"Revelation of the Holy Spirit"
March 8, 2020 - International Women's Day; Second Sunday in Lent
Epworth United Methodist Church, Berkeley, CA
Last month at a family gathering I was passing through the kitchen by a group of family members in conversation that included a number of young adults. They invited me to stop and participate by their asking me about school. In the conversation about seminary, I found myself being asked my opinion about the current conflict within our denomination. With a split second, decision-making thought and quick silent prayer, I knew this was an opportunity to have a conversation on a topic that does not get discussed in the open and causes anxiety and yet needs to be voiced and can be voiced in respectful ways. I knew the other elders part of this group had very strong views opposite from mine, but because there were a number of young people involved, I knew I had the opportunity and even more important, the responsibility to bring my voice where my perspective is not heard because of the cultural taboo that doesn’t invite this conversation and yet very much needed.
I shared what I knew about our denomination’s conflict. And then shared my truth that as Jesus responded in Matthew, we are asked to love our God and love others like we love ourselves....period. love our God and love others like we love ourselves....period. No other clarifying words as “but”, “only when” or “if.”
For me, that means my earnest prayer is to care for, pray for, make room for others, extend compassion
for others regardless of their difference from me be it ethnic background, sexuality, gender, socio- economic standing and the list goes on. That we are all part of God’s beloved community; the reminder
that there is room for ‘both and’. I shared my views on the topic of my beloved sisters and brothers who are part of the LBGTQIA community and are living out their call as pastors.
When I stopped sharing, there was that awkward pause in the air that allowed me to feel before I could see surprise on some of the faces looking back. I invited the others to share their thoughts on the matter of choice related to sexual orientation and specifically their views on members of the LGBTQIA community as pastors within a church.
In today’s scripture we pick up where we left off last week from Galatians 1 in verses 11 and 12. In these two verses we hear Paul tell the church in Galatia that the gospel he is preaching is not of human origin because he did not receive it from any man nor was he taught it, but rather Paul tells them he received it from Jesus.
We heard in last week’s scripture reading of the earlier verses from Galatians 1 that the church in Galatia was in conflict. This because these new Christians in Galatia were Gentiles and were being told by others that they must obey the law and the traditional rules. The two key areas of conflict were related to the Jewish law on circumcision and dietary differences of what they can eat.
As a result of these conflicts over the law and tradition, the church was in great turmoil. In anxious times, it is understandable that we question our decisions and we may not allow the time to work through the growing edges of change. Thus, I can only imagine the anxiety between those that were raised with the strict laws and they expected the new Christians, the Gentiles, to follow and honor those laws and traditions too.
But then there are the Gentiles; those whom after experiencing life-giving transformation and an opportunity to be included with those that they couldn’t journey with before; they hear that their men had to be circumcised and then told they shouldn’t or couldn’t continue to eat the meats they enjoyed. Paul was concerned with how these conflicts were affecting the church and wanted to speak directly to what the church in Galatia and all of Asia Minor were struggling with by telling them that what he was preaching was the only truth to help quell their anxiety. He told them that his truth was revealed to him by Jesus. In other words, his truth was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit unlike their truth which was of human origin. The translation being anything other than what Paul was telling them was wrong. This was Paul’s opinion and he felt strongly about it and I can understand why. He could envision the conflict splitting the church so he had to be bold.
That’s one way of seeing it but imagine hearing that message in today’s context where your truths based on your life experiences or traditions were being questioned.
This is what it was like in my family gathering that I mentioned. As a progressive within my cultural context, the others may have thought I was questioning their truth which was based on long-standing traditions within our culture and it was uncomfortable and I know they didn’t agree with me. But instead of standing firmly on my truth, I praise God for the leading of the Holy Spirit to invite them to participate in the conversation.
It was definitely worth taking a risk because at one point the young adults were called to move to another room and one of them, a recent college graduate, spoke up that she’d rather stay as the conversation we were having was very interesting; none left.
At the end of our conversation, each of us still cared enough for the other that in spite of our difference of opinions. We still respected each other for being heard and that allowed us to walk away considering the others’ truth.
Pastor Kristin reminded us last week that anxiety comes from needing to be right; from insisting that others need to be like us. But that we loosen the grip of anxiety by realizing that the sacred is already around us. That Jesus came to us as one of us to make that point: that in each person there is God.
As we continue our Lenten journey of wisdom for an anxious world, I’d invite you to join one of the small group conversations here at Epworth printed in the bulletin if you haven’t already done so. And where there is an opportunity or perhaps anxiety or even conflict, consider inviting and including other voices. Because in doing so we see God in others’ voice, in their truths and what they bring. And by doing so, we may just experience the opportunity where the Holy Spirit will reveal to us new possibilities that can help reduce anxiety. That maybe we can look at each other in spite of our difference of opinion and see new potentials inspired by a love from God and is of God that has no other clarifying “only if” or “but.” Amen.