Luke 10:25-28Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”   28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

When Jesus said we can follow these two aspects of the law, and all the other laws would be fulfilled, was he making our life more or less difficult as disciples? With the 10 Commandments and the 600+ rules the Jewish community found in Leviticus through Deuteronomy, you would think two items to fulfill all the rest would be a good thing. But, it does not always feel that way. Jesus had a way of taking the Commandments and stepping them up. When we are told in Exodus 20 14 You shall not commit adultery. We think just because we have not had an affair we have fulfilled that law. Then, Jesus ups the ante by in Mt. 5:28 saying, But I say to you that everyone who looks at a person with lust has already committed adultery in his/her heart. – Jesus just turned a (relatively) simple behavior (or lack thereof) into our thought and motivation patterns – something much harder to control or avoid. Instead, Jesus said LOVE God, and LOVE your neighbor and you are fulfilling all the law. Not only that… but you will “live!”

Two important definitions here are, love in this passage is the Greek work ‘Agape’. This is the unconditional, self-sacrificial giving of oneself for another (for their best interests). This is not the love that is an emotional expression of “feelings” – it is real, hard, work. The other important definition in this passage is ‘Live.’ As in “do this, and you will live.” This word is from the Greek root zoe, meaning to breathe, enjoy, have vigor. Somehow by loving God with our whole selves (generally we only love God with parts of and not our whole being) and loving our neighbors (which is anyone we have the ability to help) even though it is real, hard, work – it gives us (the breath of vigor to enjoy) the life we have while giving our (whole) selves to someone else: God and neighbor. This concept is important to remember when we have conflict and difficulty with our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet, the imperative TO LOVE is the same.

This is where the United Methodist Church finds itself, a Church disagreeing and not wanting to agree. Our recent Annual Conference reflected this when we gathered June 20-23 at Lake Junaluska. There was wonderful worship and three powerful sermons by three different Bishops, the final one at Sunday worship by our own Bishop Paul Leeland.

During Annual Conference we hear from many agencies in the church to get updates on their ministries and how they are doing (much like our Church Council). There are celebrations of various things churches are doing and it is a time to share with retiring pastors and people just beginning ministry. Every year we also discuss and vote on petitions that anyone in the Conference can submit on any topic. This year there were seven petitions. Three that were directly in response to the Special called General Conference in February of this year. You can read through the various petitions on WNCCUMC.org website.      https://www.wnccumc.org/ac2019.

Our Annual Conference had these three petitions which were similar to ones other Annual Conferences (AC) voted on throughout the United States. Across the country a majority of the AC’s did vote to pass these petitions which are meant to send a message about the outcome of the Traditional plan voted in at the February meeting (which is scheduled to go into effect in the US Jan. 1, 2020). The message is NOT that a majority of people in the US want full inclusion of all rights to LGBTQI+ people. There are many Centrists that do not want that outcome. The message is, the Traditional Plan accepted is not a continuation of what the UMC has always had, it now is calling for harmful treatment, meant to exclude and remove all ordained clergy who are gay and their allies.

There are some Traditional believing pastors and laity that understand if this Traditional Plan goes through, it will cause a schism in the UMC as it attempts to purge people from the denomination. Thus, many who are not progressives still desire the UMC to discuss alternative possibilities to the Traditional Plan (as it currently stands) so that disagreeing United Methodists can still remain in fellowship when their ministries are focused on very different groups of people.

If you hear that the progressives manipulated the voting at AC, there will be some people who see it that way. Others of us are still hopeful a new plan can be accepted that will allow, in the words of John Wesley, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.”[1]  Because the issue is important and people can be passionate about it, the Church cannot force people to follow one specific understanding, since there are Scriptural/Biblical arguments for both sides of the issues. That is why a plan that allows differing views in the denomination is so important.

Honestly, if a Church filled with people who love Jesus and desire the whole world to know of His life saving and life changing power cannot agree to coexist without denouncing each other, we cannot expect our political and economic structures to follow Christ’s command to love our neighbor either. If Christians cannot do this, Seculars are not going to do it. I believe the hope in how we handle these divisive issues IS the HOPE of the future. When you get an opportunity to sit and talk with a gay Christian, ask them what they have experienced. Discuss with them how they view scripture and Christian practice.   Ask them how God has been revealed to them. When we can talk to those most affected by our beliefs can we gain clarity and perspective: Traditional, Centrist, and Progressive.

[1]http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/section-2-our-doctrinal-history