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Stretch Out Your Hand

This post includes the full transcript of my sermon from June 24, 2018. If you would prefer to listen to the podcast, you can find it here. This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link to start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.

The first reading this morning is from Mark 2:23-3:6.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

And from Romans 13:8-10:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

In many ways, this morning’s sermon picks up at the end of a message that I shared on February 11. If you haven't had a chance to listen, I would recommend you do. It will make what I say this morning make a lot more sense, I believe. 

At the end of that sermon, we took a look at John chapter six, a story in which the disciples are out on a boat traveling from one side of the lake to the next and they find themselves caught up in a storm. The winds are blowing, the waves are crashing, and all of a sudden Jesus comes walking to them. The Bible says that once they invited him onto the boat, “immediately they reached the other side of the lake.” 

Well, at the beginning of April, I went on a road trip with three friends of mine—pastors—we went down to a conference just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And the first time we gathered at the conference, we sat at a table together, the conference began, the MC got up, and she said, “Okay, I'm going to do something that's gonna make some of you uncomfortable. I want everyone to stand up and go move and sit at a table with a bunch of people you don't know.”

Now, as an introvert, that is about the worst way a conference can begin for me. I said, I just want to turn around and drive home. And so I refused. I didn't move. But everyone else at my table did, so I had a table full of strangers. Well, the guy sitting beside me, he pulls out something we were all supposed to bring: an item that described or depicted what was going on in our life or our kind of faith journey recently. I didn't bring anything; I forgot. And to be honest, he forgot too, but he said, “I found something between the seats in my car,” and he pulled out this little postcard with this image on it and said, “My wife drew this for a series we did recently.”

It's a picture of Jesus walking on the water into a storm.

I said, Okay, maybe I'll stick around for this conference after all.

And he flipped it over and he shared a poem that his wife had written—a prayer really:

When we think we are too far gone for rescue; Come near, Lord, come near.
When all we can see are the wind and the waves; Come near, Lord, come near.
When anxiety overwhelms our senses; Come near, Lord, come near.
Though your very approach frightens us; Come near, Lord, come near.
O Perfect Love who casts out all fear; Come near. 

These past seven months have brought their share of strong winds and rough waters. It's been an intense season of learning and personal growth as a pastor and as a person. As difficult as it has been, it has also been genuinely rewarding, and I find myself moving toward a more honest and life giving understanding of the Bible, of Jesus, of the church, and of myself. But the odd thing for me, the thing that has really caught me off guard, is that this is not how I would have scripted this. I could not have spoken this message seven months ago.

It reminds me of another story from John's gospel, from the very last chapter. Again, Jesus' disciples are out on a boat. This time, Jesus stays on the shore, and when they come back, he sits down and he has this conversation with Peter. It's the one where they banter back and forth. “Do you love me?”—“Of course I love you”—back and forth. And then Jesus says to him, “I tell you the truth: When you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

The way of Jesus is not about going where we want, when we want, dressed the way we want. It is about being led, even being led somewhere unexpected, or uncomfortable, or unwanted, in order to draw attention and honour and glory to God. Well, this morning will be an invitation for all of us to stretch out our hands. 

So in one sense this message picks up where the February series left off, but it more accurately picks up on the other side of four months of listening and learning together. As part of our January Series, Listen Up, we explored some of the practices that early church leaders used to navigate some very complicated waters. You can read about that situation in Acts 15, or listen to the podcast from January 21. But the gist of it is that there were five different factors that came into play as the church discerned a path forward during a season of deep disagreement: dialogue with one another, observing God's activity, an appeal to higher principles, looking at the fruit in the lives of the people involved, and exploring what scripture might have to say. Only after considering all of these factors was the council able to issue the statement, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”—a statement that is equally filled with humility and confidence.

So we kicked off the month of February with a couple of hot topics around sexuality: first, exploring how an excess of sexuality in our culture warps the way that we think about this really good gift of God, and then we explored the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith. The month of March was spent engaged with one another in a process of listening to and learning from one another. We had over one hundred people take part in midweek conversations where we asked people to prepare by reading articles and watching video clips. And then we got around tables and we shared from the heart and we listened to one another, and we tried to learn. The goal was to raise our collective understanding of the various views that people in our Elevation community and in the broader Christian community have about same sex attraction, growing in our appreciation of those who see things differently than we do.

We put a survey out after those sessions to get some feedback, and we got a lot of comments. One person said, “The essence of Elevation is discussion. It's not having it figured out all the time. It's learning to journey with and journey through. It's listening to one another.” 

Uniformity has never been the goal here; the goal has always been discovering Jesus together. Every week, we invite people to sit around tables and engage the morning’s theme in a self-moderated environment. We do this because we believe that diversity strengthens who we are and keeps us from falling prey to the lie that we have somehow arrived. We choose to emphasize the core; those beliefs that are most likely to be commonly held by the majority of our congregation and by the global and historical Christian community, the kind of beliefs that we sung about in that song this morning.

Now, there are different ways that communities gather together and stay together. The first way that communities might choose to gather is through something that's called a bounded set, and I have an illustration here for you. This is where a community—and it can be a church or any kind of organization—but where the community defines itself by its borders. You draw a line, you make the criteria of engagement, or involvement, or belonging clear. And anyone who is willing to adhere to those things fits inside that loop. Those are the white dots. The blue dots are those people who don't fit within the boundaries. And that's how the community stays together. 

But there's another way that communities and organizations can hold together as well, and that's called a centred set. This is where you have a strong, compelling centre, and you speak that centre loud and clear, and people are drawn to that. Not everyone—again, the white dots are drawn to it, the blue dots are driving away from it. But it's the centre that draws people; there's not a fixed boundary. There aren't borders that keep people out, but it's a strong centre that draws people in. It's this image that describes how our Elevation community is wired. We cling strongly to our core beliefs as a community of people who believe differently about a variety of other matters, including questions about same-sex attraction. 

In an article on how to disagree graciously, Gordon Smith writes, “The only hope for authentic Christian fellowship is that we learn how to disagree. Too much is at stake to not learn. So much that one of the most critical capacities of the Church in our generation is precisely this: How can we agree to disagree, and do so in a way that actually fosters our capacity to witness to the gospel of Christ Jesus?”

But how can we do this? How can we agree to disagree? By doing exactly what we've always done: clinging to the core and allowing for diversity on the edges. Our Steering Committee doesn't want to draw lines on this issue. We want to keep Jesus at the center of our life together and acknowledge this as a disputable matter, an area in which faithful Christians can disagree, but remain in communion with each other. This means that those who hold a traditional perspective have a place here and have a voice at the table. It means that those who hold an affirming perspective have a place here and have a voice at the table. 

Because this is an issue, but it's not an issue that defines who we are as a church. I know it feels like it is right now, but it's not. As your pastor, I'm committed to fostering an environment of grace, where we follow Jesus first and foremost, trusting the decisions of others to his care, including those who in good faith enter a committed relationship with someone of the same sex. This does not mean that we expect everyone to live or believe or feel the same, but we're charting a course forward that will call all of us to view this issue and one another from a place of humility in the spirit of Christian unity. 

And that approach is strongly countercultural. We live at a time when a culture wants to draw lines and divide and create ingroups and outgroups and pit one person against another, and we have an opportunity to live by faith alongside one another with all of our differences.

I cannot personally embrace an affirming stance celebrating same-sex relationships, but I'm ready to walk with same-sex attracted people who believe differently than I do. In fact, when Eric stood up here on February 11 and shared his story, we were already demonstrating the very thing that I'm talking about: we can both have a voice in this community, we can both have a place on the stage. And one of the things I've struggled deeply with in preparing for this morning is that I know how difficult it will be for some of you to hear what I'm saying. I've heard comments from people saying if we're not flying a rainbow flag at the end of the service, I'm leaving this church. I've heard people say if we're not drawing a line that excludes involvement in participation by people who are same-sex attracted, then I'm leaving the church. Like, how do you win? There's no easy option here.

But what is an option, and what I'm actually quite excited about, is leading us forward into what I described earlier as the more honest and life giving understanding of the Bible, of Jesus, of the church, and of ourselves.

Now, we're far from the first church to deal with a contentious issue like this. I read an article just last week; the headline said, “Pastor's daughter may have used family connections to get choir solo.” In a scandalous new report coming out of First Lutheran Church, a source accused the pastor's daughter, Hannah Patterson, of leveraging her family connections to land a coveted choir solo in last Sunday's performance of Jesus Loves the Little Children

There's controversy everywhere! All right, I jest, but we know that this is not the first big issue to rock the church, nor will it be the last. The path we're describing here is actually very similar to what Paul recommended in his New Testament letter to the Romans, “to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

In chapter 14 of that letter, he addresses a mix of Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus who could not agree on the most divisive issues in the church at that time: dietary rules and the observance of special days. Now, I know what you're thinking, Well, those aren't really big issues. Well, they were in the first century; they were huge issues. 

Don't let the advantage of historical perspective dismiss these issues as less important. For example, while Paul doesn't specifically mention the Sabbath in this passage, in a parallel passage from Colossians 2 he does, as an issue on which people will disagree about: the role of the Sabbath. And you might remember that that was inscribed by the finger of God as one of the Ten Commandments. 

These were big issues that people were debating, and Paul said, basically, I'm not going to pick a side here, I see the different vantage points. I see the perspectives. But he didn't resolve them. He basically says that both sides have good reasons. And here's just a few different things that he says in that passage: “First of all, each one should be fully convinced in his or her own mind.” The Message translates it this way: “Each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.”

The second thing he points out is, he says, “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on each other.” And in another one of his letters, First Corinthians 4, Paul is in the centre of a controversy, and he says, at one point, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. Indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes, he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness, and will expose the motives of men's hearts at that time each will receive His praise from God.”

And then he goes on to say in verse 19 and 20, “Therefore, let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”

So he emphasizes the significance of having personal conviction on this issue, he emphasizes the need to set aside judgment, and then he calls everyone on either side of the debate to seek peace. 

I like the way another church that has walked through the waters we’re walking through expresses their hope: “for people to hold their individual views while upholding a collective view that our differences should be honoured and valued as part of the body of Christ.”

There will be times when some of us will want others to think, believe, or act the same as all of us, but we're called to work diligently to prevent one another from falling into a default mode of relating that does not allow for diverse opinions on disputable matters. Now, I know, of course, the question is, Well, how do we get away with saying this is a disputable matter? 

Roger Olson, who teaches at Baylor University in Texas, describes three levels of Christian truth, and I think this will maybe help us get our heads around this a little bit. The first one he talks about is dogma. He says that these are the truths that are essential to Christianity itself: the content of the creeds. If you pull out “Jesus rose from the dead,” you know, from Christianity, Christianity crumbles. So dogma are the things that Christianity itself is built on. 

The next level of truth he talks about is doctrine. These are teachings that are central to a particular tradition of Christians. For example, there are about a billion Christians in the world who believe that the pope is the mediator between Christ and His Church. Many of us in this room would not share that belief. We understand that it's not foundational to Christianity, but it is very significant to certain groups of believers. 

The third level would be opinion, matters of speculative nature, but on which there is no consensus. And in this case, most people who are honest with themselves wouldn't claim to have a corner on truth. But we still have a strong opinion about something. 

A pastor named Ken Wilson put some criteria out for how to determine what might be considered a disputable matter. He says, well, first of all, it doesn't involve a matter of basic Christian dogma. If we're talking about something in the creeds, then we're talking about something outside of Christianity. He says, secondly, both parties make reasonable appeals to scripture. We're not just coming up with ideas out of our head, but we're looking at scripture, and we're trying to argue our point from there. And thirdly, he says that faithful Christians take different views on the issue. 

Now, the fact that an issue is disputable doesn't mean that it won't be difficult. Next weekend, my brother and his family are traveling here. They're visiting from Bolivia. We haven't seen them in over three years—very excited! And I remember the first time I went down to visit them. It's like a twenty-plus hour trip down there. It takes a long time to get down there. And so I got to their home and we sat down for a late dinner, and my brother knew that I would be really hungry. So his family's vegetarian—they don't eat meat on a conviction of conscience—but he went out and ordered me a quarter chicken dinner because he knew that I would need some sustenance and I wouldn't want to eat their beans and rice or whatever they had. And so he puts this quarter chicken dinner in front of me. I'm like, This is great! And then my little nephew is sitting there and, I don't know, he was maybe seven at the time; he looks at me and says in his little Spanish accent, “Uncle Brandon, is that a real chicken you're eating?”

I'm like, I came here to build a relationship with my niece and nephews—to love on them—and now they see me as like a dinosaur, this terrible carnivore. It was awful.

But what my brother and sister in law did next was beautiful. They use my carnivorous lifestyle to teach their children about the importance of respecting another person's choices while affirming their own: This is what we believe. This is how we believe that we should live, but other people believe that differently and we're going to not only allow them to live but we'll actually invite them to the table and we'll actually help them to thrive in this moment. And it was a beautiful thing. I wasn't thrown under the bus, I wasn't villainized, I wasn't sent on a plane home. But I was welcomed.

In the words of one author, we are invited to “trade the pleasure of sharing faith in a like-minded group for the challenge of sharing faith in a diverse one.” I've heard many comments from people who are afraid that, in allowing space for more than one view on this issue, we are essentially throwing out the truth of the Bible. The Bible is our community's story. It provides a narrative of where we came from, what we're doing here, and even drops hints of where we might find ourselves once history has run its course. It's a story that is going somewhere and we were invited to get on board. But the Bible didn't just drop from out of the sky into our laps. It was assembled over a period of time as a record of God's faithfulness—narratives, histories, poems, songs, letters, testimonies—pulled together as a guide for living according to God's revealed will for humankind. 

In the fourth century, church leaders got together, and they took these various writings and they determined which ones kind of met the criteria that should be bound together for all time. And since that time, Christians have granted the Bible a unique authority in our lives. Learning to read the Bible properly is an important part of our growing together as a community of faith. In its pages, we encounter humanity's unfolding understanding of who God has revealed himself to be and how we might live in response. 

I don't think we approach the Bible like that all the time, though. I think sometimes we think of the Bible like an owner’s manual of a vehicle, and we flip to the back and see, Well, what should I do in this situation? or What happens if this light comes on? or What's the answer to this scenario? But I think it might be better for us to think about the Bible as the sales brochure: the picture of the car backed against the green space with the sun setting over the lake with people doing handsprings and having a good time. And it's like a Bible saying, “Don't you want to live this life?” That's why you buy the car, not because of the rules and the details. The Bible casts a vision for a life well lived and invites us to get in on the living. 

We make all kinds of mistakes when we open its pages though. I love the advice of one anonymous person, “Never read a Bible verse.” There's some good advice. It doesn't mean never read the Bible, but never read that verse and stop there. As important as it is to ask what a verse says, we also need to ask why, and it's this second question that has led to a diversity of interpretations on this issue. 

There's no getting around it: the Bible includes some strong words against same-sex activity, both in the Old Testament law and in some of Paul's New Testament letters. At the heart of the present debate is whether any and every same-sex act is sinful. There's a loaded word: sinful. Hamartia, from the Greek, defined as “missing the mark.” You can imagine an archery competition: you're supposed to hit the bulls-eye, but sometimes the arrow doesn't quite hit the mark. Or I like how N.T. Wright says it's like a master crafter makes a violin and you decide to go and play tennis with it. Like, that's not what life was meant to be! Sin is when we take our life and use it in a way that we were not created to use it. 

For the most part, based on what we read in scripture, we'll have a shared understanding of what it means for followers of Jesus to miss the mark, including with respect to our sexuality, but our diversity on the issue of same-sex attraction and the passages that refer to it reveals that many of us have come to different conclusions about the ‘why’ question. We all recognize the Bible is our community story, God's words for us, the living text of our Christian faith, but with an acknowledgement that we may read things differently. 

Does the Bible Speak to same-sex sexual activity in a completely prohibitive way, or in a way that leaves room for committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships? As a pastor, it's difficult for me to read a text in a way that is different than Christians have always read it; not that it can't be done, but it's definitely a hurdle for me. When I wrote that down, I thought about my fifteen-year-old daughter who competed in the three hundred meter hurdles recently. She was challenged by a teammate to go out for this event, and the first time she competed at it was at the county finals. She'd never run the race before, and she went out and came in second, and then she advanced to the next regional finals and she came in third! And I thought, Well, yeah, hurdles are hard, but maybe they're not that hard after all. 

Yeah, I genuinely struggle with an understanding of human sexuality that deviates from the long standing teaching of the Church. But I also struggle deeply with an understanding of human sexuality that fails to address the lived experiences of Christ-followers today: people who love God, who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, who are committed to a life of costly discipleship.

One of the comments we received in our survey follow-up said, “Unless we root ourselves in scripture, we will find ourselves swayed by the impact of individual stories.” Let me say that the one thing that we will not do is fail to take this book seriously. We will wrestle with its contents until we're blue in the face. We will pray its prayers, we will cling to its promises, we will refuse to use it as a weapon, but will offer its words of hope and life to anyone with ears to hear. But I wonder if we could change one word in this sentence and have it be equally true? Because we root ourselves in scripture, we will find ourselves swayed by the impact of individual stories. This is something that has challenged me deeply during the season.

I want to take a look at our first reading from this morning from Mark chapter two, to unpack that a little bit. I'll just read the beginning piece of this: "One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grainfields and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ ”

So Jesus goes on, he pulls a story from a thousand years before and he uses that to call the entire Jewish understanding of Sabbath into question. He simply tells them that they've missed the point. You've missed it all these years, the point of Sabbath. They both read the same ‘what,’ but came to a different understanding of ‘why’?

Well, the second story is even more direct: “Another time he went into the synagogue and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with a shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ ” 

So there's Jesus standing at the front of the synagogue, and I want to embellish it for a minute if I can. I imagine him looking over at these people with their religious superiority, with their certainty about all things, with their power and authority standing over there, and I imagine him just looking at them as he tells the man, “Stretch out your hand.” If that line sounds familiar, it's because it's the same phrase that Jesus used to describe Peter's future. Peter would stretch out his hands and be led somewhere that he didn't want to go. Now an unnamed man stretches out his hand and it's the Pharisees who are led somewhere they don't want to go. 

Something that is core to their understanding of their faith and practice is called into question right in the middle of their place of worship. The man’s healing is almost beside the point when you think about what's really going on here. Jesus is confronting the religious establishment in the name of love. It's like they're looking at them and they're saying with that glare on their face, “You can't do this.” And he's like, “I just did.” 

Now, I want to be careful. I can't know what was in the mind of Christ in that moment. But when I when I read the story—and I've read it dozens of times this week—what stands out to me is that he is saying, The person standing in front of me trumps your understanding of the law. So I'm willing to break the law for the sake of the person standing in front of me. 

Clark Pinnock says, “A theology that does not inquire after God's will for the present may be orthodox, but it's not really listening to God.”

There's another feature of this passage that might have slipped by unnoticed. In verse five it says that “he looked at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”

This is the only time the word ‘anger’ appears in Mark's gospel. In fact, this is the only time the word anger is applied to Jesus at all. The only other time that word ‘anger’ is used in the gospels is by Jesus in Matthew chapter 18, where he tells a story about a man who is seriously in debt. He owed his master more than he could ever possibly repay and his master was about to throw him in prison and have him punished, and then he begs for mercy. And his Master says, “Okay, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to wipe out all of your debt, it's gone.” So what did this guy do? Well, as soon as he left his master's presence, he went and found someone who owed him a few dollars, and he beat on them and he choked them out and said, “You pay me that money back right now.”

Well, someone who had seen this extravagant offer of mercy from the master went back and told him, “That guy who you just forgave everything in his life—he's choking some guy out over there over ten bucks!” Jesus has the servant called back into his master’s presence: “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”

Something about people who use power to prevent others from encountering the grace of God makes Jesus angry. And so we need to be careful. As Bill Leonard said, “You can think you're right about the scripture and be wrong about the gospel.”

Two or three weeks ago, I pulled into the parking lot here at the church, and I had this little snapshot in my mind. It was a picture of me in retirement. I was sitting on a Muskoka chair at the end of a dock overlooking the calm dark waters of a Northern Ontario lake. And I had this thought come to my mind: I was thinking about this season of our church's life, I was reflecting back on it, and the thought that came to my mind was, Well, we sure were wrong about that one. And that was it. As quickly as the image came, it disappeared, and I was sitting there in my car thinking, Well, that was weird. And then the question came to my mind, What am I willing to be wrong about?

Our second reading starts with a challenge for the Roman believers to take care of paying off their debts—all the different money that they owe to people—but Paul acknowledges that, of course, one debt can't ever be paid off: your mortgage. No! He says ‘love’!

He says ‘love’: Love can never be paid off. There's just too much of it; too much of a need of love; too much love to go around. He says you’ve got to pay off this debt of love. And then he says, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ ”—pulling from The Ten Commandments here—“and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour.’ ”

So as I keep going back to that snapshot of me sitting in a Muskoka chair, the answer I come up with time and time again is that I am willing to err in the direction of love.

The only reason that I am up here, and the only reason that most of you are in this place today, is because of God's great, reconciling, love in Christ. And as Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5, we have in turn been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” Get whatever barriers are in between a person and God out of the way. That is what we are to spend our lives doing. 

Okay, can I get really honest with you here? When I read story after story after story of the deep pain experienced by LGBTQ people, often at the hands of Christians like myself, claiming to be acting in love—and I know that at least for me, it is out of a genuine desire for their best interests and to honour God in my actions—when I hear story after story, well, I've got to admit that I start questioning just how loving I'm actually being. Why do I get to define whether I'm being loving or not when the person I'm trying to love is saying, “You're not loving me.”

So I'm willing to be wrong on this one, because “love does no harm to a neighbour. [Because] love is the fulfillment of the law.”

And so when someone believes or chooses to live in a way that I can’t affirm, I’ll find ways to support their decisions that don’t compromise my beliefs, but also allow for them to grow in life and faith, worshipping and serving alongside me at Elevation, bringing the best of who God has created them to be to our community and our world. And that is the kind of tension that I'd like to invite you into as well. 

Now, in some ways, this is no different from what I expressed hope for in my February sermon when I talked about a hope that we would reject the polarizing categories of ‘affirming’ and ‘non-affirming’ and focus instead on a more biblical word: grace. But this morning, I'm calling you to accept our diversity on this issue, and help build a future at Elevation where our love for God and one another overrides our differences. 

Two years ago, I stood up here—two years ago this weekend—and shared about a dream that I had. Not a pizza-induced dream, but a dream that I believe God was trying to show me something through. It has happened very rarely in my life. In this dream, I was on a hike. We were on a hike—I knew that it was our church community—and we hiked up to the top of this plateau. And it was this beautiful view; this beautiful view of all these surroundings, and we all kind of spread out and we all walked around and we were looking at this amazing view spread out in front of us. And I went up to our tour guide, and I said, “This is fantastic! This is the most beautiful view I've ever seen in my life.” 

And he said, “Well, if you want an even better view, take a look over there.” And he pointed to another plateau that was even higher. And I said, “I didn't even know that existed.” I said, “How do we get there?”

He said, “Well, the only way to get there is to go back down the way you came.”

And so I walked over to the edge of the path that had led us up to this plateau, but it wasn't a path anymore; it was a cliff. It was straight down, and I said, “There's no way.”

I knew it was our church community people there, but the only faces I actually saw were Eli and Carolyn Gingerich. And so Eli came up to me, and he kind of put his hand on my shoulder and he said, “We can do this.” And then my dream ended, taking a first step down this steep path. 

I got back from our sabbatical, I shared that with our church, and Melissa and I got together with Carolyn and Eli. We're like, “What does it mean?” They're like, “I don’t know.” We just hung out and chatted on their porch, and honestly, I don't think I really thought about the dream for a year and a half until December, as I started thinking about what on earth is going to happen to our church when we walk into these waters. And this dream came back to me, and I thought, Oh my goodness, is this the path that we are supposed to walk down? Is there a better view for us that we had never even thought of before? 

Well, I believe God has been preparing me and opening and expanding my heart for something way outside of my comfort zone, something that I never would have chosen, something that I would have bet the farm against ever happening in my life. “When you're old, you'll stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Well, to quote John Mayer, “I may be old and I may be young, but I'm not done changing.”

A genuine faith is a dynamic faith. Change is not something to be feared, but embraced. Honestly, these are among the darkest and heaviest months that I've walked through as a pastor, but I'm ready to step out into a brighter future, where I'm not ruled by fear, and where I have the best possible view that I can have. 

But then the dream I had wasn't really about me. It was about our church. So I've got to ask: What about you? This is what's been heavy for me. 

Jude and I were driving to a ballgame this week. And he said, “Dad, why are you so quiet today?”

How do you answer that question? How do I put into words the heaviness that's on my heart for this community that I love, and that I know we are walking into this dangerous future? I've already felt the heaviness of people leaving our community over this. I've also experienced the joy of people joining us because of the vision that they see taking form. So what about you?

You know, ten years ago, a small church in our community called New Hope joined with Elevation. And right before they joined, they gave a poll to the members of their congregation, and they asked them to check off one of three boxes, either “I hate the idea of this merger, I'm leaving,” “I love it; I'm jumping in with both feet,” or, “I don't know, but I'm going to walk this path for the next twelve months and we'll see how it goes.”

And I want to end with that this morning, because I realize that this morning maybe a morning where people are saying “That's it” for one reason or the other. But I want to put a vision out there of just walking this path with us and seeing where God leads us. 

I'd invite you to stand. I'd like to close with a prayer taken from Romans 15; a prayer that Paul prayed for the church that was in the middle of trying to wrestle through a disputable matter that was threatening to divide them. This is my prayer and then we'll head out and invite you to join us around tables for some discussion about this morning's theme: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give us a spirit of unity among ourselves as we follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth, we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Comments

  1. Your heart comes through very openly and clearly in this sermon!

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