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Reconciled and called - Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

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Sermon delivered to St. Francis Lutheran Church
January 25 - Reconciling in Christ Sunday (Third Sunday after Advent)

"Reconciled and called" - Text from Jonah 3:1-5, 101 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20




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Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers in Christ and family in life. 

The week before last my 91 year old grandmother died, and I went to South Carolina to be with my family and help with the funeral, which included providing the homily.  While I thank you for your thoughts and prayers, she felt that her time had come, and she was more than ready to go. In many ways it was as much as celebration as it was a remembrance of her life and times. 

But besides all of that, I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to stand in the pulpit in the church of my childhood, the church of my family for five generations and over a hundred years. The church where my parents were married and where I was confirmed and where my Lutheran identity was well formed. 

And it was the church in which, over the course of the young people's Sunday School I attended, while I was in high school in the early 80s, where I first felt a particular call to do ministry.  

But it was a call that I was particularly unable to fulfill, due to my emerging understanding of my sexuality. The same grandmother who instilled my Lutheran identity was also not shy about her opinion of certain people of a certain sexual preference. And while I never specifically talked to my pastor about it, and never specifically gaged the prevailing view of the congregation of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina, I knew enough about the underlying culture, particularly when it came to the church in general, to know that the person I was would not be accepted as a minister, and very likely would be viewed with skepticism and doubt in the church as a parishioner. Instead, I chose to seek my spiritual path elsewhere, and eventually, and for years, not at all. 

By the time I heard of Lutherans Concerned some years later, I was already well into my personal identity of being a "recovering Lutheran", whatever that meant. In truth, the fact that Lutherans Concerned was even an organization said to me that my feelings of having been rejected by the Lutheran Church, while not nominal or specific were in fact valid.  I also did not feel any particular affinity for other, more gay-and-lesbian affirming churches which, were while strong on claims of spirituality, seemed less engaging to my own need to meet with the incarnate Christ. Furthermore, by the age of 23, I had moved firmly into place in my life where I was not so concerned about my spiritual well-being and lived my life with that lack of concern in mind. 

 But the years move on and people change. And now, I love being able to claim St. Francis Lutheran Church as my home congregation. When, 18 years later, my spiritual journey led me back to seeking the church familiar, I need only Google Lutherans Concerned and see that no small number of churches in San Francisco would be open and affirming to having me and my then fiancé as members, and thanks to them, I was able to claim St. Francis as our church home. And what an auspicious time to be a member of St. Francis between 2008 and today: as Proposition 8 passed in California, and as the ELCA voted to ordain clergy in same-sex relationships, and as the clergy here were recognized by the ELCA, and as this congregation decided to rejoin the ELCA as a member congregation and fully supporting mission partner. You have supported me as I felt a renewed call to ministry and entered seminary and prayed for me as I have been interviewed by a congregation and subsequently lost the vote in that congregation by two.  And I can thank the work of Lutherans Concerned / and now ReconcilingWorks for having connected us, and making me aware that even though many churches say "All are welcome" I was able to enter a congregation that was clearly welcoming and inviting for both me and my cough Roman Catholic partner.  St. Francis is indeed a place where we are free to live as the people that Jesus Christ has called and claimed us to be.    

Our readings today are filled with the the way that god claims us to do his bidding, how God calls to us, his children, to be his prophets, disciples, and to live into the people he wishes us to be. 

In the allegorical story of Jonah, the unwilling prophet warns the people of Ninevah, and even knowing full well that they will ignore him and continue their evil ways, and carries out God's bidding, finally, after having been chased by God to carry out this message. It is only to his surprise that the people of the huge Assyrian city actually do repent of their ways and God is moved, reconsidering the planned leveling of these longtime enemies of the Hebrew people. 

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul, who has no less than the end times on his mind, is urging the people of God to drop everything of concern and follow Christ. Give up their marriages, their plans, their dealings, their sadnesses and their joys. Live as if Christ was calling them now, today, for that is entirely what Paul expects. 

And in our gospel reading today, Jesus is finally taking up the call that John started, and he is getting his ministry into full gear. To Peter and Andrew he bids to let down their nets, that if they only leave everything, drop everything and run, that they will become fishers of humankind. And what do Peter and Andrew do?  They drop everything and follow Jesus.  The brothers and sons of Zebedee, James and John, Jesus calls, on, and they leave their family business behind, their father and his workers, and with nothing but the clothes on their back, they follow Jesus. 

And this is how not only all twelve of his disciples are called, but all those who eventually follow Jesus in his life and ministry, all the way up until all but the women abandon him as he hangs on the cross.  

But when Jesus call, those that he called answered, right away.  Not so much with thought or contemplation, simply hearing his voice, they moved.  And so it is with us today, Jesus calls us and we are not so much asked or advised to follow, but we can only choose to remain where we are. Following Jesus makes no decision, and begins immediately.

And so, for many of us, we heard his voice and were filled with his Holy Spirit and were compelled to move toward a life of following Christ and were told, because of who we were that we were not welcome to follow Christ. That we had to actually become something that we were not, that we would have to live in denial of our own lifelong identity in order to stay with the church. And so, the choice became for so many of us to live in celibacy, for many others to live in unfulfilled marriages, and many others to live our lives and lie about who we were in order to participate in our congregations. And then, many others chose paths other than the church.  

How far we have come in this world, sisters and brothers. That having reached a level of nominal acceptance by the ELCA, we can finally hope to be full participants in our churches, being active members, musicians, ministers, reconciled with our churches. 

This past November, I felt torn apart by the congregational vote at Emanuel in Modesto, falling two votes short of the two-thirds needed to be their next pastor, and yet, the very fact that I had made it that far, and the fact that well over half of this congregation deep in the central valley of California, conservative farm country that struggled to remain in the ELCA just 5 years ago, wanted me, a man in a publicly accountable same-sex relationship, told me that things are in fact changing in our church, no more a result of changes in society as a whole than in the efforts of those that have, for the last forty years, stuck with the church as Lutherans Concerned, and then as ReconcilingWorks.  

And it brings me joy that in Lutheran churches today, that when Jesus calls our young to come and follow him, that so fewer of tehm are going to be told point blank, I'm sorry, but because of your sexuality or your gender identity, you cannot follow him. The immediacy of Christ's call can be fulfilled. 

And what about us, here today, in this church that has for the longest been welcoming to queer Christians--how do we reconcile our mission in the world? We can remind those that have been turned away or turned off by the church that the call to Christ doesn't to equate to a mandate that they forgo their sexuality, their gender identity, who they are. That we can all of us be Christians, welcoming, loving, children of God. 

This, my sisters and brothers, is the good news of a Parent who sends us out in mission to rescue the world, a Christ who loves us unconditionally, bids us follow him without question, and a Spirit who compels us to answer that call with immediacy and with joy.  

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on January 25, 2015 1:59 PM.

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