Monday, March 09, 2009

Plain Character

Mark 12: 28-34

The reason why I love youth events is that the people who attend them sometimes, are the most open and curious people you could meet in a Christian setting.

I met a young man, probably in his early twenties, on Friday night—he was not technically a youth, but a member of the band that had been put together for the event, a guitarist who plays in a few bands in the back mountain. He’s one of those guys who has a lot of questions, and it totally laid open for the answers. The cancer of doctrinal rigidity hasn’t affected him yet, and he really wanted to know what Methodists are about.

It was a great conversation, and luckily I had been working with Wesley’s pamphlet “Character of a Methodist” all week for this sermon, so I had the answers quickly to mind.

And in the end, according to Wesley, what makes us special is that nothing much makes us special. According to Wesley, the ideal Methodist is:
• Someone who shows the love of God everywhere they go,
• always in a state of rejoicing,
• trusts in God that all that happens in life can be made to bend to the will of God,
• always in a state of prayer, an awareness of the presence of God continually, even whey they do not have their hands folded and their head lowered,
• assumes the best of everyone they meet,
• focused on God first, and
• gives glory to God for all their talents and is obedient to God in their use.

Methodists don’t have special political opinions. We’re all over the map. Methodists do not have special ways of speaking, we use plain English.
Methodists do not worship in any specific way, wear anything distinctive, avoid getting married, eat anything or avoid eating anything special. There is nothing “weird” about us. We’re just plain folk, who love God.

For us, the Bible is all we need for faith and practice. We have no other creeds besides what was written in Nicea in the 4th century, the most universal of all the creeds. The end of the world, and all that will happen, is interesting to some of us, and to others, boring, and we just don’t care.

What makes us special is that there is nothing that makes us special. God is available to us in ordinary language, ordinary practice, ordinary life. We’re one great big mass of beliefs, customs and practices.

We assign to ourselves the practice of only the essentials of the faith. To say with Jesus that there is only one God, and we are to love him with our heart, should mind and strength, or every thing we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, is no big deal. That’s where we live.

We believe that God is with us in every part of life, so there is no reason to dress up special, to say special words, to do anything that brings God to us. He’s already here. He’s with us when we’re in our pajamas, brushing our teeth, glasses on, contacts out. He’s with us when we’re sweaty and dusty from working all day, body tired from exertion. He’s with us when we’ve been up for too many hours in a row, studying for an exam.

Now, today, we live in a world that is divisive. What one person considers good and righteous, someone else considers evil and worthy of repentance, of changing direction. We struggle as a nation to try to get out of the practice of believing that everyone who disagrees with us is either evil or an idiot, but there are so many ways for us to fall back into that trap. It happens all the time. The news we watch, the magazines we read, the radio we listen to. For some, even in our denomination, the practice of the faith is the same. People make stands, make opinions based not of Scripture, not based on “shedding abroad the love of God,” and expect us to fall into lockstep with them.

The Three simple Rules call us back to our essentials. Do no Harm, do Good, Stay in Love with God. The rules don’t say how. The rules don’t give us opinions. What one person considers to be an obvious conclusion of the faith is heartily disagreed with by the next. There are no standard positions that Methodists can take as Methodists, save two; You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. You don’t like the speaker that a local university has invited to campus? Don’t go. You don’t like the positions a political candidate takes on certain issues? Don’t vote for them. You don’t like the opinions of a political commentator on the TV news? Change the channel. But do not call into question their integrity, do not speak of them as evil, and assume that, if they are Christian, they also believe in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that they believe they should love their neighbor as themselves.

Everything else comes after. Everything else must be run through the filter of Loving God and loving each other. If we were to truly do this, the heat of so much that is wrong with us as a country would be turned way down. Our racism would shrink; the volume of our political divisiveness would be turned way down. All of our ills would, while certainly not cured, at least made less important.

“Whosoever doeth the will of my father which is in heaven, they are my brother and sister and mother”. If we disagree politically, so what? Let it not separate us as brothers and sisters in Christ. Is your heart right, as my heart is right? Then give me your hand. Don’t let opinions destroy the work of God. If you love and serve God, it is enough for me.

That is doing no harm.
That is doing good.

That is staying in love with God.

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