There’s so much pain in the world.
This week the General Conference of the UMC met in St. Louis to try to deal with deep divisions over how we respond to LGBTQIA people. It was not a pleasant few days.
If anything reflects the world’s rage, it is a church fight. We United Methodists are in the midst of a big one. After much study (a whole commission was formed and met and presented three plans to consider), and much prayer, and much organization (groups formed and strategies developed), the time for conferencing finally came.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the conference adopted a plan that continues the church’s policy of holding in tension the acceptance of individuals who are LGBT+ as “persons of sacred worth,” welcoming them into the life of local churches, while denying the church’s blessing on their coupling in marriage and prohibiting them from ordination in the church. This is a long-standing policy, one that reflects a long tradition in Christian thought and theology, but one that is highly unsatisfactory to a sizable, and perhaps growing group of people, especially in the US. The floor fight of words was unholy. The maneuvering smacked of the worst politics. Many expressed real pain, and this moment in the life of the UMC was one of our worst ones.
I awoke today with a phrase on my heart, one that comes from a hymn we don’t sing a lot in Methodist life:
“Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
That phrase “soul-cleansing” really underscores where I am today. After this meeting in St. Louis, I feel the whole church needs a soul-cleanse. I’m so grateful to see Lent coming. We’ve never needed it like we need it now.
When a family has an argument there is an underlying principle that is at work, one we often express in the phrase: “blood is thicker than water.” We know that we might not agree, but we’re still kin, and we can’t change that. Families members might even become estranged from one another but our sense of connection, even if separated, never really goes away. I have often felt the fellowship of the Church is like that. We are a family, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the children of the Heavenly Father. We might argue, and we might even walk away from one another, but we can’t change the kinship we share through our Big brother, Jesus. We need a soul-cleanse.
One of the components of Lenten worship is to intentionally confess sins, both in individual and corporate ways. David’s prayer is sometimes quoted from Psalm 51: “Have mercy upon me, O God; According to thy loving kindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my sin.” There is in Lenten worship a call to repentance, a suggestion that we should give something up that we value, and do without it for a season, in order to have some sense, some small sense of the suffering of Jesus Christ for us. This is designed to bring us closer to God and to help us experience the fullness of the offering of God’s son upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. We need to spend time at the cross, considering our wrongs and wrongs we’ve inflicted upon others. This is a soul-cleanse. It helps restore us to the beauty and glory of God’s image, and to help us experience the renewal of resurrection, as we celebrate the glory of Christ rising from the dead on the Sunday we call Easter. Oh, how we need a resurrection.
- “Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!”
May God wash the Church. We need to be cleansed from the stain of sin we’ve experienced anew in the way we deal with one another. And we need to be attentive to the pain of those around us. Yes, we need to take the Bible seriously, but can we find a way to do it that doesn’t inflict pain, and can we disagree without being disagreeable? If we rely on God we can. We need some prayer and we need some healing and we need to spend time in God’s presence.
Cleanse us, renew us, and send us out to minister your grace to all your children, O Lord. Amen.