Pre Reflection 2019
“To what will I compare the people of this generation?” Jesus asked. “What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace calling out to each other, ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t cry.’ John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by all her descendants.”Luke 7:31-35
As I sit in St. Louis awaiting the opening of our special called General Conference, I am reflecting on how we are where we are as a church. While I do not have all the answers, it seems to me to be a reflection of our society more than we think. Division, dissention, and multiple warring sides that refuse to attempt to find common ground are cultural phenomenon, not Christian ones.
“But what about the Bible?” is often the rally cry of multiple sides. Our interpretation of Scripture is always dependent on our cultural context, unless we intentionally look at it from other perspectives. How a culturally dominant United States American reads Scripture is fundamentally different from an oppressed minority in the mountains of Central America. That reading differs from someone in a country such as Turkey that is actively persecuting Christianity. As such, it is important to realize that Scripture, as important and primary as it is, is always teaching us new ways to see the world. We naturally prefer interpretations that agree with and support our world view. But the Scripture contains so many passages that challenge the very foundation of our belief. It is Living Text.
John Wesley always espoused using Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as the way to interpret the world around us. Scripture is always given highest priority, since it is the story of how (and why) God deals with humanity. But many of our churches seems to have given up on reason and experience, letting Scripture and its traditional interpretation be the only thing used to see the world. Reason and experience are supposed to be added tools to enhance our understanding. As we learn more about ourselves and God, our faith must grow to include that increased knowledge. Could it be that a rigid interpretation that expects everyone to look and act like us may be exactly why our denomination is in decline? Could it be that no one new feels welcome, especially someone in need on the edges of society?
I think a striking reality is that God has changed how God deals with us humans through history. God has continually adjusted how much of God we are allowed to see. Jesus was a pretty big picture, appearing as fully God and fully human. That’s a big deal. I think we need to look at what Jesus did to inform our future.
From what I see, Jesus continually challenged the entrenched policies, procedures, and power structures. He spoke with all kinds of people that he should not have. He touched, and healed, lepers. He spoke with and even ate with tax collectors. He spoke with a woman who was alone, who had been married several times, and was living with a man she was not married to. He sat with children. He pardoned criminals. To me, this sounds like a God who is more concerned with the hearts of people than the rules that define them. Jesus himself is the Word made flesh. He passed that role on to the church, making us the living Word of God today that is supposed to show the world who God really is.
My hope and prayer is that this perspective can be primary in our conversations this week at General Conference. May God’s Grace be primary. May God’s love of all of humanity be the focus. May our mutual love for each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ be the guiding principle of the discussions and decisions. May God have mercy on us all.
Yours in Christ,