“Forgive us our messes…”

It is sad, but true: am a tidy-er. Meaning that I like to tidy things up. OK, so don’t look at the top of my desk right now for your proof. But it is true in just about every other arena of my life.

Things on the ground that don’t belong there get picked up and thrown away when I’m around. Rumpled towels get straightened and hung neatly in my wake. Three-fourths empty cans of Diet Coke get emptied, rinsed, and tossed in the recycling bin when I am on the prowl.

Beds get made. Pillows get plumped. Coffee cups get rinsed. Trash cans get emptied.

At first blush it might seem as if I am pretty darned proud and holding this trait up as a positive personal quality. But upon closer examination, I am not sure this approach is everything positive it pretends to be.

It may or may not be the case that my wife (or step-daughter) was not yet done with that Diet Coke when it suddenly went missing. It may (or may not) be true that when she turned around to grab that jar of paprika for the dish she was cooking she discovered the paprika had mysteriously jumped back onto the spice rack. (Holy Jumping Paprika!)

Here’s the thing: tidying misses the mark because sometimes life is messy. Sometimes it is impossible to tidy up everything and put it all back where it belongs. And sometimes it might have to be OK that there is mess in the world.

I spent the better part of the last three days in a conference with UM pastors from all over Kansas and Nebraska. We were talking and being educated and worshiping and thinking. And one of the things we were thinking about and talking and praying and worshiping about was the current state of the United Methodist Church and its ministry to all people.

Weighing heavily on our hearts and minds was the news that less than a month ago, right before Christmas, the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church demanded the surrender of the credentials of one of our own, Rev. Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania. As you might know, Rev. Schaefer’s “crime” was officiating at the marriage of his gay son.

Rev. Schaefer knew this would be the likely outcome of his action when he officiated at his son’s 2007 wedding. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, 2012 edition, still holds fast to its position that the practice of homosexuality is, “… incompatible with Christian doctrine and teaching.” UM pastors may not officiate at same sex weddings, nor may “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” (in the Discipline’s language) be ordained into ministry in the United Methodist Church.

And so our gathering this week was messy. There were tormented hearts and spirits… some ashamed and angry about the injustice and inhumanity of the church’s position… some staunchly supporting that position and annoyed at its detractors…  and others mourning the presence of the rift that has opened up in our midst.

No amount of “tidying” will make this mess magically disappear.

But I found it reassuring to be reminded in our closing worship that Jesus is the one who seeks out the world’s messes. While others run away from them or seek to tidy them up by sweeping them under the rug, Jesus walks into the middle of messes and embraces them… just as they are. And then Jesus pronounces the healing word of grace.

But to be clear: grace doesn’t make the mess disappear. Grace doesn’t say the mess is OK. Grace says, “This mess is here. This mess is not beyond God’s reach. God can – and WILL – bring beauty out of this mess… in God’s own time and in God’s own way.”

Please pray for our church today. Pray for the prevailing of Grace. Pray also for those obsessive “tidiers” in our midst who can’t stand mess and just want it to go away. But most of all, pray that we each listen first to the voice of God in our daily lives and allow that voice to guide every word we speak and every decision we make.

And please… finish that can of Coke and then toss it into the recycling bin.

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