Why Schism is Not an Answer

A schism is when there is a formal division in the body of Christ. It occurs when rival factions – or theological perspectives – believe that they can no longer share Christian fellowship with each other. Instead of working through their differences or attempting to come to a resolution an agreement is made for the two groups to go their separate ways.

Schisms can impact both the larger body of Christ and its representations in local communities. The body of Christ has been torn apart throughout the centuries of the church. Most notable was the Great East-West Schism of 1054, which created the separation of the eastern and western wings of the church. Schisms have led to the number of our various denominations in the United States and the break-ups of many churches in our communities.

These are hurtful moments in the life of the church. The United Methodist Church is not immune from schisms. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery. The two would reunify, along with the Methodist Protestant Church which had split off in an early schism regarding in 1939 to form the Methodist Church. (The United Methodist Church would be formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church).

As the United Methodist Church gathers in Tampa for General Conference, there are some who desire for the United Methodist Church to split along theological lines. The issue that is driving this is homosexuality. On the theological left are those who desire homosexuals to have a place in the ordination process. On the theological right are those wanting the church to maintain its position that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.

The United Methodist Church has faced this challenge before and overcome it. Throughout this General Conference it appears the fear is more prevalent now than ever before. But, is it appropriate? Is schism the answer to deep theological and practical difference between the left and right wings of the church?

I believe the answer to this question is no.

If we were to advocate a schism, or even have it on our mind in our discussions, then we are saying that it is impossible to be the body together. Even more, we are refusing to come to the table and hear from the other side. We must be willing to hear from each other and, most importantly, listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be defined by our desires and then threaten to leave when those desires are not met.

At the same time, a schism takes the dangerous approach to say it is only with our group , and people who believe like us, that Jesus is truly alive and believed. It is wrong to use God in an “us versus them” way. By doing this, we deny our very calling to be in a fellowship of Christian love with one another.

How can we be witnesses of Christ’s love for a broken world if we are unwilling to be witnesses of Christ’s love with each other? Yes, we should “speak the truth in love” and be willing to engage difficult issues, but it must be done in a way that seeks the Father’s will, and not our own. We must be guided by the Holy Spirit and not our own wishes. When we do, I believe, we will be effectives witnesses of Christ’s love.

As leaders in the church, let us put aside our talk and fear of schism and work together, as the body of Christ, to “make disciples of all people.”

Advertisements

Sunday’s Sermon: Stories of Resurrection – Response to Love

Do you love me?

It’s a question we have all asked at some point in our lives. As children, we probably asked it of our parents after we were disciplined, or we questioned if they wanted us. In turn, we’ve probably have asked our children the same question when they have done something that meets our disapproval.

We likely have asked it of our spouses. When we are first dating, we will look long into each others eyes with that relationship-defining question. It is also asked when we’ve had a bad fight or the relationship is not as strong as it was. It’s asked not to see if a relationship is going to move to the “next level,” but if it will remain intact.

Each of us can think of other situations where we have asked this question. Why do we ask it? For the most part, it is because we want to hear the words “Yes, I love you.” We each have a deep desire to be loved and to know that others love us. When we ask a question such as “Do you love me,” we do so to seek confirmation of our deepest human need of giving and receiving love.

Today, I believe this question is being asked of us. I’m not the one who is asking the question. Jesus is. As we worship today, Jesus ask us this simple, but life-defining, question.

Do you love me?

In John 21:15-23, Jesus asks the question three times to Peter. It is also a poignant question addressed to you and to me. Do you love me more than these? Do you love me with all you have? Do you love me?

The question isn’t asked in isolation. There is a reason that the question is asked. Jesus is wanting to show Peter, and the other disciples, what is truly in Peter’s heart, what it means to truly love Jesus, and how that love inspires a mission.

Jesus finds Peter and the other disciples along the lake shore. After Jesus’ death, Peter and the disciples who had been fishermen decided to go back to work. They had to provide for their families. All the disciples would have been experiencing grief at the loss of their Teacher and Friend, but Peter’s grief might have been the most prevalent.

Peter was the first among the disciples to make a public affirmation of who Jesus truly is. When Jesus asks the disciples who he is, Peter is the one who makes the announcement that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the One who would save humanity from its sin. It was on Peter’s affirmation, Jesus tells us, that the church would be built.

Peter was also the disciple who denied Christ three times during his trial. Jesus even knew that he would would. In John 13:31-38, Jesus says it is the time for him to “enter into his glory,” which meant that it was time for him to fulfill the redemptive work on the cross. Hearing this and that Jesus would only be with them for a little longer, Peter responds that he was “ready to die” for Christ. Jesus tells him that he really wasn’t and, in fact, Peter would deny him three times when Jesus needed him the most.

Now, let’s not act as if Peter did something more horrendous than the other disciples. None of the disciples were there when Jesus needed them the most. It was Peter, though, who said he would never leave Jesus, and it was his words that came back to haunt him when he denied the very existence of Christ during his trial. The first disciple to make the affirmation that Jesus was the Messiah would make the loudest denial by his words at the trial.

It is for this reason that the question, “Do you love me” is so important, and it is why Jesus comes to the lake shore early that morning. After telling the disciples how to find better fish and sharing in a meal with them, Jesus takes Peter off to the side for a personal and public moment. Jesus knows what is truly in Peter’s heart, but he wants Peter to examine his own heart and also wants the disciples to hear Peter being reinstated into the mission of the church.

Three times Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him, perhaps significant of the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times. Each time Peter replies in the affirmative. It was more pronounced on the third where Peter shows some of his frustrations at Jesus’ continued asking of the question. He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Peter never stopped loving the Lord. In this emotional moment, Peter is receiving healing from the Lord and making a public announcement of where his heart truly is.

Why does Peter love Jesus? Why do we love Jesus? We love because to love Jesus is the proper response to his redeeming act on the cross and his resurrection. Salvation and the fact Christ lives today demands a response. When we have met the presence of Christ and the reality of what Christ did for us, we are called to receive grace. We are also called to love Christ. To love Christ means to show Jesus the proper adoration and affection that salvation and resurrection requires. It means to make Jesus the first in our devotions and hearts.

Let us not quickly say “Yes, Lord you know I love you,” without knowing what it means to say those words. We can easily say the word “love” and say Christ is my priority without really knowing what it means. Loving Christ means to put worshiping and serving Christ as our first priority. Our love of Christ comes before our love of our family, before our responsibilities, and before our own lives and agendas. When we place others before Christ or attempt to make Christ more comfortable, we are not truly loving Christ but instead loving a reflection of our own self and desires.

Peter responded to what Jesus did for him by receiving the grace of forgiveness and responding in love. He knew that Jesus died for his sin. He accepted the grace of forgiveness and responded with love. When the question is posed to us how are we responding? When Christ is looking at you and asks you if you love him, how would you respond?

Look deep within your heart, your soul, to find the answer.

Do you love Jesus? To feel the love of Jesus is to experience the same “burning heart” of the receipt of redeeming love that John Wesley felt at Aldersgate. There, Wesley felt that Jesus truly did die for his sin, not just humanity’s sin.

Do you love Jesus? Loving Jesus is to have him at the center of your heart and the primary devotion of your life. Loving Jesus means your faith in Christ is more important than your family, more important than your home, more important than your bank accounts, more important than your careers, more important than your political party, and more important than your hopes and dreams. To love Jesus means to look beyond ourselves, look deeply into the heart of Jesus, and find ourselves there..

Do you love Jesus more than these? If you do, God bless you and hold on to that love and never let it go. I pray you continue to grow in the love of Christ each day. If not, know God’s grace is here for you today to experience the love and redeeming work of Christ in your life and your heart.

But, the story of love doesn’t end here. After each of Peter’s responses to Jesus’ questions, he is given a calling. Peter has already been called to be a fisherman of people, which means to go out and spread the name of Christ so others will become disciples. Here, he is given the additional calling of shepherding the people of God. Peter is called to care for them. This means to provide for their spiritual growth and discipleship in their relationship with Jesus. In this intimate moment, Jesus responds to Peter’s affirmation of his love by calling him to look after the children of God.

Our response to God’s grace, through the redeeming act of Christ, is love. The affirmation of our love is the catalyst for our ministry and mission. As followers of Christ, when we affirm our love in Jesus, we are given a ministry and mission in response. Jesus doesn’t call us to remain in the emotional high of a response of love. Jesus sends us out in love to share the love of Christ with others.

Each of us have a mission and purpose. This isn’t just for a select few or those with certain degrees or ordination certificates. If you have the love of Christ written on your heart, you have been redeemed for a purpose. That purpose is two-fold. First, it is to love Christ. Second, it is to have a faith that “expresses itself in love.”

This expression is going to take on different forms. For Peter, it was to be a fisherman and shepherd. My expression of love is to proclaim the Word of God, to be a prophetic voice in our world and community, to lead people and communities of faith to deep transformation, and to guide people to faith in Christ. Your expression of love is going to look different, and it is going to be as unique as the personality that God gave you.

Some of us might be called to be prophets who speak out in our world. Some of us are called to be teachers who share some aspect of knowledge with others. Some are called to do the miraculous. Some are called to be conduits of healing, whether it is by their words or the use of their hands. Some are called to be leaders. Some are called to speak passionately. Some are called to be parents who raise the next generation of followers. We could go on and on, but our point is this: Christ didn’t call you to love from the sidelines. He has called you to show your love so that you might glorify God and be a witness in ways that others come to know Christ.

What is your mission in response to your love of Christ? What has Christ tasked you with out of the gifts and talents you have received? If you’re not sure what your mission is, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. Ask the Spirit to open your heart to the desires of God and the calling God has placed in your heart. Be vulnerable and humble enough to allow the Spirit to open your eyes, your heart, and soul to the amazing mission that has been set for you.

Be willing to serve Christ in all that you do in response to what Christ has given you – salvation and grace. If you do and if we do, I promise you that the mission field around us will be reached. We will reach out in new and inventive ways that share our gifts in service of Christ that offers the love of Christ to each other.

During a General Conference morning worship, Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference addressed the delegates on the idea of a “resurrection revolution.” In the sermon, he paraphrased the Charles Wesley hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Weaver said, “Love’s redeeming work is done, but God’s transforming work has just begun.”

Our mission in response to love is our participation in God’s transforming work that is ongoing in our midst. Let us join what Christ is doing by using our gifts in love so that others will come to know Christ and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.