By Rev. Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries
Wow! We really are Better Together! We are not just “any-body,” we are the living body of the risen Christ alive in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is our connectionalism that empowers our work to make disciples of Jesus Christ and bring transformation to the world. Because we are people and churches connected as a denomination, we are able to do so much more than any one of our single congregations could ever hope to do.
On my way to the office one day, I happened to hear a “doomsday prophecy advocate” spouting his hopeless words for our world on a well-known radio talk show. I wasn’t surprised. This kind of fatalistic tripe seems to be permeating all kinds of media these days. Such fatalism encourages us to dwell in a sense of fear and uncertainty. More and more people say they are caught in a web of anxiety while others have sought refuge from fear by withdrawing from interaction with others.
In the church we seem to have become comfortable with the notion that there is little hope for the church which finds itself amid a culture of secularism and individualistic humanism. We look at the downward turn in membership and attendance as signs of the end for us. Vital ministry opportunities are set aside by some congregations as they simply focus upon survival. This is a misguided hope that we can return to the glory days of the 1950s by some magic means or perfect program that would rejuvenate our passion for Christ and the church.
As I visit with church leaders, I personally experience their passion for Christ and the church and hear folks painfully seeking new life for their congregations. I understand the anguish and often have to remind myself that along with the mission of going into the world (or our communities) to make disciples of Jesus Christ, is also the task of transforming the world … of changing what is un-Christ-like into the kingdom as God intended it to be.
We rightly cite Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28:16-20 as our marching orders and are seriously striving to align our work around that mission. We are making significant progress even though we know it will not happen overnight nor without a lot of intentional hard work. Still, we fall captive to a growing frustration about the world situation that seems to be ever present before us and of which we are reminded daily in the 24-hour news cycle.
But wait! Have we forgotten the very last words of Jesus? Those words he speaks after commissioning the disciples as the church and just before he ascends? The disciples certainly knew they had a challenge since Christ’s vision for the world now rested in their hearts, minds, and hands. In the face of the turmoil of their fractured world situation (much like that which we face today) they most assuredly could have simply given up and walked away.
And then Jesus spoke those all important words of promise … the very last words he spoke … “And remember, I am with you always until the end of the age.” That is God’s promise to us as well. The resurrection proclaimed God has won the battle. The clean-up is in our hands and it will not be easy. But we are heirs of that same promise … God is with us. Always. And in the end, God wins. God wins!
Let’s pray for one another that we will never forget our Lord’s promise and refuse to live as those who fear the future, but rather live as those who work continually to do no harm, to do good and most importantly stay in love with God.