Outwards and Upwards

Vicky Beeching and I grew up in a conservative church culture together in Canterbury. Back when I was in my late teens she was in her early teens. We haven’t really kept in touch over the years – we have bumped into each other at festivals – had a few conversations.

Vicky went on to Oxford and then on to be a well known worship leader in the US, where she played in some of the largest churches and Christian gatherings. She has a number of albums recorded. A few years back Vicky came back to the UK and has started work in television. She is hotly tipped as a future presenter of Songs of Praise.

This last week Vicky came out in the Independent as gay.

Vicky speaks of the huge struggles she has had since she was 13 finding acceptance of herself and reconciling her faith and her sexuality. It is a deeply moving testimony to her faith in Christ despite those who follow Christ causing her such pain. I have experienced some of that too, including the prayer ministry she describes, as have some of the people who have been closest to me in my life.

I have to say that whilst I respect the official teaching of the Church of England on human sexuality I think that much of our thinking is confused and disordered both theologically and in its scientific understanding of sexuality. Our official teaching assumes a model of ‘Royal Male Headship’ in marriage that certainly wouldn't wash in many clergy marriages, and doesn't make any sense in a church that embraces ordained women's ministry. Our official teaching fails to engage with complexities of human relationships - and the reality that who you fall in love with and want to walk down the beach with as the sun sets on your lives together is a deeper and more beautiful thing than simply which gender(s) you fancy.

In the Eucharistic prayer Jesus calls to us ‘Lift up your hearts’, and we respond 'We lift them up to the Lord'. In the Eucharist we enter the holy of holies in heaven. The bread of heaven is what we receive and that shapes who we are and are becoming. And so also theologically our hearts must be in heaven. Although our roots are in earth, a fallen paradise, our theology must be shaped by where we are going, a new heavenly and earthly paradise.

Jesus himself tells us himself that in heaven we shall be like the Angels, beyond male and female (Matt 22:30). St. Paul reminds us that in Christ there is no Male and Female (Gal. 3:28). 

However dearly we may hold our own gender or the gender of the one we love - it is passing away. Perhaps not something lost, but something gained as we like Christ become the fullness of all humanity can be. The Church as Christ’s bride (Rev. 21:2) speaks of marriage beyond gender, one that is procreative in the deepest sense. Truly life giving and eternal life long. As a church we have accepted that a priest’s gender does not matter as they lead us into heavenly places at the table. To welcome and marry people whatever their sexuality is part of the same heavenwards movement. 

Christian life isn't just about looking forward to heaven, but bringing heaven to earth. As we pray before we receive Christ in bread and wine "Your will be done … on earth as it is in heaven". Here is a journey that we are on together. Christ came first to the Jew, then to the Greek converts to Judaism and then finally to the whole world. As the Church has grown and spread that welcome into God’s Kingdom has expanded, has embraced the poor, the marginalized, those on the edges. As Christ did in his early ministry.

And that is the story we find in today's Gospel reading. It is a complex reading – poetic in the greek, rich in cultural allusions to relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Some commentators suggest that the women represents wealthy landowners who treated the Jewish people like work dogs – living off the scraps of the land.

But simply, here is an outsider crying Lord have Mercy. Just as we cry Lord have Mercy. She is one with us.

The disciples cannot cope with the implications of her desiring Jesus and God’s mercy. Even Jesus’ answer to the disciples suggests that he did not hear her cry. But she was persistent, she comes to Jesus kneeling, just as we kneel before Him in prayer and adoration at the Eucharist. In the conversation she has with Jesus she makes it clear that she is happy with the scraps from the table. That is enough. And Jesus responds ‘Great is your faith!’ And her daughter was healed.

Which means that this woman, the outsider, the stranger, distrusted, suspected, now by Jesus’ acknowledgement she is one his sheep. As is my friend Vicky, As is each of us. 

In our liturgy this we are reminded that we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under His table. But we can receive because Jesus welcomes and accepts us. Not just a welcome to people like us, but a welcome to everyone. To embrace that is probably the most challenging goal any family could set themselves. But if anyone can do it I believe that the church can.

No comments:

Post a Comment