Who Do You Hate or Fear?
In Nashville last weekend to speak at the national Christian Educator’s Fellowship conference, I worshipped at West End United Methodist Church. It’s a hulk of an English Gothic cathedral across the street from Vanderbilt University where traditional worship is as good as gets. When the organist pulls out the stops (literally), the organ can shake your bones and the choir can make your spirit soar. There’s a good reason that great “traditional” worship is still around.
In his sermon, Michael Williams told the story of a pastoral colleague who, in preparing for the annual stewardship emphasis, asked a friend who was a political fund-raiser for some advice. The fund-raiser said, “Tell me who you hate.” The shocked preacher replied, “We don’t hate anyone…we’re the church.” The fund-raiser went on, “Then, tell me who you fear.” The preacher said that he didn’t really fear anyone. The fund-raiser said, “Well, if you don’t have someone to hate or fear, then I really can’t help you.”
The comment is as accurate as it is disappointing. It confirms the way our current political climate is driven by hate or fear. If you watch the ads in Florida these days, the next governor will be chosen on the basis of who we hate the least. Our panic-stricken reaction to Ebola is more an evidence of media-driven fear than medical knowledge. Unfortunately, it can even happen in the church when we discover that other equally-faithful disciples may see things differently than we do.
Who Do We Love? Who Loves Us?
As I continued in worship, I realized that the great word of the gospel is not who we hate or fear, but who we love and the One who loves us. Whenever hate or fear slither into the life of the church, they are a Satanic corruption of the gospel and a betrayal of the faith. It’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:7)
My friend and colleague, Steve Harper, has modeled the way of love for the church’s conversations about homosexuality and same-sex marriage in his recent book, “For the Sake of the Bride”. It’s a powerful personal witness of what it can mean for followers of Christ to live together in a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
Loving others and knowing that we are loved by God may not be the most effective way to raise money for political campaigns, but it’s the only way to follow Jesus.
Celebrating “Disciple’s Path”
Also in Nashville I spent a day in meetings at the United Methodist Publishing House. The good news is that nearly 55,000 people have used “A Disciple’s Path”. The reports from different kinds of churches across the nation confirm that the Spirit is using it in ways that goes beyond all of our expectations. Praise God! The follow-up resource,“A Disciple’s Heart”, will be released in February. Join me in praying that these resources will be a part of the renewal of our denomination.
Grace and peace,