Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
This past Sunday I preached a sermon on how God created each person with different aspects of God’s self. Thus, it is all of us in totality that reflect a part of God’s wonder and might. It takes the whole body to see the vastness and diversity of God. It takes the totality of God’s people to truly reflect the complexity of who God is—and even then, we fall short, by rejecting those that we deem ungodlike.
Jesus prayed that we be one. But, too often sin causes us to divide. This division prevents us from seeing the fullness of God and the wholeness that God desires for us. Political differences, theological pondering and pandering, humankind imposed ‘ideals’ all stand in the way of what God desires for God’s people, unity.
Story after story in the Bible, New and Old Testaments alike, reveal to us that God desires God’s people to work together for the glory of God. Yet, humanity works so hard to divide. Human nature (and sin) makes us divide into “us” and “them”; male and female; black, white and brown; and yes, now around differences in human sexuality and identity. God desires unity in God’s people, yet sin separates us from each other and thus from the full reflection of God.
When my faith wavers or contradictions appear between faith and life, there is always one Scripture that helps me decipher what God’s will is in the situation: Matthew 22:34-40. Through this lens, I reflect: Is the path I am taking or the decision I am about to make going to honor God and show love to my neighbor? Does my action or inaction reflect God’s love towards the world around me? If my action hurts my neighbor, then that is not the path God desires according to the greatest of commandments. Does my path hurt God, as displayed in the totality of humankind? If the answer is yes, then it is not a reflection of God’s calling on my life.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. ALL THE LAW hangs on these two commandments.
I would implore those who are making decisions about the future of this denomination that I love so much to ask themselves these questions: Will my vote reflect a loving God who desires unity, and will it show love to my neighbor—my neighbor who, no matter how much I agree or disagree with, reflects a part of God’s glory in this world?
There exists a plethora of proof texts on any issue in the Bible. You can bend and shape the Scripture as you desire, pull and pluck parts that seem to fit your own desires it often seems. But this command, the greatest commandment, the commandment that should guide you is boiled down to this: love God and love your neighbor.
I love this denomination! It has many strengths, a family feel to it is one of its greatest, in my opinion. But, a family divided cannot stand. My heart is saddened as year after year this exclusionary argument continues to push its way forward at GA. Year after year the members of the family wonder if they will still have a place in the church. They suffer when their faithfulness is again called into question and their lives are brought up for yet another debate.
I know that each side believes strongly in its own point of view. But another thing that I have loved about this denomination is, up until this point, we have allowed for a wide interpretation of polity, politics, Scripture and tradition to exist. Within our family, there has been room for whosoever will, room for diversity—and I pray there continues to be. As one denominational staff member always says, ‘there is a CP church for everyone, it just might not be located near you.” We have always allowed room for differences—a happy balance between congregationalist and rigid polity. This has allowed for each congregation to reflect its own personality and style. It has allowed for the diversity of God to be reflected through the unity of the body. If one CP church doesn’t work for you, seek another. It very well may.
If General Assembly approves exclusionary memorials that attempt to dictate to every church, committee on ministry, and presbytery how God is allowed to move in this world, if they set polity to limit who God may call, then we become less than God desired. Who are we to limit God’s calling? If we limit the diversity of people being called to ministry in the denomination, we begin to limit the Holy Spirit. Who are we to reject God’s calling to ministry on a person’s heart? If we allow intolerance of differences to cause a split within the denomination that most churches, presbyteries, and pastors do not desire, we allow sin to win by allowing room for division. To limit the ways in which we, as individuals and as the church body, reflect God’s diversity through leadership in our churches, breaks my heart. To see the family torn to pieces, especially our LGBTQ+ members, fills me with great sorrow.
These decisions should not be made lightly or quickly. They should not be made without listening for the whispers of a loving God, which might very well come from a younger generation that is aching for harmony, which has been shown over and over in years past. This decision should not be forced upon the larger body by a minority of very loud voices, while those that the memorial harms slide away silently and broken by the sin of hatefulness and exclusion.
The choices before delegates at this General Assembly have made this a challenging moment that perhaps many are ready to face. I do pray that we can resolve this issue by respecting our differences and moving forward in harmony and grace so that finally, we, as a denomination, can go forth, led by the Holy Spirit to a bright day.
I hold our delegates in my prayers, that God may guide them well and that the Holy Spirit fills them with courage and confidence.
I hold our denomination in my prayers, that we may find unity within diversity, and if not that we face the storm with strength and courage.
I hold all our people in my prayers, that God’s love and grace may shine down upon them no matter how the vote may go. May each and every child of God know that God’s love is with them always.
I pray that God may work miracles of peace and unity.
May the Spirit move this week and always,
Rev. Abby Cole Keller