All Means All

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Num. 16:36-50; Rom. 4:13-25; Matt. 20:1-16

Grace abounds.  Particularly in our Romans passage and Matthew’s telling of the Laborers in the Vineyard we see this.

Paul talks about it by continuing to assert that God’s promise is realized through faith, not the law.  “For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.  For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace….”

In Jesus’ parable grace is realized through the actions of the owner of vineyard.  Frankly it is all over, for God’s full “yes” is extended even to those who do not deserve a full wage.  But think about the owner for a minute, who is prompted to hire more workers simply because he sees them “standing idle in the marketplace.”  He hires them not because he needs more workers, but simply because he sees workers who need work.  This is a terrible businessman!  But this is a wonderful symbol of God’s grace.  In God’s kingdom all have a place, and all find contentment.  In God’s kingdom we aren’t driven by good business practices, but a practice of love, abundance, and grace.

This is a regular theme of the New Testament that grace supercedes the law, and one that continues to get kick back from religious leaders in all corners of the Church.  It is just too much to think about Love and Grace trumping rules.  And yet I see a church that is consumed by laws and condemnation lately.  We have a lot of “no’s” for a world that is looking to us for God’s “yes”.

For Paul, the struggle was over circumcision – Gentile versus Jew.  Today it is about marriage equality, inclusion, and who should be ordained.  Paul took a bold stand that righteousness is primarily about faith, not circumcision.  It was a struggle over outward forms versus inward realities.  His ideas weren’t going to win without a fight, a fight that consumed the early church for the better part of a century.

I wonder how Paul would answer these questions.  Or Jesus.  Some of my friends don’t like Paul (oh that is putting it mildly – they hate the guy) because they see him as anti-women, backward, and antiquated.  But I see him breaking down the walls of his time – boundaries of law.  This is the man who declared in Christ there was no male nor female.  So don’t be so sure, my progressive friends, that Paul wouldn’t agree with you 100% about the ordination of all.

Paul struggled mightily to have Gentiles included in this new congregation of Christians, and now we too struggle – struggle to include gays and lesbians as full members of the community of faith.  (My goodness, do you mean ALL MEANS ALL?)  This is nothing new to the PCUSA.  But my Methodist brothers and sisters are having convulsions of polity – struggling toward inclusion and a more faithful reading of Holy Scripture.

Once again we have traded in the radical nature of the Gospel of Love for the comfort and safety of draconian rules.  (And after all, things like Levitical laws are easy and seductive, black and white, simple).  We have failed to articulate the deep and driving forces of the Gospel, which live into a more gray world, and which lay a foundation for full inclusion of women in leadership and gays and lesbians at the table.

Nothing has changed.  It is the same Church as for Paul.  Will our community be one of law, or one where there is a new law of faith and love?  Will our community be one that throws out rules completely or reads all rules through the lens of Scripture?  Will our community get stuck proof-texting, or reading the entire blueprint of scripture that clearly laws out that All Means All?

My response comes easy.

-Matt

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