Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and is drawing the ire of Catholic bishops regarding some of her actions regarding abortion. Sebelius is Catholic, and while she is personally anti-abortion, she doesn’t believe that the law is the way to change people’s beliefs on abortion. Adoption and better public health is the direction she has approached combating abortion, and her actions have gotten results: abortion in Kansas decreased 10% during the six years she was governor of Kansas. However, Catholic bishops have vowed to refuse her communion if she continues to hold such public stances. I have a very high opinion and respect for Catholicism, but I think this action of the American bishops is flawed. Withholding a means of grace from committed and confessing baptized Christians is sacramental malpractice. (By the way... I know bishops are not perfect. Even United Methodist bishops have been known to make a mistake once in a while).
The reason this caught my eye is because this is the way I approach abortion – I believe all life is sacred. And I like our denomination’s stand on abortion: we do not affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection, as well as oppose the use of late-term abortion. But using law to inform us of decisions of conscience in situations such as abortion simply doesn’t change hearts. And, more practically – I don’t think we should allow the government to “steal” the authority of the Christian Church.
The authority of Jesus Christ comes from the cross and from grace. As the Apostle Paul said, the Law served as our “keeper” until faith came – in other words, the law wasn’t nullified, it was ful-filled. Christ calls us to use faith and grace to change the world.
I’m certainly not advocating getting rid of the law; the law provides us order. But the only way hearts are changed are by grace and faith. Refusing a faithful person communion simply makes no sense in the light of Jesus Christ giving us the sacrament so that grace may abound. We believe that Jesus becomes really present at the Eucharist – denying Jesus to the repentant Christian simply makes no sense.
It’s one of those phrases that is sometimes said when we don’t know what else to say. But today, I think it applies.
I have a good friend having a heart catheterization as I write this. One of our dear church members had a serious surgery Monday. Another one of our church family is missing. An uncle of mine has broken a hip while his son-in-law lies in the hospital with pancreatitis. A referee buddy of mine is at the hospital with his wife with complications with her pregnancy. People often tell me that being a pastor must be awful.
However, I also got to help celebrate our oldest church member’s birthday last Sunday – as a church, we and our preschool choir sang “Happy Birthday” to Violet Cummins. Violet’s family was instrumental in founding the Reidland community and shared in the beginnings of our church. And not 30 minutes ago, we planted a dogwood tree in the playground in memory of Abbie Swoope, a little girl who died last year yet left her light for all of us to see. Every spring, dogwoods bloom everywhere to remind us of the Easter promise of life everlasting – death does not have the last word.
We are a people of the Resurrection of Christ. Death doesn’t have the last word. It’s all good!
I was eating lunch yesterday and saw a familiar face on the television screen – one of our area basketball coaches. As I watched the story unfold, I find out that he’s been arrested for breaking into the home of friends of his to steal prescription drugs. He wasn't stealing money, valuables, a car, or even illegal drugs... but prescription drugs. I am not outraged – but I am moved to mercy. It is just a reminder to me that we all have demons that haunt us, and some of them can get a very strong hold on us.
I tend not to be judgmental about addictions and struggles like this, for this simple reason: we all have our various ways of coping with problems, some of them healthy and some not so healthy. I know that I can be a workaholic, which is no better than being an alcoholic or any other –holic. I know how stressful life can be, and I know how all of these things can pile up and pile on us. These demons that haunt us are real. And while these demons might not have pointed ears and pitchforks, they are nonetheless relenting and dangerous. Allowing them to continue in our lives and have control over us is dangerous. More often than not, we need help to conquer them.
The Easter promise of Jesus Christ is so enabling to us in combating our brokenness, because it acknowledges that we are a people in need of healing and accepts us where we are in our struggles. It seems too good to be true that God accepts us and forgives us “no matter what.” The advantage of having a God who is omnipotent and all-knowing is that He already knows our struggles before we ask for help, yet is so willing to hear us, embrace us, and love us up as we cry out. That is not cheap grace – it is costly, powerful grace; it came at the cost of the Crucifixion. The Good News is that brokenness was triumphed by the Resurrection! That message needs to be spread to a broken world of broken people.
It is our call as Christians to embrace the broken. Those of us who have fought the demons are among the most qualified to help others along. The wounded are among the best healers – and no one knows that better than Jesus Christ the Crucified – and Resurrected!
After 5 weeks of experiencing Christianity 101, let me share what we’ve learned.
Grace underlies all that we do. Any Christian action, any Christian doctrine, must be understood with the assumption that we humans are at best flawed and yet God’s divine grace embraces us, accepts us, and saves us from ourselves.
The organized church has often strayed away from the essentials and instead “majored in the minors.” The essentials? Scripture as viewed through the lenses of God-given reason, experience, and tradition; salvation; sanctification; the humanity and divinity of Christ; the sacraments as a means of grace; holiness of heart and life lived out through works of piety and works of mercy; discipleship.
Last week, our discussion turned lively. How often have we (“we” being all of Christendom) allowed Jesus not to be present at meetings and conferences and argued over trivial things instead – in essence, majoring in the minors? How often have clergy forgotten their call and instead focused on their careers? How often has bureaucracy gotten in the way of making disciples – which is supposed to be our primary task? How long have we coasted on the hard work and faith of our ancestors, riding on their coattails instead of standing on their shoulders?
As you can see – our meetings have been lively!!
We are going to take a break until May and will then begin to focus on the creeds – the Apostles’ and the Nicene – and “dissect” them line by line to reacquaint ourselves with these things that we say we believe (remember: the word creed literally means “I/we believe”). We will resume our Christianity 101 studies on Sunday, May 3, at 6 PM. I hope you will join us. While attending all the classes certainly won’t hurt you, feel free to jump in or drop by on any Sunday evening. You will be more than welcome. And there are no tests or quizzes. [grin]