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Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4.3-6
Taken from the Kentucky Annual COnference at www.kyumc.org
Coming on the heels of General Conference – the legislative body of the United Methodist Church that meets every four years in acrimony and protest making a public spectacle of our faith (to which I will return shortly) – possibly the most absurd scenario I have ever heard was shared with me. Several churches joined together in ministry to non-Christians and nominally Christian folks outside any church congregation. On the face of it, this seems to be a wonderful ministry with great potential, but as it turns out, the participating churches agreed not to proselytize the people with whom they are engaged. In other words, rather than have an individual choose to be Catholic instead of Baptist or Lutheran instead of Methodist, the churches agreed simply to assist the people rather than compete with one another for new members. Seriously?
On any given Sunday, less than twenty percent of the American population goes to church. The world in which we live is full of darkness and despair. Materialism, lust, meaninglessness, and fear pervade our entire society, and the one, true hope for this generation appears to be the Christians’ best-kept secret, which lends itself to the question: what is the hope to which we have been called? Is our hope in our denomination? Is our hope in the local church with which we are affiliated? What is the one hope to which we are called?
Our God is the one, true God – the Father of all, Creator of all that is, seen and unseen; His glory fills the earth and everything in it; His breath gives life to every human being. He is the Answer to the longing of every human heart, and His boundless love relentlessly pursues each individual. All that we can ever want or need is summed up in Him. Indeed, He offers more than we can even begin to imagine. In our broken and dying world, our Father’s salvation through His Son Jesus Christ stands as the sole and final hope for our world. To ensure His continued presence and to fulfill the promise of abundant life, He poured out His Spirit into our world – an event we celebrated and prayerfully received anew last Sunday. All of this is given to us without cost, and as His children, we – you and I – hold the keys to His Kingdom.
When Paul penned the words above, there were no denominations. The Church itself was a tiny, fledgling body of believers whose faith and Baptism were a matter of life and death. To abandon Roman religion and adopt Christian faith, the Gospel had to be so powerfully life-giving that people were prepared to risk death to live as Christians. What happened? Today, we argue among ourselves, often quite contentiously, and by our bickering, we squabble over the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s banquet. What are we doing? Have we forgotten in Whom we have our hope?
General Conference in the UMC is something akin to a holding joint Republican and Democrat conventions without the benefit of concluding with two individuals to duke it out in the public arena. In twelve days at a cost of an estimated $8.5 million, General Conference accomplished almost nothing more than media coverage of our incessant debate over homosexuality – because that is, of course, the single, most important issue in all of Christianity (tongue in cheek there). I would suggest to you that the single, most important issue in contemporary Christianity is: in what do we hope? What is the hope to which we are called? Those are two different questions: one from the human heart, and one from the heart of God. As Christians, the answer should be the same.
Our trained response is that we hope in Jesus Christ, but our actions belie our words. The reason the churches cannot share the Gospel is because the government does not allow it, but why has Christian ministry come to be a partnership with federal and state government? Moreover, why are churches competing with each other over a few when there are so many who do not know Jesus Christ? General Conference struggled to find the means of maintaining the institution of Methodism in the middle of declining membership and income. This is our hope – that we can steam-line an institution with a hierarchy issuing predominately-irrelevant pronouncements that are largely detached from the faith in the pews?
I realize I am on my soapbox here. I am not an authority on the intricate needs and negotiations of our denomination. But I do know where our one hope lies – in Jesus Christ. He alone is the salvation of the world. For some time the UMC has become more and more tightly bound in the web of hope we place in the world in which we live, surely a disastrous tide that we can only pray will turn. The hope to which we are called is the hope of the Cross and Resurrection, the end of death in its multitudinous daily victories and the beginning of true, authentic life in Jesus Christ – life that is offered to us now through His Holy Spirit in each of our lives.
Where the Spirit is, there is life. If we are in a state of decline, the fault does not lie with God, for He has given us His infinite mercy and grace to share and His inexhaustible love to spread far and wide. That is the hope to which we are called, the hope that the love of God will transform our world anew in each and every generation. Our hope is in what God has done, is doing, and can do, but that hope is not available to use until we cease to hope in our own knowledge and wisdom.
Christians are not united, but we could be if we truly placed all our confidence and trust in the hope to which we are called. One Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one Father of us all, coalesce around this single hope: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. If we cannot let Him be the Lord of all, then we cannot reasonably claim that He is Lord of anything.
Before Christ can save the world, He must save His Church again. He must lift our eyes to teach us afresh what is the true hope to which we are called. He cannot do so unless we want to be saved. May we open our hearts and our minds to the Pentecost hope of new life in the Holy Spirit, starting with you and me.
In Christ –
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