An obedient church

Each week in our 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services we join together in a prayer of confession. The prayer we use is from our Methodist tradition, but there is another traditional prayer of confession that includes the line “We have failed to be an obedient church.”

This can mean many things…and some weeks I think about the ways that our local church has failed to be obedient (running out of food at our food distribution! If we all added an item with each grocery trip that would make such a difference to the food collection…), other weeks I’m reminded how the United Methodist Church as a whole has failed (spending so much time and money over issues of internal polity when God’s children are dying of malaria!), and sometimes I think about the church as a whole – how fighting between denominations wounds the body of Christ and causes people to reject a life with God because Christians can’t love one other, so how can they love “their enemies”?

But, last week, at a worship service last Saturday at Wesley Seminary, for the first time in my life I prayed those words feeling incredible personal responsibility for the church failing to be an obedient witness.

I was witness and party to racism at a conference hosted by the United Methodist Church, and I failed to speak up against it. As a leader in the church, and a member of the leadership team for the conference, I failed – and the church failed – to be obedient when I saw a brother in Christ speak hurtful words to a Native American Elder. I was so shocked by the incident that I was left speechless and failed to act.

John Wesley gave the Methodist three simple rules: “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” I always thought that it was easier to start by doing no harm and working your way up to doing good…but now, I understand that sometimes by not doing good (speaking up against racism) – I actually did harm (my silence makes me just as guilty as the one who spoke…).

The good news is that each week when we confess we are truly forgiven by God. Forgiven to “go and sin no more.” This means I’ll have a second chance…because the sad truth is that things like this happen all too often, and I can do good – with God’s help.

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