Why Make Trouble?

1 Kings 22:1-18; Matthew 23:23

One of the advantages of being a clergy type, the kind that wears robes such as this, is that sometimes you are treated with great respect as a person of the cloth. I say sometimes, because that’s not necessarily what happened a couple of months ago on a Sunday morning. In a sure sign that this congregation is becoming entirely too comfortable with me, I got dissed both during and after my sermon.

A month or two ago, at the beginning of my sermon, I carefully laid out some tools that I had brought from home. The tools, you see were intended as an advent metaphor for a particular aspect of our spiritual life. Instead of focusing our minds on spirituality, however, the tools elicited a number of comments directed squarely at my handyman skills. As I laid out a couple of power tools, somebody had the gall to say, “Well, we know those aren’t yours!” Later I heard the comment, “Those are the cleanest tools I’ve ever seen. You could give those away as new!” Really!

Well, I am here to inform you that I certainly do know how to handle that power circular saw thing. So what if it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to get it back into its case. So what if when asked whether we should bring 220 power into the new kitchen, I suggested that we “go as high as 221 or 222, whatever it takes.”

Ok, ok, I admit, you may not be able to trust me with the wiring of our new kitchen. We all have certain gifts. You might not be able to trust me with a lot of power tools, but I hope (and this is something I believe we have) that we trust in each other this morning. I hope, regardless of our uniqueness, that we can we can trust each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, with an open ear because we are here this morning to stir up some trouble. Just a little.

The trouble, as you may have read in my article in the Pulse, that we are making has to do with our understanding of sexuality, its relationship to our faith, and particularly, the welcoming and equality of our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered sisters and brothers.

(Since Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered is a mouthful for everybody, it has become customary to use the acronym LGBT (or GLBT) to refer to the diverse non-heterosexual community. So when you hear the term GLBT, it’s not a secret code. It’s simply a more inclusive, less clinical term than homosexuality.)

The issues of diverse sexuality are ones with which our denomination, our culture, our world are struggling. This struggle includes our families and us as individuals. In many ways, our wrestling with issues of sexuality is one of the defining struggles of our time. For us, as Christians, it is an area where the rubber of our faith hits the road.

This is why we are stirring up trouble this morning and the weeks to come.

Some might wonder about the wisdom of tackling this issue at this time. “We’ve got great momentum going in this church family right now. We’re finishing the building project; we still have some money to raise to pay it off. Why bring up a controversial issue now?” At the same time, others of you might be thinking, “why have you waited so long? We should have done this a long time ago!”

Truth is, there is no convenient time to bring up this issue, there is only God’s time. Session, the governing body of our congregation, has devoted the opening part of our monthly meetings over the past year to reflecting on these issues. We have prayed about them, studied scripture, and shared honestly. Session, believing that it is now God’s time, has decided to bring this issue to you. We want to give you an opportunity, in the context of our faith and in the context of a loving community, to wrestle with these issues. We are inviting a conversation. We know it will not be an easy conversation, but our hope is that it will be a meaningful, educational, purposeful, and loving one.

As I wrote in my article in the Pulse, in addressing these issues, we seek a balance between conviction and commitment to justice on the one hand, and openness to different perspectives on the other.

I want to expand a little on this question: Why make trouble by bringing this issue up? First of all, because we seek to be faithful. In our Scripture from the book of Kings, the royals are all about power. They are all about their own agendas. They have had three years of peace (and we know that that’s way too long!) and so they plan to make some war. They do one thing right, however. Before they mobilize the army, before they set things in motion, they know what to do. When the chips are down, when they need to decide a particular issue, they first seek the word of the Lord.

In the same way do we seek to be faithful? From the very beginning of the church’s history, the task of the church has been to apply the eternal, abiding Word of God to the specific issues of the day, whether it be the relationship between Jew and Gentile, slavery, women’s issues, church and state (the list goes on). It is our task to pursue the truth, and to be faithful. This is why we turn to Scripture.

In being faithful, we are also like Micaiah, who must speak the word that the Lord gives him. That word is not an abstract doctrine, or a self-serving platitude, but a word on target, delivered despite personal risk, delivered faithfully even though it is unpopular.

Because our questions and struggle involve truth and faithfulness, in our discernment process over the next month, we will discuss Scripture. We will try and see beyond the rhetoric, the platitudes that are too often masked as discussion. We will try to see beyond the myth and the accusations that one side follows the bible and the other does not, and that one side is the side of angels and the other is the side of devils. If you haven’t guessed yet, I have pretty strong and clear beliefs on these issues. But there is one thing that I have discovered in my years of ministry, I have found people of mature and sincere faith on both sides of the sexuality, ordination, and related Scriptural and theological debates. We are all trying to be faithful, and our discussion will proceed from a place of respect for each other’s faith.

There is another reason why we make trouble by bringing up this issue? Because it is about God’s Children – it is about real people. This discussion is not about how many angels dance on the head of a pin, or about the doctrine of the virgin birth 2000 years ago, it involves, in Jesus’ words from Matthew, the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith. Real lives are shaped and affected and hurt by stands we take. Our beliefs touch real families.

We have to be honest. Religion has been the source of pain for many. It has led to the breaking up of families, and the shattering of relationships. It has been complicit in the persecution of the least of these, and in supporting hate and exclusion of the worst kind. We need to confess this truth. So we make trouble.

On the positive side, God is moving among these very ones we have called broken and unclean. The Holy Spirit has been active among the very ones we have tried to “fix” or exclude, and we did not know it! GLBT churches are springing up. Our GLBT sisters and brothers, despite being scolded and shamed and rejected, are sticking around. And like Micaiah before Kings, like Peter discovers in Acts 10, they are bringing the word of the Lord. God is setting people free. We need to listen to their voice and experience, so we make trouble.

Finally, we make trouble because our struggle is about community. God has given us the tools of love, grace, and mercy to seek the truth, to nurture justice, and faith, and to make peace. If we do not address these central issues here, in the context of our faith, in this loving and trusting community, then where? I want you to know, no matter what your perspective may be on this issue, that this is a safe place. This is a safe place. Your voice is valued. You are a child of God.

Are trouble makers behind the controversy in today’s church–the controversy surrounding today’s sermon topic? Are trouble makers agitating for change? In all honesty, I have to say yes.

But these trouble makers, the ones who are so deeply involved in these issues, are trouble makers of a particular kind. They are a kind of trouble maker that has a long tradition in our Faith. These trouble makers are active not simply to cause mayhem; the trouble they cause is a result of their main focus: seeking truth and faithfulness, God’s truth and our faithfulness, in word and in deed.

Moses, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul the apostle, Lydia (Acts 17), St Francis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa–trouble makers all.

And Jesus? Oh, he was a trouble maker, the worst one of all. Didn’t that verse from Matthew sound like it came from a troublemaker? Jesus caused so much trouble that the only solution his enemies could come up with was to try and silence him on the cross. His executioners thought they had the last word. But God was and is not done causing trouble.

Whenever God’s people needed to hear a new fresh word, God has sent trouble makers. Why make trouble? Because we must.

This morning’s sermon is simply this: an invitation to talk, and to listen, and to discern the truth together in love. Come to the small groups over the next few Sunday nights. Share. This is what we do in church. Guided by Scripture, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, we make trouble; because out of that trouble, faithful change comes. Along the way, we gather around this table and are united as one body, with one Lord, in one Spirit.

Friends, this is a safe place. This is a loving place. This is a welcoming place. This is Christ’s place. Let us listen for his voice together.

(To listen to the sermon, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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