Hope in Christ is not for people who have anywhere better to place their trust. Hope in the United Methodist Church sounds equally risky. It isn't for the proud or the comfortable. Hope is synonymous with faith for a reason: while it moves and changes us now, it may not be vindicated in our lifetime. It is for the weak, the outcast, the sorry, the loser. Only those without means to secure their future have reason to hope in Christ. Hope in Christ isn't the same thing as hope in the Church, but my hope in the Church is how I show my hope in Christ (ya dig?).
This is a continuation of this post.
I think ordination in the United Methodist Church makes sense for two hope-related reasons. First, I have hope in God that the UMC can help bring the Kingdom of God onto this planet. Second, the UMC is the closest place I can "hang my hat" on God's redemption showing up later. I know I know... lofty theological aspirations. But don't worry - that is an inclusive statement, not an exclusive one and I'm not even going to go very deep on it all.
Let's shift gears:
Why do I hope in the United Methodist Church? Why do I go to Camp Sumatanga to be with 4th-6th graders every summer? Why have I given my life to working in a formal religious structure that is obviously tainted with the imperfections of the sinners/saints striving to look like Jesus? Why do I work at a College where people don't always appreciate what I do?
|She's my niece.|
Ordination in the UMC allows me to do that. It gives me an avenue to shake things up and prove that the best things in this world are bigger than the worst things. Why is ordination different than simply being a part of the church? I wasn't wise enough to articulate this in my Ordination interviews and I don't think I've ever said it out loud, but my ordination is a kind of submission to Christ. I gave up any resemblance of self-preservation by putting my life in the hands of the Church.
Several years ago I was facilitating Disciple at a church. We got to a place where we were talking about "The Way" in Acts and how this community gave up everything to be at the mercy of the Christian community. I asked the class, who was willing to do just that? After a few moments of complete silence, one of the other class members said, "you first."
I didn't say it then but I was thinking it... I have. Others have given more than I have even. I have tried to give my life to Christ. I've insured that my future is not one of my own choosing. That will has been broken. But I've gotten a better will in return. True power. Even if it doesn't look like the tools we've been taught to use. There is joy in this! For the record, I plan addressing this joy when I talk about the fruits of ordination. Don't rush me. =P
Sure, I don't always get it right. Occasionally I'll attempt to weasel my will into God's (Jesus wants me above the poverty line!!!). There is still plenty of confessional moments in my ministry. Plenty of places where I admit to God that I haven't loved Jesus with my whole heart, I've failed to be an obedient follower, and I have not heard the cries of the needy. Ordination doesn't mean I've overcome those temptations fully.
Lord knows the temptation is always there to leave (true love always leaves the door open for you to leave, by the way). I can't tell you how many nights I've wondered how happy I could be as a UPS man. God those brown shorts would look great on these legs. But I can't. I'm committed. I'm ordained. I have hope God is going to show up in my commitment.
To say it another way, I have hope in God that the UMC can help bring the Kingdom of God onto this planet. That is not the same thing as saying that, "the UMC is the Kingdom of God on this planet (and that isn't what I mean anyway)." It also isn't the same thing as saying "when the world ends, all the Methodists will experience God's glory (so don't put those words in my mouth)." When I say the UMC can bring the Kingdom of God onto this planet I mean that we are working for personal and social holiness. Working on eradicating oppression, freeing everyone for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ. I mean everyone. My hope is that the UMC can truly respond as Christ to sin and death. The Christian, in modeling Christ, always responds to sin and death with life and love - something I want to help the UMC do. I believe we can do it. I hope we can.
For 21 years of my life I've been a part of this Church. It is far from perfect, but God continues to use ordinary people in ordinary situations with a not so ordinary God to redeem creation. The UMC is the closest place I can "hang my hat" on God's redemption showing up. If that sounds crazy to you, I think you are looking for the wrong kind of savior. How about a little perspective?
The world has always taught that might makes right. Security, prosperity, and pure firepower are the only ways to save the world. Even science has gotten in on the act. Survival of the fittest promotes desireably evolutionary traits. Everything in us (indeed, in creation) screams for self-preservation through the exertion of willpower. And yet...
These are not the tools of our God. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God's crazy response to the ultimate show of force (killing God in Christ) is to continue loving, even through that hell. The world may teach that true power/value lies in how well you can bend others to your will (and let's be honest, that is truthfully why many of us go to Church anyway - to bend God or this country to our will) but Jesus taught that true life lies in how well you can give your will up freely. I want to give up my will freely. I'm going to do it not to save myself, but to save my niece. To save these students at BSC. To save my wife. I must decrease so he may increase (and that is the only true way to save anyone or anything we love).
If you want a church that makes tons of money, has a lot of members, and is "respectable" in the eyes of this world, the UMC is probably not for you or me. I don't have a lot of hope in the UMC surviving looking like it does now (because this look is based on a systematic attempt to look like the government of the United States post WW2). I do have a lot of hope that as it dies in it's current form, resurrection and life will spring forth. God will show up.* I'm hoping that the United Methodist Church can give itself fully to the love of Christ and in so doing give ourselves up to the point of death. That's where real life is. That's where we find something different than everywhere else on this planet. I hope I'm right.
Sure, God shows up in lots of places. But for me, the UMC is often where it happens. I believe the Holy Spirit blows where God wills. There are other churches, other people, and other situations where God does whatever God wants (even in the UMC -ZING!) but if I want to improve the odds of myself getting to where God is, I am inclined to follow the UMC.
I don't know if that means we ditch General Boards, Bishops, Annual Conference Offices, or the Discipline. I do know that their worth in providing fruits for the Kingdom can't be measured in a single lifetime. We aren't even through a full generation yet (hellooooo, the United Methodist Church technically came into existence in 1968 and we are still tugging between liberal and conservative to decide if we will survive a whole century).
As a Pastor, it is my job to give people hope in the redemptive power of Christ. All I'm doing is providing an avenue for the Holy Spirit to light someone up. Some folks need hope that justice will be served (Not the American kind, the Godly kind). Some folks need hope that grace will be served (Holiness/sacrifice, not rituals). Either way, I have my work cut out for me and it's gonna happen in the UMC. I want to leave my niece and everyone else a better world.
There is work for you too. Are you interested?
*- Lest you think I'm being too "negative" or unrealistic, death is a natural part of life and I'm firmly trying to keep my eyes on the new life that comes after it. There are many kinds of death (some more subtle than others) and many kinds of new life as well. I don't have to die now to experience this new life in Christ. Despair would have us focus only on death - but hope helps us see past it. I do think I need to address sin (that will eventually lead to death) to love Christ as I've been loved. And yet, this current generation of the church can't last forever. I won't last forever. I've been blessed to be a blessing. When I pass that blessing on, they must do the same. Why are we so scared of/to death? It is precisely how Jesus plans on retaking this world with new life? What Joseph's brothers intended for evil, God intended for good. I'm not saying death is good - I'm saying God can bring good things out of it. Even if it is a church. If you are more concerned about maintaining the world you knew (whether it is America or the UMC) than discovering new life in Christ, Jesus had a description for those kind of people. White-washed tombs. We are dead anyway. We still have a choice as to whether we want new life to start now or not.