Our biannual national Mennonite Church USA convention begins on Tuesday, and there are two resolutions coming before the delegates that highlight disagreements about how our denomination should include LGBTQ people. The resolutions are fairly new, but the disagreements themselves are not.
Many Mennonites, myself included, have spent a lot of time hashing out the details of the biblical and theological basis of our beliefs about inclusion. We have quoted scripture and examined the Greek terms and expounded upon our theologies of creation, family, sexuality, and church. I’m pretty sure a 7-mile walk wouldn’t give me enough time to say all I have to say on the subject.
But if Luke were writing up this story he’d be like: “And beginning with Genesis and the Prophets and focusing on the life of Christ and the witness of the early church, Joanna explained to them what was said in scripture concerning full inclusion of all people.”
I don’t mean to imply I’m like Jesus. I mean to imply that the details of the biblical interpretation and theology are not that important. Which is hard for me to hear, let alone say. Because biblical theology is what I do. Writing about it is what I’m good at. And that’s fine. But it just doesn’t matter that much.
If even Jesus’ theology gets squeezed down to a single sentence, I certainly can’t expect mine to merit any more consideration in the grand scheme of things.
Leading up to the Kansas City Convention, there has been a whole lot of attention paid to Bible study and theological discernment and discussion. But what we really need to do is be present together and walk with each other. And I know that is not as easy as it sounds. And I know my heart is just as resistant to being with some people as theirs is resistant to being with me. Frankly, I’m more comfortable expounding the scriptures than walking beside people with whom I disagree.
But Luke’s narrative suggests that, in the end, the walking together is more significant than the details of the dialog. It is the journey that interests Luke.
And at the end of this journey the two travelers reach their destination and invite the stranger to stay with them. They sit down together for a meal—and that is when they finally recognize Jesus.
That is what it’s all about, right? It’s about helping each other recognize Jesus. And about recognizing Jesus in each other.
My deep prayer for convention is that we will all recognize Jesus’ presence—within us and among us.
- When the delegates talk together at their tables—their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When youth and adults join in worship–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When people sit with strangers during meal time–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When Pink Mennos gather to sing hyms–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
We desperately want, to recognize Jesus’ presence among us. And sometimes we do. And that is a deep grace.
But friends, the journey is long. Seven miles, on foot, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Thirty-Nine miles from Lawrence to Kansas City. Thirteen years since General Conference and Mennonite Church merged to form MC USA. Thirty years that Brethren Mennonite Council has been encouraging Mennonite churches toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people.
The journey is long.
It’s easy for us to read this story and think how silly Cleopas and his companion were to not recognize Jesus as they walked along the road. Weren’t their hearts burning? How did they miss that? They should have known. Those silly disciples.
Really though, we are the silly ones–to talk about when they should have known. They know when they know. They know when God finally opens their eyes. They know Jesus’ presence when divine grace allows them to know it.
The knowing is out of their control. The revelation is up to God.
What Cleopas and his companion should have done is exactly what they did: welcome the stranger to journey with them; share their story; listen to his story; walk and walk and walk together for however long it takes; sit down together at the table.
The travelers did exactly what they should have done. And then God did exactly what God does: opens our eyes to the presence of Jesus in our midst.
May it be so.
[This post is excerpted from the sermon I preached last Sunday.]