Being United Methodist: We Pick You!

Take a moment and read John 15:9-17

When did you get picked?  I was a perrenial bench warmer through most of my baseball years.  I admit it!  Back then I wasn’t the fastest or best hitter and surely not the best catcher either.   My senior year of high school I got clocked running just under 4.5  in the 40 yard dash.  Oh well.  I can’t say I was the top of the list of dancers for homecoming or prom either.  As I got older I, learned a lot of us growing up felt much the same way.   One of the reasons I became a youth minister was because I sensed God wanted me to help every teenager I could, survive these difficult years, these years when it seems, nobody wants to pick you.

It may seem rather odd that I would choose this sermon as one of those in my series about being United Methodist - “We Pick You!”  There are those who might argue that we don’t pick everyone.  You may disagree with my reasoning or you might agree, but the statement about our beliefs and this Scripture is a powerful one and, I am convinced, a true one.  

If you go to the website and look up what we believe, you’ll find that we are a denomination which holds a high view of humanity.  We believe with Genesis (1:27) that God created human beings in God’s image. The Latin theological term is “Imago Dei,” and how you’ll often find this idea expressed.  We also believe that sin has marred that image, damaged it, wounded it; but sin cannot do away with it.   And in addition to these, we believe that people cannot experience what it is to be fully human outside a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  We believe that God said indeed - “I Pick You!”

Read our Book of Discipline, this is a book we publish every four years following our General Conference meeting I mentioned last.  This book does not take the place of the Bible mind you but puts into print these unique aspects of our UM journey and you’ll find this stated most clearly.  But I think to really get this and consider it, we need to look at Scripture and some John Wesley’s sermons.

John bookmarks these words in 15:9 and 15:17 with the concept or characteristic of love.  The Bible doesn’t portray love as a sappy emotion like a pop song or romantic comedy.  Love is a radical, sacrificing behavior.  John 15:9-17 is a radical understanding of love, I think,
rivals Paul’s poetic words of 1 Corinthians 13.  God, revealed to us in the Bible, is love.  It is the very nature of who God was, is, and always will be.

United Methodist recognize two works of John Wesley to be authoritative to our understanding, his Notes on the New Testament and The 52 Standard Sermons.  It is in Sermon #45, “The New Birth,” where Wesley identifies that love is the one “affection” which humanity had in our beginning.  “Love filled the whole of [humanity’s] soul… and it streamed continually toward God and was reflected out to all creation. [1]”  

But love is of a neutral sort as we have seen in Paul’s writings, that humans might love sin as unconditionally, sacrificially as they love God.    So while we might be able to model that cruciform, sacrificing love of God demonstrated on the cross of Jesus Christ, we were and are susceptable to being tripped up and falling in love with a world which promises riches and provides ruin.

Jesus makes clear our hope begins at the point of his choosing.  Jesus, God’s Son, says in verse 16 - “I pick you!”  And loving which God is doing and offering is a love the equalizes the playing field.  God is no respecter of powerful people, politcians, religious  self-righteousness.  God is no respecter of popularity or slugging percentages or bank accounts, dictators or presidents.  In fact it is the exact opposite when we look at Jesus’ parables.
In Luke 14, Jesus tells the story of a rich man’s banquet which all the popular and powerful had been invited to attend.  But when the time came, they didn’t come and so the rich man said to his servants,  ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’(14:21)”  The Imago Dei is in us all.

We will not find that completeness in anyone or in anything.   United Methodists hold that all people are of sacred worth, but we also recognize what John is saying -  that joy is made complete when we abide in Christ Jesus alone.  The love of God is what completes us, that redeems the image of God in each of us.  God’s love is the love alone which will not fail, will not forsake us.  The ultimate expression of love is not going to be found in any marriage or civil union, it is in laying down one’s life.

But what difference does it make? What does it mean for how we live and act? What if you lived and acted toward everyone with this truth in your mind: "the image of God is in that person?"  What hatreds do you harbor towards someone of another race or religion? The image of God is in them. Can you accept that God's image is in the inmate at the prison? Can you accept God's image is also in the terrorist? Believing is only part of the equation of following Jesus. It is also in how we act - can you say it? Can you say, "God picks you!" This is another example to us of the Good News Jesus brings. Go to tell the world!

[1] Debra J. Du Heaume,

Being United Methodist: We Stand Connected

I suspect like all of us.  You make a statement or post something on Facebook and somebody makes an observation: “Hey, you don’t have all the facts here!  You’re clearly mistaken (or maybe they don’t say it so nice).”  Your response?  Yep, you’re right.  "I stand corrected."  Thankfully there is and FactChecker websites to help keep us and our politicians inline.  These days correcting can truly be a full-time job! But correcting isn't to be OUR full-time job. Being connected is far more important.

Read John 15:1-8. The example of the vine which Jesus teaches is hard to misunderstand.  The image of connectedness is unmistakable and not surprisingly, churches, like our next door neighbor, have taken the image as the underlying image for their church.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, if we are not connected in relationship with Jesus Christ, if we are not in prayer, in worship and in ministry, we are not a branch.  We are a stick. Sticks make great firewood.

But the United Methodist Church takes the analogy of Jesus a little bit farther.  We are not just connected people but we are a connected CHURCH.  Yes, we are part of the Body of Christ, but at our founding and in the foundering years prior to our becoming a denomination, Methodist Christians saw that their gatherings best served God’s Kingdom by being connected.  Under the organization of a General Conference that meets every four years, there are Annual Conferences led by Bishops and supported by ordained clergy called District Superintendents who help local churches, led by other clergy, to live out the mission of the Church - “To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”  

In our beginnings, under the leadership of John and Charles Wesley, Methodist Christians would give a penny to support the missions of the church.  What became called apportionment giving is really “missional giving.”  Each church in the connection is asked to give a portion of their budget to support both “the making of disciples” and “the transformation of the world.”  This includes retirement homes, children's homes, colleges, camping ministry and evangelism.  But that isn’t all.  

Did you know?  The UMC is the ONLY protestant denomination to have permanent offices in Russia?  I spent a week with Bishop Eduard Khegay of Russia at the 5 Day Academy and his team will lead the first 5 Day Academy this summer in Eurasia.
Did you know?  Following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, for the first time ever asked a non-profit to take over recovery in Alabama.  It was the United Methodist Council on Relief (UMCOR).
Did you know?  20 years ago a United Methodist Church began in South Korea through apportioned giving.  As of 2009, KumNon Methodist Church was the largest UMC - 112,000. ("Why do we pay apportionments again?" Bob McKibben)
Did you know? Rinehardt University is a UMC funded college.  The Walden’s have a daughter attending and soon Connor will be there this fall.  Your portion supports this mission.

We have taken some important steps as a church in recent years and we have benefited from our standing connected to Jesus Christ and with other United Methodist Churches.  As we dream for the future, we will have support of from our Connectional Ministries Office who will help us dream. Our giving to our mission is a central part of our mission.  

I also think of it a bit more personal too. Did you ever think that when a pastor is appointed to your church, another church has given a portion of their membership?  Starkville UMC in Mississippi, Jarvis Memorial UMC in Greenville, NC and Gainesville UMC in Georgia, all invested in me and prepared me for ministry. I go where sent because I'm part of the connection, part of the vine. Our model is that of God who sent Jesus Christ to us, God gave of his very self so we might become part of the vine. How we give is part of the connection and so is how we live. We are our brother's and sister's keeper but also the supporter of the Gospel lived and shared throughout the world. This is our portion and one of the ways being a United Methodist Christian is a unique journey. So how will you you live and give this week?

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