A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin

Lections: Isa 65:1-25; Gal 3: 27-29; Luke 8: 22-25


A week has now passed since the massacre in Orlando. How has this week’s passing changed our understanding of the event, of our society, the church?

The killer attended a mosque; his semi-automatic gunfire targeted its victims because they were gay.

The New England Annual Conference (UMC) began last week with speakers angrily attacking the church for perpetuating violence in society and particularly violence against the LBGTQIA community: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual.  

Many members of this community are also members of the Conference; some are clergy, some laity; the many clergy and lay members who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual, and their many supporters, demand action be taken.

Their pleas, their arguments, their demands have all been heard before; and yet, just as at last month’s quadrennial General Conference, no action has been taken.

The official Methodist policy is this:  homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Expressions of anger are followed by painful stories and stories of heartbreak.

The UMC has three general rules:  do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God.  Speakers ask the question, what does “do no harm” mean?   Is silence complicity?  Is the violence perpetuated in our church and in our society really as incomprehensible as we make it out to be?  Or does our silence foster violence?

Clergy and laity are showing repentance by wearing burlap stoles and ashes on their forehead.

Here is what our Book of Discipline (BoD) says: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”  Same sex marriages may not be performed in Methodist churches; self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist church; no UMC funds can be given to gay groups or caucuses, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality; and charges may be brought against clergy for being a self-professed practicing homosexual or for officiating at same sex weddings.

A representative of the New England Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) stands to speak and says, contrary to the guidelines of the BoD, the BOM does not consider sexual orientation in its determination of a person’s suitability for ordination, only the gifts of the spirit that the person demonstrates.

Our bishop joins in solidarity the speakers calling for repentance and action, by putting on a burlap stole and having ashes applied to his forehead.  Throughout the conference, my admiration for the Bishop continued to grow.

A speaker from the floor characterizes all past opposition to overturning the provisions of the BoD as hate speech.  One speaker says homophobia is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Another says the Orlando killings were caused by “reverberations through society.”

The killer is not mentioned.  His mosque is not mentioned.  Gun control is not mentioned.

The conference takes a break; then there is a memorial service for the victims in Orlando.

This morning we heard from the prophet Isaiah.  His words challenge our understanding, as he addresses the suffering the Israelites will continue to experience when they return from exile in Babylon. Suffering, Isaiah says, is God’s punishment for the people’s sins (Isa 1-7).  God longs for his people, but his love is unrequited. “Here I am, here I am,” God cries, but his people turn away. God’s people are idolatrous; they are adulterous.  Suffering is punishment for their unfaithfulness.  Suffering is justice.  Is this what we think?  When we read the whole Bible as we do any one book, does our understanding change?

Isaiah says, God will spare only a remnant, a righteous remnant, a blessing from within the faithless.  This remnant, his chosen people will inherit his promise. Speaking through the mouth of his prophet, God says,

“As the new wine is found in the cluster,

And one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,’

So I will act on behalf of My servants

In order not to destroy all of them.

“I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,

And an heir of My mountains from Judah;

Even My chosen ones shall inherit it,

And My servants will dwell there. (Isa 65:7-9)

This is the eschatological hope, the flipside of God’s wrath.  Isaiah has a vision of the “new heavens and a new earth” that God is about to create, where “the former things will not be remembered or come to mind,”

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing

And her people for gladness.

“I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people;

And there will no longer be heard in her

The voice of weeping and the sound of crying. (Isa 65:17-19)

Here is the beautiful vision of that holy mountain, where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (65:25); but this vision, too, has its flip side:  we do not count ourselves among the judged, but as those who will escape the judgment.   So, we might ask, where do we get this assurance? Why do we think God will not judge our silence as complicity in the violence and oppression directed against the most marginalized of his people?

Paul writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:27-29)

The afternoon session of the conference begins with small ‘circle’ group discussion about three questions: (1)  What are the concerns you would like to see Annual Conference address; (2)  How could Annual Conference be improved; (3)  Why did you become United Methodist?  Each table has a moderator, and a talking stick is passed from person to person.  After a dinner break, a motion is made from the floor. The motion is in the form of a resolution, which has 4 parts:

  1. NEAC non-compliance with these sections of the Book of Discipline: 161.B, 161.F, 304.3, 341.6, 613.19, 806.9, and 2702.1b,d;
  1. NEAC non-participation in judicial review related to BoD prohibitions against LBGTQIA persons;
  1. All benefits to clergy, employees and families remain available;
  1. NEAC funding re-aligned, to withhold payment for judicial procedures related to BoD prohibitions against LBGTQIA persons and to fund LBGTQIA initiatives.

The conference agrees to send the resolution to a committee of the body as a whole for discussion; the Bishop leaves, and the committee appoints a facilitator. After several hours of discussion, the body as a whole votes to recommend support of the resolution to the conference, which resumes the following day. Mid-afternoon, the resolution is approved by the conference.

Historically, what can we say has been the distinctive mark of Methodism?  What is the treasure it safeguards for the church universal?

Methodism emerged from the 18th century trans-Atlantic evangelical revivals.  John Wesley’s vision was for a para-church support network that would provide Christian believers a community and discipline for experiencing New Birth:  a believer’s personal assurance that her sins were forgiven and she would be escape “the wrath to come.”  Wesley believed the New Birth experience was essential to the Christian life, but that it was also just the beginning of the Christian life.  “The way of salvation” was a lifelong engagement in the presence of God.  Methodism is described as a “religion of the heart.”  Its aim is “perfect love.”

Courage – bravery – requires of a person that actions be taken in the face of real dangers.  Faith enables us to do the will of God.

Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they launched out.  But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger.  They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and [a]it became calm.  And He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” (Luke 8: 22-25)

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