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Sermon Transcript 6.24.22

Sermon Transcript.

May the meditations of my mind and heart of all our minds and hearts be acceptable to you in this time and place. Guide us, lead us, to do your will, to receive your blessing, to share it with all your creation. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen

Two weeks ago, I preached a little bit about membership in the United Methodist Church. and I talked about us making vows of action not vows of agreed belief. We do have beliefs, beliefs that are sensible to being United Methodist. With most Christians, we affirm the great creeds, the Nicaean, the Apostles, but Methodism is not founded on that agreement. Methodism is founded on living our faith out. We need not agree on all the details to love alike; to be in service to the world. We are called to be a people that wrestles with meaning and faith. That works out our salvation with fear and trembling. That assist others.

At the center of a United Methodist faith is an ecumenical approach that takes in other Christian denominations despite our disagreements and an interfaith approach that works to cooperate and service even with those on whom we disagree about matters of faith including Jesus. We are called to be a people of action Do our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our witness, and our service. Last week, some of us joined the Presbyterian Church in a joint worship service to celebrate Vacation Bible School and I had the honor of preaching that service over at their building and we talked about all of the great stories that we had told during VBS. Stories of creation, the burning bush, of friends who took action who brought the paralytic man to Jesus even having to cut a hole in the roof to gain that witness. We told the stories of lost and found The lost sheep, it doesn't make any sense at all unless you're the one to leave the ninety-nine and find the one is an act of radical grace. It upsets our expectations. To throw a party over a lost coin is an act of radical celebration. That upsets our expectations and then of course, the story of the prodigal. lost and found the father who runs out to meet him and we told the story of resurrection of Mary Magdalene and her despair and confusion, taking the person she sees in the garden for the gardener she begs for Jesus' body to be returned to her. and then he speaks her name, “Mary…” and she understands and she bears witness

These are foundational stories. They're not *all* of our foundational stories, but they are key. I asked last week, what are your foundational stories? What are the texts that shape your faith and your journey? this week, I want to talk a little bit more about how we approach scripture especially when we have tough questions before us. We have a lot of tough questions before us this day. Inside and beyond the United Methodist Church. How do we live out our discipleship, our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our witness, our service, in the midst of deep disagreements? In the midst of questions that aren't simply answered. In the midst of questions where scripture seems to guide us in multiple directions through earnest and faithful interpretation. We are not the first people to ask these tough questions

The Methodist Movement was founded in an era of tough questions and Wesley became known as a man of both/and. Holding in deliberate tension apparent opposites. On baptism, on holy communion, on the role of the church, it was not that Wesley thought you could believe anything. Even in his disagreement with the early American church, he settle articles of faith derived from his Anglican faith to help the early American church prosper and grow that the people known as Methodist might continue to take the sacraments, to share the good news with others. But he organized his renewal movement for Anglicans around general rules for his societies He focused primarily on Christ, on being Christ like, on pointing others to Christ, not to his own understanding, although he was vehement in arguing for his own understanding as others of us are, myself included. But it was always primarily about pointing people to Christ, about retaining the humility that we might not have it all figured out but knowing that we have been wrong and will probably be wrong in the future and yet zealously advocating for a lived faith.

His general rules have been summarized in our time as three simple rules. Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. These are, perhaps, an oversimplification of rules that Wesley wrote extensively on. In particular, the last one, Stay In Love with God sounds like, you know, like Jesus. No, it's be like Jesus. Attend to the ordinances of the Lord thy God, Wesley would have said it. do things intentionally that draw yourself and others. Do God's will as you understand it. As we enter into our tough questions, I want to set the scene by looking at a past set of tough questions

(Image on screen) This wonderful group of women is the executive committee of the New Hampshire Women's Christian Temperance Union in the early eighteen hundreds. The temperance movement was not exclusively a Methodist thing but we were heavily, heavily involved in it. See, women beginning on the plains and then spreading throughout the country, saw the damage that alcohol is doing to families and they determined to protect families by combating that demon rum, the whiskey, the beer, even the wine An editorial cartoon, you know, starts out harmlessly enough and then brawls and change personalities and ultimately, the women and children were being left behind alcohol was destroying lives. Alcohol was thought to be a primary contributor and frankly is to domestic violence. and the temperance movement thought if we can reduce the consumption of alcohol, if we can show people the evil that it leads to, we will bring about good. The women's Christian temperance movement still exist. Earlier this year, I got a large packet from one of our members with information on the dangers of alcohol and how I as a pastor could share that information. and yet, I used to joke… So, Robin does not drink and I rarely, if ever, partook. I was a political science major which was a hard-drinking crowd in college but I learned very quickly. I could blend in and be cool if I carried a bottle of Guinness Cell around at the parties. Because Guinness Stout actually is best at room temperature. And you can nurse one of those things to three or four weekends. So, I was socially acceptable even though I was barely drinking. When we met, Robin almost didn't go out with me because I had a bottle in my hand. I don't care about that. I'm much more interested in her. and yet, I, when I got to seminary, I used to joke that I had to become United Methodist because I don't drink... and people at seminary didn't get the joke. Because our attitudes as United Methodist have largely changed. We don't consider recreational drink a major sin anymore There's still some language in the discipline about it particularly for clergy. But we're not quite as zealous as we were.

At one time, we were so zealous about it that United Methodist Churches or Methodist Episcopal Churches at the time stopped serving communion. Because the only safe, acceptable drink was wine and wine of course was evil. So if you didn't have fresh grapes is for most of the country, fresh grapes were not a thing. We're rather spoiled in our day and age when we can go to the grocery store and get just about anything from anywhere. So, for much of the year, Methodist Episcopal Churches in the United States were not serving communion because they would not serve wine. A man named Thomas Welch was a Methodist lay person. He figured out a process by which unfermented grape juice could be stored for long periods of time. Made a pretty good business out of it. We Methodist became known for serving grape juice and we still do a variety of reasons. In particular, because we're one of the few religious gatherings that an alcoholic can go to and know that there will not be wine in the building. One of my childhood friends, a Catholic family, his father was alcoholic and it was a struggle when he recovered. Going to mass was a struggle and yes, there are sorts of rationalizations and it's just a but it was a temptation for him. He actually came to some Methodist Churches on occasion just to be in worship without that.

In the late 1800s, we continue to be zealous about it. Women, not just Methodist but across the country advocated not just for temperance but for prohibition. In Wichita, Cary Nation was famous for busting up saloons with an axe, driving men out of the bars, and by 1919, it become the law of the land. The 18th amendment prohibited the manufacturer or distribution of alcohol in the United States. That prohibition lasted 13 years until the 21st overturned it. And one of the reasons that we changed course that rapidly on this topic, was that the Speakeasy's became the front for organized crime and where we attempted to do good and reduce harm to families in the country became perhaps a bit overzealous and sparked further harm. We've never beaten back the organized crime. The distribution of alcohol illicitly became the front by which all sorts of evils were organized spread. and candidly, another thing that happened is the government realized that organized crime figures were getting rich off alcohol and they decided we ought to tax it and pick the money ourselves. And so in the early 30s, in the midst of the great depression, that became a major revenue source for the states and the federal government.

“Do I not hate those who hate you, oh Lord? Do I not blow those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred. I count them my enemies.”

This is the part of Psalm 139 that we usually skip in our readings. The first time I heard this part of the Psalm was an Operation Rescue Gathering I attended in the mid 80s in Wichita. I remember one of the organizers of that group, man named Randall Terry talking to us about the good of hatred. That there was an evil in the world and that we were called to stamp it out, and that to do so we would have to let that hatred wash over us. Any means were valid for wiping out the great evil that we face. which one of many reasons I wandered away from the Roman Catholic faith because something just didn't sit right. Well, certainly hate sin - but we were taking it too far. We're justifying all sorts of violence, demeaning behavior, hypocritical behavior, that I saw brought more harm than good. and we were doing so in part based on the beginning of Psalm one thirty-nine. beautiful words of God forming us intentionally in the womb. God knowing us completely even before we're born, they are beautiful words. Psalm 139 reflects a worldview in which God is in complete control and I affirm that God is all knowing and all present. I take comfort in these words that God is with me at all times that there is nowhere I can go that God is not. Not in darkness, not in sheol. God is ever with me. In United Methodist terms, God's grace is always surrounding us waiting for us to respond. I affirm that. I affirm that God is all powerful and yet I also affirm that we have free will. There is a tension there. A tension we United Methodist are good at living in the midst of. That we are responsible for our own choices and for their outcomes. That God does not control us with puppet strings. Even though God could, what God wants is relationship and relationship that is coerced is not truly love. If you can't say no, then your yes doesn't mean anything.

When we talk about Psalm 139 and God knitting us together in the womb, when we present an image of God as all controlling, that means God is responsible for every outcome. That whatever happens, the cancer, the car accident, the miscarriage… is God's will. I don't believe that. This is an maternal death rate chart for the developed world, the industrialized nations. 23.8 out of a hundred thousand pregnancies in the United States end in the death of the mother from complications, usually during childbirth We far surpass, in this country, the death rate of any other industrialized nation.

We don't have the most in the world. There are regions of Africa where it's much higher, even Mexico, especially in a rural urban divide is much higher. Central America has a higher rate. But in the industrialized nations and the richest nation, the G7 or G8. Ours is three times higher than the next. Pregnancy is dangerous. Giving birth is dangerous

Does God intend those women? Does God have a particular vengeance against American mothers? That God wants them to die at this higher rate? I don't believe that. There's a tension between God's power and control and outcomes and policy choices. I believe God knows us that through God's creation, we are knit together, that we are wonderfully made. And I believe God allows bad things to happen not because God wants them. because that is the outcome of a system that is truly free to say yes or no to God.

We have to wrestle with these things. There aren't simple answers and one of the important things about how we approach these questions is how we approach scripture In the late 19th century, late 1800s, early nineteen hundreds, an idea of biblical inerrancy became mainstream in the United States. The idea is that the Bible is perfect, that it reflects exactly what God wants to say at all times and there are no errors that any apparent conflict can be explained away. Inerrancy is a backlash to the growth of science. In is an attempt at control. If we can find a verse in the Bible that we agree with and we can proclaim that the Bible is an error. We can then beat each other over the head with the verse that we found. To sustain it means we kind of have to ignore large passages of scripture that might make us uneasy. United Methodist do not affirm inerrancy. You will find United Methodists that do for a variety of reasons. In my opinion, which may be wrong, some of it is because there has been an organized political movement to teach inerrancy specifically to challenge the social witness of our church and I won't go into the whole history of that, but if you're interested. After the Southern Baptist Convention was radically changed in the late seventies, organized groups attempted to change the Presbyterians and the Lutherans and the Episcopalians and the Methodist. That doesn't mean they were wrong about everything but it means we moved somehow from holy conferencing to a more political model. We've been fighting with each other ever since.

What United Methodist affirm from Wesley's time on is inspiration, of course, Wesley didn't say much about this because it wasn't an issue at his time in the 1700’s. So, the Bible is inspired. God breathed. Useful for teaching as Timothy says and correction and rebuke. but the Bible never claims to be an errand. In fact, the Bible seems to intentionally push against itself Moabites are clearly evil. There are numerous passages to say, Moabites must not be allowed in the community that God will strike them down and Ruth, the grandmother of Jesus, is a Moabite woman. There is an a tension here. The authors and the councils that gathered these books together. They weren't blind to that. It's part of their tradition to wrestle with these texts. To see God speaking in them, not just a long time ago, but here and now in our time.

So, I said to the VBS kids, these stories are my story. I am the prodigal son. I am the lost sheep. I am the older brother who's jealous. Occasionally, I'm called to be the father that forgives. I'm called to be the woman that celebrates the foul coin. Creation is our story. A story of God's intentional love. The friends that bring the paralytic man to Jesus. That's our story. We are called to live out our faith, to be inspired, to be God breathed. John Wesley believed that the living core of Christian faith an active faith was revealed in scripture. Scripture is primary. Wesley, even as he wrote dozens of books as he published hundreds of books, called himself a man of one book, scripture. and that he knows that we are to wrestle with it to enter into it, to expound upon it. The living core of Christian faith is revealed in scripture, illumed by tradition. We don't invent everything new every day. The wisdom of the church of the ages guides us. The patterns of our tradition guide us and yet we can't become so high bound that we're not willing to change, to have scripture indeed, teach us something new to see how our tradition maybe has gone astray. Revealed in scripture alluded by tradition confirmed by reason. God did not give us the ability to think. Just to tell us to ignore it. Dyna bones are not a great trick The web telescope showing us life from 13 billion years ago is not something we have to disdain and avoid because the Bible says in a particular reading that the earth is 6348 years or whatever it is old by adding up the ages of the patriarchs. And yet we also hold mystery.

We know, we don't know everything. We know God is beyond the time and space even as God is our creator. Revealed in scripture allude by tradition confirmed by reason, and made real vital in personal experience. That's not just our opinion. That's not just our individual experience but that's our collective experience. That means listening deeply to the stories we have of one another. Of learning from our encounter of the presence of God of learning from others encountered in the presence of God. Which again is why United Methodist are so committed to being part of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Because we don't know everything. Even as what know is important So, I want to invite you to pull a Bible out of the pew and I want you to turn to the book of Numbers. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. By tradition written by Moses, a tradition that holds even though Moses dies three fourths away through the five books.

Numbers. A census, an organizing of the tribes, a retelling of Exodus, of the time in the wilderness. The Hebrew scriptures especially, although the Christian scriptures do as well, they tell the same story multiple times. They shed different light, different angles, different faucets. They do so intentionally and sometimes, the stories conflict. That's not a mistake. That's called to teach us, to engage more deeply The first four chapters of Numbers are really about a census, about the organizing of the tribe, about how they will carry the tabernacle which is built and described in Exodus. How they will divvy it up and carry this elaborate construction as they wander. As they make their way to the promised land. It is quite rigorous. Chapter six has one of the most beloved blessings in all of scripture. If you grew up in United Methodist youth, you know these words. The Lord bless you and keep you.The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his counts upon you and give you peace.”

The Lord tells Moses to tell Aaron to use this blessing on the people. Earlier in chapter six, there are elaborate instructions for Nazarites. That is people who dedicate themselves either for their lives or for a period of time to the service of the Lord. They take vows not to drink wine or even grape juice to abstain from sexual behavior, and to not cut their hair after they take the vow. At the time of the vow, they would essentially shave their heads. But then after that, they would not cut their hair. There's some other things in chapter six about what it means to dedicate oneself as a Nazarite. So, we have the organization of the tribes. We have this priestly blessing, the organizing of the Nazarites. I skipped Numbers 5. I want to spend some time with numbers five. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, command the Israelites to put out of camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge. Everyone who is unclean through contact with the corpse, you shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp. They must not defile their camp. Where I dwell among them. The Israelites did so, putting them outside the camp as the Lord had spoken to Moses, so the Israelites did. Plenty us. Even a form of quarantine. These people are not being driven away. They are being placed outside the camp.

Menstruating women would have a red tent. A place outside the tent, outside the camp where they could be safe from the attention of men while they were unclean. Lepers would have an area. Anyone with a discharge was kept outside the camp for the time of their cleanliness and if you go back to Leviticus, there's all sorts of code about how one becomes clean again after whatever it is that has caused you to be unclean.

We go on… in chapter five. The next section is confession and restitution. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to the Israelites. When a man or woman wrongs another breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one fifth to it and giving it to the one who was wronged. If the injured party has no next akin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest. In addition to the ram of atonement for which with which atonement is made for the guilty party. Among all the sacred donations of the Israelites, every gift that they bring to the priest shall be his. The sacred donations of all are their own. Whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his. What if our justice system was organized about any wrong you did, you repaid with a 20% bonus? Are we living that out? It's part of the law... At least the Old Testament law. The organization of the tribes, cleanliness, restitution and then, in Numbers 5 we have a very interesting ritual.

Numbers 5, probably in the Bible you're holding, subtitles this, “concerning an unfaithful wife.” This comes before the Nazarite vows. This comes before the priestly blessing.

The Lord spoke to Moses. There's no getting around the fact that this is presented as the Lord's command.

The Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to the Israelites and say to them, if any man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, if a man has had intercourse with her but is hidden from her husband, so this is different in the Levitical code where there are witnesses. so that she is undetected even though she has defiled herself and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act. If the spirit of jealousy comes on him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself. if a spirit of jealousy comes on him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself.

This really isn't about the unfaithful wife. This is really about the jealous husband, is it not?

Then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and he shall bring the offering required for her, one tenth of an epoth of barley flour, he shall put no oil in it and no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity, supposed, to remembrance. Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord, the priest shall take holy water and an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle, and put it into the water, the priest shall set woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman's hair, and placed her in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand, the priest shall have the water of bitterness that bring us the curse. Then the priest shall make, make her take an oath, saying if no man has laid with you, if you have not turned aside from the uncleanly to uncleanliness while under your husband's authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband's authority, if you had defiled yourself and some men other than your husband has had intercourse with you, let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman, the Lord make you an excretion and an oath among your people. When the Lord makes your uterus drop your womb discharged, may now this water that brings the curse into your bowels and make your womb discharge. Your uterus drop and the woman shall say, amen, amen. Then the priest shall put these curses in writing and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman the water of bitterness that brings the curse. The water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman's hand and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as is his memorial portion and turn it into smoke on the altar and afterwards, he shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and have been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and shall cause bitter pain and her womb shall discharge her uterus drop and the woman shall become an expression among her people. but if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she'll be, shall be immune and able to conceive children. This is the law in cases of jealousy. When a wife, while under her husband's authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man, and he is jealous of his wife, then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply the entire law to her. The man shall be free from iniquity, and the woman shall bear her iniquity.

Thus spoke the Lord. How's that strike you?

I think it makes most of us uncomfortable. Interestingly, the NIV, which is a translation, conservative Christians tend to favor, translates part of that as miscarriage. It's the only English translation I'm aware of that does that. The Hebrew here is dense and difficult. There are some who claim that this water of bitterness is a recipe for abortion. There are many who push back against that because clearly God would not want that. Choose life after all. We'll come to that…

What this is really about is a curse of barrenness. There's no indication the woman, whether she did or did not defile herself, is in fact pregnant. Particularly at the time there's no way to know she's not. It's water with a bit of dust in it.

What this really ultimately is about is limiting the power of a jealous husband. See, without this, the accusation with one witness is a death sentence. Here, without witnesses, there is no death sentence… and judgment has been passed to the Lord and one can make an argument that God knows full well that a little bit of dust and some water isn't going to harm a woman at all. Therefore, she is protected from her jealous husband. Is it so different from Jesus’ “go and sin no more?”

What's your interpretation? How do we understand this command of the Lord to Moses How do we understand the rights of women as people the limits of patriarchal authority Throughout history, we've had these kinds of tests In the 1700s in this country, the Salem Witch Trials would bind a woman and throw her into the lake and if she floated, she was a witch. If she sank she was innocent…. and probably also dead. At least Numbers 5 is maybe a little more fair than that.

Oh, they were supposed to tie a rope around her and after she was under for sufficient period of time to prove she wasn't just holding her breath, they pull her back. Of course, if you're not holding your breath and you're underwater for a sufficient enough time.. you drown. Sometimes, our systems, even in the pursuit of good, wind up doing harm. We are called to wrestle with this.

So, you want to want to claim to be biblical and solve our problems with bitter water that brings pain as a test? How do we read these scriptures? And one of the important things about rejecting inerrancy and in believing scripture is inspired is that we are called to wrestle with texts just like these. Not to only read the parts that make us comfortable and happy and affirm what we already think but to wrestle with texts like these. What does it mean? To see yes, there is inequity in gender relations and yet, one can at least make the argument that this is a limit on the male's authority. The judgement belongs to God. are called to wrestle with tough questions When I was in the circles of Operation Rescue for a brief period of time and to this day, one of the things that is often cited in our debates over human sexuality and abortion and miscarriage and contraception and all those things is to command in Deuteronomy to choose life. Moses makes a speech to the Hebrew people and says, “I've set before you this day life and death. Choose life.” It's not about giving birth. It's not about pregnancy. Oh, you can certainly read that into it. Not even inappropriately. But it's about are we going to adhere to the law or not? I have with me today a tallit This is a Jewish prayer cloth that would be worn by rabbis, by Pharisees and Sadducees, the council. And they're walking, you'd carry much like this, and then it various times, and I am not a rabbi, I am not authorized to use a tallit, I will not go through a mimic of the motion, but there are things that they will do during the service, particular wearings, covering the head, uncovering the head, kind of things. It's tied very elaborately to create this fringe and a truly properly blessed one. I don't know that this is. I bought it at a tourist shop in Jerusalem. But there would be 613 knots in a particular pattern. One for each law. We Christians talk about the ten commandments. Our Jewish brothers and sisters take from the Torah 613 laws. And from that time on, they've been debating how do you live those out? And there are, just as there are in Christianity, factions. Ultra-orthodox, orthodox, reform Do you sit together intermingled male and female and keep separate? What do you wear? Do you bind the law to your arm physically? Is it a metaphor? They debate these things… but the fringe indicates the law, the process. Choose life. Live out the law. But our Jewish brothers and sisters realize that it's not clear cut that they have to debate and apply to gain new insight. That process is called midrash, wrestling with Scripture, with tradition, teaching.

A great Christian theologian, NT Wright, says, “if you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus and go on looking until you're not just a spectator but you're actually part of the drama which has him as a central character.”

It's about being Christ like. and so I want to turn briefly to our story from Mark Jesus is walking. He's in the midst of going to heal a rabbi's daughter and a woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years knows that his story sees that he's passing by. If I can just touch the fringe of his garment. I can just touch him up healed. Why has she been hemorrhaging? We don't know Women hemorrhage for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, it's fatal. In this case, obviously, it's not. She's been doing it for 12 years. It may be that she has some sort of infection It may be that she has endometriosis. It may mean that she has cancer. It may mean that something has gone wrong in child birth. Whether the child lived or died, something has gone wrong to where she is continuously bleeding. It may be that she's had a miscarriage that's gone horribly wrong. The body hasn't been able to cleanse itself. Something has gone wrong and she is now ritually, permanently unclean. She is to be outside the camp forever. Obviously, the standards has changed. She's in the community. She's in the crowd. She sees Jesus.. “If I can just touch the fringe of his garment, if I could touch the law through this teacher…”

Jesus feels the power go out from her who touched me? Look at this crowd. Everybody's bumping India everywhere. How would you even know? Who touched me? She comes forward. She tells him her story. He sees her. She is made whole. She is made holy. She is made clean. She is restored. This is about more much more than a particular bleeding. This is about wholeness and power and faith. This is our story

This is about compassion. What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means having compassion suffering with, being passionate about others. Picking up our cross and carrying and not imposing crosses on others. Doing no harm, doing good, staying in love with God, working towards wholeness for ourselves and others. Personal and social holiness. That is our call as as Christians, as Wesleyans, as Methodist. Looking at our yes and our no, looking at outcomes what, even our attempts to do good, might cause harm or attempts to avoid harm might not do good.

I want to share with you very briefly passage from the United Methodist Discipline. No one can speak for United Methodists as a whole unless they are quoting the discipline of the Book of Resolutions. We intentionally have a lot of disagreements. Our both end will have us at different points on the spectrum of different issues. You can say, “I believe this and I am a United Methodist” but you can't say “United Methodist believe….” unless you're quoting these sources and by design, Covid aside, we meet every four years and we rehash them constantly and it's frustrating because we want things to be settled and we want everybody to agree with our view and instead, we have this ongoing dialogue and shaping much like our Jewish brothers and sisters met Midrash. How does it apply here and now? Here is our statement as a church on abortion. You are not required to agree with this. But this is what we collectively think as approved by General Conference in 2016.

“The beginning of life and the ending of life are the guard, God-given boundaries of human existence while individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die. They now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion but we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion. And in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.”

What profoundly beautiful wordsmithing that is. “We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify…” and it goes on and I have a copy that I will put out in the narthex. If you'd like to read the whole statement, it goes on to address specific situations of minors and late term and things like that. We continue to refine this and argue over it. But we recognize tragic conflicts.

This photo was taken a few weeks ago at my eldest son's wedding. The tall guy in the middle is my youngest brother. He's adopted. Adoption has strengthened our family. I'm intimately connected with the joys and the suffering of adoption. I give thanks that Noel's birth mother made the courageous choice to bear him, to term, to give him up for adoption. We have an interesting relationship with his adopted family. We have always known his grandparents. Only recently did we meet his parents. It was a closed adoption with a loophole that the grandparents knew. So for 40 some years, his birth mother's mother and father knew us. and she didn't. By design and then eventually, just recently, they connected The standing, he's standing with his son, Aven, named after my grandfather. Next to him is his fiancé Tab and he is framed by my father and my stepmother, who adopted him when I was 13 years old. I give thanks for adoption.

and this is my two boys. I had the honor of presiding at my eldest wedding but three weeks ago now. I cherish these two boys They are the result of our second and third pregnancy. Our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and it didn't clear without medical intervention, Ian and Aaron would not have been born. If the law that we will vote on August 2nd had passed 27 years ago. Ian and Aaron would not exist. My wife would not have been fertile. That is known. if the amendment we will vote on August 2nd had passed 27 years ago, it is very likely that my wife would have died from a massive hemorrhage, whenever that group of cells finally decided to release. What saved her life is a procedure that is also used for abortion. It would be outlawed even in this case. If the amendment passes. and so instead of celebrating this family, it would have just been me.

How do we hold in tension, doing good and doing no harm? How do we hold in tension, choices of life and death? I will not tell you how to vote. I don't think that's the role of clergy. If clergy is telling you how to vote, something has gone wrong. If politicians are telling you how to practice your faith, something has gone wrong. What I will share is my experience. My experience of being a father… that would have been denied. My experience in a 30-year plus marriage that might have been denied.

Right now, in Missouri, women with ectopic pregnancies. That is the fertilized egg land somewhere other than the womb. Usually in the fallopian tube, it is a death sentence. The fetus will not survive and if it expands too far, the mother will not survive. It is easily fixed surgically and it is illegal in the state of Missouri right now. And hospitals in the state of Missouri are making women wait until their own vitals are crashing before they can ask the lawyer to intervene. That's what we're voting on.

You don't have to like abortion. But where do we do good? Where do we do harm? Whose lives are affected? Predominantly Catholic nations of Ireland and Argentina just recently through mass voting repealed restrictions on abortion because they saw harm being done. To living breathing women. Families were losing mothers. Children were losing mothers. Husband were losing spouses because doctors couldn't intervene to save lives because of an attempt to control and eliminate abortion

What are our choices? What are the consequences of those choices? What does the least harm, the most good? Those are tough questions We are called to search scripture, tradition, to use our reason, to experience, and most of all, to act with compassion. To suffer with, to support, to make choices easier, safer, more whole, that's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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