WHAT IT MEANS TO BE UNITED METHODIST

Last weekend our PNW Bishop, Elaine JW Stanovsky, preached a great sermon at Seattle First UMC.   If you want to listen to it all, you can find it here.   But I want to concentrate my thoughts on one paragraph of her sermon where she points out why she’s a member of the United Methodist Church.  Here’s the paragraph:

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“I guess that’s why I’m a Methodist. We do not teach that creation is utterly depraved. We teach that human beings can be partners with God in sharing a good word. We teach that God reaches out to us in every circumstance and guides us into the way of peace. We teach that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. We teach and believe—and we find it in the Bible—that God has embedded in every child, bird, searching soul the good intention of the Creator, and that Christ reaches out with an open hand, and a warm invitation to each one and everyone, and that the Holy Spirit invites us to look for Christ’s presence in each one we meet, looking for the gift they bring. In this way, God works in us and through us, to guide us toward loving with a perfect love. To be made perfect in love in this life.”

I love this paragraph!  It just makes me want to stand up and sing the old Wesley hymn “Love Divine, all Love’s Excelling” complete with the sung “Amen!” (Does anyone remember singing the “amen” to hymns?) We don’t realize it sometimes but the United Methodist way of “being” faithful followers of Jesus is different than other ways of being, and I think this paragraph gets at some of the heart of it. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The first line of this paragraph that sings to me is Bishop Elaine’s emphasis “on the wideness of God’s mercy.”  Often, when people begin to follow Jesus, we become inflicted with I call “the ex-smoker’s syndrome I don’t know I’ve ever met an ex-smoker who hasn’t developed a profound “hatred” towards other smokers.  Most ex-smokers I know have the least compassion for those who are still caught up in the “smoke” of cigarettes.  But the Christ we know is the opposite of this!  Jesus compassion for the sinner is boundless.  His river of mercy is wider than the sea!  And he calls us to live and see others with that same kindness and mercy.

The second line that sings to me in this paragraph is Bishop Elaine’s belief that United Methodists see the stranger differently than most.  “God,” she says, “has imbedded in every child, bird, searching soul the good intention of the Creator…the Holy Spirit invites us to look for Christ’s presence in each one we meet, looking for the gift they bring.”  What makes United Methodists different is that we look at others differently. We see strangers not only as guests but as gifts from God.  We greet the stranger with love and welcome because we know in our very souls that, there in the lining of that stranger’s heart, is the same grace of God that we have found in ours!

The last line that sings to me in this paragraph is Bishop Elaine’s wonderful understanding of the United Methodist “way” as one of process!   Each of us is called to move towards being “perfected in love.”  To be a disciple is not about “righteous belief” but is, instead, about putting all of ourselves in the hands of “the potter” and letting God’s mercy and love perfect us.   To live “Life with a capitol L” is to constantly place our trust in God’s “wheel of healing,” letting God smooth over our “jagged edges,” and pour ointment into the “cracked leather” of our “life-hardened” hearts.   Life is always a process of turning more and more of the “stuff” in our messy basements over to God’s never-ending love.   

Thanks Bishop Elaine!  For reminding me why I love being a United Methodist!

Your pastor, still working on getting all that “stuff” on the wheel, Brook

Tim Schaaf