Here’s an interesting couple of verses from Isaiah which I think warrant a closer look. The Prophet says this in chapter 56, verses 6-7 (NRSV-Wesley Study Bible):
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”First, anyone can join themselves to the Lord. But there are conditions-ministry, service, Sabbath rest and holding fast to the covenant. These are the individuals who will be brought to the holy mountain. They will be joyful in the house of prayer. Their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on the altar.
In light of these verses, think about the ministry that Jesus did before he was crucified on the cross. Did he minister? Did he serve others? Did he make time to rest? Did he hold fast to the covenant promise? Yes. What was the last thing that he did in Matthew? He told the Disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Which they did, which is why you and I share in the Christian faith some 2000 years later.
Everyone is welcome to participate in God‘s plan, but there are conditions. This is the reminder that I would like to put forth, especially in light of what happened at General Conference this year. Many view GC as an epic fail. There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, particularly in blog world! Granted, I wasn’t there, I had to watch from the sidelines at home so I wasn’t caught up in the frenzy. Still, I don’t see this as a fail. I see this as a reminder that we are all human, we make mistakes and sometimes we lose our way. God still works in the world today and the result of GC is that God intervened and kept the United Methodist Church from making a huge blunder in its ministry to the world! God has a plan and this was not it! Plain and simple.
Plan UMC was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. I have a feeling that Call to Action and Plan B would have met the same fate. Guaranteed appointments were eliminated, but my understanding is that it is still up in the air, waiting for a ruling from the Judicial Council this fall. It may also be ruled unconstitutional when it is all said and done.
My point about all of this? We were barking up the wrong tree. We focused on systems and procedures and numbers. We focused on inclusion without condition. We focused on our plan, our wants. We wanted change for the wrong reasons. We wanted change that would make us feel better and feel like we were in control and the reality is, the Holy Spirit is not going to be bridled by what we want! We acted more like the folks at the tower of Babel, then we did like the believers present at Pentecost. Some will find that disheartening, but I look at GC as a reminder that we desperately needed. The Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world today and God’s plan will not be swayed!
Look at what God promised the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:11-14
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”God has a plan and it wasn‘t “our plan.” So where do we go from here? How do we get beyond feeling like we are in exile or wandering in the wilderness? We pray, we search, we get back to the basic covenant. We minister to others, we serve others, we make disciples who can go out in to the world and do the same exact thing. Jesus summed up the basic covenant “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s our job, that is the basic plan. It hasn’t changed in 2000 some odd years, regardless of what we may think!
Nothing has changed for a reason, because the things that we were looking to change, are not the things that need changing (at least they were not the number one priority). Our hearts need to change. That is an inward journey that can not be legislated! The other changes will come, if they are necessary. I believe they will become obvious once we find ourselves in line with God’s plan but we‘re not there yet! This is not the end of the world, or the end of the church. There is still work to be done, there is still a mission ahead of us. Instead of lamenting the outcome, let’s focus instead on re-aligning our priorities with God’s priorities. Since God knows His plan, let’s trust in the Lord and learn how to follow his path instead! The reminder may have been painful, but I believe the reminder is just exactly what we needed!