The gospel lesson from the lectionary this week is ominous, given that votes to disaffiliate begin this week among us. In Luke 12:13-21, we read where someone wants Jesus to go tell his brother to divide the family inheritance between them. Jesus refuses and makes it clear that this is not kingdom work. Jesus then takes the opportunity to tell a parable where successful persons focus on building bigger and bigger barns for themselves, with no thought of others, and in the process risk their own souls.
The analogy does not work exactly because those seeking disaffiliation are not talking about dividing the inheritance in a fair way but rather want to take it all. As one pastor has said, and I paraphrase, “This is a huge deal.” For only (x dollars) we can “own the whole block and control our own destiny.”
It is easy to see why one who has this desire would think this is a good deal. On the other hand, this is not a good deal for those who believe that faithfulness is about something more than controlling our own destiny. This is not a good deal for those who honor our connectional covenant together and believe that congregations hold property in trust for the larger church. These congregations would not have beloved pastors without the commitment of the larger church to confirm callings, provide training, and develop systems for appointment, support, and shared mission. These congregations are who they are because of a shared commitment to the apostolic faith that has been passed down through many faithful souls.
It is not a good deal for those who believe that the Holy Spirit is at work among us, keeping us aligned in God’s love as a whole, even as some stand on the prophetic edges that make others uncomfortable. That is a constant dynamic in the church. To use isolated examples of a few who stand at the edges as a reason for schism only works if it is believed that the new church will never have people inspired by new thoughts and new insights for how to invite all into lives of faithfulness and love. It works only if the Holy Spirit will no longer be in this work at the edges, even as the Holy Spirit also works among those who feel called to hold fast to views found on the inside.
Perhaps we cannot read too much into it, but it is interesting that this scripture from the lectionary popped up for this week. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will use this – as the Holy Spirit does and often through the scriptures– to transform hearts. Perhaps the better way through this tension is to figure out how to share the inheritance that we have all been given and to do so in a way where all are honored. That would be kingdom work!