The first months of 2019 have been a tumble of voices and thoughts in the United Methodist connection. Before, during, and after the meeting in St Louis, there is a sense of being pushed, pulled and gathered into community where momentous conversations are underway. I am caught up in, and trying to help lead part of, a global crowd in tumultuous circumstances. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m very aware of the crowd in Luke’s holy week narrative.
The week will begin this Sunday with a crowd of followers shouting praise. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road. As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
(Luke 19: 36-40, CEB)
Midweek, we’ll seea crowd insisting that Jesus is a threat. The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no legal basis for action against this man.” But they objected strenuously, saying, “He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.” (Luke 23: 1-5, CEB)
And we’ll finish the week on Friday in a crowd that demands death.
Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.”[a]
But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)
Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.
They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.” But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. (Luke 23: 13-23, CEB)
As much as each of us, especially in western culture, would like to stand out from the crowd, we do get swept up in a flow of humanity that at various times praises, feels threatened, and wishes death on others. We are part of a growing crowd of people who have tried to live together on this planet earth, one generation after another. We weather the small challenges but every once in a while, a break in the community looms before us and crowds form on opposite sides of the fissure.
Luke records some of these breaking points in the last days of Jesus’ life:
When Jesus entered the temple after his palm strewn journey, he triggered a breaking point in the temple community. “He threw out those who were selling things there. He said to them, “It’s written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for crooks.” (Luke 19: 45-46CEB))
When Jesus share bread and cup in what we now call the last supper, it triggered two breaking points in the fellowship. After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this. An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22: 19-24 CEB)
How often do we remember during Holy Week that not only did the betrayer, Judas, leap from the table into action, but the body of those who remained with Jesus fractured into who will get what, right there at the table!
In the final hours of Holy Week the crowds intersect, those who praised and those who felt threatened and see the enormity of what both praise and fear have brought to pass. It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.”After he said this, he breathed for the last time. When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things. (Luke 23: 44-49 CEB)
Do they really know what they have seen, what they have participated in? Do they have any sense of the depths of the forgiveness this event has unleashed for generations to come? The crowds leave the scene as one, overcome with emotion.
We enter a time of silence in the story, Jesus’ body is tended by a few friends and the opening closed. Every bible should have a blank page between Luke 23: 56 and Luke 24:1 to remind us of the immense pause in human history. Until the women return to the open tomb and everything changes, there should be an illuminatingly bright blank page where we in the crowd rest and wonder how death could possibly turn to life.
The last crowd Luke shows us is the group that Jesus sends.Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24: 45-48, CEB)
It is again a crowd of praise, being sent post-Easter back into the human fray. We are equipped as we go by living holy presence, by joy, by promise, by purpose, by the blessing of the Holy One-in -Three.
Where are you in the crowd this year?
At what breaking edge might you find yourself?
What promise is coming into sight on the other side of that broken place, that other side of the fissures that separate us, where Jesus waits to form us with new life?
As I write, on April 1, part of me is thinking “wouldn’t it be nice if the whole mess was an early April Fools prank. Can’t we just carry on with the vital local mission and ministry our churches extend in their community and share with each other in worship and devotion?” But I know that denial is avoiding reality. And avoiding the reality of changes and challenges underway in the United Methodist Church would mean closing our eyes and ears to developments that are critically important to each UM church’s future.
Many people’s eyes glaze over when it comes to the structure and workings of our denomination. We may know what we want in a church and don’t want to be bogged down in the details of what actually makes a church work. Or we may want to spring into action or just react to tidbits we hear. But constructive, effective action is based on good information.
This week’s Topic: “What about our buildings?”
When asked “what do you need to move forward,” participants gave variations of:
To keep our church building.
An answer to how properties and pensions would be divided and supported.
One of the less understood characteristics of connectional churches is the Trust Clause.
(Presbyterian and Episcopal churches are two of many other connectional denominations with trust clauses.) The General Council on Finance and Administration’s excellent guide to the trust clausegoes to the heart of who we are as a connectional, itinerant, missional church. It also answers the question:
I’ve heard people in my church say it isn’t right for the denomination to have such control over our property through the trust clause. They say it isn’t fair because it was our contributions that built this church and paid for its upkeep. Therefore, it should be our church. How should I respond to these statements as a faithful United Methodist?
“You could start by telling them they are right – it is their church! And as United Methodists, because of the trust clause, they can say the same thing about every other United Methodist church. You could also say it wasn’t just their contributions that built and sustained the church, but also the contributions of perhaps generations of people before them who contributed with the purpose and hope that the church continues to be a United Methodist church in the future. You could then tell them their financial support of the church is just one side of a covenant. The United Methodist Church also made a covenant to supply and supervise ministers, provide financial and other aid to the church if needed, develop Sunday school materials and hymnals, and many other things.
But, again, the most important point is that no United Methodist church stands alone. Each United Methodist church is part of a larger connection of shared purpose and mission that has been in existence for hundreds of years. And this connection is at the core of what it means to be United Methodist. You and your church are part of something much larger than yourselves – something you can be proud of as Methodism reaches the world over to make disciples for Jesus Christ.”
Every church in our connection has benefited throughout its life span from resources of the other churches. But now there are two stresses on the covenant relationship described in the excerpt above:
So, what happens if a church wants to leave the denomination? (Remember that, until the Judicial Council rules and until after General Conference 2020, there is confusion about what a church would be leaving behind!)
There have been questions about Annual Conferences forming new denominations. However, the 2019 General Conference failed to create a process for this, leaving legal questions currently being investigated. Stay tuned!
Next edition’s topic: Questions about the Judicial Council process.
Meanwhile, what can you do now?
Who is God? Who am I? Who are we together?
These core concepts and questions have never been more important.
Groups of several different perspectives are networking as all await the UMC Judicial Council’s rulings April 23-24, 2019. You can learn more about the Judicial Council itself by clicking on this link.
Here are the main streams of development:
Wesleyan Covenant Association,“WCA,” are the sponsors of the traditionalist perspective that prevailed, though its full plan did not, at General Conference 2019. They will hold a Northeast Jurisdiction event,“Envisioning the Next Methodism”at Washington Crossing UMC, Washington Crossing, PA.Saturday, May 11, 2019, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
For more information, contact Joe DiPaolo (email@example.com or 717-394-7231)
UMForward shares stories of the people most impacted and information about a planned summit May 17-18 people of color, queer, transgendered centered discussion about the future of the United Methodist Church.
The Reconciling Network is a way that United Methodist churches and individuals committed to full inclusion (including marriage and ordination) can not only demonstrate their support but learn how to live into it in their own ministry settings.
There is also evidence of a “Compatibilist” movement forming, designed to bring Centrists and Progressives together. The Church of the Resurrection’s annual fall Leadership Institute will be dedicated to General Conference 2019, 2020 related topics, September 25 - 27, 2019. Event details and registration will be available in May 2019 at li.cor.org. Note: While several national leadership meetings have been mentioned, I have not been able to find any ways to connect with this movement. If you learn of one, please let me know so that we may share.
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.