Can We Stay Together? 6-25-17

I’m pleased to celebrate our second anniversary today of being a Reconciling Congregation. While I was away, I saw someone write on Facebook that they had visited St. Luke Church and he said it was one of the most welcoming churches he had ever visited. That made me very proud and I think our stance as a Reconciling Congregation is part of that commitment to be welcoming. We have had people come here and say they felt welcomed by the rainbow flag by our lectern. They felt seen because it is here. When we welcome all people to our church in our mission statement, we are promising to see them, to acknowledge them as children of the Living God. Our Gospel scripture reading this morning is a challenging one. It calls us to discipleship, even when following our faith creates conflict. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Matthew 10:24-39 “A student is not superior to the teacher, the follower is not above the leader. The student should be glad simply to become like the teacher, the follower like the leader. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of the household! Don’t let people intimidate you. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing is hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light.  What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops. Don’t fear those who can deprive the body of life but can’t destroy the soul.  Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Are not the sparrows sold for pennies?  Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Abba God’s knowledge. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted. So don’t be afraid of anything—you are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before Abba God in heaven. Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before Abba God in heaven. Don’t suppose that I came to bring peace on earth.  I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to turn A son against his father, a daughter against her mother, in-law against in-law One’s enemies will be the members of one’s own household. Those who love mother or father, daughter or son more than me are not worthy of me. Those who will not carry with them the instrument of their own death—following in my footsteps—are not worthy of me. You who have found your life will lose it, and you who lose your life for my sake will find it.

Let’s reflect for a moment on how the Spirit sometimes works through conflict in our lives.

June 25, 2017

Can We Stay Together?

The main reason the United Methodist Church needs to stay united is that LGBTQ folks are in all parts of our church, every part of our church, and always have been. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning or Queer folks are in progressive and conservative churches, country and city churches. They are musicians, lay leaders, choir members, pastors, bishops, and children in our churches.

There are many other reasons the church needs to stay together – because Scripture, because God calls us to stay together; because the doctrine of grace says that every person is created in the image of God and all people can be saved by grace; because God is never finished with us; because division is a distraction from the mission of the gospel all around the world; because young people are passionate about unity and are much more open-minded toward LGBT issues than us older folks;

because even Pope Francis says the church needs to make an apology to gay folks; because there is a massive centrist movement of people in the church who are committed to creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, folks who really care about all people; because our camps and local churches and mission projects would be hurt by division; and because the church needs to be a model to the world of working together and finding a way out of no way, because we have so much to learn from each other and we’re not really complete without each other. [Bishop Ken Carter]

 

Of course, just because we need to stay together does not mean we can stay together. Our assigned reading for this morning indicates why it will be difficult, why it has been so difficult for the last 30 or 40 years. [Do you know how long the church argued over whether Jesus was divine or human? Centuries! not just decades.] The Divided Methodist Church has reached a crisis point. At the 2016 General Conference, the church barely avoided a schism by proposing a special General Conference devoted solely to talking about issues of sexuality and trying to find a Way Forward. A commission is now meeting to propose that way forward and the special general conference is set for the year 2019.

Our reading from Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Don’t suppose that I came to bring peace on earth.  I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” Family members will turn against each other in the pursuit of truth, in following their best understanding of their faith. This passage is a description of what was starting to happen in Matthew’s time, even more than in Jesus’ time. Communities and families were becoming divided by their passionate desire to live out their faith in the Living God, while having what felt like insurmountable differences.

Jesus it turns out was not the nice, go-along-to-get-along guy we imagine him to be. He was willing to take a stand. He made people angry enough to kill him. People called him not the prince of peace, but the prince of demons. They warned each other that getting involved in following him could break up your family, could cause a son to leave a father, a daughter to turn against her mother, in laws to contend with each other.

The sides are drawn in our denomination. And though most people would agree it would be better to stay together, the different sides are passionate in their belief that the other side is wrong in their understanding of what Jesus would do and teach, that the other side is leading the church to its death.

Both sides feel like they are the minority holding up the truth. Folks who advocate for LGBTQ inclusion, emphasize Jesus’ teaching of love and hanging out with the stranger. Folks who advocate for a more traditional stance emphasize sin and repentance and not going along with the ways of society. Though the sides feel they are mutually exclusive, neither has the exclusive hold on truth that they think they have. And to me that’s another reason to stay together.

This week, I read a book titled “The Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality” published by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education. They had a conference in Atlanta in preparation for the 2019 Way Forward General Conference. People presented papers proposing different ideas about how the church could stay united by having options for a “conciliar fellowship model,” a community of communities, where local churches would agree to connect with each other around basic understandings of Word, Sacrament and Order even if they disagree on some aspects – like an ecumenical church association. The book also offered an option of a “pre-conciliar fellowship” where there would be a formation of more separate associations, but maintaining a relationship.

These will be a couple of the options considered at the 2019 General Conference. I was glad to hear some of the creative thinking, and I’d be glad to share more about the ideas, or just loan you the book.

Let me close today by sharing a story with you from the book, which is biased toward church unity, but not toward a particular stance on human sexuality. “in response to a health crisis in Africa, a young US doctor went to serve on behalf of her church, a UMC. She met an African doctor and his wife there who were also United Methodists, and they worked side by side to help alleviate suffering.

After a month the young doctor was relieved by another doctor and returned home, exhausted, but inspired and energized. She planned to return for a second trip. Upon arriving for her second stint, she reunited with the African doctor, and this time she met another of his wives. With no time to think about it, they drove over the countryside, curing victims and saving lives. Many called her an angel sent from God. Many called him God’s healing hands.

When she returned home this time, she found to her delight that her state had legalized same-sex marriage and she married her partner of many years. Not long after the ceremony she accepted the opportunity for another tour of duty in Africa; she returned meeting yet a third of the African doctor’s wives. Given that he had to have at least three wives, she decided to confront her colleague, and in so doing told him about her recent marriage to her same-sex partner.

They both looked at each other horrified – he at the thought that his friend was a lesbian and therefore worthy of death, and she at the thought of the injustices of polygamy. Then they asked each other, “Which is more important, doing the work of God together or being imperfect, even sinful, in each other’s eyes?” The truck door slammed and off they went. The people they healed saw Jesus in them. [p. 38-39 The Unity of the Church]

When we are healed by someone, we see with different eyes than when we are judging someone. When we work together with another child of God, we see with different eyes than when we are judging them as a sinner in the eyes of God. I like to call seeing each other with God’s love seeing each other with Easter Eyes. I have plenty of friends who see with Easter eyes who think that we are not going to be able to stay united as a church, who are really discouraged at the constant disagreements we have had in the church over the last 30+ years.

I’m discouraged too, but this church where we have decided to welcome each other without judgment, where we make conscious decisions to open ourselves to each other and work for God’s new realm with other, gives me hope that God will open our eyes as a denomination as well, that we will keep striving to see each other with Easter eyes.

Responsive Hymn 454 Open My Eyes That I May See