sermon video. Click for pt 2
13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.Ephesians 2:13-16 (NRSV)
The passage goes on to say,
17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.Ephesians 2:17-22 (NRSV)
I just came across a gorgeous word: Patulous. It means, (1) open or expanded, or (2) spreading out from a center as in the branches of a tree. And I am reminded of this tree-like thing in front of our house that was fine, kinda lovely, but nothing special. But it grew. And it looked like it was growing out from the strip of garden, and then down toward the door of the house. When Greer investigated further while beginning her weeding project, it turns out it spawned new shoots that grew up and out, overtaking half of the garden and out into the driveway.
It was as if it were dividing itself and instead of growing up into a sturdy tree, it spread out overtaking, choking the life out of the other ground plants, and incidentally, giving refuge to a growing colony of earwigs!
At any rate, Greer pulled out about 80% of the invasion, but appreciated the lovely golden-green leaves, so is now just keeping the original stalk at bay.
“In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.”
Instead of extending deeper roots and growing from a center upward, patulous, our tree-weed took all the resources of the ground from the other plants and suffocated them. The divided plant spread out, but at a great cost (botanically speaking).
From the Latin, patulus literally means, “to be open.” You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Working with this tree analogy, the tree-weed, fearful of not getting enough resources, or with a desire to control the garden or space – uncertain of itself? the ground? such that it won’t go deeper with its root system, it remains shallow while destructive.
In contrast, the Birch or Oak or Aspen (actually, the Aspen acts more like the weed-tree, but much more majestic and beautiful!) – a true tree will extend roots downward and outward, anchoring itself deep into the rich, nourishing, more secure earth – in order to support the thickening trunk that supports all the branches, extending branches and leaves . . . It is slow, but it might grow to even support a house – a tree house, anyway.
“In Jesus the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.”
It’s as if the roots must reconcile their outward paths – down into the earth, in faith that the dark and cold earth will provide all its needs. And upward with patulous, leafy hands, reaching to the heavens, abandoned to awe and wonder – reconciling those paths to unify the sturdy trunk that will support the lush growth. This slow, steady process, full of grace – at the pace of grace.
Julian of Norwich entered the cell attached to the church, to study and meditate on the revelation she received May 8, 1373, while on what she thought was her deathbed. Jesus was revealed to her, on the cross, and speaking to her through a kind of visio divina, a spiritual vision or prayer. There appeared to her a succession of 16 revelations, about which she writes initially, given us as Revelations of Divine Love. She spends the next 20 years contemplating God’s meaning, and writes more on those reflections.
Julian is the first woman to write theologically in English. She saw Jesus on the cross, bleeding, suffering while beckoning. Jesus spoke to her, communicated with her about what God is doing. She understood the opening in Jesus’ side, the wound lain bare, as the space into which she could now enter – into the womb, the very heart of God – and out of which she is endlessly born, that is, given life – eternal, consistent, over and again – not just this nebulous future after death and Jesus’ 2nd coming, but here and now.
It recalls the Creation narrative where, ha adam, the first person, is birthed from, ha adamah, the earth. God the reaches into ha adam‘s side middle chamber, or womb, and fashions a second person, new life.
It is not an enclosed, internal thing – intimate, yes – but as we are issued from, born out of, continuously brought into life, never leaving, ever outward – we are nurtured, protected and live God’s revelation outward. We are indwelled by Christ – externalized (we live out Jesus’ mission in the world) – Christ indwells while we are enclosed, the soul healed while turned outward to participate in the “drama of salvation,” imitating his passion through acts of compassion. It’s both-and. It’s a mystery.
The same Christ. The same God. The same Spirit. This Trinitarian creator/ redeemer/ sustainer act and being, indwells and empowers us – all.
Many theologians have understood this action as a dance – each person of the Trinity acting, existing in movement, one steps back to make space for the other. Creating – redeeming – sustaining. In perfect step according to the music of life, of love. I love this sign (another from the chapel at the Evergreen memorial park. If you stumble, make it part of the dance.
When we walk at the pace of grace, moving with grace, a stumble can more easily turn into a dance move; we hold on to one another and can sense the movement, propping each other up when there is something that makes us stumble. It is more graceful and easier, when we have dance partners. It is holy, sacred.
But this happens when we are communing together – the sacrament, this event where we partake in the representative body and blood, the bread and juice, remembering who we are and how we are able to even be in communion together – to be reconciled to one another and to God. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was solely to reconcile us, make right our relationships.
Rebecca Simon-Peter (yes, that’s her real name), recently wrote an article for Ministry Matters, an on-line resource for ministers. She called it Debate As Sacrament. Simon-Peter suggests that scripture is packed with evidence that we can live and move and minister side-by-side with our differences. There are two creation narratives, and exodus telling’s; “Kings and Chronicles have alternate [often contradictory] views of history. The four gospels themselves tell differing stories to differing audiences.”
Why do we think it is somehow wrong? Abraham challenges God; Jacob wrestles the angel; God and Moses continuously arguing it out. And Jesus is frequently working it through with leaders and followers throughout his life and ministry.
Still, Simon-Peter continues, while uncomfortable, “it’s in these encounters that sacred truths are revealed, and holy moments are elevated.” As a sacrament, “debate is messier than spilled grape juice, scattered breadcrumbs and overflowing baptismal waters. But not messier than the events that gave rise to these symbols.” And we have a font, overflowing with spiritual wisdom, and grace and deep love in this very space.
Richard Rohr said, “The root of violence [of discord] is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else…”Richard Rohr, daily meditation email, 8/18/19.
It is an illusion because God is always near. But we do not know how to live gracefully when separating ourselves from God or from each other. Because what we build are cisterns that cannot hold water – God told Jeremiah,
my people have committed two evils:Jeremiah 2:13, NRSV
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Communion is a sacred, holy space-time because we recognize God’s presence in it – God is known in this act, in our coming together. The sacrament of communion is an enactment, a remembering what Jesus did so we are reconciled to God. And it happens in community, our communing together, enacting, remembering that we are continuously reconciling with one another in our relationships. – and here is where the living water does not flow through the cracks: our community is the cup with which we offer that water to all who have need of it. ALL who have need.
And it is the living water that deeply soaks, saturates the soil to nourish the tree that support patulous branches, leaves, fruit for the community to share in.
The Reconciling Ministry Network uses the term “reconciling” to remember. Remembering this action, active in making right relationships, acknowledging harm done by ourselves or by the church. It is a ministry network. It is not an entity that will subsume the UM denomination if the Traditionalist Plan is set aside. I bring it before you because our church represents the range of opinion on the matter of full inclusion of the LGBTQ members of our communities. And I would like us to openly argue it out, to have open conversation about how we continue to minister and walk side by side in communion, and remain faithful to our convictions concerning inclusivity.
It is a conversation. It is making space-time, encounters where sacred truths will be revealed, holy moments elevated – an occasion to hold each other in a holy gaze, witness God’s spirit in each other.
We will have a special session of our Annual Conference in November over this issue and our conference’s “next steps.” We will have our annual Charge Conference in October where we will discuss with our new Superintendent, Fabioloa Grandon-Mayer how our church is meeting the conference goals of a healthy church, including the issue of inclusion, given our context and community. So let us talk together now. Let us be prepared to bring the right questions that our church needs to ask our superintendent, that we need to ask each other. We cannot work it out if we are not arguing it out – holy conversation, a sacrament.
Let us begin by ingesting reconciling communion today, remembering that we are reconciled to God, and we really do want to be in grace-giving, loving relationship with each other. And I think gathering at the dedication of a memorial garden made in memory of a beautiful human who envisioned and created beauty all around her is apt. Where plants will grow deep roots, and sprout upward, outward, patulous leaves, colorful blooms… Where God is made known by our reconciling communion. gathering. loving.
And we gather around a specific truth, a belief. Let us sing this abbreviated apostles creed that we’ve been learning together: