Author Archives: Tim

Family and Tradition

This past Sunday I started a sermon series using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to talk about basic Christian and Wesleyan/United Methodist faith. If you do not know, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral describes our United Methodist methodology for determining doctrine and practice in the church. It is a concept that pulls together the ideas of John Wesley, though the term “quadrilateral” really comes to us through Methodist historical Albert Outler. 

The quadrilateral is Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. This past Sunday I preached on the place of scripture in the Church reminding us that Scripture is our primary source for doctrine but not our only source and that tradition, reason and experience interplay with scripture in the formation of our faith.

Right now First UMC is also emphasizing the importance of the church family with an annual theme “Family First.” By family we do not just member the members and attenders of First UMC but all people who are part of God’s family. (That’s everyone!)

So this week I’m thinking about how tradition and family interplay. One of the great traditions of the church the sacrament of baptism. This Sunday I’ll be officiating my first baptism at First UMC! The candidate for baptism happens to be a very cute infant boy. 

United Methodists have the tradition of baptizing people at any age from infancy into adulthood. That tradition has Biblical roots in Peter’s baptism of Cornelius’ family and in our understanding of God’s grace. Grace is God’s unmerited unearned love and favors. One of the ways we describe grace is that it is “prevenient.” That means God loved us and cared about us before we ever knew God, before we could ever respond to God, and before we even understand anything about God or faith. God’s love comes first, just like a family’s love for a small child comes first!

So one of the valuable traditions of our Church is welcoming children into the family of God through baptism. In that traditional ceremony of baptism parents will renew their own baptismal vows, and promise to raise their child in the faith. The church will promise to love and care for that child and family and do all in their power to also help lead that child to faith in Christ and into the family of God.

That are some negative aspects of tradition and we also need to examine those to determine what traditions should remain and what traditions should we lifted up again and again. But in baptism the family of God is connected to each other, the universal body of Christ, and Christians down through the ages as people enter Christ’s church by water and spirit!

Diversity and Unity – Uniting Methodists

In our current struggles as United Methodists over differing views, particularly on those related to same sex marriage and the acceptance of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the Church, I have heard numerous predictions that we will split as a denomination. I’ve heard others suggest that a split might be the best thing. Or, similarly, if my side (pick yours) does not get its way, we should split because we do not want the other side to have the choice to disagree with us.

The drum beat that a split is the only fix or the only real answer, as the UMC has struggled with these issues all these many years, can be compelling for many. Lets face it, isn’t it much easier and much less difficult to relate to people who think like we do? Wouldn’t it seem easier if “progressives” and “conservatives” did their own thing?

I’ve prayed about what I love about United Methodism, what called me to be in fellowship with my UMC sisters and brothers and what makes me still want to be a United Methodist. It is our connectionalism matched with a wide and generous diversity the is compelling and life giving. I’ve joked that “where there are two Methodists there are at least three opinions!” But that is what I love about our Church.

John Wesley said it best when he said, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”

While some United Methodists see a split as the only option, I see the opportunity to find a new diverse way more compelling, more exciting, and more of what I would like to see the Church in the world to be about. We have hundreds of little splinter denomination in the US. If the UMC splits we only give further evidence of the lack of unity and diversity in the body of Christ.

While it may not seem likely, or even humanly possible, I want to see our Church hold together empowered by the Holy Spirit in the United Methodist faith we all love.

I also do not want us to become what United Methodists decry in other denominations. I do not want to see one side in our divisions force (or continue to force) their will on the other side. While those of you who know me know that my understanding of the gospel is quite progressive, a progressive/liberal Methodist denomination that does not allow for differences wouldn’t be much better in my mind than a doctrinaire conservative Methodist denomination. If diversity dies, the heart of Methodism dies with it!

In pursuit of the aim of keeping our great connection together, I’d like you to prayerfully check out the Uniting Methodist Movement. What I see this group of committed United Methodists doing is working for the diversity AND the unity that I long for in the UMC.

Many would say it would take a miracle to keep the United Methodist Church together. I am praying for that miracle!

You can find the website of the Uniting Methodist Movement here. I hope you will consider that God may want to perform a miracle, that God may want to keep the body of Christ found in the UMC together in ministry!

 

Where the Church Should Be Today!

This week in Charlottesville we were reminded of the horror and ugliness of evil in our world. We were reminded that racism and bigotry are far from gone from our county. And while we all this weekend stood in our pulpits to denouce this hate (at least I hope you did!), I am left with a profound anxiety about how we can now combat these evils knowing that none of it seems like enough!

Facebook posts and blogs, sermons, and prayers declaring that we disagree with and decry such evil are all a good start. But we are all left with the clear fact that we may have even more work to do than we thought to make this a just and safe nation for people of all nations, ethnicities, creeds, gender expressions and sexual orientations, etc. 

I thought about my Grandparents today. Their generation has been called by many “the greatest generation.” They were the generation, with whatever flaws they had too, that stood together against the evils of Naziism. Many of their generation fought and died to stop the horror of a megalomaniac who hoped to rule the world by conquest and by genocide. The fact that any American, ANY, could wave a Nazi flag (or wear a KKK emblem) without feeling the deepest shame is beyond my comprehension. And any American that does not feel they can decry such evil should also be ashamed. 

But more yet I’m shocked at those who are willing to start making this a left/right us/them argument and that those who chose to be in Charlottesville to oppose the Nazis and the KKK are somehow themselves also to blame, as if there is a valid argument to be made in favor of facism, racism, and white supremacy over liberty and equality.

The old argument that there are “two sides” to everything does not hold true here. Racism and bigotry are poisoning evils. The is no pro and con argument to be made about bigotry. Hate is always wrong. Bigotry is always wrong. Hating others as individuals or as a group is always wrong. 

Shockingly, as American Christians, many have turned Christian morality on its head. We tithe dill and cumin and avoid the weightier commandments of the gospel to love our neighbor as ourselves, hear the cry of the poor and marginalized, and stand with those whom Jesus would stand with. We are arguing about who we’d bake a cake for while destroyers with torches march in the streets. Do not think that God will not call us accountable for such frivoless use of our faith!

If you are wondering where Christians and the Church should be doing its ministry right now, you have no further to look than the streets of Charlottesville. The only images that gave me comfort and hope this weekend were the images of clergy of all faiths standing arm in arm wearing symbols of their faith singing, “This Little Light of Mine” as they were threatened with insults and violence. In those faces I saw the light of Christ shining. In those linked arms I felt the strong arms of Jesus. 

Yes, our sisters and brothers in Charlottesville gave us the example. Our call is stand between the haters and the targets of all hate and share the love of Christ. May our loving God give us the strength and courage so to stand!

Struggling with Our Faith

The gospel reading for this Sunday tells the story about Jacob wrestling with God. For me it is all about a human being struggle with what it means to relate to God.

I grew up with a view of Christian faith that gave the impression that the Bible was like a rule book with all the answers to all the questions we have about life and faith and that the particular set of interpretations I was being taught was the “New Testament faith.”

I did not have to gain too much theological education to realize that many passages of scripture have more than one interpretation and that many Churches/Denominations have been founded based on those differing interpretations.

While there was a lot of talk about the Bible being a book of all the right rules, there was also what became to me a more valuable emphasis on a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

When I look back on my early faith I realize that many of my views on quite a few specific Christian teachings have changed radically. But I still very much appreciate having learned that one of the most important things about being a Christian is a relationship with God through Christ.

Of course it is more than just our own personal connection with God. John Wesley, our most famous United Methodist founder, declared that that the only holiness is social holiness! What Wesley meant was that our relationship with God is not for our personal self-fulfillment. In fact the relationship’s value is much diminished if we are not allowing our experiences with Christ to lead us to want to make our world a better, more loving, more gracious and more just place.

Jesus did not die for us so that we could horde God’s love. Jesus came that we might live life more abundantly and share that abundance. That balance of personal and social holiness is one of the reasons I am a United Methodist Christian.

While I believe I know more about my relationship with God now than before, I do still struggle with parts of my faith. (Did you know that pastors do and can struggle with faith? And if they do not, that is something else to worry about!) Paul Tillich said that doubt is a part of faith. And I believe that struggle is also a part of faith. What do I struggle with?

I struggle with why good people suffer, why children go hungry, why God yet allows evil in the world, and if the Church in the world will get over its own internal struggles enough to represent Christ’s love. I struggle with why Christians sometimes believe that being right is more important than being grace filled. (This list is not exhaustive!)

There are days I wrestle with God searching for the answers to the questions I struggle with. Some of the highest and holiest experiences are that wrestling with God because I’ve learned that it is not me finding the answers that is important, it is that God is loving and gracious and willing to wrestle with me. And of course, the best answer God gives me in those struggles is, “I am with you always.”

If you are struggling with your faith, know that God is there to struggle with you. Know that God does not stop caring for you. No matter how much you struggle, God is with you.