Stop standing on my foot!

Imagine the scenario: someone is standing on your foot. It doesn’t much matter whether they’re doing it on purpose or by accident.

You say: “Excuse me, you’re standing on my foot.”

They say: “Oh, I’m so sorry! Here, would you like a biscuit?”

But they are still standing on your foot.

You say: “You’re still standing on my foot, and it’s actually quite painful.”

They say: “I’m really, really sorry about that. Here: have a coffee. It’s nice to see you, by the way.”

But they are still standing on your foot. It’s getting more and more painful, and you can’t get on with what you want to be doing.

You say: “Look, you’re still standing on my foot, and it really hurts, and I enjoyed the biscuit and the coffee, but you are still standing on my foot. Please move!”

They say: “Will you stop going on about your foot! It’s all you talk about. Can’t you just get on with something else? I’ve already given you coffee and a biscuit – what more do you want from me?!”

But still they are standing on your foot.


 

Following the House of Bishops’ Report on “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships”, much has been written. For me, the most helpful thing I have read or heard is this sermon from Canon Leanne Roberts at Southwark Cathedral. It is well worth reading / listening to in its entirety.

Among the many excellent points Leanne makes is this:

The report bears careful reading in full. But the ‘take-away’ message for many has been this: the Bishops have said this is all very difficult; they say it is important that the ‘tone’ around matters of sexuality and relationships changes; they say they recommend that there is absolutely no change, whatsoever, in Church law or doctrine to enable same-sex relationships to be affirmed and celebrated. Unfortunately, they do not explain how this change of ‘tone’ – where the Church becomes, apparently, more loving and welcoming towards LGBT people who wish to be in committed relationships – can be achieved without changing anything else at all.

Many people have said to me since the publication of the report that at least the bishops want to change the tone. At least there’s that. That’s some sort of progress, surely? But I don’t think so. It’s easy to ask for “a change of tone” if doing so doesn’t demand  any actual changes, but it’s also a useless, empty piece of rhetoric if nothing really changes.

And even if a change of tone is actually – miraculously – somehow achieved without changing anything else, that still isn’t really progress. Because – and this is important – a change of tone isn’t what we were asking for. Being nice to people, while continuing to uphold the systems that oppress them, doesn’t count for much.

I, as a faithful gay Christian, am not asking for a change of tone. I am not asking for just a little bit more kindness, handed down by the bishops (or anyone else) as if they are doing me a favour. They aren’t. I am not asking for kindness, I am asking for justice. For recognition as the full and equal members of the Body of Christ, which I know  myself and my LGBT siblings to be.

And this, of all the many contenders, is perhaps the aspect of the whole debacle that makes me the most angry. I – and many other LGBT Christians – made myself very open, very vulnerable, in the Shared Conversations process, because I was assured that we were being listened to. That does not seem to have happened at all. The report does not address the issues we have raised or the questions we have asked. Truly, we asked for bread, and they gave us a stone. However lovely a stone it might be, we cannot eat it. However nice and polite they may be, there is still someone standing on my foot.

I do not buy into the idea that I should be grateful for the scraps that fall from the table of those who have never had their place at that table called into question. It is not their table, and it is not mine. It is Christ’s table, and he invites us all to sit around it as equal, beloved children of God. That is the only possible basis for any real conversation.

So if you want to have a real conversation about these “issues” – whether you’re a bishop, a vicar, or anyone else – start by listening. Really listening. Listening to the hopes and prayers and desires of the people you are talking about. Listening to our hurt and, quite possibly, to things that will hurt you to hear. Try to respond to what you hear, not what you want to hear. And be prepared to put in the “hard thought, hard prayer, hard work” which is the only thing that can ever lead to any real, deep transformation.

 

Advertisements

The parable of the wedding invitation

Here are two conversations: one I am having a lot at the moment, and one I would like to be having. They both take place between me and a friend (or it could be a relative) who has had little or no contact with the church, but is quite curious about faith and might be open to the idea of finding out more.

Compare and contrast.

***********************

CONVERSATION A

Me: So, I have some news… we’re engaged!

Friend: Oh wow, congratulations! That’s brilliant news. When’s the big day? I guess it’ll be a church wedding, right? Am I invited?

Me: Actually, I can’t get married in the church I serve, because I’m gay. And I can’t get married at all if I want to be a priest. So we’re having a quiet civil partnership for now, and waiting for the church to change its mind. Then we’ll have a big do, and of course you’re invited.

Friend: What?! That sucks.

Me: Yeah, I know. But it’s how it is. Lots of us are working to change it, but that’s how it is for now.

Friend: But.. that’s ridiculous. When you talk about your faith, it sounds like it’s all about love. I like that. But… this doesn’t make sense.

Me: I know. It’s hard to explain. It is all about love. God is all about love. But… *sigh*

Friend: To be honest, this puts me off the whole idea of religion. I like the sound of the God you talk about. But I don’t want anything to do with a church that treats you like this. I’m sorry.

 ************************

CONVERSATION B

Me: So, I have some news… we’re engaged!

Friend: Oh wow, congratulations! That’s brilliant news. When’s the big day? I guess it’ll be a church wedding, right? Am I invited?

Me: Yes, of course! *hands out wedding invitation*

Friend: *comes to wedding – the first time they’ve ever been to a church service* *feels welcomed and likes what they hear* *gets invited to church again by me, or another Christian friend, and says yes*…..

*************************

So I ask you, which is more missional: conversation A or conversation B?

Which does more to spread the gospel? Which does more to further the mission of God? Which does more to bring in the Kingdom?

In which conversation does the church look more like Jesus? In which does the Christian faith sound more like good news?

**************************

Jesus has very little to say about gay relationships. But he has quite a lot to say about wedding invitations (Matthew 22.1-14, Luke 14.7-24).

Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.

“Come and follow me” – a(nother) sermon on Matthew 4.17-23

Sometimes I think I’ve got a perfectly good sermon to preach, but the Holy Spirit just won’t leave me alone until I sit back down and rewrite it. This was one of those times. The earlier version is available in the previous post. 

A week, they say, is a long time in politics. And it has been quite a week! Theresa May’s announcement on Tuesday about Brexit, and her plans for the UK to leave the Single Market, have been almost totally eclipsed by the inauguration of Donald Trump, and the worldwide protests that followed it.

But what, you may wonder, has this got to do with today’s gospel reading? In fact, what has it got to do with the gospel at all?

Firstly, never let anyone tell you that the gospel isn’t political, or that faith and politics don’t mix. The Bible is full of politics. Jesus himself preached such radical ideas that the political authorities of his day had him put to death. Crucifixion is an inherently political act. And so, I would say, is resurrection.

But all that is still far off in today’s gospel story, which shows Jesus calling his first disciples. “Come and follow me,” he says. And they did. Immediately, we are told. I wonder if I would do the same in their shoes? I wonder if you would? But they did – they followed Jesus.

What about us, today? Where does following Jesus take us? Where has it taken us already, and where will it take us next?

This week I have heard people – adults and children – saying they are scared, they are angry, they are in despair at the state of the world. And that’s a perfectly reasonable way to feel. But God calls us to take that fear, anger and despair, and somehow – by the grace and work of the Holy Spirit – to find ways to transform it into hope and truth and light. God calls us to pray and work for peace which is built on justice. Above all, God calls us to love.

If we want to know how to follow Jesus, we need to look at how Jesus lives. A life of compassion and solidarity with the powerless and outcast. Of touching the untouchable, and bringing healing to those who seem to be beyond hope and beyond redemption. Of challenging the power of the few, when it comes at the expense of the many. However we respond to the changing world around us, we need to do it the way Jesus does – with honesty, humility and compassion.

In this week when all eyes are on America, it is perhaps appropriate to quote Martin Luther King, who said this:

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of [people] and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.“

The gospel is not moribund. The good news of Jesus cannot be buried. But it is only good news if it is good news for everybody. As the world seems to become more isolationist, more wary of the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the ‘other’, more ready to demonise than to love, Jesus shows us a different way.

Following Jesus should lead us to stand not with the powerful, but with the least, the last, and the lost. That is where we find him: among the people the world would rather forget. Because the Good News is, nobody is forgotten. Nobody is excluded from God’s table. Nobody is beyond the scope of God’s forgiving love. Nobody.

And proclaiming that good news – in what we do and what we say, in our personal lives and in our politics – is the calling of the followers of Jesus.

“Come,” says Jesus, “and follow me.” Amen.

Following Jesus – a sermon on Matthew 4.17-23

In today’s gospel we hear about Jesus calling his first disciples. And we hear too about the disciples’ response: “immediately they left their nets… their boats… their father, and followed him.” It’s a startling response. I wonder what your response would be, if you were in the disciples’ shoes?

They did choose to follow Jesus, and the journey on which we see them here taking the first step, would take them into situations they could never have imagined.

What about us, as followers of Jesus? Where does our journey of faith take us? Where has it taken us already, and where will it take us next?

We live in uncertain times. Brexit negotiations, Trump taking office, the rise of the far-right across Europe, the ongoing refugee crisis. It may be tempting to despair. But God calls us not to despair, but to hope and trust, to pray and work for peace which is built on justice, and above all to love.

We, like the first disciples, have a choice. In the face of whatever is going on in the world, and whatever is going on in our own lives, we can choose – and go on choosing – to follow Jesus, to walk in the way of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

If we want to know how to follow Jesus, we need to look at how Jesus lives. A life of compassion and solidarity with the powerless and outcast. Of touching the untouchable, and bringing healing to those who seem to be beyond hope and beyond redemption. Of challenging the power of the few, when it comes at the expense of the many.

We become like those we follow. It may be tempting to follow those who seem to have the power to make our lives better – whether they are politicians, or the cool kids in the playground – but look carefully: are they really who we want to become like?

Or we can follow Jesus, who knew that the ultimate power lay not in wealth or strength or popularity, but in humility and truth, and love stronger than death. And by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can grow to become more like him.

In this week when all eyes are on America, it is perhaps appropriate to quote Martin Luther King, who said this:

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of [people] and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.“

The gospel is not moribund. The good news of Jesus cannot be buried. But it is only good news if it is good news for everybody. As the world seems to become more isolationist, more wary of the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the ‘other’, more ready to demonise than to love, Jesus shows us a different way.

Following Jesus should lead us to stand not with the powerful, but with the least, the last, and the lost. That is where we find him: among the people the world would rather forget. Because the Good News is, nobody is forgotten. Nobody is excluded from God’s table. Nobody is beyond the scope of God’s forgiving love. Nobody.

And proclaiming that good news – in what we do and what we say, in our personal lives and in our politics – is the calling of the followers of Jesus.

“Come,” says Jesus, “and follow me.” Amen.