A few weeks ago, I met up with a pastor for lunch. This pastor, just like me, is a church planter, and he’s getting ready to start a new church. So we got together in a cafe and talked about those things that are particular to starting new churches. The stages of development new churches go through, and the particular stresses and joys of being a leader in a new church start.
It was really nice to share that kind of connection with someone.
I also had this feeling, though I couldn’t say why, that this pastor was quite a bit more conservative than I am. Neither of us had said anything to tip the other off -- we kind of danced around any issues that would be sensitive -- but I just had this feeling.
We talked about getting together again.
We talked about praying for one another,
about starting a colleague group for church planters.
And I really liked those ideas.
When I got home, I went to the website of the denomination of this pastor, and if his theology holds true to that of his denomination (which very well may not be the case -- there’s a diversity of theologies at work among the clergy of any denomination) we were indeed seem on very different ends of the spectrum. As I read the words on that site, I had this feeling that my heart was tearing, because I could no longer see a way forward.
The website read:
Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world. Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement.
I read these words in this sanctuary, words that are painful for me to read out loud, and painful for many here, because I want to emphasize that Christian unity is not about playing nice. Not about making nice. Not about pretending that there aren’t differences between those who call themselves Christians that have enormous implications for all people all over the world.
Sitting at my computer and reading these words, I asked God to tell me how she was asking me to be in relationship with someone who’s theology takes what I see as holy and sacred: loving, generative relationships between two men or two women, and sees them instead as a “reflection of the brokenness of our sinful world.”
What was I supposed to do next?
How could I pray for this pastor and his church without praying against him?
How could we continue to develop a relationship, with the gulf that most likely existed between us?
Paul writes to the community in Ephesus
of his vision for the Universal Church,
and uses a word that is loaded with meaning for all of us: family.
I bow my knees before the Father, he writes, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
Paul’s making a play on words here.
The word father in greek is pater.
The word family is its feminine: patria.
Patria is defined as a nation or tribe, a lineage with the same ancestry.
The literal meaning of pater, which we usually translate as father, is
nourisher, protector, upholder.
The one who made us,
keeps us safe,
Last week Daniel Simons came and preached here as a part of our conversation about St. Lydia’s relationship to the wider Church. And he asked us to think about a time when we felt like we belonged. Finding a place to belong is crucial to being part of a spiritual community. But I think it’s the moments when we suddenly find, with a sense of sharp realization, that we don’t belong at all, that we begin to catch a glimpse of the breadth and depth and wonder of the universal family that we are all a part of.
What do we see when we hang out on the fringes,
when we spend time in the margins,
when we feel strangely out of place,
out of sorts,
out of our element,
when we try to stretch across the divide to reach someone
who may seem impossibly far away?
How do we mange to hold this body together,
when unity is not about playing nice?
How do I sit across the table from a person who believes that my best friend “reflects the brokenness of a sinful world” and think, know, you are part of me.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend,
the breadth and length and height and depth;
that God can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask
We all share the same ancestry.
Our family, like any family, has fights and quarrels.
We wound each other terribly
because sometimes we can be awfully small.
But God is awfully big.
Sometimes, when we try to stretch as big as God,
our hearts begin to tear.
And it hurts.
And we’re not sure that we can go much farther.
But God is bigger.
broader and longer and higher and deeper.
And can do more than we can even imagine.
We are a naive people, Christians,
for we continue to stubbornly pursue
this gorgeous notion
that we ourselves have failed to uphold
again and again throughout history:
that we are all,
simply by virtue of being human,
And no matter how we might try to distance ourselves from one another,
we are part of each other.
We continue to believe,
that there is a God out there
who is big enough to hold us all,
bigger than we can even imagine,
as Paul says.
We fight and split and fight again,
but still hang onto this notion
that there is something that binds us together.
We cut off relationships and run away and refuse to speak to each other,
and still long for a place where we might all sit down together and break bread.
Because we’re part of one another.
Perhaps it is our failure of imagination,
our tendency to underestimate God’s love
that has so many of us
constantly shortchanging our creator:
There is room for everyone at this table.
But it is our relentless hope that keeps us coming back.