Tears In The Airport

I’m leaving General Conference 2016 and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. It’s not because I am sad to leave. I know in part it is due to the fact that I’m spent after an exhausting 12 days in Portland. I also know something deeper happened in my spirit here that will take some time to move through.

In my recent book, The New Adapters (shameless plug, available through Abingdon Press), I begin by saying that I believe in the church. I tell the story of my parents, two young adults who had been disconnected from the church, finding a home at a new United Methodist Church where they made their professions of faith in Jesus Christ and had their infant son (me) baptized. In that ritual my parents repented of their sin and confessed their belief in Jesus as Lord. They also said as a part of an old creed that they believed in God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Actually, the whole church made that confession that day. And in the covenantal language of the baptismal vows they said they believed in the church. The holy, catholic (or universal) church. On a day that I see as the most significant in my life, the people who created a community of love and forgiveness around me said they believed in Jesus Christ’s connected church. At General Conference, my belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit never wavered. God was there and showed up gently at times and powerfully at others.

My belief in the church, though, took some hits.

I saw people mistreated and shamed. There were many harsh words and many acts of mistrust. Stark division dominated legislative gatherings just moments after we seemingly worshipped in unity.

And so I’m crying now. Because even after all that I still believe in the church. I still believe it is God’s designed vessel for the world transforming message of Jesus. But dang, these last two weeks made me doubt that at times.

On my first day in our committee meetings I met Idda and Irene. Idda is a pastor in Tanzania. She is a church planter like me. She started a new church in a rural village and her church meets under a tree. Each day after I met Idda she greeted me with a warm embrace and even though we spoke different languages we shared deeply through the bond of Christ. Irene is a young seminary student who recently decided not to pursue ordained ministry to instead fight for justice issues that burn in her heart. She gave up two weeks in the midst of her last semester to be present at General Conference and advocate for people whose voices wouldn’t have been heard without her. On the theological and political spectrum Idda and Irene are polar opposites. My guess is they would have voted differently on many issues. Yet, they have much in common with each other and much in common with me. They believe in God, in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the universal church.

And so as I cry in the airport I think about a time that we know Jesus cried. He cried because his old friend, Lazarus, had died. Someone he knew well was different now, gone, and would never be the same. Jesus grieved the brokenness that they all felt because Lazarus was now wrapped in grave clothes. Yet, I have to think that even as Jesus cried with his friends over the loss of Lazarus he also knew that Lazarus could and would live again.

If you saw what I saw this week you might have said that the United Methodist Church is in grave clothes. Dying. At times a few people told me all hope was lost for its future, the church as we know it is dead. But, for those that follow Jesus, grave clothes are a sign; they are a symbol of something that is still to come. Not decomposition. Resurrection. That even as we cry, we believe. We repent of our sin and confess. God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. And, the connected church.

The resurrection of the church won’t happen at General Conference. Nope, I can attest to that. It will instead happen in a dancing, singing circle under a shade tree in the hot sun of Tanzania. It will happen as a young seminary student finishes up her studies to prepare to spread the gospel. It will happen at Providence Church as we worship this Sunday by serving at over 100 projects in our community. It will happen in St. Louis at The Gathering, a multi-site church that is learning about their rootedness in the Wesleyan tradition. It will happen at Oak Grove UMC in Portland, an over 100 year old church where I worshipped this last Sunday on Pentecost. It will happen at The Village a new United Methodist Church whose pastor sent me a text this week telling me that this Sunday a 6 year old boy would be baptized in a school gym in a water trough filled from a hose connected to a sink in a janitor’s closet. His parents have been disconnected from church for two decades, the dad shunned by his former church after divorce. This Sunday, the three of them will repent of their sin, and confess Jesus as Lord. And in the ancient ritual of the church the whole group in the gym that day will confess their belief in the holy, connected church.

That text brought me to tears. Maybe tears are what we experience before we truly see resurrection. Maybe as we see the church in grave clothes it should be a sign to us. That even as we grieve the loss of what we once knew Jesus sees what can and will live again.

Still crying, still believing.

30 Comments

  1. …and still feeding His sheep. It will be good to have you home.

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    • Yes, almost there!

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  2. Good stuff, Jacob! I’m so encouraged by your words. I love you my brother!

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    • Thank you Ralph!

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      • I love you too!

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  3. I’m looking forward to Sunday and experiencing the church at its best. Thanks for this clarity of Spirit!

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    • Thank you Susan!

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  4. Thank you for your tears.

    There are three passages that the Lord has recently been emphasizing to me:
    John 17: 8-23 “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, **that they may be one even as we are one.** While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you , and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. **Sanctify them in the truth;** your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
    I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, **that they may all be one,** just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, **that they may be one even as we are one,** I in them and you in me, **that they may become perfectly one,** so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

    Ephesians 1:16 – 22 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, **which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.**”

    Ephesians 3: 7-21 “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that **through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,** in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
    For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

    I, like you, have been wrestling not with God or my belief in Him, his Son or the Holy Spirit. My faith has not wavered in this, but I have been praying so much more fervently regarding the Church – capital C – universal church, his body, us. When Jesus prayed, he prayed for us. He had the option to abandon it all, not go through with it (the cross, our redemption), but even then, with everything that the cross and death meant – we cannot begin to comprehend the true weight of the spiritual ramifications shouldering the wrath of God on our behalf was not even for us who are already so much lower than God, but for Christ who was ONE with God since before time – he STAYED. He held on “for the joy set before him”. For us, his Church, he suffered and died and rose. He ROSE. The power that raised Christ from the dead is “the greatness of his power toward us who believe” Christ prayed to the Father that we be one and He is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us”

    Today, I am praying for each of us and for all of us.

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    • Thank you for this thoughtful, Scriptural response!

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  5. Thanks Jacob, after watching the sessions your comments sum up much of my feelings and they offer hope. welcome home

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    • Thank you Kathryn!

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  6. Tears flow with you for the larger church. He is in control even when we can’t see it through the humaneness surrounding us. Hugs on Sunday.

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  7. Jacob, you have written from your heart.

    Now, a question from mine. You speak of the family who will repent from their sin(s). Exactly what do you mean?

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    • Thanks Kerrie! The first question in the Baptismal Covenant liturgy in the UMC is “Do you repent of your sin?” That is what I was referring to. So all who come to baptism are first asked that question.

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  8. I cry with you, I walk with you, I have your back. Stay strong to the Word of God. “If God be for us, who can be against us. I also sense in my spirit this day: “Forget the former things;do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” ISAIAH 43:18-19

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    • Thank you George!

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  9. We are on the road for a quick, yet intensely needed, time away. I just read this blog post and now wipe tears from my eyes as well. Thank you for being our eyes, ears and hearts!

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    • Thank you Joy!

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  10. My father (you may have heard of him – Jack Tuell) often quoted hymns in his sermons that I heard all during my childhood and youth. Whenever he preached about the church, this was his favorite quote (which I have memorized, having heard it so many times):
    I love thy church, O God, her walls before thee stand –
    Dear as the apple of thine eye and graven on thy hand.
    For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend,
    To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.

    It seems appropriate in this context.

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    • Thank you Jim!

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  11. Wow, this is what I love about you. You are so honest and share your heartfelt comments to help us understand and be encouraged amidst all the conflict. I have tears, too.

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    • Thank you Mary!

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  12. Jacob, thank you for this witness. Your words reminded me of one of my favorite scripture passages, Psalm 56:8 – You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

    PS: I had the pleasure of hearing you preach at “SoulFeast” at Lake Junaluska last year. Godspeed!

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  13. Pastor Jacob,
    Having read all week of what you describe, but experienced first hand, it continues to be a gift to claim Christ but harder to claim our intellectual and spiritual poverty. As a lay person, it was also a gift to return to the world as we know it, back on the road today, serving and sharing community with God’s people. It is centering and gives me hope. But, when I sit outside, trying to clear my head and readjust, a recurring thought refuses to leave me.
    I am privileged to be included without question and accepted wholly by those who don’t even know me. I fully realize it diminishes the value of my brothers and sisters whose return to the road does not include that privilege. I am not sure service can assuage their
    pain. My tears are for naught. Theirs, too, it appears.
    I appreciate your words more than I can say. I appreciate their content and your angst. I
    hope we all stay uncomfortable.
    It brings to mind a quote by Buechner…”Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

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  14. But will the tears from the pain in the Methodist Church ever stop falling. I need some hope they will and soon.

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  15. I know that God will shepherd our efforts moving forward, if we will but invite Him to the table. And we must, after all, it is His Table.

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  16. Thank you…I needed this…God lead me to this article.

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  17. Thank you for your words of hope and good news. Your images of grave clothes have helped to affirm that there is new life potential if we respond when Jesus calls us out.

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  18. Your honesty and eloquence ring so true. Thank you for sharing all this Jacob. What continues to plague our world and various religions and denominations and governments is self-righteousness and a very misguided form of “love thy neighbor”. So much judgement and so little love, that’s “people” for you!
    I find myself discouraged but certainly hopeful, looking forward to church on Sunday and serving wherever I can. The church is very alive in my world and you are a major reason for that Jacob. I am so glad you are back home.

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    • Thank you Sandy!!

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