When I was a young preacher, I entitled a sermon, “Never make friends with an Elephant Trainer unless there is room for an Elephant in your Living Room!” It is still true. Never make friends with Jesus unless you are willing to have your life re-configured!
Luke 13:18-21 was kneaded into my heart by The Reverend Darren Cushman Wood at North UMC in Indy last Sunday: “Parables of Invasive Weeds”. Darren preached and these are my notes, and what the Reign of God is raising up in my heart! Following Jesus is disruptive of my beliefs and behaviors and always inviting repentance and resurrection. I am grateful.
SERMON NOTES: I was reminded the Reign /Rule of God to which Jesus invites us into is not at all like the Power OVER Kingdoms known in Rome or our Culture. I heard God is active and working in the world and in our lives not by Military (Political) victory or Natural Disaster Direction (i.e. if your family was killed by a tree falling on your house, did you not pray as hard as your North Carolina neighbor?). God is active and working, yet God’s work is often OVERLOOKED (weed seed/ yeast), IRREVERENT (think kudzu or ivy; yeast is not welcome at Passover), DISRUPTIVE (deep tissue massage; invasive weed demanding attention), LIFE-GIVING (mustard seed is political joke on Emperor with no clothes; yeast grew flour into bread for the world.) God meets us in the Ivy (mustard tree) and life is fed by that disruptive yeast.
I left worship and took a bike ride which did not clear my head but further convicted me that somehow the Kin-dom of God is growing right where I had been living for the past month. I found welcome in homes and at table with people deeply rooted in the culture of our Southern USA – yet I had OVERLOOKED them with my stereotypes. I felt affirmed both as yeast worker woman and as receiver of sacred broken bread in the mix of UM persons who are Nomads. We are fellow citizen of these United States of a Diverse America. “The Parables of Invasive Weeds” convicted me of God’s daily presence in my life, teaching me about God’s faithful Love for ALL, in spite of myself.
Three weeks of NOMAD* work at Lake Junaluska, NC, provided me at least three measures of flour to knead over and wonder what love lessons God is trying to grow in me!
Our group included 5 households: 3 men, 4 women; 3 married couples; 4 retired clergy. 7 United Methodist folks, eager to work. By design we work 3 hours, break 60 minutes for lunch, then work another 3 hours. At noon, I was amazed how important it was to get a lunch fixed, eat and drink lots more water, and REST. After work, we have sometimes gathered for a meal or “happy hour” but by 8:30 we are headed to our campers.
Our team stripped beds, deconstructed and hauled mattresses out to fill 8 double dumpsters! We then built 2 sets of metal beds with a full bottom and upper single bunk. The task gave us each a physical workout, and the humidity made working inside air conditioned rooms a welcome blessing! We figured out how to most efficiently recycle the plastic and cardboard, and located a home for the wooden bed frames with Appalachian Service Project. We finished all 70 new beds in 2 weeks, so we deep cleaned the air-conditioning covers and filters in each room. Most demanding physically for me was a day of pushing then blowing plugs off aerated golf greens; new skills included golf cart driving and using a back pack leaf blower!
The competitive ‘I can work hard’ melted as we each experienced exhaustion. 21 days together reveals diverse passions for Jesus that ranged from only knowing God as Father/King to seeing God in Nature and the Christ Incarnate in all of life. We included people who pray for personal needs and healings, and people who pray for those incarcerated for being refugees. We challenged one another with our diversity, while we have worked hand to hand for hours. We each led devotions, giving a glimpse of our own personal window on Christianity and the United Methodist Church.
One week we attended Long’s Chapel UMC for Wed. night supper and Sunday Worship; I felt no sign of welcome for diversity, despite smiling faces and a free jar of honey. The next week we went First UMC Waynesville for Wed dinner and Worship. I relished in their Welcoming Statement, Reconciling Team and Small Groups reading Bishop Oliveto and Richard Rohr.
As I ‘NOMADed’, I was reading Together at the Table: Diversity without Division in the United Methodist Church by Bishop Karen P. Oliveto. “We Eat with People We Love” struck me, as I welcomed the times we gathered as a Nomad team for breakfast and devotions, for an evening meal, for welcomed breaks. However our conversations over meals were not open discussions of our deepest beliefs or concerns. There is a NOMAD covenant to leave “Politics” outside the discussions officially. This of course included, we were told, diversity of theology. When our leader directly reminded us of this rule, (no surprise to most of you) I spoke up. Note: I do believe I did RESPOND (not react). I said that I was not willing to not be myself, and that as a part of the Queer Clergy, this was a my trial of the NOMAD program. I was not willing to hide. The Leader later told me that my “revelation that you are a homosexual” was news to him.
There were moments that triggered my REACTIONS: conversations at breaks about “the UN-affordable Care Act” and making ‘jokes’ wondering if the Canada Geese were ‘illegal immigrants.’ After a bit, I recognized the game and stopped participating it, yet I noticed and felt angry. In the midst of this, we worked hard and well together, learning to communicate about safety and helping build beds, push plugs and sand chairs! But never did I learn the life story of another, nor did they hear mine. Never, in Oliveto’s words, did we “scale the empathy wall” because we were rooted in our “othering.” I can really only speak for me: I recognize my standing firm in my “othering”. What have I to learn from persons holding beliefs that seem to me to be invasive and disruptive?. How might God be inviting me to see the Kin-dom of God growing in these very relationships!? No answers at the moment.
I don’t know what I might have said….I am still without an elevator speech about anything. What I know is that I was fearful and angry at who I imagined “others” to be: assuming commitment to the Wesley Covenant Association who describes my UMC Western Jurisdiction as broken and unfaithful to the UMC. I know my own sin of not seeing how persons actioning to exclude GLBTQI persons from the UMC can come from their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Part of my self-commitment to be transparent and honest includes making sure this Blog is something I would welcome all my fellow NOMADs to read. I will email it to them, as we shared emails. That leads me to attempt the elevator speech (my story in three sentences) which I had not formulated before.
My Story 9.18.18 I grew up in the Methodist / United Methodist Church in Pendleton, Indiana, where I attended with my siblings, sang in the choir, attended MYF/UMYF. I came to know a deep sense of God’s love for me, learned my body is a gift created by God and that God is always with me.
God’s Presence Incarnate in me, through the Christ, led me one step at a time, into Ordained UMC Ministry in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference in 1978. I brought careful reading of Scripture to rural Oregon Christians, walked with them in grief and growth and loved the UMC as home even as I challenged the places the institution forgot the rural places or dishonored those gifted United Methodists who were not heterosexual.
After 20 years focused on Local Churches, I served as Chaplain in Hospitals in Montana and the Oregon Coast, learning from the patients and staff who came into my life.
In the past couple of decades, I have noticed my heart connection to both women and men, and ‘came out’ to myself and others as part of the Queer Clergy of the UMC who have served long and well, in an institution whose rule book claims we are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” In Jesus Christ’s body, this deep brokenness is where the Light is seeping into the UMC. I am currently on a year of Travel, Service and Hiding (think retreating) before returning home to Oregon. My ministry is Witnessed in my blog, brenbits.blog.
This Blog might be entitled: ‘Invasive Weeds meet NOMADS’ or ‘Yeast Kneaded into River Rover.’ I have spent 5 days in Indiana, repacking for the next month’s ROVING. I head tomorrow to Adirondack Dance Weekend on the shore of Lake George in New York. Then I’ll up an Oregon friend at Boston Airport for 10 days of campers meet New England Colors. Afterward, I’ll weekend in Gettysburg PA and perhaps head south along the Blue-ridge Parkway. I’ll return to Indiana to regroup before Mexico trip to learn Spanish the end of October.
Finally I leave you with words that call me to HOPE, and a link to Lamott’s essay in the newest NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.
“By showing up with hope to help others, I’m guaranteed that hope is present. Then my own hope increases. By creating hope for others, I end up awash in the stuff.” Anne Lamott