“In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the presbyter sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, Abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him.” – Sayings of the Desert Fathers
“A brother sinned and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, ‘I, too, am a sinner.’” – Sayings of the Desert Fathers
We are more like Nicodemus than we care to admit. We try to interpret Jesus too readily and respond too quickly. We come to the living Jesus and the first words out of our mouths are “we know” (John 3:2). Unfortunately for those of us who love facts and truth and logic and clarity, Jesus is more untamable than we care to admit. Instead of coming to Jesus with “we know”, we should humbly come to Jesus that we might “experience Jesus”. For as Jesus told us, the wind blows where it chooses and we do not know from where it comes or where it is going, so it is with the Spirit (John 3:8). The experience of Jesus is the very essence of discipleship, not knowledge. Disciples are followers not because of what they “know” about Jesus. Disciples are followers because they “imitate” and “experience” Jesus.
John 8:7-11 says, “7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”
As I watch and reflect on the United Methodist General Conference, I am struck at how poorly we imitate Jesus in our deliberations. Every side of every disagreement claims “we know”, but I wonder if any side really does? No one is innocent here. Every side is influenced by their own religious zeal as they interpret what they “know” about the “love”, the “truth”, or the “word” of the Lord.
I have to admit; I am left wanting. If we really want to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to begin by modeling discipleship ourselves. General Conference reaffirms for me something I have believed and preached for a long time: “We would rather be right than reconciled.” Winning the day, even if my so-called “position” triumphs, leaves me wanting as I watch General Conference this year. We can change all the structure we like, but until we, as a church, really begin to experience Jesus and begin to imitate Him, we will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong.
Is it possible that we have it all wrong? In all of our effort this week to save our church, our witness in how we did our work together, many times, did harm. The irony of it all is that we will all agree that harm was indeed done…..by those who disagreed with what “we know”.