Editor’s Note: As the Spirit led Bishop Dyck to preach a different sermon than was written in her original manuscript, this post has been updated with a transcription of the sermon as it was preached.
General Conference Worship
Portland, OR May 13, 2016
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Like so many people around the world, I’ve been inspired and given hope by Pope Francis. Sisters, yesterday Pope Francis said he was going to be looking into ordaining women as deacons! Brothers care too. I have been challenged by the encyclical on climate change and commend it to every United Methodist church.
But I think it was this fall when he announced on the first Sunday in Advent that it would be the “Year of Mercy”, that I was most inspired. He said, “Go and do mercy in all the places you are…every Catholic.” He opened the doors of mercy and began to invite people in—in a new way. I want to be a part of a church that has a year of mercy, a decade of mercy, a millenium of mercy!
Pope Francis used this very text as his motto: Go, learn mercy, when he became a Bishop. Any of you aspiring to be a Bishop, I would commend it to you and also to all of us on the counsel. Go, learn mercy.
So, Jesus was eating with the tax collectors and the sinners. He didn’t just pick up their buttons and banners, he actually sat down and ate with them. And, as he ate with them he had relationships with them, and of course the Pharisees were upset by this.
Now, the Pharisees aren’t bad people, really! They were trying to revitalize their religious traditions and practices. But Jesus knew that sometimes love, compassion, justice, and mercy seeped out in the process. And so he knew that in fact they believed, that the tax collectors were “incompatible” with good Jews. Which means that a Jew who takes money as tax and gives it to the Romans, the oppressor—he cannot be a good Jew! They are incompatible. You understand what “incompatible” means! It means when two things are so opposed in character that they cannot exist together. It seems that we always have our tax collectors! And Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Go, learn mercy!”
Now, as United Methodists we have one category of humanity. One…that we declare to be “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And, when I read this gospel story, all I can say is, that seems incompatible with Christian teaching! Now I do not believe that LGBTQ people are any more sinful than I am…but, I know that not all of you think the same way. And, I’m not here to argue with you. I just want you to consider this fact:
That we have one category of humanity that we declare to be incompatible with Christian teaching.
So, in all fairness I looked into my own life and thought, “Who would I be tempted to say in incompatible with Christian teaching?” Well, I didn’t have to go far. I looked into my own family. It’s been a few years, but a member of my family shot and killed another member of my family and then killed himself. Murder. Gun violence. Domestic violence.
I can’t begin to explain to you, describe to you, the loss, the grief, and the wake of destruction, that murder has caused in my family. But I am not alone. I live in the city of Chicago. There have been over 1200 shootings this year. Over 200 deaths from gun violence in the city of Chicago. We had one weekend when we prayed there would be no shootings. I mean, we came together in a prayer vigil. It was Easter and we prayed that there would be no death by shootings! And, we got it. Then we were towards Mother’s Day, last weekend was Mother’s Day, and there were fifteen shootings in the city of Chicago. There were eight deaths, and as the Chicago Tribune said the other day, “We dread the sound of summer in Chicago—the screaming of the mothers.”
The wake of destruction in our cities and in our families, even in our churches, overwhelms us at times. We organize ministries around these murders, because we open the doors of our churches, so that these children can find a place where they can be safe and not shot on their front porch. Murder! That’s not incompatible with Christian teaching??
Another thing…I’m a white person. You may have noticed that. Race is one of the first things we notice in other people. It’s how I relate to the world, it’s how the world relates to me. I try to manage my behavior in that regard, but I am always in need of perfection. Our church is structured on racism. We we encounter each other in this place, especially because we don’t know each other, racism is in the very air that we breathe as we do our work together.
Why is racism not declared incompatible with Christian teaching??
Because it might make us have different conversations? It might cause us to have different kinds of petitions? It might make all of us look at ourselves a little bit differently? It might be a challenge to our privilege? Why isn’t racism incompatible?? How does it exist within the gospel of Jesus Christ?
But please, don’t get me wrong…I don’t want to add anything to the list of incompatibles. That is not my point. I want us to go learn mercy and not have anything declared, “incompatible with Christian teaching” in our church.
Now, some of you have heard me tell this story before, and I actually tried to avoid it. But, I just couldn’t. When I was a District Superintendent in Ohio, I lived in a county seat town, and there was a daily newspaper you could read in five minutes. And, one night I came home and there was a headline—there was a big activity that the First Church of God was going to have in that town. Only, they left the “d” off of “God.” And, I looked at it, and I said, “Yes! I want to be a part of the First Church of Go!”
But today, I don’t feel like it’s a rally call. Today, it’s a prayer. It’s a plea. I want to be a part of a church that is willing to go…learn…mercy. What part of “Go” don’t we get?