Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A WATER-BUCKET CHURCH                     [Sun, 4-8-18]

When I was growing up, we had a neighbor, Jess Hall, a couple of miles away on gravel roads, who was a part-time preacher as well as a small-plot farmer. My father and I drove our wagon over to his place one day to get some walnuts. He told us this story…

He was the preacher in a small Baptist church in the early part of the century [20th]. Country church buildings then did not have indoor plumbing. Southern Indiana summers were hot, and so the church had a water bucket with a communal dipper—a common thing for families in those days—on a table in the front of the room. Whenever someone got thirsty, they just went up and got a drink and put the dipper back in the bucket. Some folks thought that was unseemly. Not because everyone used the same dipper. No, because it was distracting to have people drinking where all could see them.  They wanted the bucket moved to the rear of the church.

Eventually the congregation split. The back-bucket people went a mile down the road and built a new building so they could have the water bucket where they wanted it. I’m sure they found some obscure verse in the Bible that could be interpreted to say that water buckets should not be up in front, where everybody had to see them.

Today in church, everybody will see us sit with a gay couple, and a lesbian couple--with the children they foster in an emergency--and a mixed-race couple. All people who a few years ago would have been in jail instead of in church.

There are quite a few old people in other churches who would prefer that they still be in jail, for, they say, loving the wrong person is not only a sin but a crime. Well, they usually don’t say it’s a crime, anymore, just a sin. We’ve lost our appetite for lynching or jailing people for loving [perhaps only temporarily], but we’re still willing to ostracize and humiliate and reject them.

I’m talking old people here, not young people. Even conservative social researchers who believe that homosexuality is a sin admit--because their research shows it--that for 2/3 of young people, interracial sex and homosexuality are just not issues.

I’m going to talk about The United Methodist Church now, but even if you are not UM, this is relevant, because we all live in a water bucket society.

The UMC will probably soon divide into two denominations over homosexuality, just as Jess Hall’s congregation did over water buckets, and as Methodists did earlier over slavery.

In 1844 The Methodist Episcopal Church split into two denominations, one denomination—against slavery--retaining that name, the other denomination—pro slavery, claiming the Bible was in favor of slavery—becoming The Methodist Episcopal Church South. [Or “The ME Church South of God” as the old joke goes.]

That’s inconceivable now, but that split lasted for almost one hundred years. In that hundred years, a lot of old people died off. For younger people, slavery was just no longer justifiable. Racism was, but not slavery.

In 1939, the ME and ME South denominations—both now agreeing that slavery was wrong and not biblical--reunited, along with The Methodist Protestant Church, to form The Methodist Church. [1]

My thoughtful friend, The Rev. Bob Morwell, says he has gone to a number of discussion sessions about what the UMC should do about accepting homosexuals into membership and ministry. He says he is usually the youngest person in the room. He is 65. Younger people just aren’t concerned about or interested in it.

In forty years, almost all the folks who think homosexuality is an issue worth fighting over will be dead. In the meantime, we’ll spend all our resources fighting over who’s in and who’s out of what denomination, who gets to own the buildings and the assets, who has to give up pensions to pay the legal bills…. All that instead of doing mission and ministry.

It’s not about the Bible, or theology, or society. It’s about greed and power, about who has the right to exclude others from God’s church, who gets to knock the holes into the hull of the sinking ship. So the dividers are right; the issue is sin. The sin, though, is not about who gets to love. It’s about who gets to hate.

Fifty years from now the UMC and the UMC South of Gay will come back together, because the fighters will all be gone, and we’ll have used up our time and talent over something that is no longer an issue. We’ll divide over the placement of the water bucket, instead of dipping into the communal bucket to provide drink for the thirsty. [Matthew 25:31-46]

May God have mercy on us… or maybe God should just send us to hell right now and avoid the rush.


This afternoon, we’ll go to see “West Side Story,” about people loving the wrong people and the people who get mad about it, and no one will claim anything about the Bible. That issue has all-day staying power, because it’s in the soul, not in the Bible.

1] In 1968 The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church united to form The United Methodist Church. They had always held to the same theology but were divided by language. The Evangelical Church and The Brethren Church had started in Germany and folks in those denominations continued to speak German in worship in the USA until everybody learned English. There were many “foreign” language churches in America, including Swedish Methodist and Norwegian Methodist denominations that were eventually folded into The Methodist Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment