SERMON TITLE: “I Believe in Life Everlasting”
SERMON TEXT: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-38, 42-44, 54-57
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: March 3, 2019, at First UMC
This has been quite a week for me emotionally. After church was over last Sunday, I went home and began watching the Livestream of the United Methodist General Conference. I watched it throughout Sunday afternoon into the early evening. Then, on Monday and Tuesday, I was back at it, watching as many hours as I possibly could.
I couldn’t look away because something very big was happening with The United Methodist Church, and this is the church that I love. This is the church where, for 30-some years, I’ve devoted and developed my faith, fulfilled my calling from God, practiced my preaching, cared for God’s people, earned my salary, and even stashed away a pension fund. In so many ways, you could say I have a vested interest in this institution we call United Methodism.
It wasn’t always that way for me. When I was a teenager, college student, and young adult, I was a member of the Church of the Nazarene. It was through the evangelical ministries of the Church of the Nazarene that I was invited to church and offered an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It was through the lay and pastoral leadership of faithful Nazarene people that I received my first education in the Bible and theology, in Sunday School, worship services, Vacation Bible School, youth group, and church camp. It was through Northwest Nazarene College that I earned a scholarship and a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Religion. It was in a Nazarene church in Montana that I taught my first Sunday School class to kindergartners, and it was in Nazarene churches in Idaho that I taught Sunday School to second graders and fifth graders. It was in and through a Nazarene denominational program for college students that I served as a summer missionary volunteer in an African American congregation in Detroit. Another summer, a Nazarene Church in Montana gave me my first ministry job with a salary. I married my Nazarene husband in a Nazarene church. It was through Nazarene Theological Seminary that I studied and received a Master’s degree in Religious Education. It was the Church of the Nazarene that granted me my first license for ministry, and it was a Nazarene congregation that called me to serve them in Buffalo, New York.
So, in 1986, when my husband told me that he didn’t want us to be members of The Church of the Nazarene any longer, it was a horrific blow to me personally and professionally. I actually considered divorcing him because of it. But that wouldn’t have solved my problem, because I wouldn’t have been able to serve as a minister in the Church of the Nazarene if I were divorced. They had rules against that sort of thing. So, I finally figured that I might as well stay married to my husband and change denominations with him. It wasn’t easy, though. I went to counseling over it. I was angry and hurt. I told my counselor that it felt like my whole family had died.
It was hard like that for quite a while. Almost everyone I knew—socially, religiously, and professionally—was in the Nazarene Church. I was losing my identity. It took some time to grieve, to adjust, to forgive my husband, and to find my way in the new United Methodist denomination we had chosen. But, when I did find my way, it was like life had been reborn. Sure, there were things about my old church that I missed—the hymns especially. But there was so much freedom, joy, curiosity, and room for growth in the United Methodist Church. In many ways, it was a new lease on spiritual life. It was like I had died and gone to heaven. It was like a resurrection to life everlasting.
I’m telling you this personal story because I know some of you have been through experiences something like this as you have left behind other churches to come here. And I know that the news of the recent United Methodist General Conference has stirred a rollercoaster of emotions for some of you this week, maybe causing the life of the church or your own life to flash before your eyes. But I want you to know that, however this messy United Methodist situation turns out, God is faithful. The mortal things of this life will pass away. But—if we allow ourselves to trust in God—in one form or another, our faith can survive any ordeal, and the body of Christ can live on. As we’ve just recited from The Apostles’ Creed, we are a people who proclaim, “I believe in life everlasting.”