December 29, 2018
Dear Friends in the Iowa Annual Conference,
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We are now in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas, that time between Christ’s birth and the Christian season of Epiphany, a celebration that is older than Christmas and which originally focused on the incarnation, birth, and baptism of Jesus.
As we await the coming of a new year, we recognize that in The United Methodist Church, this is also a time of both anticipation and anxiety, as we await the special called General Conference in St. Louis from February 23 to 26, 2019. Questions abound. Is it possible to stay together as a denomination because of our differences around human sexuality? What will happen to my church? What will happen to my friends who hold a different belief than I do? Is it possible that “in our difference is blessing”?
I still remember the Old Testament lectionary passage from December 16. The prophet Zephaniah (3:14-17,19) offers great hope for us in the midst of the prophet’s judgement against Judah and her neighbors.
Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem.
The Lord has removed your judgment;
he has turned away your enemy.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you will no longer fear evil.
On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem:
Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall.
The Lord your God is in your midst - a warrior bringing victory.
He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.
Watch what I am about to do to all your oppressors at that time.
I will deliver the lame; I will gather the outcast.
I will change their shame into praise and fame throughout the earth.
The good news of our faith is that, even as in the days of old and even as we are not of the same mind over human sexuality, our God will create calm with God’s love. Even as we struggle to find common ground and a way forward, our God rejoices over us with singing. Even as we fear the possibility of a split, we claim God’s promise to deliver the lame, gather the outcasts, and change their shame into praise.
God’s Word for each one of us today is, “Be not afraid!” In the days leading up to February 23, I invite you to continue to fearlessly share the good news of Jesus Christ, which is for all people. I encourage you to worship and serve the God who creates calm in your heart and rejoices over each one of God’s children, created lovingly and uniquely in God’s image. And I encourage you to keep on making a difference in your church, community, and to the far corners of the world.
At the same time, I covenant to walk with you during these challenging days. As the episcopal leader of Iowa, I love, honor, and respect each one of you, no matter where you stand on the issues that threaten to divide us. In the midst of our differences around human sexuality, we must remember that this is not the most important issue of the church. What is most critical for United Methodist Christians is that we continue to share the transforming love of Jesus and be a strong and courageous witness to the world by “doing justice, embracing faithful love, and walking humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8).
On Friday, December 28, the Council of Bishops released a letter to the global LGBTQ community. At the November 2018 meeting of the Council of Bishops at St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, the Council approved a motion to send a pastoral letter to the Global LGBTQ community. The writing team included a bishop from each central conference and jurisdiction. You can read the letter here.
If you have not done so yet, I also encourage you to read the various proposals that will be before the called General Conference in February. You can read the petitions at the Advance Daily Christian Advocate. I also commend to you the newly released 2018 United Methodist State of the Church Report: The Mission is Yet Alive.
A common theme that runs through the scriptures of Advent and Christmas is, “Do not be afraid!” As the new year approaches, then, do not fear. Instead, may you find ways to reach out to and embody the good news of Jesus Christ with others by the calmness of your love. May you welcome new people who are attending your worship services by rejoicing with them in prayer and song. May you continue to gather the outcasts of our world and bring healing to all those who are suffering by the grace of your love and care. And may you be God’s hope for the world made real through faithful leaders, fruitful communities, and fire-filled people.
Many gifts, one Spirit, one love known in many ways.
In our difference is blessing, from diversity we praise
one Giver, one Lord, one Spirit, one Word
known in many ways,
hallowing our days.
For the Giver, for the gifts, praise, praise, praise!
(#114 United Methodist Hymnal)