Sermon 05/21/2023 – An Unknown God

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we, too, are his offspring.’

“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Sermon Text

One of the greatest missed opportunities we can have as Christians is to not learn about other faiths. It seems counter to how we typically think of things. People struggle at times to know their own scripture; how can they learn about someone else’s? More than that, there is a fear in many a God-fearing Christian’s heart that by learning about other faiths, something might get mixed up in our minds and we will form wrong ideas about God. I can understand that instinct, after all we have so many ideas about “Karma,” in our society generally, and plenty of it permeates into the Church. Can we trust ourselves to learn about faith outside our own, and come out of it stronger, more thoughtful, without also just confusing ourselves?

Paul, it seems, believed we definitely could learn about other cultures and faiths and benefit from the study. In his time, after all, there was no separation between religion and daily life. People lived with the expectation that gods were part of everything they touched. Everything you did, everything you wrote, every little aspect of life had some religiosity to it. With the exception of atheists, most people their entire life as being invested with some amount of religious significance. As such, poetry, law, and writings of all kinds, came across religious ideas at some point in their composition. Even the driest bit of philosophy, because it is founded in a fundamental belief of how truth or knowledge functions, depended upon a belief on how something, or someone set the world up.

In this passage, we have just read Paul is quoting two poets. If we did not look into what the quotes were referencing, we might thing these are odes to the “Unknown God,” named in the passage. However, the truth is that both of these poems are in praise of a single God, the king of the Roman and Greek Pantheons – Zeus (or Jupiter.) One of these two poems praises Zeus for all that he has done:

“From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars.[1]

The second quote is known to us, only because Paul quotes it here and a few other Christians in the early church had copies they could elaborate on. This second piece is apparently a favorite of Paul’s because he quotes it in Titus as well. That text is more oblique in how it would have anything to do with Paul’s sermon, since it comes from a very specific argument about how the people of Crete viewed Zeus. I quote here a reconstruction of the verse:

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one, Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. But you are not dead: you live and abide forever, For in you we live and move and have our being.”[2]

In just two short quotations, Paul opens up a wealth of questions for us. He, being born in a Greek city on the coast of Turkey and raised among Hellenistic culture, was seemingly unafraid to mix the poetry of the culture around him and his faith which came from the scriptures of Judea. The God of Israel, one in person, substance, and will – could be described in poetry written specifically for Zeus. While Paul removes Zeus from his quotation, placing its subject as the Unknown God he walked past, the audience he spoke to – the learned men of Athens – would know immediately who and what he was quoting. Paul saw a truth in a piece of poetry devoted to a foreign divinity, and used the shared language it gave him to speak to others about his God.

That principle of universal truth can easily become a universalism that denies faith, but more often a discerning person can augment their faith through this kind of study. E. Stanley Jones, a missionary who served in India, worked with people of many faiths. India has some of the most diverse religious makeup of any country. There are Muslims, Christians, Jews, traditional native religious practitioners, Sikhs, Jains, and so on and so forth. Jones would have all these different groups come together and sit in meetings called “Asherams.” In these meetings they would share their thoughts on given topics and afterward they would dismiss and, often, meet and talk more outside the meetings. Sometimes people would convert from these discussions, sometimes they would not, but everyone took away something they could use.

Jones believed that there was only one truth, the truth of Christ and the Gospel. However, he believed that because that truth had been revealed through nature, through Sinai, through so many different things, that religions outside Christianity or Judaism must have found some of it. If truth truly is singular, then you cannot earnestly seek truth without finding it. As such, religions as old as Hinduism, predating Judaism by eight thousand years and Christianity by ten thousand, must have a wealth of information we could benefit from. Jones was not looking to dilute Christianity with extra-Biblical ideas, but to apply lenses from all over to his faith, so that he could understand even just one more shade of what God was doing in the world.

This is easiest among faiths that are similar to one another. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can easily interface with each other and build one another up. Judaism birthed Christianity after all, and Islam was born from influences of both. The three “Abrahamic,” faiths are naturally made to speak truth to one another. I own a Quran, I own a Tanakh, and I have online access to any text written in interpreting either of them.

St Francis of Assisi, you probably know him as the statue of a man holding a bird in your Catholic friend’s garden, tells us what this can look like. He spent time with al-Kamil, an heir to Saladin and sultan during the fifth crusade. Little is written about his time with the Sultan, but it is widely considered a successful interchange of faith. Though Francis failed in his plan to convert the ruler, all reports of the meeting were positive. After this meeting, Francis seemingly took two lessons away – both to do with prayer. In his Letter to the Rulers of the People, he called for people to pray every evening, and for that time of prayer to be initiated with the public sounding of horns – similar to the call to prayer that rings from minarets in mosques every day. [3]Likewise, his The Praises of God lists all kinds of attributes of God, in a way similar to the ninety-nine names of Allah in Islamic tradition.[4]

In my own life, I take a lot of cues from Rabbis when it comes to questions, I hold about certain aspects of faith. Rabbinical discourse is more willing to ask tough questions than Christian thought  is. Philosophy, often the placeholder for religion in our more secular age, also gives us tools to express our faith. Nietzsche, Camus, Sarte, and many other founders of modernism and post-modernism are good to know. They describe the world in terms we do not always think to use and even when we oppose or disagree with them, our mind is better for the interrogation. Practically, I don’t have time to read all that much though. So what do I do? I talk to people who think differently than me, ask questions to understand and not to convince. I try and see the world through their eyes. In this way, we can find new ways to see the one truth of the Gospel, in languages we now only know the sound of.

We can start in our own Christian family, sometimes that is easier. Listen to a Christian from outside our traditions and see how they talk about God. I can tell you that even within Methodism, if you go to different parts of the world and the country – you will hear different aspects of God lifted up. I thank God that I was at a seminary that had a lot of Black Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal students. I learned more about God through that injection of culture into my life than most anything I picked up in a classroom. We should learn from Christians of other backgrounds, other political ideas, and generally different mindsets. Not everything is something we can take home and call our own, but that is how life is. I cannot know what food is good, unless I am willing to take a bite, and the same is true of knowledge.

People found faith in Athens because Paul spoke their language. He was able to look at them and say, “You know what you say about Zeus, it actually fits my God too, and more than that we preach that the dead will be raised one day and that this is done through a guy named Jesus who was, and is, the God I am talking to you about today.” The first part drew people in, and the second part pushed most of them back out, but for those who were willing to stay after that – there life was changed forever. How many lives might we change if we knew about ideas we currently might not think are “essential?” How many hidden treasures are we unwilling to dig up, simply because they were planted in a soil we consider foreign? God is God all, and while many may see God as Unknown, they are constantly seeing signs of God’s activity in the world.

Are we willing to learn how to translate one to the other? I hope so, and it starts with talking to people you might think are too different, and listening deeply to those we might cast aside as “other.” Listen, learn, and speak life into a vibrant world, seeking the truth. – Amen.

[1] Aratus of Soli. Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.

[2] Rendel Harris, J. (Oct 1906). “The Cretans always liars”The Expositor. Seventh Series. 2: 305–17.

[3] Full text available at:

[4] Full text available at:

Our Legacy – the EUB

1 John 4: 1-12

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Sermon Text

 It is hard sometimes to find a history of the Evangelical United Brethren. Outside of devoted people like our Anna Jeane, it seems that people just did not sit down and record the history of denomination in the same way Methodists did. It does not help of course that the United Methodist Church has existed in the digital age, while the EUB merged with the Methodists in ’68. Still, to know the full history of the EUB takes some time, and I do not think that I could possibly do it real justice from the few weeks of research I was afforded in putting this series together.

Still, we can talk about the faith that inspired some faithful people years ago to build a Church on 19th and Pride, and to last through several mergers since then. We start back at the dawn of a new nation, the United States of America, and a German immigrant living first in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then in Baltimore, Maryland. His name was Philip Otterbein, and he had a story to tell the nations about salvation and the power of community.

Born to a clergy family, Philip was raised with some expectation he would continue the work his family had begun. He attended seminary and became a minister in the Pennsylvania colony. He was not a particularly good speaker, but claimed that God opened his mouth one day as he was plowing a field. Whatever that religious experience consisted of, this seminary graduate could now call himself a preacher, and preach he did. His work brought him into contact with a Mennonite in the area, Martin Boehm, and he eventually moved from German Reform churches to Mennonite Churches where he became a Bishop.

Otterbein was closely tied to Methodists in his work, especially when he came to Baltimore. He eventually organized societies based off of the Methodist model and began to take on a form of ministry betwixt and between German Pietism and Anglican Methodism. This culminated in the formation of the United Brethren in Christ. This group modeled itself after the Methodist Church, adopting their governing structure as soon as German editions of the Book of Discipline were available. Ottebein himself never saw this church form, being a member of the Evangelical Reformed Church till he died. Yet, the work he did at his church, now called Old Otterbein – just down from Camden yards in Baltimore, set the stage for the Brethren to flourish.

The Brethren changed their constitution and liturgy up a few times over their existence, but unlike Methodism which saw many shifts in power and agency, the Brethren remained largely static. Unlike Methodism, they never stopped being abolitionists, standing firm by their beliefs that all people were of value, they fought against slavery as long as it persisted. This eventually led to the expulsion of all slave-holders in the Church, something that kept them from growing in the South but that secured their authentic obedience to Christ as advocates for all people. They did experience one major schism over the organization of the Church, but again this was mainly an issue of polity.

The Brethren would join with the Evangelical Association in 1946. The Evangelical Association was founded in the same year that the Brethren came to be. They believed much the same things that Methodists and Brethren did but were not necessarily an offshoot of either one. The resulting merger of the two churches would form the Evangelical United Brethren, the church some of the people in this room may remember well, and that we are using the liturgy of today. The Evangelical United Brethren was a short-lived denomination before its merger into the Methodist Church and the formation of the United Methodist Church that we know and love today.

I was expecting when I set out to put this month of services together that somewhere along the line I would find some major differences between the churches that make up United Methodism. Surprisingly, there was very little differences on paper. They all had Bishops and super-intendents that kept things running, they all appointed ministers and lay preachers. They all believed that we chose to follow God and that faith alone saved us. Even our communion liturgy kept being nearly identical. Our origins may be different, but at the root of all churches that came to be the UMC, there was a devotion to God, to one another, and to study of scripture and prayer.

The Brethren showed something that we could learn from today, and that was the power of consistency. The Brethren were able to flourish in the way they did because they never stopped acknowledging that all people had their place in the Kingdom of God. While the Methodist movement kept hitting the roadblocks of slavery and segregation, the EUB kept largely united in its fight for human rights. While Methodism shattered time and time again, forming Free Methodists, Methodist Protestants, Pentecostals, and so many others, the EUB only split once en masse and that was over whether lay people should be able to vote at conference.

Now, I do not think it would be fair to look at the present lack of evidence pointing to issues within the EUB and then say there were none. I doubt that they carried the torch of their high calling perfectly through all their years as a Church, and I know the people in the pews had plenty of failures because I was raised up among people who were raised up as EUB and they were far from perfect. Instead, what I hope to suggest is that while the EUB faced their own problems, they were not the same problems that led to schism in the Methodist theological tradition. They maintained a unity the other could not because they were willing to stand up for the least of these no matter what other people might have pushed them to do.

We’ve been looking at the book of 1 John as we’ve been looking at our history. Admittedly, these sermons have been less exegetical than my usual ones because we are talking about so much history. Yet, there are two reasons I chose 1 John. Firstly, it was John Wesley’s most quoted book of scripture, the one he claimed as his favorite. Secondly, it is a letter from an elder of the Church to a congregation he loves in a time of trouble.

The issue at hand seemed to be a disagreement about the nature of Christ’s incarnation. Was Jesus flesh and blood? Or was Jesus an incorporeal Spirit? Now, there was a right answer to this question in a way our modern issues are not quite as black and white. Jesus was flesh and blood, and was also the eternal Son of God, that could not be debated. In the midst of this trouble, it would be easy for the author to come up with a thousand different criteria and tests to show who was in and out in the Church. Instead, he came up with two – do they proclaim Christ in the flesh? And do they love one another?

I get frustrated sometimes looking at the state of the Church because we have invented a thousand different ways of defining a Christian. Christians look this way, they speak this way, they vote this way, the do any number of things in very specific ways. This comes out of a place of insecurity on our part. We are not willing to challenge our own views or ways of being, and so when a Christian comes to us praying differently or differing in one or another belief, our first instinct is to say that they aren’t really Christian or that they’re doing this Christianity thing wrong. Sometimes this is slight, our little complaints about how other churches are doing things. Other times they are major, the hundreds of years of conflict between Protestants and Catholics over how we worship the same Risen Lord.

Personally, these are my definitions of Christianity. Do they proclaim Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and that he lived a human life and died a human death and then rose again? Do they love those around them with all their heart, and all their soul, and all their strength? Those are the only two I really care about, and differences that arise within those bound need to be worked on case by case.

I have friends who are reformed, who believe that God appoints who is saved and who is not. I disagree with them and find that vision of God’s to be something I cannot hold to. But they are still Christians and I still see them as siblings. I love the liturgy and reverence of the Catholic Church for all the ordinances of God, but I cannot abide their refusal to ordain women. Still I see them as Christians, and as Siblings in Christ. I do not condone the shattering of a Church and the refusal to acknowledge the call of God upon all people regardless of who they love and how they were born, and yet the Global Methodist Church is still an association of Christians and my siblings in Christ.

I believe that the way we can continue on, as a singular Church and as a denomination, is not it creating more stringent guidelines for who is and is not part of us. Instead, it is in a more discerning attitude toward the teachings we accept. There are many pop preachers out there who get in pulpits every Sunday and tell their congregation who to be afraid of or angry at or who is tearing down the fabric of society that week. I can’t do that. I think instead that we must take every teaching in our hands and ask ourselves, “Do I proclaim a risen Christ in believing this?” If so we take up the next line of thought, “Do I love my neighbor better by believing this?” If we answer one, but not the other, than it is not a true teaching from God.

Is that an easy calling? No, not at all. Yet, it is a better litmus test than any other for plumbing the depths of our hearts. We understand who Christ is and what Christ is doing, not through cutting off all dissidents, but by collecting all siblings. We are the Church together, and if we are only ever worried about running away to be with people who are like us, then we will never know the blessedness of, to be obnoxious for a moment, being United Brethren. – Amen.

Our Legacy – The Methodists

1 John 3: 7-18

Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Sermon Text

Nothing ever ends with the death of its founder. John Wesley lived a long life, born three years into the 1700s and dying nine years short of 1800. 88 years on the Earth saw him traveling across the Atlantic to bring the word of God to the colonies, but he would flee his own mistakes back to England. There he would find his faith reawakened and send forth ministers all throughout Britain and Ireland, sending still more to begin societies in the American colonies. He mourned the American Revolution and recognized that he could no longer be the head of a movement that did not acknowledge the Crown. He sent two ministers to lead in the colonies, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, who were both made bishops of a new Church. This new denomination would grow up alongside the United States, and it would call itself the Methodist Episcopal Church.

This Church is when what we call “Methodists,” truly began to exist. Before this, to be a Methodist was to be part of the Church of England committed to being a better Christian through the Societies. Now, it meant being a part of a church that – while very similar in worship style to the Anglicans – was distinct in the communion it called its own. However, this new Methodist Communion had failed to learn something from its mother church, it failed to learn that when a split like this happens, everyone is not going to agree that the right steps were taken. Some other groups began to form out of and alongside the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The problems that led to the schisms that marked the Early Methodists probably sound familiar to us. There were some people that thought too much power was invested in the bishops, then only two people, and so they wanted to strike out and reaffirm congregational, democratic governance. These were the Methodist Protestants, some of the first to leave. The other denominations that formed were based in the big issue of the time, the evil of slavery.

The Methodist Church was abolitionist from its beginning. John Wesley devoted a lot of time and money to fighting against slavery in the British Empire. During the American revolution, he and other ministers wrote letters pointing out that the American call to be liberated from taxation was not compelling unless they also fought for the liberty of enslaved peoples. Wesley’s treatises on slavery are beautiful examples of how, no matter how far back we go, there were people who were able to look at the world around them and see that something was broken. There is no excuse for historical figures found in saying, “That’s just how things were,” as long as even a single voice spoke out in protest.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was willing to bend on this issue, allowing slavery in cases where slaves could not be legally freed. This included allowing slavery as long as the slaves were “manumitted.” In other words, as long as you planned to free them eventually, you could hold slaves in the Methodist Church, the exception being bishops who could not own any. This allowed for a huge loophole, one seen in the life of Henry Foxall, the Methodist industrialist who made canons for the Revolutionary Army. He would buy slaves, manumit them, and then when their term was up buy more slaves. While this did lead to people being freed – eventually – it also fed the slave trade and perpetuated its evil.[1]

Early on, those disgusted by Methodist accommodation of slavery left. The failure to integrate congregations led to black parishioners sitting in raised galleries while the whites sat in directly in front of the chancel. Black members were served communion last and those who were enslaved were preached to from slave gospels that were edited to exclude any mention of God freeing the Oppressed. Because of this, the minister Richard Allen left and formed his own denomination – the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a place where black believers could be treated with respect. Another group the Free Methodist Church, were abolitionists who opposed slavery and who resented the introduction of pew rent into the Church.

Finally, a major split occurred when the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed a slave holder to the office of Bishop. As you will remember there was only one unalienable rule with the Methodist concessions, and that was that Bishops were not to be slavers. This conflict led to a split in the Church that foretold a much darker chapter for America. The Methodist Episcopal Church, North and South had formed. One group supported slavery and the other opposed it. The Northern Church was not free of evil either. In the North, they supported the Colonization movement, believing that Whites and Blacks could not live together, they wished to support the formation of Liberia and to send them “back where they came from.” No one was willing to truly create an integrated Church like Wesley had once dreamed of.

The Civil War came, fought over the same issue that had divided Methodism. More denominations spun off of both sides of the Methodist Episcopal Church, until finally the Methodists – North, South, and Protestant – sat down and formed one Church together. In 1939, almost one hundred years after they split, a new Methodist Church was formed. It is that Church’s liturgy, published the year they came together, that we have been using today. Slavery was no longer an issue, and Liberia was no longer a popular option, so some of the key issues separating the Church were gone. Unfortunately, they all agreed on one thing – segregation – and created a conference just for people of color, the central Conference, a term we still use today for any church not in the United States.

This is a messy history that is only made messier when the Methodist Church joins with another to form what we now call the United Methodist Church. The story of how we come to sit in a Church with a cross and flame emblazoned on its side is not an easy one, and we are not even done talking about all its constituent parts! History has a way of showing us things we would rather not admit, things like how our modern problems go much deeper than last week.

Today, in many Methodist churches, the story of John Wesley hearing a Moravian preacher read Luther’s preface to the book of Romans will be read as people celebrate our Wesleyan Heritage. I think that that is a beautiful way to spend a Heritage Sunday. I think that it is no less beautiful, no less holy, to sit here as we just have, and see that the word “Methodist,” is a tangled mess of good and bad and could-have and should-haves. We are the inheritors of one of the greatest theological traditions there is, and we are the bearers of a legacy tainted with blood and sin and shame.

Our scripture today separates out the world into two categories. There are the children of God who do what is right and the children of the Devil, who do what is evil. We are known by our fruits, and those who are unable to love one another prove above all else that they are not fit for the kingdom they are called to be in. We are defined as being with God or against God by whether we can understand that being loving, that doing what is right, is worth more than any fight that we might have as one part of the Church against the other.

Many of the schisms we highlighted today were important, sometimes people left for legitimate reasons. The Free Methodists and the Methodist Protestants saw that we were going astray in accepting slavery, they were right to fight against it, and while I am against schism of any kind, they may have even been justified in dusting off their sandals and leaving the larger church to its own devices. Yet, the main thing that caused people to leave, again and again and again, was that the Church was unable to do what was right, and instead chose to do what had always been done. They accepted the past that the world had a chance to leave behind, rather than the future that was laid out before them. Rather than the progress of abandoning past misgivings, they were embracing the past as something sacred above all else.

In our modern world the specter of slavery is all around us. Though some people want to deny it, having our foundation of a country dependent upon forced labor and the denial of human rights has made it hard to escape those legal and societal mindsets. Even beyond discussions of race, we are ready as a people to throw other people into the wheels of industry as long as it makes our products cheap and our pockets a bit more full. We don’t care if a fast food worker needs three jobs to sustain their family, because that McDouble costs a dollar fifty now, and if we raise their salary it might cost a dollar seventy-five instead. We don’t want our appliances to cost what they really should, because then they’d be luxury goods, so we let businesses pay pennies to children in foreign countries so our smart phones can be affordable, even as those children starve and suffer and die to bring us the latest and greatest thing-we-already-own.

In the more specific discussion of race, I do not have to tell you that we have not yet figured out how to atone for the sins of the past. There are those who rightly point out that we were not there two hundred years ago to have an impact on slavery, but we are alive now, can make a difference now, are we doing anything? We wish to believe we live in a free and equal society, but so did slave-owners, so did governors standing on the steps of schools shouting, “Segregation now, segregation forever!” We all want to be heroes, but are we willing to do the work to make the world a better, more equitable place? I hope so, or else the Church will continue to lose its witness time and time again.

We saw last week an example of how passive resistance to things like racism are simply not enough. A killer, motivated by the conspiracy that non-whites are being shipped in to replace the white population of the United States, entered a Supermarket and killed ten people. We can talk all we want about how “Lone gunmen,” are beyond our control, but they almost always have the same motivations. Either they hate women or they hate people of color. We might say we have nothing to do with this, but we are part of the environment – online and otherwise, that allows this kind of thing to fester and grow.

We may not advocate the killing of people of color, but we openly act like its unreasonable to have multiple languages available when we call our bank’s national branch. We can pretend we’re egalitarian, but when women lay accusations at the feet of men in power, we suddenly trust politicians and actors to tell the truth. We may not have memorized the fourteen words, but we openly express our discomfort that the places we visit are browner than they used to be. It may all seem disconnected, but it all comes back to this, a willingness to let even one tenant of white supremacy stand unopposed – inevitably allowing the rest to grow up in its shadow. It might not fully take root in our own hearts, but it will in the hearts of someone, and that someone will do unspeakable things in the name of an ideology we tacitly endorse with our silence.

Today we struggle with issues of human dignity, who is really allowed to be who they are in a church? Is it only white people? We say quickly, no, but do we fully believe that? Is it gay people? Now we start couching our acceptance with all kinds of conditions, but why onl for this, and why so very strongly? Underneath the surface of any conflict are a thousand, thousand more little bits and bobs of disagreement and struggle. The truth is, that we are not a denomination for whom this is new, nor a tradition who has not had these kinds of fights before.

The lesson I hope we take today is a complex one. When we look at our history as Methodists, we see a million things that mark us as Children of God. We did a lot of good work to bring equity into the world, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and to tear down unjust systems. Yet we also tolerated and perpetuated evils, we failed to lead the way of righteousness and therefore might have given a great many people the impression that we were children of another entity altogether. In our own lives, in this congregations shared life, I’m sure we could say the same. No one is wholly good or wholly bad, not just yet, and no church is either.

Thanks be to Christ Jesus, who gave himself up for us that we might be better. That we might as individuals and as a Church have a chance to change the trajectory we are on, to do more good and to love more intensely. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, and who most of all has given us the gift of second chances, the gift of another go round, the gift of transforming our hearts, and therefore the world around us. Thank God I’m a Methodist standing in this pulpit today, and thank God he forgives abundantly, the sins of a Methodist like me. – Amen.

[1] Jane Donovan. “ “ in Henry Foxall: Methodist, Industrialist, American (Nashville, Tennessee: New Room Books. 2017)

Our Legacy: The Wesleys (Final Version)

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Sermon Text

There’s an idea in the Methodist Church that we are to be “Connectional.” This means that every church is in constant communication with one another, that those churches communicate as a unit we call a district, and each district works together as a conference, and so on and so forth. This connectional mindset is meant to ensure that we band together to support everyone’s ministry, that we live out our lives in individual churches as disciples pursuing goodness together. It also means that we learn from the examples other provide to us of holy living, and change the way we are headed if it means that something better is on that new path we have been shown. But, I will come back to this idea after I tell you about the founder of the Methodist Movement we are a part of today.

This founder was a man named John Wesley, and he was a nervous wreck and all-around difficult person. His father and mother were members of two separate parties within the monarchy, and so were known for their fights. That same father spent many years in debtors’ prison while his children were young, missing some of the key moments he could have spent with them. All three of the Wesley sons became ministers, Samuel, John, and Charles. These three would take overwhelmingly different positions on matters of the faith, Samuel a quiet minister who made few waves, Charles a staunch advocate for the Church of England and amazing hymn writer, and John, the troublemaker and reformer.

John and Charles first practiced their ministry in the American Colonies, landing in the penal colony of Georgia, they ministered to the people of Savannah. Charles served as rector to a small island congregation and as a secretary to a prominent politician. Scandal from the politician and rumors from his congregation eventually led to him leaving Georgia as quickly as he could. John remained a while longer, forming many small groups devoted to helping the poor and studying scripture. He dreamed of converting the local Muscogee people but found out upon arrival that they were mostly Christian. He eventually fell in love but was unwilling to commit to marriage. His beau found another man who would marry her, and John responded as poorly as you might expect. He denied her and her fiancé communion, a public act suggesting they had sinned in a major way. John was soon chased out of town by her father.

John landed in England dejected, feeling as lost as he ever had. He finally found a group of Moravians, Bohemian’s committed to study of scripture and service to community, and began to learn from them. It was during a meeting with them that John felt his heart, “strangely warmed.” For the first time, John felt that even a screw up like him was worthy of God’s love, and that God did not love him in spite of those flaws, but because John simply was who John was.

Wesley would continue to have his highs and lows in life, but the occasional conflict never stopped him. He was a person who was hard to criticize, because he genuinely tried to do good in all things. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, and tried to bring the complacent Church he lived in into the modern era with a Spirit of ministry in their hearts. John would die the most beloved man in London, living the better part of a century devoted to God and those around him. Books are written about this man’s life, his sermons, and his general teachings, so do not think I’ve captured it all at once here, but know that we follow his example as a disciple of Christ for a reason.

In particular, John was able to bring people together in a way few before or since have managed. He knew that we are social creatures, and that we have to work together to grow. I can only learn if someone teaches me something, and I can only become a better Christian if I am surrounded by a church full of people trying to do the same. “As iron sharpens iron,” so a church becomes more like Christ when they climb that steep hill of perfection together. John achieved this by creating “societies,” that were broken down into “classes,” that were broken down into bands. Members of one were members of each other group, identifying first as members of the class and then working down. These were not churches in themselves, but groups born out of churches where the more serious members would meet outside of Sunday service to study scripture and serve their community together.

Originally, these groups were made up of the people in the pews and not many other people. They organically came out of people who wanted more out of church meeting together and pursuing Godliness together. Wesley knew that this tendency existed, and so he formalized the process. These associations that were created then had a community beyond themselves constantly supporting them. The Methodist Movement was not born just from people getting together and studying scripture. It only began to truly become something bigger than loosely organized small groups when it turned its eyes outward.

Service had always been part of the Wesleyan movement – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners in prison. These acts of mercy were expected of every member, and as they went out and did this work they felt that they were growing to be more like God. Despite this service orientation, there was something missing from this early movement. While they went out and helped people, they were not going out to really know people. While I cannot say this in too general of terms, after all there are always those ahead of the curve, I would say that Wesley was at first interested in ministry to people rather than ministry with people.

A change happened in him when he listened to the nagging advice of a friend. George Whitefield, a loyal friend and sometimes intellectual enemy of John, was known for going out and preaching in the streets and in the coal fields. He had traveled to America several times and earned the admiration of people like Ben Franklin for the ability he had to entrance a crowd, and to preach loudly enough to be heard across several city blocks.[1] This outdoor preaching was something that John was not willing to do for sometime, finally capitulating and finding, probably to his horror, that the Spirit was present outside of the safety of a pulpit.

Wesley said that day that he had “submitted [himself] to become more vile.”[2] I have fallen in love with this phrase over time. It is so visceral and honest about how he saw what he was doing. While the usage of the word was probably different in the 1700s than it is today, it is no less clear – John saw that he was becoming less prim and proper in doing what he was about to do. In more modern parlance, he was about to get his hands dirty, and like a gardener digging into the dirt, he found that the fruit of the Spirit flourished in the midst of his work beyond the walls of the Church.

I wrote a draft of this sermon that was far more general about John and what his ministry could teach us as the Church today, and I have uploaded that to my website for anyone who is interest to see. However, when I went and heard the bishop’s speak recently, the vision they had of the Spirit moving in our pews and pushing us out into the world awakened an old fire in my heart, a fire lit by the Spirit that calls out the same bittersweet phrase Wesley used so long ago. It said, “John, submit thyself to be more vile.” And I saw in that phrase, a mantra I have always longed to see fulfilled in myself, the real lesson which we must take as a Church if we wish to thrive and grow and do so much more than survive. We must give up civility in exchange for humanity.

I don’t mean that we should all be uncivil, in the sense of being mean, but that we need to stop being worried about looking a certain way or acting just so. We have standards and ways of doing things for a reason, safe sanctuaries exists to keep children safe, our charge conference programs and financial rules to keep church business transparent. However, beyond the things we do to keep people safe and keep our hands ethically clean, there are the ways we carry ourselves that exist only to set ourselves apart from the people around us, and not in a holy way.

As I look around this sanctuary, I see people who do not differ much from one another. Yet, we differ quite a bit from the people outside our door. If we took everyone who is in here, and sat down with all the people who walk up and down the alley behind the church on a daily basis, all those who walk in front of this church to pick up their kids, all those who go to the Kompak to buy groceries – would the people sitting across from us feel like they were like us or like we have somehow separated ourselves from them. If a backpacker came in off the street, smelling like they had slept rough and hauling around all their worldly goods on one should as they rode a bike around town, would they be welcomed into our pews – or would they feel they had to sit in the back away from judgmental eyes.

We all want to say yes, that no one would feel out of place if they came in our doors, but if that is so, then why do we not see more people coming in, sitting down, and giving the community we offer a try? I would say it is in part that we do not know our neighbors, we do not know the people of North View, except the ones who were here back when the glass factory was booming, before street signs were put up on the corners, and before the last farm was plowed over to build housing.

North View has changed, but has the composition of this Church? As our neighborhood has gotten poorer, have people with less felt comfortable sitting among us? Or do they see us as well-to-do people on a hill. Do we look at our new neighbors as potential new friends, or fret over what they might do to our property values? Out beyond this door is a city that has changed a lot from when many of you were children – neither for good or bad in many ways, but inescapably different than it once was. Have we changed to welcome those around us in? Are we willing to adapt to reflect the demographics around us? Can we dare submit ourselves to become more vile than we might think we really are.

The lesson that John Wesley really offers us is that we cannot ever see ourselves as apart from those around us. We are all given community to be together. Not just the rich with the rich, the poor with the poor, the middle class with the middle class. Not just white with white and black with black and latino with latino. We are all of us called to be one people together, distinct in our histories and traditions, but united in a love and a community that transcends and enraptures all of that. We area called to be all things to all people, but yet we so often to be fully ourselves for one another. We must go out and meet our neighbors, we must be friends with any and all people.

I hope that our church will see a shift to look more like our neighbors. I hope that we look less put together. I hope that anyone who comes in here would see people of all income brackets, all races, all political ideologies, education levels, and sexual orientations, living and loving and working together. Because a Church that is not willing to branch out, to learn about its neighbors and really invite them in to sit and stay a while, is a Church that will become an artifact of the past, rather than a bastion of the Kingdom. Submit to become more vile, whatever that means to you, and see God working through the hands you are willing to dirty. – Amen.

An earlier version of this sermon was written, but not preached. It is available at:

[1] National Humanities Center, 2009: As published in Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: An Authoritative Text, eds. J. A. Leo Lemay & P. M. Zall (W. W. Norton & Co., 1986) Available at:

[2] John Wesley’s Journal, April 2, 1739.

Our Legacy: The Wesleys (Initial Version)

1 John 2: 1-14

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one.

Sermon Text

Last week we talked about the way that the Anglican Church formed out of a history of conflict. Calvinists fighting Arminians, Catholics fighting Protestants, and all manner of disputes in between. Sometimes we talk today about how unbelievable the division in the United States seems to be, but I do not think that it is exceptional when compared to history as a whole. While there are plenty of reasons we should work against the disunity which has become the norm in our society, we are not the first country to find itself divided on important matters, nor will we be the last. Yet, as a divided people, and a divided Church, the way that we chase after Unity cannot be a hollow mandate of compliance, but a real commitment to one another’s good.

The Epistle of John, which is walking beside us as we look at our Wesleyan heritage, tells us that when we come into faith we learn how wonderful it is to have an advocate working on our behalf. Jesus Christ, from his birth to his ministry to his death and even beyond his resurrection has worked to save our souls. In birth he became like us, in life he showed us what we could be, in death he freed us, and in resurrection Christ transforms us to be the glory of his Father in Heaven. This glory is manifested in commitment to Christ’s commands in the world, and those commands are restated again and again throughout the New Testament with one chief governing principle – that we love one another.

As simple as that seems, and as trite as we make it, there is nothing in the life of faith that is not rooted in love. Love for God and love for one another. I often find that if I do anything out of love for God, it naturally manifests as love for my neighbor, there is no separation in those two commands. When we love one another, we discover what it means to love God, and God’s love toward us shines upon us and reveals the truth we might have otherwise missed. There is, as a wise man once said, no holiness but social holiness, no goodness without love for each other.

The founder of the Methodist movement was a man named John Wesley, and he was a nervous wreck and all-around difficult person. His father and mother were members of two separate parties within the monarchy, and so were known for their fights. That same father spent many years in debtors’ prison while his children were young, missing some of the key moments he could have spent with them. All three of the Wesley sons became ministers, Samuel, John, and Charles. These three would take overwhelmingly different positions on matters of the faith, Samuel a quiet minister who made few waves, Charles a staunch advocate for the Church of England and amazing hymn writer, and John, the troublemaker and reformer.

John and Charles first practiced their ministry in the American Colonies, landing in the penal colony of Georgia, they ministered to the people of Savannah. Charles served as rector to a small island congregation and as a secretary to a prominent politician. Scandal from the politician and rumors from his congregation eventually led to him leaving Georgia as quickly as he could. John remained a while longer, forming many small groups devoted to helping the poor and studying scripture. He dreamed of converting the local Muscogee people but found out upon arrival that they were mostly Christian. He eventually fell in love but was unwilling to commit to marriage. His beau found another man who would marry her, and John responded as poorly as you might expect. He denied her and her fiancé communion, a public act suggesting they had sinned in a major way. John was soon chased out of town by her father.

John landed in England dejected, feeling as lost as he ever had. He finally found a group of Moravians, Bohemian’s committed to study of scripture and service to community, and began to learn from them. It was during a meeting with them that John felt his heart, “strangely warmed.” For the first time, John felt that even a screw up like him was worthy of God’s love, and that God did not love him in spite of those flaws, but because John simply was who John was.

Wesley would continue to have his highs and lows in life, but the occasional conflict never stopped him. He was a person who was hard to criticize, because he genuinely tried to do good in all things. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, and tried to bring the complacent Church he lived in into the modern era with a Spirit of ministry in their hearts. John would die the most beloved man in London, living the better part of a century devoted to God and those around him. Books are written about this man’s life, his sermons, and his general teachings, so do not think I’ve captured it all at once here, but know that we follow his example as a disciple of Christ for a reason.

The Wesley’s offer many messages to the Church today. Firstly, John was committed to true Unity in the faith. When he began creating small groups and Methodist “societies,” he did so as part of the Church of England rather than a separate part of it. Like our Davis Bible Class, the Methodist societies were people committed to meeting and studying scripture, to serving together, and to praying together, but that identity never made them distinct from the Church they were a part of. John was born and baptized and Anglican, and he died an Anglican, and if he had his way we would be standing here today.

I do not think that we would be any happier as Anglicans, nor am I elevating Anglican theology above all others as I talk to you today. However, John’s commitment to pursuing work where God was leading him, while staying part of his Mother Church, is a lesson we can all benefit from. In your Heart, you may want to do ministries that you do not see happening in North View, or maybe in our denomination. What if I told you that that ministry might just be a valid call upon your life? What if the thing bubbling up inside you was lifted up and affirmed? We can be doing different things in the same spaces, as our purposes remain aligned. Maybe we should see Church, both this one and the wider association of all houses of worship, in the same way.

Secondly, the Wesley’s show that the community we form together is the real foundation of the Church. Christ establishes us as a group of people together so that we can support one another. Those early societies grew as much as they did, not just because they grew out of Anglicanism, but because they spent all their time in service and study and prayer. The money that the Methodists gave under John Wesley would total in the millions today, and John often oversaw how it was spent. Despite millions of dollars crossing his hands, he died with only about  $20 to his name. He never dipped into the pot, he spent his own money to fund the ministries he started, and that ethic bled through into all he did.

Thirdly, I think that we see in the movement begun by John and Charles a move of the Spirit to see the Church come together more tightly with other believers. The differences in the Wesley household growing up prepared John for what life would be like later on. When he befriended George Whitefield, the greatest orator to ever grace Colonial America, the two began a life together defined by fighting. They would come together, drift apart, write public letters insulting each other, but ultimately they would always reconcile. Both men wanted the other to preach their funerals, and at the end of the day only one of them won that battle out, John outliving George.

We all of us fall short, we all of us sin. We all want to scratch and fight at one another. Yet, God is good enough to show us the way we ought to be. That way is the way of love, and that love manifests in us being willing to serve one another. It manifests in us standing beside one another in hard times. It manifests us in putting our identity as a Church together, over the idea of us as a saint alone. The holiness we chase is a holiness lived together, let us take one another by the hand and run this race well as we only can together. – Amen.

A second version of this sermon was written and preached following the writing of this draft. It can be found here:

Our Legacy – The Anglicans

1 John 1

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Sermon Text

This Methodist Heritage Month we are going to be looking at the major denominations that have come together or split apart to form the United Methodist Church that we live in today. Now, very easily this could become a series of boring history lectures given from a pulpit for no real purpose other than to fill our heads and maybe help us win at some very specific bar trivia nights. So let me lay out the particular reason I think we need this kind of reflection now more than ever. Some of you might not know this, but United Methodism has been having some trouble over the last few decades. From the moment the EUB and the UMC merged in 1968, there has been a building up of all kinds of conflict, culminating in the dreaded business that has begun today.

A new denomination has formed, the Global Methodist Church, and it has for several years now, in the form of influence from the Wesleyan Covenant Association and its related movements, been pushing for churches to leave United Methodism and join them. I do not know how many churches across the world will actually join in with this denomination but having read their founding documents I do not think that a change of the sign outside a church will make much a difference. Other than changing the way the church is run to look more like what it did thirty years ago, this movement is a lot of fuss and trouble just to regress to the past.

I will be upfront in saying I was called to be a United Methodist and I don’t see God changing that trajectory in my life. I’ll be more upfront and say that I think the creation of a new denomination, without the careful deliberation of a general conference and without collaboration, only invites more fighting and conflict. We are called to be one Church together, and it is an absolute travesty that we would rather pick up our ball and go home than figure out how to do that. Especially when the only posted goal of those leaving is to be less inclusive.

My goal this month is to walk through our history as a denomination, and to tell the stories of each of our predecessors, because those stories are important. They remind us that the issues we face today are not new or different in anyway from what people faced long ago. We have always been people, we have always been the Church, and when people meet together in the Church, struggle is bound to ensue. So today we are going to begin our journey of understanding our past so that we can begin to dream of what our future might be, and we do that by joining together in the liturgy and the history of the Anglican church.

The Anglican Church was born out of a time of great uncertainty in the British Isles and the larger world. In mainland Europe, a monk turned Bible Scholar had recently made a stink about the Catholic Church’s failure to reform on several immediate issues. Bishops were in charge of too much land to be useful, money was being accrued for building projects rather than to help people, and a lack of Biblical literacy led to a stratification of piety between the rich and the poor, the clergy and the laity. All in all, there were problems that needed fixed. The current Pope, Leo X, was not pleased with this monk named Martin Luther, and so he excommunicated him for his trouble.

Luther became popular among certain monarchs in Europe because he allowed them to make a clean break from the Vatican. While the Holy Roman Empire kept Catholicism as the dominate power on the Continent, many of its constituent kingdoms were working to separate themselves from Catholic influence. For reasons that were as political as they were religious, the Church experienced its second major schism – the Protestant Reformation had begun.

England was ruled by a devout Catholic, and that kept any Protestantism from taking hold for some time. King Henry VIII was deeply religious and had married a Spanish princess known for her own piety. With the leadership of his Lord High Chancellor, St. Thomas More, it seemed that little could encroach upon this Catholic bastion floating in the Atlantic. Of course, we know this would not remain true forever. Henry fell in love with a young woman, Anne Boleyn, a woman with protestant leanings. Add to this a fear that he had entered his first marriage wrongfully and a desire to see himself rid of Vatican taxes, and the stage was set for Henry to follow the example of other monarchs of his time. This culminated in Henry forming the Church of England, placing himself as the chief authority of it, and furthering shattering Western Christianity.

Henry’s Church was essentially Catholic in all but its name and leadership. The ritual remained the same and Latin was still the primary language of scholars and priests. Henry would change some of these things before his death, but for the most part Anglican Christianity was just Catholicism sans-Pope. His daughter Mary would reinstate Catholicism in England, and her harsh treatment of the Protestants who had banished her and her mother led to her being dubbed “Bloody Mary,” by her enemies. Mary Tudor would eventually die, and her sister Elizabeth would assume the throne in her place. Elizabeth was not as hotheaded as her father or sister, and established the Anglican policy of the Via Media, “The Middle Path.”

This concept sought to walk between the ways of the Lutherans and the Calvinists on one side and the Catholics on the other. Over the course of just three monarchs, Christianity in Europe had become a lot more complicated. There were now the foundations of what would become Presbyterians, Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, and all other manner of sects mixing and mingling in England. A monarch who sided too quickly with one would face the wrath of others.

This policy had obvious problems. As we talked about when we looked at virtues – picking the middle option in any given conflict seldom makes anyone happy for long. Not having an opinion, or forming only moderate ones, can lead to a great deal of unrest. Elizabeth ruled over a fairly prosperous England and a vibrant Church, but her successors struggled. James I, one such descendant, was the first Scottish monarch to take the throne, ruling over a United Kingdom for the first time. James was seen as a quiet, thoughtful ruler, but was also controversial because of his various romantic affairs with men and women throughout the nobility. Nonetheless, he won a great many people over by commissioning a definitive English version of the Bible. The King James Bible, or the “Authorized Version,” as it is sometimes called, came together under his reign.

 Within a generation, the Anglican Church would crumble following a Puritan revolt. The Puritan government was brutal, but ultimately short lived. King Charles II took the throne back and re-established the monarchy. His rule would see the writing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a version of which is still used today, and a book whose Communion liturgy we are using for our eucharistic celebration. There was still plenty of disagreement among British Christians, with dozens of sects vying for political power under the larger umbrella of Anglicanism. Still, a path was set to find a more meaningful space where all these different groups could come together and worship, a more central Church that could really make a difference in people’s lives.

We’ll look next week at how John and Charles Wesley came to begin a revitalizing mission in the Anglican Church, but this week I want to talk about the lessons we can begin to take from this bit of history. I have gone over about two hundred years of stuff in just a few minutes, I simplified a lot and skipped over a little more, but I hope that we can see that our earliest direct ancestor in Christianity was a complicated, mixed bag of good and bad. From our origins in a man wanting a divorce, to the warring madness of the English Civil War.

Yet, Anglicanism has been willing to grapple with its missteps, and to try and change. It has survived to this day, not just in England but in the Episcopal communions around the world, precisely because it has embarked on the difficult self-reflection that allows for new growth. As our scripture reminds us, we all are sinners redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross. We all are equal in our need for Christ, and we all come together to worship that selfsame savior. For the Anglican Church that meant not the moderate view between extremes, but the views which were central to the faith. The Via Media, morphed over time to capture the essential nature of Christianity, not just its least offensive permutations.

Recently, in a meeting where discussions about the divides in the United Methodist Church were being held, someone suggested we strive to find a new Via Media. It is not easy to find a solution to our present disagreements that will make everyone happy. There is not an easy middle road on matters of human sexuality, for example, which is the issue many claim this most recent schism of ours is about. How can we be neutral when the question at hand is whether all people are worthy of love and respect and acceptance? I do believe in a church that allows people to have different perspectives on this sort of thing, but only to a point.

The reason that this issue is so strongly felt, is that it impacts the very essence of who a person is. I can disagree with someone’s politics and see them as reasoning differently than I can. When I disagree on something as large and as core to a person as their sexuality or their gender identity, then the stakes are often higher than just occasional arguments. The issue is a person’s human dignity. Disagreements are inevitable, but human dignity must be nonnegotiable. As we delve forward into our history, we’ll see when we as a Church failed in that mission time and time again. As we chase the Via Media together, let us not accept apathy or bigotry as moderate stances, but excel in love and excellence toward one another. – Amen.