At the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference in Tampa, Florida, one of the focuses of the first morning’s worship service was, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
While I did not watch the entire service, which was live-streamed (I saw only Bishop Weaver’s Episcopal Address, which I wrote about), this phrase came from the laity address by Amory Peck (transcript on this page). My purpose here is not to critique the laity address, but to talk about the phrase, itself (which both Kevin Watson and Tom Berlin, mentioned in posts, as well).
I have trouble imagining Jesus, the Son of God, saying anything like, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” On the contrary, Jesus said, “I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5.19, Common English Bible). And Jesus passed this principle on to his followers, saying, “Without me, you can’t do anything” (John 15.5, CEB).
I don’t see the Apostle Paul saying, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” But he did say, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.3, CEB).
The dead, dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision wouldn’t say, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” God said, however, “I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again” (Ezekiel 37.5, CEB).
I can imagine some people in the Bible saying, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit when they were tempted to “see clearly and … be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.5, CEB). They took matters into their own hands.
In Genesis 11, the people on earth said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”
Then there’s King Saul, who served as Israel’s first king for 42 years. One time, Saul got tired of waiting for Samuel to arrive and offer the sacrifice, so he took care of it himself. When confronted by Samuel, Saul said, “I saw that my troops were deserting. … You hadn’t arrived by the appointed time, and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash. I thought, The Philistines are about to march against me at Gilgal and I haven’t yet sought the Lord’s favor. So I took control of myself and offered the entirely burned offering” (1 Samuel 13.11-13, CEB).
While we certainly have a responsibility to act, the phrase, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” expresses too much self-reliance. The focus is on what we do. While I am all for action (I never preach without a call to action!), I’m not comfortable saying it’s up to us. Yes, we are the hands and feet of Jesus, but without Jesus’ life flowing through us, nothing we do will be worth anything!
To be fair, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” was a call at the outset of General Conference to seize the opportunity to transform The United Methodist Church. Since that did not happen at General Conference, it’s easy to see now there has to be a better way!
If it’s to be, it takes more than me!
Jesus said …
I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.
Yes, we have a responsibility. And authority. But it’s authority that comes from Jesus. We have a great responsibility. But if it’s going to be, it takes more than me and you. It takes God working in and through us!
Our job is not to make things happen. Our job is to make ourselves available, to say, “Here I am, send me.” Not because it’s up to me and you, but because God chooses to work in and through us!
God’s word to Zerubbabel is a good word for us: “Neither by power, nor by strength, but by my spirit” (Zechariah 4.6, CEB).
If it’s to be, it takes more than me!