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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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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