I believe in
God’s dream for the people called Methodist.
Come with me now to “remember our future. It is time to have deep, thoughtful
conversations around the question, “Why does the world need the UMC, anyway?”
What is it
about our Wesleyan past that can make a difference in the world in the 21st
century? I want to suggest three essential things.
we? Our identity
essential has to do with identity—who we are and what we believe. Methodists are a people grounded and growing
in grace. That grace emphasizes both
personal holiness and social holiness.
believe every human being is made in the image of God which is the image of
love. God’s prevenient grace encompasses
all humankind. However, sin has caused
that image to become distorted, blurred, marred—like a mirror that is warped or
a glass that is dirty. Through the
confession of our sin and the justifying grace of Jesus Christ, we are
forgiven, healed and restored to the true image in which God created us. We are a new creation by water and the
spirit. Every person sitting in this room is testimony to Christ’s justifying
Methodists are called to “have the mind in us which was in Christ Jesus.” Charles Wesley describes Christ Jesus this
way: “pure unbounded love thou art.” John Wesley describes the Christian this
way: “Love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul.” Methodists commit themselves to a life-long
process of becoming perfect in pure, unbounded love. Such
love is possible only because of God’s sanctifying grace.
is not only perfect love of God. It is also
perfect love of neighbor. John Wesley described
neighbor love saying, “The Christian not only loves those who love him. Christian love embraces neighbors and
strangers, friends and enemies, not only the good and gentle but also the froward,
the evil and unthankful, every soul God has made of whatever place or nation.“
God knows we
need help to become perfect in love, so God blesses us with the means of grace—the
means to holiness. You know them: prayer—public, private, family, reading and
studying Scripture, fasting, community worship, receiving the sacraments, and doing
What does it
take to cause someone to change from one kind of life to becoming perfect in
love? Each of you has a copy of Bishop
Schnase’s book, Remember the Future.
Take yours out and turn to page 29 at the bottom. Read.
How did God’s grace break through in your life? Pair up with a neighbor and take one minute
each to share a story about how God’s grace broke though in your life.
Methodist Christian makes a difference in individual lives. Come Holy Spirit, come.
What are we to do? Mission
If our identity
is centered in the prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace of God, then
what are we to do?
have a mission. We are called to love
God and neighbor. More specifically, Methodists
do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. As Wesley put it so famously, “Do all the
good you can in every way that you can in every place that you can every time
that you can as long as you can.”
I invite you
to use your imagination to bring the vital past into the expectant
present. Compelled by grace and
determined to do good, imagine the difference that a Methodist can make in the
life of a second grade boy who is already a grade level behind in school. His Mom is a single parent working fourteen
hour days to make ends meet. This little
boy comes home every afternoon to an empty house. Imagine a Methodist layman driving the
church van to pick him up along with a dozen children like him from the nearby
elementary school? One afternoon a
week, this little boy gets to come to the United Methodist Church fellowship
hall for a snack, help with his homework, games, and an adult friend who thinks he’s
special. His imagination is stirred by
hearing the stories of Jesus for the first time. That summer our Methodist layman drives the
church van to bring our young friend and others like him to Vacation Bible
School. In time, he and his wife meet
the mom and invite her to come and hear her son sing in the vacation bible
school choir on Sunday. She comes
because she has experienced that these Methodists must truly care about her
son. A new future opens for her as
well. Multiply that story by 285,000
Methodists in this annual conference.
Would it make a difference in our communities?
have been making a difference for good for more than two centuries here in the
United States. President Abraham Lincoln made a speech to a delegation of
Methodist leaders from the General Conference of 1864. In part he said,
“Nobly sustained as the government has been by all the
churches, I would utter nothing which might, in the least, appear invidious
against any. Yet, without this, it may
fairly be said that the Methodist Episcopal Church, not less devoted than the rest,
is, by its greater numbers, the most important of all. It is no fault in others that the Methodist
Church sends more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospital and more
prayers to Heaven than any. God bless
the Methodist Church.”
we engage in mission? How do we practice
our faith? Ecclesiology
So what is
our method for being Methodist? How do
we Methodists practice our faith?
embody an ecclesiology that might best be described in three verbs: connect, cooperate and create.
asked a group of our young pastors, “Why do you need the United
Methodist Church? What is it about the
UMC that is so compelling you are willing to bet your lives on its
I was surprised—maybe even shocked by their response. The first thing they said was, “We want to be
part of a connection. Who we are in
Jesus Christ is bound up in our relationship with the community of faith. The Methodist Church is not about an
individual alone or a congregation alone.
We are part of a connection that starts in Jesus and includes the whole
Many of us in my baby boomer generation see
“connection” as primarily structural or financial. Connection has become boards and agencies or
apportionments. The young understand
connection primarily as relational, missional, and theological. Only then is it structural. Can you see their wisdom?
are people of head and heart, of Word and Table, personal holiness and social
holiness, knowledge and vital piety, individual conscience and community
good. Methodists helped shape this
nation in those same values. Even as an
incredibly diverse nation, the center held.
century Americans find ourselves living in an age of serious division. The gap between rich and poor, insured and
uninsured, educated and uneducated grows more and more wide. Extreme voices seem to dominate the air. Who has a heritage of building bridges in
this midst of a culture of such polarities?
Who can lead us to deep,
thoughtful conversations about important issues in which diverse peoples have different
points of view? When we remember who we
are, it should be the people called Methodist.
Strong, vibrant Methodist congregations
enrich the public conversation in our communities, our state and our nation.
almost always comes from the edges, and Methodists are innovators. It is part of our DNA. John
Wesley was a priest in the Church of England with its beautiful church
buildings and empty pews. As
industrialization expanded, he sought to respond to the emerging needs around
him. It started personally with “vile
field preaching.” He appropriated the
new communication technology of the day:
publishing. He saw the
challenges in health care for the poor and wrote a book on low-cost health
care. Methodists saw the vacuum in
public education and created the Sunday School.
In the U.S.,
Francis Asbury saw that the American frontier was a very different context than
England. He innovated. Asbury created and inspired circuit
riders—moving resources from the center to the margins, he said. He made great use of the particular American
invention—the camp meeting. Especially
in the South, thousands upon thousands of people heard the gospel for the first time a camp meeting. Not everything Brother Asbury created
worked. He tried to create a celibate,
all-male clergy—preachers like himself.
However, despite his railings that “I do believe that the devil and
women will get all my best preachers,” most of the men were determined to marry
and have a family. These circuit riders
did a little innovation on their own, and life-long celibacy for Methodist
preachers disappeared in less than a generation.
have it in our bones to learn how to adapt to a changing context. Some
things we try will fail, but we will learn and try again.
These three capacities: connecting which is relational,
theological and missional; cooperating within dynamic tensions on behalf of a
greater good, and creating through innovation are part of our Methodist
DNA. All are made possible by the power
and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit, Come.