Sunday Worship


O Jesus,
Image of the invisible God,
Word made flesh,
tired Stranger,
waiting in the noonday lull
at Jacob’s well.

Are we all
the woman with her waterjar,
bent on the chore of the moment,
angry memories in our bones,
our thirst for God
hidden in the business of the day?

Do you meet us gently too,
hardly recognized,
quietly leading our thoughts
towards the deeper waters,
where our souls find rest?

Probing too,
uncovering secrets
we would rather forget.
“Lord, you have probed me,
You know when I sit and when I stand,
You know my thoughts from afar.”

Is the woman,
sure and strong,
our reflection?
Sure but unsure,
strong but so weak,
seeking but afraid to find
our Saviour so close by?

O Jesus,
ouly faith can help us see.
Earthy, cautious eyes
miss the treasure in the field
in water and the bread
in faces known too well.
Only faith can help us see.

“If you knew what God gives”
you tell the woman.
No cleverness knows
or merit buys that gift.
Living water is Your gift.
You alone show us what God gives.

Say to our hearts:
“Come to the waters.”
Make us thirst again,
and ask, and seek, til we find.
How can we know
whose flesh and blood we are?
Or what it means to be born again?
Unless you help our unbelief

O Jesus,
who led the woman to believe,
lead us.

(author unknown)
——————————-

O Jesus, lead us with love for one another, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

O Jesus, lead us with mercy for those who despise us, as indeed you are showing mercy to Fred Phelps in this moment.

O Jesus, lead us as we minister to the sick, the hungry, the poor, and the hurting in our worlds.

O Jesus, lead the leaders in our world, as the Syrian war enters its fourth year, as the political situation in Ukraine deteriorates, and as in nations such as India and Russia and Nigeria and Uganda, governments enact laws that discriminate against and allow persecution of gender and sexual minorities.

O Jesus, lead us we pray, here in this place in these moments, that we would revel in Your love and mercy and in the peace that You bring.

O Jesus, who led the woman to believe, lead us.

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One of the things I love about my experience of church at the moment is the questions. Most of the questions, for me, are of the contrast of what I once experienced as church, and what I experience now as church.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

This Saturday is the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which started in 1978 as a political march for gay rights. Back then, homosexual sexual behaviour was illegal in New South Wales, and Mardi Gras began as a call to end discrimination against people of diverse sexualities and genders. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news, and my father reacting to it. I don’t remember what he did or said, except that it was negative. Maybe he turned the television off. Maybe he said something about “what is the world coming to.” Whatever it was, I knew it was inappropriate as a 12 year old Christian boy for me to be curious about whatever that news story was about. As the years went by, and Mardi Gras eventually became an annual event, my curiosity piqued: I wanted to see the scantily clad men marching in this parade. I wanted to understand what this was about. I wanted to figure out why i was so drawn to this event, and so scared of it too. I dared not appear interested, however. I was a Christian, in love with God. I wanted most of all to please God and He certainly did not approve of this social change that was taking place. And He certainly wouldn’t approve of the wanton displays of sexual energy that were appearing on the television screen in our home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I now attend a church that each February holds a service called “Blessing of Mardi Gras”.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

“Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday,” referring to Shrove Tuesday – or pancake day, as I learnt to call it while living in Canada. This year’s “Blessing of Mardi Gras” fell on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent, of course, is the time of “giving up” or fasting that takes place after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany (Christmas). Shrove Tuesday was the day to end the time of celebration by using up all the fatty foods you might have around, hence the tradition of Pancake Tuesday.

So here we are at the time in the Christian calendar when we are called to be reflective, to sombrely look forward to the Cross, towards Good Friday and the crucifixion. Yet as a church composed largely of LGBTI people, we are more intent on looking forward to the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A time for us to celebrate who we are, to say to the world that God loves gay people too. To say to the gay community that God really does love us and have a place for us.

As we reflect on the overlap of Mardi Gras with Lent, I am filled with awe at my God. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? To turn our mourning into dancing? Jesus gently rebukes those who would throw stones, refusing to let us listen to those who would say we have no right nor reason to celebrate. I hear my earthly father’s voice of disgust when he sees those early Mardi Gras parades on the late Saturday night news. And I hear the voice of Christ, gently questioning those who would throw stones, and giving power to the weak. I somehow believe that were my dad still alive, he would be find in his heart to be the follower of Christ he always strove to be. He would find a way to graciously accept and to somehow be proud of me. He would find a way to put aside his prejudice, his theology and his hermeneutic, and celebrate that his son and his granddaughter are going to march together in Sydney’s Mardi Gras. I would like to think that he would have begun to see that this celebration is one of freedom: the same freedom proclaimed by John the Baptist, the same freedom Christ came to offer. Freedom to be ourselves.

For the Blessing of Mardi Gras, we sing together the words written by Lee to TobyMac’s City on Our Knees:

As a family we are gathered here

Celebrating Mardi Gras right now

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

With the blessing take this time right here

To commit to make a change somehow

From a single action love builds

Fill the churches fill the world

Love of Jesus comes to save us all

Tonight’s the night for the sinners and the saints

Two worlds collide in beautiful display

It’s all love tonight, when you step across the line

We can sail across the void to a place where Jesus is

As we fall upon our knees

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Create in me a Clean Heart?

Tonight in church we sang this song by Keith Green. I was introduced to Keith Green by my high school mate, P, and this song was probably one of the first I heard of Keith’s. For years I was a “died in the wool” Keith Green fan. I owned all his albums. I tried to mimic his piano playing. I mail-ordered and shared all the tracts produced by his Last Days Ministries organization (there was one on homosexuality… I now have NO idea what it said). I wanted to be holy, as Keith undoubtedly was.

As my journey towards self-acceptance has progressed over recent years, I’ve shied away from songs like this one. To me, they represent the struggle to be someone I’m not. This song is based on Psalm 51, written by King David after his sin of adultery was found out. Until now, every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was imagining David repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba. Every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was praying for forgiveness for my own sexual sins. No, not just for my sins, but for my temptations. For my desires. Create in me a clean heart meant “please make me straight”. Please make me desire my wife. Please make me the person I think you want me to be. Cast me not away from your presence, oh Lord meant that if I wasn’t straight, I could very well end up in hell. Take not your Holy Spirit from me represented the fear that if I wasn’t straight, I could no longer be Christ’s servant in this world.

So I find myself tonight, in my new church, surrounded by gay and lesbian and other queer and not-so-queer people who accept me as I am… It all seems rather normal. And I’m wondering, why are we singing this song? I’m no longer sure what it means to have a “clean heart”. I’m not even convinced that there is a hell, apart from the hell that exists here on earth for many of God’s children. And I believe that as Father/Mother, God gives good gifts to his children. And he doesn’t take them away.

In some way, the rest of this psalm still resonates:

Renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of Christ, whose genuine love and acceptance and raw honesty changes the world forever.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Let me experience anew the joy of knowing the presence of God in me.

….

As we took communion, I smiled as I watched a couple take communion together. These two men kissed each other on the lips as they walked back to their seats. I believe it was their first time in our church. Maybe it was their first time taking communion as a couple? I wondered what their journey to this point had been. What was it like to find a church where they can be open about the love they have for each other? Where their love can be celebrated publicly during that most somber of sacraments?

While this was happening, the worship leader was singing a different song:

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again…

This song, by Sr. Deirdre Browne, describes what I believe to be the heart of Christianity. It is how Jesus lived and loved. It is what the church is called to say and to be. This is the new wine, replacing the old wine. This is grace fulfilling the law, thus making the law obsolete. This is love overcoming fear. This is the freedom Christ brought to each one of us. Our shame might bring us to the cross, but our loving Maker takes our shame onto that cross and gives us each a clean heart, a right spirit, and gifts us with The Holy Spirit. We no longer need to fear, as David did, that we will be “cast away” from God’s Presence. It is finished. We are his. Just as we are.

Just as I am.