16. Overcoming and enduring

by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor

St. Paul’s UMC Houston stained glass window (photo by Kelsey Johnson)

St. Paul’s UMC Houston stained glass window (photo by Kelsey Johnson)

As Paul concludes his letter in the 15th and 16th chapters of I Corinthians, Paul circles back to the core of the faith – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

“While I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which in turn you received, in which you also stand, through which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I have proclaimed to you…” (15:1-2). This good news is that “Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day…” (vs 3-4).

Reinforcing the core message of the faith was important in Corinth and is important for us. Corinth was a port city with many religious practices and beliefs. In the city, one would pass by statues of pagan gods which were a constant reminder of the Roman empires’ domination and the subjugation of its citizens. For a Christian community to stay alive and thrive in Corinth meant they would have to find a way to stay true to the core message of the Christian faith in this challenging environment while appreciating the diverse gifts of the people in the Corinthian church.

Diversity is a beautiful thing and is able to thrive when diverse peoples are able to be united in a common message and mission.

The church’s message and mission today in a diverse world is the same. We proclaim Christ crucified and risen. In the words of John Howard Yoder, we live out this Gospel-oriented mission in the church when we as the church “are faithful to our promises, love our enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God.” 

The main task for the church, New Testament ethicist Stanley Hauerwas argues, is to be a “community of the cross,” which is a revolutionary community that is victorious over the powers of evil in the world. God gives power to the church to overcome because God has overcome the evils of division and fear in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Our beloved United Methodist Church, like many of our sister Christian churches, has some struggles, yet again, with disunity and mission. As we have seen these last many weeks, disunity is nothing new for the Christian church and unfortunately it is nothing new for the United Methodist Church. And yet, God is God.

And the church of God is not a human creation therefore neither can human beings destroy it. We play our role in strengthening it and we hold responsibility for weakening it, but the church’s existence does not ultimately depend on us.

An older liturgy for the confirmation of new persons in the Christian faith said this about the church, “The church is of God and shall endure until the end of time.” I believe that because I choose to trust God. Let’s trust God together for all that comes.