Memorial Sunday, May 30, 2021
2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Memorial Days begin in the Civil War, and one of the first happened in South Carolina in 1865. There, 257 Union soldiers had died in a prisoner of war camp and were buried in unmarked graves in Charleston; the South's main port for the collection and selling of human beings.
Freedmen and women prepared a memorial graveyard and then reburied those union soldiers. And thousands more marched to the site to bless and remember those who died in the cause to end their enslavement.
There is such poignancy to this story; These men from the north, conscripted into this great, but costly cause, and their memorializers themselves having come through unspeakable agony and loss, meet on this now holy ground.
The holiday that came from such gatherings is the one that is dedicated to remembering: remembering the forgotten, and the costs of war and conflict.
Our scriptures today remind us that we also called to remember Psalm 139 asks us to remember that God remembers us, and Paul, that ordinary human beings even, or perhaps, particularly in our weakness are vessels of the divine.
Many years ago, I was traveling on the highway, and I saw a slow moving vehicle in the right hand lane. It was an armored tank, and standing on the back were two soldiers, in full battle gear holding their weapons. I passed another, then another, then another, 7 of them in total, young men, black and white in the slenderness of youth.
This was before such equipment became part of our civilian forces. We almost never saw battle-ready soldiers, during this war in Afghanistan, that will soon end for us and continue without us.
But, even armed as they were it was their vulnerability, I sensed, their humanity beneath the Kevlar jackets.
By the time I was passing the last tank I realized I hadn't even acknowledged them, these young men who might not return.
So I waved, and, to my surprise, the soldier on the last tank saw my wave through the window, and he waved back as if he'd been looking for someone to acknowledge him.
I suddenly feared for him as a fellow human being for whom Psalm 139 says, so clearly, God loves, attends to, hopes for, and will be with unto death.
It started to rain, hard and I turned on my wipers, and thought about those soldiers caught in the rain, taking it, because that's what they do:
That's what soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and women, and Coast Guardsmen and women, do. They take it. They bear the battle, they take in the suffering into their minds and bodies just as those who were enslaved did. As they endured cruelty, and fought for freedom, and as their descendants have ever since.
Just as health care workers who have spent the past year on the frontlines of COVID, thousands of whom who have died.
All these human beings wearing various forms of protective armor. Physical, emotional, and yet each of them, all of us, vulnerable to life's demands so aware of our human inadequacies and pondering our belovedness, the meaning of our little lives and our deaths.
Paul, the apostle, felt inadequate, even though he'd been saved from a wasted, soul-killing life by a revelation from the crucified and risen Lord.
There were others, who seemed to garner more attention and devotion. Paul was always aware that his appearance was not pleasing. He had come through many trials for his testimony and now he finds himself diminished in comparison to others.
His arrogance, his armor falls away in his writing, and you see how vulnerable he feels to rejection, just as we are.
But in that diminishment, he realized something.
I am not impressive, he says, But the thing is, its not about me. In fact, he says, it is my weakness, my mistakes, my unimpressive self, that allows everyone to know that whatever I accomplish is not from my own power. Whatever light I shed is not from my own self.
We are clay, he says, clay pots. The people of Corinth know what he means. They are everyday items, common, breakable, made from the earth. He goes on. We are clay pots that can be filled with the treasure that is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.
And because we hold this treasure in these clay pots it is evident that this power, this light is not from us.
How else could it be that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed?
It’s not about us. We believers carry the death of Christ in us, he says. We carry that infinitely vulnerable, compassionate, sacrificing love of Christ in us. Which means, giving up our lives for Jesus' sake in whatever way that happens, large or small, so that the life of Jesus might be visible in our very mortal, imperfect selves.
I think we can take such comfort in knowing that our lives, however short or long, however quiet or renowned, can be a remembrance of Jesus' own life.
Rose and I went to the Veterans Memorial yesterday. It is worth your time, particularly the exhibit about PTSD and suicide. We ended by going to the replica of the Vietnam Memorial.
There were people there, in yellow jackets. “May I help you,” he asked, ready to lead us to a name to help us remember.
Remembering there has been so much loss this year, even this week,
and it is worth remembering that every life, even ones that seem lost from the beginning or lost forever, are never lost to God.
And that we, the living, can do what seems impossible. We can be filled with mercy and courage, compassion and wisdom and sacrificial love
Because these lives we have, these clay pots, formed of the earth, vulnerable, breakable, and prone to mistakes, are vessels of God's everlasting light.
Let us remember that and be thankful. Amen.
Ascension Sunday, May 16, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Christ, risen, from the dead and now, in this story from Luke's word in Acts, risen from the earth.
HIs is the only account of this transition, of how Jesus tells the disciples that they are to bear his message of redemption and forgiveness and will be his witnesses, clothed with power and then, ascends.
Let's remember where we started this Eastertide,
After his crucifixion, his followers were anguished, bewildered,
Then they hear, or they see, of his resurrection. For those closest to him, who knew him as their friend and teacher, their idea of him has to change.
They loved him, his words, his healing power, his physical being.
We do too, so much that we carve and paint and cut glass into versions of his likeness of the most beautiful man we can imagine everywhere.
But, with resurrection, they and we are asked to take in another Jesus.
Through divine power, he breaks the boundary of life and death. It is not a return to life as before, like Lazarus but resurrected life, new life.
He breaks the boundary of space, moving thorough doors, appearing and vanishing from the sight.
And now, with ascension, the boundaries of his own personhood shift. Now Christ's existence is more than his own physical being on the earth.
All communities of faith, our existence, our identity, all those are now "in Christ".
Hear how the letter to the church at Ephesus describes it.
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe,
Yes, the Divine Power of the Universe was made known in this human one who has been raised and made boundless, and now, you, this fragile little group of people, this community is going to have, energy, courage, imagination, Compassion Unbounded, because now we are In Christ.
As the sister of St. Francis, Teresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks
Compassionately on the world
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which Christ blesses the world.
This story is about Jesus, the Christ and it is about us:
Here is the Skit about the disciples looking up and waiting for Jesus
Over the past few months, we have shared our core values and had persons in the congregation bear witness to them:
We have heard from the broader community:
Seeking to be Christ in the world. From Nikki King shared her stories of challenging addiction in rural America inviting us to live into hope.
Chad Hale shared his life in community with those at the margins in Atlanta, inviting us to be church, perfect in compassion and community.
Val and Hope told their stories of women coming home from prison and the Welcome Home community began meeting here.
Emily from the United Methodist Children's Home shared how the power of love claims foster children and their parents.
And some other voices have been heard right around our church inviting us to be Christ’s hands and feet.
Spencer, who has lived outside for a long time, Val, who just lost his home and has been sleeping here.
And a group of church folks here have begun to gather with those who work with these communities to imagine a shared ministry right here.
A family called a few weeks ago and asked if this room could be the gathering place for the family of a young woman, Jenna, and a devasted LGBTQ community remembered her life gone too soon.
And we did so this past Monday, and now members of this congregation who counsel young adults are ready to consider, how we come alongside young people and families as they struggle to have hope.
Cathy has gathered others to dream and plan the creation of a prayer labyrinth in which all persons, regardless of station or status can come and walk a winding path that helps them and be empowered.
We are working on our stewardship, our endowment, our choir loft, our outreach. We have prayer teams and Easter Egg Hunts and mission trip to southern Ohio. And now youth are preparing for Pentecost Sunday and so much more.
It can seem overwhelming, what we are attempting. All of us, the church of Jesus Christ in every place, including Jerusalem and the West Bank. Imagine that work of redemption and forgiveness that is to be done by all God’s people there.
But remember where we started, a small group of bewildered, bereft people to whom the power of God to resurrect was revealed. To whom the risen Christ who breaks through every barrier of space and time was made known, and whose Spirit invites and empowers us still to be the church. Ekklesia: called out and called together in Christ's name to become Christ's home in the world.
And so we are and shall be, Amen.
This morning, we name and celebrate women in the early church.
We learn of them chiefly through the letters of Paul to the first believers.
They did not own buildings. They could not afford them and Christianity was not legal in the Roman world. Rather, they met in homes, and homes were the domain of women.
From Paul's letter to the church in Rome, Chapter 16
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe a deacon of the church at Cenchrae ("Sen-cree- aa") and I ask that in Christ you extend to her a welcome that is worthy of the saints. Give her whatever help she may need from you. For she has helped a great many people and she has been a support to me.
My greetings to Prescilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus who risked their lives for me. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. My greetings also to the church that meets at their house.
Greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard among you.
Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who have been in prison with me.
They are outstanding among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was….
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa those women who worked hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend, Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Greetings to Rufus, a chosen servant of the Lord. And to his mother who has been a mother to me.
For the times you walked the city streets and ministered to the poor:
Julia, Junia, Mary, Persis, We remember you.
For the times you preached the Word of God, We remember you.
For the times you opened your homes to others, Phoebe and Prescilla,
We remember you.
For leading the church at its dangerous beginnings, for the years you spent in exile, Tryphena and Tryphosa, (Try-Feen-a) (Try-Foe-Sa), We remember you.
For the women and men you nurtured, Mother of Rufus, We remember you.
For the times we feel forgotten, We now remember you.
For all our sisters, Known and unknown, who ministered in the early church: Phoebe, Prescilla, Julia, Junia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, Tryphosa, And Mother of Rufus, We remember you.
Naming - Aphia
When he was in prison, Paul wrote a letter commending a former slave to the care of the community. It begins:
From Paul, a prisoner for Jesus Christ,and from Timothy, our brother, to Philemon, our beloved fellow worker and Apphia, our sister, and the church that meets in your house, Grace and peace to you from God and from Jesus, God’s anointed.
Who do people say we are? Wife? Mother? Sister? Daughter? Who do we know we are? Daughters of the Living God.
Uniting - Chloe
Like today, early Christians struggled over differences. We learn this from Paul's first letter the Church at Corinth:
“I appeal to you my brothers and my sisters, for the sake of Jesus Christ to settle your differences instead of disagreeing among yourselves. Be united again in belief and in practice. It has been told to me by Chloe’s people that there are serious dissentions among you. But consider: Is Christ divided?”
O God, You are One, eternally One, One God of all the earth’s people. You bring forth all your children and you know us each by name. You are Life. There is only one Life. One Source of all our living. All that you are, all that you do, all whom you have brought forth, all that is, is meant to be a blessing.
Slienced – Mary of Magdela
Whenever our scripture speaks of the Galilean women who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene heads the list.
In the New Testament, she is the named as the woman who was cured by Jesus of 7 demons then followed him and financially supported his ministry.
By every account, she and two other women went to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body in death and to these women, to Mary, Christ's resurrection was first made known. Hers is the first voice of that good news; the first apostle of the resurrection. And yet, the Gospels reveal that the men who followed Jesus did not believe her or any of the women.
Ancient scrolls from the second century discovered in the twentieth century, in caves in the Judaean desert by the Dead Sea, name Mary of Magdala as a central figure in the early church, on par with Peter himself.
And yet, women continue to be told that they cannot be leaders in Christ's church.
You lift me up, Creator of Life, You entrust me with your mission. You reveal your way to me. Be with me when I am silenced or silence myself from fear.
Help me remember all the others who have been silenced, whose leadership, denied: The last, the least, the lowest.
Give me an honest heart. Help me say what I ought to say, so I will not hesitate to call the question no matter the risk.
Your Word, Who is Truth says "Keep my word, Speak the truth, and the truth will make you free and keep you true in Me" May it be so.
Rising – Tabitha
Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9:
Now at Jaffa, there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, in Greek, Dorcas, who was tireless in doing good and in charitable giving.
She fell ill and died and they prepared her body and laid her in an upper room.
Now Peter was nearby in Lydda (Lee-Dah) and when the disciples heard he was in that town, they sent women with an urgent message, to come as soon as possible.
So Peter went back with them at once, and when he arrived, they took him to the upper room where all the widows were gathered in tears displaying all the tunics and other garments Dorcas had made when she was with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room then he knelt, and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, get up! She opened her eyes, looked at Peterand sat up.
Peter gave her his hand and she stood up. Then he called in the saints and widows and presented her to them alive. The whole of Jaffa heard the news, and many became believers.
Now and then, here and there, we are rising, rising from the dead.
From silence, from bondage, We are rising.
From exploitation, from violence, We are rising.
Against all odds rising from the dead, We are rising.
Like the sun, Like the moon, We are rising.
Like Incense, like bread, We are rising
Like Dorcas, We are rising.
Here and there, We are rising,
Rising from the dead.
Into hope, into freedom, We are rising.
Into speech, into significance, We are rising.
Into the future, here and there, everywhere,
We are rising, rising from the dead.
And finally, a special word for mothers.
We first remember Ann, whose child, in her womb, leapt when encountering Mary with child. Mary, who brought Jesus into the world and believed in him, raised him to love and serve and offer himself, and who began a chain of faith that continues today.
From Paul's first letter to Timothy:
I am reminded of your sincere faith. A faith that first lived in your grandmother, Lois and in your mother, Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Let us now praise mothers, and mothers of mothers.
For young mothers and old mothers, first time mothers and experienced mothers, and all those whose love is like that of mothers.
For all mothers who have lost a child and children who have lost their mothers and mothers who raise other mother's children.
Mothers of those in prison and mothers in prison. Mothers whose home has never had children, mothers whose children will never come home.
We praise God for mothers. May God's grace and peace accompany them,
And follow them all the way home.
Let us pray:
We thank you, God, for all these women, for linking our lives backwards and forwards making a chain of witness and hope and compassion long enough
and strong enough to circle the whole of your church including us, this very day. May we, too, live our faith and share it in Christ's name. Amen.
Reflections on Core Value: Sustaining Community
May 2, 2021
When I think about our core value: “We are a compassionate, connected community that acknowledges and respects our differences”, there really seems to be 3 distinct areas of focus - compassion, community, and diversity.
Let’s dive into what each of those means to me.
We are compassionate
Compassion is showing concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. Its Latin root “compati” means “to suffer together.” When I think about how we are compassionate, how we show concern for the suffering of others, I immediately think about our ministries. I think about our ministries which feed the hungry, our ministries which clothe the naked, and our ministries which give friendship to the lonely. I think about our mission trips which travel to disaster areas to heal those whose lives have been reduced to shambles. I think about the small acts each member of the congregation does to acknowledge one another as a person.
To me it is not all about being compassionate, but also about being open to receive compassion. Megan and I struggle to accept help at times - we say to ourselves “we are smart and hard working, with enough energy we can work through this ourselves”. I can promise you this is a foolish mind to have. When we first brought home our daughter Eleanor, born underweight and with complications in the midst of global pandemic, we were proud and tried to just handle it ourselves. But this drove us to a point almost beyond hope, we were suffering from fear and anxiety - “what if she never gets better?”
But in that suffering our Church and small group lifted us up. Cathy Davis made certain we were fed with her delicious cooking. Our small group gave us moments of joy and friendship every Sunday. They listened to our worries and shared in our suffering. They lifted us out of our darkness and into a place of hope. If we had not opened ourselves up to receive these compassionate acts, I don’t see how we could have made it through intact. I would encourage you to not only act compassionately, but also be willing to receive compassion.
We are a connected community
Connection and a sense of community is critical to our success as a Church. Without connection what are we more than a building full of people who all happen to show up on Sunday.
When Megan and I first moved to Columbus from North Carolina, we were looking to find something different than the transient relationships we came from in the high turnover, tech focused community of Research Triangle Park. We wanted to put roots down in Columbus and integrate ourselves into the community. We wanted to feel like we were participating in something bigger than ourselves that would have lasting positive effects on our neighbors.
We found exactly this at Maple Grove. In the first few weeks we visited the Church, I cannot count the number of people who reached out to us to make a connection. We were asked to join the drama group, the technical team, the millennial group, to form a small group - the list goes on. In each of these instances, even if we did not decide to accept the kind offer, someone saw us and saw a chance to reach out and make a connection, to make us part of the Maple Grove community. This is what makes Maple Grove such an amazing place.
When the pandemic struck, our ability to maintain connection and community was at risk of disappearing due to lock downs and social distancing guidelines. Our leaders saw this and knowing how important connection and community are to us, took immediate action. Online worship became a priority and was turned around in record time. Small group meetings went virtual. Socially distanced events were scheduled to keep us engaged. All of these things helped to preserve our sense of community and our Church continues to ensure we maintain this sense of community.
We acknowledge and respect differences
Finally, we acknowledge and respect our differences. It is our differences and diversity which makes us strong as a Church. With a single mind, we could never push ourselves to grow and see where God is leading us. We need people with different viewpoints, experiences, and ideas! (To me, a completely homogeneous congregation sounds so boring).
Part of having differences is disagreeing and having space to disagree. Even within my own small group we have such a wide variety of viewpoints on a number of topics. From pacifism, gun ownership, or the compatibility of the military in Christianity - we certainly do not all agree, but it is in these differences and the discussions around them, we are able to understand one another and form lasting relationships.
I truly believe that God speaks through our differences. To those who may fear “the other” or someone who brings different ideas, I challenge you with this: Who among us can claim that another is not welcome in God’s house? Who can say you are too different? I would encourage you to embrace those differences and see what you can learn about one another.
Reflections on Core Value: Sustaining Community
May 2, 2021
I was 12 years old in 1984 and, as a Catholic, I chose the confirmation name Philip. I chose Philip because he was a church leader in acts of compassion (in Acts 7), and he was the “First evangelist”. And so this cycle of stories in the book of Acts has always had a special resonance for me, and has provided an interesting touchstone for exploring my faith over the next 35 years. So I have a lot I could say; but, I will limit it to reflections on today’s Core Value: Sustaining Community: we are a compassionate, connected community that is respectful of our differences. I hope, at the least, to create space for our own contemplation and wrestling with scripture and lives forged in love.
--This man is an Ethiopian. He is the first recorded non-Jewish convert to this new Jesus movement. Remarkably, his blackness is unremarked, because Race was a much later construct in history—However his Ethnicity would have been remarkable to any early hearer of this story. And so, his non-Jewishness is underscored. The first christians did not believe that this new allegiance to Jesus was open to non-Jewish people. This was in fact the driving force behind most of the New Testament we have today: how can this fundamentally Jewish religion be available to non-Jews; how can we have common table with people who eat pork, don’t have circumcision, and don’t honor the covenants of Moses? And yet, Philip is driven by compassion to overlook these very real questions, and find that Jesus’ love can bring unity in spite of all differences.
--The man is a eunuch. Now we are not entirely certain whether this means the man was a castrati, or whether he was a homosexual, or possibly both; each of these possibilities existed for people who served in positions of proximity to royal women. Either way, and this caused me much consideration as a conservative evangelical, he was not what we call CIS male heterosexual. Almost every religious system of the time would have marginalized this man from full participation in their rites, and yet, we have recorded for our edification and contemplation, for all time, this story. And not only that, this story, I may repeat, holds the honor of being the first such conversion of a non-Jewish person.
--So, there can be very real differences in our thoughts as to how we interact with the world in all sorts of ways—but in the church, in the kingdom of Jesus, our first allegiance is to love those around us. It is in this sort of compassion and fundamental re-identification that Jesus’ Family of Believers are able to have unity where otherwise we might not. Are we shaped first and foremost by the Spirit exercising Jesus’ love in and through us? Or are we shaped by some other thing? And if that thing causes us to reject those God has put beside us to love?
--Please realize that I was raised in 1970s and 80s conservative, christian, small town, America. Dealing with the “problem” of homosexuality and alternative gendering was not one of simply changing my mind. But I HAD to wrestle with the reality of scripture here, and I found that the motivating factor was compassion, love, and solidarity with another who was seeking to know God. I could have all manner of conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of this or that sexuality, but in the end, being motivated by compassion in close relationship with people,
being challenged to PERSONALLY be the love and care of God to those God put before me...well, that was no different than what Philip did here. Exercising compassion changed me, it made me see things in scripture that were always there, but I had not fully seen before.
--The early church was not quick to realize these things, so we need to be compassionate toward those who may be slow to change. It was quite awhile after Philip told this story to the home church that the consensus that non-Jews (Gentiles) could participate in this new Kingdom of Jesus. In fact, it took a terrifying dream, and Peter being in the presence of a Roman Centurion —the absolute worst kind of oppressor Gentile—who, un-provoked, began to speak in the tongues off the Holy Spirit, and then asks to be baptized. It took a convention of leaders to finally decide after this event that, if God so clearly put God’s Spirit upon this man, who were we to say otherwise. And then another few years for this to be truly agreed upon at the Council of Jerusalem—and EVEN THEN, they marginalize the even and delegate this new upstart, Paul, to be assigned for these gentiles. And EVEN THEN for the next 30 years there was constant division in the church about how Jews and Gentiles could share the communion table together —not when these dirty gentiles ate pork, and dishonored holy days, nor when these superstitious Jews couldn’t understand that there was no reality behind the “gods” before whom the meat at marketplaces was butchered. I speak of a lot of things here, but please hear: these differences were HUGE and lasted for the first 50 years of the church (and longer, if you are a student of history)--yet always God was patient and the church was challenged to find unity first in Love, and by the compassion of Christ who gave up all of his rights for the sake of love and the creation of a non-divided people. It is a fact that this issue, in particular, was the primary reason the New Testament exists in the form and content we have today.
--My final point of reflection: The passage of Isaiah 53, which the eunuch was reading, and Philip interprets for him, is about how through the Suffering of the Servant, healing will come to others. Or restated: Jesus’ compassion, displayed in his suffering in solidarity with a suffering, marginalize humanity, brings healing and restoration to those of being shaped into his image. How fortuitous that a man who was so deeply handicapped by others: his sexuality taken, his body mutilated, and his spirit marginalized from all religious experience—that such a person should just happen to be hearing a message from the God who became like him, and was willingly marginalized and mutilated. And through this somehow conquers the oppression of empire and even of death itself, brings new life, healing, community, and TRUE religious experience.
The definition of compassion is “to suffer together, or, to suffer or feel with.” God’s love reveals itself in compassion, and we are in made in the image of God. My hope for this church—and the Core value upon which we do well to consider—is that we look first to the unity we have been given in God’s love, that we are motivated first from compassion, and that in this, we can maintain the respect, connection, and love for those who are different from us. Unity where such distinctions exist is surely a sign that God’s love is among us.