Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today’s Sermon

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

-- Colossians 3:14-15

I have been in Minneapolis this week from Wednesday through Friday as a visitor observing the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. It was also available to watch on the internet and I watched much of it that way before that and yesterday.

The lazy part of me that just wants everything to be easy and smooth (which is a big part of me) really wishes that I could have been able to just say something during the announcements about how exciting it was that the Assembly passed an agreement with the Methodists. Now we can hold joint communion services with the Methodists. In small towns and areas where there may be clergy shortages, a Lutheran congregation can call a Methodist pastor if there's not a Lutheran available and vice versa. I know there are a number of people in this congregation who come from Methodist backgrounds so you will find that exciting.

I wish I could just tell you about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, an effort of all the Lutheran churches to combat Malaria a preventable and treatable disease that kills more than one million people a year.

Of course that exciting news has been overshadowing by other actions at the ELCA, that while difficult and potentially divisive, was also important.

There was a sexuality statement passed that laid the groundwork for discussing such matters as a community which does not agree. A two thirds majority was required for passing this statement and it passed by exactly two thirds. The statement was available and we did discuss it in our adult Bible Study.

Some news reports were that this study approved gay marriage. That is not true. I think what was controversial and difficult for some people about the study was that it acknowledged that we do not agree as a church body on the issue of homosexuality. Some people would have liked a very clear statement about this is right and this is wrong. But Lutheran social statements have never been the kinds of statements that have told people what they should think about social issues. They have always been statements that laid the foundation for discussion, outlined the different perspectives and recognized the ambiguities.

The ELCA is not like other churches which claim to speak for all its members when it comes to social issues.

Lutherans have always claimed that the basis for our unity is in Word and Sacrament. We are bound together by our faith in Christ, not our opinions on politics or social issues. In many ways it would certainly be easier if we all agreed on these matters. But we have been called to a great challenge. To love one another in Christ EVEN when we disagree on such emotionally charged, and controversial issues such as homosexuality.

Which brings me to the even more controversial votes at the churchwide assembly. These are the policy recommendations on Ministry. Because they were policy recommendations, they did not require a 2/3 vote. No policy change in the ELCA has ever been passed with a 2/3 vote. The vote to ordain women passed with a 57% margin. There were two separate motions to change the rules and require a 2/3 motion. One motion was made on Monday when the rules were being voted on and one was made just before the policy resolutions were introduced. Both those motions were voted down.

This was the first motion which passed by a 77% margin:

RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.
This was, I think , the most important motion. The ELCA has committed itself to bear one another's burdens, love our neighbor and respect the bound conscience of all. I think this is much harder, but much more Christian resolve than to do what historically Lutherans have done, which is, if we couldn't agree we would start a bunch of new churches made up only of people with whom we agree. This is a commitment to live and work and worship together and respect that my neighbor, even though I think he is WRONG WRONG WRONG about the issue of homosexuality, I am going to respect that he is a beloved child of God, and that his faith in Christ is sincere and the he is doing what he feels bound to do by his conscience and his faith.

What I think is important to remember is that everything else that the assembly voted on was with that in mind.

This was the second resolution.

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The important phrase here is to allow congregations that CHOOSE TO DO SO. A few months ago, the Salem Council made it a policy that we would only allow weddings at this church between one man and one woman. This resolution does not impact our policy whatsoever. Our bound conscience to not allow same sex marriages will be respected. However, other congregations who choose to recognize same sex unions, will be able to do so.

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church."

What this means is that congregations in the ELCA who CHOOSE to, will be able to call pastors who are in same sex committed relationships. They will be ABLE to if they CHOOSE. They will not be required to.

I'm not to going to read the entire wording of the 4th resolution because it's very long and convoluted, but it's the practical implications of implementing these resolutions but it does specifically say that we are committed to respect the conviction of members who believe that the ELCA should not call or roster people in committed same-gender relationships.

So what does all this mean?

I want to tell a story. It is a story about a family. It is a large family spread across the country. But they are a family who get together and do things together in the name of the family. One day the word spread among the family members that Joe who was gay, was going to marry Tom.

Now part of the family was very happy and excited for Joe and Tom and excitedly planned the wedding and looked forward to the celebration. Another part of the family was appalled by the idea of such a wedding. They loved Joe. But they could not in good conscience go to the wedding or support that relationship.

Now both sides of this family have a choice. The family members who do not support Joe and his wedding can separate themselves from those family members who do. OR they can graciously decline to attend the wedding but continue to be part of the family and gather with them at family gatherings. The other side of the family has a choice as well. They can condemn and refuse to have anything to do with the family members who do not support Joe's wedding. Or they do can respect their decision and continue to be part of the family and gather with them at family gatherings.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we ARE that family. I will not be surprised if some suggest to you or it occurs to you that it is time to leave the family. As your pastor, as someone who loves the whole family which includes this congregation but also the whole ELCA, I call you to the more difficult task of to bearing one another's burdens, loving your neighbor, respecting the bound consciences of all and sticking with your family, differences and all

Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus

Finally I want to share this quote from our Presiding Bishop:

We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross -- where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.



  1. Well done, well done. Two comments: We had a guest pastor who gave an extra sermon about the history of disagreements between various Lutheran groups in the US. He gave two instances of where issues were studied and the agreements that resulted said that both sides had basis in scripture. The results were that, in each case, a number of the groups were able to join together even as they both realized that they disagreed about some specific theological points.

    The other thing is that you quoted the exact wording of one of the topics: "publicly accountable." I suppose this means that such relationships are extra-legal, so the only accountability is what a church group or friends would hold a couple to. But do we even do this with our heterosexual couples in the church or within our circle of friends? Do we go to a couple who is having obvious problems and say, "Hey wise up!"

  2. Joelle, this was really edifying for me, and I realized how similar the UCC and the ELCA are. That part isn't surprising....but now I am wondering what the role/authority of bishops is in your tradition? Maybe we can talk offline (or in comments if that's okay).

  3. Very good. I don't agree with the actions that the delegates took, but we are part of a family. As I told my congregation this morning we aren't going to leave the family, rather I used the words of Joshua "Choose whom you are going to serve." Whom are we going to serve...well...we are going to serve the Lord like we have always.

    One more thing...(maybe two) the letter from my bishop yesterday he said something that caught my attention. He said, "Our denomination is not the God we serve." I thought that was intriguing...especially from a bishop.

    My last thing...thanks for the Tweets last week. I really enjoyed following your comments about the CWA09.

    God bless!