Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Sermon Introducing A Commission on the Way Forward

This is the written manuscript I preached from October 28th. While I preach from this document, I do not claim this is word-for-word.

Micah 6:8
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

          God, through Micah, tells us exactly what he wants from us.  Do Justice. Love Mercy. And walk humbly with Me. That’s it. The secret of life. The will of God for you. In fact, Jesus even seems to restate it to the Pharisees:
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. [1]

So lets quickly talk about these 3 things.
      The first thing God wants from us is to do justice. Now justice tends to refer to punishment in our nation. That’s not what God means when he says do justice. God was talking about fairness, equality for all people. Just look what God says before this passage about the state of the country:
11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. [2]
Justice means righting the wrongs of those who came before us, and recognizing the wrongs in our midst. It means stopping oppression in all its forms.

We are to love mercy. If justice is making sure people are not wronged, Mercy takes it a step farther. Mercy says we are to help those who haven’t earned it. One bible translates it “Kindness.” It is helping those who don’t have the ability to help themselves. And Jesus was all about loving mercy.  Miracle after miracle were acts of mercy:
Healing the lame, the blind, the lepers, the demon filled, raising the dead. Not because any of these people deserved, or earned, or had a right to be healed. Simply as an act of mercy, of kindness. He helped those who couldn’t help themselves.

The last requirement God gives us is to walk humbly with him. The first 2 were focused on other people, but this one is about God.  And I love the way it describes what we do with God: we walk humbly. When we walk with God, we catch a glimpse of his heart for this world.  “Humbly” is not put there as an accident. It is as important as what we do. Humility means seeing ourselves rightly. Not less than what we are, and not more than what we are. And when we walk with God, we are forced to humility. We are forced to see our worth through God’s eyes, and to see our smallness. We are not all powerful. But even so, God can use us to transform the world.
John Wesley has these 3 rules to live by, that really sound Micah: First, Do No Harm. 2nd Do Good. 3rd. Stay in love with God.

Ok, now for one way we can practice those three things as a church.  (hold on to them for a minute and we will come back to them.)
At our last Methodist General Conference in 2016, a special commission call “A Way Forward” was created to talk about possible plans for changing our stance on homosexuality. This happened because for decades, we as a denomination have been divided on our interpretation of Scripture and God’s will on this subject. It comes up at every General Conference and takes over the meeting, keeping us from talking about making new disciples and transformation. Over the years, We have written in more accepting language, and then reacted with more limiting language.
In February 2019, a special called General Conference will be voting to change the language currently in our Book of Discipline and our stance as a denomination on homosexuality. Right now, this is what we as a denomination say: Everyone, regardless of orientation or practice, is welcome in our churches and can become a member.  However, practicing self avowed homosexuals cannot be ordained.  UMC clergy cannot officiate over same-gender weddings nor can those weddings take place in UMC churches. Pastors who break these rules can be stripped of their ordination. 

So there are 3 Plans that A Commission on the Way Forward have brought forward. As I share those plans with you, I will tell you what that means for us as a congregation.
One Church Plan. This plan, preferred by the majority of the Council of Bishops would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline that prohibits same-gender weddings in UMC properties and ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” It would add language to protect churches and pastors who choose not to allow same-gender marriages. 
In this plan, each church would decide their policy on hosting weddings. Each pastor would decide their policy performing weddings. Each Conference, would decide their policy on ordination. A church would let the Conference know their stance, so a pastor that best fits your position would be appointed.  That all means that you as a church would have to figure out if we would want to host weddings and if you would be okay with a homosexual pastor.
Connectional Conference Plan. This plan would replace the current jurisdictional conferences with three connectional conferences based on affinity: Progressive, Traditional, and Unity. All three would use a general Book of Discipline with the ability to adapt other portions to their context for ministry. In this plan, each church would have to pick which of the 3 new conferences we belonged to. So again, we would have to know where we stand as a church.
Traditional Plan. This plan, developed more fully toward the end of Commission on the Way Forward process, broadens the definition of “self-avowing practicing homosexual”; puts penalties in place for disobedience to the Discipline; and requires bishops, pastors and annual conferences to certify adherence to the Discipline. This would most likely mean an exodus of churches that welcome homosexuals. It was decided largely unconstitutional (the Methodist Constitution) by the judiciary council. 
There is also the possibility that nothing will happen.

If any of these are chosen in February, it means we will need to have conversation as a church about who we are. Now, I haven’t been here long, so I don’t know where you are, individually or as a congregation, or what conversations you have already had. So I am coming in with some assumptions based on the 4 other UMCs I have served. The first assumption is that we are not all in agreement.  The second is that this is personal for some of us. In every church I have been in, no matter how conservative, there are family members who are homosexual.  In some of the more conservative ones I have served, there have been LGBTQ+ people who attend those churches. So, we are not discussing some hypothetical group of people we haven’t met. We are talking about people we know and love. People who may well be in our congregation.

So with that said, I want us to start talking about this following God’s expectations in Micah. To do justice/do no harm. To show kindness/do good. And to humbly walk with God. In our conversations with each other. And I pray that we use those expectations or John Wesley’s Rules to also guide us in our position within the church.
      This makes me nervous, but also really excited. Because anytime we do something that is tough, it gives us an opportunity to grow.And we can demonstrate to our world how to have respectful conversations even in the midst of disagreement. And our world desperately needs that right now.

Poem by Mary Bowen:
How shall we worship our God?
We have heard what the Lord requires of us.
Leave empty talk and pride behind.
We must walk the walk.
Prepare to step out in faith, even into troubled waters.
Only God knows where we might need to go.
Don't be afraid.
Jesus will guide our steps along the way,
Teaching us to walk humbly,
To love boldly,
To serve God with body, soul, mind, and strength.
Let us pray for the humility and courage
To follow where the Spirit leads.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 23:23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The New International Version. 2011 (Mic 3:9–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

No comments:

Post a Comment