Here is Pastor Brad’s sermon from March 3rd, the first Sunday after general Conference. It is available in both text and audio.
Pastor Brad was a clergy delegate to the General Conference (his 4th) and was joined in St. Louis by Ashley Hawkins, our Minister of Outreach and Relationships, who observed and offered prophetic witness.
God Shows Up: At The River– a sermon reflecting on the 2019 Special Session of the UMC General Conference
Stream it above or right click here to download it.
God Shows Up: At The River – a sermon reflecting on the 2019 Special Session of the UMC General Conference
By Rev. Bradley Laurvick
My first day in St Louis was for a meeting with folks from the Mountain Sky Conference. We all came in a day early to connect, plan, and prepare together. The pastors and lay people from CO, WY, UT, MT gathered at Centenary UMC- the oldest reconciling UMC in Missouri.
Their pastor greeted us and in her spiel about the church and it’s history she mentioned that interred in their building are the remains of the first Methodist pastor to do ministry west of the Mississippi. I started to chuckle, “he didn’t make it very far,” I laughed. Centenary UMC sits 6 blocks to the west of the Mississippi River.
This last week the UMC gathered in St Louis to discern together a way forward as a more inclusive, welcoming denomination… We didn’t make it very far.
My hotel room had a beautiful view of the arch and the river. Much like we use the mountains to identify directions in denver, St Louis uses the river to orient themselves. And today, as I don’t know which end is up for this denomination I have been called to serve, I too am looking to orient myself- and I have found a sense of direction with rivers in our scripture.
The United Methodist church had a chance to become more welcoming- with the Simple Plan, we would have removed all discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline, our rule book. With the One Church Plan we would have allowed different places to make different decisions, a small step toward full inclusion. I went to General Conference with great hope we could make this happen. But that hope died when in one of the first votes we saw what would become a familiar voting result- 55% to 45% against inclusion.
Though 2/3 of US delegates supported inclusion, the global nature of our church outweighed that fact. (I invite you to join us Tuesday night at 6 if you’d like to know more details about the process and results.)
But all the statistics and context in the world can’t change the feelings I carry in my heart- my emotions can not be rationalized away. I am heart broken. And when I find myself in sadness and despair, I turn to the laments of the psalms- it was there I found a river.
From Psalm 137:
1 Alongside Babylon’s streams,
there we sat down,
crying because we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our lyres up
in the trees there
3 because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
our tormentors requested songs of joy:
“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.
4 But how could we possibly sing
the Lord’s song on foreign soil?
5 Jerusalem! If I forget you,
let my strong hand wither!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
if I don’t remember you,
if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.
7 Lord, remember what the Edomites did
on Jerusalem’s dark day:
“Rip it down, rip it down!
All the way to its foundations!” they yelled.
8 Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,
a blessing on the one who pays you back
the very deed you did to us!
9 A blessing on the one who seizes your children
and smashes them against the rock!
Here, in psalm 137, we find a poem of lament written while the people of Judah were in exile.
Taken away after the destruction of the temple, they found themselves by the rivers of Babylon. And they sat and they cried. Their home was God’s promise. And it had been taken away from them, it had been taken away with prejudice.
They remember their captors crying out for the sacred place to be torn to its foundations. I resonate with their anguish.
An inclusive, beloved community is God’s promise for the church, for our denomination. And I look at what the 2019 general conference has done and I see the United Methodist Church is in exile. The traditionalists, the fundamentalists have carried us away. And much like the psalm, they ask us to sing: “we are still the church, all are welcome” they say in their press releases and Facebook posts. But how could we sing such a song? Instead, all I can do is oscillate from sadness to anger and back again.
I sit by the river and cry. I sit by the river wanting to lash out in anger. Most pastors skip the last few verses of this psalm. It is one of the most angry and graphic verses in our scriptures. But we do ourselves a disservice if we ignore anger- our scriptures don’t ignore it, and god is comfortable listening to us when we feel it. Though I do not wish violence upon those who voted differently than me, I do carry hard emotions.
I mean, How could they?
How could they harm our Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer siblings in Christ and call it a way forward?
How could they tell the world this is who the United Methodist church is, that this is what Christ is, that this is God’s will?
How could they?
How could they exclude and call it love?
How could they play victim and say they “don’t like it when we call them judgmental?”
They have carried us away from God’s promise and left us in exile.
I am angry, the LGBTQ+ community has once again been hurt, and God has been mocked by their exclusion. This pain is not new in the life of the church. Certainly it is shocking to those of us who have long felt comfortable… but for far too many people, this pain, disappointment and failure to be the church is all to familiar.
I was reminded this week of how many women, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and colonized people have cried these tears- and still do. The racism, sexism, patriarchy, and colonialism of the Church has never gone away. Those suffering its oppression have been crying-out along side the victims of heterosexism And in this moment, this moment of sadness and anger, we are invited to sit in realization and repentance for that.
As hard as it is, as horrible as I feel from benefitting from it, as much as I want to ignore it again- we must not. We must cry with those the church has exiled and do our part to carry the Church back into the promise of god together. For the rivers of Babylon are not our new home, they are but a place for us to gather ourselves back together to pursue another river.
Over and over in my mind, in my inbox, in my text messages, and in my conversations the constant refrain is- “so what are we going to do?”
The first answer is breathe. We are going to breathe and be intentional of all that is to come next. The second answer is we will build a home where all belong. Nothing changes our efforts to share the transforming love of God with all people as we work and serve for a better world. We will continue to live out the love, acceptance, justice, and hope of Jesus. We will feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for children, and walk with those oppressed
All the while we will encourage those called by god to pursue ordained ministry. And celebrate marriages for any couple who seeks one- regardless of sex or gender. We were already breaking the rules in doing these things, and we will continue to choose relationship over rules as a way of honoring God.
Moving forward we will work with great intention to guarantee that none of the money you offer here will go to support values that are not in line with this congregation. Of every dollar you give to our day to day ministry, 87% stays right here to make ministry possible. 10% goes to the mountain sky conference to enable ministry and support the connections between the churches in CO, WY, UT, and MT, an important and value aligned offering. About 2% goes to the global, or general level, of the UMC- and though most of it supports amazing ministry that is in line with our values in most ways, this percentage is our place to make a statement of our values.
I am working with our leadership and have spoken with our superintendent and Bishop to reallocate that portion of our connectional giving. We will take that $1400 and split it between specific ministries, such as UMCOR and the Western Jurisdiction, through partnerships that reflect who we are.
We will not support a system that does not love or fully include all God’s people.
Such a decision is not made lightly, for the general church does many wonderful things- but a prophetic statement must be made. Such prophetic wisdom can be found in the book of Amos, that reminds us that God desires more than offerings…
From Amos chapter 5:
21 I hate, I reject your festivals;
I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
This is the second river that orients our life together as we move forward into whatever God is doing through us. Justice like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. This is a river of life, these are waters worthy of our baptism, this is where we will journey out of exile.
For though the United Methodist Church did not make it very far in St Louis, God is at work in and among us. We have come this far by faith, faith in a loving welcoming God. We will not turn around, we will not be denied or delayed in our pursuit of God’s promise- that justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.