Grace and peace to you from God who loves us all, all of us together.
The United Methodist Church is not very United these days. We’re fractured over the issue of same-sex relationships. Some see a schism coming. A “Commission on the Way Forward” has been formed to see if we can avoid that. But no one knows if we can stay united. The Judicial Council (the church’s “supreme court”) recently ruled that the Western Jurisdiction’s election and appointment of Karen Oliveto as Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area was illegal according to church law. The ruling is ambiguous: it doesn’t undo her election, consecration or appointment, but it leaves her open to being removed―for the offense of having married someone who lacks a “y” chromosome. People are ready to split the church over that.
Deep differences in our church are to be expected: we’re an intentionally diverse denomination. And there are plenty of things we disagree about here at St. Matthew’s. We are not all of one mind about sexuality, or “Black Lives Matter,” or flags in the sanctuary, or the tapestries, or the worship schedule. But the real question is not whether we agree. (Even the most faithful marriages harbor disagreement.) The question is whether we will live together.
That’s the point. And that’s the test. Jesus said, “This is how everyone will know you are my disciples: if you love one another” (John 15.35). That sounds like an easy deal. Church is a place where we all love each other, right? Well, notice how easily that falls apart when we disagree: suddenly being right becomes more important than being loving. The hard work Jesus teaches us is to love the people who are dead wrong. Sure, we keep on witnessing for mercy and justice. We resist evil and oppression even in the church. But we love the people whose evils we oppose.
Of all the directions we might go as a church, of all the missions and visions we might follow, all the goals and priorities and five-year strategic plans, the one thing we have to do is love each other. Regardless of how we stand on any issues—moral, theological, social or political—if we don’t love each other we’re not a church.
On Sunday morning look around you. These are the people you’ve been sent to love. You have been given to them, and they to you, to love each other, and to build up that love so it spills out into all the world in streams of mercy and justice. I know you love your friends. Now get to know the strangers in this church and love them, too. Listen to their stories. Hear what matters to them. Let them become more real and important to you. Let God in you love them. In this way you yourselves will find love. Ultimately it’s not our love that holds us together. It’s God’s. It’s the self-giving love we experience in Christ. When we let that love flow through us, no matter what our neighbors feel or believe or do about any issue at all, we will be one in Christ, and no disagreements can tear us apart.