Where are our society’s foul lines? Baseball has foul lines to let us know if a ball is fair or foul. Basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, golf, and pretty much every sport has designated areas of play, and there are always penalties for breaching the boundaries. It saddens me that I can’t remember the last time I blushed. The Supreme Court is making a momentous decision about what’s fair. The people on the streets in Baltimore, both police and demonstrators, are trying to do the same thing. The issue is too simply put, but it’s about what’s right, legit, moral, and just in our individualized society. Is everything okay or can we as a people agree on positive helpful expressions of what’s in the best interest of all?

Tonight we have a Charge Conference, which in United Methodist-speak, is a meeting of elected church leaders who get to discern the proper and God-pleasing course of action on a particular issue. I will be presiding using predetermined boundaries of procedure and decorum. Our order of precedence in discerning what’s in order or not is fourfold: The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the Standing Rules of the Annual Conference, the Rules of Order from the preceding General Conference, and, finally, Robert’s Rules of Order.

The more basic determinant may be simpler than these four: Does what we do and say uphold love of God and neighbor? The basic parliamentary dictum and the premise of most people is that, “the minority must be heard, but the majority must prevail.” The problem with that dictum is that the majority may be wrong and deluded by faulty group-thinking as in the coed raped on a “spring break” beach in front of hundreds of onlookers. The dictum is also destructive if the minority seeks its hearing through violence. Without sounding like a fundamentalist, we need to do what I’ve heard coaches say when their team is struggling: “We need to go back to the fundamentals of the game.”

Can we agree on what is fundamental and basic to humanity’s best self? Can we agree that everyone is special and worthy of civility? We have all been made in God’s image. We carry God’s Moral Image and can do what is right. We are also made in God’s Social Image which reminds us that if God needs to dwell in the community that we call the Trinity, so we need each other, too! Therefore, we need to personally and corporately promote the things that are right, and that support community.

All this being said, I firmly believe that some things are out-of-bounds, past the foul lines, sidelines, and every other boundary. All of us have stepped across the chalk into foul territory. As much as we have been made in God’s image, we have also embraced the darkness of unbridled self-interest that doesn’t care a bit about anyone else. We can laugh at the Mark Sanford’s of our society who go off and say they’re hiking the Appalachian Trail when they’re really in Argentina with their so-called “soul mate.” Give me a break!

But, giving us a break is exactly what God does. Romans 3:26 describes God as both “just and justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.” What that says to me is that though I have sinned and God is just in pronouncing judgment on me, God also makes things right between us through the bridge built by Jesus. This also begs my attention to being nicer to everyone around me. I can’t point my finger at anyone else without three pointing back at me. Someone said, “There’s a court more Supreme than the one in D.C.!” Yes, but God lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust. God’s punishment and grace are upon us all. O Lord, give us divine help in dispensing them out fairly and justly!

So with all the uproar in Baltimore and the deliberations at the Supreme Court I recall the words of author James Michener, “I was born to a woman I never knew, and raised by another who took in orphans. I do not know my background, my lineage, my biological or cultural heritage. But when I meet someone new, I treat them with respect. For after all, they could be my people.” As the psalmist said in Psalm 100:3, we are all God’s people. I pray every day that I’ll act like it – with respect.



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