“Trapped by Our Method”

methods picI don’t know why I am surprised. We have always been people who are methodical. The term “methodist” actually came from a derogatory term used to describe John Wesley and his “Holy Club” while he was studying at Oxford. His classmates had experienced John Wesley as someone who always did the same thing with his friends. He always prayed, studied theology, studied the Bible, took Holy Communion, and visited people in prison.

These are just a few things that defined the faith of those starting this Wesleyan movement. “Methodists” went from a derogatory term to a noun used describe a denomination that was spreading like wildfire through England as the people called Methodists practiced personal and social holiness. Societies were growing. They were places others could participate in these methods of worship, hearing the proclamation of the word of God, praying,  and taking communion. Accountability was important as all society members were required to be part a small group where they were invited to recount their sins each week and seek encouragement and support.

Throughout the test of time, part of our survival has depended on our methods.  Our methods have kept us intentional about our relationship with God and other people. As I am watching the live feed of General Conference, from the comfort of my kitchen table, I see these methods being used once again as Holy Conference is occurring. Yet, these very same methods, these “Robert’s Rules” leave us talking at one another, rather than talking to one another. These human-made rules allow for time to be wasted and focus to be taken away from the task at hand.

Yesterday in worship I preached on how we are called to “hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:6).” In his book “The Workbook on the Beatitudes” Maxie Dunnam shares: “When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we desire for God’s will to be done in the world, and we place ourselves at God’s disposal in order to make that happen.”[i] Jesus goes on in the very next beatitude as he explains that offering mercy is a part of this process (Matthew 5:7). In Hebrew the word mercy is “chesed” and William Barclay explains that it means to literally “get right inside the other person’s skin.”[i] This is also the ministry to which Jesus is calling us to do in this beatitude. We are fully able to submit to the will of God and offer mercy when we enter into dialogue…dialogue with God and one another.

I have no doubt that those elected to discern God’s will for us as The United Methodist Church to move forward have been called for such a time of this. They have entered into dialogue with God and others in preparation to come to St. Louis. I think what is missing from the conversation today is an honest dialogue about what is at stake and the weight of these upcoming decisions…a time to offer mercy as both sides are heard…a time to lament the pain we have caused others and time to pray together on how we can move forward and not backwards as The United Methodist Church. A time for hope.

I will continue to pray that God’s will be done and continue to hold onto hope that more dialogue can occur in the large session so we can more faithfully discern how God is calling us to move forward.

Gracious God, I thank you for all the delegates at General Conference. They all have a great weight that has been placed on their shoulders. They have been faithful in their preparation for this time. Continue to help our process today at General Conference and make room for your Holy Spirit to move and breathe and stir. Continue to help these delegates discern a faithful way forward as we seek to extend your table instead of close it off. We thank you that your will we be done in spite of our methods today. Give us your hope, give us your peace, and give us your guidance. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

[i] Maxie Dunnam. “The Workbook on the Beatitudes.” Self published. 2004. P. 116.
[i] Maxie Dunnam. “The Workbook on the Beatitudes.” Self published. 2004. P. 116.
* Disclaimer: Although I like this resource by Maxie Dunnam I do not wish to associate myself with his theological understandings outside of these quotes.

Image taken from canva from canva.com subscription. Cross and flame from UMC.ORG.

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