2021 03 07 Alan Storey
Checking our God
When I finished preaching last Sunday – someone in the congregation called out: “But where do we draw the line?” The book of Acts records the early church wrestling with this very question: Who is in and who is out? Who is welcome and who is not? Where do we draw the line?
In fact the first Synod, called the Council of Jerusalem, had only one item on the agenda: “Are uncircumcised people welcome as is?” Peter thankfully convinced the assembly that God “made no distinction between them and us” [Acts 15:9].
The same question has topped the agenda of many synods since. Of course the issue is no longer circumcision but something else that is used to other and exclude, like gender. Regardless of the difference in ‘category’ it’s the same question: Does God make a distinction between us or not? “Where do we draw the line?”
Sadly, history shows that as we learn that God does not make a distinction between others and us in one area, we find another area to make distinctions in and we have to learn the lesson all over again. The lesson being that we have done evil believing we were doing good and we have caused pain while thinking we were being kind.
We seem to need endless reminding that God’s including mercy and love is for all – and all actually does mean all. This is why we often sing the hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind.
At our 190th Synod last week we witnessed the incarnation of God’s wide mercy among us as women were elected into the office of Bishop and Presiding Bishop. A great celebration even though long overdue. We also voted overwhelmingly for our Church to stop discriminating against LGBTI clergy and in favour of allowing LGBTI clergy to enter into a civil union – while the church continues to wrestle with its theology around marriage. (Please note that these decisions are not the new policy of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa because they would need to first be debated and accepted at our Conference in September for that to be the case. But this localised expression of God’s mercy at our Cape of Good Hope Synod is not without significance.)
Jesus crossed every possible distinction and barrier of his times – so nothing less is expected of those of us who desire to follow him.
This past week I have been in Wales sharing Manna and Mercy at the Pastor’s School of the United Reformed Church of Wales. It is the first time Manna and Mercy is being presented in Europe. On this trip I will not only be doing Manna and Mercy but training others, especially pastors, to use the material in their own ministries. See: www.urc-wales.org.uk
For those of you who do not know, Manna and Mercy is an artistic paraphrase of the whole Bible focusing on the main themes of Jesus’ ministry — namely “daily bread” and “mercy”. It is written by Daniel Erlander. See: www.danerlander.com
Today I am preaching at East Belfast Mission. A Methodist Church based on the Newtownards Road in Ballymacarret, an area of social and economic deprivation with high levels of unemployment, ill-health and paramilitary influences. Rated as the fifth most deprived ward of the 566 wards in Northern Ireland, the area has a particularly high incidence of unemployment with many individuals excluded from the labour market through unemployment, disability or ill health. They employ 70 people with over 100 active volunteers. See: www.ebm.org.uk and www.skainos.org
Their mission is nothing less than the transformation and renewal of East Belfast, by offering hope and a future to all those in need in the inner city, regardless of background or belief. They believe that everybody matters. It has been said of the East Belfast Mission congregation that ‘they’d let anyone in there’. I love it!!