Public Domain Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The communion meal that Christians celebrate is one to which all are welcome, as in the painting "Last Supper" by Peter Paul Rubens.
A statement grabbed my attention as I read The Underground Church, a new book by Robin R. Meyers, a very interesting and relevant spokesperson for the “emergent” church and progressive Christianity. His recent book Saving Jesus From The Church should be “must-read” for those concerned for an authentic Christianity for today’s world. His statement was:
“The great divine cleanup of the world begins with a meal to which all are invited. It is freely offered, and no one is turned away. It is the essential sacrament of sharing the abundance of God’s creation.”
Taking the symbol of the meal to stand for the whole inclusive way of being Christian in the world, I could not but think about the current state of the United Methodist Church as it prepares again for General Conference. As the grandson of an old-time Methodist preacher in Mississippi, a staff member of a college affiliated with the UMC, and a sympathetic ecumenical follower of the affairs of the church, I have watched as this Wesleyan instrument for authentic mission lost its way and its heart, becoming officially closed and mean-spirited as an institution. It has made a mockery of its own slogan of "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors."
Not all United Methodists are guilty to be sure, certainly not all leaders, and not all churches. But as the percentage of voters at General Conferences who vote on the inclusive, progressive, compassionate side of the important questions continues to diminish, hope for the future of the institution diminishes in tandem. We are also beginning to reap the harvest of the kind of misguided fundamentalist Christianity often planted by our missionaries in the Two-Thirds World over the years in the form of a reactionary ecclesial political force which grows exponentially as it legitimately expects and demands a place at the table.
Can we do other than simply cry over Jerusalem?
In one important sense, no! Grief is a necessary and appropriate response to our dissembling of a revered tradition and our misguided unfaithfulness to the example of the compassionate Christ accepting all comers. As Walter Brueggemann has so effectively pointed out, grief over the way things are almost by necessity precedes the hopeful action necessary to change and redemption. And, as Brueggemann has also said, “History-makers and historical action do not proceed out of despair, but out of hope that acts against the data at hand." Or as Brother Cornel West put it, “Hope isn’t a symptom of imminent victory, it’s what you have when reason alone leads you to despair.”
So in the final analysis, we move with and through our grief to pursue every avenue available to us to work for faithfulness to “God’s Peculiar Agenda” of all-inclusive love for the world and to contribute to advancing the values of the Commonwealth of God in all areas of church and society. We do this in the confidence that the agenda of love does not end without bearing fruit. We do it with the unceasing, unsentimental “agape” love for friend and foe that wants and works for justice and human dignity – that when it comes to fruition frees both oppressed and oppressor from the sins of injustice. And, we do it in hope with love for the church of the future in whatever yet undefined forms of inclusive collectivity it may ultimately take.
Finally we do it remembering to whom the authentic church belongs and remembering that it is not all up to us. Our often inept and unsuccessful, but faithful, efforts open the floodgates of God’s redeeming, transformative love. As so many remind us of Dr. King’s famous statement, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Isn’t that our almost eschatological hope and our intent for eschatology realized in “the fierce urgency of now”? Come, Messiah Jesus!