Sunday, June 2, 2019

Reflections… It is not unusual, when we gather together as clergy from the Baltimore Annual Conference, as we did in Executive Session, for some hours this past week, for folks to share a story or two about the local church they have been serving. Maybe this is a year they are moving from one appointment to another and so the conversation is angst and hope in equal measure. This year our conversations centered in the decisions made at the Special Session of the General Conference as we prepared to elect new clergy delegates to the next General Conference to be held in May 2020. We found ourselves sitting in the tension with one another. Not an angry place to be…just a chasm of uncertainty. I might say to you that it is like watching the evening news waiting for someone to declare definitely what will happen next. In the United Methodist church, we are sitting at a time best described as in between. We are not exactly who we have always been and we are not yet who we will be, but I come home from four days of Holy Conference to affirm for you that we are yet alive. It was my 35th Annual Conference, my first was the 200th anniversary of the Methodist Church and I was ordained into ministry that year. Three and a half decades later our yearly gatherings are a bit like a family reunion. Which is another way of saying, you know what someone is going to say even as they step up to the microphone and identify themselves. This year we did something no one thought would work. And because of the strategy, two openly gay, married to same gender folk, candidates for ordained ministry received majority votes and were ordained on the last night of the Conference along with 24 other candidates for ministry. We by passed the Book of Discipline with strategy. Breaking the rules to be sure but when 500 people stand together to call a rule unjust, well something happens. And for us it felt an awful lot like the Holy Spirit blowing in unexpected but welcome ways. We remembered who we are. It was not a unanimous vote but it didn’t have to be. It was greater than ¾ which it had to be and as we moved onward into the business that is the conference all over the United States United Methodist clergy followed our strategy. In 1771 John Wesley, our founding father, preached a sermon called A Catholic Spirit. He wrote it down and published it. One of 53 sermons he self published, he thought he was that good. One Fall, I did a preaching series of Wesley’s sermons and found that I preferred this over all the rest. A Catholic Spirit describes Wesley’s preferred reality, a people who even in their moments of disagreement find unity in love. He draws the text for the sermon from the Old Testament of 2Kings 10:15 He went on from there and came upon Jehonadab the Recabite who was on his way to meet him. Greeting him, he said, “Are we together and of one mind in this?” Jehonadab said, “We are—count on me.” “Then give me your hand,” said Jehu. 2 Jehu, by the way was on a killing steak on his way to become King of Israel. But that reality is a story for another day. From this Scripture Wesley framed his question, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” As we prepare ourselves to come to the table of the Lord this morning I want to invite you to think about what unity might look like in this church. We are struggling in the Church Council to make a decision about who we are in relationship with the gay community. The United Methodist delegation at our International meeting in February declared on behalf of the denomination that the most important thing is that we declare homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching and in the shadows cast by that statement drafted and passed punitive resolutions for clergy who officiate at same gender weddings and forbid local churches to allow those weddings in our churches, with full knowledge that same gender marriage is now the right of the land here in the United States. Some of you have asked us to step outside this rule and declare ourselves as Potomac UMC to be open to all while others have expressed a concern about what disobedience to the denomination might mean for us in the longer term. June 11, the Council will meet again and I hope you will come and voice your opinion about who you are as a local church. I invite you to hold John Wesley’s framework in mind as we unpack our difference in love. Wesley wrote “You need not come over to me or bring me over to you. We can disagree. The most credible Christian witness in the world is the religion which breathes the most love. So, love me. Love me as a companion I the Kingdom and with the of Jesus and a joint heir with you of his glory. Pray for me. Wrestle with God on my behalf. Provoke me to do good works. Speak to me in love whatever you believe to be for my soul’s health. Speak and spare not either to amend my faults, strengthen my weaknesses, build me up in love, making me more fit to serve God. And I will pledge to same to you. Though we might not think alike, cannot we not love alike? Everyone of invited to Gospel feast. May it bind us this day as one in the heart of God. Amen.”

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