I write this not knowing what, if anything, the called General Conference has decided concerning the future of the United Methodist Church. But whatever has occurred, I think it is important to remind ourselves that our hope rests not in ourselves but in God. It is a good time to recall the words to Charles Wesley’s “And Are We Yet Alive,” the hymn with which Methodists have opened annual conferences going all the way back to the Wesleys. It begins with these verses:
And are we yet alive, and see each others face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
Preserved by power divine to see full salvation here,
again in Jesus’ praise we join, and in his sight appear.
There is in these verses a firm reliance on the power of God, to bring us together once again as well as for each of our hearts to attain full salvation, that is, to be so filled with God’s love that we love both God and neighbor as God has loved us in Jesus Christ.
What troubles we have seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!
The early Methodists were not strangers to conflict or fear. They faced opposition from outside and internal dissension and were no doubt anxious at times for their continued existence and that of their mission.
Yet out of all the Lord has brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
Here is a word of encouragement! Whatever our human limitations, whatever the challenges we face, the Lord is faithful. Just as we are assured of eternal life, so God is also our help in this life. God is with us.
Moreover, because we serve a risen Lord, we can continue to have hope in the midst of challenges much worse than our denomination is now facing. The resurrection of Jesus ensures that, in the end, God’s love will prevail. And in the meantime, as John Wesley reminds us in more than one sermon, “neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate [us] from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (“Salvation by Faith,” II.4, citing Romans 8:38–39).
So what shall we do as we move into the future? Whatever else we face, we do well to heed the advice of Charles Wesley:
Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.