Saturday, August 7, 2010

loving God vs. intolerant God

This week I received the above postcard in the mail with a LCMS website link and a Sioux Falls postmark. While I've been getting mail like this on and off since 2000, this postcard is undoubtedly a response to the article about me in the Argus Leader. This type of mail always leaves me with several questions:
  1. Really, does someone think I hadn't heard any of these comments before?
  2. If this was sent in response to the Argus article, I wonder if the sender thought postcards were more affective than exorcisms, or rape threats to "cure" my big gay homosexuality? If only someone had thought of it sooner.
  3. Does the sender not know that the color purple makes people gay? Remember the tinky winky scandal.
  4. What was it that Martin Lutheran meant when he said we could sin boldly?
  5. Do you really think this is a catchy slogan? Would you wear it on a shirt? Put it on the bumper of your car? Have your children hold it on a sign in front of the press?
It occurs to me that I actually preempted this postcard with last Sunday's sermon: Servant or Sucker. Listen to the sermon or download it here. What I didn't post was the children's sermon. So here it is:

The reading according to the gospel of The Little Engine that Could:

A little steam engine had a long train of cars to pull.

She went along very well till she came to a steep hill. But then, no matter how hard she tried, she could not move the long train of cars.

She pulled and she pulled. She puffed and she puffed. She backed and started off again. Choo! Choo!

But no! the cars would not go up the hill.

At last she left the train and started up the track alone. Do you think she had stopped working? No, indeed! She was going for help.

"Surely I can find someone to help me," she thought.

Over the hill and up the track went the little steam engine. Choo, choo! Choo, choo! Choo, choo! Choo!

Pretty soon she saw a big steam engine standing on a side track. He looked very big and strong. Running alongside, she looked up and said:

"Will you help me over the hill with my train of cars? It is so long and heavy I can't get it over."

The big steam engine looked down at the little steam engine. The he said:

"Don't you see that I am through my day's work? I have been rubbed and scoured ready for my next run. No, I cannot help you,"

Don't you think it's sad that the little engine couldn't find anyone to help and never made it up the hill?

Of course the children shouted out that that is not the way the story ends. I then talked about how sometimes when we were short stories from the Bible, Sunday after Sunday, it's easy to forget that it's just one part of the story. A story that ends with God's love, our forgiveness, an empty tomb and God's declaration that we are good.

However, the beauty of the Bible is that the stories are complex. I love them not only because they speak to me and tell me that God love's me, but also because they speak to those that I will work my whole career counteracting.

I love that this Sunday's lectionary text is almost the counter argument to everything that I've written. Jesus is not proclaiming to be the anti-war, homeless advocate that I would love him to be. Instead, he proclaims that he will be argued about, will cause division and to set the world on fire (see Luke 12: 49-56).

On the first reading, it seems like Jesus is the intolerant God proclaimed in the postcard. And yet, when I read it again it seems like Jesus is a truth teller with the self awareness to name the problem that his presence in the world created. He knows the story is headed toward a cross. The writers who wrote the text more than a hundred years after Jesus' death knew that he would continue to be a divisive character in the future.

In the face of Luke's message, I think whenever we see news talking about churches leaving the ELCA over sexuality decisions or we get mail from other Christians saying what we're doing is wrong we should let people know that fighting in the church about Christ and the gospel is old news. In fact, it's precisely what Jesus said would happen.

Yes, it's the truth that there is discord. So what do we do? Perhaps the answer is in the next text:
57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

These verses are not only call us to stay in conversation and seek reconciliation, but they also bring us back to the end of the story, when the little engine makes it to the top of the hill, when God reminds us of our baptism, when we remember that nothing - neather death, nor life, nor postcards, nor genitals, nor what we do with them can ever seperate us from the love of God in Jesus.