Archived Sections, Commentary

God wants to do a new thing

The faith community is not good at recognizing what’s genuinely new.

Richard Lischer cites a novel by Peggy Payne, titled Revelation. It is the story of a minister who had, of all things, an encounter with God. One afternoon while out in the back yard grilling steaks, he heard the voice of God speaking to him. It was a revelatory experience that had the effect of changing his perspective and thus his life.
He was never the same person thereafter. When he told his story, there was not much rejoicing among his peers or in the congregation he served. The response was to place him on an administrative leave and to send him to a psychiatrist. In short, he was discredited.
This parallels a familiar story in the Gospel of John. A blind man was healed by Jesus. This would qualify as an encounter with God. What happens next in the story is that of a great controversy concerning this action.
The blind man could not explain what happened except to indicate the obvious. Before he could not see. Later he could see. The defenders of religion made every possible attempt to discredit what the blind man experienced. This was a task made easier because the healing occurred on the Sabbath.
Part of the point of the story is that the established religious community is very good at investigating irregularities — finding things that stand outside generally accepted doctrine and practice. It is not so good at recognizing what may be genuinely new. We are fond of saying that God does a new thing. How will we ever recognize the ‘new’ if we are tightly bound by what is familiar and judged normal?
“In my judgment, a ‘new thing’ currently is struggling for life within the ELCA and other denominations. It is a vision for full, unfettered recognition of gay and lesbian persons. This would allow participation in any manner of leadership. It would include recognition of any relationship enjoyed by the rest of society.
Granted, these measures are not part of our tradition and practice. Predictably, strenuous efforts have been and continue to be made to discredit the ideas.
A careful reading of scripture indicates a God who is not bound by traditions and boundaries. Could it not be that in the movement for full partnership and participation,
God is doing a new thing? Those who support this full participation have, in my judgment, the strongest strategy in witnessing to the experience of living and working with gay and lesbian persons.
People who truly share life do not spend time trying to exclude one another. The experience of sharing speaks for itself in the same way the experience of sight spoke for the blind man in John’s Gospel. There was no theological argument that could compare with the fact that a person moved from blindness to sight. There is no theological argument that can speak louder than the reality of people sharing a common humanity.
God does the unexpected. One of the most powerful statements in all of Scripture is Isaiah representing God as saying “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
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Johnson is senior pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis. This essay is an excerpt from a homily shared there on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2005. It is reprinted here with permission.