It has been a difficult week to be a United Methodist – at least for some of us. It was difficult to sit at General Conference among people whose viewpoints, perspectives, understanding, and theology of God are so divergent from my own.
There were moments when I kept asking myself how it could be that we all read the same scriptures written over 1500 years ago by dozens of authors with some texts that never made it in the cannon. How we can pray the same prayers, lift up holy hands and sing the same songs and our understanding of God be so different?
How is it that we can all feel so right and righteous in our way and what is this seemingly deep need to separate ourselves: us and them, who’s in who’s out, gay and straight, black and white, male and female, conservatives and liberals – all of the labels we place on ourselves.
We were broken. I was broken. And we live among broken people, afraid and unsure. We live among people who use Scripture and faith to justify bigotry and hate. I don’t have any data, but I’m guessing that some of those people are members of our own families. They are people we love and are called to love. Somehow.
We have work to do. The thing about being around broken people is that you become more acutely aware of your own wounds and brokenness.
The decision of our General Conference was a serious blow, not just to our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters but to all of us, the body of Christ. We are all part of systems, tribes, and groups that oppress others whether we ourselves actively participate in them or not. It is called belonging.
We belong to groups that act and speak differently from our personal view: this country, our race, gender, wealth, economic status. We are aligned with our own privileges and if we are honest, we have to think long and hard about how that impacts the unprivileged.
Despite the vote, there are thousands and thousands of affirming United Methodist and thousands more committed to the struggle. Thousands who have determined to be signs of hope and promise in this dark hour.
I know I have. I have never been more grateful for our shared life here at Park Avenue; never felt a stronger sense of my own call and purpose. Never felt more necessary as a human being and child of God as I do right now.
Our doors are open. Our minds, our hearts are open. We welcome all people without distinction. We exist and serve together and yes, it’s far from “perfect.” Believe me, I know!
And yet, there is a real sense that God dwells in this place and underlying all that we say and do, is a deep desire to love God, to understand God’s way, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are richly and authentically diverse, far more diverse than most churches even in New York City. Children of all backgrounds and races line our steps almost every Sunday. There is a child of gay parents in our day school. Gay couples sit freely and openly in our pews and serve this church and are employed on our staff.
And I’m not ready to give up the fight nor throw in the towel. I’m not ready to give up on what God can do. If that were the case, I would have given up a long time ago. And not for the sake of Methodism but for the sake of Jesus Christ and his way in the world.
The great sin of this hour, in my opinion, is not who we sleep with but our ongoing willingness to draw lines around ourselves. To separate ourselves from one another and our willingness to turn the other way.
Did you hear Maryland representative Elijah Cummings’ impassioned closing statement this week addressing Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee:
“I’ve sat here,” he said, “and listened to all of this. And it’s very painful, very painful. Some very innocent people are hurting too … We are better than this. We really are. As a country, we are so much better than this …. When we are dancing with the angels, the question will be asked what did we do. Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
My brothers and sisters, the United States of America is better than what we see. And our United Methodist Church is better than what happened this week. I am better than that and I know that you are too. We are better than that and now is our time to let our light shine even more brightly.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday; always the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It is a season of introspection; going deeper, rising higher. It is a time to be asking the hard questions of the moment about who we really are. What do we stand for? Why we are doing what we do?
In the verses before the gospel assigned for today, Jesus posed a question to his most loyal followers: “Who do you say that I am?” But first, he asked, “Who do people say that I am?”
People will say a lot of things. And oh my goodness, they came up with all kinds of answers: some said John the Baptist, others said Elijah, Jeremiah, or the ancient prophets long dead.
But Jesus pushes them further and asks but who do you say that I am. That’s the question when life is difficult. When we cannot see our way clear. That’s the question when we are beat down and confused. Who do you say that Jesus is?
The United Methodist Church has spoken as a body to say that Jesus is for some but not for all. They said that Jesus is a lover of heterosexuals – preferably married people, not even divorcees or remarried. Jesus is the one who looks at a singular aspect of a person’s humanity and wraps up their entire being into that one thing and calls it ugly and defiled.
But who do you say the son of God is? Well, for me I say, Jesus is my Maker and my Creator, my Sustainer, the lover of my soul. He is the One who showers me with grace and mercy over and over again. He looks beyond my faults and sees my needs.
He is the living Christ who bears my weaknesses for love’s sake and is yet alive in the world and alive in me. He is the Christ who says whosoever will let him, let her, let them come unto me – all who are weighed down and burdened with heavy loads – and I will give them rest. And there are absolutely no other qualifiers necessary. And that, my friends, is worth fighting for. We need to be clear about what we believe.
It’s Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus goes up a mountain – up up high, so high that he touches the sky. The Jordan River of baptism is behind and the cross of Calvary is before. Jesus goes high and calls his disciples Peter, James, and John who stand in for all of us.
As Jesus is praying, his face begins to shine like the noon day sun and his clothes became dazzling white – brighter than anyone on earth could bleach, according to Mark’s gospel.
And before you know it, Moses and Elijah also appear. “Let us build dwelling places to hold the three of you,” Peter says. He speaks for denominationalisms and structures manmade. He speaks for those who would rather live in the past afraid, rather than brave the future with the change we wish to see. He speaks as one overwhelmed by a world turned upside down.
I understand completely. But what Peter does not understand is that the dwelling place of God is the human heart, mind, and spirit. God cannot be contained in brick and mortar.
Let us not waste this crisis but use it as a pivotal moment for transformation. We are called to be transforming agents of change and until that happens, none of us are safe, not really.
I don’t know what lies ahead for the United Methodist Church. I don’t know how this thing will play out. I think it’s too soon to make any decisions. I cannot make any predictions, but I know that I want to be a sign of love and hope. There are things to learn, conversations to be had.
In the midst of the mess, my resolve has only strengthened. I am more determined than ever to be a Christian, to live out my faith as best I can and work for the full inclusion of all people; to love all even when it’s near impossible.
May God give us strength.