Prayer Beads and Sheep

By the time we got up and going this morning, the internet was abuzz with talk of some sort of plan for some sort of split.  Clearly the bishops had met and talked about things.  Bishop Ough reported to us that this had happened, and that they were not in agreement about how to proceed.  He said it wasn’t their job to bring legislation.  But a speaker formally asked that the bishops go back and work on a way for us to move forward on the issue of human sexuality. 

The ghost of Chuck Merrill was all over the sermon and worship this morning.  It brought me to tears, over and over.  The preacher, Bishop Ivan Abrams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, traced the history of the church as a tool of empire and exploitation of the least of these, over and over.  The logic of the 99, rolling over the backs and heads of the one.  Jesus of Palestine, not Jesus of Constantine.  

“We read the gospel as if we had no money, and we spend our money as if we had no gospel.”

For me, this word gave a context, deep and broad, for all our issues and our conflict.  We are part of a long legacy of church that has been misguided and deluded.  All have fallen short.  All are prone to slather our self-interest with the name of Jesus, especially when we are part of the 99 and not the 1.  

This service and sermon increased my gratitude for the prayer beads we received when we arrived.  I had been somewhat confused about the sheep that is part of the medallion design.  And maybe I still don’t know the original intent, but now for me it stands for the lost, forgotten, exploited one, the one God will never stop seeking, the one for whom Christ’s heart breaks.  Sometimes that’s me, and a lot of times it’s somebody else I’ve forgotten about. The beads mean a lot to me now, and more so every day.  I feel like I’m hanging onto them for dear life, as this ship sails into darker and more dangerous water.  

With all of that, I have what may seem an ironic comment on some song lyrics the presiding bishop used in a prayer as we entered our plenary work.  The song is “Bind Us Together,” and it’s in The Faith We Sing.  I never have liked it.  “Bind us together…with cords that cannot be broken.”  It has always sounded to me like emotional fusion, from a family systems perspective.  We already have plenty of places where people are bound with cords that can never be broken, even if we do call that binding “love,” places where no change can happen as a result. Instead, I would rather be bound with cords that people have chosen.  The bishop in his prayer asked that God would keep us together with “chains, ropes, whatever it takes.”  I know what he meant to express was a fervent desire to keep this church together.  But we are going to have to choose that.  We are going to have to choose love, as an act of the will, as an act of self-sacrifice on behalf of the one we don’t believe we can live with.  I don’t know exactly what that looks like in this case, as some of us clearly hold irreconcilable differences, but we have to figure it out.  

There are other things to write about, but I’m not going to get to those.  Just praying for sheep and love and what it takes to keep the flock together.