one who can see that what was happening and  could be destructive for more than just the disciples. Judas struggles to try and figure out the best path. In the end, his decisions lead to the arrest, conviction and execution of Jesus.

I often wonder how I might have responded. Would I have done anything differently? Would I be more like Peter who would hide in the shadows and then openly deny Jesus? I would like to believe I would be more like the women and follow and be present for Jesus all the way to the cross.

“There is a sliver of Judas in each one of us.” I believe, we often sell ourselves, our faith, our convictions for “30 pieces of silver.” Perhaps not literally, but we give our lives away on things that do not matter and waste opportunities to be a part of something bigger, deeper and more in line with the reign of God. It is so easy, for me anyway, to not have enough time or enough energy, to turn away and be focused on the mundane and minutiae of life. Jesus offers a vision of something much deeper of something that offers grace, hope, peace and love.

Perhaps Spy Wednesday can be a time to find out what ambushes and snares me and keeps me from being faithful. Spy Wednesday can be a day to acknowledge that sliver of Judas that lives in me. Spy Wednesday can be a day to offer up to God those things that keep me from being loving, gracious, and faithful to the reign of justice and righteousness and peace.

During this Holy Week and on this Holy Wednesday, I am praying for God to create in me a “clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.”


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Monday of Holy Week

For Christians, the most sacred week of the religious year has begun. This week is filled with “drama” but I think more interesting than the drama, is the human experience that is remembered in the midst of the drama. Yesterday on Palm Sunday, the day that begins the final week of Jesus’ life, two Coptic churches in Egypt were hit by terrorist attacks. That was just one more horrific act that hit news cycle from the week before, including children who had died in a chemical attack in Syria, a shooting in a mall in Florida or a truck running over people in Stockholm.

In some ways we as a people have become almost blase to the violence around the world or we tend to minimize the story of Holy Week as somehow not as bad or awful. Holy week was also filled with horrible violence, fear, protests and uncertainty. What started out as a parade and a protest (against Rome) became a heavy handed response where people hid in fear and were arrested and in Jesus case, executed. This week is one of ups and downs, joys and sorrows and is filled with hope, despair and fear. Yesterday, in worship, First UMC attempted to give voice to the whole of that experience. You can watch the worship service 

May this week truly be a holy and sacred week.

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