The Church has been on the verge of civil war almost since the beginning. I keep wondering why I never realized how difficult it would have been to start the Church with such a diverse group of people: Jews who experienced religion through fasting and celibacy, and pagans who had experienced religion through feasts and orgies.
What could have been hard about creating a Church with that kind of diversity?!
Jesus, who knew exactly who the charter members of the Church he was creating would be, and how hard it was going to be for all of them. In his last recorded prayer, he prayed this:
"I'm praying not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me, because of them and their witness about me. The Goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind--- Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they'll be as unified and together as we are--- I in them, and you in me. Then they'll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you've sent me and loved them in the same way you've loved me." John 17:20-23 MSG
Jesus hasn't stopped praying that prayer for us.
Saturday was heart wrenching. It was close to the way I felt on September 11, 2001 when America was being attacked and bombed. The Church is under attack. Our unity is under attack. In our annual Conference, 192 congregations asked to disaffiliate with The United Methodist Church and we gathered to vote on their requests.
Bishop Carter wrote this in a public letter after extending grace and peace to those who are departing, "I invite us all to recommit ourselves to the teaching of Jesus, our Savior, our Healer, our Teacher, our Lord, our Friend. We can continue to be a church for others; God using us as the instruments by which the Spirit is poured out on all flesh. In this there is 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.'"
You can read the rest of the letter on wnccumc.org
Jesus asked that we be "unified and together."
It's not that we all think alike or act alike or vote alike. We are each beautifully and wonderfully unique, and yet One, because our Spirit is God's Spirit. Our unity is a celebration of diverse people being united by God's grace and healing.
I was surprised to see that the number of Christian denominations in the world is currently around 45,000 and growing. 45,000 different understandings and expressions of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Do we really need that many? Are we saying that we all have to agree on everything in order to worship together and be a follower of Jesus Christ? That is not possible. ever. never was.
Jesus has invited us all to follow him and with God's Spirit in us, we can do that. But we have to stay focused on Jesus, not the others around us. I am going to continue to follow Jesus. I am going to continue to study and preach His Word. I am going to continue to pray for those who don't yet know the mercy, grace and healing that is available to all of us through the power of Jesus' resurrection.
"Don't judge others," Jesus said. "Here's what I want you to do: Follow me, concentrate on making disciples for me, and together, we will transform the world."
So I am going to do just that. Jesus is capable of sorting all this out and leading us forward into loving every person into his Kingdom where he is King, Lord, and Judge. We don't have to fill His roles, just ours: to "love God and love our neighbors."
I invite you to open your heart and follow Jesus, giving grace to others to do the same as we wave farewell to many of our friends and colleagues saying, not goodbye, but "see you later."
With great sorrow and tears,