A family was watching The Greatest Story Ever Told, a film on the life of Christ. One of the children in the family was deeply moved. As Jesus journeyed to Calvary, tears rolled down her cheeks. She sat absolutely silent until Jesus had been taken down from the cross and put into the tomb. Then she suddenly grinned and shouted excitedly, “Now comes the good part!”
Now comes the good part! Indeed it does! The resurrection of our Lord is the basis of our faith. Without it, we would be lost! Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The gospel would be meaningless.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
Forgiveness of sins would be hopeless.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Present life would be joyless.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:18-19).
Godly living would be fruitless.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father (John 14:12).
Future life would be worthless.
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1-2).
Do you understand what is at stake? If there is no resurrection, there is no Gospel; if there is no Gospel, there is no forgiveness of sin; if there is no forgiveness of sin, there is no present joy; if there is no present joy, there is no future hope. Just remember that Christ is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house and then comes the good part!
Crucifixion was often referred to as the “most wretched of deaths.” It was so offensive, that many Romans did not like to even mention it. This form of death was repugnant and only reserved for the lowest classes, slaves, and political criminals. If someone in the family were a convicted criminal and were executed in this way, it would have been a source of shame and embarrassment.
Of all the deaths to die, why was this the way Jesus died: If Jesus died on the battlefield in a blaze of glory, would that not have been a better story to tell? Outsiders often scorned Christians for the scandal of serving one who had been executed on a cross. Yet neither the New Testament writers nor the early church tried to tone down the cross. They could have just said that Jesus died without telling how he died.
What does the fact that Jesus died the lowest, the most wretched of deaths say about him? Jesus poured himself out as a bond servant both in life and in death. He also redefined glory. Glory is found not in heroic tales of marvelous feats, but in the simple and faithful service rendered to others in the name of God. Whether it is washing feet, a cup of cold water, kindness to the outcast, glory is found with the least of these. To be crucified with Christ, to take up your cross, dying with him daily, means identifying with the “least of these” even in the face of severe persecution. It means becoming nobody so that you will be somebody before God. The Kingdom of God is so different than the kingdom of this world. The greatest are the least and the least are the greatest.
Every spring we set our clocks forward one hour to begin daylight savings time. Then in the fall we set our clocks back one hour to resume standard time. Only a few weeks ago we did the springing forward which always means we lose an hour of sleep in the transition.
Which is more difficult for you to adjust to — springing forward or falling back? Some people struggle with the springing forward because the evenings seem so much longer and they are ready to go to bed at the old time. Other people struggle with the falling back because they wake up in the morning at the same time and lay awake for an extra hour. Eventually most everyone adjusts to the time changes.
In our spiritual lives springing forward is always a better course than falling backwards. Spiritually speaking, we are in a constant battle between falling back and springing forward. We struggle with temptations to fall back into our old self-sufficient lifestyles. We choose what we want rather than what God would want. The option to just stand still never works for we invariably lose ground.
We need to make the effort to spring forward into lifestyles that would please God. We need to strive every day to become more like Christ. Like Paul, we need to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead and press on toward the goal of Christlikeness
(Phil. 3:13,14). Let’s not fall back spiritually. Instead let’s spring forward.
With the sign of the cross on our foreheads from our Ash Wednesday service and our little purple sheets of give-ups and take-ups we have moved into the Lenten season. Lent is a season of forty days leading up to Easter. The forty days does not include the Sundays during this time. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The origin of the word Lent is an Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, which means “spring”. Lent is the season in which we prepare ourselves for Easter. In the early days, Lent was a time of fasting and preparation for baptism of converts. Eventually, it became a time of penance. Each year we remind ourselves of our need for repentance and therefore our need to remove ourselves from the temptations of life which separate us from the Will of God. Because each Sunday during Lent is a little Easter, we also celebrate the resurrection of the Lord and our own expectation of resurrection.
We often joke about what we are giving up for Lent, similar to the way we joke about New Year’s resolutions, especially when we don’t follow through with our commitment. It is always good, therefore, to stop and reflect on the meaning of this season. When we receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are being marked outwardly as a Christian, as a follower of the Way. Some will wipe the ashes away when they leave so that others in the community will not see them, so that they will not be embarrassed. This happens each Sunday throughout the year for many as they try to hide or at least subdue their Christian nature for fear of not fitting into the everyday secular world of their friends. The spiritual truth is we have all been marked forever by the Lord. It is a reminder of whose we are. We have been marked by the Lord for a life of surrender to the will of God. We have been marked by the Lord for a life of giving ourselves away, not only to God, but to others. We remind ourselves during Lent that we have been set free from the bondage of the material world so that we can live a life of servitude in the presence of the Lord. I pray that each of you will be looking with anticipation to the season of Lent and the opportunities it gives us to prepare ourselves anew or to repair our hearts for the journey of faith that is the Way of the Lord.
It is a very anxious time as the scheduled 2019 General Conference is now only a few weeks away. Many rank and file United Methodist members are perhaps only now hearing what is at stake while others have had significant discussions for months. Very few congregations will have a unified view on the direction needed and the best outcome. The General Conference taking place February 23-26 has often been called “The Way Forward Conference” since it is being convened at the direction of the 2016 General Conference to help our denomination find a way forward in dealing with the impasse over sexuality. A special task force met for many months, and as a result of their work, three main plans will be presented to the delegates at the 2019 Conference.
Briefly summed up the three plans are as follows:
1. The Traditional Plan or modified traditional plan reaffirms our denominational stance and teachings on marriage and ordination. It would maintain the current status quo position of homosexuality and stress the importance of accountability and consequences for
disregarding the current Book of Discipline statements.
2. The One Church Plan redefines marriage and ordination in our denomination. This plan has been recommended by a slim majority of United Methodist bishops. Basically it would permit annual conferences, local congregations, and ministers to hold different views on homosexuality while removing any requirements or prohibitions from our current denominational stance.
3. The Connectional Conference Plan restructures our denomination based on different understanding of marriage, sexuality and
ordination. This plan would allow for differences based on culture and geography across the whole denomination, but keep everyone under the same spiritual umbrella. This plan is the most complicated and would take a number of years to fully implement so it is really
considered the dark horse of the three plans.
One other major consideration at the 2019 General Conference will be discussion of an exit provision for conferences and churches to leave the denomination if conscience will no longer let them accept whatever position the denomination declares. The truth of the matter is no one has any idea what will happen at this conference. There is a real possibility of a deadlock with nothing being decided. It has been suggested that this may be the worst outcome of all and certainly cause a splintering of the denomination. There is a possibility that either the Traditional/Modified Traditional or the One Church Plan will narrowly be approved. If that happens, don’t think the issue is settled because all the annual conferences with a majority needed for passage will then vote on whatever plan passes out of the general conference. To further muddy up the waters, the regular 2020 General Conference will not be bound by this year’s conference so the whole issue could be revisited and re-voted with a different outcome. I would suggest regardless of what happens this February we will still be looking at two to four years before the dust clears. In light of that, I would suggest three things for us at Aldersgate:
1. Be patient. Let us see how all of this unfolds. The day following the conference the sun will still come up, Jesus will still be Lord and we will be working on carrying out our ministry for the next 150 years. Granted we may have some difficult and painful decisions to make at some point down the road, but for now let us remain calm and focused on being a faithful congregation.
2. Let’s have some discussion. The time for saying nothing is past. We have people on both sides of the sexuality issue, but we can be mature enough to discuss and hear each other. Some opportunities are going to be provided both to listen and share. We will attempt to do any discussion in a spirit of Christian charity whether we agree or disagree.
3. Let’s pray like we have never prayed before. Pray for our delegates from all over the world that they arrive at the 2019 Conference safely and securely (especially the large African delegation who will be making financial sacrifices to come). Pray that the Holy Spirit will quicken hearts and minds to know God’s righteous and holy will for any decisions. Pray for our future as a denomination. I am asking for our congregation to come to the prayer room on Saturday, February 23, at 9:00 a.m. to pray for the 2019 General Conference as it begins.
I will be glad to tell you where I stand on the issues facing our denomination. As long as I have been your minister, I don’t think it is any great secret that I fall into the conservative traditional camp on such matters. I am not unbiased in the direction and position I desire to see accepted by the denomination. I also want to keep our focus on Christ so, that as a church, we continue to be faithful to the saving gospel as the main thing we offer to a broken and lost world around us.