Stepping out as I step in…

There is a certain vulnerability that comes with stepping into the pulpit. The messages I preach are ones that I, along with the help of commentaries, colleagues, prayer and the Holy Spirit, have prepared and chosen intentionally. I don’t always know if my words will be heard, or if they will be received well…but I step in anyway.

The same feeling of vulnerability is present when I step toward the communion table to preside and serve. I feel exposed, probably much like Jesus did when he served the meal to his disciples in the Upper Room. I feel the weight of the words, and the act of blessing and sharing communion, and I feel the responsibility of sharing the Good News of God’s love and care for all of God’s people.

Each time I preach or preside, there is a part of me that is keenly aware that pastors have been killed at the communion table, pastors have been killed in the pulpit…and yet…I step in, we step in. again and again.

Why?

In a conversation with a friend this morning, we talked about faith, and Paul Tillich’s idea of God being the ground of being. And we talked about the vulnerability that comes each time we step in to the pulpit, or step behind Christ’s table…we do so aware of our vulnerability, but we do so also aware that we are grounded in our identity as children of God.

Before, and since, this conversation, I have been thinking a lot about what it means for me, a queer woman, to step into a pulpit and to preside over communion at a church in Texas. The truth is that there are people who do not believe I should be able to preach, teach or preside- not because my education or training are lacking- but because I am a queer woman. There are folks who do not want me in church, let alone be given space and authority to preach God’s word. But I do it anyway.

However, this Sunday, I am stepping into the pulpit after a really hard couple of weeks. I was recently confronted by the reality of the people who think I, and my marriage, are an abomination and an affront to God. I live with this awareness every day- but in the last few weeks those voices were given space and air time in places I thought were safe. It is a painful lesson to learn- the lesson of assuming defense over safety.

And it is hard to step into places I thought were safe when they clearly aren’t anymore.

And for the better part of this week I have been struggling with how to respond… The truth is, this Sunday, there is a large part of me that doesn’t want to step into the pulpit- because I am weary and I am wounded. And, if I am really honest, I don’t feel safe anymore. But I’ll do it anyway.

I will do it not because I want to, but because I am called to. You see, if I sit silent and fearfully stay out of the pulpit…or if I stop presiding and serving communion…the people who would seek to harm me with their hateful words and misinformed theology would win. And that just won’t do.

So I will step out of my false sense of safety, and I will step into the pulpit because God created me, God loves me, and God has called me by name. God is the ground of my being- not hate, not fear, not people who think I am an abomination. And while there will be days that this Truth will be harder for me to live into, I will do my best to hold fast to and share the truth that God is a God of love, and that Christ’s table is wide, and vast, and leaves room for ALL people, even those who can’t see God’s image in me.

This is the hard part, the part that requires faith and grace, because I would never want my place at the table to be at the expense of someone else’s- and my prayer would be that those who think I don’t belong at the table, or in the pulpit, would open their hearts for God to change them so that they might see me, and the countless others like me, as worthy of love and grace, too.

As we prepare for World Communion Sunday, I hope you all experience the radical and abundant welcome of God- and if you feel vulnerable approaching the table, or sitting listening to a pastor speak- do what you can to tend to yourself- and know that the fear you feel is not because God doesn’t love you- it is because God’s people get it wrong sometimes. God rejoices in you, and in me, just the way we are. God is the ground of our being.

May we all find ourselves at a table where the fullness of who are is welcomed. Jesus would want it that way. And if you are still searching , you can sit with me.

pjp