I had the awesome pleasure of sitting in on a meeting where we talked with men and women who have heard a call to ordained ministry. It was an incredible way to spend a Saturday. I had originally believed I had no time to give, but I now know that the time was a gift from God (not a “thorn in my flesh” from the enemy). We asked questions, we listened to call stories and we talked about ministry in the United Methodist Church. Through it all I was struck by one question – “What would you tell people is distinctive about being United Methodist?” We had a variety of answers and it made me wonder, having been in ministry for over a decade now, how would I answer that question?
I began to think about grace. I have found that our Wesleyan influence puts us in a strong grace position. Grace is the gift of God that is more than we deserve. It’s the gift of God’s running after us even as we run away from him. It’s being reconnected to God by the gift of his son, Jesus, who died for us before we even acknowledged our need for forgiveness. It’s the gift of God that constantly transforms us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
The end result of grace is the reality that we can be made perfect in love. Not that we can reach perfection on our own in any way, but we can be MADE perfect – perfect in our love for God and others. Sounds arrogant doesn’t it? But, think about it, if our goal in this life is not perfection by the power of God’s Spirit, how low do we set our sights? How good is good enough? Methodists believe holiness should be a high priority in our lives. It’s interesting how grace is all about not trying to earn God’s love, while the pursuit of holiness can so easily become that. But, the fear of what some would say must not stop us from putting it at the top of our to-do list.
The best thing about being United Methodist came home to me in two ways over the last few days. First was that meeting where we got to help pray through and talk through the discernment of people’s call to be involved with God in His purpose. How humbling, inspiring and cool is that! And then there is our connection to others. Yesterday (Sunday) in our worship we prayed for our friends at the Seabrook UM Church who just moved into a new building a year to the day that Hurricane Ike took out their old one. We also prayed for and gave offering for St. John’s UMC in Texas City, which burned on Thursday night. On that same Sunday morning, as collections were taken by other UM churches, St. John’s met for worship in the First UMC, Texas City facility. That offer was made before the fire trucks has left the scene.
I love that the celebration down the road is our celebration. I love that the burden down the road is not theirs to carry alone. I love being a United Methodist pastor. I tell people all the time that I am not concerned about which denomination people end up in, my hope for every one is that they find a real, deep, honest connection with God through Jesus. At the same time, I think we have a great handle on how to do that and how to do it together.
Some who read this are not United Methodist, but you follow Jesus, and therefore we are one together. I thank God for each one of you, even those who read this and I will never know.
Holy high five to you, Mike.