Original post at http://umclead.com/bible-study-kicks-ass/
God I love a good Bible study.
We’re reading Mark in my humble three-person Thursday night class at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church. It’s invigorating every time we meet. For the main component of the class, we read Mark aloud. Lemme tell ya, if you ain’t read Mark out loud, you ain’t read Mark.
In fact, there’s folks who perform the story from memory. It’s a well-told story. My two friends and I have spent the bulk of our class hours exploring the curiosities of Mark.
Why does Christ tell some people to proclaim his miracles and orders others not to say a word?
What’s up with his super healing cloak?
Why do some folks recognize him and others don’t?
We don’t always answer all of our questions, but it is in the quest for those answers, that is, in the discussion, that we come closer to the truth of the good news. Finding that together, as a wee group of three, is important. Taking this journey together is the church, isn’t it?
Why even do Bible study, really?
It’s gotta be more fun to play board games or something, anything. But no, we spend our hour together telling each other the story of Mark. Because that’s what we do as a church, we share the story and explore it together. It’s a story that should be explored as a group. Reading the Gospel should be a social exercise. We are hikers on a trail, trekking for no purpose but to stumble upon an occasional waterfall under which to bathe and together embrace God’s kingdom.
Today’s waterfall moment came when Jesus teaches about the tradition of the elders. He is confronted about his disciples eating with dirty hands. Can’t do that, that’s against tradition, and as far as Pharisees are concerned, that’s an act in defiance of the tradition of the elders, the ancestors who came through the desert with God. To them, the cleanliness of your hands, dishes, and other cooking utensils were a measure of your worthiness before your creator.
Jesus rebukes them, calls them hypocrites. They have honored tradition over God. He gives them an example of how people have been misusing the traditional offering to God as an excuse to deny financial support to their parents.
…thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this. Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile (NRSV Mark 7:13-15).
In this moment, Jesus shows them the truth about sin: that it is “from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (NRSV Mark 7:21). He then shows them that all foods are clean, cementing his ministry as a gift to the entire world, even those who did not observe the traditions of the day. He then shows them that the root of sin is not in defiance of the traditions, but in one’s own heart and that “all these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (NRSV Mark 7:23) By telling us this story, Jesus prepares us for the inevitable debate over sinfulness, for our path as a church is fraught with conflict over who among us is and isn’t clean and worthy of full access to access to the body of Christ.
This week Pastor Frank Shaefer stood before the Judicial Council of the UMC in an appeal hearing. He had been previously defrocked in trial for officiating the marriage of his son to another man. At the conclusion of his first trial, he was given a choice: promise to uphold the Methodist tradition by never again officiating a same-sex wedding, or concede his ordination, his pastoral responsibilities, everything he knew and held dear.
Pastor Frank said in his testimony that he could not refuse ministry to any LGBT people and could not promise to never perform another marriage. Throughout the trial, his story was consistent: love inspired his action. This role he played, this essential ministry to two of God’s beautiful creation, was not some flippant, irrelevant act of defiance. This meant something.
When we, as a church, marry two people, it doesn’t always work out. But we keep doing it because, for better or for worse, the practice bears good fruit. The kingdom of God depends on our ministry bearing good fruit. We hold marriage so dear because we know it is an essential expression of our faith and hope for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The church will always be a place where people will look to get married, regardless of personal religious intensity. The church holds dear the responsibility to the sacred ceremony. Despite all cynicism, all weariness, despite the world, we still to this day make a big deal about marriage. The act transcends tradition. It’s a sacrament. That’s gotta mean something.
In Pastor Schaefer’s testimony, his meaningful intention, the truth, shined through with clarity and conviction. And it’s this truth that I witness each Sunday in my home church in St. Louis. It’s something revealed to me each Thursday night at Bible study. God’s will is for our church to cast aside its traditions regarding LGBT people. To embrace them, marry them, ordain them, and provide for full access to Christ’s bountiful table. The longer we wait, the longer we deny ourselves our true potential as a church.
There is much at risk, lest our application of tradition cause total retreat from righteousness. We must not burn the trees that bear good fruit. The more intense our response in upholding the tradition, the more we separate ourselves from the very people who so badly want to join our churches, lead our churches, sit with us in worship or Bible study and maybe, just maybe, touch the cloak of Christ and catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
Image by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1899, is a photographic reproduction of a public domain work of art, published in the Wikimedia Commons free media repository. Cropped from original.