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God, In Your Grace,
Transform The World
The Reverend Nancy L. Wilson
Delivered on March 6, 2006
"When he returned to
Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And
many were gathered together, so that there was so longer room for them,
not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And
they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when
they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof
above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet
on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said
to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
"Now some of the scribes
were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man
speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And
immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned
within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,'
or to say 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk.' But that you know that
the Son of Humanity as authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said
to the paralytic -- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet ad go home."
And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before
them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God saying, "We
never saw anything like this!"
(Mark 2: 1-12)
This was the Scripture lesson that was read in
the church service many of us from MCC attended on Sunday, February 19,
2006, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It was about half way through our World
Council of Churches experience. We had spent the week handing out MCC
literature and running out of MCC literature in three languages at our
booth, which had been handsomely decorated in purple by Paul Fairley and
Diane Fisher, complete with the MCC logo and draped in beautiful fabric.
The MCC booth in the Mutirao (Portuguese for "community gathering place,")
was our gathering place at the Pontifical University which was hosting
nearly 5000 WCC delegates and visitors from all over the planet -- participants
from over 127 countries and 384 denominations.
On Friday of the Assembly, we had listened to President Lula of Brazil,
as he praised the work of the World Council of Churches and courageous
Christians in Brazil who had managed to sneak out of the country top secret
documents that implicated the previous government in illegal schemes,
including torture and repression and fraud. While the President spoke,
communists protested just outside the hall, and supporters danced and
It was democracy at work! There were huge crowds, and at one point MCC's
organizer in Brazil, Gelson Piber, grabbed me and said, "Mira! (Look up)!"
and right above us, on the stairway was the President of Brazil. Gelson,
who is a sometime critic of President Lula, was beaming with Brazilian
pride at the evidence of all this renewed and thrilling democracy. There
had been worship services, intense conversations on Human Sexuality (a
first for the WCC) and hundreds of conversations with attendees, some
of whom had walked past MCC's booth five or even ten times before stopping!
And the great moment of coming together was when the Dalits of India (the
untouchable people, mostly Christians) organized a mid-day parade through
the conference hall. When our MCC folks saw the Palestinian Christian
Youth group join them, they joined in too - the queers, the young Palestinian
Christians and the Dalits -- what a parade! Jesus would have loved it!
A group from Brasilia, who had read all about us on the MCC website
and who have been worshiping together for a year, drove two days to meet
us at the Assembly. It felt so New Testament! The very first day they
arrived, they were so excited to meet "their" Elder Darlene Garner and
the new Moderator of MCC that they were teary and too excited to even
try to speak English! They volunteered immediately to staff the booth,
which they did for the remainder of the Assembly. This plunged them into
MCC with new intensity and really helped the WCC to know "We are everywhere."
Eventually we also met a young theologian from Porto Alegre and members
of his group, who were also very drawn to MCC. We quickly became a community,
along with our friends from the European Forum for LGBT's. WCC staff,
especially music and worship staff, also became friends, and they volunteered
to provide the music for our service! We also made several friends in
the Ecumenical Disabilities Forum, particularly a young man in a wheelchair
from Lebanon, who urged us to "come and start an MCC in Beirut!"
But back to Sunday... Sunday was the day WCC Assembly guests were to
find our way to local Brazilian churches, who were getting ready for us.
Because our own Araceli Ezzati is also a Methodist pastor in Uruguay,
we were going to go with her to a Methodist Church.
But, after a very long, exhausting Saturday, we found, slipped under
our hotel room doors, an invitation to a Lutheran Church just across the
street! The conference planners took great pains to point out that they
had placed MCCer's with others they thought would be "friendly," namely
the Canadians! We were housed with folks from the United Church of Canada,
the Anglican Church of Canada, Canadian Lutherans and other LGBT folks
from Europe. All of us in our hotel decided we would go to the Lutheran
Church in the morning.
So, taking the path of least resistance, we walked across the street
to the little Lutheran Church. Blonde Brazilians! Brazilians of all colors.
Elderly folks and young families.
As it turns out, this was a church planted by the Missouri Synod Lutheran
Church, USA. Their denomination does not practice an open communion. They
did not even have communion with the other Lutherans in Brazil, but we
did not know this at the time! We had also heard a rumor that they did
not ordain women. So all of us women clergy wore our collars as a quiet
The church was quaint German Lutheran architecture, a sweet building
that would barely hold 150 people. There were more than 100 visitors that
morning. It is impossible to convey all that happened, or that we felt,
but I will summarize:
1) We were warmly greeted, by church members, in English (most Brazilians
do not speak English), and handed a bulletin that contained the entire
liturgy and all the songs in English, which was the primary language spoken
at the Assembly. Darlene and I did our best to sing in Portuguese!
2) We were welcomed from the front of the church by a translator, who
explained that for the regular members the words would be in Portuguese
on their PowerPoint in the front.
3) There were not enough seats, so about half or more of the members
stood outside or in the narthex throughout the service, leaving seats
for us to find.
4) The sermon was from today's text, found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter
2. The pastor preached in Portuguese, ably translated for those us who
were visitors. The young pastor beamed as he spoke about sin and forgiveness.
(He was a Lutheran, after all!) He told a touching story about a dearly
beloved member who was at death's door. He did not preach to us, specifically,
he preached to all of us together. We were invited into their congregation's
reality, and to hear the gospel as a gathered community that day.
5) At communion time, the pastor made an emotional and special announcement
- that on this day they would serve an open communion. He took some time
to express to us what that meant, but basically, we were to self-select
as "believers in Christ," with no litmus test. We had no idea at the time,
what an incredible stretch this was for that church, who had never even
dared share communion with the Lutheran church down the street! But here
we were - from every continent, and many denominations, straight, LGBT
and everything else - sharing a common loaf and cup.
6) Before the service ended, they welcomed us again and invited people
to bring greetings. The Canadians were very emotional in their thanks
- some of their denominations brought gifts to give. The lesbian pastor
of a German Lutheran Church and her partner from Norway greeted them on
behalf of the LGBT community in Europe and for all of us at the Assembly.
I could feel her heart pounding as she spoke, and my heart was pounding
with her. The translator had no difficultly translating. No one died from
her greeting - though I did think the woman next to me breathed in a little
sharply at that point. She recovered nicely, and smiled no less sweetly
7) As we left, the pastor greeted each of us warmly, and those of us
from MCC and the European LGBT group were photographed. A lot. Especially
by young people at the church! It was a big day for this little church
in the southernmost city in Brazil.
For me, this experience was a parable. I thought of how easy it is for
us to take an open communion for granted, among other things. I thought
of what the equivalent of that Lutheran service would be in our local
MCC churches - what would it mean to print our bulletins in a language
most of us did not speak, just to make newcomers feel welcome and at ease
and not lost in the service?
What would be the moral equivalent of that in your church? Who of us
would be willing to stand outside, offering others our seat, perhaps lifting
them through the roof? What would it mean to preach in a way that met
the needs of our "regulars" but also spoke to those who were new or very
different? How might we not take our open communion for granted, but find
new ways to make it fresh and inviting, and full of Jesus' style of innovation
and imagination. What might be our equivalent "leap of faith and inclusion"
that they took on our behalf that day?
And are we willing to let first timers voice their identity, needs and
thanksgiving? Risky business!
A few days later, at morning worship, I just "happened" to sit next
to a man from India. He was connected with a seminary, and after I found
out about him, he asked where I was from, and what church. I told him
about MCC's ministry. And then he asked if we had any churches in India.
When I told him no, his eyes filled with tears, and he said, "May I have
your business card for my daughter? She will be in touch with you, I promise."
We shared a song book and smiled deeply at each other the rest of the
service. I am holding his promise in my heart -- will you hold it with
me? -- for our LGBT sisters and brothers in India?
I was deeply impressed with the generosity and genuine holiness I felt
in that little Lutheran church -- a church that does not ordain women
and normally does not open its communion table. I was touched and humbled
by those lay members who gathered around the grieving family of a dying
man, as would be done in every good church everywhere. Even in the midst
of great assemblies, life and death still go on just across the street.
Later in the week, we would hear sounds coming, every night, from that
little church -- a band practicing, a choir singing, a mid-week service.
The sounds were all of joy and praise and gospel power. I am sure they
will talk for a long time about the strangers in their midst who worshiped
with them, brought them gifts, let them take pictures, challenged them,
and gave them an opportunity to make history for themselves. Can they
ever go back to a "closed" communion without remembering us? I hope not.
Nancy L. Wilson is the Moderator of Metropolitan
Copyright © by the author
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