I am fasting and praying today. Hunger and prayer can focus the mind. It occurred to me as I was praying that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people around the world who are connected to the United Methodist Church are fasting and prayer for the same reason as I am today: because the Judicial Council of the UMC will soon be making a ruling on the legitimacy of the election of a lesbian bishop. I know that so very many of us are praying – but as I prayed I realized that others are praying for the opposite outcome to the one that I want. We are all fervent in our prayers. We all want the Holy Spirit to work. What happens when the decision comes down?
Will the “losing” side believe that God did not hear their prayers? Will they claim that the Judicial Council did not listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit? How do we answer those questions?
As I prayed, it occurred to me that maybe we are all going to lose. And maybe that is God’s answer. Church, maybe this is a Babel tower time for us. The story in Genesis 11 tells us that the people of the time were trying to build a tower to reach the heavens. Contrary to what we often think about this, they weren’t trying to get up to heaven – and the gods – they were trying to provide a path for the divine to come down to them. They wanted to make a name for themselves as the ones through whom the divine entered the world. But God doesn’t work that way.
In fact, God has already entered the world and we keep trying as hard as we can to forget how and when and why that happened. We have been focusing on making the UMC the right kind of church that will provide a path for the divine to come to us. But God is already here. And the initial command was to spread throughout the earth, filling it with the fruits of our labors and the knowledge of God and wisely overseeing the beautiful creation of God. Instead of going out into the world, the people collected together. Instead of sharing knowledge of God with the world, they wanted to share how great they were. And here we are again.
Regardless of the outcome of the Judicial Council ruling, maybe we are being scattered for a reason. The call to Abraham – the remedy for all of the sin and evil in Genesis 3-11 – was to bring blessing to all the families of the earth. Now we get to choose: will we be sons and daughters of Babel or Abraham?
God has already entered the world in the person and work of Jesus. The church was inaugurated at Pentecost. Nothing and no one can stand against the true church of God, the body of Christ. Are we a part of that body? Both sides? Yes! If there is anything to be gained from a study of the Hebrew Bible (not to mention a study of the history of the Church) it is that God can use highly imperfect people – selfish, greedy, quarreling, proud people – for God’s purposes and to somehow further God’s blessing. I’ll admit I don’t always get it. But somehow God has continued to work regardless of how humankind has resisted.
I spent two years studying the Acts of the Apostles with a group of pastors. Now I will be moving to a new church and a new town that I have been warned is “very secular.” More secular than the Roman Empire? Not hardly.
God has already entered the world. Evil, sin, and death threw their full weight against God who came in Jesus. We just celebrated Holy Week and Easter. We remembered on Good Friday that the fully human man who was also fully divine died on a cross. We think about the miracle of the resurrection, but do we recognize the miracle that we are talking about when we say that God died? But here’s the good part: Evil, sin, and death threw their full weight against God who came in Jesus and they failed. Evil, sin, and death were overcome. God raised Jesus from the dead and began at that moment to reclaim the earth. To bring together the heavens and the earth. To make Jew and Gentile one people again. And at Pentecost, God began again to create a people who would be – not perfect – but sent out to be a blessing. Sent out to spread the word that Jesus is Lord of the heavens and earth whether anyone acknowledges it or not. That means Lord of the straight and the gay, Lord of the Democrats and Republicans, Lord of the atheist and the Muslim, the Buddhist and the Christian, Lord of the United States of America and North Korea. Oh, we’ve a long way to go before that Lordship is acknowledged and God’s perfect rule is finally made real everywhere. But the new creation, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and if we are anything, church, we are supposed to be the bearers of those glad tidings!
We also have to remember that the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control." (Gal 5:22-23 CEB) Which means that even though we will continue to disagree and we might scatter after the Judicial Council ruling comes out, we are called to act in very particular ways. Which means that we all lose if we fail to preach the Gospel with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which means that we all win if we find a way to shower the world with God’s blessing. This will be difficult, because we don’t always agree on what it means to bless the world. So that is what we need to focus on.
I am praying and fasting today. But my focus has changed. I am praying that God will show me, and the rest of those who identify with the UMC, how to bring blessing to the world. I am praying that we will learn to see that God is working through all of us on different sides of a difficult issue and that the Holy Spirit will work regardless of the decision of the Judicial Council. I am praying that I will be able to live as a disciple and preach as an apostle in my new appointment.
I am praying that after this Babylonian tower moment, we will have a Pentecost time, when, as we are fasting and praying together, the Holy Spirit will fall afresh on us all and send us out into a hurting world to be a fresh wind of grace and love.