“Who, Not How”
Rev. Will Brown
There are times when I know not to sit down in my recliner at home. If I sit down, I’m staying down for the count, because I’m tired and that recliner just feels so very good. Resolve disappears, rationalizing comes alive (such as, it’s not exactly life-and-death, those errands and other to-do’s can wait, now where’s the TV remote?). If you don’t face that struggle from time to time, either you’ve got great gumption, or else you need to get yourself a recliner that’s harder to get out of once you’re in it.
Which is my way of leading into this less-than-comfy topic of financial stewardship. Let’s just say that UBC’s finances are in a definite state of ‘reclining’. . . down for the count. . . not exactly life-and-death. . . maybe can wait awhile longer. . . and so forth, until. Until when?
Will our church’s financial support from its members and active participants stay in ‘recline’ until, in fact, crisis-status is attained? As you know so well, income coming in less than expenditures going out will inevitably see a financial crisis come upon us. That’s where your church is in its finances. No vigor, no gumption, just sinking down into some sort of snoozing state of inactivity, when the very opposite is needed: active, consistent financial giving.
We can stay in this financial recline for a while longer. As I said, it’s not life-and-death quite yet, but, as the Book of Proverbs so colorfully points out: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:33-34).
More than a pinch, more than a simple shifting of here to there on the budget sheet, a genuine jump-out-of-your-seat experience of “oh my gosh!” panic is coming. Because we’re allowing ourselves budgetary recline when we need to keep on in steady budgetary support. That’s no way to run a household of the Lord Jesus.
Please assess your giving in recent months. I’m not asking that anyone dip deep into their savings to make up for what’s gone lacking in their financial gifts to University Baptist. I’m only asking that, if we’re part of the church giving recline, that we rouse ourselves up to meet our parts of the giving responsibility. Invest yourself now; invest your talents in the contemporary meaning of time and skills; and invest your talents in the New Testament meaning of financial resources.
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
I’m more of the ‘let’s just rip that Band-aid off and take a look’ kind of guy.
Which is not to say I welcome a chance to rip off a bandage if I’m the one sporting the bandage. Not at all do I enjoy the experience. The Band-aid and I have found an accommodation. I’ve found workarounds to the sore spot and the bandage that covers it. But if it’s time to take a look, then it’s time. I grit my teeth, set my jaw, screw up my face, and get to it.
University Baptist Church has kept a Band-aid covering a sore spot in its church body. The sore spot is a question which has lingered under wraps for years now, at least since 2005: “How should UBC respond to men and women who are homosexual? Specifically, how should the University Baptist congregation welcome openly gay men or women, single or married, who wish to join UBC?”
The Deacons believe that now is the time to uncover this sore spot, to bring it into the full daylight of congregational conversation, discernment, and decision. By Thursday of this week, the Church Office will mail out a letter from the Deacon body describing why they believe now is the right time for this conversation to happen and the format in which they will host the conversation. At the end of the process, the congregation will be asked to pass a resolution which best states its understanding.
Whatever our present views may be on this sore spot question, and I mean that … whatever our present views (and I include myself in this next part!)… we all are gritting our teeth, setting our jaws, and screwing up our faces as we approach this grand reveal: To whom does the University Baptist Church intend its open membership policy to apply? Is there an unwritten, unspoken expectation that attaches to it when the candidate is gay that is different from when the candidate is straight?
Please consider your Deacons. You know them, and you trust them, or else you would not have ordained them to this special responsibility. They are not strangers imposing their wills on you. They are your fellow members doing in the best way they know how, to enable you to have a difficult but needed conversation.
I ask you to read their letter carefully. I plead with you that you do not withdraw yourself from this upcoming conversation. If you find this whole topic too uncomfortable to talk about, then find someone else who can speak for you. But, listen for yourself, think for yourself, and when the time comes to decide in one of the four ways which the letter outlines, then vote for yourself. Together and all involved is the only way for the will of Christ for University Baptist Church to be heard and obeyed.
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
I’m changing metaphors on you for this week’s issue of The Word, and perhaps for next week’s issue and the one to follow. It depends on how these next few weeks go for us as we continue crossing this interim bridge together. For this week at least, consider a garden growing.
Specifically, I’m drawing from Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Seeds (some quibble that it’s really Jesus’ Parable of the Soils … whatever, you know which one I mean, in Matthew 13). As was the manner of the day, the sower scatters the valuable seed across all manner of ground, hardened path and poor patches and weed-choked ground as well. Fortunately, some fertile soil receives the seeds, too, which ultimately bear fruit of various yields: a hundredfold, sixty, thirty. The sower is delighted to harvest whatever the plants yield.
Who can say which early shoots will bear the greatest fruit? No doubt, the experienced sower can make a good guess as the shoots continue shaping up. But do you think the sower is likely to start yanking up shoots just based on a guess? Probably not. If anything, the sower will give the less-promising plants a little more attention to get the most out of them possible.
Bring this back around to my ministry with you during this interim time at University Baptist Church. First, I am not the sower — Definitely, I am not the sower. In stead, I’m hired help the sower has brought in to work the UBC garden. I didn’t get a vote on what kinds of crops the sower has in production; I didn’t plant the seeds that are now sprouting; and I most definitely don’t get to arbitrarily go about yanking up what’s sprouting. My only role is to nurture, protect, and help the plants mature and bear the best yield each might offer to the sower.
When I came into this congregation’s garden, plants were sprouting and well on their way. In UBC-speak, you call them ‘Task Forces’: the Affiliation Task Force, the Spiritual Renewal Task Force, the Openness Task Force, the Visibility Task Force. Along with this growth, there were other plants already bearing early fruit: the Circles of Caring Ministry, for example.
Not one of these Task Forces are in my purview to suppress or neglect. If the sower sowed them, my call is to help each one find its best yield for the sower. Did the sower sow these seeds? Consider yourselves as a congregation in answering that question.
I know you, University Baptist Church. I know you as a congregation who diligently seeks after Christ’s wisdom and purpose in all you do. The Lord knows — and you know this about yourselves, too — if ever there was a people of the Lord who planned their work carefully, prayerfully and deliberately, it is UBC.
All of which is to say, it’s time for University Baptist Church to step up and show some faith. Do you believe the Lord Jesus to be faithful to those who entrust their faith in him? You prayed, didn’t you, months ago, years even Does the Lord answer your prayers, or is UBC the exception among God’s people? Of course you’re not an exception! So, will you take it on faith that Christ is somewhere present in these ‘early shoots’, that Christ is honoring your best efforts to be faithful?
None of us knows on this day in June, 2016, which plants will yield the best bounty months or years from now. None of us knows which plants will turn out to be the hundredfold bearers or the sixtyfold or the thirty. Only time will show which is which, time and our best work together.
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
I cannot imagine the horror the patrons of the Pulse nightclub experienced in the early morning hours this past Sunday in Orlando, Florida, when Omar Mateen fired his barrage of bullets at them. Nor can I fathom the carnage the law enforcement officers and other first responders saw upon entering after Mateen was dead — dozens of dead upon dead, and the critically wounded scattered among them all.
Our reactions to these murders are what? The victims were gay, and most were Latino men; does our traditional disdain for homosexuals muddy our thoughts and mute our replies? A first-generation American Muslim born to Afghani immigrant parents kills Latino gays. How can that not conflate with and magnify our suspicion of brown-skinned immigrants, legal or illegal?
Fear of stealth Islamic extremists hidden among us, suddenly bursting into public venues wielding weapons of mass killing, seem well-founded. These seemingly unpreventable assaults appear more likely, as if we’re living on borrowed time in an old house where the corroded and weakened wall of a sewer line first leaks unseen and then breaks open, flooding our homes with filth.
With the Virginia Tech shootings, there could be no question as to whether the victims in some way brought on their attacker’s assault. The terrible waste of young lives at the hand of a deeply disturbed fellow student left us with straightforward grief over an inestimable loss of young adults. The innocence of the murdered Sandy Hook school children allowed us unreserved expressions of outrage and bewilderment at the apparent insanity propelling their young attacker.
We cannot say, though none will be surprised by, what further evil may come out of the slaughter of gay, primarily Latino men and women, partying the night away at a club recognized as their place, their safe haven, at the hands of a nominal Afghani-American Muslim, Omar Mateen. Come what may, we followers of Jesus of Nazareth must offer our witness in this time rife with pitfalls of racism, homophobia, religion-fueled nationalism, and tacit approval of acts of retribution.
My reflections these past few days turn to when, in Jesus’ own perilous time and place on earth, others challenged our Lord with similar hard questions. He and they stood on equally treacherous grounds of racism, religion-fueled nationalism, and deep-seated mistrust of “the other.” Their questions were specific enough that Jesus knew the issues they invoked, yet asked broadly enough to offer Jesus the proverbial rope by which to hang himself. You also may want to meditate on his reply, which Luke records for us in his Gospel account, in chapter 13:1-9.
My prayer is that we of the faith of Jesus, “Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,