Come to the Table
With General Conference starting May 10 you can rest assured The United Methodist Church will be in the news. Rather than attend General Conference where the decisions for The United Methodist Church are worked out, or be in dialogue with their representative delegates, many people will try to make headlines to garner support for their individual cause. It reminds me of school years where children keep things stirred up and make sure their friends “agree” with them to the exclusion of someone else. Every four years every United Methodist congregation is represented by someone they elected directly or indirectly to represent them. I seldom agree with all of the delegates I have shared in electing but I believe God is able to use them to guide the church and that we should all continue to work together even in our differences. I believe every person is capable of experiencing the grace of God in a way that is personal, convincing, and transforming.
Both Charles and John Wesley felt that the experience of God’s grace was at the center of Christian existence. Attending church, tithing, working for the poor, standing and affirming the Apostles’ Creed in worship, reading the Bible—are essential. But heartfelt, personal assurance of God’s love in my life, my wallet, my heart—is the first essential. From that assurance I can continue to be in loving conversation with those who have different views, life experiences and desire to structure the church differently than I would. God’s grace is available to everyone and we live in response to that grace, not by earning or deserving it.
The Methodist emphasis on love and grace can be twisted into a meaningless, all-affirming inclusiveness, open to everything and rejecting nothing but this is certainly not true of the way Wesley lived or United Methodists at our best. John Wesley’s phrase, “grace for all; grace in all” calls us to recognize all people are created in the image of God and no one is beyond the reach of God’s love. It calls us to continue to be in conversation even though we may not reach agreement on certain issues.
In the early Methodist Church, Wesley and his followers formed groups. These societies, bands, and conferences, were places where followers examined one another and encouraged one another to “grow in grace.” United Methodists believe that everyone, even ordinary people like you and me, can grow and end up better people than we would have been if left to our own devices.
Nobody thinks that when General Conference is over and all the name tags have been collected and the ballots counted that the United Methodist will have been perfected. No matter how eloquent the speeches or how wonderful the wordsmithing done on the resolutions and decrees, there will still be work to be done and conversations to be had. But I do believe that God will use all the different gifts brought openly, honestly and lovingly to the table and we will be better than we were. Dick Heitzenrater, says grace is not some mushy pat on the head by a God who purrs sappily, “I love you just the way you are; promise me you won’t change a thing.” According to Heitzenrater, grace is the power of God working in you, sometimes in spite of you, to help you live a different life than you would be living if God had left you to do it yourself.
So even if we make the news and people say awful things about us trying to stir up support for individual causes, I think I’ll stay a United Methodist. It suits me and challenges me to be more than I would be on my own. Being a United Methodist reminds me that it is not about me; the love of God that I respond to was present long before I knew I needed it.
Hope to see you Sunday,