When we look at the marvelous work of God’s hands, the majesty of God’s creation, who are we that God should care for us? Who are we? Who do we think we are? We have spent millions of dollars, hundreds of hours, personal time and energy to hold a religious business meeting. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make? There are two basic answers: it made a monumental difference and it made no real or lasting difference at all. In the hyper-structure of the United Methodist denomination, we have made some significant decisions, affirmations, and/or changes. We have debated any number of concerns as if they were life and death. We have threatened to divide/destroy the church as it is. We have made the single focus of LGBTQI the be-all and end-all determinant factor of whether we can be one church or whether we have to go our separate ways. We have manipulated our system (well) to get our own ways, and we have subverted our system when we failed to get our own way. We are acting like each of our decisions has earth-shaking implications.
But what would our world be like (will our world be like) if this General Conference never occurred? I am not sure that this past eleven days has made much of a difference, in the grand scheme of things. Our world still spins, God still reigns, Christ is still Redeemer and Savior, and God’s Holy Spirit still uplifts, guides, and sustains. Nothing changed. People are still nervous about our future. Elections will still take place this fall. LGBTQI persons still feel unwelcome and unloved. Evangelical Conservatives still feel the church has lost its moral compass. The moderate mainstream still doesn’t even know our church is so conflicted or what all the brew-ha-ha is all about. Millions still suffer and starve, while tens of thousands receive relief and aid from our denomination. On Sunday morning, tens of thousands of United Methodist congregations will gather for worship, mostly oblivious about what took place these past eleven days in Portland. But they will still worship God. They will still gather in Sunday school classes. They will still drink coffee and eat pastries and snacks. They will still seek after God in spite of what we have been doing, not generally because of it.
There is a grand gulf between the surreal reality of General Conference and the lived reality of our church/congregational life. Many members of local congregations will never know what decisions we have made. Many pastors won’t fully grasp what has been done here. Reconciling congregations will strive to reconcile; confessing congregations will continue to issue their confession. The world will turn and the universe will continue to do what universes do.
So, was Portland a waste of time? No. We don’t live in the grand scheme of things; we live in our little segment of the grandeur of all of God’s creation. We have to work together to do the very best job we can faithfully following the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. As United Methodists it matters how we spend our money. It is important how we select and support our leaders. It is important that we clarify our witness to the world. It is vitally important that we model infinite grace and unconditional love to a broken world. It is immensely important that we exercise exemplary stewardship so that the entire world may know what is important to us and how we work to make the world a better place. It is important that we work to align our ministries, programs and projects with our mission and with the Social Principles in our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. It is critically important that we put in place the mechanisms for accountability and ethical standards that reassure the world that we are trustworthy. What we do here matters greatly, if only in the immediate future. The more faithfully we live today, the more impact we will have on the future, and the greater our legacy for future generations.
Still, it is well for us to keep things in perspective. Our God is an awesome God, and the span of creation through time and space is well beyond our comprehension. Tens of thousands of years ago, there was no dream of anything resembling what we call church. Tens of thousands of years from now, there may be a church, but it will likely not much resemble what we have today. It is up to us to be the very best church we can be right now. We are God’s children, today. What we do today may not have lasting impact, but it matters now. Our entire stewardship depends on how wisely and well we use what is in our possession at this moment. And there is nothing of greater value than our relationships within the human family. How we treat one another is more important than any piece of legislation we pass, any paragraph we edit, any resolution we debate. How we conduct ourselves is as important as any rule, regulation, guideline or law. When we leave Portland, we leave as ambassadors of Christ and trustees of the reputation and image of The United Methodist Church. I hope and pray we prove ourselves good and faithful stewards. I wonder.