Voices of Hope – March 18th 2018

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 1) – “The Broken Body” by the Revd Canon Rachel Mann

Rachel Mann

Often, St Paul has been presented as bad news for LGBTI+ Christians. His letters contain a number of classic clobber texts. It might surprise some, then, that I take my ‘sustaining’ Bible verse from his writings. Personally, I think Paul has been given a bad press, but that’s a discussion for another time.

I find this section of his first letter to the church at Corinth powerful for many reasons. Not least, it contains the earliest biblical reference to the Eucharist. Equally, it is contained in a letter to a church that was in danger of tearing itself apart.

Part of the power of Paul’s words lies in how he draws attention to the dynamic between ritual, sharing, and the body. In just one verse he indicates how the Church participates in horizons of the human and divine, of the present as well as the eternal.

There is a sacramental ‘thickness’ in this work of body and ritual that transforms the world whilst simultaneously revealing the deepest realities of the universe.

There are days when I lose sight of the gifts of grace embedded in the Church. This can happen when I feel devalued because it seems unable properly to love and celebrate people like me; often it’s when I hear stories of the abusive and coercive behaviour of the institution towards LGBTI+ people and others.

And yet … the cup of blessing … the bread that we break … remain. For the Body and Blood of Christ to be blessings they must be breakable, shareable, spillable; they must remain contingent, fragile and precarious.

Ironically, this is good news.

For though it is true that which is contingent and fragile is readily destroyed and abused, its openness and limitation also signal the possibilities of radical community. In precariousness, there is space for love and communion and change.

Our bodies have a radical openness to the world for they are of it (just as they gesture towards something ‘other’, too). And, great joy! God has dwelt with us, as one of us.

In the midst of the violence we might inflict on one another, there is also the possibility of love and tenderness and mutual recognition. There is the possibility that all – gay and straight, trans and cis – might share in and be transformed by the Body and Blood of Christ.

This is more than comfort. This is truth which reformulates a shattered and shattering world.

A Prayer

God of Broken Bread and Wine Outpoured, be with us in the fractured possibilities of our lives; sustain and refresh us and make your Body, in all its glorious wonder, whole.

Amen.

Tomorrow – the Revd Neil Patterson, “Flesh of My Flesh”, Genesis 2: 18, 23

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Voices of Hope – March 16th 2019

“All One in Christ”(Part 6) – “Daring to Abide” by the Revd Dr Ayla Lepine

Ayla Lepine

Abiding is hard.

Many find themselves prayerfully staying anchored, somehow, within the turmoil of situations that cause distress or harm.

How is the genuine fruitfulness of real freedom for every human being, in all diversity, to be won? How can the Church truthfully say we are all one Body in Christ when some of our members are in deep pain and those who would be part of the Body find that there are places in the Church that actively resist and injure them? An Ash Wednesday hymn gives me great hope: ‘naught I fear when I abide in thy heart and wounded side.’

‘Abide’ has multiple meanings.

When we say that we ‘cannot abide’ something, it suggests a sharp lack of toleration, and being on the point of abandoning or rejecting a course of action or a situation.

As a Christian, I commit each day, especially in Lent, to a different kind of abiding. I abide with Jesus. I seek signs of hope. I long for what St Augustine describes as obedience to God that leads to ‘perfect freedom.’

The quality of abiding that Jesus offers in John’s Gospel is the deepest possible experience of indwelling. Jesus asks us to rest with him, stay with him, and go beyond ‘come sit by me’ to ‘we are all one.’ We cannot grow unless we trust that Jesus is the source of that growth. Trusting that Jesus abides with us teaches us to love ourselves.

Without love, we’re nothing. As children of God, the truth of our LGBTI lives is a gift to be celebrated.

In the Ordinal, candidates for ordination are reminded that they cannot do anything in their own strength. Jesus is calling to us – lay and ordained – to abide. Through him, we can be truly free, and genuinely fruitful.

But only if we dare to abide in him.

A Prayer

Gracious God, grant us the wisdom and humility to abide in you as you abide in us. Grant us hearts, minds, and hands that are truly open so that the fruit we bear in obedience to you will lead to true freedom.

Amen.

The Revd Dr Ayla Lepine moved from Canada to the UK in 2003. Her PhD in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art focused on the Gothic Revival and Anglicanism, and prior to ordination she was a Lecturer in Art History at the University of Essex. She is a Trustee of Art and Christianity, and is the Assistant Curate at Hampstead Parish Church in the Diocese of London.

Next week – A series of reflections on “Created in God’s Image”

 

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Voices of Hope – March 15th 2019

“All One in Christ”(Part 5) – “My Beloved…” by the Revd Jide Macaulay

Jide Macaluay

Many  of us who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex or Queer (LGBTIQ+) often find ourselves defending hope, speaking out for justice, preaching reconciliation because we know what it is to have a deep desire to be loved and cherished by our Christian family.

These are perilous times within our faith communities.  There are many who are clearly on the attack, who seek to offend and want to “defend” discrimination and religious intolerance without any thought of the consequences on the emotional and psychological well-being of those it affects directly.

If you find yourself faced with one of these situations, perhaps you might want to read and reread these two Bible verses (and then maybe read them once again).

For they are filled with hope and assurances. We are God’s people, regardless of our race, disability, faith, religious expressions, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Tragically, many LGBTIQ+ people have had to become refugees as the trauma they have faced has caused many of them to flee their country of origin in order to find a safer place.  They have had to  abandon their families ,and as they have walked away many have sadly lost the ability to find their faith in God.

God is calling us each to a place of healing and reconciliation, of peace and joy. Scripture reminds us (especially those of us who are LGBTIQ+) that there are times when we may have been called horrible names and victimized.

But not anymore!

People may have tried to tell us that we are not human and therefore that we cannot be a child of God – just because of who we love. However, Paul’s message to the Romans speaks directly to us. He says “And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.”

It is therefore important for those of us who identify as LGBTIQ+ to embrace and acknowledge that we too are “My Beloved…children of the living God.”

A Prayer

Gracious God, help us to understand that we are “Dearly beloved, Children of the living God” and that we may enjoy your grace, love and peace in our land.

Amen. 

Tomorrow – the Revd Dr Ayla Lepine, Daring to Abide, John 15: 4

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Voices of Hope – March 14th 2019

“All One in Christ”(Part 4) – “Nothing Means Nothing!” by the Revd Andy Marshall

Andy Marshall

My relationship with these verses goes right back to when I was a teenager, brand new to the Christian faith.  In those days, I would pore over the Bible in my room every morning and night.  Initially without Bible reading notes, or any sort of teaching about how to read the Bible, this time often involved letting the Bible fall open somewhere and then reading what I found.

At the same time as I was exploring what initially felt – to me – like a radically inclusive faith, I began hearing very negative things said about gay people (there was no conversation about other identities in those days).  While my new-found faith offered such hope, it would also bring much hardship.

One day, the verses above jumped out at me, and really spoke hope to me.  I remember highlighting the verses, underlining them, and writing them down in my journal.  There was nothing that could separate me from God’s love.  It was such a revelation and such a powerful anchor for my faith.

Years later, when I joined a conversion therapy group that I was a part of for 2 years, there were many dark and difficult days.  But these verses spoke hope to me and helped me to hang onto my faith, until I eventually realised that the love of God that they spoke of, was for the person that I already was.  With time, I would reflect on these verses, while trying to allow myself to feel the inalienable truth of being that person that God created and loved.

The verses still evoke a powerful emotional reaction in me now … over 2.5 decades later. I hope you know that nothing in all creation can separate you from God’s love.

A Prayer

Loving God, creator of all life, in all its beautiful diversity,

I give you thanks for the wonder of your creation, for the wonder of humanity, for the wonder of us, for the wonder of me.

In today’s reading, I am reminded that nothing in all of creation can separate me from your love. There have been, and there will be, people who attempt to tell me differently, but help me to lean on the promise of your word and the assurance of your love.

Help me to be more aware of your love with each passing day, to carry it with me into the day and to share it with those around me, so that they, too, may know your life for them.

Amen

Tomorrow – the Revd Jide Macaulay, “My Beloved..”, Romans 9: 25-26

 

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Voices of Hope – March 13th 2019

“All One In Christ” (Part 3) – “May They Also Be In Us” by Andrea King

Andrea King

Andrea King is an independent consultant working with senior leaders in public services to improve safeguarding/protection arrangements and mental health services for children and young people. Andrea also studies at Regents Park College (Oxford) reading Theology as an ‘independent’ ministerial student and a member of the LGBTI+ community.

In the times when the impact of hate and exclusion pulls you to your knees, in the times when the loss of hope runs deep and very simply it hurts to breathe, I pray that you know that you are not alone. As we each wrestle with division, look up and remember these words.

I don’t know about you, but John’s gospel has always moved me deeply. Jesus’ long farewell to those He loved spans several chapters. It matters. John gives it the time it deserves.

These are precious words that describe intimate relationship between Father and Son, it’s a profound and deep love, an interpenetration (perichoresis) of Father, with Son, with Spirit. It’s a beautiful image of separate, yet interweaving, relationship – it is a precious intimacy.

How remarkable then, that Jesus goes onto say ‘may they also be in us’.

Can I suggest that just for a moment close your eyes? Draw close to the God that you know and love. Imagine Jesus praying that prayer with you in mind. Stating that you are intimately bound by the love of Father, Son and Spirit; your heart and soul forged in holy union with the Almighty.

Astonishing?….Yes.

True?…..Indeed.

This gift is immeasurable. It is unique. It encompasses every part of us – our height and depth, both the good and the bad. We are each intimately known and loved by God. Nothing can ever separate us from that love. Nothing.

But neither does that love allow us to separate from each other.

This love, mutual respect and inter-dependent co-existence, is designed to facilitate unity. It is designed to bring together, to break down the walls, the fears, the insecurities and misjudgements, the unease that separates human beings one from the other. It is designed to bind us together, firmly, in Divine inter-relatedness.

What a joy and what a challenge. Very simply, there is nowhere to hide, in this gentle absorption within the Divine.

Maybe, just maybe, the challenges and divisions that we live within, whilst real and at times all-consuming, in the light of His countenance, fade away to become background noise. In that light we have the space to be more fully what we were originally intended to be. The ‘I’ is less important, the ‘we’ in divine community is preoccupying. We are fully ourselves in Him.

And so, when you find yourself on your knees, look up. Know that you are held, that you are loved, and that you are inter-woven in His Spirit. In this period of Lent, hard as it maybe, I ask you to try and see the ‘other’ past the hurts and the pain, the judgements and the asides, and find the echo of Divine love.

Maybe, just maybe, if we can look past our differences, to the things that truly unite us, to the ultimate love that binds us, we will more fully resemble the community we were intended to be.

God bless you and keep you. Rest in Him, I pray.

A Prayer 

Dearest Father,

We draw close, and find rest, in You. Help us to open our minds and hearts to the enormity of your precious relationship. In our frailty, help us Lord we pray, to see what unites us and to find Your reflection in those around us. Help us to resemble the community of Your people more fully, we pray in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Tomorrow – the Revd Andy Marshall, “Nothing Means Nothing”, Romans 8: 38 – 39

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Voices of Hope – March 12th 2019

“All One in Christ” (Part 2) – “Breaking Down Dividing Walls” by Alex Clare-Young

Alex Clare Young

Reconciliation to each-other and to something bigger than ourselves – whether that be God, the environment, humanitarian principles or simply love – gives me hope.

To me, Paul’s pronouncement that to be part of the body of Christ we have to let go of divisions supports and summarises that hope.

A different verse about ‘male and female’ (found in Genesis 1:27), has been used against me and other trans people for a very long time but, as my understandings of Scripture have broadened and deepened, I have become convinced that it doesn’t mean what people think it means!

God created humanity to be in relationship with each-other and with the world. It is humans, not God, who have broken down and forbidden relationships.

God seeks our redemption, speaking into existence a world where categories don’t matter any more; where each of us is in free dialogue with each-other not despite, but precisely because of, our differences. Paul’s words aren’t about ironing out our differences, they are about celebrating the love that makes us one.

As a student minister in the United Reformed Church (URC), I have spent a lot of time considering the nature of unity. The problem, I think, is that a lot of people confuse unity with conformity, or uniformity.

We don’t all need to be the same! We don’t all need to think the same! We certainly don’t all need to act the same! Unity in God’s created, creative and recreating diversity is a source of real, filled-to-the-brim-and-overflowing-with-grace, hope.

My hope, as a trans-masculine person training for ministry and serving those at the margins of Church and society, is that one day all will be welcomed, named and heard as the unique human beings that we are.

Break down the dividing walls! Abolish the either/or check boxes!

Who are you? No, really, who are you?

A Prayer

Creating, Creative, Recreating One,

Where we see barriers, help us to knock them down.

Where doors and tightly closed, help us to open them.

Where there only seem to be two options, help us to erase the boxes and embrace your diversity.

We thank and praise you for the fantastic and awesome differences that you create and recreate in your people and in the world.

May we embody your creative image and embrace life in all its fullness,

Amen.

Tomorrow – Andrea King, “May They Also Be In Us”, John 17: 20-21

 

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Voices of Hope – March 11th 2019

“All One In Christ” (Part 1) – “Holding on to Hope” by Luke Dowding

Luke Dowding

Hope for me is often something that is neglected – I can often choose not to hope because it can seem futile in the face of all that must be done.

Hope feels abstract, unsubstantiated, naïve.

I believe this is the case for many LGBTQ+ siblings, because when we have hoped, we have often been let down or betrayed. Our hope has been used against us, to encourage us to belong to communities which have then not been as we wanted them to be, or as we had been led to believe. This is particularly relevant in Christian communities where many people believe they are inclusive and affirming, yet don’t sacrifice their privilege and power to truly include “the other”.

And yet, here many of us are – remaining, however close to losing our grip on the edge we might be. Our churches are becoming abundant in their queerness, in the revelation of the multitude of queer identities who are slowly and steadily finding safety to come out, to be who God created them to be.

I have been challenged by this passage recently, and particularly its use by the Revd. Dawn Cole-Savidge in her bid for the role of President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in May 2020. Dawn uses this text in her deliberate and imaginative inclusion of all people in her ministry, and I am inspired by that and by the hopeful message the passage shares.

Our churches, institutions, and organisations may attempt to prevent us from fully belonging, whether that is through ordination as in my case, marriage in many of the circumstances of my Anglican siblings, or the recent and devastating blow delivered in the US United Methodist Church.

Yet, we should have hope.

Hope, not in that which is created by those themselves who are created beings, but in the promise of a future glory in which all are gathered before the Divine and embraced in love.

And such a hope begins now – with every one of us, as by our presence we are building the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

A Prayer 

God of hope; encourage us to seek you and to put our faith in the promise of a gathering of all the diversity of creation, not just those who retain power and privilege today.

Build us up in love, bind us together in truth, deliver us into hope.

Amen.

Tomorrow – Alex Clare-Young “Breaking Down Dividing Walls”, Galatians 3:8

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