We stand at a major crossroads and the decisions surrounding our future direction is paramount. Whose side are you on?
Throughout history, the Church and society have often arrived at a place of confluence. The decisions that have been made have either helped or hampered both church and society for decades. We find ourselves on shaky unsettled territory as we try to navigate divergent views in an attempt to find our way forward.
The need for the light of hope and the healing help of the church has never been more pronounced or critical to addressing the requirements of our rapidly changing world. Simply put, the world needs the church now more than ever.
The problem is not that the church is powerless or ineffective, as has been alleged in some circles. The challenge facing The United Methodist Church is our inability to move forward in unity. We seem bent on choosing sides and selecting allies to help us "win" and we do so at the cost of losing a battle that is raging outside the doors and hallways of our stained-glass sanctuaries. Our society and our world are drifting toward destruction, while the church engaged in its own internal squabbles becomes less and less effectual.
The challenge of unity within the church is not new. Jesus prayed for the church's unity before the church was even born. I believe Jesus continues to intercede for His church. I strongly believe that Jesus cries for His church. He weeps over our dysfunction and our inability to stop carving his body into easily identifiable sides. Our failure to achieve unity renders the church powerless, weak and incapable of conquering the demons that plague our needy communities.
The Holy Spirit gave birth to the church and has been given to sustain, nurture, and empower it for mission and ministry. All too often we strategize and scheme in an effort to get God's divine stamp of approval on "our side" while failing to yield all control to the One assigned to oversee, monitor and maintain its vitality. While we are busy choosing sides, darkness is allowed to reign in the world as the church continues in its own private self-sanctified fist fight.
Don't get me wrong, our issues surrounding human sexuality are important and they are vital to the future stability of our denomination. My fear, though, is that we are looking through the pre-enlightened eyes of Joshua and are failing, as he did, to ask the proper question.
"Whose side are you on?" Joshua raised that question as he tried to develop a strategy for conquering the land of promise. He stood at a crossroads and he faced serious challenges and obstacles. While Joshua was working on a way forward, he saw a soldier with a sword drawn (Joshua 5:13-15). Joshua asked the question, "Whose side are you on?"
The heavenly messenger was quick to point out to Joshua that he was not into choosing sides. The sword-drawn warrior was not present as a servant given to the highest bidder or to the best pray-ers. GOD DOES NOT CHOOSE SIDES!
This theophany experience is the exact reminder we need in The United Methodist Church. God is not present to serve either side or the middle. God invites each of us to humility and a point of submission that produces a yielded-ness to God's agenda and not that of our own.
Joshua was encouraged to take off his shoes. I am afraid that as long as we keep insisting that we be allowed to keep our own shoes on, we will continue to demand that God should come over to our side and bless our way of thinking and behaving. Removing our shoes is a way of recognizing that there is indeed another way forward. Moving forward means turning the power and control over to the One to whom all authority belongs. The key to moving forward may be as simple as being willing to surrender and give up the need and desire to be in control.
The question for each of us is, “are we willing to kneel together at the feet of Jesus and surrender our desire to control the outcome?” We must also prayerfully ask Jesus to take charge of His Church and to direct its future as we recommit ourselves to being servants under His authority and command.
As Joshua knelt down he had to lower his own sword. His vulnerability and willingness to yield and submit to a presence greater than his own opened the door for a radical encounter with God. Maybe it is time for each of us to give up our individual swords.
God provided a way forward only after Joshua recognized that the battle did not belong to him, but that he belonged to the one that refuses to take sides. The future unity of our denomination will depend upon our willingness to unite under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He alone is the head of the church and the Captain of our faith. Let us stop trying to make each other, or the Lord, submit and yield to “our side.” Let us all humbly throw down our swords and surrender to the Lord of the Church and ask him to guide us in a way forward.
Bishop Frank J. Beard