Monday, March 24, 2008

The Practical, Organizational Relevance of Resurrection

In a workshop with Paul Borden last year, someone asked him, “You are a natural leader in starting new churches. What is the main thing you look for in selecting new pastors?” Borden responded, “An Orthodox faith, a vivid belief in the Trinity, and of course, a sure faith in the resurrection.”

Don’t you find that an amazing response? I thought Borden would say something managerial, “an entrepreneurial spirit,” something like that. Or, I thought he might cite some psychological configuration or organizational expertise in the pastor. No. Borden demands theology, faith in resurrection.

It really makes a huge difference as we go about reaching a new generation of Christians, starting new churches, energizing established congregations, making disciples (our Conference priorities), if Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. If Easter is not true, then why bother?
Since Jesus Christ is raised, let loose, invading a world, returning to the very people who betrayed him, then we work not alone. The risen Christ goes before us. We serve a God who lives to raise the dead--even us. Therefore, we work with hope--not hope in ourselves and our efforts, but with hope in Christ.

A couple of years ago, a District Superintendent paid me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He had told a pastor of our interest to move him to a different church. “I can’t do this,” responded the pastor. “That church is dead. It’s been dying for years and now I hear it’s really dead.” The DS replied, “I’ll tell the Bishop but let me warn you, this guy really believes that Easter is true. To tell him a pastor or a church is dead means nothing to him. He just sees death as an opportunity to see what Jesus can do.”

Will Willimon

Monday, March 17, 2008

Concerning the Death Penalty

On Monday, March 31, come hear Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, speak at Highlands United Methodist Church, Birmingham at 7 p.m.

There may be sound arguments in favor of the Death Penalty. Unfortunately for us Christians, none of these arguments can be made on biblical or Christian theological grounds. The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church oppose capital punishment. That provision states as follows:

The Death Penalty
We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to
redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church
is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any
life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and
created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and
valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital
punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all
possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the
resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of
reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of
reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives
all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death
penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal

- From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church--2004.

Based on statistics from the Bureau of Justice, Alabama leads the nation in the rate of new death sentences for the past five years. With a population of 4.5 million people, Alabama imposed 13 new death sentences, greater than the 11 imposed in Texas with a population of 23.5 million.

Senator Hank Sanders from Selma has regularly introduced a bill in the Alabama Legislature for a number of years seeking to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. It has had no success thus far. It has been introduced again this year.

United Methodist, Bill Clark (member of Highlands UMC) has recently presented a resolution to the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association which calls for a joint resolution of the Governor and the Legislature to direct a study of the death penalty process with a moratorium being declared during that study.

I invite you to join us on March 31 in thinking about and praying for the issue of the Death Penalty in Alabama.

Will Willimon

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who But The Church Will Tell Such Truth?

Here we are, deep in Lent, Christian season of penitence and introspection, season of admission of sin and confession of our finitude. We are in a mess. We are not gods unto ourselves. We are sinners.

Who but the poor old church will - in this upbeat, feel-good, progressive society - tell such truth about us?

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. I hope that you celebrated this day in your church. When I was a college chaplain, I loved Ash Wednesday. I got a rather perverse joy in standing before some strapping nineteen year old, smearing ashes on his forehead and proclaiming, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

Who but the church will tell such truth?

Last year I published Thank God It’s Friday: Jesus’ Words from the Cross (Abingdon). I so much enjoyed discussions about this book in dozens of our churches. How well I remember a man, in one of the discussions, saying, “It’s kind of invigorating to be told the truth about me. I really do need saving. I really do need a Savior who saves sinners.”

“The good news of Jesus Christ is a thing of great comfort,” said C. S. Lewis. “But it doesn’t begin in comfort. It begins in distress and despair and there’s no way to get to the comfort by bypassing the despair.”

Have a Happy Lent.
William H. Willimon

Singapore, Malaysia and Domestic Missions

On Maundy Thursday, March 20, Patsy and I will leave for Singapore and Malaysia on a mission trip.

I have been invited to meet with all the pastors of the Singapore Methodist Church and to give a lecture in the theological college there on Wesleyan Theology.

We are looking forward to learning more about the church in Singapore. Methodism is growing rapidly in this part of the world. They are interested in things that we are doing here in Alabama and I am interested in how we can learn from one another. North America is becoming one of our most challenging ‘mission fields.’ We’ve got to learn how to do mission in our own backyard.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Young Clergy Blog

If you are interested in more dialogue about the shortage of and the focus upon young clergy in the United Methodist Church (and truly in most Protestant denominations), please view our new young clergy blog where clergy from the North Alabama Conference write about their own perspectives on this issue within the church:

Monday, March 03, 2008

Manna and Mercy

On a mission trip in Honduras a few years ago, we were all sitting with some of the villagers around a fire in the evening. One of the members of our team said, "Let's all go around and share our favorite Bible verse."

This sort of thing can be tough for us scripturally challenged Methodists! Someone mentioned John 3:16, somebody else said 1 Corinthians 13. A Honduran woman said, through a translator, "I love that passage toward the end of Luke's gospel, where Jesus says that the world is coming to an end, the moon will turn blood red, and everything will be burned and disappear. Such a comfort."

That's her favorite Bible passage? A comfort?

A nurse, sitting next to me whispered, "I talked with that woman in the clinic today. She has had four children, three of whom died in infancy because of hunger."

Then it hit me. Sometimes the difference between bad news and good news (gospel) is where you happen to be when you get the news. What sounded like bad news to me, "This world, which has been so good to you and your family, is ending. God is going to destroy all of it. This isn't the world God wanted; this is the world you built" seen through the eyes of the poor, is good news, gospel.

R.G.Lyons, our pastor in West Birmingham at the Community Church Without Walls, has invited Alan Storey to North Alabama to conduct his famous, Manna and Mercy Workshop. Alan Storey is the inspiring pastor of a multiracial church in South Africa. Manna and Mercy is a worldwide program whereby laity are led through the entire Bible in a study that reads scripture through the eyes of the "least of these." A Manna and Mercy workshop is a fast-paced, life-changing experience that you can use in your church and in your life right now. You will not read the Bible as you read it before after Manna and Mercy.

Join me and Alan Storey at Woodlawn United Methodist Church on Friday night, April 11 through Sunday, April 13 for Manna and Mercy. More details, along with registration information, are available on the Conference Website or by contacting Rev. R.G. Lyons at (205) 532-0907 or by e-mail.

Will Willimon