May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
One day before my 18th birthday, President George H.W. Bush declared that the U.S. along with other countries was going wage war on the country of Iraq. Living in San Antonio (also known as Military City, USA), between two air bases, the sky was filled with the sounds of one cargo plane after another taking off for parts unknown. My mother was a wreck, and I remember her insisting that I open my birthday present before I went to bed. I tried to assure her that the war was being fought on the other side of the world, and that any retaliation would not come directly to our neighborhood in San Antonio, but she was too anxious to hear that from me. I opened my gift and found that she had given me a gold crucifix to go with a chain my dad had sent me the year before. She instructed me to put the crucifix on; if the world as we knew was ending that night, my mom wanted me to be protected.
Ten years later, working in a public school as a speech therapist, I watched as hundreds our students were pulled out of school by their frantic parents following the attacks on 9/11; as a staff, we tried to assure the remaining students that they were safe, and I remember one of my students saying to me the following day, “If my mom tries to come get me from school again today, tell her I am busy.”
These are just two events from history in my lifetime when the acts that occurred caused people to wonder out loud a question that has permeated throughout human history: “What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?” This question is posed to Jesus by the disciples in the gospel according to Mark. Jesus, in reply says, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name saying, ‘I’m the one!’ They will deceive many people. When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.”
Some twenty years after Jesus death and resurrection, a group of enthusiasts emerged in the city of Thessalonica, and they began to preach that the Day of Lord, about which Jesus taught the disciples, was at hand. The enthusiasts were persuasive; the spoke and wrote with angelic ecstasy, but their motives were not derived from a love for God. Nonetheless, the church at Thessalonica who had once been united in its common purpose to love one another and to grow in faith as a witness to the gospel, began to unravel under the weight of rumors and anxiety. So, Paul or someone writing in the name of Paul, drafts a letter to the church of Thessalonica and says, in the Revised English Bible translation, “do not suddenly lose your heads, do not be alarmed by any prophetic utterance, any pronouncement, or any letter purporting to come from us, alleging that the day of the Lord is already here.” The author of the letter goes on to teach that when the Day of the LORD finally does arrive that evil and death will be destroyed forever. The author also teaches the church that until that time, the church has much work to do, and none of their work includes wasting time, energy, or effort on false words, claims, or letters.
Instead, the author instructs the Thessalonians to not be deceived and to remember: to remember that they are beloved by God, to remember that God first chose them for salvation and for sanctification, and to remember that God calls them still to proclaim the good news. The church is called to remember who and whose they are.
A couple of days ago, one of my friends on Facebook shared a post that was intended to shock people. The post read: “2996 people died in the World Trade Center attack. We waged a 9 year war and re-engineered our national security and privacy rights in response. 2,142 women were murdered last year by a current or former partner. Today, congress allowed the Violence Against Women Act to expire.” Upon doing a little research, I learned that while a piece of this particular legislation expired due to disagreement in Congress, the funding for this legislation is at its highest rate since its passage and will be funded at a higher rate still in the next fiscal year. In other words, we cannot take everything we read and everything we hear at face value. We are called not be deceived and to not suddenly lose our heads. We are called to study and to ask questions and to engage in discernment.
As Christians we are not called to be timid or gullible. Rather, having been created and chosen as beloved children of God, we are called to weigh every word, every Spirit, and every letter carefully. Learning must be an everyday goal for us. We are called to speak from our knowledge of God working in the midst of our imperfect and messy lives. We are called to speak from our experience of Christ present with us as we navigate the ups, downs and detours in our lives. We are called to proclaim the truth that even when we cannot see a way forward or out, we trust that God is leading us. We are called to have and to live and to share in a faith in which we are constantly growing, changing, and seeking understanding.
The Gospel Message is too important to leave with the hands of a few people. God created humanity. God has chosen you—has chosen us, and each person is a beloved child of God. God’s work in our lives began before we were knit together in the womb, and God’s Spirit is ongoing and present in our lives. The author of 2 Thessalonians exhorts the church, “Stand firm. Hold fast to the traditions you were taught…” Holding fast to traditions does not mean doing things in church or in our lives the same way we have always done them. It does mean examining our present situation and determining what and how the saints of the past have said and done.
On January 1, 2020, The United Methodist Church will begin operating under the law of the Traditional Plan as voted by General Conference in February of this year. As a result, any pastor found guilty of performing a same sex wedding on UM property will be subject to stricter penalties than in the past. Over the past couple of weeks, about 6 bishops have declared that they will not seek any charges against a pastor accused of performing same sex marriages, and another seven bishops have said that they believe we need to have deeper conversations of how all persons can live their callings faithfully within Methodism.
As we move to the next General Conference, there is much uncertainty: will the church vote to keep the Traditional plan in place? Will General conference vote to create new expressions of Methodism that is more contextually based allowing everyone to minister in a way that is both authentic to the person and faithful to Christ? No one knows for certain, yet I am convinced that we are not called to wait for General Conference to legislate how we are to love: God through Christ has already accomplished that. Rather, we called to stand firm and to live in response to love we have from God in order to share and to spread God’s message of hope to a community, a denomination, a nation, and a world struggling to find it in these days filled with many questions and few answers. I offer this to you today in the name of God: our creator, our redeemer, and our sustainer. Amen.