Seeing With New Eyes
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
First United Methodist Church, June 17, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
It's easy to get caught up in thinking that there isn't anything too big for science, technology and innovation to solve.
Living in the United States my entire life, surrounded by progress, being raised in an entrepreneurial household (my dad started 3 businesses in my growing up years), and growing up being told that if you work hard for it you'll get it/you'll succeed—I always felt safe, comfortable and secure in thinking about the future.
The absolute of that foundation began to crumble with 9/11 when terrorists managed to kill thousands on US soil on one awful day. The foundation deteriorated further after Hurricane Katrina when thousands of US citizens were beyond the reach of all our resources in the superdome of New Orleans for so many days. I never imagined that something like that could happen within our boundaries to our own citizens.
Some rethinking was necessary. For us individually, and as a nation.
Over the past decade or more, parents have been rethinking the routine immunization of infants and children because of the fear they might somehow contribute to autism. Now, as a result of that decision, there are communicable diseases that we once thought were eradicated that no longer are.
Both parents and medicine need to do some rethinking.
There are so many things we take for granted. That's the way we've always done it. It's our routine and we're okay with it, we're comfortable with it. It's been good enough for me during my lifetime, then it should be good enough for others today. And then, something happens—or doesn't happen—and what we thought worked, doesn't work anymore. We need to do some rethinking. We need to see with new eyes. Consider a new way. Or we'll be ineffective…we won't be able to meet our goals…to do what we set out to do.
The church isn't exempt from that reality, There was a time when people came to church because that's just what you did. You didn't question that necessity. But today, participation in the life of the church is just one option among many. For some, it's a totally unfamiliar option, for others, it's an option that has more to do with history and tradition than it does with their real life. While for others of us, church and faith is life itself.
Three things have happened over the last week and a half that have brought the re-envisioning of the church/seeing the church with new eyes home for me. At Annual Conference last week, a list of 18 UM churches were named as closing at the end of this Conference year, effective June 30. One of those churches is Forest Park in Fort Wayne, which is where Scott was baptized, confirmed, and recommended for ministry. His mom continues to be picked up by them at the nursing home where she lives, so she can worship with her friends every Sunday. It's the first church where I professed my faith in Jesus Christ and became a member. Hearing that it was closing "caught" me, even though I knew changes were taking place.
You see, the church where my 93 year old mother in law still holds membership in the young married class only has a handful of worshippers every Sunday. It was the 3rd largest church in our conference back in the 60's, but a lot has changed since then. Another UM church was built on that side of town, and some leaders left to go there… People moved to the burbs and began attending churches closer to home. There was a fire and they replaced their pipe organ some years back, and did some remodeling. The place is beautiful, both inside and out…but beautiful facilities didn't turn things around. Good food didn't do it, either. They still have an annual apple dumpling sale and a few years ago they were hesitant to unlock the door and let Scott and our son and one of his friends in to buy some dumplings, because they didn't know them.
The good thing is that another UM church is taking them on as a third campus. They're going to rename Forest Park "Life House" and 60 members of Huntertown UMC have made a commitment to attend this new congregation for a year to help get them started. I hope the van to the nursing home will continue to run, but I hope as well, that they're able to breathe some new life into the church. Looking at ministry at Forest Park with new eyes will hopefully bring revitalization, so that the church can continue to reach people for Christ, maybe recommend some more folks for ministry.
The day before I went to conference, Les Johnson came over and sat down with me to talk about the Presbyterian Church. He said, as I've heard rumored, that they have about 2 years before they'll no longer be able to continue. He said that someone from our church told someone from their church that we're about 3 years behind them and he asked if that was true. I said, nope. We haven't talked about closing the doors in 5 years. That's not where we are. We'll still be here, and if your folks would like to share in ministry alongside us, let's talk about that. So that's what we'll do. Many of us have been doing that quietly, but with that conversation, I think it's okay for us to be more open…and to certainly be welcoming to our brothers and sisters whose love for their church is as strong as our love for this one. But maybe together we can see with new eyes, to better fulfill our mission of making disciples.
A second conversation happened this past Wednesday. Bob Land and I had lunch together before he moves to McGrawsville in a couple of weeks. If you don't know Bob, he's the pastor at Trinity UMC, and he moved into town the same time I did, and is heading to another church that has particular needs that the bishop and cabinet feel he is well suited to deal with.
After his move was announced, Bob began talking to individual members of his church about our two Methodist churches in town, 8 blocks apart. Historically, we know how this happened: They were the First Evangelical United Brethren Church and we were the First Methodist Church and then our two denominations merged in 1968. But what about our future? Does it make sense for us to continue to do ministry separately? How might we be better together? How might we see our churches and our ministries with new eyes? Not out of a fear of dying, but out of a desire to be our best. How and what might we do together that increases our impact, our outreach, our disciple-making?
These are important conversations for us to have and an important thing for us to do: to look at our church, our community and our mission with new eyes.
Last week we considered Paul's writing in chapter 4: "Do not lose heart, even though our outer nature is passing away…on the inside we are being renewed day by day." Today we read, "If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation; the old has passed away; see everything has become new!" As we continue our reading, we see that "God has given us this ministry of reconciliation… God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation."
What might that mean in real time here and now? What might that mean in our lives right here and now? What might that mean in our church?
It's like a puzzle with all these big pieces that will come together but we don't have a box with the picture already laid out for us. We're working to put it all together trying to see what God has in mind for us.
Another piece of the puzzle that impacts us and that is important for us to be praying for, I told you about a few weeks ago…about the special called conference that is coming up in Saint Louis in February next year.
The Commission on a Way Forward was created after the 2016 General Conference of our church to explore options of how our United Methodist Church can maintain unity in the midst of differing opinions on the inclusion of persons with different sexual orientations in the life and ministry of the our United Methodist Church. In 9 meetings over 18 months, 3 options were considered and explored, including the One Church Plan, which has been supported by our Council of Bishops. After the Council of Bishops met with the Commission in May, that recommendation is being revised and perfected and will be released in July, then brought to the special called Conference in February (this is my best understanding). Our delegates will respond, they'll vote, and we'll see what happens from there.
In the meantime, there is a lot of turmoil in the hearts and minds of faithful people. There are churches and individuals, including pastors, who say they will separate from the church if the recommendation is different from what they're wanting. There are some who are working toward separation, who believe that going our separate ways is the healthiest thing to do. We've commissioned pastors at this annual conference who aren't sure if there will be a United Methodist church to be ordained into, and pastors approaching retirement who wonder if the church they've served for however many years will be the church from which they will retire.
All of this happening all around, and I read Paul's words: God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. "He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ" (v. 19b-20a).
How might we be ambassadors during these difficult days? When our greater church is in turmoil? How might we be ambassadors of Christ here in this place? We may not be in control of what's happening "out there" but we can make a difference here, in this place, being ambassadors, being reconcilers. How might we envision a new way, a new possibility for our church in this community today, that can have an impact on tomorrow? How might we as brothers and sisters in Christ open our hearts minds and doors to envision our life together in a new way, a better way, a way that brings life and hope and possibility? How might we live out our love for Christ, our love for neighbor, our desire to reach out to others who haven't yet heard the message of Jesus Christ?
I'd like you to join me in a season of prayer and conversation about our church, about our relationship with the Presbyterian Church and with Trinity. No plans have been made already, no strategies mapped out. This is just a beginning conversation: a what do you think about this kind of conversation. Let's pray and see where God leads us. Let's keep our hearts and minds open to see the possibilities God sees. That we might together be a part of the new creation God has envisioned for us here in this place.