May 15, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
There’s a story about a guy who has a little time between flights at an airport, so he goes into the restroom. He enters a stall, shuts the door. A minute later another guy comes in and goes into the stall next to him. Suddenly, he hears the guys say, “Hey, how you doing over there?” This is pretty strange. This guy’s never had someone in another stall in the bathroom start talking to him before. So he says, “Oh, I’m fine. How about you?” The guy says, “I’m goo, just waiting on my next flight.” Then he asks, “What are you doing later?” Well, this is really odd, so the man says, “just heading home.”
Then the guy says, “Mind if I come over?” Well, this is getting really uncomfortable so the guy says, “Uh, look,” when suddenly he hears the person say, “Hey babe, I’m going to have to call you back, the guy in the next stall keeps talking to me.”
Ever had the experience where you think you’re talking with somebody but it’s like you’ve got two totally different conversations going on? Or where you think you are talking about the same thing but what the other person is saying you can’t even understand. Or when you are with someone and you are trying to work something out, and you start to discover, “I don’t think we’re going to get there. I don’t think we are going to agree. I don’t know that we are going to be able to clear things up.” What does it mean to love when things aren’t clear?
This is what Paul addresses at the end of his magnum opus on love, 1 Corinthians 13. He begins at verse 9, “For we know only in part and we prophesy only in part…” Wouldn’t it be great if we could all admit that when we start to get into a tense debate? “Now let me just say, I don’t have all the answers. I’ve probably still got a lot to learn on this matter.” Imagine political candidates doing that! “I only know in part, but here’s what I think…”
Instead what we have today are people who say, “I know what needs to happen. I’ve got a lock on the truth. I’m right, you’re wrong. That settles it!” But in today’s final discussion on love we discuss what it means to live in a world when we will never understand everything clearly; when we will have situations where we might be at odds with others and it won’t be cleared up, where we have to learn to get along and be in relationship and live with ambiguity and lack of clarity.
That’s the one thing Paul did make clear in these final words on love, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.” For all the things we’ve learned about Corinth in this series, one last, important factoid is that Corinth was known for their production of mirrors. Now mirrors back then were not like ours today. They weren’t glass. They were usually a type of metal that could be polished and provide a reflection. The bronze in Corinth was such a quality that it could be polished to provide a strong reflection. Today, at the ruins of ancient Corinth there is a museum with a mirror from that time.
Compared to today mirrors back then were terrible. They gave a dim reflection. You only got a sense of what you looked like. You never saw yourself very well.
You know any people today who have a hard time seeing themselves? I’m not just talking about seeing themselves physically. I’m talking about people who don’t see how they take over a conversation and don’t let others get a word in edge-wise. Or people who down see when they think they are being funny but actually they are getting inappropriate and even offensive. People who don’t see when they are being inconsiderate.
Now, if you are making a list in your head of all the people you want to send this message to because they need to hear it, then realize we all don’t see ourselves accurately. We have flawed self-perceptions, and we have to be mirrors for each other. I discovered this in my first church. This was back in BS days, Before Susan. I was a single pastor and an older couple in the church lived next door. They looked after me and we spent a lot of time together. Because of that people in the church would use this couple to share with me things they felt I should know.
Well one time, the wife of the couple came to see me. An old widow in the church told her she had tried to share a concern about something with me and I didn’t hear her. So as this person is sharing this I get defensive. I say, “I heard her,” and try to show that. This person said, “But I don’t think that’s exactly what she was saying.” And I get more defensive. Finally the person said, “Rob, I don’t think you always listen.”
And what I wanted to do was break out my best Perry Mason and prove so convincingly how I was a magnificent listener that no jury could ever convict me. But I realized, what does it matter what I think about myself if others feel I don’t listen to them? I realized, we need others to be our mirrors.
But here’s where it gets really complicated. Just because others see us a certain way doesn’t make it so. Other people see us through dim reflections. Why? Because we all are sin filled people. That doesn’t make us bad. Its just reality. You see the Greek word for sin is hamartia. It means “to miss the mark.” We all miss the mark. We don’t see ourselves clearly and we don’t see each other clearly.
So you’re probably thinking, well what hope do we have? I don’t see myself clearly. You don’t see me clearly. Are we just destined to seeing things unclearly, and Paul would say, “yes.” That’s the situation in this life. None of us see things completely right, so it means that we’ve got to have a lot of grace. We’ve got to show each other a lot of love. That’s our only hope. We are going to need to cut each other a lot of slack if we’re going to make it.
Our hope is not that we are going to see everything clearly, because that will just mean getting other people to see things our way. And we’ve got enough of that already. We’ve got politicians who simply try to prove how opponents are wrong and they are right, and where has that gotten us? Our hope is not that we will see everything clearly, but that we can admit we don’t see clearly but we will love each other any way! We will help point out each other’s faults. We will speak the truth in love, but even more importantly we will let people know that while we have disagreements, we can still love, and believe that one day we will see clearly.
Now let’s widen the lens on this issue for a moment, because there are a lot of issues in our world I feel we will never see clearly. Issues like abortion. I don’t know that we will ever see that clearly. Some people do. It is very settled for them. But for a lot of people it is very complex and knowing all the right circumstances in which you say an abortion should never be allowed or might be allowed is difficult. But can we not love even when we don’t see things clearly?
This is happening in Our United Methodist Church. We have hit a divide over our stance on full acceptance and rights of all people regardless of sexual identity. And I want to share an important statement from our Governing Board.
St. Luke’s UMC has long been an open, affirming community of Christians exemplified over the years by our interfaith work, antiracism stands, support for refugees, and of course, advocacy for LGBTQ+ people. This past week our Governing Board discussed St. Luke’s response to the delay in General Conference. As you may know the 2020 General Conference was to act on legislation that would allow churches more traditionally aligned on issues of human sexuality to depart and those remaining United Methodist to change the harmful, exclusive language on homosexuality in our Book of Discipline.
While the decision to delay General Conference until 2024 led to the more traditionalist faction of the United Methodist Church choosing to launch their new denomination two weeks ago, it still leaves those of us remaining in the UMC having to wait until 2024 before we can change our Book of Discipline and do things like conduct same sex marriages in our buildings, something currently not allowed.
Our Governing Board is deciding if the time has come for us to no longer wait on the actions of General Conference and choose to live into being a more just, loving, and inclusive expression of what it means to be church. We consider this for several reasons.
• First, we believe it’s the right thing to do! It is right to have equal rights for all members. Our interpretation of scripture may differ from traditionalists, but make no mistake, we believe we are on solid biblical ground and, even more importantly, in agreement with the spirit of Christ.
• Second, making this change is in alignment with our values for openness and inclusion allowing us to become an even clearer reflection of a Christ-like, compassionate and just community.
• Third, we do so fully believing that change is on the way in the United Methodist Church. Our stand reflects where the vast majority of people remaining United Methodist stand and will stand once we are past the delays caused by this pandemic.
So we would like to hear from you. Several weeks from now we will offer a very short survey seeking your input on St. Luke’s consideration of opening the practice of weddings to all members of the church. Our Governing Board feels the time has come and we want to hear from the congregation on this important decision.
So there are things we don’t see clearly even in the church. We probably never will. We have to get used to living with things that aren’t clear and have the humility to admit we might not see it ourselves completely clear. But one day we will. One day we will see things as God does, so our saving hope in the meantime is that we love.
So let me zoom back in ad take this matter back to the personal realm, but the value of what Paul is talking about here comes down to how each of us responds to unclear situations.
Jesus actually left us with some very helpful teaching on this matter. It is recorded on Matthew 18:15: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one.” These are Jesus’ ethics to resolving matters when you don’t see things clearly with someone. The first thing you do is go to that person. Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “First, check with 6 or 8 of your closest friends who you know are going to agree with you, and help you feel justified that someone else was really out of line!”
Instead, Jesus says go straight to the person. Don’t bring others into it. Things only get murkier the more others get involved. The goal is reconciliation. Restoration. And that will only happen when we can say to someone, “I was hurt when you did such and such,” and hopefully have a person acknowledge that. Reconciliation is the goal.
And if we are ever the one someone approaches to complain about someone, we do everyone a favor when we stop them and say, “Now before you go on, have you gone to that person?” And if they say no, we ask why, and what their hope is. Do they want things better or to complain?
Now, what if someone doesn’t feel safe going to a person but they really do want things better? Look what Jesus says, “take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (Mt 18:16) Take some mutually trusted people to mediate. For reconciliation to occur, people must be able to acknowledge hurt and have others offer apology.
Now, it might not mean you both agree. It might mean things are still unclear, but you can choose to love.
Let me close with a story from early in my college days…