Due to my profession and personal interests, I hear a lot of Christian ‘voices’ in my daily life via Facebook posts, twitter messages, and – yes – even real actual person-to-person conversations. Many of these voices are encouraging and challenging, even inspirational. Others, however, are discouraging. This morning one such voice made its way to me through twitter that linked to an article lamenting the fourth generational decline for young persons who consider themselves to be ‘religious.’
I don’t know why we feel compelled to keep restating the obvious and already over-stated. I get it, young people aren’t regular Sunday morning church attenders anymore. Is this really still a surprise for people over 50? How long – to use our scriptural imaginations – will we, like Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John on that fateful Sunday morning, keep peering into an empty tomb? My friend Adam Joyce has some thoughtful reflections on how institutions can die well in his Christian Century article, but this morning I’m thinking about something different.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Walt Disney: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
For the purposes of this blog post, I want to look backward before moving forward in hopes that by identifying why I am a Christian, and a United Methodist one at that, future insights may be developed. If I’m being honest, I hope there might even be some good news and hope and grace and love and beauty and a whole lot of Jesus in my experiences as well.
- I am foremost a Christian because of Jesus. I hope this doesn’t sound trite, though I can certainly understand if it does. “Jesus” gets tossed around too flippantly, too easily. I love the way renowned preacher Fred Craddock similarly likens tension-free grace to melted ice cream – it’s slimy, easy, and cheap. God coming to the world in Jesus is anything but melted ice cream. The totality of the scriptural narrative culminates in the God-man, Jesus. Time and time again, humanity turns away from God. Our United Methodist communion liturgy reminds us of this reality every time we partake of the Eucharist – God’s good (eu) gift (charis) to us – in its words, “When we turned away and our love failed, your love remained steadfast.” Both Testaments but especially the Old, recount stories of God’s steadfast love and God’s relentless pursuit of humanity. In Jesus, we hear how the Almighty, the High and Lifted Up One, comes down off the throne and into the messiness of our world. In Jesus, we see the God who loves and laughs and cries and eats and heals and walks and talks and touches this world. In Jesus, we hear how God becomes one of us in order that we might become like God. In the megaphone of Jesus, we hear the LORD saying, “I love you. I am with you. I am for you.” I am a Christian because God has come to this world in Jesus.
- I am a United Methodist Christian because we are compelled to love God and this world with the totality of who we are. Our brains need not be checked at the doorway of our faith, but neither are we allowed to set aside our wallets either. My experiences within the United Methodist denomination have affirmed time and again that I am not only allowed to serve God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength, but that I am also expected to do so. This leads me to another reason…
- I am a United Methodist Christian because our theology forces us to grapple with the complexities of the world we live in. To state it another way, being a United Methodist Christian necessitates our engagement with the world. We do not have the luxury of waiting for the ‘sweet by and by.’ Rather, we must take seriously God’s relentless activity to make God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Faith as such makes a tangible difference in our families, our careers, our investments, our budgets, our votes, what we eat and won’t eat, the kinds of gardens we grow, the friends we have, the ministries we do, the vehicles we drive, and the ways in which we involve ourselves in our respective communities. The implications for this “Kingdom come” faith are endless. It is an all-in kind of faith that makes its way into every facet of our lives, kind of like yeast in dough. It sounds beautiful, but it’s not easy. I think that leads me to the next reason.
- I am United Methodist Christian because it is fundamentally a participatory faith. By that I mean that God has chosen to change this world incarnationally. That’s the theological term. In ordinary words, it means that God has chosen to change this world through people like you and me. Such a methodology is most clearly embodied and made manifest in God becoming incarnate in Jesus the Christ. He is the model, the Reality, God. God’s coming in Jesus, however, is the same God who chose to work through people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and Mary. Being a Christian is to be invited to participate in the ongoing mission of God. It is an invitation to give your life over to a mission that actually matters and to grapple with the challenges of this world. It’s an invitation; it isn’t forced. God doesn’t make us attend the Wedding Party, but God does invite us. The choice is ours whether or not we will “die to ourselves, take up the cross” of God’s resurrection mission, and to involve all of ourselves in God’s Kingdom work. I like that, but I’m also thankful we aren’t left to do it on our own. I like that we don’t take the lead in this dance. God’s done that, and God is doing that. God just wants us to join the fun.
- Finally – for now – I am a United Methodist Christian because I love our connection. “Connectionalism” is a United Methodist buzzword that goes back to our beginning – spelled with a much more sensible “x” by the early British Methodists. We are connected in this global denomination with Christians throughout the world. This connection has pragmatic benefits such as when disasters strike and Methodists on the ground can be financed by Methodists thousands of miles away with the click of an electronic fund transfer. I like that we are connected missionally, that we are on the same team. I like that when we gather in a room of pastors throughout our district, conference, and global general conference, we know the same songs, drink from the same cup, and partake of the same loaf. I like that I am, quite literally in those moments, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The gray-haired folk remind me that I drink deeply from wells that I myself did not help dig. It’s humbling. And I need that. We all need that, to be reminded that we stand on the shoulders’ of others, that we need each other, and that is not only ok but is how it’s supposed to be. We are, after all, made in the image and likeness of the God who is the Blessed Trinity. We are relational beings, even the most introverted of us all.
That’s a lot for today. But before I conclude, I want to share one more reason for why I am and continue to be a United Methodist Christian – because of the countless people who walked with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and cared for me. More succinctly put, I am a United Methodist Christian thanks to people who have been Jesus to me. Sunday school teachers, local churches, grandparents and parents, professors, friends, my wife, and many, many others have continually made the Good News of Jesus a reality for me. Sure we all fall short. Sure there are bad theologies and even bad local churches. Shoot, I have bad theology and I behave badly in my local christian church community. It can be ugly. I can be ugly. But when I have friends who will gather round me in moments and seasons of distress, pray for me, uphold me, wrap their arms around me, and continually walk with me…it’s beautiful. It’s Jesus. And they – YOU – are the reasons for why I am a Christian and a United Methodist one at that.
Grace and peace my friends.