On Faith

Our sponsored child and her mother.

Our sponsored child and her mother.

This past Monday, World Vision, a Christian relief organization, issued a statement that they had revised their employment policies and would now begin to hire Christians in same-sex marriages.  Richard Stearns, World Vision’s President, stated, “Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.”  He went on to say, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

World Vision struck out to find middle ground recognizing that faithful Christians are not in agreement on this issue, and that as a Christian organization they wanted to reflect that diversity within the Christian community.

The last few days have seen a flurry of responses. More progressive Christians applauding the decision, more conservative denouncing it. Folks like Franklin Graham and other Evangelicals issued statements claiming World Vision had clearly turned their backs on biblical faith. Reports emerged of more than 2000 sponsorships of needy children had been pulled.  Rachel Held Evans and others online encouraged new people to step forward to fill the gap. In short, a fire storm was taking place.

Yesterday, World Vision changed their minds.

My family sponsors two children through World Vision, a boy in Swaziland and a girl in Burundi. We get letters from them and we send them postcards and small gifts throughout the year. Each Christmas we send a larger donation, $100, to help them get something they desperately need. This past month we got a reply from the young girl telling us how grateful she was and explaining how she and her mother bought many things including a dress outfit for church, metal sheets for their roof, some soap, basic food supplies and a goat.  We got a picture of her standing near all these things.  $100 goes a long way in the poorest country of the world.

I couldn’t imagine ever pulling my sponsorship of her over any issue I had with World Vision. And that’s the thing I just can’t get over in the midst of the last few days.  2000 children and their communities lost sponsorship and a connection with a family here in the US due to this issue.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement, people on Rachel Held Evan’s blog said things like, “As a gay Christian, while I cannot help but feel betrayed by World Vision’s sudden reversal, I won’t take my sponsorship away. I made a commitment to a young boy, and I want to honor that.” There were many of these responses.

I’m not naive enough to think that only conservative Christians would pull sponsorships and only progressive ones would honor the commitments.  I suspect that there will be some who feel betrayed in this week’s change and then change back who will cancel new sponsorships (although they more than likely haven’t even finalized the paperwork), but I get caught by that number of 2000 kids losing sponsorship.

All too often I hear evangelical Christians proclaim to “hate the sin and love the sinner” as the answer to tough issues. But this week many didn’t show any love at all. Kids in the Third World became pawns to be played in this issue, even though certainly they had done nothing wrong. Many conservatives claimed that they would switch to another relief organization, but still the particular child they sponsored would be left in the lurch.

In the end it comes down to whether you understand faith as incarnational or not. For many evangelicals it’s about right belief.  Either you are right or wrong (although issues they focus on shift as time goes on—see women’s ordination and divorce). Many believe this is the last great defining issue on biblical authority and if it falls, so too will fall the foundation on which they stand.

But to me it really is about how to live faith in real flesh and blood.  Pulling money from a child in Burundi goes against the biblical injunction to care for widows and orphans as the only way to gauge pure religion (James 1:27). The policy change came about certainly because of real Christian people who wanted to work at World Vision (or currently work there) and are married to another person of their same gender. Dismissing both the children and those employees refuses to see them as God’s children, as valuable to God.

Biblical faith isn’t about policies, it’s about relationships. Jesus came and lived among us. He got to know us. He had deep compassion. What this week showed deeply is that for many Christians it’s all about being right regardless of anything else. In the biblical narrative, Jesus had a tendency to denounce people like that. When sinners came in to do acts of compassion—like the woman who washed his feet—he praised her for it.

This week exposed a deep truth: we still have much to learn from Jesus.

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Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I often pray those words each night before I turn in. It’s my favorite petition from The Book of Common Prayer; you pray them as part of compline, or night-time prayers.  When I first found this prayer, I wondered about that last request: “Shield the joyous.” It seemed out of place amongst the others which bid the Divine’s action on much weightier concerns.

Photo credit: catalin82 from stock.xchng

Photo credit: catalin82 from stock.xchng

Tend and give rest, bless and soothe, and yes, Holy One, be moved with pity on those crushed by the chances of this life. All of that, yes, most certainly. But shielding the joyous sounded so extravagant. Keep the blessed ones happy, Lord. Sure, I thought as I prayed it, but not quite certain why they needed to be shielded if their lives overflowed with joy anyway.

I learned this morning that a young man in his early twenties I’ve been holding up in prayer received a devastating diagnosis. My first thoughts contained an expletive or two.  And then deep sympathy for both him and his parents and all those who love him. I thought of that prayer and the requests to the Almighty to tend and give rest and soothe and pity. Be present with them and fill them with hope and trust and a deep peace as they work through their grief and anger and fear and unanswerable questions of why this happened now to one much too young.

And I also thought about the people I know experiencing deep joy right now and how I hope God shields them from life-draining news on this day. That somehow they are protected from flaming arrows launched by the forces of evil in this world bringing harm and destruction. I know full well that none of us makes it through life without some of those arrows sticking, but please, Lord, shield them a bit longer. Let them relish in the new job or the birth of a child, that new romance or period of healing after such a rough go. Keep our children safe from that which steals their innocence and their elation in life.

I know now that more often than not the days of utter joy are not long enough.  Job loss and illness and broken relationships and addictions happen with more frequency than I can comprehend. So yes, Lord, shield the joyous. Keep them on Cloud 9 or in the tender moments of family life or that place of peace a bit longer. Stretch it out as long as possible, so that when circumstance force them to the other parts of that prayer, when they need to be soothed or pitied or tended to, they might have the strength to make it through.

Join me in praying for or sending good wishes or taking a moment of quiet reflection — however you do that when you are faced with horrible news — for a young man facing a hard road today. That the darkness be overcome and that he once again experiences unfettered joy. And may you find comfort as well whether you need to be tended or given rest or soothed or pitied or shielded today.
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I read a long quotation yesterday in my sermon from Archbishop Oscar Romero.  It was the only part of my sermon written out—I preached without a text—but I wanted to share it with you.

You can read more about Oscar Romero online.

Here’s what I read:

“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

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I love baseball, and will be making sure I see the Sox play tomorrow in Texas (as the snow/wintry mix come down here in Mass.)  A friend recently shared this, and I got a kick out of it.  There’s a lot of history and truth buried in these quick witty sayings.  I hope you enjoy them as the Boys of Summer start their year!

And Go Sox!


Religion as Baseball

Calvinists believe the game is fixed.

Lutherans believe they can’t win, but trust the Scorekeeper.

Quakers won’t swing.

Unitarians can catch anything.

Amish walk a lot.

Pagans sacrifice.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are thrown out often.

Televangelists get caught stealing.

Episcopalians pass the plate.

Fundamentalists balk.

Adventists have a seventh-inning stretch.

Atheists refuse to have an Umpire.

Baptists want to play hardball.

Premillenialists expect the game to be called soon on account of darkness.

The Pope claims he never made an error.

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More snow this morning.  And the desire to climb back into bed or curl up with a mystery novel by the fire with a cup of tea.

But when it snows, I can’t help but think of a great and fun hymn from the hymnal, number 412 “Earth and All Stars.”  It has a great line in there about “loud blowing snowstorms” and lots of other things making noise in praise to God.  It’s a gentle reminder of Jesus’ statement that the rocks will cry out in praise  if people don’t, and that even when it seems bleak God is there.

The words are below.  Sometime we’ll need to sing them on a Sunday at St. Mark’s.  My favorite stanza is 5….

1. Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets, sing to the Lord a new song! O victory, loud shouting army, sing to the Lord a new song!

Refrain: He has done marvelous things. I, too, will praise him with a new song!

2. Hail, wind, and rain, loud blowing snowstorms, sing to the Lord a new song! Flowers and trees, loud rustling leaves, sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

3. Trumpet and pipes, loud clashing cymbals, sing to the Lord a new song! Harp, lute, and lyre, loud humming cellos, sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

4. Engines and steel, loud pounding hammers, sing to the Lord a new song! Limestone and beams, loud building workers, sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

5. Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes, sing to the Lord a new song! Athlete and band, loud cheering people, sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

6. Knowledge and truth, loud sounding wisdom, sing to the Lord a new song! Daughter and son, loud praying members, sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

Words: Herbert F. Brokering (b. 1926) Music: Earth and All Stars, David N. Johnson (b. 1922)

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