A Faith Formed by the United Methodist Church: Loving as Christ Loved
I remember three sermons from my years as a child and youth at Boardman United Methodist Church preached by Dr. Norman E. Crewson. One focused on the foolishness of gambling as Ohio was getting ready to vote on beginning a state lottery. I was 10 years old and remember him saying how one is more likely to get struck by lightning than win a jackpot. There is a good chance he also said something about it being a tax that preys on those who have a gambling addiction or are placing false hope in a way to fix their economic challenges ~ but I was more impressed by the lightening reference. The second is his emotional sermon upon returning to the pulpit after a lengthy recovery from a serious car accident. He reflected on Psalm 23 and spoke personally of his journey in the shadow of death and experience of God’s presence with him. The final sermon was one he preached on Maundy Thursday. He shared about each disciple ending with phrases such as John abandoned Jesus, Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus and I knew my name was going to be next and felt challenged to reflect on how I deny Jesus in my own life. But with the conviction also came words of invitation to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion followed by words of forgiveness, mercy, grace and love. I left the service wrapped in the assurance of God’s love.
These three sermons and all the sermons and Sunday School lessons that I do not specifically remember, created the foundation for the formation of my faith as a United Methodist for 52 years. I realize that a foundation was laid based upon:
- The Social Gospel, the need for peace and justice, and our call to live lives of love.
- God who is with us through the presence of the Spirit in the challenges and joys of life.
- The unconditional and steadfast love of God through the grace of Christ Jesus.
I realize that as I prepare to attend General Conference as part of our delegation team, my hearts yearns and aches that the United Methodist Church that laid this foundation of faith, lives up to this command to love as Christ loved. I know that there will be many stories that proclaim the Social Gospel and our care for neighbors and strangers alike, especially when we look at our work related to Imagine No Malaria and welcoming refugees. But when it comes to loving and including all God’s creation and providing the ministries of the church to all people regardless of sexual orientation and/or identity, will we love as Jesus loved? The love of Jesus was offered to all, without distinction.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
As much as I hope and pray that the United Methodist Church embraces full inclusivity in it’s ministries, I realize that if General Conference does not live up to loving as Christ loved, it will be all the more important the we as local churches and individuals let it be known that we will do all in our power with God’s grace to love as Jesus loved. There are people who desperately need to know that they are accepted and loved as they are and need to experience the embodiment of Christ’s love through us. Regardless of what does or does not happen at General Conference, I am prepared to continue living out the faith that has been formed through the church of my childhood and youth for I trust that God will be with me and guide me in the work of Social Justice and loving as Christ loved.
Rev. Wendy Joy Woodworth