Jesus, speaking in John 16: 33 (in the King James Version), is trying to give his disciples encouragement to stay the course. This is, of course, during what is called the “Farewell Discourse,” the speech he gave them the night before he was handed over to be tried and sentenced to crucifixion. These words have been resonating in my soul for a while now.
As a United Methodist pastor, I have been worried about my denomination for some time. 2016 was a bellwether year for our Church, when we came to an impasse over the issue of human sexuality that has been dogging us since I was about 4 years old. The Commission on the Way Forward was dreamed up at that time to solve the impasse, and to bring to a special called General Conference, which is happening next month in St. Louis, MO, a plan or several plans to help the church move beyond this troublesome issue.
The commission’s work has been done, plans have been put in place, the Judicial Council has met and evaluated them concerning questions of constitutionality, and now we await the time until the same delegates from 2016 return to consider a solution. Anything can happen. Any plan can be cut on or added to by the process of legislative floor debate and amending. There is even the possibility that nothing will happen, and we go into General Conference 2020 to try it all over. By then it is expected that the membership of the church will be tilted more towards Africa then the US, which will have implications.
Renewal groups, lobbying groups, and even the Council of Bishops have weighed in on their opinions of the plans. Members of local churches are praying and clergy are filling social media with the “what-ifs.”
Anything can happen.
But the words of Jesus ring true right now. If we listen to Jesus, we will find unity, peace, and our orientation to mission. Jesus declares: “I have overcome the world.” This moment in the life of the United Methodist Church is a moment that is beset by the pangs of the cultural upheaval we have been encountering for four decades or more. There are strong feelings around the issues, and I’m not going to delineate those here. But the words of Jesus tell us to “Be of good cheer.”
Another place in scripture tells us “The battle is the Lord’s.” If it truly is the Lord’s battle, we don’t need to fight anybody on any side of this debate. We need to follow God to the future prepared for those who love Him. “Be of good cheer” means to focus on the joy within us, which comes from a vital relationship with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose life and ministry, whose death and resurrection, have opened up the path to new life, a path to a way forward for each of us out of the misery of the sinfulness of our human condition. And, as Paul so aptly wrote in the New Testament, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Those words convict me. But they also free me because Paul indicates that though we have sinned, God has sent Jesus to be the way to fix the sin and brokenness within us and to give us the victory through Jesus that leads to new life in His Holy Name. Therefore, whatever happens in this life, whether it be in the world at large or within this community of faith we call the Church, God wins. And when God wins, we win, regardless of how things might look at any given moment.
As our delegates go to St. Louis, they go with the prayers of people from all kinds of churches, from all kinds of places. They go with a determination to find God’s will for the Church. Whether things go exactly like I think they should go or not, there is hope. Because the Lord of the Church is Jesus Christ. If I follow Jesus, and keep my eyes focused on Him, there will be a future. It may not look anything like anything I’ve seen so far, but there will be a future. And it will give honor and glory to God. That’s where I want to be, in the place where my life and ministry give God honor and glory.
So, be of good cheer. Stay joyful. Serve the Lord with Gladness. However things turn out, there will be time to sort it out. It is God’s battle to fight. It is up to each of us to consider how to be faithful to God after it’s all over. My prayer is that each of us will find that place of faithfulness and continue being a disciple of Jesus Christ with all the vitality that the Holy Spirit can pour into us.
Because the world needs to know that God is a loving God, and that Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue sinners, and that the Holy Spirit is here to comfort, strengthen and guide us in to the future God has for us.