Worship Reflection Sunday, June 4, 2023

“Navigating a New Creation”

The lazy, hazy crazy days of summer that Nat King Cole sang about in my youth are here again. So grab an ice tea, or a fishing pole, or your golf clubs and kickback. Next week, in fact, we will do just that when we go to the park to join with the Mennonite Church of the Servant for worship and a picnic. Lorrie is bringing the elements for communion, Kirk and Barbara have organized the music, the worship service is planned. All we need to do is get to the park on time. We can meet here at the church at 10:00 if you want to carpool. That’s next week. This week the lectionary says we have to focus our attention on the last chapter of Paul’s Second Letter to the Christians in Corinthian. In reality, the last few chapters of the Second Letter are really a third letter and there were probably more letters.

Paul’s relationship with the congregation in Corinth was intense. Paul has been attacked by people who question his competence and his qualifications. He says in Chapter Eight, verses 20-21, “We intend that no one should blame us about this liberal gift which we are administering, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in yours.” In Chapter Eleven he pleads with the Corinthians to “bear with him.” Then in Chapter Thirteen: “This is the third time I’m coming to you. Any charge must be sustained by two or three witnesses.” Then, he adds, if you’re going to examine me, examine yourselves first. He’s arguing for due process.

Some of this disagreement is probably rooted in the politics of the situation. Some members are vying for positions of leadership. They are trying to build a coalition that would support them in their bid to oust Paul and take his place. Part of the controversy is pure politics. But there is also a theological debate going on here. At least that’s my view.

In the first century, people believed in essences and order. According to this theory, people have a certain essence, and a good society, a society that is well-ordered, proper society that is just and at peace, is a society that is ordered according to people’s essences. Civilized people have a certain essence, and barbarians have a different essence. They are a different sort of person–and in fact not really a person at all. In the Dred Scott decision the US Supreme Court ruled that enslaved people were property, not human beings. This kind of thinking about essences is not so different than the reasoning in the Dred Scott decision.

Men have one essence and women have another essence and slaves have another essence. And a good society, a well-ordered society, is one in which people are true to their essence.

My grandfather was a wonderful man. He had a large tool shed. He would tell me that in his toolshed there is a place, and everything was in its place. The same way for society. Everyone has a place, and everyone belongs in their place according to their essence.

So just imagine the shock when Paul shows up and says, “You are no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, but in Christ you are a new creation. The old order is gone. A new order has come.” The idea of essences and order is obsolete. The church is the embodiment of this new order, the outcropping of a new society that is coming into being. This is a society that is not sanctioned by the laws and the power of the state. This is a new creation. Paul says that this new creation is powered by the work of the Holy Spirit. Now you may not like that language, which is ok. Think of language that you can use. If you want to talk about some power that is an alternative to the principalities and powers of this world, what words would you suggest? Now in Corinth people are trying to figure out how to embody this newness that for all the world sounds and feels like chaos. And they are going to rely on the love of Jesus to show them the way. In the letter Paul tells the congregation that they are a letter from God, they are a fragrant offering to God. He says at one point, “the love of Christ controls us.” Essences are a side show. Now in some ways what Paul and the Corinthians are arguing about seems very odd and old. People don’t talk about “essences” anymore. But in another way, the debate is as current as the morning news isn’t. Every day we hear about some new anti-gay, anti-trans law making this medical treatment or that care unlawful. I think some of this legislation is a cynical attempt to hold onto power. Divide and conquer politics. But some of it is based in theology.

We need only to read it in the Book of Genesis. God created us male and female. It is a binary world. People who read this in the Bible are trying to use a binary map to navigate their way in a genderfluid world. For people who hold to this way of thinking, talk of a new creation is nonsense. And those of us who believe that the love of Christ

does create a new world, that the binary worldview is as out place as the old idea of essences and order, we are still trying to figure out where do we go from here.

Yesterday Dave and Cheryl, Joan, and Greg, and Sally and I were on a zoom call with Melissa Gutherie, the national DOC coordinator for Alliance Q+ which defines its mission as “Setting a place at the table for persons of all gender expressions and sexual orientations.” It was a provocative conversation. We hope to meet with her again on June 24, Saturday, 10:00, for one hour and we hope many of you will join us. She shared three statements and asked us to reflect on each statement and share what we thought of each statement.

1. All are welcome. What do you think of that statement? What does it say to you?

   It’s passive. If you want to be here, we will welcome you. Actually, Melissa said that she hoped we would not use that kind of language. She said it really doesn’t say much. It’s aspirational.

2. Come, sit with me. That’s invitational. There is a place for you. We would like you to join us. We said that Pine Valley is invitational. We join the Pride Parade, testify at City Council meetings, write letters, host the spaghetti dinner, do fundraising for the marginalized.

3. Can we join your activity? Is there a place for us at your table?

Do you see the power differential between “come sit with me?” and “may we join you?” So we began asking other questions. What does Pine Valley Christian Church need? What do we have to offer? What does the GLBTQ+ community need?

Melissa said that Alliance Q+ has lots of resources that we can use. There is a lot we have yet to learn. I think in many ways we are not so different from the church in Corinth. They were learning how to live in a world not defined by essence and order. We are trying to learn how to live in a gender fluid, and non-binary world.

So I’ll end with an invitation. Let me or Sally or the Roys or Greg or Joan know if you can join us on Saturday the 24th at 10 for our next discussion. We can point you to some helpful videos and we hope Melissa will be available. I’ll leave with these words of Paul. Let us run the race which we have entered, with our eyes fixed on Jesus.