God's Sign for a New Future

God's Sign for a New Future


My Beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.

Last week I jogged about a mile away from the condo where I’ve been living for the past 20 months to the Conference Center. As I stood in front of this building under renovation I looked up at the sky to see a full rainbow — a sign of God’s blessing over this building that is only partially restored.

Could this be a metaphor for The United Methodist Church today? We too are undergoing a renovation. Yet we have a strong foundation. And surely we have the promise of God’s blessing. We have come this far by faith and most assuredly God will continue to lead us into a faithful new future.

The Council of Bishops is establishing a Commission on “A Way Forward” as a denomination. We find ourselves divided by many issues, including how we live together regarding LGBTQI persons. But we are united by far more than we are divided. Can we not claim our oneness in Jesus Christ in such a way that we can be the church God has called us to be?

I was startled recently in reading The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Their father Martin Wright was a bishop of the Brethren Church, one of The United Methodism’s predecessor denominations. What I learned is that in the late 1800s that church split. Why? What issue would compel these faithful, committed Christian sisters and brothers in Christ to divide a denomination? They divided over whether or not to allow church members to be Masons.

We are perhaps not of one mind even today over the issue of membership in the Masons. But are our opinions so strong that we would consider dividing our denomination over this?

I can only imagine that Jesus wept when that division occurred and Jesus is weeping as we struggle with unity today. Yet out of just such struggles can come a promise of a stronger, more faithful, and more fruitful church.

Bishop Ivan Abrahamson, head of the World Methodist Council, said recently, “One of the things that I have been a bit disappointed about in the United States is the sense of pessimism, which is definitely not shared with the rest of the world communion. We stand in a great tradition. I passionately believe that the golden years of Methodism don’t lie behind us, but in the future.”

This is what we have to offer to the world: a passion to live as Christ lived — a life in love with God and God’s people, focusing on our spiritual connection and a commitment to acts of justice and mercy to the last, the lost, and the lonely.

Simone Weil and others have said that the very nature of spiritual truth is that it is paradoxical. The Great Paradox of our Christian faith is that when we give our lives in love, we receive life. The cross expresses this metaphor so powerfully. Jesus gives his life in love so that we might be transformed by love.

Can United Methodism live into this paradox? Can we love each other even while we disagree? Can we give of ourselves sacrificially, knowing that this is the way to new life? Can we accept and embrace our LGBTQI sisters and brothers as created by God and fully part of our church? Can we love those who want to uphold our clergy covenant as expressed in our Book of Discipline?

In other words, can we love all persons, whether or not they share our views? I believe that we can, and that we must. For love is the only "Way Forward" for The United Methodist Church and for us individually. Without love we are lost, but with love we will find our way. The rainbow hovering over our United Methodist Church under renovation is a sign of a future of hope. As Paul said, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

I have covenanted with my colleague bishops to pray daily for God’s yearning to be fulfilled for The United Methodist Church. It is so clear that in these days we must fervently be in prayer. These are my last words to you as your Interim Bishop. God is providing well for you as you enter into a season under the leadership of Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton. It has been a privilege beyond words to serve you. I will continue to hold you, the beloved people of the New York Annual Conference, in my daily prayer. May the rainbow be a promise of God’s abiding love.

In Christ's love,

Bishop Jane Allen Middleton