Lent, Valentines, Love, Repentance, Welcome

Hello Table View Methodist Family,

Happy Valentine's Day for yesterday and happy new president day for today 15 February 2018.  As Christians it is our task to pray for our leaders.  As Christians in a democracy it is our responsibility to be responsible citizens.

As we pray we need to thank God for South Africa's robust democracy.  For some of the dedicated prophets of our time - the news media.  Let us keep fighting for the right to know (www.r2k.org.za).  But we also need to pray that whoever our leaders are they do the work of leading this country into justice.  

As much as our leaders lead us - we pray - especially at this time of Lent - that God would plant a deep love and thirst in us for his righteousness, justice, his Kingdom to come.

Thank you to all of you who joined us for our Ash Wednesday service last night.  Being Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday I thought it would be important for us to think about why we 'repent' which means we turn to God.  Is it out of fear?  Or out of love?

Although us preachers often preach from the premise of fear.  Trying to scare people into repentance.  Jesus tends to preach from the premise of love.  This foundation might affect our relationship with God for our entire Christian walk.  I believe that in this season of Lent we should work on making Love our first motivation.  Our highest reason for turning to God.

This quote from Catholic Author, Father Richard Rohr helped me to put my thoughts into words:

“God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good. And then you can be good because you draw upon such an Infinite Source. The older I get, the more I am sure that God does all the giving and we do all of the receiving.
God is always and forever the initiator in my life, and I am, on occasion, the half-hearted respondent. That’s just true! My mustard seed of a response seems to be more than enough for a humble God, even though the mustard seed is 'the tiniest of all the seeds' (Matthew 13:32).”
- Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

For the Sundays in Lent we will focus on learning lessons in prayer from the Bible's Leading Characters (As far as possible I will ask our visiting preachers to help with the theme, but it is not always practical for them to do so):

18 Feb - Moses a Friend of God.
25 Feb - Elijah - a man, just like us.
4 Mar - David - His thirst, our wellspring.
11 Mar - Paul - Passage and Perseverance in Praying
18 Mar - Jesus - Listening to Jesus with the Disciples
25 Mar - Palm Sunday - Learning to Pray from the Master Himself

[I will be drawing on Rev Adam Hamilton's Series preached in 2010 for some inspiration - you're welcome to listen to his sermons here.]

Being a Church that Welcomes

The Methodist Book of Order declares (inter alia):

Membership is not conditional upon the profession of theological tenets, or dependent upon traditional authority or ecclesiastical ritual. It is based upon a personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought about by the Spirit, ranging from the earliest signs of Divine Grace in the soul to its crowning blessedness in the joy of 'perfect love'...
- Book of Order 3.1

All persons are welcomed into membership who sincerely desire to be saved from their sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and show the same in life and conduct, and who seek to have communion with Christ Himself and His people by taking up the duties and privileges of the Methodist Church.
- Book of Order 3.2

We can boldly declare that All are Welcome.  This means that there will always be a variety of opinions, ideas, ideals within our church - but the overarching goal of joining our community is described in paragraph 3.3 - our Ethos:

As the law of love is the law of Christ for all His disciples, the spirit and practice of Christian love is an indispensable condition of faithful membership in the Methodist Church. The spiritual and ethical ideal of this fellowship has always been, and still is, that its members should constantly seek to be made perfect in love – ‘pure love filling the heart and governing all words and actions’.
- Book of Order 3.3

Being a welcoming church means that we have had to learn a lot about what it means to welcome people as Jesus welcomed them.  And to care for people as Jesus cares for them.  An area of deep pain for the church and more so for those people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, or Queer (LGBTIQ) has been the way in which we have responded to them.  We have not loved and listened to them as I believe Jesus would have us love and listen.

As a minister I believe that I am called to share the good news of God's love with all people.  I believe I am called to care pastorally for all people in every situation of life - regardless of their race, gender, creed, class... etc.  I believe I am called to care pastorally for all households and family units whether they are divorced, happily or unhappily married, unmarried, gay or straight. 

The Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa has asked that Circuits respond to the following resolutions that resolve as follows (this is a summary):

1 - 
The MCSA calls on all of its members to stand up and speak out against such hate
crimes; to desist from any demeaning, derogatory and inflammatory speech and
behaviour against LGBTIQ persons; and where it has failed to do so, asks for forgiveness.
2 - That Methodist ministers are free to follow their conscience in the kind of pastoral care they offer to LGBTIQ persons; and that ministers stationed in South Africa who wish to be licensed marriage officers under the Civil Unions Act of 2006 are free to do so...
3 - Conference resolves that LGBTIQ voices within the church be afforded opportunities at CQMs, District Synods, Conventions and Conference to lead Bible Studies, facilitate workshops and share their stories.

You can read the document in full here.

The Leader's Meeting held on 13 February at Table View Methodist Church agreed with the proposals received from conference and will inform the Circuit Quarterly Meeting of our response.

I continue to pray that the Methodist Church would continue to wrestle with what it means to love all people and care for them pastorally and prophetically.  I pray especially that as a church we would continue to learn to love each other in our diverse opinions and understandings as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Eleven years ago I wrote an article about why I think the church needs to change its attitude to caring for people with different sexual orientations.  I'm sure my thinking has grown, adapted, matured, since then.  But if you'd like to read it here is a link.  I wrote the article at a time when my convictions seemed to bring me into conflict with the Law and Doctrine of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and I wanted to be held accountable for my opinions.

If you are struggling with these issues.  If you, or someone you love is of a different sexual orientation I want you to know that for my part I will love and accept you and them.  If you find my opinions and wrestling with these issues too difficult; I understand.  

I will always do my best to see both sides of any argument and am always willing to wrestle with my own understanding in the light of Christ's love.

God bless,

Rev Angus Kelly

PS - Some wise words from John Wesley:

9. Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so, by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread, and am therefore unwilling to leave it, labour with me a little ; take me by the hand, and lead me as I am able to bear. But be not displeased if I entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace: I can go but feebly and slowly at best; then, I should not be able to go at all.
- Wesley, John. John Wesley's Forty-Four Sermons (p. 6). Hargreaves Publishing. Kindle Edition.