Sermon: Discerning the Body

Paul tells the Corinthians that if they are confident in their spirituality, it is OK to go ahead and eat with nonbelievers. It would be better to share in a meal rather than shun another person. Paul consistently tells the Corinthians it is more important to think of others, rather than think of what others may think of them. And we should treat others with dignity and respect out of love for them, and not so we will be recognized as good people.

As we discern our next steps as a church in regards to how we welcome and show love towards our LGBTQ friends and family, we should remember this advice from Paul. We need to reach out to those who need us, but ensure that we are serving them out of a place of love rather than self-righteousness.

Sermon: Discerning the Body

“Discerning the Body”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 10:23-33
March 31, 2019 • Fourth Sunday of Lent

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 14

by Sarah Sumners

Corinthians 12: 9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the wake of general conference, I find myself experiencing two disparate, yet confounded emotions: loneliness and vulnerability.  Feelings of hope, safety and security have been giving way to exposure, sadness and disappointment — manifesting as uncontrolled weeping and uncomfortable weakness.

But these feelings crowd my thoughts, serving to distract and distance me from God and from those around me, spurring on my discontent. My loneliness persists when I create barriers that separate me from God and from others. Instead, how powerful might I be if only I can risk showing my weaknesses as an offering of love?

The words of Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians offer me the instruction I need to understand God’s love for me, telling me to be content in my weakness. If I can delight in hardship and remain vulnerable in the eyes of God, then I can truly receive God’s love, freeing me from my unending search for love from others.

Today I will risk exposure, venturing to love others as God loves me, fully and unconditionally.

Prayer: Heavenly One,
We ask for Your forgiveness for ways in which we have filled our time and thoughts with human endeavors. Guide us towards Your salvation and use us to create space for others to join us so that they may experience the bounty of Your unending grace and mercy. Help us to expose our weakness as a witness to Your unconditional love. In Your name we pray, Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 6

by Joe Dennis

Proverbs 29:11
Fools give fool vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

I was filled with rage. 

I was crippled with anger as the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to continue its discriminatory policies on LGBTQ people. I shot argumentative texts back and forth with Carla about leaving the church. I scoured the internet, consuming fiery responses from like-minded Methodists. I provoked social media debates with those who disagree with me. 

But none of my actions mattered. The outcome of the General Conference vote didn’t change. The words in the Book of Discipline weren’t altered. I didn’t convince one person to think differently. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel any better.

I was a fool. 

In the immediate aftermath of General Conference, I single-handedly took on the issue without God, convinced that my outrage was the solution for the injustice of the day. But my anger did nothing to help the people who were persecuted by the decision — LGBTQ Methodists who were labeled as “less than” by the governing body of their own church. 

Don’t be mistaken, I’m not downplaying the importance of speaking out against injustice, but it must be done with God at our side, prayerfully, reflectively and intentionally.

The theme this Lenten season is “Make Room for God.” It’s critical that we take this message to heart as we discern how we — individually and as a church — move forward. Although we cannot change the decision made at 2019 General Conference, if we allow God to help us, we can be confident our way forward will bring calm, peace and love to those who need it most.

Prayer: Dear God, we are hurting today. We are sad. We are angry. We are letting you in. Please guide us. Amen.

Sermon: Showing Your Work

In my lifetime of being a United Methodist, I’ve never experienced the level of anxiety in myself or across the board for the future of their church. As you all know, today is the first business day in the Special General Conference that will determine the future of the church—not just on human sexuality, but perhaps on the makeup and structure of our denomination as it moves forward.

“Showing Your Work” by The Rev. Joe Gunby

Everyone is trying to picture the future of the church. What will it look like? While I have absolutely no idea what if anything will happen as a result of the next few days of deonimational deliberation, I think that in order to help us picture the future of our church and the denomination, we could hardly do better than draw on the image that  Paul suggests in 1 Cor, but maybe with a little help from postmodern architecture. Now before beginning, let me say that no image of the people of God is perfect or complete, and that’s why Scripture has so many of them. Last week, Paul told the believers in Corinth that they were like plants organically connected to the field where God brings growth and new life, but now he provides a metaphor from the building trades. Hear this word:

1Cor. 3:5   What then is Apollos? What is Paul? …. we are God’s servants, working together; you are …God’s building. 

1Cor. 3:10   According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must take care how to build on it.  11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.  12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—  13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.  14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.  15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. 

So if GC2019 is like the denomination trying to decide how and where the church should be built in the future, then we would do well to heed this advice from 1 Corinthians and make sure that the church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. There are some people who say, “If the foundation is poured concrete, then by God, the whole thing is gonna be poured concrete. Let’s form this thing up and reinforce it. Let’s make the connection to the foundation obvious and literal.” What might that position look like if it were a building? Well, fortunately for our exploration this morning, there is a school of architecture called Brutalism!

Brutalism

How would you like to live there, or work there? As much as we want to ensure that our church is built on the foundation of Christ, if the result is ugly, then we might need to reconsider. Scripture often talks about “the beauty of holiness.” That is, what is good and true is also beautiful. 

Now on the other hand, there are some who might be tempted to build something creative and beautiful while saying, who cares if it’s structurally sound as long as it looks good. At first glance, the instructions to build on a foundation that has already been poured might seem like a hindrance to creativity. But I actually think that the more our work is “tied in to the foundation,” the more we will be able to extend ourselves even further and to push the forms we’ve been given. For instance, consider an example of postmodern architecture like the Wexner Center for Contemporary Art in Columbus, Ohio. 

The Wexner Center is not just a place to hang contemporary art, or a roof to keep rain off your head. Like a lot of contemporary architecture, it’s an attempt to say, “this is what architecture ought to do.” It’s playful and fun, it’s de-centralized rather than having one main resting point for the eye of beholder. I see several possibilities that this building suggests for the future of Oconee Street.

1. It’s connected to traditional forms, but clearly distinct.

Wexner Center (aerial photo)

Notice how it is situated next to these other buildings. Their straightforward, rectilinear form provide a contrast to the creativity and playfulness of the Wexner Center. It’s very possible that as a result of General Conference, some churches may exit left or exit right, (or both), but no matter who keeps the name UMC, or whether or not there are two denominations or three Connectional Conferences, we won’t be alone. 

2. There is another aspect to consider in the next view of The Wex:

The Wex (white poles)

The Wex is provisional and playful with historic forms. You see these white geometric poles? Those evoke scaffolding, like a builder would put up to work on the walls. Scaffolding suggests that the work of architecture is constantly under revision, that it’s not fixed and final.

Similarly, discerning the will of God for the church is work that has to move forward through time. Every generation has new challenges to work through, and the work of building on the foundation of Christ is never done.

3. The Wexner center is interesting for the way it builds on its foundation. It’s connection to the foundation is complex—more connected for being less obvious. 

Wexner Center (inside)

One of the most interesting features is a column that playfully deconstructs what a column is. It doesn’t rest on the ground, but hangs from above, it doesn’t support the roof overhead but is itself supported by the roof. But notice. The cross members that it hangs from are supported by what? The wall at the edge of the building. And that wall is resting on what? Not a hovercraft, not a gaseous substance or water or mud. The wall that holds the cross member that holds the column is itself resting on a solid foundation. Reference to the foundation can be deferred, but not disregarded altogether. 

Just because we’re built on the foundation, that doesn’t mean that the connection has to be obvious. Sometimes the church might need to cantilever it’s ministry into new terrain, or to make room for new ministry and new people. But a floor that cantilevered out over nothing in some ways has to rely on the foundation all the more. Think about Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic house called Falling Water.

Falling Water

The horizontal floors echo the dramatic rock formations below, and to achieve the effect of flying out over the water, they had to extend past the foundational supports. About 20 years ago, major cracks began to appear as the cantilevered concrete began to pull away from the foundation. As architectural historians began to cull through the details of its construction, they discovered an angry correspondence between the architect and the construction foreman, in which the lead on-site builder  tried to tell the Wright that the building would never last and that it would require twice as much steel reinforcement than Wright had specified. When the restoration of Fallingwater got to a certain point, they realized that despite the architects protests, the men who built it did in fact double on the the reinforcements to the foundation, and the only reason that the building lasted as long as it did was because those who built it took great care to build on the foundation that had been laid.

Paul says that the work of church leaders will one day be judged, not just in the slow breakdown of material by natural processes like gravity and erosion, but by a decisive gesture of God. The true nature of our work is not how good it looks, or how obviously it hews to the foundational footprint, or how big it is or how grand it is. What separates lasting material from ersatz imports can only be known by the revelation of God. There will come a Day when the Chief Building inspector asks us to show our work. Straw roofs will be consumed with fire, and wooden walls will be tinder in the fire, but there will be parts of the building that will remain in all their golden splendor. 

While the judgment of God might seem a foreboding prospect, if we care about the future of the building, we will welcome it now so that we don’t have to fear it in the future. Because we’re the children of God, its kind of like “knowing somebody down at the permit and inspection office.” We don’t fear their judgment but welcome it. There are several stages of getting construction inspected—the foundation, the framing, electrical and plumbing all have to be approved before the work is covered up with sheetrock. If we didn’t have those preliminary inspections, how much more trouble we would have to go to if something leaked or arced and the entire wall had to be torn off. Better to show our work while we’re still in process. Better to welcome God’s inspection of our church, knowing that it’s provisional and unfinished and maybe a bit messy and hard to explain to people who don’t understand what we’re trying to do here. 

In these days of uncertainty it’s important to remember that we are not the ultimate judge of what will last and what will not. This Special General Conference is important for the future of our church, but it is by no means the decisive moment that reveals which parts of the UMC that have been built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. General Conference 2019 is more like a remodeling job whose worth will only be proven in God’s good future. 

There is something in these proceedings that makes us impatient for that future. Every plan and piece of legislation has its advocates, with the various factions determined to win out over their foes and to some extent that’s necessary. Take heart in this season of uncertainty. In the end as at the beginning, we are God’s building through and through. General Conference 2019 is not the Day of Judgment. It will not fully determine once and for all who is faithful and who isn’t. That is for God to do. Nor will General Conference determine how the church will look in the future. That is also the creative work of our Chief Architect who allows us to participate in good work of building the church. Back here at Oconee Street we can have the courage to extend ourselves in love because we are tied in to the foundation of Jesus Christ.

“Showing Your Work”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 3: 10-15
Feb. 24, 2019

Listen to the choir anthem, “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

The Way Forward: Discussion of supporting change in the church for LGBTQ persons

by Carter Vest

On  Wednesday, Sept. 26, Oconee Street’s UMW (United Methodist Women) will meet for a 6:30 supper at 717 with discussion of A Way Forward. All are welcome to come, learn and reflect together.

RSVP to cartervest@gmail.com so we know how much to prepare.

Background for consideration: 
The Way Forward concerns possible changes to language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning “homosexual practices”, ordination of homosexual persons and marriage of non-heterosexual persons within the church. Over recent decades, efforts to change this language at General Conference has led to impasse after impasse. There are many members and churches who do not think thy can be true to their understanding and remain in the church with expanded roles for LGBTQ+ persons. There are many members and churches that cannot abide the use of faith language to deny full participation to all children of God.

General Conference in 2016 approved the Commission on a Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops. Methodists representing all jurisdictions and a range of perspectives were appointed to examine and consider revisions to the Book of Discipline provisions regarding human sexuality and to identify options that might maintain unity within the church.
A Special Conference will occur in February to consider their report which proposes three plans: the One-Church Plan which is supported by the Counci of Bishops, the Connectional Conferences Model and the Traditionalist Plan.  You may want to  consider:
– A summary of the Minnesota Annual Conference Summary Way Forward (3 pages) provided by the Minnesota Annual Conference which includes “gains and pains” of each plan.
– An Simple Plan Overview – final that was coauthored by our own Sally Askew who spent many long years serving with the United Methodist Church Judicial Council in addition to her leadership in the Women’s Division and her years as a clergy spouse
– Furthermore, there is another option which was not included in the Way Forward report but may possibly be proposed from the floor of the Conference in Feb. It is supported by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus and their Simple Plan Overview – final includes their commentary.
I hope many of you will join us next Wednesday for what I hope will be an enlightening and meaningful chance to respectfully share about an issue that is crucially important in our communal faith lives.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 7

by JoBeth Allen

Proverbs 2:
Let your ears listen to wisdom.
   Apply your heart to understanding.
Call out for the ability to be wise.
    Cry out for understanding …
You will understand what is right and honest and fair.
    You will understand the right way to live.
     Your heart will become wise.

Sometimes listening isn’t enough. Sometimes — usually — I have to apply my heart, to cry out, to understand. Otherwise, I just hear what I want to hear.

For several years in the mid 1990s, I was part of a group on teaching for social justice. Felicia, a member who had moved away, was in Athens visiting. I invited her to come to the monthly group meeting, see her friends, and participate in discussing a short story featuring young people who were gay. The timing seemed perfect. Felicia had recently come out as lesbian, although not to the whole group. I knew she would teach us a lot. I was ready to listen and learn.

The meeting was difficult for all of us. We had not done the work we needed in order to listen. Everyone was uncomfortable, especially Felicia and Lynn, the librarian at Felicia’s former school who stated that literature portraying lesbian or gay lives would never be in her school library. Felicia explained, “It felt to me like she was saying I was welcome there when I was perceived as straight, but as soon as I pronounced myself as lesbian, I was no longer welcome. I left wondering whether you had inadvertently set me up by choosing this story just because I could be depended on to do the work of discussing it. Now I can see — if I was set-up, so was Lynn. She likely had no idea that someone in the group could be so hurt by her words.”

This reflection occurred 10 years (why did it take me so long to ask??) after the meeting when I asked Felicia if she’d be willing to dialogue with me about the event, which continued to trouble me. Ever the kind and patient teacher, Felicia identified that my lack of experience in being an ally and my lack of preparation set up the wrong conditions for listening to and hearing each other.

Perhaps the group needed time to talk about lesbian and gay people and their concerns without a lesbian or gay person present to get their ideas out there, to take tentative stances, to raise questions, to revise stances. Perhaps I needed someone else who was gay or lesbian, or at least someone who was really practiced at being an ally, in the group to back me in my concerns.

How many times, in places of work, worship, socializing, or in relating to family, friends, or strangers do we blunder, insult, objectify, marginalize, remain silent, silence others, or assume too much or too little? How many times do we “just listen” when we need instead to study, ponder, speak or act? How often do I wait for God to make me an instrument of peace and justice without knowing enough to discern how to live in ways that are right and honest and fair?

Prayer: Wise Mother God, I cry out to understand systems of oppression and those affected by them. Help me apply my heart to understanding by constant preparation, by doing the work I need to do instead of relying on others to do it for me. Remind me that to listen to you, I must hear my neighbors, so that my heart may become wise.