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.
Wabush, a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada, was completely isolated for many years. Finally a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and only one road leading out. If someone were to travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only way he or she could leave: by turning around.
Each of us, through our wrong choices, arrives in a place called Sin. Once in Sin, we are trapped and doomed (Romans 6:23), unless we find a way out. As in Wabush, there is only one way out: a road built by God himself. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Through His atoning sacrifice, we find the way out of Sin and into a new and living way” out of Sin into the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19-20).
But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about-face is what the Bible calls REPENTANCE, and without it, there’s no way out of town.
Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – (Matthew 7:13-14) There is only One way out of Sin and that is His Way!
The English poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blest.” Hopeless is a horrible feeling. You might say that as Christians, we are never without hope. Christ Jesus is our hope in our every circumstance. But there are times when we feel utterly hopeless. When our hopes and dreams are shattered, never to be fulfilled. When we can’t see beyond our pain to grasp the hope He offers. To believe there will never be a better day on the horizon.
The Apostle Peter wrote these encouraging words to some “suffering saints,” some Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). He describes their hope as a living hope because Jesus rose from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means that sin, suffering, and death do not have the final word. His resurrection guarantees us that we, too, will be raised one day (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-57). That is a promise. It is a promise that provides hope
beyond the grave. It is a living hope because Jesus is alive!
That living hope belongs to those who have embraced the Living Lord through their trusting obedience. Is there any hope? Because of Jesus, the answer is “Yes!”
John Lewis is a chain of up-market department stores operating throughout Great Britain. The chain is known for their heart warming commercials. One of their Christmas themed commercials featured a little boy and his pet penguin named Monty. The little boy does everything with his pet penguin: watches television, plays hide-and-seek, jumps on the trampoline, plays under a makeshift tent in the dining room, and takes a walk in the park. As Christmas approaches, the little boy and Monty are watching an old movie with the boy’s parents. Monty is transfixed on the TV screen as a husband and wife kiss on TV. Later, when the little boy and Monty are sliding down a snow-covered hillside, Monty stops and is mesmerized by the sight of a couple walking arm in arm and gazing into each other’s eyes. And on a bus ride home, the little boy sees Monty gazing out of the window at an elderly couple tenderly embracing on a park bench.
On Christmas morning, the little boy wakes Monty who has been sleeping at the end of his bed. He covers Monty’s eyes as they walk into the room where the Christmas tree stands. The little boy removes his hands and Monty sees that for which he has been longing: a female penguin with which he immediately falls in love. As the little boy’s mother walks into the room, she smiles as she sees her son playing with two stuffed penguins; a brand new one along with one that is weathered and worn because of use, whose name is Monty. The tagline of the commercial says give someone the Christmas they have been dreaming about. Even a little boy understands that we all need to have someone to love and to have that love reciprocated. That someone also needs to be someone with whom we can relate – whether it’s a fellow penguin or a fellow person.
That’s the beauty of the Gospel message: God loves us so much that He came down to us and became “one of us” in the person of Jesus, His Son. “For this reason, He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). God became “one of us” to demonstrate His love for us by identifying with us and then by dying for us so that we might be saved from our sins and receive the GIFT of eternal life (Romans 6:23).