Our More Light Sunday service at General Assembly built on the theme of GA222 “Hope in our calling,” to host the first ever MLP service in conjunction with Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, a local congregation, and the first service ever to coincide with Pride Sunday. While we celebrated pride, we also mourned the tragedy in Orlando in a moving vigil at the conclusion of our worship service. More Light board member Ashley Birt, Rev. J.C. Cadwallader, and Rev. Tara Wilkins each preached a brief sermon on where they saw hope in our calling. Below we share their inspiring and motivating meditations. Where do you see hope in your calling?
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Since I heard about your faith in Jesus and your love for all God’s people, this is the reason that I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of Jesus Christ, the Creator of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.
Ashley Birt, Rutgers Presbyterian Church, New York, NY
“So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
That is the first part of Ephesians 1:18. In addition to being the theme for General Assembly this year, it serves as a small reminder of the overall purpose of the Book of Ephesians: for the community to stay strong, remember Christ, and seek truth in love. It is a short verse among many, yet it is so deep that just looking at it part by part teaches us so much. So, let’s do that.
What does it mean to have the eyes of your heart enlightened?
The eyes of your heart. Eyes, seeing clearly, being open, bearing witness. Heart, loving grace, seeking joy, acting in love. These are things the LGBTQI community has been working towards for years. Visibility, openness, appreciation, acceptance, pride, love-these are colors that make up the rainbow of who we are. My experiences, however, have shown me that one group in particular embodies all of these things in a truly special way.
I spend my days in New York City working as a Director of Christian Education. It is a job that is very rewarding and has taught me that to have the eyes of the heart enlightened, we must allow ourselves to be moved by the possibilities of God’s love in all places and people around us, which can, does, and must include children and youth. This is not something the Church in general always does, but it is something that was, and LGBTQI folk and their allies, MUST.
What IS the hope to which we are called?
I have spent eight years of my life serving children and youth at various churches. This has happened in different cities, with kids of different backgrounds, in churches, in camps, even online. And, after working for eight years with kids as young as 3 and as old as 19 or 20 (and yes, I’m considering everyone under 21 a kid. I felt like a kid when I was 21 and it wasn’t really all that long ago), I have learned that any hope I have for myself, any hope I have for the church, came from them. As an out bisexual youth leader and Christian Educator, it was and continues to be, the LGBTQI youth that inspire me to keep going.
- It was a bisexual trans student who told me his attraction to the same gender and different gender was like the humanity and divinity of Jesus. He was fifteen years old.
- It was a gay cis male student who told me when I came out that ”everyone is a little bit bisexual.” He was ten years old.
- It was a queer female student who showed me a that a community of faith and a community of queers could be found online through Tumblr. She was seventeen years old.
In all these circumstances, I was their leader, I was their teacher, I was the one who was supposed to educate them, but I learned more about God, more about the nature of our Savior, more about the nature of acceptance, more about the nature of what church and the community can look like from listening to them. When I feel like the world is a scary place, when I find it hard to reconcile the good news of the Gospel and the bad news in the world around me, when I’m having a hard time being a queer person, it is the children and youth who show me that not only CAN things be better, but they are the ones making it better. We often call young people “the future of the church”, but in reality they are our reminders of us in the past, our inspiration for a brighter tomorrow, and the ones who, if we are open, are teaching and leading us RIGHT NOW.
Verse 18 ends with the following: what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
When we make space and lift up the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex children and youth in our midst, what are the riches?
A community that not only sustains itself, but evolves and blossoms as each new voice is born into it.
A new generation who recognize that they have a place at God’s table and no one, NO ONE, can tell them otherwise.
An ability to not just look at the killings of our queer young people in places like Pulse Nightclub, where the youngest victim was 18, and think “they were just babies!,” but to mourn WITH, to fight WITH, and to be present WITH those who are loved by God and respected by us.
The hope in our calling is here, in our pews, in our nurseries, in our youth groups. Let our hearts be enlightened and our young people be lifted up.
Rev. J.C. Cadwallader, Western Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC
Good morning! I bring greetings to you from the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC where I serve on the pastoral staff and from the National Capital Presbytery. Many of us have traveled many miles to be here this morning and it is good to gather in the house of the Lord, to be here in this place, on this important weekend here in Portland, to worship our God of Love. Paul’s words express my feelings best to you, More Light church, when he says – “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” I am grateful to be worshiping with you today.
This was a hard week – I don’t need to tell you that. I don’t need to stand up here and add to the cacophony and choir to tell you that it was a week full of emotions – emotions bouncing around like pin-balls in the machines of our hearts. I don’t need to tell you about the experience of being hyper-aware of where and when the tears can flow as a low-level hum of sadness and anger simmer just below the surface. I don’t need to tell you that this is mourning – that this is what mourning this kind of loss in our community feels like and looks like – how it unsettles us; how it makes us sad and makes us angry; how it makes us want to run away and cover our ears with our hands so that we don’t have to hear it anymore; how it makes us want to set the world on fire and how it makes us want to work like hell to make it better. I don’t need to tell you that you’re not alone, even though sometimes it feels like it. But, what I do need to tell you this morning, dear church, is that there is hope in our calling.
Before I do, I want to invite you to take a moment and look around. See the people around you. I’m grateful to have this magnificent vantage point but I want for you to take in as much as you can so look around you – see the faces of those gathered here with you. ——- The evidence of the hope of our calling is right here, in this room.
Everyone in this sanctuary is here because at some point in their lives, they have experienced the power of God’s love and grace. Of course, there have been experiences of struggle. There have been times of loneliness, times when it felt God had jumped ship; like God abandoned us. But, if you are here today, my assumption is that you are here to worship a God who is present and evident to you. And, isn’t that miraculous?
I invite you to reach out and touch someone – shake a hand, offer an awkward side hug, place a loving hand on the shoulder of someone near you. Feel the sensation of the touch – this is the touch of someone who has known the love of God. Whatever race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, whatever the ability of the person touching you is – this is the touch of someone who has known the love of God. It feels good, doesn’t it? It feels good after a long, hard week.
It feels good because we have had our fill of hearing that not all people have the right to claim the love of God. It feels good because this week, we have been acutely aware of the heavy hand that has sought to declare that anyone who does not conform to the cis-gendered, hetero-normative way of being should be shunned, should be punished, should “repent,” should not be granted full membership of the church or full rights as a citizen. But, with that touch of someone who has known the love of God – we experience the love of God again – do you feel it? It feels good because it is full of hope – it’s full of hope because it makes us aware again that the experiences of the love of God are not few and far between; the encounters and engagements with God are not off in distant places but is right here next to you; hope because God is for all of us and not reserved for only a few; hope because this touch reminds us again that God has a purpose for each one of us – every single one of us in this room – as Christ calls us to follow him.
Dear friends, the hope of our calling is that we have heard the call of Christ to love God and to love our neighbor. And we have a responsibility, as Christians, to go out into the world and share our belief in our God of Love, our God of Mercy, our God of Grace and of Justice and of Peace, our God of Abundance, our God of Joy – the hope of our calling is that we are called to go out into the world by our God of Hope.
Our work is cut out for us and it won’t be quick job. The hope of our calling is not to start another program or attend another meeting at church in our own community. The hope of our calling is to get out into the world; to use the voices we have to tell of this magnificent God we adore. Don’t just speak of love. Do as Christ commands – love God and love your neighbor and tell others about the well of love from which you draw. Don’t just speak of forgiveness – live as a forgiven child of God. Tell others about your experience of God’s grace, about the redemption which Christ alone, offers. Don’t just speak of justice – live fairly and walk humbly with God. Tell others that if I am a created and beloved child of God, so you must be. If I am worthy of mercy, so you must be. Don’t just speak of hope – orient yourself as a co-creator of the kingdom of God.
The hope of our calling is that we are called to be followers of Christ, children of God, beloved, cherished, forgiven and equipped to serve. As gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex, as questioning and as straight ally Christians, the hope of our calling is that we are enough for the work that is to be done. There is deep need in our world – deep divisions to overcome – sometimes, it is difficult to see the work that needs to be done through the darkness of violence, vitriol and venom. But, dear More Light Church, the hope of our calling is that darkness is not even dark to the one who calls us, night is like the day to our God of love and mercy. The hope of our calling is that we can go out into the world and be bearers of God’s loving light.
Friends, we have a Christian message to share. We need to support one another in community but we need not create for us an echo chamber. We, as faithful Christians, we are needed – desperately – to tell of our experiences of God’s love for the world. For those still in the closet and struggling to come out, for those who wrestle with internalized homophobia and for those who suffer from bullying or abandonment, for those who fear the choice of their family or their authentic self, for those who have been shot, beaten, abused and battered – we can be brave, we can stand tall, we can shine God’s light into the darkness to let them know that they are not alone, that they are good, that they are beloved, that they are created in light.
And, for those across the metaphorical aisle, we can reach out our hand and say that we, too, have been called to love God and to love our neighbors – now, I know, this one may be more difficult, but Jesus didn’t come into this world to tell us to judge one another. He commanded us to love one another, to show mercy, to lavish kindness on one another while we can, just as the woman with the jar of pure nard did for Jesus. The hope of our calling is that while God is at work bending the arc of the universe towards justice, we are needed within our generations, to live our lives pointing to God’s work in the world, pointing to God’s love in the world, pointing to God’s mercy in the world and we are to live joyfully, with pride in God’s creation, and hope for God’s kingdom here on earth.
Friends, the hope of our calling is right here in this room. Look around. Grab hold of the hand next to you for reassurance. And then go out of here to tell of God’s love for the world. The hope of our calling is that that kind of Christian is needed and you are enough. Amen.
Rev. Tara Wilkins, The Community of Welcoming Congregations, Portland, OR
It’s an honor and a pleasure to be with you this morning as General Assembly begins and as we celebrate Portland Gay Pride! Thank you to Rose City Park Presbyterian members for being part of the more than 125 members of the Community of Welcoming Congregations.
It has been a difficult week in our community. A painful week. Even in the midst of the tragic events a week ago, I stand here today full of hope. The violent acts against the LGBTQ community first shocked us, then brought us together for comfort and unity. The reports in the news sought to frame the shootings in a way that would further polarize us from one another. I have hope that when we gathered together for a Vigil on Thursday, the people who gathered saw beyond that attempt.
We are mired an election cycle where it seems that we can’t avoid commentary. It is a challenge to keep our spiritual center when the air waves are full of divisive language and ideas. It’s hard to maintain our Christian compassion, when all we hear is how we should find someone else’s ideas abhorrent.
In the work that I do with CWC, I am often contacted by college students for support or for research that they are doing for a class project. In the fall a couple of years ago, a colleague wrote to me and asked if I’d be willing to meet with one of his congregants who is a student at PSU. He was taking a class in cross-cultural communications and needed to meet with someone in a cultural experience different from his own. The assignment was to meet with someone for 4 one hour sessions to chat.
We met at Costello’s, ordered coffee and began to talk. I learned that he is a Republican with far more conservative and traditional theology than my own. The concepts that he was learning in his class were overwhelming. The notion that he is a member of the dominant class was new to him and he is confused with the idea of straight, white male privilege.
Now I have to say that he was always incredibly respectful. In fact, he showed more respect than some congregations that I have spoken in front of. He never asked me anything that was inappropriate and he always tried to understand my viewpoint.
The interesting part of this experience was that I don’t think he struggled nearly as much I did. I confess that at times I had to work at staying present, at not being too guarded and at trying to sense where I could feel God’s presence in those moments.
I realized that while we don’t vote the same way on nearly any issue, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t find our common humanity. As he was asking my advice as a pastor, he made an important disclosure. He said that Portland prides itself on being such an inclusive city. He said we are inclusive, unless you are a conservative Christian and a Republican. I felt that he had some pain around that and I searched for words to help give him some context.
I told him that politics often control our airwaves, so the public discourse is almost always political. I told him in a way, we are manipulated by messages that frame who we are by how we vote [or I could by who we love or by what share our skin is].
It occurs to me, though, that if I reduce him to some of the pieces of his identity, than I am apt to miss his best parts. If I only see him by the fact that he is white or male or Republican, I am missing the fact that he is an uncle, a son and a veteran. To be his pastor in those moments, I had to stretch beyond the barriers that I had established to protect myself.
My “a-ha” moment came in the second session when we were discussing theology. He used a phrase from an earlier conversation quoting me. He said, if you believe that Jesus died for our sins that we are saved by grace, then we are brothers and sisters and you are welcome at my table.
I responded by saying, but what if I don’t believe that Jesus died for our sins? He looked very confused and I realized that he probably had only ever lived with one definition of what it means to be Christian. I continued, what if I believe in the resurrection, that we are saved by grace, but I don’t believe that Jesus died for our sins? Am I still welcome, at your table? He struggled. We both sat there contemplating the dilemma of that moment.
What I learned in that moment is that he is absolutely my brother in Christ. It doesn’t matter if we believe the same things, we are united. The union is not formed by us nor does it need to be acknowledged by us, but it is there nonetheless.
Our conversations involved sharing information about our families and about my work. I shared what it is like to be bullied and ridiculed. I explained why the freedom to marry matters and that I have the world’s best grandchildren. We parted ways after the last meeting and I am keenly aware that had I known who he was, or who I projected him to be, I may not have agreed to meet with him for so many hours.
The unity I felt with him did not come from our conversation about the governor’s race. The bond I felt with him was when I realized that we follow the same Jesus. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had a profound impact on both of us. We have both been transformed by receiving the living Christ.
As Christians, we are challenged to live into our faith, to be transformed by it. We cannot live into our full selves if we are always defining ourselves by what we are not. I am Christian, but not that kind of Christian.
If we are called to be Christian in the world, if we are to live into the hope to which we’ve been called, then we are called to offer that same love to everyone.
It absolutely matters that you are welcoming congregation. It matters. But friends it is not enough to put a rainbow flag on the lawn and to accept everyone who comes through the doors. Look around and ask yourselves on Sunday who is NOT here?
The people that most need to hear a message of love and hope and acceptance are often not with us on Sunday mornings. Who is going to tell them that they can never be separate from God’s love?
Friends, we are in a new time. The language of the culture has changed, but the language of the church has not. The dominate religious voice in our culture is anti-gay. We may follow an inclusive Jesus, but we have to share that outside these four walls.
But I have hope today in the church. I do not accept the narrative that the church is dying. God is not dying. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not dying. But the church as an institution must adapt. And God’s rainbow tribe has taught the church a lot about the need for inclusion. But we must do more. I have hope in the millennials who are seekers…and in the gender queer crowd who are challenging our constructs to build a safer space for expression and to break us out of our binary constructs.
The Living Christ is made real in us, not in a building. The power and call of the Gospel has to happen outside the building. Sunday morning is incidental. We come together to pray, to break bread and sing and build each other up….only to leave this space and do the work of being Christian, which means extending love and hope to everyone. It means working for racial justice and equality. It means challenging paradigms of oppression. It means creating a world that works for everyone.
It is the hope to which we’ve been called. It is the hope of the church, a message that is uniquely ours to bring. Creating God’s Beloved community is no easy assignment, but one that we are called to live out. Our community and our world are in need of God’s healing love. And remember, Jesus left us His Peace that in him we are transformed and filled with new life. Amen.