Mutual Conversation and Consolation

Dear Friends,
In my previous blog entry entitled, “Good Listening = Good Conversation” I prepared our members for an upcoming congregational conversation that was to be (and was) held on Sunday, March 17 following our morning worship service regarding the February meeting of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that was held in St. Louis. The Special General Conference voted to continue and strengthen the UMC’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ individuals within the denomination.
The title of my previous blog entry proved to be true at our meeting yesterday. I am pleased to affirm the nearly 100 members of our congregation who were able to attend, in their good listening skills, which in turn, led to the important, fruitful, respectful, and good conversation that I was hoping and praying for. I dare say everyone present at that meeting left feeling listened to, encouraged, and fulfilled. God’s presence in the Holy Spirit was felt by all because of how well we listened to and encouraged one another, despite differing theological and scriptural understandings.
The presence of the Spirit that was felt, I believe, is what Martin Luther referred to as the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints. Luther believed such mutual conversation and consolation of the saints was almost sacramental – right up there with Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. He felt that in the same ways God uses baptism and holy communion to bestow upon us His grace, so does He through mutual conversation and consolation. I believe God’s grace was bestowed upon all in attendance at our meeting yesterday as we participated in mutual, kind, intelligent, and faithful conversation regarding a divisive matter of faith and life. It was sacramental, for sure.
In my sermon on Sunday, in reference to Jesus’ desire to gather us close to Him as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, I reminded how Jesus is calling us to “Come home. My nest is filled with people like you – and perhaps not like you – people I created – people I love – people I long to be close to and in relationship with. It’s a messy nest – this family of God; this church of mine on earth; people wander off, get lost and come and go all the time.”
That’s the thing about communities of faith who regularly gather together to make sense of faith and life – they’re messy – but in a beautiful way.
Churches are one of the last places within our current social and political landscape where we rub shoulders with people who hold different values and views from us. Churches are one of the only places in our divided society where people of different races and socioeconomic status spend time together engaging in meaningful connection and conversation. Churches are among those few places with intergenerational connection, where children can learn to form healthy friendships with adults outside their own families. It’s messy, but it’s beautiful. It’s in churches where we get to practice forgiveness and reconciliation, where we get to share joy with others when we are close to God, where we can be supported and comforted in the midst of our grief and pain, and where we can draw inspiration from others when we begin to stray as followers of Jesus. Church is where we are given the freedom to try to figure out what it means to follow Jesus in this crazy, divided, conflicted, and amazing world of ours.
The tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews says this, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
I am thankful for the way Christians spurred one another on “toward love and good deeds” at our meeting yesterday. While helpful for the matter at hand, I also believe the mutual conversation and consolation that was demonstrated will shape who we are and how we converse, in general, moving forward.
For all who were able to attend, I thank you – for your kindness, your respect, your vulnerability, your openness, your commitment, your faithfulness, and mostly – your love.
Coming to church matters – always – but especially, for such a time as this.
Thank you. God bless you.
Pr. Dale