Archive for May 2011

UNCOnditional Love: The Water of Life

May 24, 2011

Photo ©Patrick Holleran, all rights reserved

I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a lot of traveling. As far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful places in the world is in the far northwestern corner of California, in the very remote Jedediah Smith State Park/Redwood National Park. A place I’ve been to a number of times, this is an introvert’s paradise! Herds of Roosevelt elk grazing in the meadows, myriad wildflowers blooming, and redwood trees that existed before Jesus walked on the earth towering over everything.

None of this could exist without water. Clean, abundant water. In fact, the Smith River runs through these parks. The Smith is a wild river protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (although it is constantly threatened by proposed upstream developments which, if approved, would do irreparable damage to the area’s ecosystem.)

One of the first times I went to visit there, some friends and I went kayaking. I use the term in the loosest way, since we were in individual inflatable kayaks and we were just floating lazily down a very calm stretch of the river. As is often the case, I had a camera with me, and I was taking my own sweet time capturing memories while my friends got further and further downstream from me. Just as I was thinking that I should maybe think about starting to move to catch up with them, I heard a splash! on the riverbank. I looked over and saw river otters, sleek in the sun, joyfully playing slip-and-slide in the late afternoon. I took delight in them and their frolicking, and I forgot about my friends.

As I watched, I realized that I was thirsty. I had a cup with me, and I dipped it deep into the river. All I wanted was a drink to slake my thirst and cool me off a little. What I got was the most delicious drink of water I’d ever had. The purity was incredible — something I’ll always remember.

Indeed, God led me beside — and right into — quiet waters; and God restored my soul in ways that I didn’t even know that I wanted or needed, ways unimaginable and unexpected.

All through a drink of water.

The book of Genesis tells of the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, beginning the Creation of the world.

In John’s gospel, in the heat of the desert day, Jesus shows up at a well in Samaria, where he asks a woman for a drink of water. She is a at least a triple outsider — a woman, a non-Jew, and a sexual sinner. But Jesus asks for water, and she gives it to him. She receives enlightenment — the Living Water — but Jesus receives from her too — the refreshing coolness of a drink to cut through the hot dry desert dust.

And in the book of Acts, the first non-Jewish baptized Christian is another outsider, an Ethiopian eunuch, who asks, “Look: here’s some water; is there any reason why I can’t be baptized right here, right now? And Philip takes him into the water, welcoming him into the community of faith.

We all deserve water. Clean, fresh, cool water. Too many throughout the world don’t have access to water, or have to spend much of their days in search of it. Water holds lots of deep, symbolic meaning to us, but it is the beginning of creation, a basic, vital (e.g.: full of life) necessity.

And so I force myself to break away from my river otters and finally get to the theme of today: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” But also, may waters roll down like justice for all of God’s creation so that an ever-flowing stream may be a demonstration of morality and righteousness throughout the world.

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

My One Minute Sermon

May 15, 2011

You have heard of the One Minute Manager, of course. Well, this isn’t about that. It’s about a one minute sermon.

A sermon in a mainline Christian church that only takes up one minute?
Whoever heard of such a thing!

Let me give you the context:

  1. This week the Presbyterian Church (USA) received the minimum number of votes required to ratify an amendment to the Book of Order part of the church’s constitution that has to do with the ordination of LGBT people (particularly those in relationships) as clergy and lay leaders (or more formally, Ministers of Word and Sacrament, Elders and Deacons); the old provision said no, the new provision says that local governing bodies (presbyteries) can ordain and install such ministers and churches can ordain and install such elders and deacons. It’s a return to the system that the denomination has had since the Reformation — that God calls and the person answers the call, and it is up to those who know the person best to affirm (or deny) that call. (The text of both is below if you’d like to read them.)
  2. I serve on the board of an organization dedicated to the full participation of LGBT persons in the church. This organization is called That All May Freely Serve. Because of actions by the denomination barring ministry by one person, The Rev. Dr. Jane Adams (Janie) Spahr, at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester, New York, TAMFS is based at that church. Our board anticipated the date of passage of the new G.6-0106b and planned our Spring board meeting to coincide with this date. Fortunately, we were exactly right!
  3. Following our board meeting, we were invited to stay over and worship with DUPC on Sunday morning. Some of us (and other former board members and friends) were then invited to be worship participants. Since this is a momentous occasion — one that many of us have been working toward for many, many years — the church wanted to give us a chance to say a few of our own words, and not just be the ones to introduce different parts of the service of worship. Because there were so many of us, we were requested to keep our statements — our “sermons” — to one minute. (Most of us exceeded that, but … well, you know. The clock had to stop running when people cried tears of joy. More of these will be published on TAMFS’ Dreaming Church blog soon.)

Worship bulletin for today's service

Clearly my introduction of the context is longer than my one minute(ish) sermon itself, but I was the one who was asked to give the benediction.

Here it is:

It is so good to be among you this morning. I always appreciate being here in Rochester, and at this church, so deeply imbedded in progressive politics and religion for so long.

I come from a different place: from San Gabriel Presbytery, the presbytery that brought Amendment B to the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1996. As a matter of fact, the church that proposed Amendment B is in the town where my wife and I live, and the pastor of that church was the overture advocate for what became G.6-0106b at the Albuquerque General Assembly.

Over the years, some in San Gabriel Presbytery have brought charges against my little More Light church – one of only four in all of Southern California – for ordaining and installing publicly-identified gay or lesbian elders; some of these same people – Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders in our denomination – have been downright cruel, with the result being chasing the extremely gifted Katie Morrison out of the presbytery and, ultimately, to the UCC.

This past Tuesday night during our presbytery meeting, the expected vote result from the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area came to me and others who were monitoring Twitter and Facebook. Although there was no announcement at our meeting, word quickly passed through the room – with varied reactions, as you can imagine. This was just as our presbytery was debating Amendment 10-A.

I had prepared three two-minute floor speeches, but instead of standing in the line to deliver any of them, I listened to what other commissioners had to say. I was blessed by words from people like Jack Rogers and Dale Morgan, while I was cursed by words of some others.

Following the debate, in Presbyterian fashion, we prayed and then cast our written votes; we then adjourned for dinner. The results were announced following worship (which I don’t remember much of). Our moderator said, “Ladies and gentlemen, our tellers counted the ballots four times: the result was a tie, 92-92.”

In our system, a tie vote counts as a loss, but in my presbytery it was an unimaginable gain. Never before have we come close on an issue pertaining to same gender-loving people. Many have called it a miracle, and I can’t argue with them.

Despite the fact that it is a parliamentary “loss,” the lesson that I want to lift up going forward is that God has given us in San Gabriel Presbytery – and hopefully to the whole church – a reminder: that God loves each of us, and loves us equally. As Gene Peters says in The Message, Jesus said that we are to love God with all our passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and to love our neighbors as well as we do yourselves. This passage in Luke continues with Jesus describing “who is our neighbor” in the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, after which he concludes saying, “Go and do likewise.”

So this week, remembering that we are God’s face in the world for many people, let us go out and do likewise!


This was the question sent to the presbyteries by the 219th General Assembly.

Shall G6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place:
[Text to be deleted is shown with a strikethrough; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]
b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
b. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.