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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 retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Will Willimon: Resurrection: Getting What God Wants

May 11, 2014

 

With all Christians, United Methodists proclaim Christ's resurrection as the point of our faith, the hope of the world.  What we believe about Easter is the core of our faith.  Here are some Easter thoughts on Christ's resurrection along with some citations (in bold italics) from the UM Book of Discipline that show what resurrection means to us.

Resurrection: Getting What God Wants

The philosopher Sǿren Kierkegaard went about the streets of Copenhagen asking people if they really believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. Almost everyone did. Then he asked them what difference that belief made in the way they went about their business. Kierkegaard concluded that it had not the slightest import.

Though Kierkegaard was a Lutheran, his was a very Methodist sort of question. As we have said earlier, we are not only interested in the orthodoxy of beliefs, but also in their practical force. What difference does the resurrection make?

ETERNAL LIFE

We also look to the end time in which God's work will be fulfilled. This prospect gives us hope in our present actions as individuals and as the Church.  This expectation saves us from resignation and motivates our continuing witness and service.

We also look to the end time in which God's work will be fulfilled. This prospect gives us hope in our present actions as individuals and as the Church.  This expectation saves us from resignation and motivates our continuing witness and service.

"Eternal life," "everlasting life," or "heaven," are synonyms for that time, that place, that confluence of events whereby God gets what God wants.  A reticence to speak about such matters may be due more to our present economic circumstances than our modern, progressive world view. People like me, people in power, people who are reasonably well fixed tend not to expect much of God. Again, as Jesus said, we have our reward.  Our lives could only be made more difficult by a God who in some future shall ask, "What have you done with what you have been given?"  - especially if that happens to be a God who loves the poor and holds the rich to account!

But other people, the sort of people whom the old Methodists once treasured and to whom they felt an obligation - those on the bottom, the powerless and the miserably futured - if there is not a God who actively rights wrongs and works justice and holds to account, then they are without hope.  Modern notions of progress, naïve ideas of innate human goodness and smug complacency about the present order wilt in the face of true tragedy and deep, systemic, eradicable injustice.  That's one reason why we United Methodists think it important for every church to be engaged in ministry to and with the poor and the dispossessed. Wesley taught (I count 86 references) that there wasn't much wrong with any Christian, rich or poor, that couldn't be cured by more regular visits to those who were sick or in prison. Such ministry rubs our noses in the need of the world and confronts us with our responsibility in Christ. Wesley taught that all Christians have a responsibility to help those in circumstances worse than theirs, that the poor can be empowered to love others who need them and that the rich could experience the grace of God when they did something good with their wealth.

In his commentary on Jesus' "the poor you shall always have with you" (Matt. 26:11), Wesley exclaims, "Such is the wise and gracious providence of God that we may have always opportunities of relieving their needs and so laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven."[1]

To be honest, many churches in mainline Protestantism in the U.S.A. (including too many United Methodist churches) can be unhappy places these days of membership decline and malaise.  We console ourselves with, "Every church is losing members," and "Nobody around here is religious anymore."  We resign ourselves to slow death by attrition, deny the decay and plaster over the cracks in the wall.  You would think, to watch this sort of morbidity, that we lied when we stood and said with the Creed, "I believe....in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting," making a mockery of Easter.

Such are some of the implications of believing in Resurrection.

-  Will Willimon, from United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007.

 

[1]John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, 42.

 

From Will's blog.


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