by Rev. James Howell, Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church
As I’m packing to go to St. Louis for General Conference, my mood oscillates. Part of me feels like Caleb and Joshua, acknowledging there are giants in the land but also surprising, sumptuous fruit to be had. Then I drift into a drowsy kind of denial like the three disciples in Gethsemane, trying to stave off the likelihood that Jesus is about to be crucified once more. The fruit seems unlikely. But with God all things are possible.
All of us fall into one of two categories. Some fear and grieve their sense that the civilization they know and love is crumbling around them. Others fear and grieve that the world they dream of will never come to be. Christians, because of the greatness of God, have good cause to understand both, but to be afraid of neither.
To cross into the land and seize the fruit, courage, faith and love will be required. Courage embraces risk and cost. Courage isn’t assured of outcomes. Courage is about faith in something larger than me and my secure preferences. Courage isn’t devising the cleverest strategy to win the vote. Courage is being the Body in a world that doesn’t get or love our beloved Lord.
Faith: do we realize that when we say “A split is inevitable,” we’ve shrunk our vision of God down to an ineffectual, co-opted weakling who can only baptize our limitedness? The true God is magnificently larger than our inevitably blurry perceptions of God. The living God embraces all of us in our dogged yet broken determination to be faithful disciples. None of us understands or teaches infallibly. Mercy is required: we can’t elude God’s, and so we never flag in our zeal to show mercy.
We are God’s church. It’s not ours. The mark of the Church isn’t victory, or finagling votes, or even being right. They will know we are Christians by our love. Love does not insist on its own way. Love bears all things. Love doesn’t threaten. If God’s Spirit is in us, we bear fruit. And so as we go to St. Louis, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control evident in how we do our business or think about the others?
The world is watching. Will we be nothing more than a cross and flame pasted on top of the divisive ideologies people are already burdened by? The world doesn’t need Christ or us Methodists to feed their cultural frustrations and rancor. The world needs an alternative, pulling off the impossible, loving and united in ministry in the thick of divergence on things that really do matter.
God is watching. God looks around at us and sees thoughtful, prayerful, biblically-focused, holy, broken, sinful, confused, visionary, faithful followers of Christ who connect those dots differently on human sexuality. Does Christ hope we get a divorce? Christ prayed and prays for unity. His heart is larger than all of us. He doesn’t need protection.
I’ve blogged many times saying human sexuality is not at the core of our faith. Many of my sisters and brothers disagree – despite, as I’ve noticed, that even the most conservative books with titles like Key United Methodist Beliefs don’t mention human sexuality. For most of us, core beliefs are about God, the Trinity, God’s saving acts, grace, and hope, not our fallen, broken responses to the marvel that is God. If human actions are at the core, then I would think that splitting up God’s beloved church would rise to the top of unacceptable actions. Our core is Christ, the cross, his resurrection. He is our unity, nothing else.
The One Church plan, which I support, is terribly flawed and not the dream in God’s heart. It does invite people on both sides to love, to work together, and even to repent of rejoicing in the wrong. Both sides are sure the other side is wrong. If you think I am wrong or flawed about any or many of the things of God, I do not mind. I don’t wish to be rid of you. We can, with courage, faith and love, live and thrive in church with people who are wrong. There’s nobody else anyhow.
I’ve received much mail in recent days, telling me how to vote, threatening dire consequences if the vote goes wrong, imploring me to read Bible verses. Today I received a holy letter, from 31 members of a church, thanking me for serving, expressing love, and pledging to surround us and our church in prayer for peace. Period. Made me smile. I think Jesus smiles. I believe in miracles and am praying for one. The miracle could just be crossing over the river and finding the fruit, living into the fruit, being Jesus’ church full of blessed, flawed, loving, wrong and wronged people. Together.
This post was originally shared on Rev. James Howell’s blog. Read the original.