The Sermon on the Mount and Disaffiliations
I think of the Sermon on the Mount as cliffs notes for Christians. Jesus teaches us the basics of what his expectations are. The Sermon teaches us how to pray, how to treat others, and how to respond to persecution. Jesus' words give us everything we need to know how to act in this time of hurt, anger, and disaffiliations.
So as I've read of the recent "antics" of the leaders of the UMC, I wondered how we should respond to the hurtful things they have said and done. I have to admit my first thoughts were about retaliation, but I knew that wasn't what God would want me to do. That is when I remembered Jesus' wise words in his Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus preached this message, he gave his audience some new ways to live among their brothers and sisters. The Sermon on the Mount is still relevant today and an excellent passage to help me navigate through this period of disaffiliations and new beginnings.
Jesus promises, "God blesses you when people mock and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way." (Matthew 5:11-12).
I take great joy in this promise from Christ. I believe it means that we are on the right path. If we weren't a threat living in the truth, no one would bother to say things against us. While it is not easy to let the words of others slide off our backs, I think we need to. And as Peter and John did in the book of Acts, we should consider it great joy that God has considered us worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33
"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer them the other cheek also." (Matthew 5: 38-39). We do not need to defend ourselves from those who say derogatory things about us, nor do we need to respond likewise. God will handle it in his time. Our job is to simply offer grace and mercy others even those who treat us poorly.
"You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5: 43-45a). I have said from the beginning that prayer needs to be the most important focus in the GMC. Many of us left the UMC, not because we no longer loved the denomination, but because we could no longer tolerate the sinful practices that are being applauded as holy behaviors.
Only through prayer is there any chance that the UMC leadership will change its direction and return to preaching the truth. We cannot change hearts and minds, but God can. We need to lift up to God those who are lost, knowing he has the power to change hearts. The UMC has been on this path for a long time, and though it seems hopeless to us, I believe in a God who can bring hope in hopeless situations. So we must continue to pray for a denomination many of us have loved our whole life and let God do what's best for all.
We also need to offer them forgiveness, even if they don't ask for it. Jesus said, "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15). If we want to see the GMC flourish and be a beacon of hope in the world, we need to forgive those who have hurt us, continue to hurt us, and will probably not stop any time soon. Not only is this what is expected of us as Christians, but it releases us from the hurt and anger that stifles ministry.
I believe the best thing we can do for the UMC and the GMC is to continue to pray for each other in this volatile time, knowing this too will pass. I don't know what the future will hold, but I'm okay just knowing who holds the future.