Transfiguration 2021

A transcript for worship for this Sunday, where I play with form and structure of our usual order of worship.

Branches silhouetted agains the late afternoon sky. In uploading it, I also noticed a rainbow lens flare.
Branches silhouetted against the late afternoon sky

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. it is the source of all true art and science, she to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause in wonder and stand wrapt in awe, is as good as dead”–Einstein filtered through Arthur C. Clark.

Greetings, welcome to worship with Shiloh United Methods Church in Granite Quarry, North Carolina. My Name is Reverend Kathy Randall Bryant, and I am honored to be filling in for my husband, John, today, February 14, 2021. I hope you receive the love of God from cherished friends and family both near and far this Valentine’s Day. 

It is good to be in worship with you today, wherever you find yourself. I grew up singing the children’s song where we sang how the church is not the building, the church is the people, and I am glad to be part of you, with you the church, even as we are apart. 

Hymn: Holy Holy Holy UMH 64

1 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!

From Psalm 50:

From the rising of the sun to where it sets,

    God, the Lord God, speaks,

        calling out to the earth.

From Zion, perfect in beauty,

    God shines brightly.

Our God is coming;

    [God] won’t keep quiet.

A devouring fire is before [God];

    a storm rages all around [God].

2 Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

God calls out to the skies above

    and to the earth in order to judge [their] people:

“Bring my faithful to me,

    those who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The skies proclaim [God’s] righteousness

    because God[, God] is the judge. —Psalm 50:1-6 (CEB)

3 Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Almighty God, as you travel with us from the rising of the sun to it’s setting, shine your glory on us, that we may be faithful witnesses of your love. Amen. 

4 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!

Mark 9:2-9  (NRSV)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 

Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

This is the word of God for all people, Thanks be to God.

Christ shines with creation’s light. but why? at this point in his ministry, and with only these three disciples? I wonder what would it have meant if Jesus shone with this glorious light on the cross? 

The symmetry is there, Jesus, on a mountain, with two men, one on either side…

And then there’s the symmetry of the voice from heaven, where the voice exclaims: this is my son, the beloved! The same words that were spoken over Jesus when John baptized him in the Jordan river. 

So we have ourselves here at a fulcrum of time, with the baptism at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, here, we have the transfiguration, this transformation of Christ as he shines with creation’s light, and then we will be moving towards the crucifixion. And so, where are we going from here, and why do we pause here, to see this glory, and hear peter be so terrified but still taking action to create meaning out of glory.

Hymn: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed UMH 203

1. Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,

great David’s greater Son!

Hail in the time appointed,

his reign on earth begun!

He comes to break oppression,

to set the captive free;

to take away transgression,

and rule in equity.

Peter wants to make a tabernacle, a place of worship like the old tabernacle where the presence of God sat, because he can see something wondrous happening but he cannot interpret it. Glory, though, looks like glory, and that is what he knows of how to manage glory: by setting a marker, a memorial, and a covering so that it does not shine too brightly. Or not manage, exactly, perhaps simply properly respond to it, to honor the glory that is shining from Christ. 

And peter is awestruck. He is caught in the glory of the moment and in this glory of Christ shining creation’s light, we join him in wonder and awe and even, yes, in terror. 

Because this light reveals us for what and who we are. This light shines into our deepest parts, to the hiddenness in shadow and shade, the things we hide from others, the wrongs we participate in without asking questions, the things we are willfully ignorant about. 

And, 

Let’s not throw peter under the bus here. He also knows that this glorious light is holy. And he knows that holiness sits in the seat of honor. And so he’s caught in knowing that holiness sits in the tabernacle. The proper place for glory is in the tabernacle. I know that the translation I read said dwellings, and that’s not what I had remembered, I grew up reading a translation that said tents, which isn’t big enough. Peter means a tabernacle. A space where the worship of the creator happens, where the holy of holies is held precious and contained. 

And I just…. Jesus does’t do rules like this. Jesus is always, every time, inviting a wider understanding of goodness in his gospel messages. 

2. He comes with succor speedy

to those who suffer wrong;

to help the poor and needy,

and bid the weak be strong;

to give them songs for sighing,

their darkness turn to light,

whose souls, condemned and dying,

are precious in his sight.

On the moment of his death, The temple curtain is torn in two from top to bottom, revealing the holy of holies to the people gathered in the temple, on the sabbath of passover. I wonder if this is a preview of that moment. 

And after Christ rises from the dead, this moment of the disciples encounter with his glory is shared. And so the story comes to a full circle, that the glory of creation’s light shone from Christ, and the voice of God spoke again, “this is my son, the beloved, listen to him!”

And creation’s light shines. The glory of God’s wonder and beauty. 

Uncertainty happens when changes happen. And our desire is to set markers. And to lay a foundation in our place so that we can make sense of it. 

Because it is so hard to sit in the space of the unknown. But our call and challenge is to revel in this unknown space. That’s the grace of this moment, that we do not have to understand it. 

We don’t have to get it perfect. 

3. He shall come down like showers

upon the fruitful earth;

love, joy, and hope, like flowers,

spring in his path to birth.

Before him on the mountains,

shall peace, the herald, go,

and righteousness, in fountains,

from hill to valley flow.

I recently read a prayer by Cole Arthur Riley that opened grace into this idea of being perfect in God. She writes: 

Help us to reject the mirages of perfection, remembering that when Christ says be “perfect” it does not mean without flaw or error, rather whole and complete with a God who is whole.” -Black Liturgies January 16, 2021 COLE ARTHUR RILEY

And what an invitation this is, to be invited into Christ’s wholeness. What if that was what we were seeking in this passage, an invitation to awe and reflected glory. 

What if we could say: If I want to be recognized, it is for how I reflect the glory of God in all I do. 

 I want to be a person who learns. I want to help others live in harmony. I want to be able to reflect at the end of the day and see how there was less of me and more of God. 

Because I want to live fully in my body, and feel all the parts of me that are whole, and all the parts of me that are holy and I want to know, like truly know, that the light of creation was part of my actions. 

Because I want to be part a community that is learning together and finding ways to create systems, patterns, and spaces around us that allow our members to thrive. 

Wouldn’t that be glorious?

As in, that would be something that reflects the love of God and God’s hope for creation, that wonder and awe and love are held and shared and reflected in a fractal pattern that always manages to catch a new glint of the wonder of creation in the light that shines and pierces every shadow. 

That’s my kind of glory. The kind that brings more life to everything it touches. That sees each person for who they are, how they belong to the whole and how they are also specifically needed for their own way that they participate in the midst of the being. 

Unity is not erasure. Focus on God isn’t done one way. There is no one right set of words to say or songs to sing or times to gather or clothes to wear or hair to style or emotions to share. 

Our coming together is not a uniform act. Its an invitation. An act of wonder and awe. 

And that’s what this moment on this mountain top is. 

And invitation to a day brightly dawning. 

Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman put it this way: 

When day comes, 

we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. 

The new dawn blooms as we free it. 

For there is always light. 

If only we’re brave enough to see it. 

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

—The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman 

Let us be brave enough to reflect the shining glory of Christ. 

4. To him shall prayer unceasing

and daily vows ascend;

his kingdom still increasing,

a kingdom without end.

The tide of time shall never

his covenant remove;

his name shall stand forever;

that name to us is love.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Pastoral Prayer: 

Glorious God, shine your light into us. Reveal all that is within us that keeps us from you and your will and your people. Create in us a welcome space for your creative light to shine, so that we may be beacons of hope and joy to those we encounter, even briefly, as we go through our days. Show us ways to create ease for others, because our lives are closely linked with all those around us, and we are always learning about ways we are more connected than we think. 

Guide us in your righteousness, that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you in all that we do and say. In your faithfulness, lead us to more faithfully living out the call you have for us in our communities, that we may create spaces for thriving love. 

All power and glory and honor are yours, beloved Christ, whom we hear and listen to, especially as we pray as Christ taught us, saying: Our Father…

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. Amen.

Benediction:

May the grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 

and the glorious power of the holy sprit go with you. 

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;

may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;

may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;

may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Amen, Go in peace. 

Keep Me In Your Heart

Rebel has started saying this to my husband and I whenever we take our leave of her. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the grocery store, a quick run to the church to pick up more supplies for work, taking a walk, or even just upstairs for a nap or getting some non-interrupted work done. 

“Keep me in your heart! You’ll be in mine!” then kisses and ASL “I love you” hands until we are out of sight. 

It’s one of her ways of coping with this season of uncertainty. She is quite old enough to understand that something important is going on. She knows the world is different. Her world is different. She hasn’t been able to give a friend a hug in over a month. She’s only seen one, for that matter, and that was from her carseat for a five minute chat while the other friend was on her porch. We had to cancel visits from and to grandparents. (And the beach, which I’m super torn up about.) She can’t go to the grocery store. Or church. Or school. Or the playground. 

I don’t even want to let her see the playground, because I don’t want either kid to see it surrounded by police caution tape. That’s not an image I want to help her process. 

So. She knows something is going on. But how well can she understand that half the world is at home. Half the world has basically ground to a halt. I can’t process it. But it is happening. And so I’m trying to help her understand what she can and being with her when it overwhelms her. 

It is rightfully overwhelming. 

Hank Green shared the realization that this is the single largest collective intentional action in the history of humanity. That’s a big deal. It’s not a war. We are unified for one goal. It’s an action that we are taking to protect those most at risk among us. We aren’t all doing it the same way, but we also don’t understand it. We are still learning and realizing new trends and figuring out the best way for the most people to be healthy and share the best way to communicate what we need to do to be a responsible society. 

We want answers, but sometimes they simply don’t exist. We are learning how to live with ourselves in this current reality that is nothing like normal even on days when it could be. 

And so, because of the uncertainty, my daughter asks me to remember her when we are apart, even if it is with a door between us. And I do. I keep her in my heart. 

And I keep you in my heart. Because I cannot keep you in my hands, or offer you a gracious touch or comforting hug, you are in my heart. I remember you. 

Keep me in your heart. 

Hard to Love

I recorded this one, and you can hear Roar “help” me preach.

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

[Jesus says]

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

This is the Word of God for all people. 

Thanks be to God.

Hard to Love   Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant

This command is the hardest one to follow. 

We can talk about loving someone until we are blue in the face, it is really easy to fall in love with someone, but staying in love is another problem entirely.

We don’t understand the difficulty and importance of this commandment until someone gets really hard to love. 

Perhaps they just stand on the other side of the argument, and you really don’t understand them. 

But when someone stands on the other side of an argument, if we are not using love as the frame for our reference, love as the lens through which we look, then we will see through another lens. 

Instead of rose colored glasses we see the dirty green tint of hate and jealousy. It sneaks up on us. It might start as a snide comment. Maybe a dismissing remark. 

Soon enough, there is a distinct line between Them and Us. It’s almost too easy. Labels are thrown about and stick far too easily. The dividing line between the camps becomes wider, and it becomes less and less likely that the two groups will be able to see eye-to-eye. 

It’s easy to point to the political divide in our country as an example, but this division can sink in much closer to home.

I am deeply concerned about this. I’m concerned about my own bias because when it happens to me I am sure that it has been affecting how I think about those who disagree with me. It’s become more than merely thinking that those who think differently than me are wrong. I have gone so far into this thinking that I believe that they are misguided, blinded, ill-informed, dupes in a cosmic parody.

It’s not healthy.

I am creating a prison for my mind.

I am sinning. My bias is leading me to sin more.

I am missing out on seeing the image of God in others. I am missing out on the full representation of the body of Christ.

I don’t want to be this way.

Changing my heart will not be easy. I cannot do it on my own.

I struggle with losing compassion, and wanting to take the easy route of not seeing those around me as full people. It would be much more easy to return to my blissful ignorance than to work hard to move past my own biases to see the full image of God of the person in front of me. My love isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t open enough. I need to look through the eyes of Christ in order to love and see deeply enough.

This kind of division can split families, and keep parents and children from speaking for decades. 

It happens far too often. 

And maybe it is because of a complete offense or abuse, but sometimes it happens because someone gets angry, and then chooses to cut their family member off. 

Instead of holding the power of silence over someone, imagine what could happen if we were daring enough to work through some of the most difficult conversations that we are bound to have with someone else. 

Imagine what could happen in the midst of strife if folks take to heart what Jesus says and does by example here in the scriptures: to lay down one’s life for another. And laying down your life is not only dying for someone, but also being willing to not have the last word, to not win each and every argument, to listen, and not to always have your way.

Indeed, we have been loved by Christ, and we are not called servants any longer, no, instead we are friends of Christ. We are chosen by Christ. We have been called up into the family of God and we are now being brought into perfection through the grace of God. 

It is a long road indeed. 

Have you ever heard the story of “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth”?

This little turtle finds a rock, with something written on it: “you are loved.”

He keeps it, then shows it to mother, father, siblings, and finally the chief hears about it.

The village puts it in a place of honor. 

A village from across the river sees it. 

They decide they want it.

War breaks out.

Death, disease, famine, horrible anger and madness follow.

The broken truth changes hands so often that it eventually gets lost again.

Later, Little turtle finds it, but he also finds the other piece that belonged with it. They do fit together, they are part of a whole.

Along with “you are loved” is the rest of the truth, “and so are they.”

Old Turtle And The Broken Truth – October 1, 2003

by Douglas Wood  (Author), Jon J Muth  (Illustrator)

See, after we get so caught up in how we are different, with who has wronged whom, with tallies and scores and who is winning the argument, we lose sight of the full truth. When our fighting grows so strong that we fail to see that there is more to the truth than just the love for ourselves, we break the truth into ever continuing tinier pieces, jagged and rough, dangerous shards of the original message. It becomes a truth that has broken and breaks others.

We are children of God, and like a mother that despairs to see her children fighting, God mourns the ways that we have become divided over so many things. 

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and all the mass shootings we keep seeing in our country are signs of this. This brokenness that we have. The way that people have set themselves above other people. 

When I was little, my sister and I used to fight some. We were siblings. My mother, wise woman that she was, and still is, made us hug to make amends after we fought. She would make us hug and just sit there, as we realized what our fighting was doing. 

Granted, it was just in our family, you wouldn’t think that there were any other repercussions. But the lesson has stuck with me, as I have grown and matured. 

I went to Kenya twice. The second time I went with some fellow students from seminary. One of them was Laura, we had been good friends our first year, studying together and hanging out, but I hadn’t really hung out with her recently when we went together. 

And we had a falling out while we were overseas. 

Let me just tell you, fighting with someone while eight thousand miles from home is not fun. 

Especially when you fight like I do, in small jabs and snide remarks. I’m not a very clean fighter. 

But, when we got back to the US, we had another week or two at our host congregation before the end of the summer. And we worked through it. I had more to apologize for than she did. She forgave me. We came together and created reconciliation. 

One of the images that she used in being thankful that we had come through our argument and ended up on the other side is that of a stone smoothing another stone by grinding each other’s rough spots. 

The Peace we had and continue to share afterwards is so much more valuable because we came through conflict in order to reach it. 

Peace came from our loving each other through the hard parts. 

We weren’t afraid to serve each other and learn from each other. 

We are called and chosen as children of God. 

God mourns the fighting of God’s Children.

And fighting is not the fruit of the love of God.

No, the fruit of the love of God is the peace that passes all understanding. 

John writes about this in 1 John 4:7-12  (NRSV)

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (NRSV)

We don’t love because we are afraid of punishment,

we choose love because God’s love is perfected IN US.

We don’t love perfectly on our own

God acts so that we can know that God views us with the same love as God views God’s son.

Love is from God.

To know love is to know God.

The only way we love as God loves us is to allow God to love THROUGH us. 

Love shows us what is broken.

Love is what we need to heal.

If God is love, then love is: past, present, and future. 

Love is. Love has been. Love will be.

Christ invites us, chooses us, desires for us to live in, remain in, dwell in, ABIDE in his love. 

Jesus says: at the beginning, I chose you, and now I choose you over and over again. 

Christ expressed the greatest love, by coming to be with us, to descend his life to ours. 

Jesus speaks more than words to us, Jesus has displayed how deep his love is for us. 

We are invited to bear the fruit of living in God’s deep and abiding love. 

It won’t be easy. Sometimes the folks we are most called to love are the hardest ones TO LOVE. 

Love is hard. If nothing else, being a parent for over four years, staying married for over eight years and in relationship for ten years will teach you that. 

Love. is. hard.

And for those of you who have been together for longer than My husband and I, you know that. 

But you really can’t teach it. 

It is only something you can learn from experience. 

And then, once you think you’ve got it down one week, the next month something will change, and then there are new people and new relationships and new things to learn.

God says you are worthy of love. God says you are worthy of friendship and welcome and grace. It is part of your intrinsic being, no matter what you do or say. God loves you and wants you to share that love with those around you, so that you can experience even more the way that God loves you. And I want to keep learning about how God loves. 

God knit you together in the womb of your mother and loved you and said you were very good. Supremely good. God loves you and we are all working on learning from God. 

God is the only one who is perfect. God is the one who gave a perfect son to show us how love can be perfected in life here on earth, and I am working each day to be made perfect in love. I don’t expect to get it right today, tomorrow, or next year, but that doesn’t give me a reason not to work at it right now. I’m trying to love the way God loves. 

We won’t always get it right. We will make mistakes. We have scars and wounds and memories of times when we didn’t feel loved. 

Jesus always leads by example, 

loving his dense, misguided disciples, 

loving those who accused him of horrible things

loving those who spit in his face

loving those who nailed him to a tree.

Because Jesus has chosen us as his friends and fellow brothers and sisters, his siblings together in love, we are able to strive to live into these commands that he has for us, to love those around us with the same kind of daring that he demonstrated over and over and over again. 

You are loved because you are made in the image of God. Each of you. You are worthy of love.

God calls you to live into this love, loving others as God loves you. 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

And so we love, as best we can, though the power of God. 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Who Can Speak

When I joined the Peace Corps, in the process of moving to Kenya one of the forms I had to sign was a statement declaring that only the Peace Corps Director could speak for the Peace Corps in the country where I was volunteering. I was a volunteer, the only personal connection many people had to the Peace Corps, and I lost track of the number of times I said, “for me, since I can’t speak for the Peace Corps.” I took it to heart. The statement was really about the news media and political officials, none of whom I had any contact with when I was serving as a volunteer, but I still feel the need to say that I was only speaking for myself. 

I also had to sign a form saying I would not proselytize while in service… since I wasn’t a missionary, and we were representatives of the United States Government, so, you know, no street corner preaching allowed. (Which is still a little funny to me, because while I was in service in Kenya—and I expect the numbers haven’t changed very much over the last 12 years—the country was 90% Christian.)

So instead of talking to my coworkers about faith… I talked to my fellow volunteers, 90% of whom were not Christian. Each of my forty fellow volunteers had a different reason for their dismissal of the church, most of them were seated in the harm that they received or the hate they heard come from a pulpit or a pew. I had a couple of close friends who said that I was the first person they had talked to that actually listened to them when we talked together about faith. It remains one of the best compliments I have ever received. 

Listening well, trying to understand, receiving words with grace, and being open to ways in which I could be contributing to harm has been my goal as I have continued into formal ministry since then. 

The Peace Corps declaration about my needing to be careful to never speak for the United States Organization I was serving with stuck out to me, and still sticks out, because it echoed the language of the church I was raised in, a phrase I learned when I was a teenager: the General Conference is the only group that speaks formally for the United Methodist Church. And they only meet every four years, so the United Methodist Church is not inclined to knee-jerk reactions and heat of the moment responses. 

I was raised in the United Methodist Church. And at least since I was twelve, I have considered myself to not be a member of a particular church, but the annual conference I resided in, and really, the global church. I deeply felt part of the global church, a church that reaches across oceans and crosses borders and opens doors and provides shelter to those in need of sanctuary. 

I love this church.

I returned to Kenya while I was in Divinity School as part of an internship with North Church Indianapolis and the Umoja project, a partnership between ten congregations in Indianapolis and ten congregations in the Chuliambo region of Kenya outside of Kisumu. I remember one meeting in particular where the directors representing the Kenya side and the Indianapolis side of the partnership were creating a Memorandum of Understanding. I remember being particularly impatient as I heard the same things said repeatedly by each of the members of the discussion group. I didn’t realize until we finished the meeting that we had accomplished far more than I realized, in part because the decisions were made by all the group, developing a consensus between the entirety of the group. 

It was a far cry from majority rules. 

~~~

This week, the United Methodist Church completed a special session of General Conference, called together to discuss one single topic: the consideration of ordination and marriage of LGBTQIA+ individuals. A narrow majority of the delegates voted to keep the language of the current Book of Discipline and increase judicial penalties for congregations and pastors who break the rules. (The Judicial Council will be meeting in April to determine the constitutionality of these decisions. Yeah, the United Methodist Church has a Constitution and makes decisions based on a democratic process.) This was the first time that General Conference had discussed the issue of the rights of our queer siblings to get married in the church since it became legal in the United States. 

~~~

Eight years ago, I became a pastor, and took my first appointment of my own in the United Methodist Church. For five years, I served under appointment, and until about three years ago, when I took extended family leave, and became a pastor without a congregation. I still preach, and have celebrated communion a handful of times, (I have sacramental authority at my husband’s church…) and we baptized both of our daughters into the United Methodist Church. 

I love this church. 

I’ve preached approximately five hundred times. Every single time I stand (or sit, when I was unable to walk) before the gathered congregation, the first and last word I want to say is that God loves the people who are before me. Those who are present have represented a vast diversity of opinions and political stances. And I still, every single time, regardless if that one person is listening simply to think of the best verbal jab to give at the handshake line, preach grace to the people who listen. 

I love this church. 

Every single person is created in the image of God. I love the image of God in them, and so I love them, even if I don’t really enjoy the verbal jabs and the antagonism and the judgement I have received from people I was sent to serve. 

My word from the pulpit is still love. It is still a declaration that each child of God is created in the image of a God whose love poured out so much that we were created so that God could love us. 

I love this church. 

My heart broke this week when my church said that the United Methodist Church would continue to create a dividing line, excluding some of the very children of God I am called to love. 

General conference doesn’t speak for me. Not in this case. 

When I celebrate communion, I always say: This is not my table, this is not this church’s table, this is not even the table of the United Methodist Church. This is God’s table, and all are welcome to come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good.

In my own words: I love you, as you are created, formed and molded in the image of God, and you are worth that love. And you will always have a place at the table I celebrate.

Love is what you do and what you say

Today is my Grandmomma Janet’s birthday. I’ve had three grandmothers, each very different. Now, only one is still living, Grammy Sara down in Florida. The third was the first one we lost, Sue-Sue. Each of my grandmothers had their own special name. They had their own special way of being. They have their own special impact on my life.

Grandmomma Janet loved to share love with people. She went out of her way to care for others. She set up crafts for the shut-in ministry at her church, she made pear preserves every single year that she could, she hosted our family for Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters when we lived close enough. I learned table etiquette from her influence. (You cannot eat your dessert until the person serving everyone has been able to sit down and eat their first bite.) I learned that love is just as important by what you do as what you say. She was an artist, though she never quite claimed it. She loved daffodils.

Daffodils
Dancing in the wind

 

My grandmother looms larger than my grandfather, though I have memories of him as well. Granddaddy Norris still loves to work with his hands and build things out of wood. He loves cookies of all shapes and sizes. He always fell asleep while we were watching TV, unless he was watching Jeopardy, because he had to make sure they got the answers and the questions right. He loved to travel with Grandmomma Janet, they made sure that they took each of their grandchildren on at least one trip with them, to share that love.

Memories are funny things. We remember people from different times in our lives, and from different times in theirs. We put the memories together to build the composite of who we loved and who we remember. Some memories fade and some become crystalline, clearer with each year that goes by. It is important to forgive hurts and angry words, but it is also important to remember that the people we love and look up to are as imperfect as we are. Remembering loved ones as whole persons allows us to have grace for the people in our lives now. Norris and Janet at Wedding