Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Work of Reconciliation Continues...

Today we have the privilege of introducing two congregations who have finished their closing interview, thereby wrapping up the official Reconciling in Christ process.

Atonement Lutheran Church of Newport, Oregon welcomes "persons of any ethnicity, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, marital status, age, economic situation, and physical or mental ability." They are happy to celebrate the gifts of any individual who chooses to attend their congregation.

 As Berwyn United and First Lutheran of Berwyn, Illinois merge their congregations, it is only fitting that they, too, assert "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female" in Christ.
While this is Berwyn United's sanctuary, the congregations will move into First Lutheran's building on West 31st St.
We are blessed to have join these congregationsin ministry. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let us walk in Your light

In 1988 the World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in response to the global pandemic of HIV and AIDS. It has been an annual occasion to learn about AIDS in our local communities and around the world, to advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk for acquiring them, to remember those we've lost to the pandemic, and to pray for all those affected- and make no mistake, we are all affected.

Bishop Mark Hanson said, "I believe that we are called to lift up the dignity and value of each person. We are called to witness God's encompassing and transforming love. We are called to lead by example by standing together against stigma and discrimination, striving for comprehensive access to treatment and care, and working tirelessly on methods of prevention that will help restore health and wholeness to all of God's people." He and church leaders from around the world encourage our prayers, support for one another, and actions.
We put all our hope in you, O God. We trust in your mercy and find comfort in your grace. As we commemorate World AIDS Day we pray for your light to enter into the world and shine brighter than any darkness. let it be a pathway illuminated by your love.

Let us walk in your light.

from the ELCA World AIDS Day Litany
Many churches, community centers and other organizations are holding World AIDS Day events:
  • Edina Community Lutheran Church invites you to their Bonfire event on Wednesday December 1st at 7pm, "a candlelit time of prayer and opportunities for: community song, storytelling, art-making, healing yoga, prayer for healing. A free community meal will be served from 6-7pm." You can find them at 4113 W 54th St, Edina MN.
  • The ELCA offers resources on HIV/AIDS including educational materials, prayers and worship notes, ways to become an advocate, and places to donate time and money to fight AIDS.
  • World AIDS Campaign has resources especially surrounding their Light for Rights campaign, as well as a list of events happening all across the globe.
While I (Emily Hamilton, your LVC intern) have a previous engagement on Wednesday, I'll be inviting my housemates to join me in praying the ELCA's litany that night. We invite you all to join us in prayer, learning, advocacy, service and solidarity that day. Let us know what you, your church and/or your community will be doing to commemorate World AIDS Day.

A parent's thoughts on Transgender Day of Remembrance

As we have recently honored Transgender Day of Remembrance, Rev. Tim Bernard offered to share his thoughts about TDoR as a parent. He and his wife are both pastors in the ELCA.

"For Our Children"

My neighbor readies her Suburban for a trip downstate. She loads her two daughters, their two friends, and all of their hockey gear for another weekend tournament. Hockey is big here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; after all, we see ourselves as honorary Canadians.

I got to thinking about all the expenses: fuel, food, hotel rooms, entrance fees, equipment, the wear and tear on the vehicle and on their bodies. A hockey season can easily be $6,000-$8,000. The kids do their homework as they drive, or between games. If they have a good weekend and win, it means that they will roll in at 2-3 a.m. Then she unloads the vehicle and gets to bed so she can get up at 6:30 a.m. to get the kids off to school. Tired and mentally spent, she goes to work.

During the week she has practices to get the girls to, bills to pay, laundry to wash, and sleep to get caught up on so she and the girls can do it all again the next weekend. The only grace in their lives is when a tournament is only 3 hours away; heaven-on-earth is when the tournament is at home.

+ + +

I am on a two-lane road in northern Wisconsin. We got on the road at 10 p.m. Since we have four kids I now find it easier to drive through the night on these long drives. I need to be vigilant; deer are as plentiful as rodents in Wisconsin and the U.P. Still, I would rather risk a van-deer event over the endless stops required in the daylight hours. “I have to go potty!” “I’m hungry!” “I dropped my Yugioh card!” “Can we watch a movie?” “How long until we get there?” With my wife and children sleeping, we make great time and are nearly at our destination when they begin to wake.

Our oldest child has severe epilepsy and the drive to see his pediatric neurologist is over five hours one way. She has referred him to another facility for possible brain surgery. That facility is eight hours away and we may be gone from home for weeks on end. We are going to great lengths to save his life and redeem what is left of his early adolescent years. He has been on ten different anti-seizure medications, and is currently on two anti-seizure medicines and one anti-depressant/anxiety medicine (to cope with the fear of possibly dying at any moment). When most kids plan whom they will call after school, or what they will do this weekend, he is years behind in social development because of the epilepsy. He has a seizure then goes into a deep, postictal sleep for a few hours. He awakes dazed, confused, and often angry. Our son has missed a lot of class time, many basketball games, choir concerts, and “hang out” time with his friends. All of these missed experiences have stunted his social development. He is not establishing his own identity, and yet, from the other kids’ view, he has an identity: he is the “8th grade epileptic.”

+ + +

Today’s trip, however, is not for him. Our second child is on her way to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Human Sexuality for her initial evaluation. She is hoping to begin hormone-blocker therapy within the next year or two. These shots will prevent normal male development from taking place.

This has been a long journey. Even as an 18-month old she identified more with my wife, and acted being a “girl” more than a “boy.” At first we thought it was our fault as parents. “Surely we must be doing something wrong!” was the common lament. We weren’t. We tried behavior modification techniques, limiting and removing favorite toys and clothes. Still, our daughter would find a way to express her identity: who she believed herself to be. For years, she would take pajama bottoms and wear them on her head pretending it was long, flowing hair. Some time along the way I came to understand this: it is not about sex; it is about identity. Not once did my daughter say, “I am attracted to boys.” Or, “I like girls.” No. This was all about who she believed herself to be. It came from somewhere deep within. God co-created her this way. Born with male body parts, she is now transitioning hoping, one day, to have female body parts. Then she will feel more whole and complete.

+ + +

Our oldest child never chose to be an epileptic. I have also come to believe that no one would choose to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in our society. Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just isn’t a choice one makes.

I recently came back from Africa where a well-meaning pastor expressed his concern for our denomination’s then up-coming vote on human sexuality. He told me, “You have to envision the kind of people you want to be, envision the kind of Church you want to be, then you move your people in that direction. You, as a pastor, are the leader.”

Feeling deeply patronized and angry, I looked at him inquisitively, and said, “I love that idea! May I ask you a question so I know clearly how it works in Tanzania?”

“Sure,” he said, “Of course.”

I looked at him squarely in the eye, wrinkled my forehead, feigned a confused look, and asked, “So when did you decide to become black? You have done such a marvelous job leading your people that I see that over 99% of those in worship are, indeed, black.”

He looked at me, genuinely confused, and said, “I did not choose to be black. This is how God made me.”

“And who do you think made heterosexuals, homosexuals and everyone in between?” I said.

+ + +

While I would never wish anyone to have a seizure disorder, I have learned so much from my oldest son. And these long drives prove the great lengths my family and I will go to keep him alive and help him reach his fullest potential, whatever that may be. We want him to be whole.

It is a good thing, though, that he is in our family. If my second child had been going through what she is going through - and our oldest son had not already taught us how to live boldly - I may have seen her gender issues as optional. After all, gender identity disorder is not life threatening.

Or, is it?

I have read that children who are unable to be who they are, or who are unable to grow into the person they envision themselves to be, have a far greater incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and suicide. All of these lead to death: spiritual death, emotional death, and physical death.

We are fighting for our daughter’s life just as much as we are for our son’s. And so we make these long drives to specialized medical facilities for our children’s health, social development, and identity formation.

Maybe that is the same reason why my neighbor has her girls in hockey? I don’t know. In the meantime, I just wave to those hockey families when I meet them on the road. After all, we are just trying to be good parents.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tomorrow, November 20th, 2010, is the twelfth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. People across the globe take time together and separately to honor our transgender siblings who have been killed simply for being who they are: transgender, transsexual, cross-dressers, or otherwise gender-variant. All too often their brutal murders are ignored by the press but on this day we remember their lives and refuse to let their memories, or the reason for their deaths, be erased or forgotten.


picture courtesy of transgenderdor.org

There are events happening all across the United States and the world to memorialize those who have died in the face of anti-transgender violence, often in the form of vigils. Here in the Twin Cities, you'll find a Transgender Day of Remembrance event on


Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 7:00 pm
at Spirit of the Lakes/Minnehaha UCC Church,
4001 38th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN.
(For information contact Barbara Satin at satinbarbara@aol.com or 612-670-1978)

For a list of events and where to find them, visit the official site for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First Lutheran Church affirms welcome

On September 26th, First Lutheran Church dedicated itself to being and becoming:

A spiritual Home to the stranger;
A healing community for people who are dis-eased or hurting;
A wellness and wholeness center;
A helpful friend to those in need;
A retreat for the weary of labor and life;
A community of compassionate concern;
A people of joy, praise, adoration and celebration;
A gathering place for worship, learning and fellowship;
A practice field/launching pad for mission and ministry in our community and in-and-for but not of-the world;

An inviting community, welcoming all people to participate in the life and ministry of the congregation regardless of race, religion or denomination, color, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity including gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, age, physical capabilities, economic, cultural or social standing or any other divisive, exclusive distinctions and/or categories. No one, absolutely no one, it outside of God's unconditional love, comprehensive and all-inclusive invitation to grace, abundant life and the mission and ministry of First Lutheran Church;
A reconciled and reconciling community of disciples, a safe place of refuge for anyone and everyone.

One of FLC's beautiful windows

First Lutheran Church, located on Maria Ave. in St. Paul Minnesota, supports various ministries including the Bay Lake Camp, food ministries, a wellness center, urban youth ministries, and a Hmong elder program. We're thrilled to read their affirmation of welcome and to join together to work for justice.

Bishop Mark Hanson comments on "It Gets Better" video, acknowledges "evangelical opportunity"

As we have reported earlier, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, produced an “It Gets Better Video” regarding the effects of harassment and bullying, particularly of LGBT people. In his recent report to the ELCA Church Council, Bishop Hanson reflected on the moving responses he has received:

This church belongs to Jesus Christ, and we are here because God has called us by name. It is through baptism that we share in God’s grace. Christ’s church is not ours to control. And so let us lead this church by consistently making the resounding and clear call to all that there is a place for you in this church. Two weeks ago, I decided to respond to the continued bullying of those who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender—or even identified by others as being so—by making a video in the YouTube series, It Gets Better. I spoke in that brief two and a half-minute video of the power of words to harm and to heal, acknowledging that sometimes it has been the words of Christians that have bullied and harmed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and young adults, and sometimes it has been our silence. But I also spoke words of promise, seeking to offer hope in Christ. I said to each one who viewed, “You are a beloved child of God. Your life carries the dignity and beauty of God’s creation. God has called you by name and claimed you forever. There is a place for you in this church and in the world.”

I never imagined how those words of God’s grace in a matter of hours and days would go so viral through the means of social networking. I have been moved daily by the responses—not to what I said, but what God was saying through me. In New Orleans I was sitting with a mother describing what it was like to watch that video with her lesbian daughter, both sobbing tears. Her daughter turned to her and said, “Mom, does he really mean it? Is there a place for me in this church?” A young man from Utah wrote to me saying, “I have never been a person of faith ever my life, but my friend sent this to my Facebook page and I watched it. Do you mean this, bishop? I need to learn more about this church.”

Friends, do you realize how many people out there have never heard and are longing to hear God’s gracious word of invitation and salvation in Jesus Christ, longing to hear God’s “yes” to us in Jesus? Let us as leaders—let this whole church—not become so preoccupied with our losses and our diminishment and our internal controversies that we don’t seize the opportunity that we have to bear witness to our living, confident faith in God’s grace, saying to all, especially those at the margins, there is a place for you in this church. This is an evangelical moment given to us like none other, because we live in a culture where most people see the Christian witness as an obsession with drawing lines in the sand and expending enormous energies defining who is on the right side of that line and who is on the rejected side. We know from the biblical witness, however, to beware of drawing lines in the sand, because Jesus is going to be standing on both sides of the line of the sand. For that, he got nailed to a cross.
Thank you, Bishop Hanson, for your words of welcome and grace.

If you haven't seen the video yet, go here.

Give to the Max great success for Lutherans Concerned and Minnesota

Yesterday's Give to the Max campaign was a great success. One hundred thirty-five donors supported the ministries of Lutherans Concerned/North America with gifts totaling $13,239, placing LC/NA at #49  for  individual givers in the Twin Cities area. Individuals provided an additional $8,000 in matching grants, for a total of $21,239.

A total of $8,100,810 was donated to Minnesota non-profit organizations.

Thank you, all who contributed. Special thanks goes to those who offered matching funds! You have helped forward the work for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion.

It was a great day for Lutherans and Minnesota!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Give to the Max

Want to double the impact of your donation to LC/NA? How about a chance to win an additional $1,000 donation to go with yours? Tomorrow, November 16th 2010, you have the perfect opportunity in "Give To The Max Day," sponsored by GiveMN.org.


For the second year running, LC/NA is participating in a 24 hour donation marathon on our Give to the Max page. This year, we have two dollar-for-dollar grants matching up to $7,000. In addition, GiveMN.org will donate a "Golden Ticket" award of $1,000 every hour to a random donor's cause. This means by donating at all, you increase the chances of giving an additional $1,000 to Lutherans Concerned!
We'd like to lift up our two magnanimous matching donor couples for 2010:

  • The Rev. Chris and Claudine Berry have pledged $5,000 in matching funds with the expressed desire to increase awareness and support for our anti-bullying campaign including congregational resources and ELCA legislation at synod assemblies leading to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2011. Chris heads the Goodsoil Legislative Team and is a campus pastor. He and his son Jonathan have written and trained youth, young adult and adult volunteers in the principles of anti-bullying, turning by-standers to allies.
  • Leslee Froelich and Deanna Eichler, members of the Austin/Central Texas Chapter of LC/NA and Living Word Lutheran Church (RIC), Buda, Texas, have given $2,000 in matching funds in memory of Emily Eastwood's brother Robert Matthew Eastwood who died on October 25th. Matt and his family were dedicated allies supporting Emily and the work of LC/NA.
Other details you should know:

  1. All donations are tax deductible in the United States to the extent allowed by law.
  2. Contributions may be made via credit card (Visa, MasterCard, or American Express) only.
  3. The minimum contribution is $10. There is no maximum contribution.
  4. Donors do not have to live in Minnesota, or even the US, because LC/NA is based in Saint Paul, MN.
  5. Remember the Golden Ticket promotion. Consider donating at an off-peak hour, like early Tuesday morning, to increase your odds of being chosen for an additional $1,000.
  6. A large number of donations during peak periods of the day may cause delays. if so, please go back later.
In the past three weeks Thanksgiving has come early for me. My profound thanks are due to Chris, Claudine, Leslie and Deanna. Their leadership sends a message to all of us that now is a special time, a kairos time, a time for grieving, and a time to join together in creating the change we seek, a church and a world that welcomes and includes so that the children of our hearts may live long and full lives knowing from their birth that they are loved, accepted and valued without condition.

I am grateful for organizations, like GiveMN.org who make philanthropy a whole lot easier. I hope that many of our members and supporters take the opportunity to have their contribution make an increased impact. -Emily Eastwood
For those of us outside of Minnesota, who'd like to be able to give more than we are currently able, who are adversely affected by the current economic climate, and those who cannot find matching funds elsewhere, this is a great opportunity to make our biggest impact. Consider making your donation tomorrow, November 16th, 2010 between 12:00 A.M. and 11:59 P.M. CST. Visit our page for more information, including video stories from LC/NA supporters!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

St. Matthew's says, "It Gets Better."

Please see this "It Gets Better" message from St. Matthew Lutheran Church, North Hollywood, California. St. Matthew's is a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation, welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Meet the intern

Hello, readers!

We at LC/NA like to tell you when members, staff, congregations or other allies make headlines. This time, Tim spotted me in the Metro Lutheran's "Caught Reading..." section, and I decided to provide a belated introduction.

22 Lutheran Volunteer Corps members are living in the Twin Cities this year, working for a variety of social justice oriented organizations including, of course, LC/NA!

Yep, that's me in the red circle! (sorry for drawing on your face, Kate) My name is Emily Hamilton and I joined Lutherans Concerned this August as the newest Lutheran Volunteer Corps intern. I hail from Rochester NY by way of Vassar College. While in at school I became involved in LGBT activism and advocacy work through campus groups Act Out and TransMission. Lobbying, fundraising, tabling and advocating with these groups on a strictly secular basis helped me realize the importance of having my church, the ELCA, accept my siblings in Christ. It's a great blessing for me to be with LC/NA this year and to have opportunities to work on social media, presentations, mailings, phone calls and whatever other office projects come up.

When I'm not working, you'll find me wandering St. Paul, attending St. Paul Reformation and singing in their lovely choir, volunteering with Women's Advocates, reading novels and playing Bananagrams with my housemates. During office hours, you can catch me updating our Facebook page, our Twitter account, and on occasion this blog.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rev. Lura Groen, Rev. Jodi Barry received onto ELCA roster


Rev. Jodi Barry, right.
Lutherans Concerned/North America celebrates the rites of reception for Rev. Jodi Barry on October 30 and Rev. Lura N. Groen on November 7.

Both ministers were ordained “extraordinarily” in 2008, meaning they were ordained outside the usual practice of the ELCA. Their ordinations were not recognized by the ELCA. The Rite of Reception that received them recognized their ordinations as having been valid. Barry and Groen were received onto the roster of clergy as a result of the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that voted to eliminate the policy that had since 1989 precluded service as ministers by those in a lifelong, committed same-gender relationship. Up until these rites, each had been on the roster of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

Rev. Lura Groen
Since 1990, ELM has credentialed pastors for ministry and maintained a roster of clergy barred from serving other denominations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, worked with Lutheran congregations to open their calls to members of the ELM roster, and provided direct financial grants to fund this ministry. ELM is an independent organization, not part of any Lutheran denomination.

Rev. Barry serves as Chaplain for Mercy Hospital in the Twin Cities area. She is also the Youth Director at Grace University Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Minneapolis Area Synod. Bishop Craig Johnson presided at the service.

Rev. Groen serves as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, a congregation of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA. The bishop of the synod, Michael Rinehart, said “[Lura] is an extraordinarily gifted pastor with a great deal of theological depth and a passion for those disillusioned with the church. This church is stronger with her.”

Please see the blog of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries for further stories Rev. Barry and about Rev. Groen.

Congratulations, Jodi and Lura!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reconciling In Christ Sunday (January 30, 2011) Worship Resources Now Available

Annually, the last Sunday in January is designated as “Reconciling in Christ Sunday.” RIC Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate the witness of God's love for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It’s a time to highlight what it means to live a theology of reconciliation.

Download RIC Sunday resources here.

These celebrations will be echoed throughout the welcoming movements in many communities of faith. We invite you to talk with your pastors, worship leaders, and others in your congregation and encourage them to designate Sunday, January 30, 2011, as RIC Sunday.

For 2011, The Rev. Jan Wiersma has compiled resources for your use. Resources include suggested readings, liturgy, prayers, and hymns. If your congregation has already scheduled other themes for that day, you may use these resources on a Sunday of your choosing.

Many members of RIC congregations are doing wonderful things to further the welcome in their congregations; many acknowledge there is much more to do. Here are a few ideas:
  • “Reconciling Lutheran” drive: Invite all members of your congregation to sign the Reconciling Lutheran covenant. The RIC Sunday webpage has a stand-alone sign-up form, as well as a more comprehensive bulletin insert. See how many members of your congregation are willing to publically state their support for full participation in the life of the Lutheran Church. Send completed forms to the LC/NA office.
  • Invite the wider community to your congregation for RIC Sunday. Are there people who need to hear a word of welcome, explicitly and individually, who have not heard it yet? Many have heard about the policy changes of the Lutheran Church, and you can help do the work of reconciliation by showing them a congregation that supports the full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • Take up a special offering to support LC/NA’s continued work. Such support will provide the resources to help other congregations go through the process leading to adopting a welcoming statement and becoming an RIC congregation.
Blessings on your work and ministry throughout 2011.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Louisville congregation becomes 12th Lutheran church in Colorado to publicly welcome LGBT community

In September, Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Louisville, Colorado, voted to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation, the 12th such congregation in the state. As the congregation’s welcoming statement says:

We are called to serve others as we minister to all who enter our doors, providing worship, prayer, fellowship and service to others. Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic condition, physical or mental ability. We rejoice in the amazing diversity of God’s creation, which enriches, nurtures, and expands our life and ministry. We are committed to continuously learning, teaching, and sharing our faith.
LC/NA Board member Nicole Garcia will present Christ the Servant with its RIC certificate during the 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday, Nov. 7.

Nicole Garcia
As reported in the Colorado Hometown Weekly:

Garcia, who teaches high school Sunday school, said it was important that youths understand that no matter what their sexual orientation might be, it’s what’s in their hearts that matters when it comes to loving Jesus Christ.

“We have to support our children in our churches,” she said. “Our churches have to stand up and say what is right. We can no longer sit back and let (school officials) do the job for us, and churches should lead the way.”
See the full story here.

New friends in Canada!

Today we're happy to have Hope Lutheran Church in Nanaimo, BC join our Reconciling in Christ family. They've been working together thoughtfully and prayerfully for a long time and in October passed their Affirmation of Welcome to welcome all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.



Visit their webpage to read sermons preached by Pastor Terry Richardson, learn about upcoming events, and to see more pictures of their gorgeous church and surrounding area. Welcome, Hope Lutheran Church, and God bless you. Alleluia!

Rev. James Siefkes wins Peace and Justice Award

Lutherans Concerned/North America congratulates the Rev. James Siefkes for receiving the 2010 Peace and Justice Award from the Hawkinson Foundation. The award honors individuals or couples who have made significant and sustained contributions to peace and justice.

Through his work as founder of the Program for Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota, as director the Congregational Social Concerns and Mission Discovery Program in the ALC, and in the Division for Outreach of the ELCA, Rev. Siefkes provided instrumental leadership in developing dialogue between the church, science, and marginalized populations.

Lutherans Concerned has recognized the pioneering efforts of Jim Siefkes by establishing the Jim Siefkes Justice-Maker Award, inaugurated in 1992 to recognize superior and tireless efforts of straight allies on behalf of LGBT Lutherans. Among his many other accomplishments, Jim Siefkes obtained funding for and convened the initial meeting in Minneapolis in 1974 that resulted in the formation of “Lutherans Concerned for Gay People,” the original name of our organization. Pastor Siefkes also wrote the Affirmation of Welcome, which is the heart of the Reconciling in Christ Program. Even in retirement, Pastor Siefkes continues to advocate for the full inclusion and participation of LGBT Lutherans in the Lutheran Church.

Once again--congratulations, Jim!

Reformation Day reminder: It gets better

"Too many churches continue to preach and teach a works-righteous message that is contrary to the gospel, and tender souls who are beloved of God do not hear the unconditional word of grace spoken to them in the name of Jesus Christ."

From a Reformation Day homily offered by Rev. James Boline, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California.

Please see the full text below.

----------------------------------------

HOMILY: ST PAUL’S ELCA,SANTA MONICA, CA

Pastor James Boline
Reformation Day: October 31, 2010
John 8: 31-36

Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from the God of all goodness, the Christ of all compassion, and the Spirit of all truth. Amen

This past Thursday evening as we were gathering for choir rehearsal, the 7-year-old daughter of one of the sopranos was cranking her head looking all around the sanctuary and noticing that things were starting to look a bit celebratory in our worship space. As her gaze was drawn up to high arch and to the coat of arms of Martin Luther perched way up there at the top, she asked me, “What are we going to do? Have “Love the Church Sunday?” I asked her why she thought so, and she said “Well, I see that big red heart up there with the cross in the middle of it.”

Without knowing the history of the Reformation, Carlotta understood what our celebration today means: that because back on this very day, October 31, in the year 1517, 493 years ago, there was a man named Martin Luther who loved the church so much that he was willing to make a list of 95 things that the church needed to understand in order to get back on the right track, and to publicize that list in the most public way possible in his day: by posting that long list of 95 things on the front door of the biggest church in his town in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the 1517 equivalent of sending out a mass email, or posting a status update or a wall comment on Facebook. With the help of Gutenberg and the printing press, Martin Luther’s words spread like wild fire, and the church he so loved slowly-but-surely began to change, to get back on track, to reform.

Yes, Carlotta, it is “Love the Church” Sunday and it is so because Martin Luther loved the church enough to say some very difficult things that needed to be said, so that change could begin and that re-formation/reformation could happen. Martin Luther’s tough words pointed to God’s Word – not just the black and white words on the printed page of the Bible but also God’s living and abiding word in the person of Jesus Christ.

The church of Luther’s day was bullying people into giving their money to help support the building of St. Peter’s in Rome. Using scare tactics and a human-made doctrine of purgatory – an afterlife “no man’s land” where souls would wait for God’s final judgment – the church was teaching that people could buy their way out of purgatory or at least shorten their time there, either for themselves or for a loved one who had already died. It was this practice of spiritual bullying that led Luther to speak out, for the love of the Word of God, for the love of the church, and for the love of the tender souls who were being led astray by this bullying.

Luther stood up to the bullying and the fire of the Holy Spirit did the rest by igniting the fires of the reformation. We know that to this day, the bullying continues. Too many churches continue to preach and teach a works-righteous message that is contrary to the gospel, and tender souls who are beloved of God do not hear the unconditional word of grace spoken to them in the name of Jesus Christ. As thesis #62 of Luther’s 95 theses reads, “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Thesis #63 follows: “But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.”

This past week, the presiding bishop of our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop Mark Hanson, thankfully joined the voices of many who are saying “IT GETS BETTER” for the sake of the staggering and growing numbers of young people across this country who are considering suicide as an option to enduring the relentless bullying they face for being different, many of whom are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. From the President of the United States and the Secretary of State, to religious leaders and celebrities, a message of unconditional love and acceptance and a message of hope amid dehumanizing struggle is being proclaimed for the sake of these children who are being bullied and tormented due to being different. Like Luther publicizing his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, these messages of hope and reconciliation are widely distributed via YouTube on the internet and are providing LGBT youth with a message too many of them are not hearing in their communities of faith. With great heaviness of heart, the gay grandson of the late televangelist and so-called “faith healer” Oral Roberts told the story of going to his grandfather’s funeral last year only to be told by a family member at the funeral that there was a place reserved in hell for people like him. Such words are not the words of Jesus Christ nor do they come close to resembling, as Luther’s thesis asserts “the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,” Jesus teaches in today’s gospel reading, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” To “continue” in the word from the Greek root meno literally means to abide, to dwell, to tent/tabernacle. For as long as the church has been the church, it has struggled to keep its words in alignment with the word of Jesus. And when the church has not done so, the Holy Spirit has sent upon it the holy flames of reformation and has summoned Spirit-filled servants the likes of Luther, of Martin Luther King Jr, of Archbishops Oscar Romero and Desmond Tutu, of Revs. Malcolm Boyd and Chris Glaser and Jane Adams Spahr and Troy Perry, of Bishops Paul Egertson and Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, to call the church back to abiding, dwelling, tenting/tabernacling, continuing in the word of Jesus, which does not always align with the word of the church.

The three simple words “It Gets Better” voiced in the videos to LGBT youth might not ever have needed to be spoken had the church not made its words out to be the word of Christ on matters of human sexuality. But thanks be to God that these authentic voices bearing this message do bear the true treasure of the church, that of the glory and grace of God, for they are speaking words that many churches are barely beginning to sense the freedom to speak. Words of equality, words of hope, words of freedom and release from torment and bullying. Words of ongoing reformation in the church and in society-at-large.

Sisters and brothers, the reformation Spirit is the Spirit of the Son who makes us free indeed – the Son into whom we were baptized and, in the words of Paul in the second reading, the one in whom “there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift.” It is the Spirit of a God who, in Jesus the Son, remembers our sin no more. It is the Spirit of the One who is always our refuge and strength, who is always our very present help in trouble, and who is always our mighty fortress.

For as the psalmist sings, “though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea, though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult…IT GETS BETTER: the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

Happy Love the Church Day.

May the Church continue in the word of Jesus, who makes us and all the world free indeed.

Amen.