Tag Archives: United Methodist

The Sacrament of Baptism

given on Sunday, September 24, 2017

Special note:  Because we have seldom had the opportunity to baptize anybody, I decided to make the entire service a teaching time for the sacrament of baptism.  The following are the comments and the liturgy that I used.  I hope it helps all to understand.

 

*Opening words about the Sacrament of Baptism:

 

            Today we are so privileged to have two young people decide to be baptized. The last few years, our small community has watched life transitions shrink our congregation. Today, we get to celebrate in the life transition of baptism.

Baptism is a ritual The Church has initiated for those who chose to accept God’s gift of grace into their lives. As we go through the liturgy, you will hear how the ritual affirms the decision to be part of The Church which includes all Christian denominations.

Baptism in the Methodist tradition begins at any time in one’s life.

  • Parents can bring their children to be baptized as infants committing to raising them within the church of their choice.
  • Young people can make the decision to be baptized on their own at any time in their life as they learn about God and his son Jesus Christ.
  • Adults, even at the end of their life journey, can decide to be baptized acknowledging their acceptance of God’s grace and salvation.

The United Methodist Church acknowledges the baptism of any individual in any Christian denomination. One baptism, whether as an infant or later, acknowledges one’s inclusion as a child of God.       Therefore, those who wish to renew their personal relationship can reaffirm their baptism at any time. Today, we offer the opportunity for any others to join in reaffirming their baptism, too.

 

Please turn in your hymnal to page 33: The Baptismal Covenant I

(At times the words will be adjusted to meet the particular needs of today’s service.)

 

Pastor:         Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Through the Sacrament of Baptism

we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.

We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation

and given new birth through water and the Spirit.

All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

 

Today as we join in the sacrament of Baptism,

we can also choose to reaffirm our own baptism,

acknowledging what God has, is and will be doing for us,

and affirming our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.

 

Presentation of the Candidates UMH p.33

 

*Comments about the decision and preparation of candidates

Each person here today has a story about his or her own baptism. I myself was baptized as an infant. My mom and dad made the decision. I know others here made the decision themselves as young people.

For those who were baptized after making the decision for themselves, the words of the liturgy probably have more significance than it did for me. In order to prepare for baptism, Ali and Sami sat down with me for several meetings to go over the ritual and its words. We talked about what the experience meant to believers and what it means to them. We talked about different ways to experience it, too.

The methods of baptism range from sprinkling drops of water from a small bowl to full emersion in all kinds of water filled settings. As Ali and Sami began thinking about their own baptism, they considered full emersion at Truman Lake, but summer sped past and here we are today.

As you notice, we are going to do all we can to assure them that baptism is a full experience, one they will never forget. What better time for all of us, so far removed by the years from our own baptism, to reaffirm our baptism, too.

The ritual includes three primary parts: the call to repent of one’s sins, the water bath representing the cleansing of one’s sins, and finally the acceptance of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit which is God within us. The words of the ritual have had very few changes since the church first began. Even Jesus Christ experienced baptism and he was about 30 years old when he asked his cousin John the Baptist to baptize him:

 

Opening scripture: Matthew 3:11-17, NLT

 

[John the Baptist is speaking.] 11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

 

Pastor:         Today I have the honor of presenting

Alex and Samantha Heyer for baptism. (have them stand)

 

Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith (Call to Repent) UMH p.34

 

Scripture: John 3:16-17, NLT

 

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Pastor:         On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

reject the evil powers of this world,

and repent of your sin?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

put your whole trust in his grace,

and promise to serve him as your Lord,

in union with the Church which Christ has opened

to people of all ages, nations, and races?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         According to the grace given to you,

will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church

and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

 

Candidate: I will.

 

Profession of Faith using the Apostle’s Creed UMH p.35

 

*Comments about the Apostle’s Creed:

As the Apostles established The Church after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, there was an effort to find ways to maintain the common beliefs.

The Apostle’s Creed was the result of the earliest church conferences meeting in ancient times. The creed is divided into three parts that clearly define the Christian belief in the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the liturgy today, the Apostle’s Creed is divided into three answers to the pastor’s questions. By joining in the Apostle’s Creed, we are restating the foundation of the Christian faith (Have the congregation stand.):

 

Pastor:         Let us join together in professing the Christian faith

as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New                                             Testaments.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in God the Father?

 

All:     I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven

                        and earth.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

 

All:     I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

            who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

            born of the Virgin Mary,

            suffered under Pontius Pilate,

            was crucified, died, and was buried;

            he descended to the dead.

            On the third day he rose again;

            he ascended into heaven,

            is seated at the right hand of the Father,

            and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

 

All:     I believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the holy catholic* church,

            the communion of saints,

            the forgiveness of sins,

            the resurrection of the body,

            and the life everlasting.

 

UMC Hymn 191    Jesus Loves Me

 

Thanksgiving over the water (UMH p. 36)

 

*Comments about the symbolic use of water:

            Many might ask why water is used in the ritual. Water symbolizes life and rebirth. From the beginning of time, humans have understood that we are born through water, and we are cleansed by water. The Church uses baptism with water to represent the rebirth as a Christian and the cleansing of one’s sins as we ask for forgiveness.

Water is considered the source of life. Today we use water as a symbol of being born into the Christian family. Even though we have been present in the church for years, it is important that we personally recognize that our lives are God driven. Water is a reminder that we are born into God’s family and we are cleansed of our sins.

Join in the liturgy that blesses the water and allows us to experience that symbolic connection to God as our father and to Jesus Christ our redeemer.

 

Pastor:         The Lord be with you.

 

All:                 And also with you.

 

Pastor:         Let us pray:

 

Eternal Father:

When nothing existed but chaos,

you swept across the dark waters

and brought forth light.

In the days of Noah

you saved those on the ark through water.

After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.

When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,

you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan

to the land which you promised.

 

All:     Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

            Tell of God’s mercy each day.

 

Pastor:         In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,

nurtured in the water of a womb.

He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.

He called his disciples

to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection

and to make disciples of all nations.

 

All:     Declare Christ’s works to the nations,

            his glory among all the people.

 

Pastor:         Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance

the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,

and you clothe us with righteousness

throughout our lives,

that dying and rising with Christ

we may share in his final victory.

 

Pastor:         All praise to you, Eternal Father,  

            through your Son Jesus Christ,

            who with you and the Holy Spirit

            lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

 

Reaffirmation of Faith UMH p. 37

 

*Comments about reaffirming one’s faith:

            Even though we are here to witness Ali and Sami in their decision to be baptized, we can take the opportunity to reaffirm our own baptism. God is with us throughout our lives, be we are not perfect.

We make mistakes. We sin. And yet we know that God is always present. It is up to us to recognize that we have failed and must ask for forgiveness.

You are invited to join in with others who wish to reaffirm their baptism, too. The words of reaffirmation do not replace your once-in-a-life experience; it simply reconnects you to God.

With the words of today’s liturgy and the opportunity to experience the water that we have given thanks for earlier. You may touch it, dribble it, sprinkle it, fling it, or even make the sign of the cross with it. You can handle it as you wish, but the pastor cannot re-baptize you.

 

Pastor:         Remember your baptism and be thankful.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Pastor (those choosing to participate, may walk up to the water):     

The Holy Spirit work within you,

that having been born through water and the Spirit,

you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Transferring membership from another congregation:

 

*Comments on transferring memberships:

United Methodist Churches know that one’s membership may need to change due to life experiences. Whether one is moving from one community to another, whether one decides to change denominations for any reason, or whether life circumstances shift one way or another, it is a simple matter of changing one’s church membership.

For those moving from other denominations, becoming familiar with the doctrine of the United Methodists may be necessary. But transferring from one United Methodist congregation to another is much simpler and leaves only one question to ask in order to officially make the transfer.

 

Pastor:         Sharon Dzula has made the decision to transfer her

membership from her long-time church home of Mt. Tabor to our church.

 

Will you be loyal to the Community United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence,

your gifts, and your service?

 

Transferee:            Yes, I will.

 

Baptism with Laying on of Hands (UMH p. 37)

Comments on the practice of Laying on of Hands.

As we near the end of today’s service, the time has come to finalize the baptism ritual. Rather than administering the traditional means of sprinkling, we are going to use the practice of laying on the hands for Ali and Sami.

All are invited to surround them as they wish, place their hands upon them or the others who can reach them, as we welcome them into the Christian faith:

 

Pastor: Alex, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Sami, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

And of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

All:     Amen

 

Pastor:         The Holy Spirit works within you,

That being born through water and the Spirit,

You may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen

 

The Sacrament of Communion:

 

*Comments about the communion as a church family:

            We are closing the sacrament of baptism with the second sacrament the church recognizes: Communion, aka as the Eucharist, or the Table of Bread and Word.

Throughout history communities have come together around the table. In our congregation, the tradition is the first Sunday of the month, but today sharing the cup and the bread is one final way to welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ to be in fellowship together.

 

UMC Hymn 620    One Bread, One Body

 

UMC page 13-14

 

Thanksgiving and welcome:

 

*Comments about local membership in the church:

Baptism is the first step in committing one’s self to the Christian lifestyle. The door is open to a life of joy knowing that whatever trials and tribulations we must face on earth, we are given the strength we need.

God is ever with us because he promised that upon our baptism he grants us the Holy Spirit, which is God within us. We have a responsibility to learn all we can about God and how he sent Jesus Christ to teach us how to live:

  • We have a responsibility to live in loving relationships with others.
  • We have a responsibility to love others as we want to be loved.
  • We have a responsibility to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

By joining together with other Christians, regardless of their church denomination, we will discover the joy in living as Paul shares in his letter to the Philippians:

 

Closing Scripture: Philippians 1:3-10, NLT

 

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

 

Pastor: Now it is our joy to welcome you as sisters in Christ.

 

All:     Through baptism

            You are incorporated by the Holy Spirit

                        Into God’s new creation

            And made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

            We are all one in Christ Jesus.

            With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you

                        as members of the family of Christ.

 

Pastor:         Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God.

 

All:     We give thanks for all that God has already given us.

As members of the body of Christ

and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,

we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church

            by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,

our service and our witness

            that in everything God may be glorified

            through Jesus Christ.

 

UMC Hymn 77       How Great Thou Art (to the accompaniment of Elvis)

 

Closing words and benediction UMH p. 39

 

Pastor:        The God of all grace,

Who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,

Establish you and strengthen you

By the power of the Holy Spirit,

That you may live in grace and peace.

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And He saw that it was very good: We are the caretakers

Scriptural base: Genesis 1:26-31

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

Reflection

 

            Spring simply delights me. I love watching the trees begin to turn colors as the sap moves up the branches and the flowers pop up above the dried leaves that have blanketed them all winter long. The birds are singing even before the sun is visible above the horizon. How can anyone not praise God for such glories!

Then I see something that literally tears at my heart. Over the winter, the preventive work along the roads became evident. The methods of trimming back the branches and young trees shred and mutilate the trees. They look like arms ripped off, twisted, peeled, and scarred. The pain I feel is as horrible as seeing a child crying in pain as the cuts are cleaned and bandaged up. But, the trees have no one cleaning and bandaging them.   

Reading through the first story of creation in Genesis, the images leave plenty for one’s imagination to picture the earth God created.   And as he looked over all that he had done, he knew that this earth needed caretakers. The question for us today is, “Are we caretakers of this earth?”

United Methodists have long supported the role of caretaker. The social principles are carefully outlined and reviewed every four years. The principles for the natural world begin with this statement:

All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. [Accessed on April 18, 2015 at www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-natural-world]

The full natural world principle includes eight categories:

  1. Water, air, soil, minerals, plants
  2. Energy resources utilization
  3. Animal life
  4. Global Climate Stewardship
  5. Space
  6. Science and technology
  7. Food safety
  8. Food justice

The list covers much more than what comes to mind when thinking about this week’s focus of Earth Day and Arbor Day. In fact, the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” does not include all of those categories, but it does tell us that we have a gorgeous world that we praise and therefore are responsible for its care.

Of course being raised on a farm, some may think that my reaction to the pruned trees is understandable, but the business of keeping the roads safe is another way to be a proper caretaker of God’s earth. I cannot agree, especially as I see other trimmed trees that are not shredded but are neatly trimmed and cleaned up.

Yes, this is personal. God placed us in the position of caretaker for this world and we must take charge. We need to do all that we can for our little corner of the world.   What do we do to care for this earth that we are so dependent upon for our own existence?

Today the hymns we sing are part of the praise we lift to God for providing us this world. The words outline so many delights in our natural world:

  • Hymn 145: “Morning Has Broken” — . . .like the first morning, . . . blackbird has spoken, . . . Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the first grass. . .
  • Hymn 92: “For the Beauty of the Earth” — . . . glory of the skies, . . . for the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light, . . joy of ear and eye. . .mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight . . .
  • Hymn 189: “Fairest Lord Jesus” — . . . Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, robed in the blooming . . Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host . . .

There are so many more hymns that add similar images to our vision of this glorious earth we were gifted and were assigned to be caretakers.

This week there are two days added to the calendar which focus on this responsibility. First there is Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22. Even though this is a recent addition to the calendar in our generations’ experience, the fact that it is now a widely proclaimed day to focus on the very same list of principles that have long been part of the United Methodists’ social principles.

Again, the question: Are we caretakers of this earth? Continuing through the introduction to the natural world listed in the UM Book of Discipline, there is more to the rationale of including the natural world in the social principles:

. . . Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. . . .

Daily decisions on how we farm, how we make consumer decisions, and how we even dispose of our trash all are wrapped up in the economic, political, social and technological decisions we make. Are we making decisions based on the role of caretaker or are our decisions made without any concern to how it affects this world in which we live.

As I read through the introduction, I find myself squirming. Right now I have a drawer full of outdated technology that I have no idea what I should do with in terms of recycling or repurposing or simply adding to the landfills. The daily decisions we make in our homes do not necessarily seem to reflect our caretaker role. Sometimes we just look at convenience.

What, then, are we to do? Being well-informed is one step, but then when you find a method that supports the caretaker role, try to use it; and maybe even step out of one’s comfort zone and become a public advocate for that method. The social principle introduction for the natural world adds to this:

Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.

This Sunday morning, we begin with praise. We acknowledge all the glory God provided us in the creation of this world. Then we pay attention to all that we do to fulfill the position of caretaker. Maybe we take Friday, April 24, and plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day. Maybe we go out and find a recycling facility that will work to take our plastics, glass and paper. These are the personal steps we can take to be caretakers in our own little corner of the world.

What can the church do? That may be a tougher question, but the first thought that pops into my thoughts is to become a recycling center. Maybe it means considering our heating and cooling practices, or do we share information around the neighborhood. It is not an easy question to ask and even a harder problem to find an appropriate way to become active caretakers. The challenge begins with making a commitment to support the social principles of our church, then make a plan to move into action, and finally, do it. We can be caretakers. We can be leaders in our community. We can demonstrate simple steps that can make a huge difference right here in our own community.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

We sing our praises for the glories you created.

We open our eyes and see beauty around us.

We listen to the music of nature as birds sing.

We breathe in the aroma of rain, sun, and blooms.

We feel warmth in the sun and the brush of a breeze.

Thank you for sharing all these wonders.

As spring continues to refresh our world,

Guide us in our responsibility as caretakers.

Guide us in finding ways to do all we can.

Guide us to care for our space and for all spaces we can.

May we be the caretakers your designed us to be.

May we lead others, too, in taking care of the earth.

May we demonstrate how to love you by loving the earth. –Amen

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Call to Action: What would John Wesley do?

given on Sunday, April 29, 2012

Special introduction:  This blog entry is more of a reflection and sharing of Missouri’s UMC Bishop testimony and the Call to Action which is currently under review at the denomination’s General Conference.  This is not a comfortable discussion, but probably necessary in view of the state of the United Methodist church today.  These thoughts are based on several readings done this week from the Bishop’s blog, from the UM Reporter, the Call to Action website, etc.  Hopefully this will keep readers in prayer for the structure of our church.

 

Scriptural connection:

Bishop Schnase’s Fruitful Practices guide clergy and laity to understand the elements of a vital congregation.  They are foundational pieces.  The Call to Action is a ‘polity’ issue that is hard to understand.  The UMC has several layers of leadership and most members are unaware of the roles and responsibilities of the leadership.  The Bishop references all arguments directly to the Bible.  Today’s reading is one related to the Call to Action.  Hear the words and pray for our church:

[The verses are related to the Bible Study over the Call to Action.  Connect them while reading through the scriptures.]

1.  A call to make disciples for the transformation of the world

  • I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  –Philippians 3:12

2.  A call for spiritual renewal

  • I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.  –Romans 12:1-2

3.  A call for more turnaround spiritual leaders

  • Perhaps you have come to [this position] for just such a time as this.  –Esther 4:14

4.  A call to grow more vital congregations

  • That day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, the broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts; praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  –Acts 2:41-47

5.  A call for transformative change

  • The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.  –Luke 4:18

6.  A call for bold leadership to transform the world

  • The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

 –Ephesians 4:11-12

7.  A call to the General Conference for transformational changes

  • As [God] has sent me, so I send you.  –John 20:21

The sermon/reflection:

For the past four years, I have become very aware of the “polity” of the United Methodist Church.  This topic is not an easy one and certainly does not lend itself to casual conversation or motivation to do what the latest mailing encourages us to do.  I can only wonder what John Wesley would think about the many levels of administration the church currently has.

How can the polity of our denomination have anything to do with the commission!  Remember, we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  The polity is the organizational structure of the denomination.  Everything is covered in the Book of Discipline.  This is not what Wesley envisioned for the church.  He was believed doing was ministry, and having all this organizational structure would be seen as a handicap in doing the Lord’s work.

Frustrations over the organization do not help us move forward in our own ministry either.  The Call to Action resulted from a thorough evaluation of the entire denomination done by an outside group (can’t find the name).  After reading through the blog, 30 Days of Preparation by Bishop Schnase, I realized that the Call to Action is about carrying out the Great Commission.

The Bishop is passionate about his faith and how important that his commission is.  In the blog, on Day 16, the Bishop shares his personal testimony.  It is so key to understanding his passion for God, but also for the passion he has for the denomination.  Therefore, I invite you to listen to his testimony and ask yourself what Wesley would say.

         I would not be a Christian today if it were not for The United Methodist Church.

         That’s a rather bold statement. I’ve only recently come to realize this as I reflect on the formative events of my early discipleship. If not for the particular approach to theology and practice expressed in The United Methodist Church, I would likely have followed a path of rejecting faith.

         I remember an experience that followed the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that killed more than 5,000. I was 15 years old, and several of my friends were active in a charismatic Christian house group. They were reading The Late Great Planet Earth about signs of the end times. I saw an adult leader clap her hands and praise God for the earthquake because it was a sign that we were one step closer to the end! I was outraged. I was so furious about “Christianity” that I told my pastor I could no longer be a Christian if that’s what Christians believe. He patiently listened and offered alternative views of those obscure apocalyptic passages. He spoke of God’s grace and talked about what our church was doing for the people of Nicaragua and how I could help. If the only expression of Christianity open to me at that age had been that group of friends, I would not be a Christian today.

         That was one of several experiences that opened the door to the spiritual life when other doors closed to me. My girlfriend was active in a fundamentalist Baptist church. The role of women and the attitude toward women that she accepted offended my common sense even before it contradicted my biblical understanding. At our United Methodist church, women chaired committees and taught from the pulpit, and I could not imagine belonging to a community that excluded women. Later, a classmate committed suicide. Hundreds of students attended the funeral in a fundamentalist church where the pastor spoke about how we should all feel happy because Martin was in a better place. He told us not to cry, because God has a reason for everything he does. He suggested that Martin had done things that caused God to do this. The image of a punitive God that causes suffering and the inability of the pastor to address the real grief in the room made me cringe. The experience sent me back to my pastor. If this was Christianity, I wanted no part of it. A month later, Martin’s father killed himself.

         There were branches of the Christian family that surrounded me as a teenager that were militantly anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that forced people to choose between the Bible and evolution as if these were fundamentally incompatible. I could not have followed Christ if it meant giving up my intellectual curiosity.

         There were branches that were perfunctory in their liturgy, void of music and song, and entirely intellectual in their approaches, and the emptiness left me cold. Some of my friends were strict Nazarenes, and they could not go to movies, watch TV, or attend plays. Their isolation from society would not reach me.

         There were denominational families that prohibited birth control, and these made no sense to me. And there were churches that railed against gays and lesbians in hateful and hurtful ways, and I could not belong to a community like that.

         There are many theological disagreements and clashing perspectives in The United Methodist Church about homosexuality, but I’m glad to belong to a church that does not avoid the hard conversations and the complex issues. Sincere people of faith strongly disagree, but I’m glad we say that homosexuals are people of sacred worth, loved by God like every person on earth.

         United Methodism’s theology of grace, varieties of worship, emphasis on inner holiness and social witness, global vision, hymnody, our ability to hold together head and heart, our respect for women and men, our openness to people of all nations and ethnicities, our vision to transform the world through audacious projects like Imagine No Malaria—these form an expression of Christianity, a way of following Jesus, that can reach people that no other faith expression is able to reach. I’m not saying our approach is better than all the others; I’m merely suggesting that people respond to the truth of Christ through our expression of faith who cannot respond to other expressions. This form of faith and practice reached me, and without The United Methodist Church I suspect I would never have become a Christian.

         The goal of the Call to Action is not to save the denomination or the institutions of the church. I’m offended by people who accuse me and others involved in this work of merely working for institutional survival. I have poured thirty years into the work of ministry in Christ’s name, and I have not done this to maintain an institution.

         The reason I pour myself into the ministry and into leading the church comes from a deep-rooted place inside. It is grounded in the grace I have experienced, an initiating love that sought and found me through countless people who brought me God’s unconditional love. This desire to share God’s grace is God-given and sacred.

         From the depths of my soul, I desire for people to love and be loved, to experience a sense of purpose from serving others, and to believe that their lives matter. I want people to feel immersed in community, surrounded and sustained. I genuinely desire for them to discover the inner life, and to learn to ease the suffering that comes with empty strivings. I want them to discover that love is the better way, and that the ultimate expression of love can be discovered in Christ. The spiritual life changes us, and through us God’s Spirit changes the lives of those around us. Patterns of violence and injustice can be interrupted, loneliness can be overcome and suffering relieved, and there is a depth to life that is sacred and worthy of cultivation.

         Methodism began as a way of life, and this way of life, deep-rooted in our theology and practice, is worthy of fostering, not for our sake, but for the love of God in Christ. There are people who can receive this love in the form we offer it who otherwise would never be able to do so.

As members we all are the United Methodist Church.  As those attending the services each week, we are reminded by the Bishop’s personal story that our faith is meant to be shared, that the denomination is a tool to carry out the Great Commission, and the frustrations we have with the polity of the church can be challenged and a change can be made.

We do not know the outcome of the votes from General Conference yet as there is still one more week of the meeting.  We must wait for news, but in the meantime consider what Wesley would tell us to do.  We are to pray.  Pray as you do, but for this week and again as we prepare for Annual Conference in June, pray for our denomination itself.  Pray that God leads us to the best solution possible.  Pray that our church moves forward accepting the changes needed to complete the commission we have been given.  And, do what Wesley would do—remain with his small group, read the Bible, pray, and do all that you can do for all those you can in any way that you can.

Dear Holy Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,

         Our church is facing tough decisions.

         Please be with our leaders as they struggle to reach common ground.

         Keep first and foremost in their mind Christ’s final words to his disciples.

         As the General Conference closes, keep all delegates safe as they return.

         As the delegates return, let them come home united in the mission.

         Keep the delegates focused on making disciples and the ministries.

         When Annual Conferences begin their meetings around this globe,

         guide the leaders in sharing the news and explaining any decisions.

         Equip the leaders and the Annual Conference delegates with grace

         so that the faithful can truly bring disciples to Christ

         and transform the world.         –Amen

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