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Jesus Calls us to Fear Not!

2/24

This week, we received what was disappointing news for many around the country. The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled to uphold a lower court’s decision to censure Rev. Janie Spahr for marrying same-sex couples in California during the brief period in 2008 when those marriages were legally recognized by the state.

As I’ve reflected on what this means for Janie, and for the many watching who Janie has ministered to over the years, a verse in John (which I have often heard Janie refer to), continues to come to mind.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

This is a truly profound statement. We cannot have love, (the basis of the Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule) without having courage at its foundation.

C.S. Lewis has said something similar, in different words, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

The truth is that it has always taken courage to follow Jesus.  The example He set for us is one of constant, undying courage in the face of dire judgment by the Roman and Jewish authorities, ill will from the folks in His hometown, or huge expectations on the part of the crowds who gathered to get His help. With the repeated encouragement to “Fear not!” Jesus seeks to inspire courage in the disciples and in us so that we can join with Him in establishing God’s realm of love in this world.

So what does it mean to have courage, in this moment, for the Church?

Sometimes our daily lives, routines of church on Sunday for us all and the weekly rounds of meetings, visits, church suppers and worship preparation for clergy can seem more a matter of habit than of courage.

However, at times, for me and others I know, simply staying in the Church has felt like an act of courage and love. To stay and engage when our opinions do not prevail can be difficult.

In this moment, that means that while many will not agree with the recent court decision around Janie, we must have the courage to continue to work, love, and join in as a community with the Church. Similarly, for those who may not agree with the ordination of gay and lesbian faithful Presbyterians, it means the same courage is necessary. To proclaim the Gospel and live with power as the Body of Christ requires us to have the courage to stay, and to love without fear.

However, there is a point beyond staying together that I feel, as a Church, we are still trying to find our way toward.

There are pockets in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) – in individual sessions and communities – that give us hope. They inspire us all by doing justice, loving-kindness and walking humbly with God courageously, right now.

I’ve seen these pockets of courage and hope in the mission work that brings together people of diverse views. I’ve seen them in the faces of our youth who are eager to try a new thing. And I’ve seen them in discussion and discernment when we open up honestly to each other about what troubles us.

Courage is definitely called for these days if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is truly to be the people of God in Christ with joy and power. Courage is a gift that the Holy Spirit places before us every morning, hoping so lovingly that we will accept it.  When we do, we will find in both the routines and the surprises of each day the opportunity to risk everything to proclaim Christ in word and deed.

Who is doing something courageous in the Church that you know of?

I have a vision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I hope it sounds familiar.  I yearn for us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with joy and to live together as the body of Christ with power in the world. We can take heart because Jesus also assures us right in this moment: Fear not!

Peace,

Reverend Janet Edwards


20 Responses
  • Carolyn George on February 27, 2012

    Dearest Janet
    I am excited by the courage it took for the PJC to rule the right way in the Spahr case. We cannot continue to flaunt our arrogance against Scripture! I know that there is a tidal wave across our land against God’s Word, but the flood waves have not drowned all out yet.

    I am encourage by the bravery of the Hispanic churches in Mission Presbytery that have put their very existence on the line to go against the sophistry of the Presbyterian Church USA! Mission Presbytery may have kicked them out of their building, but the gates of hell will not prevail against the True Church!

    I am encouraged by the bravery of Jennifer, a member of my congregation (PCUSA) that has decided to trust the Holy Spirit enough to allow Jesus to walk her in her battle with same sex attraction. She is being transformed by our Lord, and not by the world.

    Yes Janet, you are right, there is much to be so encouraged about. Even in the PCUSA.

  • Janet Edwards on February 27, 2012

    Dear Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the eyes of God and the church and on the outcome of the Spahr 2012 decision.

    It is clear that you and I disagree on the wisdom we find in Scripture concerning these matters. We reflect exactly what the Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Marriage found in 2010: there is no agreement in the PCUSA on marriage right now. They recommended dialogue among us so I am glad you write here, Carolyn.

    I think the one thing that is needful for us to have a good conversation about LGBT people and marriage is for us to acknowledge at the start that our position on what Scripture says is our interpretation of its meaning, Of course, we have faith that our interpretation is the true meaning God intends and therefore we are eager to share it with another and inspire the other to agree. We also need the humility to grant that our view, like everyone else’s, is at best a tentative interpretation subject to possible correction or revision. I hope you can agree to this.

    I don’t know the circumstances of the Hispanic churches in Mission Presbytery so you need to explain further what you are speaking of here. It is hard for me to imagine that a presbytery would kick a Presbyterian group or congregation out of their building so you need to share more for me to understand.

    I have met many LGBT people who believe deeply and thoroughly in Christ as their Lord and Savior. They describe their journey as one that eventually brought them to grasp that God made them just exactly the way they are, loves them as lesbian, gay, bi or trans and calls them into marriage. The lives of these Christians, both in the church and in the world, display the fruits of the Holy Spirit–their goodness is clear to all they meet–which Jesus tells us is how we know those He embraces. From what you say, Jennifer reaches a different conclusion right now. I hope her life also bears blessed fruit.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on February 28, 2012

    There is one thing that troubles me about this whole push for the PCUSA to accept GLBT people and that is where Isaiah talks about an eternal covenant of peace: If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me.

    I know that the church has hurt many GLBT people, but is this not hurting others in return, causing them to want to flee their church?

    I’m in the process of dumping all of my religious studies books and saying goodbye to Christianity forever because I am quite sure what I’ve suffered is due to my participation in it. You can see the progression in these very pages arriving at this point – being hammered from both sides.

    There’s no justice in this life or in the church for people like me, unless you’re one of the wealthy and in power. Religion and politics and courts – all for the wealthy, controlled and run by them.

    Donna

  • Donna on February 28, 2012

    Carolyn,

    I think it’s great Jennifer is working things out in trying not to be gay. I never wanted to be either, according to my faith, but I accepted it, and my entire life has been nothing but misery because of it.

    Good luck to her –

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on February 28, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    The sharing of your pain and distress is a great gift to us–Thank you for it. It is terribly important that we hear the horrible damage the church has caused to real people like you, Donna.

    Correct me, if I am wrong: my impression is that you are joining the massive exile of people away from the institutional church (simply called religion) even as you remain devoted to God who 1 John says is love, and even faithful to Jesus (simply called spirituality). And, from my point of view, the church deserves this given our history.

    But I can’t leave primarily because Jesus expects us to live out our faith in a community and never promises that this church on earth will be anything other than a collection of flawed people who are trying our best but that does not get us very far. The church continues to be as clueless as the disciples and as contentious as the Corinthians.

    As I see it, faith requires community. Even the desert fathers and mothers connected with others even as they sought solitude. I make no excuses for what the church is or for what it has done.

    I hope you will share your response, Donna.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on February 28, 2012

    I want nothing more to do with Christianity. Thank yourselves for such a good job of showing the mythical imaginary love of God.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on February 29, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    I expect your words give us only a small measure of your anguish. And the fact is you speak for so many.

    My prayer for us all is the peace which passes understanding but what is best, I think, is the first inclination of Job’s friends: sitting in silence.

    Janet

  • Carolyn George on February 29, 2012

    “Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

    – Wolfhart Pannenberg

  • Carolyn George on February 29, 2012

    Janet – I lot of people’s problems with the church is that they are never introduced to a true Christian body – those like what you represent (having given up the truth….) are not in any way Christian – using a ‘natural’ behavior as a pawn to push an agenda 9yes, you have hurt a lot of people in what you have done); but then neither are those that spend much energy in condemning particular behaviors . I am grateful and hopeful for the churches out there that truly welcome all of us in in spirit and in truth. I am blessed that the church I belong to is so willing to speak truth in love. That is how I was able to turn my life around.

    Though Christ, that is our only hope. I pray Donna, and perhaps even you Janet, will one day drink from that water. Because in him there is true life….

  • Bill on February 29, 2012

    Carolyn, True words for sure…..

  • Donna on February 29, 2012

    Carolyn,

    Do not pray for me. Under a Christian theology, I do not believe homosexuality is wrong. Being gay is hard reality in a hard world. Some people are very happy with their lives. I’ve not been happy because I don’t hide who I am.

    IT’S THE INABILITY OF CHRISTIANS TO COME TOGETHER OVER THIS TOPIC WITH ANY OF THE GRACE OF CHRIST TO WHICH THEY PROFESS – THE INABILITY TO EVEN TRY TO BE CHRISTLIKE AND LOVING. I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that. Paul was a murderer, but was trusted as a Christian. Would you trust a murderer sitting next you at church? What limit do Christians put on Christ’s love? If a murderer redeemed by Christ is part of your church you are to forgive him (70×7) even if he commits the same sin over and over and over again. It’s not your business to judge but to forgive. His spirtitual life is not your business, but it is your business to forgive and pray and encourage even those whom you personally have trouble trusting and loving. That’s what Jesus was all about. How can you profess to be Christian and not understand this?

    The problem with pushing bigots to face their bigotry is that it goes inward, under the surface. And as with any bully that gets confronted and experiences his own pain, he runs. I don’t think Jesus would approve of that either, and that’s what’s happening in the PCUSA.

    Both sides point to Jesus overturning the tables to justify Christian self-righteousness. But what was it about the merchants that made Jesus angry? Selling to worshippers the items they were to bring as a sacrifice to God. People were buying at the temple that which they were supposed to lovingly prepare for God. It’s the same corruption Luther saw in the Catholic church selling indulgences. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SELF-RIGHTEOUS CHRISTIAN ANGER AND JUDGMENT ABOUT OTHERS’ SPIRITUAL STATUS WITH GOD. Jesus did it because it was His place as God incarnate to do so.

    Most GLBT people who come to church come to Christ lovingly prepared whether you choose to believe that or not, and are devout, unafraid to face the judgment straight Christians pass on them. Could you concentrate on worship knowing such a condition existed against you?

    GLBT proponents have a right to stand up for what they believe and to be accepted, but I just don’t believe that the way it has come about is right. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d rather see invitations for prayer meetings by GLBT groups go out to the church at large. I rather see both sides inviting each other to share their points of view. Listening to each other and building each other up in Christ.

    That is Christian community. I know it exists in at least one church in this country, but I’m no longer there, and maybe it was just my imagination afterall that it was as loving as it was. The PCUSA brand of Christianity, however, has shown me rabid hypocrisy, worried more about semantics than the life of the body of Christ. It would rather the church die than either side attempt to truly love another.

    So please don’t pray for me. I’m a lesbian and I’m comfortable with that, as long as I’m nowhere near a Christian church.

    Donna

  • Donna on March 1, 2012

    And God chastises Job’s comforters because while they sat silet and then argued theology with Job, they did nothing contained in the very law they believed to truly help him. He was ill, homeless, hungry, and poor and they talked theology but gave him nothing of what he truly needed in the way of God’s commandments or love. they let him continue to suffer.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on March 1, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    Excellent point! You have taught ua an important lesson I will not soon forget.

    Deepest thanks, Donna.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on March 1, 2012

    Dear Carolyn, Bill and Donna,

    How to respond?

    Wolfhart Pannenberg is entitled to his opinion and interpretation of Scripture. As I have said, we live by faith because our interpretation is what we have, all of us. As Donna says, it is through our sharing of our faithful discernment that the Holy Spirit may inspire us with Truth.

    Donna has bravely offered her heartfelt faithfulness and the way the church has failed her. What is our faithful response to her, especially in connection with her reminder that Jesus expects us to forgive and reserves judgment to Himself?

    Thank you all for engaging here in acknowledgement that now is a time to embrace.

    Peace, Janet

  • Bill on March 1, 2012

    Yes I have failed her but not for the reasons given. Donna paraphrased a Biblical verse but left off an important part of it. Donna said “If a murderer redeemed by Christ is part of your church you are to forgive him (70×7) even if he commits the same sin over and over and over again. It’s not your business to judge but to forgive. His spirtitual life is not your business, but it is your business to forgive and pray and encourage even those whom you personally have trouble trusting and loving”. The Verse is Luke 17:3-6 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, I repent,’ you must forgive him.” And this is what I’ve tried to do. We are not allowed to judge anothers heart with the Lord. But we are required to rebuke and point that person to the Lord. If a believer sees another believer sinning, it is his Christian duty to lovingly and respectfully confront the person with his sin (Matthew 18:15-17). This is not judging, but rather pointing out the truth in hope—and with the ultimate goal—of bringing repentance in the other person (James 5:20) and restoration to the fellowship.
    The Bible says Homosexuality is a sin. Yes, its right there in black and white and still those that dont want to see or hear ignore it. Worse are those false teachers that teach thats its ok. Jesus does forgive but he also says to go and sin no more. Not for me to say. But my problem is with a ‘church” that teaches the only parts of the Bible that are from god are the ones you agree with.
    I give up. I’ll unsubscribe from this site and wont read or post anymore.

  • Carolyn George on March 1, 2012

    That is a judgement that you have no right to profess. You have no idea how I respond to Christ and how I reach and minister in his name.

    You have no idea of the hours my church and I pour into outreach and compassionate ministry.

    But false teaching is not loving. Never has been, nor is it now.

  • Janet Edwards on March 1, 2012

    Dear Bill,

    Based on your sharing other times that you are leaving this site and then you join us again, and, perhaps, because it may encourage another to pick up our dialogue, I respond to your comment.

    You prompted me to look more carefully at Luke:17:3-6 and its parallel in Matthew 18:5-7. What strikes me as important is the fact that Matthew speaks only of a “sin against me” and Luke speaks once of just “sin” and then once of “if he sins against you.” The emphasis is upon “a sin against you” and it is not clear to me how an LGBT person as such sins against you, Bill.

    As we know, there are many in the church who trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, whose lives manifest the fruits of the
    Holy Spirit and who do not agree with your interpretation of Scripture regarding LGBT people. It is significant that “homosexuality” did not have a comparable word in the Biblical languages and was not in English until the mid-19th century. All of this makes the claim that what you say is “right there in black and white” rather dubious.

    What I am grateful for is your acknowledgement that the church has failed Donna along with many, many people but you did not say how. I hope you find your way to share that with us.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on March 1, 2012

    Dear Carolyn,

    I assume that you are responding here to Donna’s comment on Job’s friends’ apparent lack of active compassion for him. If I am wrong about that please correct me.

    What I understood Donna to be referring to is specifically her experience in the church. She agreed with my association between her and Job and then pointed out the lack of sincere compassion in her experience of the church just as the story of Job reports no compassion toward Job from his friends.

    I did not hear Donna chastising you directly about anything. I do take seriously Donna’s testimony to her own experience that the kind of judgment you have expressed here is not received by her as loving (I would add that many of the LGBT people I know inside the church and those faithful people who have gone before Donna in leaving us say the same thing). And I would say that how the person who one means to love receives what we do and say is important to take into account in assessing whether we are actually being loving.

    I know you will give your prayerful attention to Donna and me and I hope you find your way to sharing your thoughts with us here.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on March 1, 2012

    Bill,

    Too many discussions along these lines for me to want to go through all of the points again (ad nauseum)… There are two facts that Jesus, God and humanity fused, addressed on earth:

    1) that some of the law of Moses was given in some respect because of demand (such as divorce). This alone makes such texts as you believe about homosexuality as circumspect as slavery codes.

    2) Jesus (God incarnate, not Paul, not Moses, etc.) neither condemned nor approved same-sex relationships. The closest He comes is in His statements on eunuchs.

    No one can ever make me believe that my sexuality is a sin based on scriptural texts.

    But you and Carolyn, and whoever else, don’t get it. It’s not the theology that fails people, it’s the apparent hypocrisy of teaching “love thy neighbor” but not doing it.

    Churches all over the world pray and work together for the hungry, the outcast, etc. Why can’t you get together to pray and work on this issue? Instead it is better that the Church (denomination) split to have one allegedly “holier” church and one allegedly “less holy” church, resulting in two far weaker bodies of Christ than the one strong one it can be.

    It’s Christianity at its worst (most hypocritical).

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on March 2, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    You state your faith so well here!! You are clearly rooted in loving God and loving your neighbor. THANKS!

    I hope Bill and Carolyn respond to you as the deeply faithful follower of Christ that you are.

    Peace, Janet


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