Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting upon several things. From General Conference to Bible study to the Resurrection, I have been asking myself the question, “Is it worth my life?”
Without exception, every congregation I visit, whether to worship or to introduce a new pastor, there is a question and conversation about the action of the February General Conference.
I hear statements like the following:
- Our church is open to all people, do we have to have a pastor that supports the Traditional Plan?
- Because that pastor supported the One Church Plan my family will be leaving the church.
- Our congregation has voted to leave the United Methodist Church because the leadership doesn’t believe in the authority of the Scripture.
- You get the point.
I have been accused of being “focused to a fault” upon our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I found myself reflecting on the actions of the General Conference, the rulings of the Judicial Council, and the unlimited commentaries (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
Personally, because I have found it all to be a huge distraction, I have been asking myself the question, “Is this worth my life?”
Reading, Reflecting, Responding
The Monday after Easter, the West Ohio Conference began a study of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. As I look at the context of this letter, written primarily to a Gentile church, a group of outsiders, I have taken the truth of the text and applied it to my everyday life.
I have experienced the tension between law and grace, the misunderstanding of grace, a challenge to examine the foundations of my faith, and an invitation to deepen my relationships with you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
As I have opened myself to a daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Paul’s discussion and how the truth of the letter can be applied to my life, I have been asking myself, “Will this study really make a difference in the life and ministry of the people called Methodists in the West Ohio Conference?” “Is this worth my time and effort?” And I wondered again, “Is it worth my life?”
Now, I must confess, I have asked myself that question many times over the years. Every Easter, as I reflect upon the events of the day, I ask myself “is the resurrection worth my life?”
Returning to the Question
Over the 45 years of my ministry, as I have observed that church people like the idea of “God, Christ, and the church” but seem to be afraid to trust that if Christ really was God they would be perceived as being simple-minded, shallow, foolish, or “old fashioned.” It seems that to believe in Jesus is just not sophisticated enough to gain their loyalty.
If I take that thought one step further, I believe I can safely say that one of the reasons that most self-identifying Christians stay home on Sunday mornings is because, deep down inside, they really don’t believe that “if you have seen Jesus you have seen God.” Because there is no real foundation of faith or depth of relationship, there is no motivation to go to a place that is grounded in that very specific conviction. So the question becomes, “Is this worth my life?”
As I have reflected upon this, one of my favorite scriptures comes to mind. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “…the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:25)
John Updike, in “A Month of Sundays,” tells the story of Clint Tidwell. Tidwell is the pastor of a church in a small Southern town. One of the members of his congregation is the 80-year-old owner and editor of the local newspaper. The old journalist believes Tidwell to be one of the finest preachers around and wants everyone to know of Tidwell’s wisdom. So, he publishes a summary of Tidwell’s Sunday sermon every Monday morning in the paper. Although the journalist means well, Tidwell is often amazed and embarrassed by the difference of what is reported he said and what he actually said.
Tidwell’s deepest amazement and embarrassment came one Monday morning after Easter. He was startled to read the words of the headline, “Tidwell Claims Jesus Christ Rose from The Dead.” A red flush crept up Tidwell’s neck. He thought to himself, “Of course I claimed that Christ rose from the dead, but was that headline news? What would the neighbors think?” He thought to himself, “I said what I was supposed to say on Easter. Christ rose from the dead.” But suddenly, as he looked at the headline, what had been a routine Easter sermon had Tidwell feeling rather foolish.
Claiming a New Life in Christ
As I think about it, many of us feel foolish because we have not claimed our new life in Christ. We continue to live on the Saturday side of Easter. Because the resurrection is so incredible, we have not decided whether it is worth our lives or not.
Kirk Bryon Jones, author of the Jazz of Preaching, wrote, “We don’t do different well. In social relations, all too often we interpret different as deficient…But the resurrection means constantly challenging our fear of the unknown, and even more…challenging our fear ‘of the loss of the known.’ The resurrection means learning to relax in the experience of new life.”
Any reflection I do upon the resurrection brings me to the discovery that the attention of the early church was focused on the transforming power of the risen Christ. Those early followers of Jesus saw themselves as evidence of the power of the Resurrection. Their lives had changed.
Dare We Believe It
Mary met Jesus as a gardener. She is the forerunner of all Easter faith. Mary believed and passed along the legacy of Christ. She prompted folks, like John and Peter, like Tidwell, and like you and me, to say what we believe: “I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell…and on the third day…”
Dare we believe it? Dare we put everything on it? Is it worth our lives?
I have been thinking about it and reflecting upon it. As foolish as it might seem, I have come to this conclusion again: It is worth every breath!
How about you?