“…for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor.” Jacob to Esau - Genesis 33:10b
I am schism-prone.
As an introvert who despises conflict and confrontation, and avoids it like the plague, it’s easier for me to separate than debate, or worse.
For United Methodists embroiled in this seeming no-win tug of war over homosexuality, the “easy way” of dividing so we can all take our ball and go home, is tempting – but hardly Christ-like. (That was settled at Calvary when Jesus refused to take the bait about coming off that cross if he was truly God.) Considering Jesus wouldn’t bail, there’s a message for us somewhere in that!
In the first post on this subject I alluded to Paul and Barnabas’ dilemma concerning John Mark, who had failed to go the distance with them on their previous missionary journey. Paul gave JM a failing grade; Barnabas agreed, but wanted to take him along on the next trip in spite of his shortcomings. A sharp division ensued, causing Paul to partner up with a more suitable companion – Silas – while Barnabas and John Mark went another way.
Many would point to this as evidence that the “split” doubled the work-effectiveness – twice as many church visits!
But is that really so?
Do you suppose Paul, Barnabas or John Mark were clear-headed as they travelled and did the work of God?
Do you suppose they were not heavy-hearted at the rift between them?
Did it not haunt their dreams?
Who is to say how much the division interfered with their work? But this we do know – Paul and John Mark eventually reconciled. JM was included in Paul’s salutation to the Colossian believers (4:10). And at the end of his earthly life, stuck in a Roman prison, Paul had his friend Luke with him, but he asked Timothy to bring John Mark to him because (Paul said) John Mark would be helpful to him in his ministry there.
Paul was a hard-driving, no nonsense kind of guy. He probably could hold a grudge with the best; but here we see his underbelly – tender, exposed and ready to receive a brother.
I can’t be totally certain Paul ever really liked John Mark; but he received him for the sake of Christ.
Both sides of the current UMC crisis can insert their own names in this story in every character. Can you see yourself as:
· Paul the stubborn one?
· Barnabas the peacemaker?
· John Mark the rejected one?
· Luke putting up with Paul the grouchy one?
If you can’t see yourself, at least in some way, or at some times in each of these roles, you’re not working hard enough!
Going back to the Old Testament – remember Jacob sneaking out of town in the middle of the night because he stole Esau’s birthright? (Ooooh…couldn’t we could draw some neat analogies from this in the current crisis?) But God allowed Jacob 20 years of exile to get his head right; Esau got a 20 year cool-down for his temper. And in the end, when the brothers are finally reunited, the (now) mature Jacob tells Esau, his former arch rival and enemy, seeing you is like seeing the face of God.
Reconciliation doesn’t get any better than that!
And, one final example; how about the schism of Acts 15 over whether Gentiles belong in the church? There was nothing more odious to Jews than uncircumcised Gentiles. Yet, the outcome, after much General Conference debate was to accept those Gentiles who were turning to Christ, and simply ask that they refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols and fornication. This was a via media (Wesleyan middle way) solution if I’ve ever seen one!
Can we not take these examples as our game plan to “follow Jesus, make disciples and transform the world”?
We have a real (but dwindling) opportunity in these “pre-schism” moments to display for the world how genuine believers act under pressure, and in the face of an angry temptation to divide like contemporary culture lives. We have the opportunity to show the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace instead of anger, rancor and judgment.
We have the opportunity to be the face of God for an unbelieving world caught in a very dark culture. We don’t have to add to the darkness; we can bring the light of an undivided God to a divided world.
Wouldn’t you call that mission?
United Methodists are simply a microcosm of the bitterness and contention which seethe and boil as the creation groans for redemption.
Today I’m praying for God to make my heart open for the via media a middle way to choose, and help others choose to accept the ministry of reconciliation in a way that clearly speaks the love of God.