Sermon preached May 6, 2012
First United Methodist Church, Duluth
Scripture Readings: I John 4:7-21; Galatians 6:7-10
Play a bit of The Byrds, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.”
Weary. I am weary this morning. Many of you know that for the past two weeks I have been at the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, arriving home late yesterday afternoon. General Conference is the every four year gathering of United Methodists from around the world. The General Conference is the highest policy making body in our denomination. With our church growing in Africa, this General Conference 40% of the delegates came from outside the Unites States – from Europe, the Philippines, Russia, as well as Africa.
The schedule at General Conference is always busy. The day begins with morning prayer at 8 am and ends with evening worship, which is scheduled to be completed at 9:30 pm. In order to process petitions, recommended changes to our Book of Discipline or our social statements, each delegate is assigned to a legislative committee. I was honored to be elected the chairperson of my committee which dealt with ministry and higher education. What I was not aware of was that this also meant I met with the agenda committee each morning for a breakfast meeting at 6:30 am. If I don’t look spectacularly tanned for having spent so much time in Tampa perhaps it is because I walked from my hotel to the convention center in the dark and returned at night in the dark. Some days I never left the convention center at all.
Physically, I am still weary from these days.
But I am also weary emotionally and, in some ways, spiritually. The United Methodist Church is truly a global church in a way unique to other denominations in the Unites States. All delegates present vote on all the issues, but sometimes our contexts for ministry are very different. The social and cultural situation in many African countries is dramatically different than ours.
There is beauty in the global nature of our church. Gathered together we see that the body of Christ, those who follow Jesus all around the world, is Technicolor and multi-vocal. I am going to cherish this gift I received from a woman in the Philippines who was in my legislative committee. I will not forget the night I wished a delegate from the Congo “good night” in French – bon nuit. He was so excited that perhaps we could have a conversation in his language and then found out that beyond bon nuit, my abilities in French are un petite.
There is struggle in the global nature of our church. How do we fairly represent the geographically and theologically diverse voices in our church? What sort of structures might foster a creative connection while recognizing different ministry needs in different contexts? And then there is the issue of human sexuality. As you perhaps read in the newspaper the other day, our denomination continues to limit the participation of GLBT persons in some ways – such as ordination or union services. In the committee I chaired we had a debate about clergy officiating at same-sex unions. Currently United Methodist clergy are prohibited from officiating at such services. Delegates from Africa shared that this kind of thing did not happen in their country and they were told by many of their members that they would leave the church were the United Methodists to allow this. Other delegates from the United States shared how this prohibition was getting in the way of ministry, pastoral ministry with members and reaching out to young people. In the end the vote to allow clergy to officiate at same-sex unions failed in my committee by four votes. I was disappointed and heartbroken, and was so again when our current denominational policies were affirmed by the entire General Conference this past Thursday, leading to a protest on the floor of the meeting. We have not yet figured this out, and it is spiritually and emotionally draining, and I am weary.
So you have heard some bad news this morning, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, always good news. Here it is – “God is love.” “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.” God is love, life-animating, life-affirming love.
This God of love extends love to all – to all: black, white, various shades in-between, American, European, Asian, African, rich, poor, gay, straight. God is love
God is love, and we are to love in God’s name, in the spirit of Jesus. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…. We love because God first loved us…. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” God is love and God invites us to live in love. This is good news, and that doesn’t change because we have not yet gotten love right at The United Methodist General Conference.
God is love – life-affirming, life-animating, energizing love. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right…. Let us work for the good of all.”
This morning I am weary. This morning my heart is still hurting. Yet this morning, I will not let that weariness turn into a weariness about doing good. God is love, life-affirming, life-animating, energizing love and I do not intend to grow weary in doing what is right, in doing good.
In our flawed, human church, with its cracks and breaks, God’s love is still known and lived. There are incredible people who follow Jesus in The United Methodist Church – people with vision, and passion and energy who are determined to move the church and to help work with God to change the world. For all its flaws and ability to cause some hurt to people by its decisions, the General Conference itself offers the opportunity for conversations across the continents. Yes, I hope in the near future there is greater autonomy for regions of the church to make some important decisions, including decisions about human sexuality. And I also appreciate the chance we have to have conversations with people whose cultures shy away from almost any discussion of human sexuality whatsoever. God is love and now is not the time to grow weary in doing good.
In our flawed, human church, with its cracks and breaks, God’s love is still known and lived. Since The United Methodist Church joined with other groups six years ago, with the goal of eliminating death from malaria, the death rate has been cut in half. As recently as 2008, there were over 1 million deaths per year from malaria – a death every 30 seconds. The current number of deaths from malaria is still too high, 665,000, but that is one every minute, not every thirty seconds. There is progress and more work to do. God is love and now is not the time to grow weary in doing good.
In our flawed, human church, with its cracks and breaks, God’s love is still known and lived. We missed the boat again on a broad statement on human sexuality, yet we also affirmed that the church was in ministry to help people in their marriages and families and that we are in ministry with all people who are single, and in families in various configurations. Further, while I remain in disagreement with our denomination on its prohibition of same-sex marriage and will continue to work to change it, there is nothing in our denominational policies that prohibits me from working against the amendment to our state constitution which would define marriage in purely heterosexual terms, and I intend to do just that. God is love and now is not the time to grow weary in doing good.
And we have before ourselves as a church a unique opportunity to refashion our life together as by your vote we are moving toward a merger with Chester Park UMC. This can be more than welcoming new people into our shared life and ministry, though welcome them we will. This is an opportunity for us to ask who we want to be in ministry for Jesus Christ as a old/new church. God’s Spirit may be at work here. God is love and now is not the time to grow weary in doing good.
As God’s people we will sometimes feel weary, physically, emotionally and maybe even spiritually. We will sing some weary tunes – just look at the psalms. But because God is love we will always be invited to lay down our weary tune, to rest ourselves in a new song, and to be reenergized for doing good. Amen.