Message: Sunday, March 22, 2020
by David P. Aslesen
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 and John 4:4-30, 40
Here in the gospel of John is recorded the longest conversation between Jesus and any one he ever met. More than his disciples, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter or the beloved disciple, more than any one person in his inner circle, Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman, who as Barbara Brown Taylor, notes was a triple outsider. In the first place, she was a Samaritan, which made her a half-breed (a horrible term) and full pagan as far as the religious purists were concerned. She was also, of course, a woman and in Jesus’ time women were not what you would call liberated. They were not even allowed to worship with men. Women had very limited to virtually no place in public life. In Jesus’ time and location, they were often sequestered, closed off, from the fullness of blessing.
She was a Samaritan and a woman, but that was not all. Respectable women made their trips to the well in the morning, when they could greet one another without social distancing and talk about the news. But this woman, who had had five husbands and was with a man who was not her husband was one of the people they talked about, and the fact that she showed up at noon was sure sign she was not welcome at the morning social hour for coffee talk. As Jesus deduced, she had been married as many times and living in sin.
So imagine her surprise when in the heat of the day, a man of Jewish features, the guy who wandered into town last week and had been teaching Hebrew law in the public square, asks her for a drink of water? Who does he think he is? Who does he think SHE is? Does Jesus care? The gospel text – and the whole of scriptures – reminds us that God in Jesus Christ sees with both his eyes and he sees with his open heart.
I used to love getting a haircut when I was little. It meant walking to the old school barbershop to sit in the leather couch and read the comic books that on the back had all this really cool stuff to buy: sea monkeys, plastic army men and X-ray glasses which allowed you to see right through a person, through their skull, and even their heart. Best $2 I ever spent. With no X-ray glasses required, Jesus of Nazareth sees the Samaritan Woman and really sees her – with his eyes – here is a child of God. And with his open heart – he sees all the layers of her entire existence. He sees before she can tell him the truth of her living. Jesus offers her this truth in return: “Give me water, I’ll give you: life.”
The truth came to life. The Samaritan woman begs, “give me something to quench my spiritual thirst, give me this water of forgiveness, of acceptance, of redemption.” And Jesus responds, that out from within his open heart, there is a river that flows from deep within, and there is a fountain that frees the soul from sin, in God there is a vast supply. And the woman is set free and she takes her new found freedom and tells her village what she knows of the Messiah who has come to save. But to save from what? Today, that saving might be from fear.
Whereas the voice of Jesus speaks salvation, forgiveness, and freedom, what does the voice of fear whisper to us? Fear speaks in logic and reason. It assumes the language of love itself. Fear tells you, “I want to make you safe.” Love says, “You are safe.” Fear says, “Give me symbols, give me frozen images, give me something I can rely on.” Loving truth says, “Only give me this moment.” Fear would walk you on a narrow path promising to take you where you want to go. Love says open your arms and fly with me.
Every moment of our lives you and I are offered the opportunity to choose love or fear. To tread the earth or soar the heavens. Why would fear want to oppose truth? Because truth has the power to transform fear. In this most unusual, irregular, anxiety producing, routine shaking, nothing is the same as it was or will be kind of time that has been produced as our globe battles with this coronavirus, we yield to the God who is truth and by locating ourselves within God’s truth, we are right where we need to be. Worry and fear are not tickets on the express train. They are extra baggage. You don’t need them and neither does your neighbor.
Truth is open hearted love, this is the posture for now – and tomorrow – and the next day and the next and the next until there is a time that is not only free from the fear associated with this virus but a time when all humankind are free from those things that impaired the Samaritan woman from fully living her God given life: xenophobia, religious superiority, gender discrimination, societal scorn. Today, the Samaritan woman comes to us as those hardest hit by this virus. She helps us to name those in our local and global world being affected the most.
Who is being hit hard in our neighborhood? Who is directly afflicted with the virus? Whose jobs have been disrupted by fear of it? Who is emotionally weary of responding to it? Who is being closed off? Who will be forgotten in federal benefit packages and bailouts? The Samaritan woman is their representative. To her and to them, Christ has come and he calls his disciples, then and now, to see with open eyes and open hearts. Now is the time for a reckless love that responds and reconciles us to our truest nature – we are God’s children and so is my neighbor!
Now is the opportunity for visible expressions and messages of the hope that we have in Jesus. Fear is not and can never be the victor in this fight. “These are gospel moments. We can spread love, not fear, nor the virus.” There is enough fear for one and all. How about increasing love and solidarity?
In his weekly devotional, the priest Richard Rohr invites us to consider as he is practice social distancing in his large yard with four huge, beautiful cottonwood trees, where he walks his dog Opie every few hours. Quoting: “Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.”
We are in this suffering together. We are in this solidarity of love together too. There are truths of God to be found as we learn to love more and in better and safer ways. We trust God with our lives and yet we lock up our homes. We trust God with our health and we shelter in place. Yes, this is our
act of solidarity. There are truths of God to be found when we allow the suffering of others to move us to be advocates for them, to sequester ourselves in our homes, to practice safe measures of care and wellbeing, to remain in prayer for those who are living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care, those most marginalized, people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together.
Says Rohr “Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and even the fear, to be named, to be examined, to be offered to God and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament. Notes Rohr “I hope this global experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond ourselves to otherness.
We’re all being stretched to see with open eyes and with open hearts the blessedness of others. May God’s truth be made known – and shared with the neighbors near and far – and may we know it as love. Truth is: there is a light that fills the cosmos with life and is companion to each of us this day. In moments of isolation and fear, remember God helps us to love in the spaces between us, no matter how far apart we may be.
Breathe and absorb this truth, receive it as gift for your heart, and offer it to those who are still afraid. This day, chose love over fear. And the strength you live will be your living light in the darkness of these days.
PART 1: UNDERSTANDING UMC PROTOCOL
While driving back from a few days holiday with a bit of Racine kringle in my mouth, I turned on the car radio to NPR and proceeded to hear a report about The United Methodist Church splitting. With a loud gasp of “What?!” and without too much of the kringle being wildly distributed across my dashboard, I listened and heard a bit of truth and a lot of assumptions about a new agreement known as “The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” developed by a 16 member team of representatives from a variety of factions with the UMC and world-class professional negotiator. You might have heard or read the news of the protocol, too. The UMC has not separated or divorced…well…not formally. Could this protocol serve to do just that?
If passed, what this protocol might do (strong emphasis on might) would be the elimination of discriminatory language in our Book of Discipline against lgbtq clergy, removal of limitations on ministries of pastors and congregations, and the graceful exit of the “traditionalists” from the denomination to form their own organized Wesleyan-style of faith organization. The potential impact of the protocol would be huge for clergy, laity, congregations and conferences within the global Methodist connection.
As online, television and print media have failed to fully describe, the protocol still has a long journey towards potential adoption. After years of work, all other proposals for unity and/or dismantling of the present denomination would need to be set aside in unified support of the protocol. Nine hundred international delegates as well as a nine-member court known as the Judicial Council of the UMC will render judgment upon it on and/or at the next General Conference in May of 2020. You can read more about the protocol at UMC.org as well as the comments by our bishop in this newsletter and at www.umcnic.org. Quoting Bishop Dyck “In spite of headlines, the UMC has NOT split or separated or even decided to do so today. The protocol is the initial work and legislation to implement it will undoubtedly be amended at General Conference 2020…”
I’m grateful for those FUMC members who joined me for an initial discussion January 12. More opportunities will be presented to study the protocol and other plans, legislation and process of the General Conference in the months ahead. For now, please keep our church and lay leadership in your prayers. May our faithfulness to Jesus Christ and his beloved community around the world continue to increase.
PART 2: PRIMARY CONCERNS
Election season primaries begin in earnest in our next door neighbor state of Iowa with their Democratic caucus on February 3 followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. As I read, listen and watch debates, speeches and rallies, issues of faith are a primary concern for me. Across our nation, there is a great diversity of thought among God’s people and in particular within the Christian church as to how people of faith should respond, act and even vote upon issues as a matter of faith.
But what is and what isn’t an issue of faith? For the Christian is every political issue a matter of faith? As I ask myself these question, I am choosing to let the testimony of scripture, the traditions of the church, my experiences and capacity for reasoned judgment inform my response. This is a good Wesleyan four-fold practice. The other resources I’ll employ include the United Methodist Social Principles and the teachings of John Wesley.
After an eight year journey and a deeply United Methodist experience of revision, a newly revised Social Principles will be put forward to the General Conference of the UMC in May 2020 for its approval. “It is a document with a strong theological grounding and a more focused, succinct, and globally meaningful form.” Such a teachable document will assist us in the election season to come. Download a copy from www.umcjustice.org.
If you are not familiar with Methodism, John Wesley began what became the Methodist movement as a young man working to find more ways to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus as he understood it. He keenly understood that Jesus’ message must intersect with real people’s real lives. These are some of his core understandings in his own words addressing the political issues of his time – think 1700’s, friends. A top three are offered here:
- Be ye ready to distribute to every one, according to their necessity.
- Wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor only because they are idle…. Find them work…. They will then earn and eat their own bread.’
- May not women as well as men bear an honourable part….…..yield not to the vile bondage any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God.’
May our country’s heart be one of justice for the voiceless, mercy for the marginalized, freedom for all and hope for the world. Let us be in prayer and action for the goodwill of all who today and in the months to come seek the inclusive promise of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness whether it be found in voting or in the works of faithfulness or both.
See you in church,
“On entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage…And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their country by another road.” Matthew 2:11-12
“Resistance is futile.” The Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation
First, please forgive me for the use of pop culture and a bit of holy humor in sharing a message about a very significant subject in my life, in our life together as church and in the future of our United Methodist Church. Sometimes humor is another road to an important destination.
If it were ever to be written, The Gospel According to Star Trek might include this above gospel passage next to the ominous warning of The Borg, the pseudo-cyborg army and primary enemy of Captain Picard and his crew. The Borg seek to assimilate all species and worlds into one collective, against their will, values and hopes for civilization at peace through understanding of commonalities, respect of cultures and celebration of diversity.
The traditional Epiphany gospel story from Matthew of the Wise Men/Three Kings/Magi offers us an ancient path of resistance of faithful people who when confronted by tyranny choose a different option. Inspired by a dream, the foreign travelers whose safety and ability to share the good news of the new king’s birth would be impaired by returning to the evil King Herod choose to resist creatively by taking an alternative route home. They stayed alive and blessed their world with the message of God’s salvation. Resistance was not futile. Is resistance futile now? I wonder and I dream and I seek God’s guidance for our United Methodist Church.
January 1, 2020 ushers into our denomination the implementation of the Traditional Plan which continues forty years of cruel oppression of LGBTQ persons, who are laity and clergy seeking to live and serve faithfully within our denomination. As passed by a narrow majority of global delegates to our General Conference in February 2019, the Traditional Plan limits ministry of congregations, provides punitive steps to clergy who extend grace, and withholds the blessing of ordination of LGBTQ persons into pastoral ministry. I do not in any way seek to compare voters of the Traditional Plan to fictionalized characters from a TV series. That would be cruel and unfaithful to my Christian vows to love and honor the personhood of all God’s people. It is, however, the intent within and the harm inflicted by those votes that requires resistance.
As the RESIST HARM movement (resistharm.com) states and I agree “This means that, in order to be in good standing, United Methodist clergy are required to do harm in the name of Jesus…[but] lest we forget, God has called and equipped all United Methodists, clergy, and lay, [in baptismal vows] ‘to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.’” FUMC of Park Ridge has stated clearly through Administrative Council decisions and congregational affirmations that we have chosen the option of resistance to this Traditional Plan. In doing so, we find ourselves in solidarity with over 80% of the congregations and United Methodists of the Northern Illinois Conference. We are not alone in our resistance. Our strength is shaped by God’s inclusive love we have come to know in Jesus Christ as church and annual conference.
Our ministry as a “reconciling congregation” and now one of resistance is faithful to the gospel. It is faithful to our individual baptismal vows. It is faithful to God’s kindom of extraordinary inclusion and celebration of all people. It is faithful to the church we have inherited from our ancestors and as the gift we offer to the next generations. In the culture at large, where and when LGBTQ persons continue to face many forms of rejection including bullying, exclusion, trauma, abandonment, legal discrimination, spiritual exile, and sometimes even death, church is to be sanctuary, loving community, and place of care. Whether a ministry of resistance to oppression or a resolution of ministry for this new year as General Conference approaches, let us be found faithful.
As in the early portion of 2019, there will be additional opportunities to learn about our resistance and reconciliation work in 2020 before the May conference in Minneapolis. Our Administrative Council will take the primary lead in our efforts resourced by the All Means All Team. For this time, I invite you to examine with me the RESIST HARM Movement via the website resistharm.com. The RH Movement is a coalition of various organizations including Reconciling Ministries Network, UMC Next, Mainstream UMC, Love Your Neighbor Coalition and others who seek a fully inclusive United Methodist Church.
We’ve got the faithful regal resistors of Epiphany and Hebrew midwives of the Exodus story, the disciples and saints at our back, at our side, before us and with us in this good and gracious work. In the words of Captain Picard, let’s “make it so.” With January 1, 2020 we enter a new phase of ministry. We journey with companion congregations near and far and full support of our Bishop Sally Dyck and Northern Illinois Conference. We enter into the resistance.
It is not futile. It is faithful.
See you in church,