The ordination service was empowering. Many people were overwhelmed with joy as they came forward to receive communion… the bread and wine having been consecrated by the newly ordained. Likewise, one church member said she had “barely contained sobs” as she watched the crowd of Pastors, Elders and Deacons lay hands upon my friend and ordain him as a leader of the church. One individual in the crowd of Elders was a frail, 82-year-old man whose health is greatly failing. He made his way up there, leaning and wobbling on his cane for support – a man who represents a generation that never would have tolerated such a service.
My friend happens to be gay; he has a husband, not a wife.
I am convinced this is the reason some Pastor Nominating Committees didn’t give him the time of day. I’m also convinced that several readers have just gasped in disbelief. But, as a person of faith, I question how weak our faith must be to deny the dignity and spiritual call of another being. It’s true that our religions are established under structure and discipline. Even the first Christian churches in biblical times were characterized by laws meant to guide the church. It’s also true that some form of government is necessary for any modern-day established group of people, be it a religion or a small gathering of like-minded individuals. We need law and order. At the same time, wayward are we when we confuse human-made structure with God’s intention for living.
This fall the common lectionary has focused on the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew’s writing we find a Jesus that the majority of common folk didn’t expect. Instead of casting aside those who didn’t measure up to his personal standards, he communed with tax collectors and sinners. Instead of shaking his finger at every broken rule, he allowed his disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath (which broke the Sabbath). We’ve heard the proclamation, “I am Lord of the Sabbath.” And if Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, his way of living must be as well. And luckily, the gospel writer points us in the direction of Jesus’ way of life. Addressing those who questioned his behavior, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7).” Mercy is defined as compassion that could otherwise be withheld. Be it our powerful positions in life, or our personal opinions and uneasiness, far too often we neglect to afford others their God-given rights.
So, why the tears at my friend’s ordination service? For far too long, the church has been in the business of shutting people out, hiding behind the lazy excuse of sacrifice (I want to let you in, but our human-made rules say no, so, I’m sorry). Too many of our sisters and brothers have had their emails moved to the trash folder without even the courtesy of a “No thank you.” And personally, I believe that we are better than that. Society craves the true mercy of Jesus Christ. As people of faith, we need to make it happen no matter how difficult that may be.