22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I recently used this text in a presentation to my church in Denton about the upcoming special session of the General Conference and what it could mean to our local church. I wanted to focus on Peter in this story. Peter, who got out of the boat on faith, and walked on the water toward Jesus. And as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, Peter was fine. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and he saw the storm that was around him he began to sink.
During this time in anticipation of the special session of the General Conference, I believe that it is important to keep our eyes on Jesus.
These are stormy times for our church. We don’t know what will happen in St. Louis. But the reality is that what every happens after the special session, we will still have church on Sunday, our Sunday School classes will still meet, UMYF will still gather on Sunday night and we will continue to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of Jesus Christ and in turn transforming the world.
It has been my opinion that in many ways, we have taken our eyes off of Jesus in recent years. This issue of human sexuality is not a church defining issue. Our unity as a church is defined by our faith in Jesus Christ and after that everything else is commentary. But many in our denomination have determined that this is the issue that will define the United Methodist Church. If that is the case, we like Peter will be thrashing about in the storm.
Some may choose to point fingers at who has actually taken their eyes off of Jesus. Jesus said that the two great commandments were to love God and to love your neighbor. Pointing fingers simply means choosing to not love our neighbor. Albert Outler, the famed Methodist Theologian, said that a church truly reformed is one that is open, intentionally and on principle to creative change of every sort… under the judgement of the future.”
The advantage of the One Church Plan is that it can set this issue aside and we can focus on Jesus. No one must change their beliefs on this issue.
There is room for all and we are better together than we are apart. My church has a long history of making disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world. We recently raised $80,000 through our Alternative Gifts Fair that goes to support missions, it was First UMC Denton that started a recycling program in our community that led to city-wide curbside recycling, and we have members of our church that mentor children at the lowest socio-economic elementary school in the Denton School District which has led a dramatic improvement in test scores. (Now that is transformation!)
The One Church Plan is our best hope for Unity in our church, a unity based on our faith in Jesus Christ. As we prepare for St. Louis, keep your eyes on Jesus, and let us remember that he is with us until the end of the age.