Rev. Ines-Paul Baumann
Cuando alguno de ustedes ore, hágalo a solas. Vaya a su cuarto, cierre la puerta y
hable allí en secreto con Dios, su Padre, pues él da lo que se le pide en secreto.
Cuando ustedes ayunen, no pongan cara triste, como hacen los hipócritas.
A ellos les gusta que la gente sepa que están ayunando.
Les aseguro que ése será el único premio que ellos recibirán.
Mateo 6:6,16-17, Biblia en Lenguaje Actual
¡Toquen la trompeta en Jerusalén!
¡Que se reúna todo el pueblo!
¡Que vengan los ancianos y los niños,
y hasta los recién casados!
¡Que ayunen y se preparen para adorar a Dios!
Joel 2:15-16, Biblia en Lenguaje Actual
¡Qué no he hecho “en secreto”! ¿Qué no he hecho en mi habitación, a puertas cerradas, para no ser visto por los otros? Estas palabras en las lecturas de hoy, son campanas para mis oídos, que no proclaman a un Dios satisfecho con lo que he realizado. En cambio, “el Padre que lo ve todo” fue más una amenaza, “la recompensa” que también me espera.
Para algunas personas, el Miércoles de Ceniza en este contexto es una oportunidad para arrepentirse lo suficiente y escapar del castigo merecido. Los días previos, la gente en el carnaval de Colonia habían hecho mucho en público que solo suele hacerse en privado. Efectivamente, la mayoría de ellos disfrutaron de la mayor parte, pero ahora todos los miedos internalizados contraatacar, junto con el pensamiento racional que viene cuando la fiesta terminó. “¿Qué he hecho? ¿Esto es solo un resfriado, o estoy infectado? Mejor me hubiera quedado en mi recamara”.
Hay mejores maneras de manejar el “intercambio público” de “cosas privadas” que por medio de drogas y arrepentimientos. Un manejo más responsable puede ayudarnos a desarrollar dónde nos detenemos nosotros mismos, ocultando lo que tendemos a ocultar a los demás y a un Dios castigador.
En la agenda política, salir del closet es una cuestión clave. Además, a nivel personal: ser alguien diferente en público, a quien somos en privado probablemente causará problemas para nuestro bienestar en general. (No necesitamos un Dios castigando para que esto suceda). Algunas personas trans preferimos mantener una gran parte de nuestro pasado “en secreto”: lo que el público podría leer fuera de esto está muy lejos de quienes somos realmente.
La apelación a “ungir tu cabeza y lavar tu rostro” me recuerda una discusión de doble filo, sobre “los derechos” de las personas LGBT para luchar por la igualdad de derechos. Es un argumento común señalar: ¡Mira, somos tan normales como tú! Aquellos que aún buscan como practicantes de algo anormal escuchan el mismo consejo de sus comunidades así como de las iglesias “amistosas”: “¡Haz lo que quieras, pero no queremos saber!” (Por cierto, NO parece “normal” simplemente por el hecho de depender de lo que se mira “normal”.)
Una vez más, las personas trans a menudo tienen preocupaciones específicas acerca de “parecer normal”.
Para los cristianos dentro de algunas comunidades LGBT y movimientos políticos, hay otro aspecto: en medio de las personas que tan a menudo han tenido malas experiencias con las iglesias, a veces puede sentir apropiado (o ¿tentador?) orar “en secreto”.
Así que, con todo esto en mi mente, la invitación del profeta Joel, a que “todas las personas se reúnan” y a que “salgan del closet” suena bastante atractivo para mí!
¿Pero Jesús realmente quiere guardar silencio acerca de quién soy y qué hago? ¡No! ¿Jesús, exactamente, apoya la idea de no mirar y actuar ante el temor de lo “que piensan de mí ahora”?
¿Quiero ser como ellas, principalmente a causa de lo que piensan de mí? ¿Puedo unirme a sus hábitos, principalmente a causa de lo que piensan de mí?
Con Jesús, los actos espirituales pueden ser una oportunidad para liberarnos de la mímica y observancia (también religiosa):
1. Orando y ayunando podemos convertir las voces y “tesoros” que tan a menudo nos vendan más que sanarnos.
2. Podemos hacer una revisión interna y preguntarnos: ¿Por qué orar y ayunar ahora? ¿Quién necesita a fijarse con el fin de darle un valor?
Las prácticas espirituales no son para satisfacer las expectativas malsanas de los asistentes a la iglesia. Por el contrario, las prácticas espirituales pueden ayudarnos a crecer, saludables y amorosas, relaciones con Dios, con nosotros mismos y con el otro. Junto con esto, nuestras prácticas sobre a/sexualidad y actuaciones de género experimentarán una curación similar de observadores e imitadores.
Si tu decisión es unirte al ayuno en esta cuaresma o no. Deseo que entres en una experiencia gratificante.
by Rev. Ines-Paul Baumann
Matthew 6:6,16-17, King James Bible
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders,
gather the children, and those that suck the breasts:
let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
Joel 2:15-16, King James Bible
What have I not already done “in secret!” What have I not already practiced in my room, the doors shut, in order to not be seen by others! These words in the readings ring bells in me that didn’t proclaim a God who was pleased with what I was doing there. Instead, the “Father who sees everything” was more a threatening one, the “reward” to expect also.
For some, Ash Wednesday in this context is an opportunity to “regret hard enough to escape the deserved punishment.” The days before, people in the Cologne carnival had done a lot in public what you usually do in private. Sure enough, most of them enjoyed most of it, but now all the internalized fears strike back, along with rational thoughts coming back when the party is over. “What have I done! Is this just a cold, or am I infected? I had better stay in my chamber!”
There are better ways to handle “public sharing” of “private things” than by drugs and regrets. A more responsible handling can develop where we stop hiding from ourselves what we tend to hide from others and from a “punishing God.”
On the political agenda, coming out of the closet is a key issue. Also, on a personal level: Being someone different in public than in private will likely cause problems for our well-being in general. (We don’t need a punishing God for this to happen.)
Some trans people might prefer to keep a big part from our past “in secret”: What the public might read out of it is too far from who we “really” are.
The appeal to “anoint thine head, and wash thy face” reminds me of a two-edged discussion about the “rights” of LGBT-people to fight for equal rights. It’s a common argument to point out: “Look, we are as normal as you are!” Those still looking as practicing something “unnormal” then hear the same advice from their communities as from “friendly” churches: “Do whatever you like, but we don’t want to know!” (By the way, NOT looking “normal” just for the sake of it is still depending on the “normal” look.)
Again, trans people often have specific concerns about “looking normal.”
For Christians within some LGBT-communities and political movements, there is a further aspect: In the midst of people who so often had bad experiences with church, it might sometimes feel appropiate (or tempting?) to pray only “in secret.”
So, with all this in my mind, Joel’s call to “gather all people” and to “get out of the closet” sounds quite attractive to me!
But does Jesus really want me to keep silent about who I am and what I do? No! Jesus exactly supports the idea to not look and act in the fear of “What do they think of me now?”
Do I want to look like them, mainly because of what they think of me?
Do I join their habits, mainly because of what they think of me?
With Jesus, spiritual acts can be a chance to free us from (also religious) lookism and mimics:
1. By praying and fasting we can turn from voices and “treasures” that so often bind us rather than heal us.
2. We can do an “inner check” and ask ourselves: Why do I pray and fast now? Who needs to take notice in order to give it a value?
Spiritual practices are not meant to meet unhealthy expectations of church-goers. Rather, spiritual practices can help us to grow healthy and loving relationships with God, with ourselves, and with each other. Along with this, our practices regarding a/sexuality and gender-performance will experience a similar healing of lookism and mimics.
The diversity within MCC therefore is a real blessing. Who should I regard as “standard” to copy looks and behaviour? What a precious encouragement to look and act in truthful ways!
It’s your decision if you want to join fasting this lent or not. Step into a rewarding experience!
Matthew 28: 1-10
Most Easters, for the last 42 or so, I have preached from the beloved story in John’s gospel. John’s account of Mary Magdalene in the garden — her intimate encounter with the Risen Jesus — is so personal and compelling that the lectionary always offers it as one of the readings.
Yet today, I am fascinated with Matthew’s gospel portion, which includes earthquakes in the account of the death of Jesus (Matthew 27: 51 and 54), as well as in the story of Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, Jesus’ resurrection is preceded and followed by accounts of tombs being opened by the quakes and many “saints” roaming about the city!
The earthquake in Matthew 28:2 accompanies the appearance of an angel whose appearance reminds us of the Transfiguration, whose illumination is compared to “lightning” and “snow.” This is a fierce angel, reminiscent of the one who appeared to Daniel. Apocalypse all around.
It is very dramatic, perhaps the most cosmically dramatic of all the resurrection accounts. I was in Los Angeles recently and experienced a mild quake (4.4) while on the 6th floor of a hotel, reminding me of other more lethal earthquakes in my own past. The Northridge earthquake in 1994 killed over 100 people and damaged or destroyed over 80 churches, including the one owned by Founder’s MCC, where I was pastor at the time. In the aftermath, as part of my own healing from the trauma of that day, I learned that earthquakes are the way in which the earth’s surface is reshaped. The earth naturally heaves and spews lava and has done so long before humans tried to inhabit the most tectonically unstable places.
Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon, a sign of the “aliveness” of our planet, whose molten core erupts powerfully to the surface from time to time, rupturing ocean floors, sending tidal waves, and ripping open faults on the earth, many of them still unknown to us. Only dead planets have no earthquakes.
And even today, with all our scientific capabilities, we are not able to predict earthquakes with the kind of accuracy that we need. Especially in these days as climate change and pollution threaten the health of our planet as never before, the earth is not just something “acted upon” by us — rather, it is also an actor, a participant in the cosmic drama. The earth itself is full of surprises, then and now. So, why this connection of earthquakes to Jesus’ Resurrection? Here are some thoughts as we prepare for Easter this year The Resurrection was meant to be a shattering event, one that would shake the disciples and the power structures! It was not just a happy post-script, a reward for Jesus’ going through the violent crucifixion. Easter Sunday morning was not a Disney ending with the sweetness of birds singing; it was violent, and in its own way, shocking. It included the shaking of the foundations, something new that would alter every life it touched. The world, and reality, turning upside down. Love and justice triumphing over raw power and hatred. This was a cosmic event, bringing together heaven and earth, as the two worlds intersected. The earthquakes in Matthew’s story are a clue this resurrection of Jesus, and all it demands of us, is bigger than my world, my perceptions, or my capacity to fully understand. It is bigger than religion — my friend, Joshua DuBois, says, “Never do violence to Jesus in the service of religion.” To me, this means Jesus was, and is, bigger than religion, than any narrow container might hope to be. And containing or controlling Jesus does violence to him and to the God who was present in him (and in those earthquakes too!) As if we could control who Jesus wants to love, or use, or shake to the foundations!
Earthquakes change the direction of rivers sometimes (like the Mississippi centuries ago), the height of mountains, and the contours of earth and oceans. Jesus’ resurrection changed the direction of all who followed him and many who resisted him. How has God called you to places and directions you never expected?
Also, the phrase “have no fear,” or “do not be afraid,” appears four times in this story. Every time that word or phrase appears, especially in the gospels, it makes me laugh. Fear is a natural response to earthquakes of any kind, real or metaphorical — like when we are asked to believe the unbelievable, to do the unimaginable. When we celebrate Easter, we are invited to imagine the first ones who were so terrified. As I read Matthew’s account, Mary and Mary Magdalene were keeping vigil at the tomb early that morning, “as the first light of the new week dawned….” As they were there in quiet, pain-filled grief, “the earth reeled and rocked under their feet.” In front of their stunned gaze, an angel rolled the huge stone away, and it sounds like the guards were “slain” in the spirit. It is a tall order indeed to be told after that, “Do not be afraid!” Right! But the women left the tomb, “afraid yet filled with joy.” As they ran to tell the disciples, Jesus himself meets them, echoing the command to not be afraid.
In this volatile, earthquake-ridden, complex world, there seems plenty of reason to be afraid, every day. The only question for us is, will we have to courage to leave an empty tomb — with our fears and our joy — help shake the foundations, and love the world that God so loved?
(19 April 2014)
by Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West
“So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.”
The scene of the burial of Jesus is one of the most tender in all of scripture for me. Matthew’s gospel tells us it is Joseph of Arimethea who asks for Jesus’ body. In John’s gospel, Nicodemus is there too. His presence makes me believe that somehow he did understand Jesus when he had that nighttime conversation about being born again. And while scripture does not mention Mary the Mother of Jesus in the story of his burial, the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo has poignantly depicted in the Pieta the depth of tenderness between mother and son as Mary holds the broken body of Jesus.
These scenes are a prelude to Holy Saturday. While the movement of Palm Sunday has been one of entry, and the movement of Easter morning will be rising, the movement of Holy Saturday is one of descent. Jesus must descend from the cross into the depths of the earth before he will be raised on ‘the third day.’
With Earth Day occurring two days after Easter, it is fitting to think about Holy Saturday as a ‘day of the earth.’ The Psalms attest to the glory of God in all of creation, and the apostle Paul reminds us that all of creation groans for redemption. Jesus’ descent into the arms of the earth indicates that salvation is a cosmic event.
Wendy Wright, in her book The Rising, indicates that in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, “salvation is envisioned not primarily as the rescue of the individual sinner through the sacrifice on the cross but as the transfiguration of the entire world through the descending-ascending process of God becoming what we are and our becoming what God is.” (p. 108)
(Art: Dana Gray)
Holy Saturday invites us to move beyond a privatized understanding of salvation to consider our relationship to the earth. Part of my Lenten discipline this year was to slow down and be more present to the beauty of creation. I practiced this by taking long walks most of the days of Lent, and instead of seeing myself as an observer of nature, I imagined myself as a participant in the beautiful scenes — sort of like a Lectio Divina walk in nature! To my amazement and wonder, I experienced creation reaching out to me. It was as if the birds, the limbs on the trees, squirrels, and deer were all coming to meet me on my walk. I experienced myself as part of a great cosmic whole that emanates from God’s love and keeping (as Julian of Norwich would say).
“For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.”
1 Peter 4:6
Scripture and tradition speak of another descent Jesus makes on Holy Saturday — his descent to Sheol, or Hades, to redeem the righteous dead. This ‘harrowing of hell,’ as it is often called, grows out of tradition in the Hebrew Bible, which indicates that in the messianic age God will vindicate all those who have died a righteous death. The iconography of Eastern Orthodox Christianity regarding this tradition depicts Jesus riding his cross down into the depths of the earth and bringing such figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and even the good thief on the cross up from the grave.
Not only is this descent a symbol of the depth of divine compassion, it also points to the corporate dimension of resurrection. It is tempting to think about resurrection as a one-time individual event, which guarantees eternal life. Holy Saturday reminds us that out of the depths of God’s compassion, new life is always happening, and we are invited to participate through our acts of compassion.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that the same spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in each of us. So, this Easter Sunday, while we are singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” look for signs of resurrection in the faces of people around you.
(18 April 2014)
by Rev. Elder Hector Gutierrez
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2: 5b-11
I chose this Paschal passage because is not possible to find a better Christology´s summary. In this short passage, we have a profound reflection about what is the best way to talk about the Mystery of Salvation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection, as parts of the same event.
In the understanding of many Christians, at least in the collective imagination of the Latino communities, Good Friday is always a sad day. Most of the people want to express with sacrifice their gratitude to Jesus for his passion. In my tradition, Good Friday has a larger impact on personal devotion than Easter Sunday.
Since the first day I learned you call this day “Good Friday” in English, I’ve loved it because it is a refreshing title. In calling it Good Friday, it asks for us to be aware — we are not only to commemorate the death of Jesus, sanctifying the pain and suffering, per se.
It is not only about the suffering and death. It is also about the “good” that happens. In the teachings of Christ, we come to understand that by his death, Jesus showed his great love for humanity and obtained for us every blessing and everlasting life.
(Photo: Bill Owen, Allegheny College)
Good Friday is not a sad day; instead, it is a good day for humanity. The main reflection for this day is that Jesus Christ, through his death on a cross, precisely got the real victory for us, which is Life Eternal, a gift from God.
Of course, we are to reflect on death today, but we should do so from God´s perspective and not from the concept this world imposes. For humanity, for Christians especially, eternal life is far more important that death; death is just the last earthly step to the fulfillment of our full realization of God.
I believe Good Friday reminds us we are to be in solidarity with our LGBT siblings who are crucified in some countries — like Uganda, Belize, Honduras, Brazil, and Russia — or with those currently crucified by poverty, incarceration, and HIV, as well as with other communities being persecuted unjustly. We must fight with them to obtain a resurrection from their situations.
(Art: Rafael Enriquez)
Leonardo Boff, in the book Passion of Christ, Passion of the World: The Facts, Their Interpretation, and Their Meaning Yesterday and Today, said:
To preach the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ today entails the following:
To commit oneself and all one´s energies for a world where love, peace and community of sisters and brothers, a world where openness and self-surrender to God, will be less difficult. This means denouncing situations that generate hatred, division, and practical atheism — atheism in terms of structures, values, practices, and ideologies. It means proclaiming, and practicing — in commitment, love and solidarity — justice in the family, in the school, in the economic system, and in the political relations. The consequence of this engagement will be crisis, suffering, confrontation, and the cross. Acceptance of the cross, of this clash, this confrontation, is what it means to carry the cross, as our Lord carried it: it means suffering, enduring, for the sake of the cause we support and the life we lead….
To carry the cross as Jesus carried it, then, means taking up a solidarity with the crucified of this world — with those who suffer violence, who are impoverished, who are dehumanized, who are offended in their rights. To carry the cross as Jesus carried it means to defend these persons, and to attack the practices in whose name they are made nonpersons. It means taking up the cause of their liberation, and suffering for the sake of this cause….
It is in MCC’s very DNA to be the Human Rights Church. This year, we must embrace as never before this call to lead the way in living as justice-seeking people. Let’s celebrate this Good Friday with the understanding that we are to be the voice for the voiceless and with the principal goal to share with everyone that another world is possible — and another type of church is possible, too.
To be in solidarity with all who are crucified in this world — that must be MCC´s business card. And our business is to offer life — and life in abundance — for all our siblings.
Pray with me. “Oh God, Universal Father and Mother, we ask that as we celebrate this Good Friday, we feel in communion with all humanity, looking to you as we seek the meaning of life. We cordially welcome all countries and religions who reflect upon and seek you.”
(13 April 2014)
by Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
Matthew 26 and 27
The Passion Narratives are a central feature of each gospel, focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life.
The passion drama is a story within the story of Jesus, one that includes all kinds of losses: betrayal, abandonment, physical suffering, humiliation, and death, as well as loss of control, of relationships, and of justice.
Other scholars point out the painful truth that the passion story, written first as an internal Jewish conversation, became fodder for lethal anti-Semitism for millennia. Passion plays from the middle ages, all the way through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” have fed into dangerous, racist stereotypes.
This ugly underbelly fits into a larger narrative of the ways in which the dominant culture uses religion to oppress and to marginalize. Christianity that is held captive to this narrative must be overthrown by the prophetic, liberating gospel we have come to know. And overthrowing is always costly, thus “the passion.”
For this reflection, I have reduced my own understanding of Jesus’ passion to a message more simple and stark: Through losses, changes, and challenges — though weary — do not give up!
I continued to press on, limping, my feet aching, slipping, sliding, desperately wanting to sit down, chilled to the marrow. Even in this sopping wet state I could feel the hot tears welling in my eyes. Eventually I cried out to God and said, “God, what is this all about? Why am I out here? What am I doing here? Am I crazy?” then came the still, small voice of the Spirit as I sensed God saying, “No, David, I am just teaching you to endure; I am just checking you out.”
Finally after some six hours Carol arrived to collect me and I could hardly bend down to get in the car. I looked at her and said, “If I were a quitter, today would be the day I quit.” But as Carol turned the car, I knew once again that God was saying, “No one, after putting their hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the (Kin)dom of God!”
We have all been there, for many reasons, as diverse as each of our stories. Who can we go to, to admit that we wonder how we got here? We wonder if what we are doing makes a difference. We wonder if we are really crazy to care, to love, to work for justice, to minister, to do what we do, day after day. God, are you checking us out?
We are also checking You out!!! We are asking who You are, and what You want, and what You want with us in particular.
Jesus suffered his moments as well, as he journeyed to Jerusalem. After pouring himself out on a three-year, unrelenting road trip, he must have wondered, “Am I crazy? God, is this really what you want? How will it all end?”
The point of the story is, if we do not give up, if we hold on and hold out, and if we endure, we can trust the God we know in Jesus to use our suffering as the compost for something new, and good, and just. That will make a difference, changing lives and history.
I think of so many. Like those parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut, USA), who bravely put their suffering to work so that others will not have to suffer the way they have. Or those LGBT people in Uganda who are standing proudly and suffering for justice with so little protection. There is a powerful intensity of “suffering transformed” that inspires awe and courage in the rest of us.
Suffering is part of being human. Unnecessary, undeserved suffering is the most poignant and mysterious of all. Jesus’ suffering and loss, his humanness before the Mystery, makes him most accessible to us, and most like us.
Finally, can we, like him, offer up our suffering and passion — our tears, our pain, our doubts, and our fears? Can we keep on and not quit until that day when hope and victory arrive at an empty tomb?
(13 April 2014)
by Rev. Elder Hector Gutierrez
The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
“Hosanna to David’s son!”
With Palm Sunday´s celebration, we begin our spiritual itinerary into Holy Week. One more time, we are convened to the paschal mystery as Hans Urs von Balthar said, “There in Jesus´ paschal mystery we recognize that God has not just redeemed the world but disclosed God´s own being”. I think we will never understand the profound reflection in this mystery, because it overwhelms us. That´s the reason we need to come again and again to this celebration, not just once a year, but every Sunday in our worship.
Palm Sunday offers to us, in a concentrated, advanced way, all that we will celebrate during the Holy Days because present to us is the figure of Jesus, as the suffering King that is acclaimed, yet at the same time scoffed at.
This Palm Sunday, we are not just recalling what happened almost 20 centuries ago; we have the opportunity to live with the same hope those in Jerusalem showed to Jesus in his triumphal entry. The call of the Christian liturgy is for us to be keenly present to the realities of an unjust world and live into our responsibility to change it.
For me, it is so hard to imagine the Palm Sunday that Jesus experienced was a festive and organized celebration, with the people exhibiting good behavior. Of course, that is not what happened. I imagine their actions were more like an authentic, joyous manifestation of their hope. Finally, they felt it was the right moment to express loudly their expectations, not just in the spiritual way, but in their full lives with all their being. It was more like a protest, motivated by the sense that something was about to change for the better.
We can celebrate in a new way this day, remembering that Jesus made his entry to Jerusalem mounted on a donkey, showing humility, gentleness, and peace, and surrounded by the crowd that was his community. We, as MCC, can celebrate Holy Week in the same spirit by being with the people in need, showing we have the conviction to reply to God´s calling with renewed, radical, inclusive acceptance of all people.
Let me share with you one experience from my early days as a clergy person. I was ordained a catholic priest in 1994. My first mission was in a small town that had just one ranch. The new priest was required to be in charge of the ranch, which had around 50 families living on it. I will always remember the day I arrived in that community. I experienced an incredible welcome two miles before the chapel; all the people were waiting for me so they could offer a special reception with a mariachi, fireworks, and shaking hands with everybody. Of course, nothing comes without some requirement from our lives. I understood with humility, that was my Palm Sunday in my life as a priest.
In the same community, just weeks later, I experienced the other not so comfortable face, when some people would stand up and leave the chapel because I was the priest in charge to celebrate the mass. At that time, I shared my ministry with a very old, traditional, and retired priest, who used to celebrate the mass in Latin. He told the people that I, the new priest, was a product of the devil because I did not use the Latin. This experience marked my ministry and my conviction; it helped me keep in my mind and heart that I would need to be prepared to live the reality that just because I am a clergy person does not mean I would always be welcome. Not everywhere would I hear “tu casa es mi casa.”
I used to celebrated Palm Sunday in the communities with banners that showed what change was needed in the context where we lived. The crowd that welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem had the expectations that something new would happen soon. If we have the goal to welcome Jesus in our community with our palms, we need to also have the commitment to work to change the unjust things and behaviors in the world so that it can be a new day for our many siblings to expect a better future.
On this fifth Sunday of Lent, I invite us to hear the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from Martha’s perspective. What follows is what I imagine Martha would have said about what happened that day:
Oh, hello. Just tidying up a bit. You know, I have a reputation for that. You remember that story, don’t you? Jesus had come to our house for dinner — the house that my sister Mary and my brother Lazarus and I lived in — we were his family of choice, and he was always hanging out at our house. Well, I was flying around in the kitchen clanging pots and pans trying to get everything ready. I was pretty stressed out about having Jesus over for dinner, so I really flew off the handle when I noticed my sister Mary was just sitting around chatting with Jesus instead of helping me out. So I said, “Jesus, don’t you care that I am in here doing all this by myself? Tell Mary to get in here and help me.” He replied, “Martha, Martha, Martha, you worry too much. Mary has chosen the better part.”
Well, I have sort of gotten a bad rap from that story ever since, but my brother wouldn’t have come back from the dead if I didn’t have chutzpah to march down the road and meet Jesus that day.
I have to say, I was a little miffed with Jesus for not showing up sooner. Mary and I had sent word to him several days earlier that Lazarus was ill. So when I heard that Jesus was on the road just outside of town four days after we had buried Lazarus, I went out to meet him. With my hand on my hip, I said, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” And no sooner had those words come out of my mouth, I said in the same breath, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Have you ever had that happen to you? You know, it’s like you make a complaint and a statement of trust all in one sentence. I pointed out to Jesus that because he was late, Lazarus was dead, then turned around and implied that he could do something about it. Conversations with Jesus are often like that. He is just as interested in our complaints as he is in our trust and faith.
Well, Jesus and I got into this whole theological discussion. He said to me, “Your brother will rise again.” And I thought he was talking about the belief our religious leaders, the Pharisees, had taught — that at the end of the age, the righteous dead would be raised. So I responded, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” But Jesus threw me for a loop when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he looked into my eyes and asked, “Do you believe this?”
All of a sudden, I realized Jesus had shifted the conversation to a deeper level than just what the Pharisees taught about resurrection. He was asking me about my relationship with him. So there I was, standing in the middle of the road, and by this time my hand had come down off my hip, and in the eternity that gathered around that simple question from Jesus, “Do-you-believe-this?” I answered, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” It was a confession of faith that transcended any theological category or debate. Jesus was inviting me to move out of my head — thinking about him, Lazarus, what the Pharisees taught about resurrection — and to move into my heart: “What do you believe about me Martha?”
After that conversation, the strangest thing happened. Jesus went to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried for four days. There was a huge stone covering the entrance, and Jesus told those who were gathered there weeping and mourning to take away the stone. Well, you know me, the practical one. I quickly turned to Jesus and said, “Ewh! There is already stench, and you want us to open up the tomb?” Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” In that moment, I knew that consenting to rolling away the stone would not only change Lazarus’ life forever, but mine too.
So they rolled away the stone, and after Jesus had prayed a very simple prayer, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” We had never heard Jesus raise his voice. I mean, it was really loud. I think that is where you get the phrase, ‘loud enough to wake the dead.’ And sure enough, a few seconds later, we saw this mummy-like figure stumble out of the tomb, squirming, trying to stay upright, trying to walk, but Lazarus’ hands and feet were still bound in his grave clothes and his face still wrapped in a shroud. We all just stood there speechless, and finally Jesus said, “Unbind him. Let him go.”
You could say this is a coming out story. Jesus is always calling us to come out. To come out of the places that are killing us — maybe it is a job, or a relationship, or an addiction, or an attitude. Jesus says ‘come out.’ Jesus is asking us to consider the things in our lives that keep us bound and stumbling — half alive: fear, hatred, resentment. Jesus says those have no hold on us as his disciples.
Oh sure, Lazarus came out that day, but I did too. I came out as a disciple of Jesus. My confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah was life changing. I had served Jesus meals in my home many times, and we had had many conversations, but that day on the road when he told me that he was the resurrection and the life, when he told me that everyone who lives and believes in him will never die — a great shift happened in my soul. Suddenly, I realized that the kind of life Jesus was talking about was ‘abundant life’ here and now. In that moment, without actually saying the words ‘come out,’ Jesus called forth a knowing in me that had been there all along, but now I was ready for it. Now I was ready to live more fully into the life that was before me.
Well, it’s about time for me to go. But before I do, let me just ask you, “How do you need to come out? What stones in your life need to be rolled away so you can hear Jesus’ voice of life more clearly?” Those are some life and death questions to think about as you journey toward Easter.
(30 March 2014)
by Rev. Elder Darlene Garner
No matter what our chronological age might be, many of us are probably still trying to make sense of our lives — to answer the proverbial question, Who will I be when I grow up? The global movement of MCC and our congregations are also beginning to engage the question, What is it that God is calling us to become and to do as 21st century people?
This is the one. 1 Samuel 16:12b
I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4b
I am the light of the world. John 9:5
Everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13b
From the moment of the birth of Metropolitan Community Churches, God claimed us as God’s own and said, “This is the one.” This is the newborn Body of Christ that can heal the broken world. As diverse peoples from every nation, this is the one that can embody my unconditional love, break down walls of exclusion, and bring forth justice and peace.
MCC has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations through the years, and God has been with us every step of the way. When we were hiding in closets of shame, God led us out toward reconciliation of our sexuality and our spirituality. When our families rejected us and we were excluded from other communities of faith, through God’s grace, we created a beloved community that offers an Open Table where all people can find a place. Even when AIDS and other forms of disease ravage our bodies, God gives us the strength to overcome even as we offer comfort, consolation, and care. We have come, and are coming, through all of that and so much more. As we now look toward the future, we have no fear, for we know that God is still with us.
MCC is illuminated by the light of Christ, and the spirit of Christ shines through us. This means that even today we are the light of the world. We are still a strong beacon of light that breaks through the darkness of ignorance and fear. We illuminate pathways to wholeness, holiness, and healing. We brighten the hopes of people seeking to begin a relationship with God and the aspirations of people yearning to be free from discrimination and oppression. Just because we exist, people can pursue their life purpose, the world can find its way to justice, and all of us can know peace.
As wonderful and life-giving as MCC is, we cannot allow it to come about that tomorrow our light will have been overshadowed by the accomplishments of our past. We were not created to continue being who we were in former years. God is calling us now to transform ourselves into who God created us to become — an embodiment of God’s unconditional love that perpetually breaks down walls of exclusion and brings forth justice and peace.
Metropolitan Community Church is compelled by an unfinished calling and a prophetic destiny.
We are a global movement of spiritually and sexually diverse people
who are fully awake to God’s enduring love.
Following the example of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit,
we seek to build leading-edge church communities
that demand, proclaim, and do justice in the world.
The MCC Governing Board, Council of Elders, and Senior Leadership Team are gaining great clarity about what is needed from us in order to lead our movement closer toward this vision. We are as focused as a laser beam in pursuit of this vision. Yet YOU are the one for which the world still waits.
“It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us….
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you….
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”