Death and Resurrection

          Begin with news story of 200 year old UM church closing.

I remember in seminary being told that some of us would be called into congregations that will be fruitful, and others of us would be called to help congregations die.  That might sound like a harsh statement, but it’s the truth.  Healthy congregations face the truth, walking into the unknown trusting in Christ’s presence.  And in some cases, the sooner death occurs the sooner resurrection will come.

          What does it mean for a congregation to die?  It can be a scary thing!  Traditions that we have grown up with and physical connections to our past come to an end.  We want to hold onto the memories of the past.   We want to feel safe by keeping distance from death.  And sometimes we are guilty of doing that by denying our present state and living in days gone by.  With death comes loss and grief and that is an uncomfortable and vulnerable place to be. 

          When foundations that seem so stable begin to crumble and fall (whether 5 years old or 200 years old), what do we have left to hold onto?  To whom or to what do we give our obedience?  To whom or to what do we proclaim loyalty?  The Apostle Paul addressed the same issues in the first century AD.  “Do you know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16)?”  I remember a pastor once stating, ‘If you want to know where one’s true obedience lays, just look at their checkbook.’  Maybe today we can add, ‘look at the calendar’.

          The UM congregation has come to an end, but it is not the end of the Body of Christ, THE church.  The individuals that made up the congregation in Toledo are all part of the Body of Christ and they will continue.  They will join other congregations, meet new people, and participate in new ministry opportunities that were not available in the old congregation.  While there will be mourning and grieving over what once WAS, life continues into what IS.  Death leads to resurrection.  And resurrection cannot occur without death.  The death of this UM congregation will lead to new life in Christ’s continuing church.

Nothing of this world lasts forever.  Life itself is fragile.  So when our sources of stability (such as faith communities, dreams, jobs, or health, etc.) die, where do we turn?  When our brittle plans and loyalties suddenly crack and break by the unpredictability of life, what is left?  When we recognize how much trust we have given to sinful and broken people, institutions, and places, where is our allegiance given?

          Zion experienced a sense of her own death three years ago.  The congregation that WAS no longer IS.  But The Church continues.  Each person, whether part of this faith community or that of Sonfire, is THE Church.  No matter the size, the location, the style, or the reason for it’s beginning, the purpose of ALL congregations is to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  We might want to occasionally look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is that what I am doing as a member of the Body of Christ?  Am I a living testimony to Christ’s love and grace?  Do people see Christ in ME?

          In Mark chapter 9, John went to Jesus and complained that there was a man performing miracles in Jesus name and since he wasn’t part of Jesus’ disciples, John attempted to stop him.  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Whoever is not against us is for us.”  It is important that we not be a stumbling block but a source of support for ANYONE that delivers the message of Jesus Christ, including other faith communities.  After all, it is not OUR church, but the Body of Christ.

The only foundation that will never crumble is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We have died with Christ in our baptism and live with him as a new creation.  That is not just a future heavenly event.  That is TODAY!  We have been freed from sin, not by anything we have done, but by the death and resurrection of Christ.  We have a foundation in Christ to give our loyalties and obedience that will never crack or break.

Paul said that our advantage is sanctification and the end is eternal life.   Sanctification is an emphasis on nurturing our relationship, loyalty, and obedience to Jesus Christ.  It means choosing to intentionally seek God’s will instead of our own desires.  It means taking ownership and responsibility for our choices, our hectic schedules, and facing the truth that our priorities are rarely the will of God.  

Jesus loves you, forgives you, and wants you to live in peace.  He doesn’t want you existing in anger, fear, or running from one event to the next while life passes you by (age 5 or 85).  Instead he tells you to die to the loyalties that are guaranteed to crumble at some point in this world, and resurrect into a healthy and adventurous life trusting and obeying Jesus above all else.  Amen.