The following was given last Sunday as a preamble to worship at Spruce Pine UMC in the Western North Carolina Conference. We are grateful to its author, Rev. Jeremy Troxler, for letting us share this excellent reflection. Rev. Troxler is pastor of Spruce Pine UMC in Spruce Pine, NC, and former Director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School. Today, I share it with all who care to read it because this letter is so Disciple. We, as Disciples of Christ, believe strongly in the call to be one in Christ. This means that in spite of our differences or maybe because of our differences, when we gather around the table of remembrance of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, we are being molded into the one body of Christ. Whichever side of the SCOTUS decision you are on, you are still, especially called to love one another as Christ has loved us.
A Preamble to Worship and a Call To Unity Offered at Spruce Pine UMC the Sunday after SCOTUS Decision
Unless you have been living in a cave in the woods for the past week, most of you know by now that on Friday the Supreme Court made a historic ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry in the United States.
Different folks in our congregation have had dramatically different responses to this decision.
Some of you celebrated with elation and even wept with joy, because to you Friday felt like a kind of divine miracle, because you believe the ruling was victory for civil rights and for equality among God’s children, because now either you, or your children, or your family members, or your friends who are gay or lesbian can have the opportunity to have their love for their partner formally recognized, because you feel grateful that all people can now share in the affirmation of dignity and the blessing of committed companionship that the status of legal marriage brings, because perhaps you feel that gay and lesbian human beings are finally accepted as full and equal citizens of our country.
Others of you viewed the Supreme Court’s decision Friday with great sadness or even anger, not because of any hatred in your heart, but because you believe the ruling to be a misguided over-reach of the courts, because you believe it to represent an example of how society is either ignoring or badly interpreting or even defying what you hold to be God’s clear commands in Scripture, because you believe that a sacred institution has been redefined in a way contrary to God’s will, because you believe the practice of homosexuality to be a sin incompatible with Christian teaching, and because you are concerned over whether now you can practice freedom of conscience in this regard.
Some of you feel anger rising within you that I have even mentioned the other side’s point of view here in worship, because it is just so obvious to you that you are on the right side and they aren’t, so why even talk about it? You came here maybe expecting everybody else to be dancing in the aisles with you or you came here maybe expecting everybody else to be shaking their heads with you, and now you hear that’s not the case. Others of you feel caught in the middle between people who feel so strongly: you think it’s complicated and you don’t know exactly what to think, but it breaks your heart to see people in such conflict, and you just wish people could get along better.
I share this with you because even though the Supreme Court’s decision changes nothing about the formal stance of the United Methodist Church towards same-sex marriage – only our United Methodist General Conference next summer has the power to do that – the last few days have reminded many of us how divided we are as a United Methodist church and as a people over questions such as these.
The Bible says that in the church we are to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice” – but what do you do when half of you are weeping and half of you are rejoicing?
One thing I might propose for us is that sometime before General Conference next spring, we hold a Bible Study and holy conferencing dialogue about this issue. But in the meantime, another thing we can do is to remember what binds us together.
The Bible says that the church is like a family, where we are brothers and sisters with each other. If your family is like mine, then there are a lot of important things that you and your family members disagree about or even fight about. But at the end of the day you are still a family; you are still held together by something deeper than whether or not you agree. You are held together by the fact that you have been made part of one another, and you are held together by stubborn, durable, steady love.
The church is a family like that. We are a family that can disagree about important things, but at the end of the day we are held together by something deeper than the fact we agree about everything, or even about every important thing: we are held together by the fact that God’s grace has rescued us and is remaking us and has made us a part of one another.
We are held together by love, the love of Christ.
That love does not banish disagreement, but it does join us in a oneness deeper than all difference, a fidelity more enduring than our fights, a reconciliation that outlasts our wrongs.
Perhaps we even need some level of disagreement for this love to grow among us.
In his 2nd Inaugural Address, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln meditated on the fact that both the North and the South prayed to the same God, and believed the same God was on their side, and trusted that the same God would grant their side victory, and yet the war just kept going on. Lincoln said that the prayers of both could not be answered, and the prayers of neither were answered fully. Clearly neither side could be wholly in the right, or God would have ended the bloodshed. Lincoln speculated that perhaps in allowing the struggle to continue, God was accomplishing larger purposes that neither side had taken into account.
Perhaps God has God’s own purposes in putting us very different people, with our dueling facebook posts and our rival news sources, all together next to each other in the pew. Perhaps one of those purposes is to learn the meaning of love. Perhaps it is only by learning to love people we disagree with, only by learning to love people who we know are wrong, only by learning to love sinners that we learn what love, Christ-like love, even, yes, married love, really is.
Later this morning as we receive new members we will read words from I Corinthians 12, where the Apostle Paul writes to a divided church about how we are all part of the body of Christ, a body where the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor can the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” We are a body, where, paraphrasing what the Bible says about marriage, the many become one flesh.
Here’s what I think that means:
If you celebrated on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
If you were upset on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
If you didn’t know how to feel on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
If you think what I have said here is too wishy-washy, and you wish your preacher took a stronger stand with your side today, you belong here and are needed here.
The only way you might not belong here is if you believe the body of Christ should be a place where everybody agrees with you 100%, and where what you hear from the pulpit every week should just confirm whatever you came here already believing; basically if you think the body should be made up of one part: your brain.
I would say that if that’s what you want, the only way to get it is if you keep your own company. But maybe you won’t find satisfaction even there: I can’t get even the different sides of my own mind to agree with themselves half the time.
Perhaps if you searched hard enough you might finally be able to find another group of believers who agree with each other on things like this 100% – but if you do, whatever it is, it won’t be the church of Jesus Christ.
So I guess we’ll just have to accept God’s own mysterious purposes and continue struggling to seek God’s bigger-than-we-thought will with each other.
I guess we’ll have to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, even all at the same time, even if it means we try to force a smile through our tears because at least our friends are happy, of if it means we celebrate but with a catch in our throat because we can’t totally forget those who find it hard to rejoice with us because of conscience.
I guess we’ll have to stay together and try to respect and love each other and fail and ask forgiveness and forgive and then try again.
I guess we in the church will need to choose again
to have and to hold each other,
from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
in agreement and disagreement
until death us do part:
just like all married folks must do.
Now let us worship God together.