The UMC: To Unite or To Divide

Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, have the same love, be of one mind

~Philippians 2

My Dad used to say that any organization that needs to include the word “united” in its name probably isn’t.

Over the next two or three years our denomination will figure out whether we are able to stay together, or whether we need to find an amicable way to split the church. The issue, of course, is the anti-LGBTQ language that is still in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, decades after it was first inserted.umc-general-conference-2016

It’s not as though everything has remained static.  The gulf dividing conservatives and progressives in the UMC has deepened and widened.  Those of us on the left have chosen a way of ‘Biblical faithfulness’, going about the ministry of the church as though our denominational polity were already as inclusive and just as the love of Jesus. Congregations like ours have decided that all people should be able to marry in our churches, should they so choose.  Our New York Conference has shown its willingness to commission and ordain LGBTQ clergy who are called by God; our bishops have appointed them to congregations where their gifts and graces for ministry are deeply appreciated.  Last year, our friends in the Western Jurisdiction followed the Holy Spirit and elected the UMC’s first out lesbian bishop.

Those on the right have reacted strongly to these actions, banding together into the Wesleyan Covenant Association.  Several conservative churches have been allowed to leave the denomination, taking their property with them.

Somewhere in the middle has emerged a new group, the ‘Uniting Methodist Movement’. This group has urged restraint on both sides, to neither prohibit nor compel discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. They issued this statement:

We urge our communities to affirm the reality that God’s grace can lead all people of any sexual orientation toward greater holiness. We call all of us to uphold our covenantal bonds with each other as we practice the difficult work of mutual love of neighbor. We urge all of us to uphold Christian marriage as a covenant between two faithful people in a relationship of self-giving love. We urge all our actions to reflect the love that Christ has shown us, and we encourage all to assume the best intentions in others – to understand that we are all striving towards perfection, even in our disagreements.

As the UM Queer Clergy Caucus points out, though, this effort at preserving unity at the cost of allowing (but not requiring) discrimination will lead to a divided United Methodist Church. How is that unity?

Meanwhile, a ‘Commission On the Way Forward’ is expected to report its recommendations to the Council of Bishops in the coming year.  I find it hard to imagine they will find a way out of our predicament. But we live in hope.

I pledge to keep you informed of twists and turns along the way.  It is possible that churches like ours will face a difficult and complex choice: to stay within a conflicted denomination, or somehow to join with others in the progressive Methodist movement in forming a church that testifies to the inclusive love of Jesus Christ.

K Karpen

One Hundred Fifty-Three

Preached By K Karpen  April 10, 2013     John 21:1-14

Listen to the recording:

“Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn.” John 21:11

This is my favorite story in the Bible. In case you’ve ever sat there wondering, Hmmm, what’s K’s favorite story, well, now you know.

There’s so much to love, starting with the beginning of the story, where Peter, still recovering from the horrific loss of his friend and teacher, still not sure what this resurrection thing means in his life, tells his friends, “I’m going fishing.” Basically, ‘I’m rewinding things, I’m baffled by everything I don’t know and I’m going back to something I do know.’ Fish. Continue reading

On the Road Again

On the road again, when Jesus comes he’s on the road again
Don’t you know he’s quoting scriptures to his friends
How I wish I was on the road with them

Listen the recording…the next best thing to being there!

I’m glad to see you today! I’m glad to see anybody today.  I feel bad for the couple of hundred folks who were here last Sunday but couldn’t make it today because, for me, this story, the story of the encounter on the Emmaus Road, is the story of Easter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the story of the empty tomb.  But the empty tomb is – empty.  As the two shimmering men tell the women, “There’s nothing to see here.”

Easter for me doesn’t come from an empty tomb.  It comes from a risen Christ. And we don’t find the risen Christ in an empty tomb.  We find the risen Christ on the road. And we find the risen where we live. And we find the risen Christ in the breaking of bread.  Or maybe he finds us.

This Easter story starts Easter evening with a discouraging walk.  It’s getting late and this couple is ready to pack it in.  These two, possibly husband and wife, or two people who live together in any case, are heading for home.   And they’re not happy.  They are leaving Jerusalem. But they’ll be back.  Because sometimes you need to strike off in one direction to find in order to go where you need to go.

Of course they don’t see that at the time.

The other day the #1 train wasn’t stopping at 86th Street.  And of course it was rush hour.  And of course there were tons of frustrated people waiting on the platform for a train that wasn’t coming.

Fortunately a handy announcement came on, pointing out that the #1 was running fine uptown.  That didn’t make anyone happy, exactly, but at least folks could head up to 96th and catch the express downtown.

The Cleopas and his partner are having a similar kind of day, but worse.

I don’t know why they don’t just stay in Jerusalem.  Maybe they’re afraid, it’s not a good time to be a Jesus follower in Jerusalem.  Maybe they’re just weary and disappointed and discouraged.  But as the day wears on they head for Emmaus.

Nobody can agree on exactly where Emmaus was, most likely it was about 7 miles west of Jerusalem, and I can picture the two of them setting off with the sun in their eyes, casting long shadows behind them, the earth darkening around them.  They can’t see much of anything, including a future that makes any sense.  And the last thing they expect to find is a risen Jesus.

But they encounter the risen Jesus, and they find him in three places: first they encounter him on the road again, walking the dusty grimy roads they shared when he was teaching them, chiding them, prodding them.  The roads he walked to heal people and help people and feed people.  Second, they encounter him as they invite him into their homes and into their lives.  And third, they encounter him in the breaking of the bread.

I point these three ways out to you because, in my experience, those are the ways we also encounter Christ in our lives.  Or can.

First, he’s on the road.  Cleopas and his partner are walking  along and they are met by a stranger. And this stranger seems lost, and this stranger seems completely out of it.  They can’t believe how out of it he seems.

This strange, out of it stranger asks them what they’re talking about. And they start to tell him about Jesus, their hopes for him, the way he was mistreated and abused and killed.  They’re open to this stranger, even though they don’t know who he is.

There’s a strange thing about the word for stranger in Greek, xenos, like our word xenophobia, fear of strangers.  That’s a word we’re had to hear and to use too often in the past year, as our presidential campaign has heated up.  But xenos can also mean guest.  That makes sense if you understand the hospitality codes of the eastern Mediterranean and the ancient Near East.  A stranger can easily become your guest.  But the word xenos can also mean host.  And in this case, as we’ll see, this stranger they meet on the road will end up first as their guest, and finally as their host.


Second, they encounter Jesus in their lives. The night is coming on, and so Cleopas and his partner invite this stranger to come home with them, they invite him into their lives.  Why do they do that?  Well, like I said, it’s what you did in that time and place.  Their new companion is not a stranger, not anymore.  And a companion is, literally, someone you share bread with.

Which brings us to the third way they encounter Jesus, in the breaking of the bread. And that’s the way they finally figure out that he’s who he is.

I wonder about that.  Is there something about the way he handles that loaf of bread that makes them see what they didn’t see before?  Had this couple been present at the Last Supper, playing guests to his host?


And their hearts start to burn and they start to say, “You were always on my mind, you were always on my mind.”  And he’s gone.  He’s gone.  But he stays with them.  They’re on fire!  No heart strangely warmed for them, their hearts are burning with passion for this one who means everything to them. This one who has been revealed to them in an apocalyptic burst of insight. And, reveling in this revelation, late as it is, dark as it is, dangerous as it undoubtedly is, they go rushing back to Jerusalem with news to share.  Good news to share.  And they find other people just as anxious to share their good news.

Okay, good for Cleopas and Ms. Cleopas or Mr. Cleopas.

What’s it mean for me? What’s it mean for you?  Why should we care?

Here’s the thing.  The Christ who was there for them is here for us.  You’ll see him on the street, looking lost, looking out of it.  You may not recognize him or her as Jesus, but guess what.

You’ll see him in your life, if you make space for him to be there with you. Not if you don’t, if there’s too much going on already for him to be invited to be part of it.

And you’ll see him here, in the breaking of this bread, as we remember him, as we put him back together and take him in.  That’s why we do this.

Do this, and remember me.

Where are you going to meet Christ?

What are you going to do to remember Jesus.

On the road again, when Jesus comes he’s on the road again

Don’t you know he’s quoting scriptures to his friends

How I wish I was on the road with them

“What Were They Waiting For?”

The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  Luke 3:2

At this moment I can’t think of many sentences more profound than that.  At this particular historical moment of time, this one verse of scripture pops out at me and demands some attention.  To tell you why, we need to take a quick look at John’s particular historical moment of time.

Preached February 1, 2015  at St Paul and St Andrew UMC, NYC by K Karpen

Continue reading

Who Ya Gonna Call?

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, & saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, & believe the good news.’  As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Mark 1:14-20

Who You Gonna Call

February 1, 2015  at St Paul and St Andrew UMC, NYC by K Karpen

Our organ repair guy came by the other day to give us some ideas about further fixing up our 120 year old pipe organ. I hadn’t seen him since early December, and when I said hi, he said,   How have you all been?  Did you manage to get the baby out of the womb?”

At first, I thought he had the wrong guy. Continue reading