December 23 Update from the Moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward
At Christmas. we celebrate the good news that “God is with us” (Matthew 1. 23). This is the fulfillment of the promise of Emmanuel, Jesus, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing," in the words of the great hymn. The good news, that “God is with us,” is about relationship. God’s way forward, beyond the impasse of sin and separation, injustice and unrighteousness, was to enter the world in human form.
In A Nazareth Manifesto, Samuel Wells contrasts what it means to be for and what it means to be with. To be for focuses on a problem to be solved, an issue to be understood, an obstacle to be overcome. To be with speaks instead of sharing, life together and relationship. The latter is deeply rooted in the Triune God, and the wonder of grace is that we are included in the very life of God, through our creation, salvation and missional purpose.
Our way forward, as women and men created in the image of God, is to seek reconciliation with one another. It is not that we do the work of reconciliation so that we can later share the gospel through evangelism and mission. There is no evangelism, no mission, no gospel apart from reconciliation.
And so we enter into the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, seeing it not as an interruption to our real mission, but as essential to our calling. To be for or against each other, or a cause, is less than God desires for us. We are created in God’s image, to be forgiven, reconciled and made holy. This process will not happen if we are isolated or separated from one another, whether that be one political movement of the church or one geographical area of the world. In the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving, we pray: “Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” We confess that this happens through the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
A way forward relies on the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. And because God is with us, we reflect the image of God as we are with God and each other. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many United Methodists will receive the elements of Holy Communion into their bodies. The bread and the cup are tangible signs that God is with us, not as an abstract idea, but through the real presence of Christ. Thus we see each other, not as abstract advocates for ideas or world views, but as beloved children of God, in need of grace.
And so, as we kneel at altars to receive the sacrament, let us pray for the unity of the One Body. Let us seek to live in peace with each other. And let us remember the words of our founder, John Wesley: “The best of all is that God is with us."
Bishops David Yemba, Sandra Steiner Ball and Ken Carter
Moderators of a Way Forward