The lectionary readings from yesterday should be required reading for every delegate to General Conference, every Bishop, every Board and Agency attendee, every caucus member, and every Conference observer. They offer us a pre-Conference word from the Lord, if we have ears to hear. They provide a moment of opportunity if we have the will to claim it. The timing of these texts is providential.
The texts all point to something new, and they do so within the context of inclusion, love, and God’s transformative creation. They were marching orders for the first Christians, and they should be so for us now.
In the early church in/out thinking existed, and it took direct action by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the church’s primary leader to break it. Gentiles were considered “outcasts” and excluded as much as any people who are treated as “less than” today. The Acts passage makes it clear that such exclusion is not God’s will. In nothing short of an absolutely amazing text, universal inclusion (Jews and Gentiles include everybody) replaces human-made exclusion categories–an idea which Paul strengthened by adding two more “less than” peoples–slaves and women, all of whom are now (along with Gentiles) one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
This revolutionary life together, Jesus says in the Gospel lesson, is initiated and sustained by love. The commandment to love is “new” precisely because of the vision represented in the Acts passage. Because of Jesus, “love one another” means love everyone, and moreover, love will now be the mark by which the world will see that we are Christians. “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
All this, Revelation shows, will be carried forward into a new heaven and new earth created by God, who makes all things new. The trajectory begun on earth is now made eternal. Another text in Revelation shows the radical universality of this new creation (Revelation 7:9).
These passages define God’s new wine, made sacramental in the Gospel lesson as Jesus ate the bread and drank the wine at the table. At General Conference, The United Methodist Church has the opportunity to become (by God’s grace) a new wineskin that can hold the new wine of inclusion and love, and in doing so be a sign of God’s new heaven and new earth. The One who said, ” I am making all things new,” seeks to include The United Methodist Church in that newness and the mission such newness generates.
We still have two weeks to decide to become a new wineskin church and then gather in Portland to become one.