2 Timothy 1: 8-14
On Tuesday of this week, we’re having the annual meeting that United Methodist Churches have in order to make our reports and demonstrate our health to the greater Body of Christ—kind of like the annual checkup we go to get at the doctor.
Another way to think of it is like the annual inspection they do at most fast food franchises. Someone comes around, once a year, to every McDonalds, Popeye’s or Subway, and checks to see that the bathrooms are clean, the customer service is friendly, and the stores are attractive. The corporation has designed the stores a specific way, and it is in their interest to make sure that each individual store maintains what is distinctive.
A very important part of that inspection is the food itself. Does the burger griller at the Burger King work properly, so that you can recognize the flame grilled taste? Are both mild and spicy recipes of chicken being served the right way at a Popeyes? Does the red beans and rice taste proper?
You may say that a hamburger is just a hamburger, or chicken is just chicken. But it really isn’t. When you see a Subway sandwich, you know exactly how to tell it apart from a Quizno’s sandwich. Taste tests between the French fries at Burger King and McDonald’s are reported by one or the other (whichever one wins that particular round) with all the glee and joy they can muster.
So, here’s the question. If you were to think of us as the local franchise of the United Methodist Church, what would you say are the things that make us distinctive? If the Cross and Flame out on the wall were our “Golden Arches”, what would you find inside that are our selling points? How can you tell us apart from the Baptists, or the Catholics, or the “nondenominational” folks?
Let’s start with what we all have in common; the common ingredients to all Christian cooking; the essentials, or the “staples”:
God, Creator of Heaven and Earth—
Jesus Christ, Crucified, died, and buried, resurrected,
Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and is our connection to God now.
Then there are the things that are different among us, but not essentials, such as;
the Baptists and the Catholics don’t ordain women, we do;
the Catholics don’t have married clergy, and we and the Baptists can, and
the Baptists don’t have Bishops, and we and the Catholics do.
There is a deeper philosophy at work in each faith expression, of course, but that is too much for one sermon. Here’s what I think is the essential bit that is important to us as Methodists, though: The recipe for good Methodist cooking always must include Grace.
Grace is the main ingredient, for us. It’s like Bubba in Forrest Gump naming all those recipes for shrimp; Grace Gumbo, Grace Etouffee, Fried Grace, Grace Cocktail, Grilled Grace, Grace Fettuccine Alfredo. . .
Every expression of faith in the body of Christ is going to have some measure of grace in it. But Methodists have taken grace and run wild with it. We base most of our recipes on it. You might say that grace is like the beef at Wendy’s, and our question should always be, “where’s the Grace?”
God works in everyone’s lives, and it rarely looks the same each time. Think of the person who hears the Apostle’s Creed and says “well, I can go with the God as creator bit, but I am not really comfortable with God as Father. My father was abusive to me and my brothers and sisters, and I just am not sure that I can believe in a God as a father, with that experience.” Grace is that thing that works in their lives that brings them slowly to an understanding that what God means by Father is WAY different than what their experience was.
Or think of the person who progresses from the belief that they could never be a leader, a singer, a speaker in the church, and are slowly led, through experience, courage and encouragement, to preach, to sing a solo, or to become the chair of a committee. That movement, that progression, that growth, is grace.
Grace truly is what we run on. Grace is also the oil that lubricates the machine that is the body of Christ, so that the parts don’t shear each other off and become useless. But grace is also something that has to be accepted so that it can grease the wheels—the wheels have to allow the oil to penetrate. John Wesley knew this, and had a particular medium for getting that penetrating oil into the system. For the early Methodist Societies, which is what he named the small groups and house churches, they were called “Ordinances of God”,
1. public worship of God
2. ministry of the Word, read or expounded
3. the supper of the Lord
4. family and private prayer
5. searching the scriptures
6. fasting or abstinence.
By observing these Ordinances, somehow, grace is generated, which is our distinctive ingredient. As Methodists, if we are following the recipes, these are the ways we cook. And they aren’t hard. If you’re hearing me talk this morning, you’re taking care of #1 and #2. If you were here for communion, #3 is handled. #4 and #5, Family and private prayer and searching the scriptures are more something you do at home. Do you say grace before you eat your meals? That’s good. Do you read your Bible? That’s good. If you set aside a time to pray besides meals, even better! Do you fast or refrain from eating or drinking something? This is the one that many of us, me included ignore, but it is as good a tool as anything else!
When we get together on Tuesday, we will celebrate a pair of churches that are vital and self-sufficient. The missions might be a little different, the cultures of both churches certainly are, but I think both churches can safely say that they are cooking the basic recipes of the Methodist franchise. Now, where can we go with that special ingredient, grace, next?