The 2015 Annual Conference opened with the inspirational singing of Centennial UMC (Kansas City) choir. Hymns familiar to both black and white congregations were sung with swing, and hand clapping brought the assembly to their feet. The powerful music was the perfect lead in to equally powerfully preaching by Centennial’s pastor, Rev. David Gilmore.
“I wish somebody’s soul would catch on fire,” said Rev. Gilmore, lifting up the words of the singer that ushered hymn to the pulpit. “I asked if I was supposed to give a talk this morning, or to preach. They said preach, so we’re going to have church.”
Romans 8:28 was his text: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Rev. Gilmore’s question was: ‘Can you handle the all?’ The whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts. In order to fulfill our mission as the United Methodist Church in Missouri, it takes a team, it requires total commitment from every team member.
“A mouth-watering sweet potato pie requires the right ingredients, a hot oven and the expertise of the baker,” he said. “But what happens when one part fails.”
He recounted taking home economics in high school and being very comfortable and competent in changing and feeding a baby and in cooking, or ‘burning’ in the vernacular of the black community. Sewing was another matter. He decided to make a Hawaiian shirt, a popular style at the time. It proved to be a disaster. It was a lesson that even with all the parts, the lack of real skill resulted in a misshapen pajama top.
“When we discover how difficult life can be, we discover we are afraid of the ‘all’,” said Rev. Gilmore. “There will be dark clouds on the horizon and how we handle the ‘all’ is of paramount importance. ALL things work together for God’s purpose. We cannot shy away from any of it.”
People struggle to understand God’s purpose; people are too nosey to be satisfied to not have that clarity. Ephesians says the revelation of God’s Glory to the world is the purpose.
“I do listen to you, Bishop Schnase,” said Rev. Gilmore. “You talked about all the people who have left the church, the people who did not join.
All denominations have seen a loss, except for the church of none. Perhaps it’s because we disciples have missed the boat. We believers are acting unbelievable, acting like we’re so right we’re wrong. Perhaps our actions have made us unworthy of gaining new disciples.”
The “all” of Romans demands everything of us, including “…working together for good for those who love God...” Acceptance of Christ does not mean we will have a perfect walk in the park. The definition of good (God is good) for us doesn’t always mean what God might mean.
“God’s good might mean we have to go through something: a loss of someone we love, letting go of a long held belief. We are about to get real uncomfortable. If we give up a tee time on the golf course to minister to someone, that’s God’s good. If our pain draws us closer to God, that’s God’s good. If our tears can only be dried in the presence of the Almighty, then that’s God’s good. If our being lost reminds us that only God could find us, then that was God’s good.”
He emphasized over and over that people’s pain and suffering is God’s good if it puts us squarely in the presence, dependent on God for wholeness. Sometimes the ‘all’ is hard and unpleasant, but God is always there, and the good is always happening.
“Can we handle the ‘all’? God is good because God sends angels to watch over us, God gives us traveling mercy to be here, God woke us up this morning, ready to go. Can you handle loss and gain? Can you handle hard and easy? Can you handle dissension and peace? Can you handle the ‘all’?’
Gilmore then addressed the first part of the verse, which begins with “We know...” Rev. Gilmore reminded the assembly we don’t think, we don’t debate...we know. “We know God is in control, God is present, God will make us strong in our weakness, God will heal our brokenness. We know that we know that we know! When we know what we know we know we can praise God when times are at their worst. If we just focus on Jesus, we know. There is no thinking about it: we know. Do you know?”
“We know that when we go to the Lord, prayers will be answered,” said Rev. Gilmore. “We have some hard decisions to make, but we know that we know, and God’s purpose will be served. Together, we can handle the ‘all’.”