Maintaining faith, courage and energy in the face of these challenging times can be a bit daunting. However, daunting times are nothing new to the Christian faith. As we travel through this season of Lent, we are reminded of the many challenges Jesus faced, mostly from his own religious community.
Read some of the challenging moments Jesus faced:
- Luke 20:1 – The religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority.
- Luke 20:19 – The leaders plotted against Jesus as he spoke about taxes and government issues.
- Luke 21:20 – Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple, they plotted against him again.
- Luke 22:24 – The Disciples argued about greatness and position. Jesus advised that they do not know what they are asking.
- Luke 22:39 – Jesus prayed drops of blood, they brought swords and clubs.
- Luke 23:3 – Pilate asked, “Are you a king?” Jesus responded, “So you say.”
- Luke 23:18 – They shouted, “Crucify him!”
- Luke 23:34 - Jesus cried, “Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they are doing.”
- Luke 23:46 – The sun stopped shining and Jesus cried out, “Father, into Your hand I place my spirit.”
- We know this journey of Jesus during Lent. If we read the scriptures without religious rose-colored glasses, we would find that Jesus was challenged on almost every front by a host of people, even his closest friends. No matter what Jesus said, somebody took issue.
Today it seems as if we are reliving Biblical times. No matter what one might say or not say, somebody takes issue. Within a single day in my office, I received an email from one person who essentially said, “The United Methodist Church is wishy-washy because it does not take enough strong stands on social issues.”
Later, I received an email from someone else basically stating how dare I take a stand and demanded that I should immediately withdraw my statement on a social issue for which this person and I did not agree.
We seem to be living in a time when we dehumanize people when they don’t agree with us. As one of my episcopal colleagues recently lamented to me, “We seem to be living in a “tooth for tooth, eye for eye” culture; a ‘vengeance is mine’ culture.”
I grew up in The United Methodist Church. One lesson I learned and always cherish is that we don’t have to agree with each other to love each other. We are not a confessional church where our leaders speak, and all must agree. Our own Book of Discipline (paragraph 103) says “such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ.” Wesley’s familiar dictum was, “Never dream of forcing men into the ways of God. Think yourself and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion.”
Jesus faced plots, denial, untruths, conspiracy theories, lies, betrayal and hatred. Yet, Jesus stayed true to his purpose. He was told to stay out of politics and tried as a Roman traitor and crucified with criminals. Jesus stayed the course. No matter what was said or what action taken against him, he loved. He stood at the hilltop of the Mount Olivet and cried for the city.
He hung on the cross and cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” The way of the cross does not create consensus. How successful do we suppose Jesus was thought to be the day he died on the cross?
No doubt, America is in a more difficult place today than any other time in my life. The church also is in a more difficult place and this last year has been a more different year than any I have had as a bishop. None of us know where all this is going or how our church will look when we emerge from the pandemic.
However, this is our season. We don’t get to choose our seasons. We do get to decide how we face our seasons. On my wall is a wooden plaque that displays the following Jen Lemen quote, “Today is a new day! You can start fresh, wipe the slate clean and begin again, embrace kindness, practice compassion, stand up for justice, talk to strangers, ask for help, listen with your whole heart, offer hope, work for the common good, love well, be the change you wish to see in the world.”
May I invite us all to encourage each other with grace? I invite us to reread Paul’s letter in Roman 8:31-39.
Bishop Farr, Missouri Conference
of The United Methodist Church