Building Bridges

Does this look hard?
A lot of Biblical humor gets lost in translation, but I break a grin when I get to this story of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, a day overgrown with rules governing the renewing rest God’s people are meant to practice at the end of their work. The rule-keepers are watching Jesus carefully, and he knows it.

Jesus calls the man to stand. His withered hand, the discomfort and disability he faces daily, is on display; no doubt a painful public moment, but in Jesus’ call, surely there is hope.

Jesus asks the onlookers, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

lol.

“But they remained silent.”

Here the laughter gets uncomfortable, at best. “He looked around at them in anger… deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts….”

Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath. These religious leaders, who can’t resolve the question of whether it is lawful to do good, add this to their mounting case against him.

The chapter concludes with a socially confusing but Kingdom clarifying story of Jesus’ family coming to fetch him, and Jesus gesturing towards those who’ve gathered around him in a new way of seeing and being in the world. “Here are my mother and my brothers!” he says, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

We’re used to the idea that there are insiders and outsiders, and those who keep the boundaries and those who threaten them. Jesus, in a seemingly simple question, is able to point out the absurdity that the boundary keepers have lost the capacity to do good, out of their zealousness for the boundaries themselves. At the end of this chapter he identifies those who are insiders not by the lines and rights of history and lineage, but by the marks of lives that demonstrate – through what they do – an allegiance to God.

This week we held an event in our chapel called Building Bridges through Prayer: Stories of the LGBT Community. For the second year, LGBT students shared stories of their communities, families, churches, and friends in regards to their emerging sexual orientation. They spoke specifically to their relationships with people of faith and at Pepperdine, as a Christian institution. Students of varied convictions and campus ministry leaders shared responses to one another and prayer for one another. We spent much time after this presentation prayerfully reading other stories contributed anonymously, posted around the chapel [pictured], and writing prayers and notes to respond to those who had shared.

LGBTQ students in many Christian academic settings are struggling to find recognition, relationship, and a voice among their peers. Many Christian institutions and churches are struggling with their policies, the language of their belief statements and handbooks, or disagreements over scripture. But these are debated words and symbols accounting for people to be loved, as these organizations consider their care for those LGBT friends, family, colleagues and co-members already integrated into their community; those whose non-heterosexual orientation is emerging; those questioning their place in the community given their convictions on these issues; or individuals and communities to be reached whose experiences have taught them to distrust Christians. Wherever one stands on these issues, it is no longer a one-sided conversation about what do about “them;” we are negotiating with one another as people of different positions with a shared sense of belonging (or desire to belong) to the same community.

As our communities struggle, I have been grateful for compassionate and patient initiatives I’ve seen from both sides. The Building Bridges Prayer Service was a highlight in this experience over the last year.

I appreciate this move because as we listen to each other, we move from “complex issue” to redemptive relationships. As we seek out common ground before God, we move from “opposing parties” to brothers and sisters in the work of reconciliation. It is my prayer that we will work imaginatively and faithfully toward more initiatives that draw us forward in this way.

It is hard work, and hard to talk about. But we are about to find ourselves somewhere in Mark 3.

If we are among those assigned to define and protect the boundaries, we may hear the voice of Christ asking a question we’re afraid to answer. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” Will we appear to compromise our calling? Will we incite the anger of those who look to us for leadership? Will we lose our voice in the conversation if we stand by our convictions? It’s a tough call. Maybe if we’re quiet the whole thing will blow over.

But it won’t. In these shoes, we must risk something in order to not simply have the right answer, but make way for Jesus to do the good that only he can do. We are called to join him in the good he is doing, even as we wait on theology, policy, or cultural consensus.

If we are among those who feel they are losing the Jesus they knew, we may want to pull our religion out of the dangerous debate. Like Jesus’ family, we’d prefer to fetch him out of the potential challenges (to us) of his widening network and take him “home.” It’s getting uncomfortable.

But we will be disappointed if we find that Jesus no longer feels at home with us. We are invited to the table, but there is enough room at the table for more company than we expected. Will we be willing to open our lives up to those “outside the family” for the sake of understanding them, and ourselves, as Jesus does?

This is not our time to shine. Perhaps it is Jesus’ time, though.

Perhaps as we find ourselves in the discomfort of cultural conflict, in a struggle with the inability to find unity and resolution even in our own community, we will together hear the voice of Christ. Perhaps we will find ourselves in the person of the man who is called to be healed; to bear witness to what God will do.

Stand up, he says. Where you can be seen.

This is uncomfortable. A painful public moment. But, surely, knowing that it is Jesus who calls us, there is hope. There is healing coming.

May we embrace our calling in doing good where we see it can be done. May we claim our coworkers among those who are doing the good to which God calls his people. May we wait faithfully for the healing that is to come.

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