by Debbie East lezwest@yahoo.com

In keeping with todayís Psalm, ďLet the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.Ē Amen

This morning the vestry has asked me to convey some of the experience of my attendance at the New Commandment Task Force meeting in Pasadena, California, this past November. This meeting was the third in a series of four meetings seeking ideas for reconciliation within the Church on the apparently conflicting stances regarding inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the church. I extend my gratitude to the Diocesan Commission on Ministry for accepting the vestryís unanimous recommendation for scholarship assistance. Thank you to members for their comments and donations. I thank the vestry for the invitation to share now and in Adult Sunday School. I also thank Rev. Eldan for selecting a time helpful to him. Thanks given to the Holy Spirit for bestowing the gift of this particular Sunday with its lessons and Gospel. The words recorded of old are again given new life today. This is always one of the Holy Spiritís greatest gifts to us: new breath and new life. Amen.

Placing this report in a context, let us be reminded of Trinityís membersí historical effort of inclusion, at least 20 years, to people who are gay men or lesbian. When we have fallen short it has been all the more noticeable against the backdrop of our striving record. Your gift to me in the past 15 years as a lesbian and life-long Episcopalian is that of seeking individual acceptance and love, which continues to transform into community acceptance and love. It is this mutual, but not always comfortable, dedication that makes Trinity a leader in the diocese in addressing inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Christians in the practice of our faith.

This brought Trinity to a place of representation in the New Commandment Task Force meeting in Pasadena. Out of all four meetings, I was the only person from our diocese and from our province. This shows two things: first, the gift of being lifted up by my community and the blessing to my vocation, and second, it shows how much there is yet to do in our diocese and province to live into Christís words. These words serve as the cornerstone of the task force: John 13:34ff:  "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

The New Commandment Task Force was gathered together by Episcopalians of differing positions. Some hold the position that reason, scripture and tradition support full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the body of Christ and his Church. Others who founded the task force hold the position that scripture, reason and tradition do not support inclusion. The agreed upon concern is that, unattended, the dispute is tearing apart the fiber of families, neighborhoods, communities, congregations, and dioceses, in essence, the full Church. In the spirit of Christís re-visionary commandment, the task force sought the blessing of the Holy Spirit among individuals and diverse groups. We all know the most difficult work is the one to one work of recognizing each otherís humanity and divinity. That was a mission of the task force. This will also be a focus of this diocese as we undertake the dialogue on inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians as full participants in the Church.

For the full text of the report from Pasadena and the other reported meetings, I refer you to the web site address listed in the bulletin (http://members.aol.com/newcmndment). If you do not have access to this document, I do have copies of the report available. 

What I want to share with you is some of the experience of the people at the meeting. There were 23 of us, 10 holding the view that inclusion was not the Godís will, 11 holding that inclusion was manifestly Godís will and two people holding a view seeking moderation in approach. We immersed ourselves in each otherís company and the mission for five days. We could do this because the people and ministry groups of All Saints Church in Pasadena fed our hearts with care and our bodies with nourishing meals. We shared daily prayers together, broke bread as one body, discussed and disagreed together and found revelation in each other. I left calling each person my friend in Christ. 

In the first afternoon, we introduced ourselves by answering the question, ďWhat in your life has transpired to bring you here today?Ē This was the first step of acquaintance in trust and confidentiality between strangers, albeit, Christians. 

For the next two days, we each accepted responsibility in leading parts of the discussion. When a representative of one position offered up commentary, a volunteer from the other point of view would repeat the commentary to assure that it was properly heard. This is an important tool in active, heartfelt listening. 

I volunteered commentary on what I, as a Christian lesbian, did not want to hear again and for which apology was needed. I was also responsible for listing statements that have been made which have caused pain to those holding a contrary position and for which apology was needed. This was a moving and cathartic opportunity. We gave voice to pain and gazed into the faces of repentance and forgiveness in that portion of the meeting. 

This gave meaning to each otherís part in the body of Christ. While engaged in bible study, I listened to a layperson or ordained one who did not see me as a full Christian because I am lesbian. In the same bible study, a sister or brother in Christ whose position opposes ordination of gay men found themselves listening to a gay postulant or priest and appreciating his reflection. 

As todayís Second Reading from 1 Corinthians states we were called to know that each member is part of the body. The body is incomplete without all of the members. As we listened to each other in the task force, we put heart, humanity and spirit into the deeply held positions. Stereotypes yielded in whole or part to reveal the gifts we each brought to the communion table. We heard Christ, our brother, in each other. 

During the New Commandment Task Force I shared in knowing that those holding fast to some rules of tradition felt excluded by the Church they loved and mourned the loss of the manner of worship to which they were accustomed. Those asking for a deeper understanding of Godís wide tent described the loss of community we experience by being excluded from the worship. For me it was here, in the intersection of exclusion that we finally met each other as followers of Christ. It is in the place of pain and separation that God often conveys Christís message to us. 

Time and time again God seeks to speak to us where barriers of our own construction limit our sight, yet just inches away, our vision can be fully realized. God sends to us those with the gift to discern the current problem, to give us inner sight and outer sight to help us make our way. Paulís discussion in 1 Corinthians points to the diverse gifts given to humanity to help us ďstrive for the greater gifts.Ē

Not only is each gift of value, but also diversity itself is a gift. Can the eye hear, Paul asks.No.Neither can a straight person fully discern the relationship that a gay person has with God.Neither can we fully understand from a singular perspective a personís calling to ordination whether, gay, straight, transgender, or lesbian.God needs us all to share our gifts, our discerning perspective. Remember the story of the blind men surrounding the elephant and describing their singular impressions by what they could feel within their reach? All seven blind men were needed to ascertain and communicate God's many aspects as represented by the elephant.The New Commandment Task Force asked us to listen to others with whom we disagree, to live into a tension of discernment to convey the many aspects of God.
Lukeís Gospel reading today offers insight into Christ Jesusí discernment abilities. Jesus is filled with the power of the Spirit when he returns to Galilee and then teaches in Nazareth. He is filled with the Spirit because He has lived into and through the temptations faced in the desert. He refused power over by spectacular miracle or becoming the worldís ruler. Because He lived into the tension of disagreement, He found another way, a way that does not succumb to temptation to short-circuit the path into a fully reconciled state with humanity and God. Jesus brought this insight to his hometown, his home synagogue.

When Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah by declaring the Spirit of the Lord being upon Him, He offered release to those living in any form of impoverishment. Jesus proclaimed a way of freedom to those held captive by living in a state separated from God. Those whose sight was devoid of vision would be renewed. Jesus could fulfill this prophecy because He had endured the wrenching tension of discord and disagreement by striving for the greater gifts. He calls upon us to do likewise by following his lead.

The essence of the New Commandment Task Force was to strive for understanding
of the diverse gifts, the greater gifts offered by many members of the
Body of Christ.For me, it is ever clearer that Christ, The Great Reconciler,
models the way to live into the tension of disagreement. In the most profound
reconciliation of all, this Jesus, the human Son of God reconciled his
divinity as The Christ within one body, one being. The prophecy of release
and liberation He speaks of in Isaiah is that of the body reconciled to
all of its members by being in communion with all of its members. This
is the discipleship to which we must continue to aspire. Amen.


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