Today I Saw God
I'm glad Tom is back from General Conference. And that has nothing to do with the preaching, teaching or the leadership in his absence. I am glad Tom is back because I was worried about him there. His letters (blogs, facebook and tweets) from Florida were a bit frightening. Clearly, they were battening down the hatches in Tampa, expecting high winds. I wondered what it would take to stand up to hurricane force winds.
Part way through the Conference a friend told me I could tune into the live coverage at www.UMC.org. So I did. Very briefly. I saw and heard the presiding Bishop, the speakers at the various microphones, the calls for votes. And Iread the constant stream of realtime text messages. Oh my goodness. Let's just say, my fears were not alleviated. This is the church. My church. It looked and sounded very much like the rest of the world.I wouldn't have lasted 30 minutes in that conference center.
Cut to my life back here in the easy chair of Northern Virginia. I'm at the gym chatting with a neighbor who used to attend the Episcopal church down the street from Floris. She tells me it's been so sad, the split in their church that caused her family to leave it and now hasresultedin its closing its doors. "Fortunately," she tells me "I only have to worry about what I do. How I treat others. I just have to take responsibility for myself."
That's true, I guess, as far as it takes you. But not for the church leadership. They need to work in the bigger picture, to set a course that will guide the whole church. So, when storms come, congregations have a game plan. And I don't think that "every man for himself" is a good strategy. We need to be prepared. And to prepare our children.
It didn't take me long to picture the classroom full of confirmation students it was my privilege to lead in small group. One class is dedicated to learning about the "social principles" of the United Methodist church. In preparation to teach this class, I photocopied the social principles section of the UMC Book of Discipline. And I, well, I scanned thisbecauseit is long and wordy and, frankly, very broad-ranging. It, as Tom says, "casts a wide net."
But I'm glad I have it in handbecauseI want these young teens to know that theirchurchcares about these issues. More than that, it cares about the people who face these issues. That it has taken time to address them and to findlanguagethat expresses a common (or at least majority) opinion. There is some direction, some guidance and a fair amount of wiggle room, actually.
And just when those confirmands start yawning and figuring these principles are stuffy and distant, I assure them that these issues will find them. Personally. And when they do, it won't beblackand white. There will be a whole lot of gray. And they'll be making a decision that may have big consequences. I tell them the story of someone nearly their age who didn't speak the hard truth to a friend and paid for it with his life. All of a sudden, they're all ears.
There comes a point when social principles become personal principles. When "What does the church think about this?" becomes "What am I to do about this?" When the rubber meets the road or the oars meet the waters, on very choppy seas. And fear threatens tooverwhelmfaith. Yes,Jesus did say, "Do not be afraid." But he didn't say, "there is nothing to fear." (Perhaps Churchill?) We need a strategy against that opponent.
When we join the church we pledge our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. And one other thing: our witness in the world. Perhaps that's when personal principles point us back to the bigger picture. We can be personally disciplined in study and prayer, even worship and giving. But principles can't make us care. We have to choose that. And when we do Christ's power is unleashed in the world and on the waves. It mayreach those who don't yet know the salvation that Christ offers. Personally, I want to have achurchto bring them to. That's a denominational business.
The view from my window says there are storms blowing in. Tom, it was good to have you attheoars of General Conference; I'm imaging you are bit sore from the effort. I'm wondering if maybe you have even bulked up a bit.Welcome home.I'll see you at the gym!
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