After the sudden turn of events at the beginning of the second week of General Conference, this scripture came to me:
Elijah was on the run. He had just defeated 450 prophets of Baal in a showdown to prove whose God was more powerful, Baal or the God of Israel (1 Kings 18). God had shown up mightily through fire in a way that Elijah had expected and the defeat cost the prophets of Baal their lives. Now King Ahab and Queen Jezebel's troops were after Elijah's.
Elijah was afraid. He fled and ran for 40 days into the wilderness and came to a mountain where he expected God to meet him and show him a way forward. As in the showdown of fire, Elijah had clear expectations as to how God would show up. Perhaps in a mighty way again- like fire, or wind, or earthquake.
But God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire...
Regardless of where in the human sexuality conversation one stood, I know that each person had a set preferred outcome in mind as they approached General Conference. I did. And I'm pretty sure you did, too, whether you were a delegate, an alternate, a volunteer, or one who was watching it from afar. We all had our preferred outcomes. We all had our expectations as to how God would show up and act at General Conference. We all had our winds, fires and earthquakes by which we expected God to surely act - schism, full-inclusion, keeping the original language, deleting the original language, ending trials, strengthening the case for trials... the list goes on.
Yet God did not appear in the "wind" as some people had hoped. Nor did God show up in the "earthquake" or "fire" as others had expected. God was not to be confined to one person's or group's agenda or preferred outcomes.
Instead, God came in the sound of sheer silence. God came in a way that we did not expect God to show up!
Surely, God showed up in the wonderful worship services, the powerful and challenging preaching, and the various moments of celebrating what we have done together as a denomination. If you have time, it is worth going back to the livestream video archives (click here) to watch and re-live those moments.
But God also showed up in completely unexpected ways!
God showed up through an overwhelming plea and call from the General Conference to the Council of Bishops to "please lead us." Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops said this is unprecedented. This was unexpected. Perhaps this was an act of God.
God showed up through the Council of Bishops who, even while acknowledging that they were not of one heart and mind on the issues concerning human sexuality, responded to the plea of the General Conference with a statement and recommendations for a way forward (read here). Again, Bishop Ough said that, to his knowledge, this has never been done before. Surely no one had this in their list of expected outcomes. Perhaps this was an act of God.
God showed up through the youth of the church who, while also acknowledging differences of opinion even among themselves across the connection, called for unity of heart through a statement (read here) that they read to the body. This was not in the program. Perhaps this was an act of God.
God showed up through the General Conference who, on a second attempt after going through a legislative and procedural quagmire, decided to accept the document from the Bishops and act on their recommendations. Totally unexpected! Perhaps this, too, was an act of God.
I know that there are feelings of betrayal, anger and disappointment from various standpoints about General Conference's action or inaction. I know how you feel. Like I said, I too had desired outcomes and was ready to work hard to make them happen. We all had preferred outcomes. Yet God chose to show up in an unexpected way.
I had shared in an earlier blogpost that my prayer as I headed for General Conference was, "Come, Holy Spirit, come!" My prayer was for the Holy Spirit to work and that I would be willing to be led where the Spirit moved or to get out of the way if I was a hindrance. I believe that the Spirit has moved in and through General Conference 2016 albeit in completely unexpected ways. The unexpected outcomes may very well be the answer to my prayer for the Spirit to move and lead. Perhaps it is time for me to get on board with the Spirit and trust in God.
I continue to trust that God is still at work in the United Methodist Church and in each one of us. I firmly believe that God is not done with us yet. I will continue to put my hope in God and be open to how God will show up and lead us forward.
I offer this reflection to you, for whatever it is worth.
Your fellow disciple,