Recently the Special Conference of the Methodist Church voted to adopt the Traditional Plan that declares homosexuality incompatible with scripture and is designed to expedite trial and deposition of clergy who are GLBTQ. This conference was, as you might expect, very painful for members of the UMC GLBTQ community, which is a large group within the UMC. This may mean some Methodists show up at our doors to explore whether the Episcopal Church offers hospitable place for them to worship while the UMC continues to sort out its next steps. The Rev. Chris Agnew, longtime ecumenical officer of the Diocese of Virginia, has recommended these reflections by Fr. David Simmons on Welcoming Methodists, and I commend them to you.
The idea that we should prepare to welcome others, some of whom might be hurting, into our worship and fellowship is central to Lent and to the whole Christian enterprise. Jesus is God's invitation to everyone to come to God's table. Lent is a traditional time to prepare and welcome new converts, as well as those who have for various reasons separated from the church. How do we prepare to welcome others, especially those who are hurting, into the fellowship and worship of the church? First of all we remember that the church doesn't belong to us, we belong to the church, and not because we have succeeded somewhere, or figured something out. We belong to the church the way patients belong to a hospital. All we can be credited with figuring out is that there is a way to health here, if we will follow its prescriptions and disciplines.
This last week I had a chance to be a patient in Fairfax Hospital. I am deeply moved and grateful for the personal quality of the care I received from everyone there, from the person who cleaned my room, and the one who delivered my meals, to the nurses and physicians, to the gentleman who transported me to the exit on Friday. He, in particular, began volunteering five years ago, after his wife died of cancer after a three year battle that had him regularly in the hospital with her. Though cancer had defeated them, they had received the outstanding personal patience and kindness that I had received during my hospitalization. They had received love. And the love that they received had revealed something of the true journey of health, which is not a destination you reach, but a way that you travel. A couple of years after she died, he realized he wanted to keep traveling with the team that had helped him and his wife and son through their time of crisis. So he began volunteering every Friday, and he loved it. Another member of his team was over 100 years old. Why stop when you are on the way of love?
Lent begins with Jesus rejection of everything that is not true to his relationship with God. That relationship wasn't something for him to define. It was given, and the only question was would he accept the love of his Father as not only sufficient, but abundant to all his needs and wants. And that relationship wasn't a bar he achieved. It was a never ending journey that once he started, he never looked back.
God's Love isn't something we make for ourselves. It comes from a source, through the word of the Lord and the grace of His Body and Blood, and the fellowship of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord opens the doors of our hearts before we can open the doors of our building. His Spirit wakes us to eternal life before we pour that coffee into the cup. None of us is the source. And most of us have looked back at times and lost our way. We are all patients, some of whom, through sheer luck, have found our way through various crises into the way of health that Jesus blazed when he rejected any other way but the way of trusting in the love of God.
I wouldn't wish a hospital stay on you as a Lenten preparation for Easter. But I would wish on you the experience of care, kindness, patience, and love I received throughout my hospital stay, and after, from so many gifts of soup, bread, phone calls, emails, notes, and prayers. I do wish on you the way of health laid out in the love of God, the grace of Christ Jesus, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And I commend to you the disciplines of a holy Lent, the prescriptions of Mother Church - take and eat this in remembrance, the desire to abstain from everything in this world that draws you from the love of God, and the careful tending of the joy of the resurrection.