“The future of the church/world is in trouble if we don’t…”
I will never forget sitting in the General Conference of the United Methodist Church as our church leaders sang, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” After spending that week watching our church leaders fruitlessly argue and debate I am convinced that if what we sang is true, we are all in serious trouble.
But it’s not true. It is simply a plea that is used to try to motivate the church to movement, but manipulation comes at a cost. The cost is the instillment of fear by means of an overemphasis in our own ability, and therefore an underestimate in the power of Christ.
But what if we were motived, and motivated others, by love instead of fear? It sounds good, BUT sometimes loving what we don’t want to love is scarier for us than living in our fear. Some of us would rather just believe and live as if all the weight is on our shoulders to fix things.
But, if instead, we choose to trust in God’s active role in the world today, especially through the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can begin to discern what should worry us and what we should take off our own shoulders and place in God’s hands.
I want to propose to you that both salvation and sanctification are God’s work. This applies to us as individuals and to Christ’s church as a whole.
Unfortunately, the church is filled with people, myself included, that are impatient and who secretly enjoy convincing other people to think and act like us. We are a people who want to “win” other people.
Partly this is our own desire for self-worth and accomplishment and partly we want to “win” because we deeply fear losing.
I rarely go a week in pastoral ministry without hearing someone share his or her concern for the future of the world and/or the future of the church.
But neither is really in any danger because Christ has already won.
Usually this simple reminder is enough for folks to settle down and confess to their own worry and fear instead of a holy trust in God’s covenant with us, for us.
But what does it look like to respond to the sin and evil in our world without fear?
A good place to look may be in Jesus’ encounter with an adulterous woman. In this encounter, the scribes and Pharisees believed that it was up to them to cleanse their community from what they knew to be sin. So, following the teachings of Moses, they prepared to cleanse the sexual sin of their community.
Jesus comes along and stops the killing from taking place. He leads the scribes and the Pharisees to set down their stones and to walk away, leaving room for him to minister to the woman without fear of death. Jesus tells her that he does not condemn her but that she should go and sin no more.
I suspect it was a holy moment for that woman. Her stoning by the Pharisees could have led many people to avoid sexual sin out of fear of their own execution. Jesus’ act had the potential to open up the heart of the woman and the hearts of the onlookers to listen to God’s sanctifying and salvific call… not from fear of condemnation but from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus chose to instill love over fear.
And this is the story of our own salvation. Christ came and died for us and sent his Holy Spirit to us “while we were yet sinners.” It is not a deeper understanding of our sin that allows us to more clearly hear the voice of God, but God’s love poured into our hearts, God’s grace, that leads us to live and grow into salvation.
Sanctification and Salvation are God’s work.
But God has a role for us. Just as Christ sent out his first disciples the church is still sent out today to help open up spaces for the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. Methodists call these spaces “means of Grace.”
In Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman, our role is not the role of Christ. We are not called to sanctify and to save. Our place in the story is in the role of the religious who knew when to walk away and to lay down their stones. We are to be those who listen to the voice of Christ leading us to practice grace and love instead of condemnation and division. What if we give Jesus more room to work?
It is not our job to save the church or the world. It is our job to proclaim and share the grace and love that Jesus poured out on each one of us, and to trust that God still works to transform our church, our world, and the life of even the worst sinner – even me.
I am convinced that Jesus always loves people more than he hates their/our sin, BUT he also shows us that those aren’t mutually exclusive. Jesus freely loves people, freely forgives people, freely offers grace to people, and it is that sort of love that opens up hearts, and therefore lives, to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Somehow we have come to believe that love and grace are not enough; that we must always point out and define a person’s sins in order for a person to be changed. This may be true IF it weren’t for the very real, transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.
The question is this: Do we trust God’s work in the world enough to be an example of God’s transforming grace, even if it means simply setting down our stones and walking away?