Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What Just Happened?

I love The United Methodist Church!

This is the place that has nurtured and taught me in the faith.  I have life-long friends because of my relationship with the denomination.

I answered God's call upon my life to set apart my life in service to the people of the UMC!

Part of that service has been to serve on Oklahoma's delegations to General Conference and I throw myself into that just like I do everything.  The church I love seems very divided on the issue of how we love the segment of humanity that is not in the straight majority with regards to sexuality.

I've never been short on conviction.  I ask your
forgiveness if my enthusiasm has led me 
to offend rather than persuade.
There has been consistently through the years about 55 percent that have voted to retain the prohibition on the marriage of people of the same gender as well as the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" (2016 Book of Discipline).  This also means that there is a sizeable minority of 45 percent that is not able to pass their legislation but can make things very uncomfortable for the majority.  At the General Conference we just witnessed, we passed a flawed traditional plan that we were unable to amend to make it constitutional.  The Judicial Council will examine it and let us know in April what parts (if any) will become a part of church doctrine.

The majority of the leadership of the bishops in the United States comes out of the 45 percent.  Our general church agencies also has leadership that resides in the 45 percent.  This has created frustration for the 55 percent majority with the worship at these conferences as well as some of the teaching materials and emphasis.  Now you must remember that the 55 percent majority includes a minority of churches in the United States and the majority of the churches from our Central Conferences which includes Africa, Asia and Europe.  This makes for an interesting dynamic!

Our ministry with the LGBTQ community is not our strong suit.  We disagree in the United States and we disagree around the world.  We have disagreed at many general conferences before!  Our strategy for dealing with it was to have a general conference that focused only on this issue - as if we could deal with it once and for all and then focus on other things.  Unfortunately, books like Strengths Finder remind us that it is not a good idea to focus only on your greatest weakness.  It is better to lean into what you are good at.

At other General Conferences, we may have the debates but we also have reports and decide on legislation on other issues where we can find common ground.  These allow us to celebrate our victories and to remind us why we are together.  When we take those out of the equation, we are left giving each other the stink eye!  In hindsight, this was not a good idea!

It may be that the denomination as a whole is gearing up toward a metamorphosis.  Whether this will be two new denominations or a variety of expressions is unknown.

I do believe that this is not something specific to our church but a reflection of a disease that is spreading around the world.  In the United States, polarization is easy to see in our government.  We know it is broken.  But it is also affecting other governments across the world.

When we distance ourselves from others, it is easier to overlook harm.  When we separate ourselves from others, it is easier to allow oppression because we do not identify with them – they are the other. Violence against others can then take root because we don’t really imagine them to be our siblings.  But our faith reminds us that we see the other differently.  In fact, when we have a problem showing respect, Jesus tells us in Matthew “I am the other!”

The church I serve is not theologically homogenous.  It is not politically homogenous.  We would not unite around a whole variety of issues.  But we do unite around Jesus who commands us to love God and neighbor.  That second part trips us up sometimes.  When we polarize, it becomes even more difficult.
But I believe that the church serves an important function.  There is no other place in our society where people voluntarily associate with others who think differently.  Within the United States, we need The United Methodist Church as a place where we pledge to love one another in spite of our differences.  It is a commitment and a discipline.   People seem bad at both these things today maybe because we are able to have our own way so much of the time.
So if you were anxious from the General Conference we just witnessed, that is understandable.  Anxiety abounded from all sides!  It is uncomfortable to sit with one another and disagree.  Some may be experiencing a lot of anger which is one of the stages of grief.  
When I offer pastoral care to someone who has just been through an intense experience, I advise them to hold off on any major life decisions until they get a little distance from it.  I think this is wise advice for any United Methodist today.  We need to sit and process what just happened.  We need to take some time in prayer.  We need to gather in our local churches for worship.
I would advise pastors to heed this advice as well.  Don't immediately lean into wrath or decision.  Instead, lean into the grace of Jesus Christ.  It is our strength after all.  Remind your people of their faith and the story of salvation.  Ultimately, this is what holds us together.
And finally, let me say that I will walk this journey with you.  I am pledged to love you.  This is what God has ordained me to do.
This is why I continue to declare that I love The United Methodist Church.   
Even when its hard.
In Christ,


Monday, February 25, 2019

Transforming Grace

Gospel lectionary for Sunday: Luke 9:28-36 (NRSV)

I write this anticipating General Conference and by the time it is posted, our conferencing will nearly be complete.  By the time you read this, it should be finished.

I think it is fitting that we are looking toward Transfiguration Sunday in the liturgical calendar year as we try to make sense out of what happened in St. Louis.

It is interesting that Transfiguration comes for United Methodists as a bridge between the season following the Epiphany which deals with light and revelation and the season of Lent which encourages repentance and sacrifice.

We are not the turtle but rather more
like the remora fish who finds
sustenance from the one who rises to give life.
In Luke's version, we discover that the Transfiguration of Jesus is almost like a vision for the disciples.  Only in Luke's account does it claim that they were very sleepy.  Verse 32 states, "Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him."  The note following the word "awake" informs us that it could also be read, "but when they were fully awake."

In Luke's Gospel, this may be a foreshadowing of when the disciples slept as Jesus prays in Gethsemane prior to his betrayal and arrest.  Mark and Matthew tell us that they are the same three that witnessed the transfiguration but Luke keeps them anonymous using the more generic term "disciples".

Luke also omits the fact that Jesus found them asleep three times and reports only a single time that Jesus returned to find them napping.

What does it mean to be asleep spiritually?  And what does it mean to wake up?

Often, we can be worn down spiritually.  Some may be celebrating but this always leaves others grieving when we have a binary choice.  It may be that no one is very happy.  Regardless, we remember that the Transfiguration calls us to wake and to bear witness to the glory of Jesus Christ!

As we prepare ourselves for repentance and sacrifice once more, may we remember that the glory of Jesus is not our glory.  We may point to it but we do not control it or hoard it.  

But it does rouse us and move us into the world.  

May that be enough for today.

In Christ,


Monday, February 18, 2019

Heading to General Conference

This coming weekend, I’ll be heading to the special called General Conference for The United Methodist Church.  What makes it special is that we will only be dealing with legislation surrounding the church’s stance on human sexuality.  Currently, we have the language that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in God’s image” but we also state that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

For better or worse, I've voted
on legislation at General Conference 
for each of these Disciplines. I've
even written legislation that was
included in the 2012 edition.
Within United Methodism, the General Conference is the only body that can change our doctrine and we debate it through the legislative process.  In a few days of this post, we will consider various options for what we might do regarding our stance.  Some of the main considerations are the One Church Plan which was approved by the majority of bishops, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Modified Traditional Plan.  The sessions will be live streamed if you wish to follow along.

The One Church Plan localizes the current doctrine surrounding homosexuality by allowing each clergy person to follow his or her conscience regarding gay weddings.  No clergy is currently forced to perform a wedding if he or she chooses not to do so and this would continue.  The default for churches is they would continue to disallow gay weddings unless a church takes a vote to change the policy.  Annual Conferences (where the clergy pool comes from for local church appointments) would decide whether or not to ordain gay clergy.  Churches would still decide whether or not they would receive a gay pastor.  Currently, liberal regions of the country ordain gay clergy which is against United Methodist doctrine.  The One Church Plan allows a more Libertarian understanding of marriage and ordination since neither practice is considered a sacrament in The United Methodist Church.  A person married by the state is not looked upon any differently by our denomination than a person married by a pastor.

The Connectional Conference Plan would redistribute the five jurisdictions in the United States into three new jurisdictions that are organized not by geography but by theology concerning LGBT marriage and ordination.  There would be a liberal, moderate and conservative jurisdiction.  Each annual conference would vote to determine which they would join.  Then if a local church did not agree with the annual conference placement, it could also vote to join a different jurisdiction and be placed in the closest geographic vicinity.  Under this plan, we could possibly have three different United Methodist churches in Edmond in three different jurisdictions.  This plan takes a lot of constitutional amendments to the Book of Discipline which requires a 2/3 majority vote as well as 2/3 ratification by the annual conferences.  I do not believe this plan has much chance of passing the needed vote threshold.

The Modified Traditional Plan would seek to bring more accountability to the church's current stance.  This would be for bishops and clergy alike.  Those who are not able to abide by the church's polity would be encouraged to leave the denomination.  Labeled the "gracious exit," it would apply to both clergy, churches and even annual conferences.  Presumably, they would leave to form another denomination similar in structure but with a more progressive theology.  The "Modified" portion of this plan comes from legislation that is seeking to make it compatible with the ruling of the Judicial Council.

The gracious exit is written around the idea that those with inclusive theology would leave, taking their property and assets with them.  While this group is marketed as the intended target, there are many more conservative churches that would also take this path if it were available.  So the unstated consequence of the gracious exit is that there would be many churches who opt to leave which greatly decreases the ministries globally as well as locally.  While I do not condone keeping anyone in covenant with me against their will, I don't believe there is a "one size fits all" option for churches seeking to withdraw.  Each church is unique.  Some have more debt than assets and are barely staying afloat.  Others have property that is worth a fortune!  Some churches have millions of dollars in endowments.

The gracious exit perpetuates the idea of the self-made person or in this case, self-made church.   Within a connectional system like our denomination, no church is an island and we may not think about all of the benefits that a local church receives.  Our own church has received thousands of dollars in grant money over the past couple of years with more promised in the year to come.  Clergy serving these local churches have received spiritual formation and training from seminaries as well as districts and conferences.  Our own district provides coaching at no charge to many of our pastors.  While there is legislation that would cover pension liabilities, there are many more factors to be considered which is why I favor the current system of review by the Annual Conference Board of Trustees for a church seeking to exit.

There are many people who would favor us passing some form of legislation so that we would not continue to wrestle over this issue every four years.  While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, no matter what passes (or even if nothing passes and we retain the current language), there will continue to be alternative legislation being put forward every four years.  I can guarantee that there will be more legislation surrounding human sexuality at the 2020 General Conference.  Churches that leave denominations in order to have greater clarity surrounding this issue continue to find debate.  Much of the new wrangling comes from evangelical pastors who have discovered their children to be gay which often changes their stances to become more inclusive.

Conflict is a normal part of human relationships and the variety of biblical interpretation was present before the church began.  In the Jewish rabbinical tradition of Jesus, there were often schools of thought that emphasized different points in scripture.  Early on, there was the idea of Holiness which claimed that God's covenant people should follow certain behavioral guidelines outlined in scripture so that we might be acceptable to God.  Another idea is that we serve as a Light to the Nations which means that we are to bring the knowledge of God to people that are not of our tribe.  As these ideas have evolved, we continue to see them today.  Holiness is more likely espoused by those emphasizing personal holiness or the internal relationship with God.  Light to the Nations is more external and includes social holiness or the love of neighbor.  Both are biblical and the churches and pastors of our denomination tend to lean on one or the other during the debate over human sexuality.   Both are parts of Wesleyan grace as Sanctification tends to be featured in Holiness while Prevenient Grace falls more in line with Light to the Nations.  Holding them in tension makes us stronger theologically.

No matter what plan passes or even if nothing changes, the debate will continue.  As Christians, it is healthier if we realize that this difference of opinion does not change my duty to love God with all my being and to love my neighbor as myself.  It is likely that we differ on a number of issues and are not so disturbed by these other ideas as much.  I don't think it is any coincidence that this Sunday's gospel lectionary is Luke 6:27-38.  This passage begins with the admonition by Jesus to love your enemies and concludes with Jesus reminding us that the measure we give will be the measure we get back.  We must be careful not to let the current polarization that is ongoing both in our country and around the world to overly influence our stance toward one another.  I believe that how a church operates with differences of opinion can witness to our nation and to the world on how there can be a better way to get along.  This just might be the Way Forward for all of us.

In Christ,


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Woe is Me!

Lectionary Reading: Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)

Sunday's reading is the beginning of the "Sermon on the Plain" in Luke which is similar in content to the more familiar (and longer) "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew.  

If you are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, you'll remember that it begins with the Beatitudes which are the blessings that Jesus proclaims.  There are similarities between the two but Matthew spiritualizes the conditions while Luke allows them to perhaps speak differently to us.

For instance, while Luke relates, "Blessed are you who are poor" in verse 20, Matthew's version says "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."  in 5:3.

Luke then states "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled."  Matthew's verse on hunger (5:6) is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

Both Gospel writers are the most similar around grief.  Luke's "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" is not all that different from Matthew's "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  

Scholars argue over which is the earliest version (and most original to Jesus).  Of course, Jesus traveled as a preacher and could have changed up his sermon from town to town.  I sometimes change the way I preach a story from one service to the next and that occurs only an hour away in time!

I've laughed and cried - I would rather be laughing.
Is it this simple?
If we spiritualize these conditions, they may be easier for us to relate.  In comparison to the standards of the world, I'm not poor by any means and I'm certainly not hungry.  Is there a way that we can access these blessings?

This becomes even more difficult for us in Luke because they are followed by the "woes".  It is interesting that the NRSV chose to translate them in this way since "woe" is not a word we commonly use today.  The Common English Bible translates them as "How terrible for you..." which does sound bad.  They are designed to relate a feeling of misery which is a reversal of what people then (and now) would have thought in dealing with those conditions.  To be rich, sated and laughing was seen as the very epitome of blessing.

This in itself becomes a paradox.  How in the world does the Kingdom of God belong to someone who is poor?  If they had God's Kingdom, they would be rich.


In Christ,


Photo by Mark Kjerland via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sermon for this blog post:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Worthy or Not, Here I Come!

Lectionary Reading: Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)

One of my great reluctances to answer the call to ministry was my reservation on preaching.  I felt that God was calling me to some kind of church work but I didn't think writing and presenting a paper every week of my life sounded like the kind of thing I would enjoy.

There is a lot of work involved in good preparation but there is also the sense that I would have a word from God for the people gathering on Sunday morning.  Who am I to speak on God's behalf?

I have always had a sense of allowing people to decide for themselves.  I didn't want to be the kind of leader who would order people around.  People should be encouraged to live out their own destinies!

Embed from Getty Images
I never wanted my preaching to feel like this!

Yet, I kept close to the church.  I worked as a youth minister and it was the right work for me at that time in my life.  I still enjoy the time I get to spend with our youth (although I cede the cool factor to the younger clergy who are closer to their age).  While I was in youth ministry, the opportunity to preach came along thanks to my good friend Van Hawxby.  

I reluctantly accepted the opportunity and found out that I really enjoyed my time in the pulpit.  I still like to preach but I wouldn't say that I am worthy of the pulpit.

The idea of being "worthy" to preach is a difficult one.  I think once someone assumes this characteristic, it almost becomes a disqualifying factor.  This becomes the point where you begin to feel "preached at" rather than led by a fellow Christian on the same journey.  So in spite of being worthy or not, good preachers answer the call as a matter of faithful response.

This same dichotomy of worthiness and faithfulness is something all Christians encounter (or should at least wrestle with).

Many times you may here someone say, "I couldn't teach Sunday school because I don't know the Bible well enough."  This argument is in essence, "I don't feel worthy to instruct others biblically."

Others don't want to assume church leadership on committees because they may feel they don't have what it takes to serve.

Mission trips may lack participants because some feel inadequate to the work involved.

I've heard people say time and again, "I could never forgive that person for what they did."  This is said as if they would not have God's help to do this difficult task.

The fishermen in today's reading do not feel they are worthy to do what they are being asked to do.  Yet at the same time, they clearly follow Jesus.  This reminds us that grace comes to us first and whether or not we respond determines our faithfulness but it does not decide God's love for us. 

So I try to assume that I am worthy by the grace of God to fulfill my duties as a Christian.  But I also try to stay humble and realize that my worthiness is not earned but granted in Jesus Christ.  Some days I am better at this than others!

In Christ,


Sermon for above blog post: