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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

The Lord Indeed is God

The Lord Indeed Is God

I Kings 18:20-39

This week Millie, Jane and I attended the West Michigan Annual Conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  Holy Conferencing is a once a year event with the gathering of Clergy and Laity from all churches in the Conference.  It is a decision making and worshipping body that sets the guidelines for our Conference on a variety of issues.  Some of those issues I agree with others I strongly disagree with, but it is a process that involves discussion and voting.  Some issues are old tired issues that we seem to want to struggle with year after year, abortion, homosexuality, non-violence.  Other issues deal with financial issues regarding budget, clergy compensation and other money topics.  This issue we even included an item, put up for vote that we include the word “prayer” in one of the action items passed at the General Conference.  Believe it or not, 2 people voted against it. 

The problem with Annual Conferencing is that there are many voices, many opinions, many uncertainties even after discussion on how to vote on an issue.  Everyone wants to do the right thing.  Sometimes I despair that so much time and energy is devoted to issues and the amendment to the amendment.  We easily get sidetracked onto our own agendas and lose sight of God in the process.  But God is not absent from the process.  Every once in awhile God can be heard in the passion (not emotion) of a person’s voice, in a personal story that someone shares, in a moment of rumbling in the crowd.  Every once in awhile I feel the passion rise in me about an issue and I know to pay attention to that and to sort through why that passion is rising.  Our conference journal will guide anyone interested in what decisions were made and will have other materials that may be of interest to you.

But the question that keeps tugging at me is “how do we know where the voice of God is in any of our discussions and decisions?”  If one believes he or she is right, and another of opposite opinion believes just as passionately that they are right, who is right?  How do we truly know who is right?  It seems that majority rules.  Can the majority be always right?  Can there be times the majority has gone down a path that God did not intend?  That certainly has happened in the past.  Look at the crusades, look at biblical justifications for slavery, spousal and gender abuse.  We are always on a slippery slope when we claim to be on God’s side.  We are not good at listening the Spirit God has placed within us and in others.  We are not good at listening to others’ point of view. And understanding why they have that point of view. 

God knows that we struggle with each other to figure out how to live the gospel.  There will always be exceptions to any piece of legislation that is passed.  There will always be extenuating circumstances that will make it difficult to follow human guidelines and legislation.  So my thinking travels back to what it means to be a Christian, to follow Christ.  We do that corporately when we Conference and when we worship and when we do mission.  But the true heart of the gospel is when each of us interacts with other people in light of the gospel.  That means that we see other people as children of God, worthy of God’s love, and therefore worthy of our love.  If we respond to other people with the Spirit of Jesus within us, we will begin to see their need and find ways to help.  Sometimes this may mean that we go against mandated guidelines to serve.  The church is as imperfect as its members.

A friend of mine, very unhappy with some of the decision making at Annual Conference, questioned whether she should stay with the United Methodist Church.  I reminded her that all church denominations have their faults and make decisions that we personally cannot abide by.  But we live our lives guided by Christ and we work within any given church to live out our faith.  We can speak out about an issue within that gathered body, and we can hold to our beliefs.  Families disagree among its members, but still maintain the bonds the bind it together and we, as a family of God, following Jesus can disagree, but the bonds that bind us are strong and would we choose to break those bonds by leaving? 

Culture is changing, and I think it is our responsibility to pay attention to those changes, hold fast to our faith, and live as witness to Jesus’ better way.  We have a responsibility to teach the gospel through our words and actions with each other and with those we encounter.  The gospel is lived out best through our hearts and through our respectful interactions with those we encounter.  Jesus spoke to crowds, but he interacted with individuals.  Jesus came to save, not legislate.  He calls us to be persons of mercy and love.  And in that calling we will spread the gospel.  When we learn to pay attention to the Spirit within us and respond to its pulls and tugs, we will be doing God’s work.

So I do not think we need to despair or run away because the church may make a decision we cannot abide by.  When we live by the Spirit of Jesus we will know how to respond to those individuals who could be hurt by a piece of legislation, be it church or government.  The value of being church is that we can disagree on what the gospel means, but when it comes to dealing with those around us, we follow the Spirit and how it calls us to respond to any other person knowing that they are a child of God too.  Holy conferencing is one thing.  Holy living can be quite a different thing. 

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