What we are for isn’t good enough. It just isn’t.
In fact, I’m not even sure that within The United Methodist Church there is consensus about what we are for.
What horrifies me is that I’m not sure United Methodists are capable of coming up with a vision that meets the demands of our own faith. I am afraid we may have lost faith in anything other than ourselves.
When I have experienced the UMC at its broader levels of organization, it has been very discouraging. I am saddened to witness good, sincere, and wonderful people trying so hard to show the rest of the church that God has been at work in our midst. It makes me sad, because I usually feel like most people don’t believe the hype.
When we are most passionate, we are too often talking about what we have done for God, not what God has done for us.
It is not good enough to be in favor of doing nice things, even for God or in the name of God.
We are dying. And it is because we are not certain we believe the world needs Jesus. But if the world doesn’t need Jesus, it surely doesn’t need us.
The world doesn’t need us to do something for it. The need is far more desperate and devastating than that. We are not enough. We never have been enough, even in our glory days. The world needs – people need – a relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Far too often, an agnostic theology is lurking behind our actions. At our worst, our service seems to be motivated by a sort of guilt about our privilege. It becomes a kind of bargaining chip, and a sophisticated one at that! We make peace with our affluence, or at least try to, by doing something for someone else every once in a while.
There is no hope for The United Methodist Church unless what we are for is adequate to the gospel that justifies our existence.
We should stubbornly and persistently be for this very gospel. The good news is that in Jesus of Nazareth the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s grace has been unleashed on a broken and hurting world.
I am almost tempted to say that United Methodists should fast from doing things for God. Instead, we should relearn how to talk about what God has already done for us. We need to start by telling ourselves about Jesus, about what he has already done for us and which we cannot do for ourselves – practicing it until none of us are embarrassed or hesitant to say the name of Jesus. We need to state clearly that we are all desperate for God’s grace, that without it we are utterly and hopelessly lost.
We should be for conversion. We should be unapologetically in favor of calling people to turn away from sin and towards God’s grace, because we are certain that this is the hope that we can offer them. We need to state clearly that we are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. We need to know that we cannot save ourselves.
We need to be for holiness. Not because we are confident in our ability to make ourselves better, but because we believe that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead means that sin and death no longer have the last word and no longer should inhibit our hope for what is possible now by the grace of God.
We need to quit carelessly denying the possibility of complete freedom from sin in this life. Instead, we need to be honest and broken by our complicity with the ways of sin and death. Rather than endorsing sin by thoughtlessly saying “nobody’s perfect”, we need to recognize that sin continues in our lives because we will it to continue. We sin not because we must, but because we choose sin over the freedom that God gives us from sin.
Methodists who are worthy of the name should be unabashedly in favor of Christian perfection. What is at stake is not a vague theological principle. Our hope is at stake. Where is our hope? If it is in ourselves or human capacity, then we would be foolish to preach Christian perfection. But if our hope is in the One who has shattered sin and death’s hold on all who are created in the image of God, then why would we, how could we, tell anyone that God does not want them to experience complete freedom from all that keeps them from abundant life in the triune God?
The message of entire sanctification is not going to be extinguished before Jesus returns. When the MEC persecuted and expelled B. T. Roberts, largely because of his proclamation of Christian perfection, the Holy Spirit raised up a new people. Ultimately, this is God’s message and not our own.
I could be wrong, but I am afraid that United Methodism is where it is because we have not recognized the extent to which we are beggars in need of mercy, and we have not offered a message with sufficient sustenance to a world starving for the fullness of God’s grace.
We probably need to reorganize. We probably need to be more adaptive in leadership. But none of this matters if we don’t really believe the message we are proclaiming. Do we really believe in a risen savior? Do we really believe he is enough for a broken and hurting world? Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit is active, bringing healing and wholeness?
We are dying because what we are for is not enough. Our imagination and energy have drifted away from proclaiming the gospel with passion, energy, and conviction. When we encounter broken people, too often we are unsure if Jesus is enough.
Jesus is more than enough. And the truth is that he is all that we really have to offer. Thanks be to God, in Christ we are offered forgiveness of real sins, and freedom from sin’s pull on our lives. And as long as we are alive, we have the incredible opportunity to share this message of reconciliation and healing with the world.