remembering well

Sun Setting on Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial was first proposed in 1867 not long after President Lincoln was assassinated by a white man.  We the people didn’t get it built until WW I.  As Lincoln was the great defender of democracy, the memorial was designed to remember the Parthenon and the birthplace of democracy.  The marble and granite chosen for the building came from the North, the South, the East, and the West—a symbol of our divided nation coming together, building something significant, something that would last.  We don’t remember well, do we?

On May 30, 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated.  A grateful nation celebrated the Great Emancipator with a great occasion.  50,000 people came, segregated by race.  The keynote speaker, Robert Moton, President of the Tuskegee Institute, an African-American, wasn’t allowed to sit on the speakers’ platform!!!!!!!  Makes me wonder if the monument was really meant to remember some other Lincoln, Lincoln Financial, for instance, or the inventor of the town car.

Memorial Day began in the wake of the Civil War as a day to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who had died in battle.  Union General John Logan chose May 30th precisely because it was not the anniversary of any battle.  After WW I Memorial Day became a day to honor all United States soldiers who’ve died in war.  Then in 1968 our Congress changed it to the last Monday in May so we could have a three-day weekend to shop, barbecue, and watch the Indianapolis 500.

I pray this Memorial Day that we will remember well what Abraham Lincoln said on November 19, 1863, as he stood up to dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  (Excerpt, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)

Right after Lincoln finished his speech he called it  a “flat failure.”  Seventeen months later, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln made another speech advocating voting rights for African-Americans.  Four days later he was shot dead.

This Memorial day I will remember with gratitude those who have died for our country and our freedoms.  And, I will remember Abraham Lincoln and under God offer my prayer “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In rememberance,

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.

methodist catholic spirit

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, was an amazing preacher.  Whenever I’ve made the effort to plow through his sermons, I always come away thinking, “That was profound.”  I want to share one with you, especially in light of the recent General Conference and the upcoming Annual and Jurisdictional Conferences.  I’ve taken one of Wesley’s most famous sermons, abridged it, and translated it into 21st century English.  Do read the original yourself and let me know if I got close.  Here is Wesley’s sermon “Catholic Spirit” Newcastle, England, 1749.

And when Jehu departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him; and he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart right with my heart as mine is with yours?”  And Jehonadab answered, “It is.”  So Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.”  So he gave him his hand.  And Jehu took him up with him into the chariot.  And he said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.”    ( 2 Kings 10.15-16a)

The Bible says, in Leviticus 19, “Love your neighbor.”  For a long time I thought that meant love your family and love your friends.  But that’s not exactly what Jesus said.  Jesus said, love everybody, even your enemies.  That’s a strange kind of love don’t you think?  In John 13, Jesus said: “love one another, as I have loved you.”  Love, as Jesus loved, that is the proof that you are Christian.

Does everyone agree with that?  It seems to me that most people agree with that.  But do most people practice that?  In my experience the answer is “no.”  Where are the Christians of today?  Where are the true disciples, people who really do love like Jesus loved?

I believe there are two reasons why most Christians today do not love as Jesus loved.

  1. We don’t all think the same; we disagree on a lot of issues.
  2. Because we don’t think the same, we don’t love the same either.

There are all kinds of people in the church with all kinds of opinions; but we don’t celebrate that diversity.  Instead, we let our opinions divide us.  We become enemies, even in the church.  What happened to the Word of God? Jesus commanded us to love one another, even our enemies.  So I ask you: can we not have one heart, even if we are not of one mind?  Can’t we love each other, even if we have different opinions?

This man Jehu in 2 Kings; I think he’s on the right track.  Jehu met Jehonadab and said to him: “is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?  If it is, give me your hand.”  Did you notice?  Jehu didn’t ask about the other man’s ideas; and I bet he had some ideas, even strange ideas, even wrong ideas.  And isn’t that true for us.  Look around you.  Don’t you think at least some of these people here today have a few peculiar ideas?  You probably think that person in the next pew is wrong about most everything; and it may be true.  This is only natural.  We’re human beings, with limited minds.  No one has perfect knowledge.  It’s natural that we don’t all agree. This has been true since Adam and Eve.  It’s quite natural for you to believe that your opinion is the correct one.  You wouldn’t hold tight to your opinion if you didn’t think it true.

But listen: how can you or anyone ever be certain that an opinion is correct?  We can’t; because there is so much that we don’t know, so many things we don’t understand, and maybe never will.  So, part of being human is being wrong, at least sometime.  I know this is true for me.  I don’t know everything; therefore, I must be wrong, at least sometime.  So I need to ask myself: how deep is my ignorance?  How many prejudices have taken root in my mind?  How often do my prejudices shape my opinions?  Surely I am guilty of many wrongheaded ideas.  So I beg you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, please, be compassionate.  Cut me some slack.  Give me the same freedom of thinking that you want for yourself.  The catholic spirit only asks us to do one thing: to unite our hearts in Christian love.  Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?

And another thing: in the catholic spirit we are not indifferent to other people’s opinions.  Indifference is a child of hell; indifference to others is a curse.  Be open to other people’s ideas and consider their opinions with the same respect you’d like to receive.  At the same time, be clear about what you believe.  Be fully convinced in your own mind.  A foggy mind with no consistent principles will always miss the mark.  No, in my own mind I’m fully convinced of my beliefs.  But, in the catholic spirit, I do not expect my opinions to be the rule for you or for others.  All I ask is this: Can we love one another as Christ loved us?  Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?  If it is, give me your hand.

Now, you may ask, what does it mean to have a “right” heart?  Simply this.  Do you try to love others with a Christian love, even loving your enemies; and do you show this love, not only in what you say, but also in the way you live?  Let all the controversial issues stand aside.  If you strive to love God and all God’s children, then give me your hand.  This is catholic love; this is the true catholic spirit.

So, where do we go from here?

I ask you to love me, love me with a tender affection, as a brother in Christ.

I ask you to be patient with me and love me in spite of my wrong ideas.

I beg you to pray for me, pray that God will set me straight and give me wisdom and fill my heart with love for all humankind, even love for people who are wrong sometimes.

And be very sure, my friends; these things I ask of you, I am ready and eager to do the same for you: to love you, to be patient with you, in spite of your wrongheaded ideas, to pray for you, that God will give you wisdom and a love that knows no prejudices and a love that has no limits.  A true catholic spirit, a true Christian, loves all people with an unspeakable tenderness and a longing for their welfare, just as Jesus loved us.  Hear me, O child of God, and think on these things.  Let us have our own opinions and respect one another.  And let us be united in the catholic spirit of Christian love.  Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?  If it is, then give me your hand.

Who Is Against Us?

In his letter to those first Christians in Rome the Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  God who didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will God not…graciously give us all things?  It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns?  No one.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  Paul goes on to list things some might think can or should separate us from the love of God.  Finally Paul answers: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  There is no power in all creation that can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Excerpts, Romans 8.31-39)  Please, read the whole passage in the Christian scripture.  I’m not making this up.

At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans there was no Christian Church, nothing like the institution we have today.  They were small bands of people, Jews and Greeks, men and women, sinners and heathens, whose lives were being transformed by the love of God as they came to know it in the good news of Jesus Christ.  But if the Church had existed in Paul’s day I think he would have included Church in his list of worldly powers that lack the power to separate us from the love of God.

If you followed the General Conference of the United Methodist Church these past weeks, you know why I mention this now.  The “powers” that gathered in Tampa to debate and adopt church law actually had a debate about whether or not God loves everybody.  This text from Romans 8 was actually debated.  Gad zooks!  Some 47% of our delegates voted NO, we can’t affirm that.  I’m told many African delegates said, no, we can’t go home and tell people that God loves sinners, those bad people, those heathens, those non-Christians; those people are indeed separated from the love of God, according to loads of delegates, including many from the old American South.

Friend, let us leap for a moment.  Who was responsible for Jesus’ execution?  Jews?  Hardly.  Jesus was a Jew.  Most of his first disciples were Jews.  Was it the Romans?  Yes, in the sense that Pontius Pilate gave the order to execute him; but under Roman law at that time there was no basis for that death sentence.  Pilate said as much in John’s Gospel; but then he caved to pressure brought to bear by a Super PAC.  Who were they?  The Chief Priests and the scribes, the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees.  Two things stand out here.  First, these were the power players in the religious institution of that day.  Second, and most importantly, they had their own interpretation of church law, mostly man-made law, BTW.  Jesus interpreted the law differently.  Jesus put grace first, rather than obeying the letter of someone’s interpretation of law.  I don’t care if your law says you can’t heal someone on the Sabbath; grace goes ahead and heals them.  God is love, people.

In our time the church is caught up in a global and epic struggle over the authority of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, challenging every interpretation of Church law as it has stood in the past.  For me, the Methodist tradition has always been at its best when we put grace first; Jesus did.  Jesus loved everybody before any church law existed.  I believe Jesus still loves everybody.  Before the gospels were written, before most of the New Testament was composed, Paul of Tarsus, himself a Jew trained in the law, a convert with his own experience of the living Christ, said, “there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  If God is for us, who is against us?”  The General Conference of the United Methodist Church?  Maybe.  But when we compare their conversation to Paul’s testimony in the New Testament, don’t we have to conclude that their debate on who is and who is not loved by God was largely irrelevant?  Go home, ye Methodists, and tell your people God is love.  If they leave your church, no worries; God will still love them.

All good things to you in Christ who loves you, no matter who you are,

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.