Friday, August 29, 2008

Marked with a seal for the day of redemption

I would like to offer something of an apology to my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems I am only looking for trouble when I search out evangelical blogs. Too many times I have read accusations that liberal and moderate Christians are apostate for not immediately and unflinchingly condemning homosexuality. Apostasy is a serious charge. I can’t just let stand such words that mutilate the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Winter 2007 was a time of anger on both sides of the divide over gay clergy and same-sex marriage. At St. John’s, we were threatened with the removal of Pastor Bradley Schmeling from ordained ministry, and we did not want to lose him as our pastor. Yet we were strangely hopeful and spoke out courageously. We felt a strong sense of God’s presence in our midst. I was given song specifically a prayer service during the time of Pastor’s disciplinary hearing. Do not let the sun go down on my anger. Even these services “in a time of trial” where condemned in some quarters as the height of our arrogant blasphemy, proof of apostasy.

We understood that such trials are necessary to force the church to tend to the needless wounds certain policies inflict on Christians both in the pew and in the pulpit. We also believed—and still maintain—that the church was approaching a tipping point on these issues. Where there had been a long stream of pastors rejected from ministry for no other reason but that they were gay, St. John’s was hopeful that our pastor’s case would be an historic last trial in this struggle. So it was a strange time of anger and expectancy, pain and hope.

Given all this, Pastor Brad was oddly serene. He was spiritually centered, energized. He had never felt so well prayed for as he did then in the center of the storm. One time, I asked him what passage of scripture gave him encouragement. His answer was the same as always, Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2.

Later that day, I started to meditate on this text. My mind zeroed in on “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” With a slight turn of phrase from “your anger” to “my anger”, a new song started to emerge in my consciousness. I chanted over and over:

Do not let the sun go down on my anger,
Do not let the sun go down.

It was necessary to own that anger and to understand for what purpose that anger was given. It was not something to project onto others, my brother or sister in Christ. Rather it was my anger and my plea not to be brushed aside, ignored, forgotten—not to be told again that the church wasn’t ready for this right now. It was my time not to walk away, not to speak the lie of acquiescence or suppressed rage.

There was more at stake. Christ’s body was broken.

Only when we speak the truth to one another,
Then is the body whole.

This was not simply my anger or even the anger of all those who have been excluded from full participation in the church. This was an anger that grieves for the whole church, for the brokenness of the body of Christ. Dare I say this is Christ’s anger for his church?

How can we be the body of Christ when we bite and devour one another, when we let our politics and piety ruin the day? The sun is going down.

It goes down every day on children who lack for food and clean water, education, medical care, and safety. The sun goes down on young bodies torn apart by the greed and violence of war—whole peoples stripped of dignity and human worth. The sun goes down on those who die without hope, those who never were alive. It goes down on those who could have made a difference but were immobilized and acculturated to indifference and despair.

The sun is going down, and we have no anger, nothing that amounts to much. Christ hangs in the balance.

Here I am, body broken, spirit grieving,
O Father, into your hands…

Where is our prophetic voice? The church has been wedged apart and spun about over matters of personal conscience and social acceptability. We’ve been neutralized. Devils and thieves move about the globe with impunity. Whole nations are enslaved to the economic interests of the powerful. When our brothers and sisters look to our churches in the US, they are aghast that we seem more concerned about gay rights than global cries for justice. If we listen, we may just hear the broken heart of Jesus.

Still Christ has marked each one of us with a seal for the day of redemption. Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit any longer. We need to resolve this matter quickly and not delay justice to the poor. Let us put away all slander and malice, anger and wrangling, bitterness and wrath that we may no longer hold sins of one against other and so divide the body of Christ. Only then will we speak truth to one anther. Only then will the body be whole.

Please leave comments. I would like to hear from everyone, especially our international neighbors.

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