There were a number of years in my early life which were dark. There was a lot of destructive behavior into which I sometimes dragged other people. Even with that, God continued to work on me. Sometimes painfully, He changed my life in extremely significant ways. Eventually, He called me into ordained ministry. As part of that call, He set before me the task of facing some of the people whom I had hurt in those dark years. My first Sunday at South Bluff UMC, I looked into a number of faces that reflected that pain. I immediately knew that God had brought me there to face those people. There were visits, apologies, and requests for forgiveness over several months. I did not know if it was possible. But, in Christ, God bridged that pain and brought us together in shared and powerful ministry.
In recent years, John Wesley’s sermon, Catholic Spirit, has received attention by people wanting to hold the UMC together. Usually, it gets reduced to a “can’t we all be nice and get along” type of statement. But that is not faithful to Wesley’s sermon. Wesley is clear that he is not saying our differences are insubstantial nor that “anything goes.” He is explicit that those differences will cause division in communities of faith and between communities of faith. But he is also explicit that Christ can bridge those differences in the wider Body of Christ. The Calvinists, Moravians, and Wesleyans might not be able to agree on theology or even worship together. But Christ’s love can powerfully bind them together in the larger Body of Christ. This is a much greater vision of love, in Christ, than many understand or acknowledge.
God has blessed me to be part of His great work in many ways over the decades. As He led me into social service settings, evangelistic efforts, spiritual growth settings, disaster relief/recovery efforts, and large-scale mission efforts in the developing world, He opened my eyes to see that wider Body of Christ. We all – Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Baptists, Independents – worship separately on the weekend. But when I have entered the “mission field,” I suddenly find our differences overcome, in Christ, by the common mission to which God has called us.
Our world is constantly torn by divisions in almost every setting. It is tempting to try to deny or trivialize those differences. But it is a greater act of faith to trust in the God who, in Christ, builds us together “…to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) I have seen God do that in my own life. I have seen God do that in His church. I believe I will see God continue to do that – in Christ.