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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He is recently retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop Will Willimon: If This Were a Real Church...

October 12, 2009

In spite of Jesus' repeated warning that if we faithfully follow him we were sure to be crucified with him we keep thinking that the Christian faith is a technique for smooth sailing in life (Joel Osteen).

During a recent discussion with a conflicted congregation one of the leaders said, "If this were a truly Christian church, we wouldn't be having these problems." The assumption was that the congregation's crisis was due to a failure to be real Christians.

Sometimes that's the case. But not always. Sometimes we find ourselves in a painful, conflicted and difficult mess not because we're not faithful to Jesus but because we are following Jesus!

In Judges 6, amid all sorts of defeats and struggles related to the conquest of Canaan, an angel appears and tells the Israelites that God is with them. Gideon impudently asks the angel, in effect, "If the Lord is really with us, why are we in this mess?" The implication is that, if the Lord were really behind us, we wouldn't be failing.

But when the Lord promised to give Hebrews land, the Lord did not promise it would be easy. When Jesus promised us salvation he did not promise it would be painless.

Jesus calls us not only to get along with one another but to love one another, to forgive enemies, to love the truth which is Jesus Christ more than we love comfort and security, to both honor the past and be faithful to a living, loving God. That's tough.

Most human institutions are content to survive, to make it from one year to the next in solvency. The church must make disciples, be light to the world, tell a deceitful, death-denying culture the truth, etc. In other words, Gideon, sometimes we're in a mess because the Lord is really with us! And we find ourselves in peril because we're really with the Lord.

Our church faces many challenges - financing ministry in a recession; managing a complex far-flung organization; attracting people who have so many options in their lives, etc.

Let us remind ourselves in worship this Sunday that our greatest challenge is that which it has always been - loving and serving a living, truthful God!

--William H. Willimon

[Taken with permission from the "Weekly Message from Bishop Willimon," 10/12/09]


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