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When I was young, friends and I would have “opposite day.” Yes would mean no, down would mean up. It usually never lasted long. It was hard to live opposite day out.

The culture in the US has been polarized for a long time. Both President Bush and Obama promised to be unites not dividers. Both failed. And the country loves to blame the president for it despite the fact cooperation depends on all parties.
And the country calls for more unity while we speak words which are dividing. We label and tear down each other. And I would love to say that was simply the case in our political world.

But the truth is it is part of the Church of Christ in the US. The above cartoon is true not only of debating politics but of sharing faith in many cases. I know because I have been on the receiving end of people sharing their beliefs. I am a heretic or lost because I am a female pastor. I am a heretic for not believing in dispensational eschatology. I am an enemy for not voting for certain politicians. Those fiery words burn away all chance of communication and relationship. It sends us to our polarized corners. 

We react this way out of fear. We are afraid we will be considered compromising or we will be deceived. And yet what is the culture of the Kingdom?

Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. Where in the culture of the US it is prized to be able to “burn” someone in an argument or to destroy our opponent, in the Kingdom of God it seems the opposite to be true. It is not the one who can win the argument but the one who can love fully the Kingdom applauds. 

We need an opposite day. No we need an opposite culture. Will we as Christians live out the Kingdom and be meek, be peacemakers, be loving and embody the Kingdom now? Or will we continue to live out the polarization of the US culture?

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When I was a child, my family attended a non denominational church which had no building of its own. We met at times in a car dealership lot and for some time in a bowling alley. What I remember of the church was the Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Izzo, and the scene of Creation we made on the table. I remember services which could last for hours, and nobody cared because there was no better place to be than church. And there were no better people to be with than the people of this church. I remember sneaking the bread after communion because it was homemade. I remember baptisms which took place at the Izzo’s pool and then the huge celebration which would happen afterwards. It was of course a pool party afterwards–swimming in blessed waters. All my memories of this church are fond ones.

And so when I went away to college, I tried to find a church just like Christ the King. I church hopped for a long while. I wanted so bad to recapture that feeling and my experience. But I never found a church like that one.

By holding on to my past and trying to recapture it, I missed God in the present. God was present in each of those churches I had rejected. 

Bishop Robert Schnase states in his book, Remember the Future, that we don’t fear change, we fear loss. And then that fear holds us back.

Working with churches, this has been my experience. We expect God to show up but limit God by expecting what we had in the past. Holding tightly to our past is like climbing up to a diving board and holding on to the platform. How do we use the past like a spring board and jump into our future? How do we grow a faith which allows us to take the plunge?

This past weekend I went to Rock the Lake–which was a bunch of concerts held at Coca Cola Field in Buffalo, NY. The event was put together by Franklin Graham’s ministry. And while the concerts were great and the messages were about Christ, I had mixed feelings.

First, I rejoice when Christ is proclaimed. And so for two days, Christ was proclaimed. Many people went forward to make a decision for Christ–whether it was their first or their tenth time. And I have found that life is all about choices. I continue to have to choose Christ.

But…

The posters, the advertisement for this event was simply Rock the Lake. It took me some digging to find it was put on by Franklin Graham. Its this covert Christian message that bothers me. Nothing in the advertisement that I saw, said this was a proselytizing event. Again, I am all for events proclaiming the Good News.

But that is just it. We have Good News. Why do we need to be covert about it? Oh I get the idea that many people will not come if they think it is a Christian event. And yet something inside me questions how do we proclaim the Way, the Truth and the Life in a covert manner like this. It is like we are sheep in wolves clothing–although we are not acting like wolves– and spring the trap on them. If you want to hear Skillet, you have to listen to Franklin Graham. Something simply doesn’t sit right with me when we do evangelism this way.
We have GOOD NEWS! And if it is really GOOD NEWS, I just don’t see the reason to tip toe around. 

My second issue, is the usual with Evangelicalism today, we have made the Gospel about being forgiven so we can get to Heaven. But that is only the GOOD NEWS in part. I have found the GOOD NEWS to mean that my sins, my failures, the pain I have caused, the pain others have caused me does not have to define me here on this earth. I don’t have to wait to stand before Jesus to experience resurrection. I am a new creation in Christ. And so I don’t have to be easily offended like I use to be since my world now revolves around Christ rather than myself. I don’t have to justify myself, Christ has. I don’t have to live in conflict with others, I can be a peacemaker now. I don’t have to be possessed by my possessions and defined by how much I make or have, blessed are the meek. I don’t have to continue the cycle of violence and anger. I can turn the other cheek. I don’t have to live up to the standards of society as seen in magazines, on television, etc. I am accepted as I am, loved enough to be called to be Christ like–and empowered to be. 

The concerts were amazing. The message was about Christ. And so I rejoice. But if I really believe I have GOOD NEWS, I don’t have to sneak it into the world.

The other day I was in a store and a lady had her 2-3 year old son with her. He was in the cart and crying that he wanted to open the toy they were buying at the register. She kept telling him he will open it at home but not here because she didn’t want to lose any of the cars in the package. But he kept crying and throwing quite a fit. But he is only 2-3 years old. And he only understands “now”. He is just learning the concept of time and waiting.

If that was a 10 year old child, we would all be questioning what has gone wrong in this child or his life that he cannot wait til he gets home. If it was a 20 year old, we would call them spoiled.

In the past couple of weeks the Middle East has exploded in violence–many consider the true cause to be the anniversary of 9/11. But the movie that was released portraying Mohammed in a bad light has at least been a spark to the already volatile anniversary and region.

Many are complaining that President Obama’s administration and the embassies overseas who live in the midst of the Muslim people apologized for the movie–which in the complaining populaces’ mind was apologizing for our freedoms. Personally, I find the apology for the lack of respect and care by the director and those who publicized the film, refreshing.

Here in America freedom and individual rights have become the highest value. But as a Christian, I cannot value freedom and individual rights over love. I Corinthians 13 states that the highest of values is love. And love is not rude or boastful. While I appreciate and cherish my rights and freedom, to cling to my freedoms no matter how others are being affected by my practice of my rights, is like the 2-3 year old who is crying “I want it now.” With maturity comes self control. I Corinthians10:23 states,

“You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.”

 
Just because I have the right to do something, doesn’t mean I have to do it.
And as a Christian I must look to Christ. Philippians 2 states:

 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

 I am to have the mind of Christ who did not cling to his rights as God but instead laid down his rights to save us. I am called to lay down my rights and my claims to show the love of God to the world. And so I applaud the embassy who apologized for the film. They didn’t call for the person to be arrested for making the film. I don’t think he should be arrested either. He had the right to make the film. But was it beneficial? Now I am not sure what the film maker’s faith is, but while he had the right to act in this manner, his actions were foolish. And I am sorry he chose to behave in this manner. That is not apologizing for our rights. It is apologizing for practicing our rights at the expense of human beings.

I will not boast in my or the film maker’s American rights and freedoms at the cost of respecting people and cultures. No we are not reacting in violence as the Middle East is, but we are no better than they when we value our own rights over people.

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MATTHEW 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7, 13

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

This is not a new discussion. I have always been amazed at how quick Christians justify their treating others as inferior or disrespecting those they disagree with when they are confronted by the challenge to love. From the argument “we cannot approve sin” to “I am a prophet” to “the message of love by so many Christians today is just a watered down gospel filled with unicorns and lollipops,” we seem to shrink back in the face of the challenge of Matthew 22:36-40 and I Corinthians 13.

The fact is I Corinthians 13 pretty much assumes we are going to have people who disagree with us and conflict. The chapter seems to take into account we will be dealing with broken people–sinners. I don’t have to have patience with someone who is not annoying me. I am not tempted to be unkind to someone who is in agreement with me. We are not to rejoice in injustices–so we will face and witness injustices. And how do we overcome these trials and the evils we will witness? With love. Because the greatest of these is love. Because there is nothing more powerful than someone who listens to another person’s story and pain, and still loves them. There is nothing more powerful than someone who disagrees with you but still invites you to dinner. The Love of Christ is more powerful than any eloquent statement of our doctrines, any sin that anyone can commit, any disagreement we may have.

Perhaps instead of justifying our mean words and mean actions, we can instead face the challenge of the above Scriptures boldly. How can I fully live into I Corinthians 13?

But if we think the message of love is simply unicorns and lollipops, how will the world know we follow Christ? They will know us by our love.

And if Christians cannot love those who disagree with them or those who are even oppose to them, how can we ask our society to be more civil in their disagreements?

Perhaps this post would be better published closer to graduation time for those in seminary but experiences as of late have inspired me.

And while I learned a lot about myself and God in seminary, there are things they don’t or perhaps I should say cannot teach you inside their classrooms. Here are some of those things I have had to learn as I have ministered:

1. Every church, every person has something sacred in the church–and they don’t tell you what it is right away.  Whether it be the building itself, the altar paraments, the communion set, the punch bowl–there is something very sacred to people in the church. You find out what it is when you say something like, “I think it might be time to get new paraments for the altar.” It might be prudent to ask the history of the item before you comment on the beauty or usefulness of the item.

2. There exists people who are fine with interrupting the sermon or service with their opinion about what you should have preached. They may not exist in every church but seminary doesn’t prepare you for when you have a congregation which has one of those in it. And sometimes, maybe many times, the church coddles that person and seems to “side” with that person. Especially in the United Methodist Church, the church people outstay the pastor and they will make excuses for that person.

3. In seminary you are not taught what to do when someone announces during joys and concerns they have chosen to stop their cancer treatments and go home to God. Thank God for the Holy Spirit.

4. You are not taught what to do when a child in the middle of the children’s message yells that he is angry with God.

Ministry is about loving people. And you learn a lot of that as you go. God is merciful and can redeem every circumstance, every failure. God is good and will guide us on the way.

What would you add to the list?

I came to you broken.  From a world which is broken. I came to you for healing. for resurrection.

But the dam is breaking.

In the name of freedom, there are those who spew hate.

In the name of god, there are those who kill.

In humanity’s name, Your creation is used and abused for our own amusement and comfort.

In Your name, there are those who will reduce Your Kingdom to a political platform as if one party could appease You and keep us from Judgment. As if the Cross were not enough.

In Your name, Your people follow their own agenda, build their own kingdoms, and make coming to you an equation and chore.

In Your name, a 9 year old and 7 year old pray that you don’t take their grandma who has stopped her treatments because the cancer has spread too far.

And the dam breaks. The sorrow and the brokenness flood the world.

I came to you broken. And the more I follow You, the more I seem to break. 

So with clenched fist and clenched teeth, I declare “You are good.”

Some days I say that defying the brokenness around me, within me.

Some days I say that to convince myself.

Some days, it is more of a question.

 

“Don’t tempt me, Frodo. I dare not take it–not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo, I would use this ring from the desire to do good–but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”

~Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Rings, the movie

Gandalf speaks these words after they have discovered the ring Bilbo found in Gollum’s cave is the weapon of the enemy. Out of fear, Frodo offers the ring to Gandalf to save himself and the shire.

Romans 12:21 states we are not to overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. And yet with so many posts on social medias, so many evangelical speakers, and with the election I cannot help but fear many of us Christians are using the weapons of the enemy.

So often I find Christians using fear tactics when they share the Gospel or debate politics. I have witnessed people readily posting things which are not verified about the opposing candidate. I have heard Christians  exaggerate the opposing view or misrepresent the other side. We do this without blinking an eye at the fact it is bearing false witness.

And when violence rears its head, we Christians seem to be quick to demand our nation shows its military strength. We trust in chariots and horses. We trust in our own abilities and control.

I am just as guilty. I come to Scripture with the question of “how far am I suppose to take this verse on peacemaking or the verse on caring for the poor?”; rather than asking “how can I live this out fully?”

We say we believe “now there exists these three: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” And then we turn and hate those or use hateful words on those who do not believe like we. We make excuses about how love is not accepting sin when we are confronted about loving others.

I wonder if the people around me are not convinced to follow Christ, because I have not been fully convinced to seek first the Kingdom, living meekly, being a peacemaker, being love and grace. I wonder if the people around me are not convinced to give themselves to Christ because I have given only part of myself to Christ.

I wonder if people are not convinced to follow Christ because I still use the weapons of the enemy–anger, fear, violence. And the power that those weapons wield through us, while they cannot prevail against our God, they sure make our witness less convincing.

In the Christmas Cartoon, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph and his elf friend who wants to be a dentist find the Island of Misfit Toys. Here all the toys who are odd in some way–a Charlie in the Box, a train with square wheels–have found sanctuary, although they all long to take the sleigh ride with Santa still and find a forever home.

The Communion Table welcomes misfits. The Arms of God open in the ultimate display of Hospitality inviting home all the exiles of Eden.

The Apostle Peter calls Christians strangers and aliens, a peculiar people. There is no doubt throughout the Bible God’s people have been called to live life differently than the broken, self centered systems of this world. While the life we are called to live is the life we were created for, the world does not recognize this life. And so, almost automatically, Christians have a reserved space on the Island of Misfits.

On the island of Misfits in Rudolph, all the toys, despite their oddities, have accepted each other. One would think this would be true of the Church as well. All the misfits would find our common place at the Table of the Lord. But the Charlie in the Boxes don’t get along with trains who have square wheels in the US American church. While the arms of God are opened, ours are too often crossed.

In our brokenness, we like to know who is in and who is out. We label people.

And we place those labels on each other without even entering into dialogue with each other. All we need to hear is that you support the President or listen to Sarah Palin, and you are labeled. “how can you be a Christian and vote that way?”  All we need to know is which church you attend and “oh, you are one of those Christians.”

As a female pastor, I am often at the receiving end of comments like this. People who disagree with the interpretation of Scripture which affirms women in ministry will call themselves a “Biblical Christian,” as if I don’t study and hold Scripture in the highest regard. I have had people assume my theology is liberal. People assume where I stand on social issues. Others have accused me of being naive in my views, as if I have not studied and prayed about things. As a woman I am accused of acting out of my emotions, even when I am calm and logical.

I am use to being labeled, especially by Christians. Those labels are confining because my theology, my social views, who I am doesn’t fit nice and neatly in the liberal or conservative labels, in the emotional or logical camps. I am a misfit. I often feel on the outside of Christian circles, despite the fact my theology is quite orthodox. But because I am a female and I am a pastor, I am shoved in a box and dismissed.

So where does a misfit go? To the Table, where Christ welcomes all.

We invite to our  own tables those we want to get to know better, those we want to reconnect with, those whose company we enjoy, those we want to love. We have been invited to the Table of the Lord. We are the ones Christ wishes to connect with. He longs to enjoy our company and we his. At the Table of the Lord, Christ invites all who seek forgiveness and peace to come.

Christ invites those who are tired. Tired of trying to measure up to the ever changing standards of this world. Tired of the labels. Tired of the fighting. Tired of the anger. Tired of the hatred.

For at the Table, there is no race, gender, social status. Just people created in the Image of God being recreated in the Image of Christ. People who need forgiveness and peace, hope and justice. The Table is the place where the misfits of this world and of Christianity come home to the arms of God.

I got my newest Communion Set (made by the Fish Potter) at Christian Festival where labels flourished. I was fully aware of my status among those who knew I am now a pastor. I was fully aware that my declaration of “Jesus is Lord” was not enough anymore. At this festival, I was reminded how “Biblical” and “orthodox” are terms which divide us. It was a place where how Biblical, how spiritual a person is depends upon how they vote, what music they listen to, and their position on things like women in ministry, homosexuality, abortion.

And so this set reminds me, God’s hospitality extends to me. No matter how often people silence me with labels, I am heard at the Table of the Lord. No matter how often people dismiss me, Christ welcomes me.

You are invited by Christ to His Table. You are most welcome. You are valued. In Christ, you are not a misfit.

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“The meal becomes the ratification of the covenant.” -Bishop William Willimon (Sunday Dinner, 18)

Throughout Scripture, meals and covenants seem to often go together. When Abraham hosts the three strangers with a meal, we hear bits of the promises of God to Abraham. In the Exodus Story, the people of Israel eat a meal. And from that time to the present, a meal is celebrated to remember the Deliverance of YHWH. And Jesus at what is known as the Last Supper, lifts up the bread and says, “this is my body”; and after supper, he lifts the cup and says “this is my blood of the new covenant.” And in our liturgy, we look forward to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb–another meal which celebrates the Covenant.

So the Table is not just the place where we are told our story and join that story but it is the place of Promise. It is the signature at the bottom of the contract. The handshake sealing the agreement.

At my ordination I was presented with this communion set, symbolic of the call of the Elder in the United Methodist Church.

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And after my ordination, my churches gifted me with this Communion Set which was crafted at the Genessee Country Museum, just down the road from my churches.

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My call into ministry began when I was a child, sitting in the pews of the church. I was drawn to the Table of the Lord. And often felt a stirring in my soul which spoke to me that I was not meant to stay in the pews. I was called to the Table. But throughout my life, I had attended churches whose interpretation of Scripture would not permit women to be pastors. And so I wrestled with my call and with Scripture until I surrendered to God. As I entered seminary and the ordination process of the United Methodist Church, I found doubt and fear to be constant companions who drove me to the Table, often weekly at Asbury Theological Seminary.  It was at the Table I was able to fall on the promise of God and find the hand that lifted me from the altar rail was the hand of Christ, keeping his promise.

These two communion sets remind me at the Table the promises of God are yes and amen! God has been faithful as I step out in obedience and faith.

And so when I celebrate the Lord’s Table, I remember the Covenant and the Promises of God.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34

“Come to me all who are weary….and I will give you rest.”

“The One who has begun this good work will finish it.”

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

“All things work together for good…”

The Table is the Celebration of the Covenant. From the Table, in the Real Presence of Christ, the promises of God are yes and amen!

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