29 July 2008

Those Comforting Words

By Rev. Mieke Vandersall
Preached at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City
July 27, 2008
Romans 8: 26-39

Prayer: Holy God who speaks to us through your never-ending Word, we give thanks that you speak through us and with us. We pray the proclamation of this Word be a source of healing and transformation. And may the words that come from my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your understanding. Amen.

A few years back I found myself talking with a colleague and friend about the relevancy of our Book of Confessions in today’s world. The Confessions are a section of the Presbyterian Church Constitution, the book which contains historical documents that speak to how God is consistently moving within the world, that speak to how God is transforming the world, even and especially in the midst of the deepest and lowest places in our community lives. The title: “Confessions” is to refer to how we confess or how we witness, how we experience God to be working in the world, in the face of heresy, in the face of Christians using the Word of God for destruction, often death.

For instance, one of our Confessions, the Declaration of Barmen was written in response to those who considered themselves “the German Christians” in Nazi Germany. These people were using Scripture to justify the killing of Jews and anyone who did not fit their bill. A group of theologians and pastors gathered and wrote this Declaration that claimed that this was not appropriate, this was harmful, heretical, not Christian, this was a scandal to the Gospel. For some who signed the Declaration of Barmen, their punishment by the “German Christians” was death.

Our Confessions were not born out of a church that has always had it right, or good, or easy. They were born out of dis-ease, they were born out of great pain, they were born as cries for help, they were last ditch efforts to save us from our own sinfulness, to save us from the many ways we try and act God, the many ways we try and claim a corner of the truth of God, the many ways we think we can make judgments on Christ’s behalf, in ways that smack untruth to our morning reading.

So, my friend and I , we were debating the relevancy of the Confessions, in a world, in a church that tragically, in the grand scheme of things barely knows they exist. We were debating whether or not they hold meaning to people any more, or were they just dead historical documents that pastors like us spent our time studying and appreciating and drawing strength from.

And then my debating friend, he brought us around to remembering a time sitting at bedside with a dying parishioner. He read her Scripture. He prayed with her. Tears fell down his check to accompany hers as she hesitated in her last moments with confessions and regrets and grasping for peace, memories of joy and sorry, as she dwelt in the land of the living in her years.

She turned and asked him, of all things, to recite with her A Brief Statement of Faith, the most recent of our confessional documents. She must have been alive and active in our Presbyterian Church when this was written, in response to our Northern and our Southern Churches reuniting again in 1982, in response to the great theological and experiential rifts dividing our denominational identity, divisions that persist today, perhaps even in this very congregation. A Brief Statement was written to provide for us a unified theological identity on which we could base our lives. This parishoner must have been proud of her church at one point and spent the time studying this document, taking in its beauty and the promise it held for her, the comfort that comes from the promise of new life out of desparate situations.

The beginning and end of this Confession, A Brief Statement of Faith comes from our passage this morning from Romans. Perhaps you, like she, have been to numerous funerals and heard such comforting words like these: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We hear this refrain as A Brief Statement begins and ends:

“In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit…we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Glory be!”

This past weekend I was with a group of tremendous individuals. For the past four years I have co-led a retreat for almost 80 folks, who are pursuing ordained ministry and also happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and /or transgender. By your Session’s decision to join Presbyterian Welcome, you are supporting these amazing people in their journeys when they too often feel alone, when they too often wonder at the completion of their seminary careers and ordination processes if they will ever find a congregation that will call them to serve. In our denomination, it is not such an easy task, this pursuit to ordained ministry, because we have created policies and procedures restricting an entire class of people based on sexual orientation from serving the church in the capacity of ordained service. Our decades-long policies have kept us from knowing each individual in their uniqueness, in their gifts and their callings that God has implanted in each person, every person.

Our policies have effectively told us that we are not fit to teach our children that “nothing in life nor in death can separate them from the love of God.” We are not fit to hold babies in our arms and proclaim through their Baptism the presence of God already inside of them. We are not fit to stand behind Christ’s Table as we acknowledge the ways that God graces our lives, in the middle of it all, the highs and lows of this life we have been given. Our policies restrict based on a categorical definition that fences the whole church from knowing the individual gifts and callings placed upon our hearts. Our policies restrict our burning desire to share the Gospel, to exemplify the forgiveness and extension of the grace of Jesus Christ. Our policies make us all of one thing—lesbian or gay, rather than whole people whom God has called.

And in this restriction-keeping, in this fencing, we fence out immeasurable gifts and talents. We fence out the ability to celebrate with our whole hearts the time and treasure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been giving to our churches for thousands of years, indeed since its beginning. We fence out knowing the wholeness of how God speaks to so many musicians and organists, preachers and theologians, visitors of the sick and teachers of Sunday School.

At the retreat this weekend, as I was sitting with those most directly effected by our policies, this question was asked: “when in your life have you known God’s welcome in the most unwelcome of places? In essence the question revolved around when it was that we knew that despite the reality of our lives, maybe even because of the reality of our lives Nothing in Life Nor In Death Could Separate Us from God’s love?

And so in the face of a denomination, a strong Christian tradition actually, that has effectively convinced many of God’s children that based upon our sexual orientation and expression, we are not promised God’s unconditional love, we answered the question: “when in your life have you known God’s welcome in the most unwelcome of places?”

One participant spoke to the retreat itself in response to this question. That within our community we are filled with such gifts and talents, such love for God and compassion for God’s creation. And so in the face of denominational policies and generations of inherited homophobia it was here that we find God’s welcome, at this retreat, where we worshipped and prayed and laughed and ate together. It is here that we know how Christ intercedes for us, through each other, it is here that we know no matter what nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And I stand before you today, wondering when in the most unlikely of circumstances you have felt this assurance, have known the promise of God’s welcome despite the unwelcome world in which we live.

I wondered then and I wonder now about Paul, the writer of Romans, and his choosing of these words to his community. Paul, as many of us know, was an unlikely suspect for God to call, for God to work through, at least by earthly values. Success was not his claim to fame. Moral, upright values were not how he lived, wealth was not his gift. I am sure he was not welcomed by many, valued by dominant society, appreciated by the masses. Indeed, these words he wrote and we read this morning smacked as a kind of Confession of whom God is, of what Christ promises in the face of the Roman Empire in which he lived whose practices and policies were as much a scandal to the gospel as was the actions of Nazi Christians.

Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson is blogging[1] now about his time in England, at the Lambeth Conference, the time when all the bishops throughout the world meet together. Because he is gay, when he was elected Bishop he was forced to wear a bullet proof vest for fear of death threats he had received coming true. Because he is gay, he has been uninvited from the proceedings in Canterbury, so he is holding vigil in that space and writing down some of his thoughts for us to read. I was struck as he wrote about preparing to preach at a congregation in England that welcomed him. We writes about his call to preach, considering the circumstances.

He writes: “God says "I will put my words in your mouth." I'm holding God to His promise about that one, because everything I think of saying sounds short of the mark, so inconsequential to the awesome task. I worry less about the people who will quarrel with whatever I say, than about those whose hopes and dreams and view of God (and God's church) seem to be at stake. They are beginning to believe that God loves them, after years of being told otherwise, and they are looking for a word of hope from me. I so want to deliver that word of hope -- that the God they've had the courage to believe really loves them, really does.”

The sermon he agonized over preaching came the next day and it was before he was to preach that a young man stood and screamed in the sanctuary: “Heretic! Repent!” An overwhelming sadness came over Bishop Robinson’s heart as he imagined the great pain this young man must be living with. The young man was drowned out by the singing of the next hymn and was escorted out. After the service the Bishop was greeted by people like Nick, who worked at the cafĂ© that was built right into the entrance to the church. He had served the Bishop lunch the day before, and then later told him that he was gay and Christian. He said his mother was Catholic and had told him that although it made her sad, he was going to hell. Nick was there to receive the Body and Blood of Christ with a large congregation who did NOT think he was hellbound.

It is these stories that we hold in our hearts.

At the most recent General Assembly, or denominational meeting, we came much farther in correcting the great wrong of our policies that have plagued us for many years. The Assembly voted to recommend to the presbyteries, or our local governing bodies, the removal of the part of our Constitution that most directly discriminates against lesbian, gay and bisexual people who feel called to ordained ministry, as Deacons, Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament. I pray the Assemblies actions can help transform us into a body which no longer uses the Word of God to alienate and abuse.

I have sat through almost more Assemblies than I can count, knowing deep in my heart that I am called to service in this denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, that I call my home and that constructs such a significant part of my identity. I have sat through Assemblies and have heard, right alongside many others whom I love, of my sinful nature because of my sexual orientation and expression. It is not easy to hear hatred, sometimes masked in fear of division, sometimes masked in so-called compassion for our community, year after year, especially when I know, in the midst of it all that nothing in life nor in death, nothing, not even myself or any other people who rise to speak against me, can separate me from the love of God.

This year, we heard more of similar rhetoric, but this time, this Assembly I noticed a strong change of wind, the Holy Spirit perhaps?…a new confession forming, a new witness to God in our midst? People got up to speak on our behalf over and over again, calling our policies a scandal to the gospel, witnessing to the immeasurable gifts that our denomination silently and selfishly has received by those of us who are sexual minorities, speaking stories of those who were forced to live in the closet and who suffered deeply in silence…they witnessed to their experience, in this regard, of the church not as a place of refuge or welcome, but instead a place of condemnation and abuse. They spoke about how it is time to change the tide and repent of our sins. This was their Confession, and in it I felt the Spirit of Christ blowing through the Assembly in ways that I had never experienced before.

Presbyterian Welcome will be working hard for the ratification of the recommendation to remove all of our discriminatory policies throughout the presbyteries this year and we are so very, very grateful for the support and love of and partnership with Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church as we move forward in that effort.

It is not going to be an easy year moving forward. We as a church are not unlike churches throughout our history, fraught with division and mistrust. And yet, and yet, I can see us moving forward, knowing our past, and freeing ourselves from that past to seek God’s will in unity and grace and humility. And so let it be our confession today, in our agreements and especially in our disagreements, we are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not a single thing.


[1] See Bishop Robinson’s blog at http://canterburytalesfromthefringe.blogspot.com/.

28 July 2008

Psalm - Untitled

Why bring me here, O God,
To dwell in the midst of these?
Having carried me away, from land to distant land,
Bearing the mark of resident alien.
How I long to remember the tastes
Of the pomegranates of home,
Dream of the refreshing pools of the land of my ancestors,
But the people of home, they have cast me out.
I am the beloved reviled, celebrated as one whose songs of pain
Gladden the hearts of many who hear.

Yet in my abiding as resident stranger,
Leaving me to find food among the fallen fruit
In the vineyard’s row.
My flesh has become accustomed
To the chilled emptiness of the sun’s retreat.
There is none to love
In the solitary place.
I have forgotten the hands of human embrace
And my heart cries out to you, O God.
But why to you not hear?
What is the reason for this scorn?

I believe you are my resting place;
Can you find rest in me?
Reach into this strange land and pluck their hearts with songs –
The ones who dwell here.
That I may sing at the welcome table of your righteousness,
The songs of joy and thanksgiving.
Bring the warmth of the sun’s light upon my face
That I may feel your presence among your people.
I beseech you, O God, visit me
In the wind, the rain, the moment of your desire.
Blessed God, just make your way to me…

19 July 2008

Friday Communion Liturgy

Invitation to the Table by Jenny Howard
Friends, the realm of heaven is at hand,
in this circle.

Come, all who seek to be healed,
who seek to be raised,
who seek to be cleansed,
all who seek to cast out their own demons--

Come, all who seek to be reconciled
with God and with the people in their lives.

Friends, all are invited to share
in the meal of communion and reconciliation.

Prayer of Great Thanksgiving by Mieke Vandersall
And so we pray right now.
We pray prayers of great thanksgiving
for the relationships that Jesus entered into.
The relationship with the world that God
sent Jesus to heal.
The world that knew violence well
and corruption
and greed.
The world that thought they thrived
on worshipping money
and getting ahead.
The world that God chose
and showed that choosing
by the Holy Spirit breaking through
the money and corruption and greed and getting ahead
through Jesus our Christ.

And so we pray right now
prayers of thanksgiving
for Jesus
as he entered this world
and his compassion overtook
those who had little compassion with themselves.
As he entered into relationship
with people in the world
who made him very angry
and disappointed.

And so we pray right now
prayers of great thanksgiving
for Jesus
as he forgave
and healed us of all the disease
and sickness
and demons that
eat us from the inside out,
that try and rule the day
in our churches
and in our presbyteries
and in hearts.

All the demons and sickness and disease
that keep us from living
our relationships
with truth
and love
and compassion.

That keep us from living
lives of chastity
of truth
and love
and compassion
for ourselves
and for those who we love.

And so we pray right now
Prayers of great thanksgiving
for the promise
that we receive today
and every day
that God is all we need.
No need
for that which keeps us comfortable
for the comfort is not the
end goal
of our Christian journey.
Jesus did not teach us
but growth
and forgiveness
and repentance
and confession
and reconciliation.

Reconciliation of the world
back unto itself.
Reconciliation of its people
back unto the earth.
Reconciliation of us
so that we may come
into the royal realm of heaven
Singing Alleluia!

He taught us this
in his birth
and his life
and his death
and his beating death
with new life.


Psalm 00 (double zero)

by Sharon

I am alone; part of me despairing, unreached, dwindling into a sea of uncertainty.
I bless you, oh God, for my dreams. Dreams that give comfort and hope when
nothing else does. You know my strongest desires, my hearts longings. Hear my cry.
Give me the desires of my heart. Make me whole, oh God. Let me be invigorated with
the heart beat of life that I may be among the nearness of your life giving realm, your Beloved Community where all feel how much they are worth to you.

But I am between the closet of stifling fear and the window of opportunity where my feelings can be valued and cherished. I want to like myself the way that I am, to accept my feelings as rare pearls. But these pearls so often get thrown to swine. The ones who do not know or understand me condemn my feelings and encourage me to bury them in the mud. They would rather suffocate me than to bear the discomfort of difference. In denying the stranger in me, they deny the stranger in themselves. Jesus, let us not deny you in ourselves or in others but sync into your well of life.

To the Church

You built a tent around me when I was very small
You brought me friends and family
You gave me a house
a listening ear
You taught me strength and internal calm
I was myself and I was loved.

I learned to ask tough questions, pointed questions
Fight those battles by day,
Sink back to the margins by night.

But lately, my little island
is not a shelter from the sharp, scary monsters
It is a looser place,
the dense curtains unravel,
the light slants through and blinds me
(just for a second)

Then my eyes adjust, and I see that
though I am still at home in this place,
outside there be dragons
with faces of friends
who look in at me,
shake their heads,
and mark something down on their clipboards.

I can't hide in the shadows any more.
The potlight swings a wide arc
and settles on my favorite corner.

You pull me to my feet and into the bright
(my teacup smashes down behind me)
As I protest, you -
I still can't make out your face, though you are the same as ever -
you say with one head
"My friend, you are truly called."
As the other heads spring up and begin muttering angrily, harumphing to each other
One nasty face in the back starts to spit -
I dodge it, just barely.
Another thrusts a stack of paper towards me.

And there it is, in black script on white,
an invitation.

Modern Psalms

This weekend we have taken time to write our own Modern Day Psalms.

Here is one; others may follow.

"O God You Called"
By David Paul

O God, you called and I listened.
In the beauty of your creation
surrounded by your children
your spirit entered and has refused to leave.

O God, you called and your people called.
Your people showered me with praise and thanksgiving.
They saw hope in the church through me
and rejoiced in my call to be your servant.

O God, you called and I refused to listen.
Your people would throw stones at me.
They say my love is NOT from you;
they say I am NOT worthy to be your servant.
I cannot listen to you.

O God, you called and I refused to listen.
What are my parents going to say...what is the church going to say?
Where is the good news in this? You have taken my hopes and dreams.
I cannot listen...I will not listen!

O God, you called and I was afraid. Your SPIRIT will not leave!
Anxiety pulses through my veins. My heart is going to pound through my chest.
How could you lead me down this path of injustice?
It all feels like a practical joke...are you laughing?

O God, you called and I silently rejoiced!
Your freeing power released me from my fear.
Who can I trust...who can I share this joy and new life?
This new life and hopes and dreams and right relationships
and an authenticity You have called me to?

O God, you called and I rejoiced loudly!
You have led me down a new path, O God.
One full of abundant blessings and life.
As I gather in this new community, your presence is palpable.
You have called so many of us...pushing us forward to make paths
where paths do not exist.

O God, you have called and I have retreated.
I had to eat, drink, and survive.
How can I trust you where there is NO path?
Why does your spirit still stay within me?

O God, you have called. Where do I go now?


Wow. It's hard to believe that we head home tomorrow. Our time here has gone quickly, but it has been valuable in a myriad of ways. We have had large-group time together for worship, which is always an incredibly rich experience when with this particular family of believers. We also have gathered in small groups to discuss large group experiences, and have shared our individual journeys of discernment, seminary, job-seeking, and our ways of being in the world. Outside of group, some of us have, good-naturedly, argued over whose small group was the best, so it seems that, as a whole, our small group experiences have allowed for some deepening of the Spirit.

Earlier today, I was on my bed trying to fall asleep after doing some writing that internally took me to a raw, emotional, place. I was unable to fall asleep, though, because someone in the apartment above our rooms kept walking across the room with seemingly heavy footfalls. I couldn't help thinking of a parallel between those footfalls and God. So often, I've tried to "sleep" my way through life by going through the motions of daily living. Just when I've nearly been able to succeed in being asleep, God has walked through my life in one form or another, awakened me, and forced me to deal with life from a place of intention and/or consciousness. I am thankful that I now feel more comfortable being awake with God than I was when I tried to stay asleep.

Thank you to all who sponsored our time together, and to those who hold us in prayer. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and as always, with our beloved Church.

18 July 2008

Arrived and On Line!

Here we are! It has been hard to get on line but we have a system worked out and so you will soon be hearing more from all of us.

Everyone arrived last night and we began with a delicious meal made by our host retreat center. The grounds are just beautiful and we were surprised with air conditioning and an above ground swimming pool! Before supper many of us got a great and fun swim in, several took hikes around the prairie and through the woods and apple orchard.

Last night we began as we explored how we name ourselves and how we name our positions in the church. As always, it seems the Holy Spirit blows so strongly this mighty community. And then small groups. And then worship. And then more conversations and more food.

The weather is beautiful, the people are great, the surroundings stunning, we are off to a good start.

Thanks for you all reading out there and supporting us this weekend!

15 July 2008

GLBTQ Inquirers and Candidates Retreat!

By Thursday we will all join together again giving thanks to be together again.

For the 4th year Presbyterian GLBTQ 17 Inquirers and Candidates will gather, this year in rural Indiana, for fellowship, study, and fun. We will update this blog with our experiences. If you would like to read our blog from last year, it can be found here.

We would like to thank the following organizations for their critical support of this event. In addition to these groups many, many individuals have contributed through their financial and spiritual support. We couldn't do it without any of you!

Covenant Network of Presbyterians
First Presbyterian Church, Passaic, NJ
More Light Presbyterians
Presbyterian Promise
Presbyterian Rainbow
Presbyterian Welcome
That All May Freely Serve--Chicago
That All May Freely Serve--National
Union Theological Seminary--PSCE Safe Space Group
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wooster, OH

Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

07 July 2008

How to Love Scary People

by Walter Hilton (d. 1396)
from his book "Ladder of Perfection"

"Ponder how Christ loved Judas, who was his deadly enemy.
Christ was good to him. He was courteous to one he knew to be damnable. He chose him as an apostle. He sent him to preach with the others. He gave him power to work miracles. He showed him the same good cheer in love and deed that he gave the other apostles.

He washed his feet and sat down at table with him.

He did not speak sharply to him in front of the others.

He never said an evil word about him.

When Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus called him his friend.

In all of this, Christ did not pretend or flatter. He showed honest love.

Judas was not worthy of it. He deserved not even a token of love. Our Lord is love and goodness. It is appropriate for [God] to show love and goodness to all God's creatures, even Judas.

This kind of unconditional love is also required of us.
Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." You protest. How can you love a bad person the same way you love a good one? Here is my answer. We are to love both, but not for the same reason. If you can love yourself only because you know you belong to God, you can love others the same way. If they are good and virtuous, you can love God who is in them. If they are bad and immoral, you can still love them--not as they are--but for the sake of God who can make them better."

02 July 2008

The Righteousness of Faith

By Douglas G. Grace

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendents through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. Romans 4:13-15

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13

Are you well or sick? Righteous or a sinner? Do you adhere to law or faith? Do you desire mercy or sacrifice? The imagery of New Testament dualism intrigues my mind -- in truth, it probably confuses my mind even more! Do we sit with our sacred texts and reflect upon what is really meant by “sickness” or “wellness,” and how Jesus and Paul turned traditional religious and cultural understanding of the righteousness of faith on its head? It is easy for modern theologies to miss the significance of continuing dualistic thinking in western culture. Often we read contemporary theologians point-out in a politically correct fashion that in reality we are all “sinners who fall short,” but that really isn’t Matthew’s point here is it? A general melting pot of sin or sickness is not present in these passages, but a pointing out of the clear prejudice of the so-called righteous over the so-called unrighteous. Jesus’ mercy levels the Way of the Lord and restores the so-called sinner to the status of righteousness.

We in the Presbyterian Church USA need to deeply wrestle with the fact that culture and religious “law” continues just as it did in Jesus’ time to call some sinfully sick and others well and righteous. I believe that sacrifice of some continues to be the way of the church as it responds today to the dualistic thinking of righteousness and unrighteousness. Church and society often scapegoat some in the name of unity. But I wonder how the church honestly grapples with the fact that this passage from Matthew leads to Jesus concluding in the next chapter that he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Unity often gets mistranslated into uniformity. But for Jesus, his table was hardly properly uniform as he sat with tax-collectors and sinners while temple leaders boasted of lawful righteousness in the name of peace, unity and purity!

Many know all too well how damaging rigid dualistic thinking can be – potentially resulting in not only injustice but also in individual neurosis, shame or guilt. How many adult theologies were shaped by a strict childhood emphasis on being “righteous?” Not only should the church be concerned about restoring the shamed to righteous, but it should also be concerned about creating an environment where all can embrace the wholeness of Christ’s love and freedom.

The past academic year, the Conservative Jewish movement’s leading seminary, The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, opened its doors for the first time to openly gay candidates to become rabbis. In announcing the seminaries historic decision of inclusion, the chancellor wrote:

We believe that the law can be modified, and therefore should be modified, in accord with our society’s changed knowledge about and moral attitudes toward homosexuality, knowledge and attitudes far different than those of our ancestors that guided their reading of law and tradition. Core Jewish teachings such as the imperative to treat every human being with full respect as a creature in God’s image urge us strongly in this direction. We do not alter established belief and behavior casually. But we are convinced that change in this case is permitted and required, precisely in order to preserve the tradition charged with guiding us in greatly altered circumstances. (From In Our Community, The Jewish Theological Seminary, March 26, 2007)

Christians and particularly Presbyterians must ask themselves, “How is it that Conservative Jews are able to carry out the Biblical prophetic teaching, which Christians believe Jesus embodied as reflected here in Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s letter, yet Jesus’ own contemporary disciples remain unable?"

Creator God,
At your command, all of creation was good. Restore our understanding of your goodness. Silence the confusion we hear in our minds so that we may be open to the wholeness of your spirit and the goodness in our lives. Sustainer God, inspire us to center your love within ourselves so that we may acknowledge the depth of true loving righteousness in our heart, mind, soul and strength. In loving you, may we open to truly loving and understanding our neighbor, no matter how sinful they may seem. And may the strength we find in your love guide your church in its understanding of law. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, AMEN.