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Revelation 3.20-4.3

Knockin’ on Luther’s Door

Seventh Sunday of Easter

          Something remarkable happened in the German Catholic Church this week.  A little less than two months after the Vatican announced a ban on the blessing of same-gender marriages, a ban that was endorsed by Pope Francis, more than one hundred Roman Catholic priests defied the ban and blessed hundreds of gay and lesbian couples.  Priests and dioceses across Germany have initiated a movement called liebegewinnt, or “love wins.”  Fr. Christian Olding, one of the  German priests, put it this way:  “If we say that God is love, I cannot tell people who embrace loyalty, unity and responsibility to each other that theirs is not love, that it’s a fifth- or sixth-class love.  I look forward to the blessing.  We’re going to have all forms of relationships:  classic heterosexual marriages, divorced and remarried couples, unmarried couples and yes, also same-sex couples. We’re going to have the whole diversity of love.”  And the reason for this, he said, is, “I live in the center of society.  I don’t want to be separated from the daily living reality of the people I accompany as a priest.”   To me, this is one of the most important aspects of liebegewinnt, that serving God means serving the community where they are, as they are, and how they live – serving the community where we are, as we are and how we live, together.

            This is a bold move, and I think it is noteworthy that it happened where it did, since it recalls an event more than five hundred years ago when the authority of the Roman Catholic Church was likewise challenged by another German priest named Martin Luther.  Luther believed that in order to be a faithful priest – and always remember that Luther was a priest, and it was never his intention to leave the Roman church, but to reform it from within, to call Rome’s attention to the needs of the community and its parishioners – Luther believed that in order to be a faithful priest, it was his responsibility to call out the church’s dogmatic disconnect and set it right. The 95 theses he nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral were simply propositions for debate, errors he believed the church was making that were contrary to the love of Jesus and building up the body of Christ.  In retrospect we understand that Luther unintentionally started a revolution, a Reformation.  It may well be that his clerical heirs are on the cusp of the same.  While some may think a revolution in the Roman Church remains an Impossible Dream, with some good reasons, it is at least a move in the right direction, one that may hold within it the seeds of equity, of justice, and of hope.

            “Listen!”  Jesus said in the third chapter of Revelation.  “I am standing at the door, knocking; whoever hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in with you and eat with you, and you with me.  Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  What is the Spirit of God saying to our churches today?  In the days when John wrote his letter of Revelation the church was under siege.  John himself was likely under some form of arrest when he wrote.  The survival of the church was by no means guaranteed and it took an incredible amount of tenacity and faithfulness to survive the oppression and persecution of the Roman occupiers.  You and I and today’s church live in a very different age and circumstance.  But this does not mean that tenacity and faithfulness are expendable commodities.  In those places where there are still expressions of the church that would deny the rite of marriage, the sanctity of love in all its manifestations, there is still more work to do for a people of tenacious faith.  Blessings on those German Catholics for taking a stand for equality and justice in the face of papal sanction and the possible loss of their congregations and their very livelihood.

            The revolution that Luther began goes on in Germany still, and it also reaches across the ocean and plays out in our own nation, knocking on the doors of the American Lutheran church.  History was made in a different way last Saturday when The Rev. Megan Rohrer was elected Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or the ELCA.    Bishop Rohrer became the first openly transgender person to be elected to that role in any major American Christian denomination.  In 2003 our own United Church of Christ was the first denomination to take a stand for the full inclusion of transgender clergy.  Some of you may have seen the film, “Call Me Malcolm,”  about a seminary student who transitioned from female to male and was ordained by the UCC.  Malcolm has served our denomination as a local church pastor as well as on national staff.  But still, it is a giant step from serving the local church to becoming bishop of a major Protestant denomination, and the members of the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod took a bold and faithful stand when they elected Rohrer as their Bishop.  As the ELCA’s presiding bishop of the entire denomination put it, “When we say all are welcome, we mean all are welcome.  We believe that the Spirit has given each of us gifts in order to build up the body of Christ.”  And what makes it even more remarkable is that when Rohrer first heard the call to ministry in the early 2000s, Rohrer was barred from the church because of earlier policies against LGBTQ individuals.  Both the ELCA and their new bishop have come a long way in the span of twenty years.  It is a tenacious kind of faith that can make this kind of transition in such a relatively brief span of time.  Leave it to the heirs of Luther to show such grace by faith.

            I want to shift gears for a minute, while staying in the same lane, because like many of you I have been watching with dread and dismay the escalation of war between Israel and occupied Palestine.  From neighbors hurling stones at one another to an Israeli assault on Al-Aqsa, the Islamic world’s third-holiest mosque, to Hamas firing rockets and mortar into Israeli neighborhoods to Israel’s near-carpet bombing of entire city blocks in Gaza, it is a horrific situation that appears all but out of control.  The UCC, through our Palestine-Israel Network, remembers the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  A UCC/Disciples of Christ coalition, the network has said, “We fervently pray for our partners and for the people too long suffering under occupation and fear, and that a peace with justice will prevail, and we commit to continue to oppose the injustices that we see.”  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Palestine also condemned the escalation of violence, particularly egregious because it is taking place during the Muslim holy days of Ramadan, and insists that members of all three major faiths, Christian, Muslim and Jew, have access to their holy sites to practice their rituals without interference.

            The images of war are frightening, and the violence and killing on both sides is reprehensible.  The reflex of many is to place blame.  On the one hand the Palestinians have been occupied and set apart for years and deserve their own homeland as any people does.  On the other the Hamas terrorists continue to launch attacks against a civilian Jewish population.  The Israeli army strikes back, and so do the Palestinians.  It is a vicious cycle.  This is not to say there is a moral equivalency, but rather that none of this makes for peace.  Meanwhile, American, Egyptian, Qatari and United Nations officials are trying desperately to broker a ceasefire that seems increasingly elusive.  But you and I remain a people of faith, which also means we are a people of hope and we are a people of prayer.  And in the darkness of war and violence and racial division, once more the words of Martin Luther shine the light of hope into the darkness of despair.  Luther wrote,

 “War is the greatest plague that can affect humanity.  It destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families.  I refuse to accept the idea that humanity is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround us.  I refuse to accept the view that humanity is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace and fraternity can never become a reality.”

Now do I think the words of a 16th century monk will have any effect on warring peoples in the middle east?  Not likely.   But do I think that people inspired by the words of a 16th century monk can bring about just and often unexpected results.  Who would have thought that the heirs of that monk could push the two thousand year church of Rome closer to marriage equality?  Who would have thought that the heirs of that monk could move a denomination from gender exclusion to gender inclusiveness in less than two decades?  For that matter, who would have thought that the heirs of the Puritans – that’s you and me, by the way – would be not only the first to ordain a transgender clergy, but who had already ordained the first African American clergy in 1785, the first female clergy in 1853 and the first openly gay clergy in 1972?

            Martin Luther didn’t knock any doors down when he nailed his theses to the cathedral door, but his Protestant and Reformation heirs have been knocking them down ever since.  Friends, we need to keep doing that good work.  Let’s continue to knock down the doors of inequality, of exclusion, of violence, of fear and of war, and let the bright light of equality, inclusion, nonviolence, hope and peace come flooding through.  “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; whoever hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in with you and eat with you, and you with me.  Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”




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