According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “invincible” means “incapable of being conquered, overcome or subdued.” When I ponder the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as we commemorate his birth this week, this word comes to mind.
His message, his mission, his life’s impact remain invincible. His death over 50 years ago has not silenced his work. In fact, the movement he led has strengthened and continued with each passing year.
This is because of some basic, important qualities of his life that are a lesson for us all. What makes a life invincible? Three things:
1) Prayer – Dr. King was a man of prayer. There is a powerful book titled Thou, Dear God: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits (edited by Lewis V. Baldwin, Beacon Press, 2012). This is a collection of Dr. King’s prayers. According to a review by John Dear in the National Catholic Review (January 15, 2013) these prayers are characterized by a cry for strength to carry on the work of peace and justice. They ask for courage to be non-violent and blessings on the movement for civil rights. But they also petition for healing for oppressors and for the coming of God’s reign of peace.
Dr. King’s work was first and foremost centered in and fueled by the power of prayer. God most certainly answered his prayers on many levels and continues to do so in our day.
2) Singleness of purpose– If one attempts to walk a straight line in an open field, the only way to be successful is to focus one’s eye on a distant marker of some kind, and to walk toward it. Never take your eyes off that goal, or else you will unwittingly wander off-course. And you may only perceive that misdirection when you look back in retrospect.
This is an object lesson for the invincible work of this civil rights leader. He kept focused on the goal of achieving justice for all people. People tried to dissuade him and distract him from that work. Even his own colleagues early on questioned his timing and his methods; but he remained steadfast in his quest.
King sought justice for people of color in this country; but he also spoke out for justice and human rights for all people in all situations of injustice. He famously wrote:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. (“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).
To that end, he fought against poverty, war and discrimination as his single mission. His short life is a testimony to what someone can do when they are disciplined to hold onto a single mission and not be distracted.
3) Willing to die for the cause – Jesus calls believers to deny ourselves, to take up his cross, and follow him. (Matthew 16:24) This is powerful stuff. When one is willing to hold back nothing and give everything, and even to die for a cause, they can become invincible.
The early church’s fire of evangelism, to share the gospel of Christ, was fueled by those who were willing to die for the faith. The early church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Apologeticus,chapter 50). John Wesley wrote, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen. Such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth. (The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley: London 1871).
M. L. King Jr. was willing to die for the cause; and I believe he knew his death was imminent. The night before he died, he preached at a packed church in Memphis, Tenn. “I don’t know what will happen now,” he told them. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
Still today, God is calling women and men to be invincible in this world. The church still has the potential to be God’s change agent for the planet; and each one of us is capable of this brave adventure.
Take a page out of the book of life of this great leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and aim to be invincible for God. Fuel your work with fervent prayer, have a singleness of purpose, and be willing to give your all, even your very life, for the cause of Christ. Then watch God work!
By Clarita Anderman Krall*
In February 2019 the General Conference (GC) of The United Methodist Church (UMC) will gather to conclude unfinished business of the 2016 GC. For over 45 years, since language about the practice of homosexuality was first adopted into The Book of Discipline (BOD), the denomination has, every four years, been repeatedly revisiting and rehashing the BOD’s paragraphs on this topic.
Through all these years, it has been obvious that the denomination has been at odds with itself. In 2016, GC delegates asked the Council of Bishops (COB) to lead the denomination on a “way forward” so that the denomination can continue its unified witness to the love of our Creator for all creation, to the redemption of our shortcomings in the name of our Savior and brother Jesus, and to the continuing revelations promised to us through the Holy Spirit.
The COB formed a Special Commission to consider this over four-decades-old impasse. Thirty-two UMs with differing points of view, both clergy and laity, representing both North Americans and others from around the globe, were invited to become members of the commission.
After meeting nine times over two years, the commission presented three plans to the COB. The COB voted by a nearly 2/3 majority to recommend the plan known as the One Church Plan. Of the three plans, this one maximizes the witness of the UMC in the world, providing for contextualization of differing beliefs and points of view about homosexuality, and keeping the UMC unified to continue its main mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
We are stronger together. Under this plan, there would be no structural changes made within the denomination. (Structural changes, as outlined in the Connectional Conference Plan, would require annual conferences to vote on proposed constitutional changes over the course of the next year.)
As presented, the One Church Plan calls for the removal of language stating that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It would further remove the prohibition against same-gender weddings being conducted on UMC properties or by UM clergy. And it would end our prohibition against ordination and appointment of homosexual clergy for ministry.
However, it would insert language protecting pastors who choose not to participate in same gender weddings and churches that decide to not allow same gender weddings on their premises. The plan would also make provision for each church to covenant with its bishop on whether or not the congregation will accept an LGBTQ pastor.
The One Church Plan acknowledges that, while all UMs are not of one mind on this issue, it is not something that should rise to the level of dividing our beloved church. The construct of this plan recognizes that UMs of good conscience and thoughtful study of Scripture have differing understandings of God’s intent for creation. It concedes that, depending on the cultural context within which churches live, UMs can have different points of view and interpret biblical passages with different insights and meanings.
While continuing with the mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” the One Church Plan would allow UM pastors, where civil law permits, to celebrate civil unions or to conduct same gender wedding services, though it would not force pastors to do so. It would end the trials of clergypersons who, in their ministries to gay and lesbian congregants, perform wedding ceremonies. It would end the trials of clergypersons who are living in marital communion with same-gender spouses.
The UM standard of sexual ethics, which calls for its clergy to be celibate in singleness and faithful in marriage, would be applied to straight and gay clergy equally. (The Traditional Plan, which intensifies current prohibitions, would most probably increase the number of trials.)
As a 21st-century, North American Christian, I believe that God is alive and interactive with the whole of creation through the Holy Spirit. It is important to me to remain prayerfully open to new understandings that God is revealing through the Comforter, the Counselor, the Divine, the Helper, the Friend, the Companion, the HOLY SPIRIT – the one Jesus promised would come once he went away (John 16:7).
There is much we do not know now. We have much yet to learn. I pray that we UMs can remain open to the visions and experiences that God continues to communicate. Even the apostles remained open to God’s leading, through the Holy Spirit, as they engaged in their ministries after Jesus was taken up into heaven.
I remember Peter’s vision regarding the foods he thought he could not eat because of Hebrew food restrictions. Acts 10 is the account of Peter’s new understanding, correcting his thinking and helping him to see God’s law in juxtaposition to the Hebrew law. In the vision, Peter realized that God offers what is needed; and he came to understand that he should never consider “unclean” what God has made pure.
The vision also helped Peter understand that Jesus offered himself not only for the religious, ritual-abiding Jews, but for all, even the gentiles. It is hard for Peter at first, because he was taught it was sinful for him to associate or visit with non-Jews. With his new understanding of his responsibility to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to Cornelius and Cornelius’ relatives and friends, Peter declares that God has taught him to never call a person impure or unclean.
The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, is a way forward for our global UM denomination. Not one of the three plans would be easy. The One Church Plan, however difficult, is the way to keep us together. It is a way for us to recognize that, although we do not all agree on our understandings of sexuality, we remain committed to our main focus of “making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” in the different cultural contexts in which we live within our global church.
*Clarita Anderman Krall, a lay delegate to General Conference, is member of First UMC of Germantown.
By the Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo*
With the 2019 session of General Conference just months away, many United Methodists are seeking information on the various plans and petitions to be considered in St. Louis.
Our bishops and other leaders have expressed support for the so-called “One Church Plan,” which would remove existing language in the Book of Discipline on sexuality and marriage. It would let every annual conference and local church choose their own paths. Supporters say that this is the best way to move us forward in ministry together, and treat fairly all parties and perspectives.
I disagree. Here is why the One Church Plan is a bad idea:
The thoughts above apply only to our North American context. How will our non-U.S. membership react, especially in Africa, when the headlines around the world proclaim the UMC has embraced gay marriage? If the experience of other religious bodies (like the Anglicans/Episcopalians) is any indication, they will not remain long in communion with a church that has embraced what they believe to be sin. And even within the United States, sibling denominations which have moved to a “local option” approach like the One Church Plan have been in membership freefall.
Wherever we stand on the question of marriage, it should be clear that the One Church Plan will not keep us as one church. It is a formula for chaos, conflict, and accelerated decline.
The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo is the lead pastor of First UMC Lancaster and a clergy delegate to General Conference. He serves on the UMC’s Commission on General Conference, which is planning the Feb. 23-26, 2019 special session.
Hello, I’m Bishop Peggy Johnson, of the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
I bid you grace and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I celebrate with you this special time of the year: Advent, Christmas and the New Year: 2019. May your churches and homes be filled with peace.
As we look to the Scriptures, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul taken from II Timothy 1:7 where he writes “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”
There is a lot of trouble happening around this world right now: natural disasters, wars, rumors of war, trouble at our border, with years of immigration concern. There is a lot of fearful talk as well.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear. Fear is never from God. Fear can be summed up as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” That popular acronym reminds us that we should never fear.
God does not give us fear; but God has other, better gifts to share with us. At this time of the year we are doing some Christmas shopping and buying material gifts. However, the gifts of God are spiritual, and those gifts last forever. Here are some of God’s gifts:
The power of God comes from the Holy Spirit that helps us overcome difficult circumstances. The Spirit gives us faith and strength in times of need. Also, the Spirit endows each of us with unique talents for mission and ministry, so that we all have parts to play in building up the Body of Christ.
Perfect love casts out fear. God’s gift of love is Jesus Christ, who was born among us long ago. He was God’s love incarnate, but he also came to die for our salvation. His love was sacrificial, and that kind of love never fails. The love of Jesus is available to all of us.
Self-Control is so important. It is especially critical how you control the way you talk. There is a lot of negative rhetoric and fearful talk going around these days.
I would like to proclaim that the year 2019 be “The Year of Civility,” tempered by the power of God. God can help us control our tongues.
Remember: before you say something, ask yourself, “Is it true?” “Is it necessary?” “Is it kind?” If it doesn’t pass these three tests, then don’t say it. And remember to practice saying positive things about your enemies. Even a broken clock is right two times every day. The same is true of your worst enemy.
Power, Love and Self-Control. These are the gifts of God for the people of God to help us to overcome fear and life’s challenges.
I shall close with a poem by Horatius Bonar (1861)
O love that casts out fear,
O love that casts out sin,
O stay no more without,
But come and dwell within.
True sunlight of the soul,
Surround us as we go.
So shall our way be safe,
Our feet no straying know.
Great love of God, come in!
Thou Spring of everlasting peace,
Thou living water come.
Spring up in us and never cease.
Love of the living God
Of Father and of Son
Love of the Holy Ghost,
Make now our hearts as one.
Home-goings and homecomings. That’s what Thanksgiving is about for many people. Many will travel home or welcome family and friends home this week. The profound gratitude we feel for home and for reuniting with loved ones, are a big part of Thanksgiving’s timely importance to us.
There are many home-leavings, home-goings and homecomings throughout Scripture. And while some homecomings are happy occasions, many are not without challenges. Yet, somehow God seems to bring his people, especially his heroes, back home.
God sent Moses home to Egypt and to his people, after many years spent in exile. Out of a burning bush, God instructed and empowered this man of two worlds to bring his Hebrew people good news of God’s favor and God’s intention to rescue them from brutal bondage. God also sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” That was a powerful homecoming—a good one for the Jewish people; a bad one for their oppressors.
After many years of also hiding in exile, the Lord sent Jacob home to face his brother Esau, whom he had wronged. Jacob feared his brother’s wrath and prepared himself for defensive battle. But that was unnecessary, for Esau was ready to forgive his brother and welcome him home.
“Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives,” God tells Jacob. “I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3) Read More