Seasons; you know all about them. Each one we see coming and know when it’s time is at hand. Our Bible also proclaims Holy seasons for every purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die. But, a faithful life is formed not at one end of the other, but on the day’s in-between. And the church is where we sharpen our focus on the God-season along our way. Yet as good as we are in predicting the weather, we’re not so good when it comes to seeing God. As with all seasons in life, even the one we call PRIDE, these should not simply be occasions to recognize one special community.
Yes, gay lives matter, as black lives matter. The fact we’re so lousy at living into God-season is why these and other groups must be lifted up in the first place. The God-season values and celebrates every group in human creation; our response an opportunity to take stock in how well we live the radical and life-giving welcome of God. When it comes to PRIDE, the “rub” for us straight, mostly-white, mainstream, and largely middle class people is how intolerant and uncompromising even the best of us can be. Any season under heaven is more than just another Sunday. Of course we can stay home for PRIDE and return the week after the “gay service” is over. But think of it from our gay member’s perspective, if this is the “gay service” then all other Sunday’s are the straight services. And I don’t see the gay community staying away from us. Recognizing the ever-present season of God offers a chance to deepen our relationship to all that’s created and to the Creator of every season under heaven. There’s a time to be straight, a time to be gay, a time to be black, and white, and brown; a time to be young and a time to be grey.
Whenever a part of human creation’s celebrated, if we don’t come away with an appreciation for the vast diversity, beauty, and nuance in all of it we’ve missed the God-season.
Since I’ve been at Lake Edge we’ve “put out our shingle,” or in this case our “flag of inclusion and welcome” a PRIDE-filled expression of love under heaven. Those who couldn’t stomach such a widening of God’s radical welcome cried foul. They couldn’t recognize the Spirit of this God-season. We call ourselves people who believe in a still speaking God, yet when this God creates and calls all of it “good” many refuse to wrestle with the vastness of a Holy order our psalm calls “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And we flee from our discomfort, and rather than listen, learn, and grow bury ourselves where things stay comfortable and safe. Jesus has a Word, and it’s a hard one for all of us “fair weather” faithful, “Frauds!’ he cries “You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.”
In Luke Jesus speaks to everyone. The church he’s come to build isn’t simply for one group or another. William Willimon says, we’re “…quite clever in reading weather signs but are blind to the sign from God; the ministry Jesus (brings to all of) us.” Every follower of Jesus is duty-bound to pay attention to the God-season we live in. John Wimberly, the author of our “team ministry” training earlier this year, sees our God-season as one where everyone studies the “weather forecasting” of the Spirit. Wimberly says it’s the only way our church can remain relevant today. Audrey West, a spiritual weather forecaster in her own right, sees Jesus go a step further. Rather than smoothing over all disagreement West sees growth through healthy conflict as an important part of recognizing our God-season. Who among us can’t relate when Jesus says the Spirit of his ministry isn’t simply to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable? “I’ve come to disrupt and confront” He says. “From now on…it will be …father against son, son against father; mother against daughter, daughter against mother; mother-in-law against bride and bride against mother-in-law.” For a God who brings love and peace this hard-edged message seems contradictory. It’s a painful and all too real reminder for some. But the sword Jesus brings isn’t literal. It’s the sword of healthy conflict; the God-season of discomfort and ultimately growth. His is a ministry, West says unites old enemies; black and white, gay and straight, the able-bodied and the less-able, conservative and liberal, the comfortable and the poor. When we overcome age-old hatreds and fears, what’s torn apart aren’t the healthy relationships but the death-dealing relationships of the status-quo. When black and white, gay and straight become one it’s the bankers, brokers, venture capitalists and politicians exposed as the Pharisees they are. God-season blows apart comfortable living and what’s born is lasting peace.
PRIDE is a time to celebrate the diverse expressions of human love and community under a unifying Creator; a God whose season of growth and maturity calls for our constant attention, not just one Sunday a year. Our God-season is a time of comfort and time of discomfort, a time of peace and of the sword. For there’s a time for every purpose under heaven; a time for today and for tomorrow, an openness for growth and development and a harvest of extravagant welcome; a season of God’s unmatched love.
“For I was homeless and you gave me a bunch of numbers to call, I was hungry and thirsty and you sent me to a food pantry only open on Saturday mornings except on holidays that I needed two buses to find and can only use once a month requires proof of income and two forms of ID and when I was late wouldn’t serve me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me and then ignored me because I was different and my life was too messy for you, I was naked and you offered me a clothing voucher, I was sick and my Obama care was too expensive and you handed me a “band aid,” I was one of thousands imprisoned in part because of race and poor education and you refused to stand up for me.” – Matthew 25:35-36 (Remixed)
I had a deeply disturbing conversation with a friend I consider a fellow seeker of a still speaking God. He a well educated, employed, white male of privilege. He’s well-read in the Bible and enjoys studying God’s word. And like the Pharisee in our Gospel; with all his privilege, should know better. Which is why I was shocked when he said as far as he was concerned God didn’t care one bit about economic justice. Well aware of our church study, debate, and passage of an economic justice covenant; he didn’t see anything in the Gospel’s to conclude Jesus was the least bit interested in economic justice. Yet, cut out just the Gospel passages about poverty, greed, and disregard for others in service to our own needs, and the second half of our Bible barely holds together. In Matthew right away we see Jesus’ birth to a poor, unwed mom and step-dad; cast out from polite and acceptable society to congregate in a barn with farm animals. When Jesus’ mom proclaims such a birth she says in part, “God’s mercy is for those who respect God and follow the Holy One’s decrees…God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…brings down the powerful from their thrones…lifts up the lowly ones; fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich empty away.”
Today’s Hebrew Testament & Gospel echo this message: Thus says the Lord God of Isaiah, “…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like the noonday sun…If you refrain from trampling the true meaning of worship and devotion to God, from pursuing your own interests…not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own words…” then Jesus says, “Truly I tell you whenever you do such kindness to the least of these members of my family, you do it to me.”
Like many today, my friend’s insulated studying Scripture in a vacuum, a literal spin on faith so works of charity alone are enough; a trickle-down Christianity without comparing how it stacks up with God’s decrees. Sisters and brothers, if we offer prayers and other gifts in thanksgiving, yet won’t challenge a system that serves “our own narrow and justified interests; our own over-confident words” we’re in danger of missing the boat. Do we not understand when Jesus cries “hypocrites” to the learned in the Gospel; his words are meant for us as well?
Yet, Jesus loves us with an everlasting love and wishes us to embrace this love and share it with everyone. In the Gospel the woman bent from half a lifetime of torment is our witness. Insignificant; she was no greater than an animal. Yet, she’s regarded in her lowliness by Jesus and lifted up. And she responds like Mary by “praising God.” Although uneducated as was Jesus’ mom, she could see God-with-her. While the educated priest steeped in self-confidence and either/or thinking, only saw the rules. Which of these two, the woman or Pharisee did honor to God?
This week I sat down with the principal of Frank Allis Elementary School. God has shown me the spirit of this moment; the opportunity to act on God’s call for economic justice in a way all of us can get behind while honoring our past, and bringing it alive in our present. And it’s right across the street. Over 80% of the 500 children at Frank Allis live in households at or below poverty. As a society while God lifts the lowly, we do not. I shared with the principal the Good News of ecumenical churches joining in community and generosity with our neighbors and friends; the staff, parents, and children in our public schools. Our multi-church nutrition effort at Schenk Elementary is posed to expand. Your leadership council has heard my vision for Lake Edge to lead an expansion at Frank Allis, along with other partner churches. The sacred conversations we’re having with other neighborhood churches have made this possible. Zion Lutheran Church has already expressed a desire to be a partner in any nutrition expansion at Frank Allis. The Allis principal, a veteran educator and Eastside resident, is excited about the possibilities. She’s been preparing the way for just such an effort. The beauty of this program isn’t just in helping children, but building community; among the teachers and staff, parents and children, the churches and neighborhood, with the food suppliers, and between all of us. I’m hopeful together we’ll make this our main church ministry; so when others ask, “What does your church do?” we’ll say, “We feed children. Do justice, and build community.”
More than Sunday worship; in building these relationships we’ll create the true worshipful environment God requires. Our church will become part of renewing and growing the connections between the white Protestant church and other races, ethnicities and social groups. In connecting with our neighbors we’ll deepen our minds and hearts for justice and witness. Is this not the worship God requires?
The Prophet Micah: “What does God require of us? To do justice, love kindness, and (together) walk humbly with our God.” Do this and we too can be set free!