Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

A sermon based on Luke 7:36-8:3 (Cumberland Presbyterian Church aka CPC; Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, aka CPCA)
There are so many things that I love about this passage of scripture! I love the amazing act of worship the woman completes, letting Jesus and everyone else present know the extent of her devotion to Christ. I love that Jesus points to the faith of an unnamed woman and says, this is what it looks like to be healed! I love that Jesus takes the important act of a dinner party to turn the expectations of his host on their head.
I had originally planned to address them all, but that sermon would have been entirely too long! And that was before General Assembly.
General Assembly was a wonderful experience, a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones; a chance to see what’s happening in the denomination and celebrate good news; an opportunity to see that Cumberland Presbyterians are not just from one corner of the US but cross international boundaries. GA was all of those things, to everyone who was not on my committee!
I served as the acting Chair of the Committee on Theology and social Concerns/Unification. The long and short of that is, all the hot button issues came through my committee and I was in charge of making sure we came to as close to a consensus as possible.
Oh how I longed to be on the Children’s Home committee, who finished by 2 pm Tuesday. Or even the Stewardship committee who had everything signed by 9 am Wednesday morning. Instead I was chair of the committee that worked until 7:30 Wednesday night and then met again Thursday morning for reviews and edits!
Most of what we dealt with was fairly straightforward. There was an amazing sense of the Holy Spirit at work as we heard about Unification efforts between the CPC and CPCA. I was encouraged by the work being done in both denominations. We read difficult, but wonderful papers on Homelessness, and the churches response and on Discrimination as a justice issue. We talked about their eye opening nature and got very excited about passing them on to the church as a whole.
Two Memorials were brought to us concerning our relationship with other denominations that are often perceived as more liberal than the CPC. These memorials sought to alter our ecumenical relationships. I’ll admit to being nervous about discussing them, but it was obvious that the members of the committee saw clearly that cutting the CPC off from other denominations would be a mistake.
The biggest issue that we dealt with came from a resolution presented by a commissioner on the floor of GA. It was titled “Resolution of Repentance, Apology, and Resolve” and from the moment it was read it caused a firestorm of conversation, dislike, confusion, and anxiety. The resolution named many acts throughout the history of the CPC denomination that have oppressed, hurt, damaged our brothers and sisters in the CPCA church, including allowing the division of the two churches in an effort to maintain a “separate but equal” kind of church.
And as I stood there, listening to whispers of outrage around me, I thought of this scripture.
I saw this known sinner, this unnamed repulsive woman, not fit for polite society, sneak into the room and begin to pour out a sacrifice of thanksgiving at Christ’s feet. I watched her bath his feet with her tears, dry them with her hair. I watched her bowing in front of him with no shame, only gratitude and recognition of the forgiveness she had received.
But all around her were those who couldn’t see the forgiven nature. All they saw was her past, her sin, her unworthiness. They stood their judging her and wondering why Jesus was putting up with her. Simon, the host of the party, even puts Jesus down for allowing her to touch him at all.
 And then we hear Jesus’ words. ““Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. This phrase doesn’t mean that Simon, or any of the other Pharisees present that night had not sinned, or had sinned very little. It means that they had been forgiven little, because they had not realized their need for forgiveness. They could not appreciate the joyous worship of this woman, because they themselves were blind to their own need for repentance, for apology, for forgiveness.
As my committee considered this resolution, this uncomfortable resolution I heard many things. I heard “It’s not my fault their denomination faces prejudice.” “I didn’t have slaves.” “As far back as we can find on my family tree we never owned slaves.”  “I don’t benefit from anything that happened so long ago.”
I also heard “I am glad to read these words.” “A recognition and apology from this church are long overdue.” “I am humbled by the realization that I have benefitted from the sins of those who came before me.”
As a committee we bowed before God together. Some of us on our knees, we asked for guidance, for open hearts, for God to work even if we made the wrong choices. Then we came back together and voted to send the resolution on to a permanent committee, because we didn’t have faith that our fellow CPC members would be able to see what we had eventually all seen. We didn’t trust that others would agree that we needed to offer this apology. That we needed to open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt and recognize that things are not as they should be, and promise to try our best to do better.
We asked the GA to pass it along. We were wrong. But thank God, that God is faithful. Thank God my friends that God listens to and answers prayers. We asked God’s will be done, even if we had made the wrong recommendation. And it was.
From the floor of GA came the request to pass the resolution. From the other members came the challenge to apologize to our brothers and sisters. And together we asked for forgiveness from God and from the CPCA.
Together we bowed at the feet of Jesus. Together we humbled ourselves in an act of service. Together we took the position of servant, a place that others might look down on us for being, and we thanked Jesus for forgiving us.
Our eyes were opened to the sins that have lingered, and we can rejoice in our forgiveness. We can offer love from a place of humbleness. And we can commit to going forward building relationships one on one and denomination wide.
 “Let it be resolved, that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church repent and seek God’s forgiveness for the many ways we have benefited from, participated in, condoned, and been blind to our role in racism, oppression of our African American brothers and sisters, and all forms of brutality; and be it further
Resolved, That the Cumberland Presbyterian Church apologize to our African American brothers and sisters, seek their forgiveness, and work to restore the broken relationships our sin has caused; and be it further
Resolved, That the Cumberland Presbyterian Church commit itself to preach the Word of God without compromise, and that we resolve to “oppose, resist, and seek to change all circumstances of oppression-political, economic, cultural, racial, by which persons are denied the essential dignity God intends for them in the work of creation (COF 6.30). We seek to promote reconciliation, love and justice among all persons, classes, races, and nation” (COF 6.32)
May it be so, may it be so.

(full text of resolution printed below.)
Whereas, we Cumberland Presbyterians are considering the call of God to “Go” during this 186th meeting of the General
Assembly; and
Whereas, Jesus sent the twelve with these instructions: “As you go, proclaim the good news. The kingdom of heaven has
come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:7-8); and
Whereas, we seek the healing of our divisions as Cumberland Presbyterians; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1810 in Dickson County, Tennessee, USA, and grew rapidly
in a nation that endorsed, participated in, and benefited from the practice of enslaving African men, women and children
who were brought to this nation through the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was inconsistent in its condemnation of American slavery as an institution
-- an institution that condoned the buying and selling of persons made in the image of God; an institution in which African
American families were often separated, and individuals were beaten and abused in body and mind; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church often condoned the segregation of its African American members into separate balconies, congregations, and classes because of the influence of cultural ideas of racial superiority and inferiority; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church refused to allow its African American members full and equal membership
following emancipation and the end of slavery; organizing instead separate congregations, presbyteries, and other judicatories
that were denied representation in the General Assembly, and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church encouraged and supported the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian
Church in America (originally the Colored Cumberland Presbyterian Church) in 1874 in order to avoid the difficult work of
integration, and to avoid offending its members who continued to hold fast to ideas of racial superiority; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was complicit in accepting Jim Crow segregation, lynching as a means of social control, economic oppression of freed slaves, and denial of educational opportunities; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America have both suffered
from their separation, a separation that is harmful to the witness of the Church and a denial of our oneness in Christ; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church laments the loss of friendship, gifts and graces from which our life, worship,
witness and service would have been enriched had we not been separated all these years; and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church affirms the providence of God, whose purpose it is “that the whole creation
be set free from its bondage to sin and death, and be renewed in Jesus Christ” (COF, 1.15); and
Whereas, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church acknowledges our ongoing need for repentance, so that “In response to God’s initiative to restore relationships, (we) make honest confession of sing against God, (our) brothers and sisters, and all
of creation, and amend the past so far as is in (our) power.” (COF, 4.07); therefore, be it
Resolved, that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church repent and seek God’s forgiveness for the many ways we have benefitted
from, participated in, condoned, and been blind to our role in racism, oppression of our African American brothers and sisters, and all forms of brutality; and be it further
Resolved, that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church apologize to our African American brothers and sisters, seek their
forgiveness, and work to restore the broken relationships our sin has caused; and be it further
Resolved, that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church commit itself to preach the Word of God without compromise, and that we resolve to “oppose, resist, and seek to change all circumstances of oppression -- political, economic, cultural, racial, by which persons are denied the essential dignity God intends for them in the work of creation (COF, 6.30). We seek to promote reconciliation, love and justice among all persons, classes, races, and nations: (COF, 6.32). (Quoted in the Resolution Marking the 50th year since the end of World War II, by Japan Presbytery of the CPC)

No comments:

Post a Comment