I have struggled with this post.
I have written it and rewritten it.
I have abandoned it and been drawn back to it.
I want to write it and yet I don’t know where to start.
The message is clear in my heart and in my head, but finding the right words to adequately express how hopeful and despondent I am at this time has been difficult.
It’s truth and yet I so desperately wish it was a different kind of truth.
I feel the need to protect those I love and yet I know that the rejection and the alienation that many of them feel in this world is real, it happens with or without my protection and so I write… as best I can.
I write with a prayer, please God help us see differently, help us be more loving, help us be more insightful, help us be courageous and patient. Help us deal with the darkness which surrounds those who are affected by hate and bigotry and misguided spiritual interpretation. Help us to love those who don’t yet understand that your Word and your Truth and your Light is for everyone, everyone, no matter where they find themselves on their spiritual journey. Help us to love the marginalised and those who do the marginalising, the alienated and those who do the alienating because without love this journey is fruitless and we will continue to walk separate, misunderstood, hurtful, lonely paths …
This past week’s lectionary readings spoke of the prophetic, the call to be prophetic, the frustration that can come from being prophetic and the pain that ignoring the prophetic can bring.
The first was the call of the prophet Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 2 1-5)
“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.
Go, speak and whether people listen or not, at least God will have spoken, through God’s chosen prophet.
Then Mark’s version of Jesus’ ministry in his home town, where Jesus returns to Nazareth to teach and speak the Kingdom into the people of Nazareth and they reject him, ignore him, scoff at him because they presume to know who he is. A mere carpenter, not a learned man, not a man of any meaningful social standing, I mean pur-leeze, ‘he’s the son of Mary, we know where he comes from, he has a dubious background’ and so they reject his offer of healing, of prophecy, Jesus does what he can (which is limited) and moves on. ‘And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.’ (verse 5 and 6)
Last week at seminary we had a prophetic organisation come to speak with us. The prophetic voice of ‘I AM’.
I AM, stands for Inclusive and Affirming Ministries. They are a non-profit organisation who work with churches helping to engage dialogue around issues of inclusivity within the LGBTI community and faith communities. (LGBTI being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex people).
Our facilitators were/are Christians, two ordained ministers, one from the NG Kerk and one from the Methodist Church, the third was a lay person from the Anglican church, their workshop was entitled “Human Sexuality and the Church”.
Their objective was not to convert those who are against homosexuality but rather to teach us how to engage this conversation in healing and affirming ways – to teach us how to find common ground even with our diverse opinions.
No matter where we stand on this issue we are aware that the conversation is TAKING place, in our churches, in our communities, in our government and the conversation as it is taking place now is causing division, enormous pain and I suspect we are in some ways moving backwards as much as we are moving forwards.
I was shocked and disheartened to see the level of resistance which shot up to the message which I AM came to share and as I reflected on our time with them these words particularly stood out for me ‘but whether they listen or not, for remember they are a rebellious people, at least they will know they have had a prophet among them’ and ‘… because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them’. As a community we didn’t want to listen, we presumed to know who ‘these people’ are, where they come from, what their background is, we clung to previously held assumptions, rebellious, hard-hearted. It was hurtful and frustrating.
When we stubbornly refuse to hear a message from ordained and anointed people of God, people whom God has sent to us, what we are really doing is rejecting Jesus and limiting God. We are turning our backs on opportunities for healing, not just for the alienated but for ourselves as well, an injustice to one is an injustice to all, how have we not understood that yet? When we tell a minority group that we ‘know who they are, that we know their background’, we are limiting the power of Jesus to transform us all – when we choose to stand on our own limited understanding rather than engage and listen with open hearts and minds, finding common ground no matter what our opposing views, we cause damage to Gods people, we act like we are the keepers of the Kingdom instead of God.
Further on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, if people do not accept you or your message, shake the dust off your feet and walk away. Don’t fight, don’t force it, just walk away and who then becomes alienated? Well in my view, we do, the rejecters become the rejected just as the oppressed can become the oppressor. It’s a vicious circle. Hate and prejudice and rejection alienates those who do the hating and rejecting, our hate locks us out too. Thank you I AM for not shaking the dust off of YOUR feet.
I was touched and deeply humbled by the courage and the conviction of these gracious, loving and patient people who came in God’s name to help us to see, to speak truth and love into us, who offered themselves as lambs to the slaughter by the very same people who have been welcomed as sinners into the body of Christ.
It made me proud and ashamed to be a Christian. Proud because God worked – there were a few people who received healing from I AM’s witness, people who had their eyes opened by love and I was ashamed because some stubbornly closed their eyes, their ears and their hearts.
I was ashamed at myself for my own lack of patience with those who are trying to listen, who are honestly grappling with this issue, those who are trying remain faithful to God and to God’s Word but who are not yet where we, where *I*, would like them to be.
So yes, I struggled to write this, because I can no more lay a finger of blame against those who refuse to love if I myself am unable to love those who ‘don’t get it’. Yet.
To my friends and family who have been hurt by the church’s rejection. I am sorry. I love you. God loves you.
Have patience with us as a body of Christ. We do the best we can, but sometimes, sometimes our stubborn refusal to listen and to engage gets in the way of our ability to love as God loves, unconditionally and abundantly.
Pray for us, as we will continue to pray for you.
And God … please … forgive us ALL our stubbornness, our fear and our pride.
In Jesus name …