What do Methodists Believe?: On doing too much

The kingdom of heaven is not a junior high cafeteria. I know you may not need me to say this but it must be said. The kingdom of heaven does not consist in all of humanity jockeying for God’s favor. We have received God’s favor through free grace. 

Once you become a Christian, though, it is difficult to not become a pharisee. The good news of Jesus Christ is so good that we can distort it and turn it into a means of controlling others or lifting ourselves up in comparison to other. It is easy to turn faith into a competition just like it is easy to turn everything in life into a competition. One of the greatest marks of the fall is the human tendency to extract self-worth from comparison with others. ‘At least I’m not as bad as that person.’ In earnest ways, we compare ourselves to others. Yet this is not what our future with God looks like. 

And this is the point of Article XI, one of the more convoluted of the entire Articles of Religion. The main word in the title, supererogation isn’t used at all any more.

Over the last 300 years, the word had a peek usage in the 1840s but is now virtually unknown. The word comes from greek, ergo, work and it means the works above and beyond. 

This does not mean, of course, that we should strive to do the minimum. On the contrary, Article XI helps us to see that we don’t need to do extra things for credit with God in order to earn points. Instead, we should maintain humility in all that we do because it is all from grace that we can follow God’s will at all, let alone happen to do good in this broken world. 

The comparison’s that matter are between ourselves and Christ, between ourselves and the holy people in our lives. If holiness is possible in John Doe, it is possible in me. Because the grace that makes holiness possible in John Doe is that same grace given to me. 


Article XI - Of Works of Supererogation

Voluntary works—besides, over and above God's commandments—which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

What do Methodists Believe?: On Good Works

IMG_0168.JPG

 

The slogan of the Boy Scouts of America is 'Do a Good Turn Daily'. Help someone. Be nice. The qualifier 'daily' is interesting if you compare it to Wesley's General Rules of the Methodist Societies. The first is 'Do not harm.' The Second is 'Do all the Good you can,' the third is 'Follow the ordinances of God, which means worship God, pray, fast, read the bible, etc.).

I don't mean to pick on the scouts, but their slogan is far more limited than Wesley's.

In the Reformation, good turns and all the good you can would be segmented as Good works. The danger then comes if we begin espousing works-righteousness theology. That is, a theology wherein we are made right with God due to what we accomplish do. As if we can earn our salvation. This is patently contradicted by Paul in Ephesians where he writes in Ephesians 2:8: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

The Epistle James also states that faith without works is dead. So what are we to do. If we are justified by faith, do we need to do works? Shouldn't we just be satisfied with a good turn daily since grace covers up all the rest?

By no means!

Articles X of the Articles of Religion begins by stating clearly that good works do not save us, but that they are "pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit."

According to Scripture, good works come from a heart that has been turned towards God. When you are filled with God's love, you desire to love others more than you desire to love yourself. You would rather help your neighbor than help yourself.

The question cannot be, according to this paradigm, how can I do the minimum? The question must be how can I so overflow with God's love that the fruit of good works are naturally what I desire at all times? To have the love of God and love of neighbor will all my desires. This is what Christian perfection is. It is not a life free of mistakes but I life free of all but love.

When we realize we are not doing all the good we can. When we realize we are not avoiding harm and that we are not following the ordinances of God, there is grace for us.

Article X reminds us that we must see good works. They are not means to an end but fruit of a greater end in Christ, thanks be to God.


Article X - Of Good Works
Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.

What do Methodists Believe?: Justification by Faith

IMG_0168.JPG

 

I have never built a house from foundation to roof. Some of you may have, though I would not be surprised. I built a few roofs in college on mission trips with far wiser men than me guiding the way.

If you build a house or a roof or anything else and it is not square, it won't last long. A square framing is sturdy and stable against the elements. Jesus tells the parable of the man who built his house upon the sand and how it blew away, but the man who built his hand upon the rock, his house remained.

We must have a firm foundation on the rock of the truth of God. Yet we also must be made right. It doesn't matter if we stand on a strong foundation and yet are not square.

This is what justification means. Dikaosune in Greek means to be made right, to square something up. In Latin, the word is iustitia, where our word justify comes from. Justice and righteousness are two translations of the same word in Greek or in Latin. Article IX says that we are made right only thanks to the grace of Jesus Christ. We don't earn it. If we do more good things than bad, that does not make us right and square. The Good news of Jesus Christ is that we are saved by grace through faith, as Paul says.

As well, as Article IX says, this is a comfort. We should be comforted by God's grace toward us.

Justification does not mean that we can do whatever we want. This is called antinomianism (which means against the law). Grace doesn't mean you get to do whatever you want but that God, in fact, heals us so that we can truly want what we need to live and no longer want what destroys us.

You are saved by grace through faith, but that is not the end of the story. Paul begins Romans 5 by saying, "Now that you have been saved by faith..." He still has a lot more to tell the people of Rome. In being justified we are made right on the foundation of Christ for life with God now. Not only a future promise, but the present reality of the kingdom of God here.

 

Article IX Of Justification

We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.

What do Methodists Believe?: Free Will

Free will is a concept that sounds a lot simpler than it is. More often than not, free will is confused with free choice. That is, an assumption that freedom means the ability to make a choice between two possibilities. This is how freedom is often characterized in the modern world. You are free if you can choose between having eggs for breakfast or cereal. You are free if you can choose between being a doctor or a lawyer or a politician or a teacher. 

It doesn’t take long to realize how impoverished a view of freedom this is. For the most part, as long as you are rich, you fulfill the requirements of free choice. If I am wealthy enough to choose between options, I am free, If my options are limited, I am not free. Some see the government at fault for limiting options. Some see every individual as completely culpable for anything that happens to them. Therefore, if someone doesn’t have a lot of options in life, that is their fault. They should just be better at life. 

This is not the freedom revealed to us in Scripture and given to us by grace through Jesus Christ. Free will is about the direction of our lives, it is about our desires. What do you desire out of life? Are you trapped by selfish desires? This is what Paul calls the slavery to sin and death and, in Romans 3, he points to Psalm 36 where the Psalmist writes that no one is righteous, no not one. No one who understands. No one looks for God. They have all turned away. 

This does not mean that everyone only does bad things apart from God’s grace. Many people happen to do good, but what is revealed through Jesus is that apart from grace, as Article VIII states, “we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”

We have no power in ourselves to do good. When others do good it is God working in them without their knowledge, but the issue of desire is still present. Free will is the freedom to see God and follow God, the freedom to not be a slave to selfish desires. As Paul says in Romans 8:5-8, 

People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.

And then in verses 26-28

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.

The Spirit of God comes to help us in our weakness so that no matter what circumstance or state we find ourselves, we can follow God’s will. We should still strive for justice and the alleviation of suffering, but freedom in Christ is not about reaching a certain income threshold so that you can choose between going to Whole Foods or HEB, it is the freedom to love fully that can only come through grace. In looking at Jesus Christ, we see the ultimate expression of free will and the possibility for all of us through grace. 

Article VIII — Of Free Will
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

What do Methodists Believe?: Original Sin

blog June 22 image.jpg

"Why is church so negative?"

It is easy to look at a doctrine like original sin and think that it is just flat out pessimistic. "Sins are bad things, right? Like stealing and murder and the whole Ten Commandments thing, right?" When we talk about sin, we must begin with God. What does God desire for us? God desires us to flourish in love and hope and faith. God desires to live in relationships of mutual uplift. Sin is when we do not do this, when we act against God's will and plan and hope for us of abundant life. Sins are not just things our parents tell us not to do. Sins are inherently destructive because they attack the image of God in us, they deny who we were created to be. Even when we do not see the direct consequences of our actions, sins harm us. 

Let us imagine a lie. You forget to respond to a phone call from a friend and instead of admitting it, you tell them you never got it. Your friend may never realize that you lied. This does not change the effect that the your lie has on you in taking you away from the truth of God's love and plan for you. Every lie is an absence of faith.

But, eek, what about all the little sins that we do every day. Wouldn't it be absolutely overwhelming to have to remember about all of those and to feel sorry for all of those?

This is where we get to the grace that is found in understanding original sin. Original sin teaches us that every person tends to corrupt what they have. That at its basest level, we are not to blame for where we start. We should not be surprised by our tendency towards sin. We should not be surprised by the brokenness of the world. 

This is the miracle of grace. This is the miracle of the coming of Jesus Christ. We did not deserve grace but God loved us so much that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believees in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

As well, original sin reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. No matter how hard we work or how hard we try, apart from God's grace, we will not flourish. 

As Christians, we should be able to honestly look at our sins and not be ashamed because of the grace we have been given. Our sins don't point to our weakness. It is when we hide, when we pretend we are people that we are not that we are truly week. When we admit our need for grace, our need for God, when we seek, we shall find mercy and the true freedom to be who we were created to be. 

Article VII - Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Old Testament

"I like the New Testament. The Old Testament seems so mean. I want the God of love not the God of anger."

In my four years in full time ministry, I have heard this or something like this from dozens of people. The Old Testament is different from the New Testament, this is true. One is written in Koiné Greek (or common Greek), the other in Ancient Hebrew. Greek is a very noun-centric language, Hebrew a very verb-centric language. But does the Old Testament describe a different God than the New Testament? 

From the earliest days of Christianity, people have made this claim again and again, the most famous being the followers of Marcion. Marcionites believed that the God of the Old Testament was fundamentally different from Jesus and Jesus came to defeat the OT God. 

What Marcion and the Marcionites had to do was cut out significant passages of the NT in order to make this work. Jesus says repeatedly that I am the Alpha and Omega, I and the Father are One, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc.. Jesus quotes texts from the Old Testament unceasingly. 

Marcionitism is, in fact, a heresy. A heresy is not something bad or wicked in and of itself but a willful distortion of revealed Truth about who God is. Marcion couldn't stomach that the God of the Jews was the God of Jesus and so he said that he was not. 

But what does that leave us with the earnest confusion around the God of the book of Joshua (with all of its violence) and the God of Jesus Christ (with all of his talk of love) being one and the same? People are not foolish or heretical to have discomfort in reading of wrath.

On one level, we should remember that there are a number of wrath passages in the New Testament. In Matthew 25, probably the most famous text used to describe social justice, the last half includes a lot of wrath. 

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ - Matthew 25:41-43

As well, the Old Testament is full of love and grace and mercy. For example, from Isaiah 30

Nonetheless, the Lord is waiting to be merciful to you,
    and will rise up to show you compassion.
The Lord is a God of justice;
    happy are all who wait for him. - Isaiah 30:18

The Old Testament is called the Old Testament because it testifies to God in a prior way, not an outdated way. As Jesus says, 'I did not come to replace the law but to complete it.' We believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God revealed in Jesus Christ by faith. This is where the Article of Religion comes in because the articles describe claims about God that have already been revealed. Claims that we need not re-litigate it again and again but can search to see how they are true. 

Jesus does not replace the law but fulfills it. Jesus does not replace God's covenant with Israel but completes it and draws all people into that special relationship with God. This is good news. 

Article VI — Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture

June 2 blog.jpg

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.

Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night! (Psalm 1:1-2)

Last week, I wrote about the canon of the Old and New Testaments and how important that list is to the Christian faith. Today, I am going to remark upon the other major clause of Article V: the sufficiency of Scripture.

Sufficiency is a word that lacks the hyperbole so present in modern culture. If your daughter was dating a man and she told you he was sufficient, that almost works as a mark against him. We don’t want sufficient. We want spectacular. Incredible. Awesome.

The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, mentioned in Article 5 of the Articles of Religion, is an allusion to 2 Timothy 3:16 which is translated by the RSV as ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The word is ophelimos Greek, utilis in latin (like utility or useful). Scripture is useful. Not Scripture is magnificent or awesome, but useful, profitable. 

Article 5 articulates how we do not need to use superlatives or hyperbole in order to proclaim that God is revealed in Jesus Christ through Scripture. The bible is not sufficient full stop but sufficient for salvation. That is all things necessary to understand the depth of God’s love are found therein. 

This is amazing! The God of all creation has revealed Godself to us in the texts of a book that we each have. It is locked away by our overloads, but given freely and openly. 

Our culture likes hyperbole and superlatives, likes the best, the biggest, the greatest, the spectacular and awesome, yet most often these words are used to differentiate and set people apart. If I have the best car, that means you do not. If you have the best house, that means I do not. In God, we are each given the grace to be saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, this has been revealed in the Scriptures and is open to all. 

Because of this we should each return to the scriptures together and by ourselves, again and again. We should seek instruction in the Word and grow closer to God together.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Canon of the Bible

Okay, friends, I am about to geek out on some manuscript issues about the canon of the bible. That is, about the choices made concerning which books are included in our sacred scriptures. 

Ever since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 70 years ago (as well as the Nag Hammandi Coptic scrolls a few years later) there has been a renewed cultural interest in the canon of the New Testament. Scholars have discovered the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and hundreds of others that were not included in the New Testament. The Dan Brown thriller, the Da Vinci Code, is based around an assumption that these texts were excluded from the New Testament due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. While that theory may be the basis for a popular pulp novel and movie, it has little basis in history. In fact, all of these so-called ‘Gnostic Gospels’ were written far later than the canonical gospels and had a far smaller readership and importance. Though the New Testament canon was not finalized until the end of the 3rd Century, very few of the books were actually disputed (most arguments had to do with James (which made it) and the letters of Barnabas and Clement (which did not but are still seen as important). Most disputes about New Testament texts are fabricated for ideological purposes. 

In the 16th century, the New Testament was assumed, it was the Old Testament canon that was controversial. The dispute came out of the humanist resurgence in the 15th century when scholars began diving back into languages like Hebrew and Greek in large numbers. The Hebrew texts of the Old Testament had fewer books than the Greek texts (called the Septuagint), though the Greek manuscripts were actually far older. 

Martin Luther, himself, was a Hebrew scholar and so he argued forcefully for a limited set of Old Testament texts that matched the Hebrew rather than the Greek. The Latin Vulgate bible had, in large part, followed the Greek set of texts. The Church of England followed suit with Article 5 and John Wesley included this article in the text he sent across the pond after the American Revolution.

The biggest difference between Catholics and Protestants is not the sacraments or the priesthood or marriage and divorce, but the books we call Holy Scripture. The absence of the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit and Sirach shape how we do theology and how we see God.

But more than any of this, it is important to know that historical critical scholars have not yet disputed the authority and authenticity of the Bible as we know it (even though they have tried). It will not ruin your faith to learn more about the development of the canon of Scripture. In fact, it may strengthen it. The bible was not written in King James English, nor was it handed down from on high fully formed. Instead it is the cooperative work of God and the apostles. The texts have been passed down from generation to generation. They have been prayed over. They have been worshipped with because God is here. 

May we continue to affirm the authority of the Bible and to remember that God is present here. Martin Luther called the Scriptures the swaddling clothes wherein we find Jesus. They are not Jesus but they hold Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

The Pastor's Study is Open

FullSizeRender.jpg

One of my good friends from seminary came to visit a few weeks ago and we talked about pastor's being in the office or outside of the office. A big trend today is for preachers to go to coffee shops to write sermons and things like that. My friend reminded me that pastors don't have offices, they have studies.

We have a new sign in the Narthex for the church office because new people often miss where Liz is when they come in during the week. I hope this summer to use my router to make sign for the room where my desk is that says, 'Pastor's Study'.

It is a space to pray, to study, to share, to cry, to pray, to plan, to hope. It is a privilege to be in that space, to be the Pastor of Berkeley UMC during the week and not just on Sunday. It is a privilege to see Dominic and Ephraim across the courtyard at the Childcare Center.

But all of this is a reminder to all of you that, as your pastor, I am ready to talk about anything with you, especially what happens on Sunday, especially what I say during the sermon.

The past few weeks, I have preached on much more controversial fare than in the first few months of my appointment here. Part of this is intentional: on a spiritual level, I felt like I have avoided addressing the material consequences of the call to discipleship since I have come to Berkeley. I have spoken continually about the spiritual levels of the call to discipleship but not many of the material consequences.

That is, when Jesus calls someone, he bids them to lay down their nets in order to follow Him. We cannot follow him and hold on to our nets. We try. We all try, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies and this is not a metaphor. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger and this is not a metaphor. Paul tells us not be conformed to the world and the world goes deep.

These past few sermons and the next few do not come from a place of secular politics but from my reading of the Bible and how I see God speaking.

The Bible is meant to be read together. If you disagree with anything I have preached on, come and read the Bible with me. I would love that. If you have agreed with what I have said, I'm probably going to preach something that you won't agree with, and when that happens, please come and read the Bible with me.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Holy Spirit

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Ghost is such a strange word to the modern tongue. My first thought is Caspar the friendly ghost, but that really refers to is the connection between ghosts and the souls of the dead who are neither in heaven nor in hell. This is not a biblical notion, but it is quite popular. Shows like Ghost Hunter and Ghost Whisperer point to a collective fascination with this possibility (not to mention A Christmas Carol or Hamlet).

Today, we mostly speak of the Holy Spirit, but Holy Ghost refers to the exact same thing. Ghost comes from an Old English root whereas Spirit comes from a Latin root, both refer to immaterial realities. Realities without substance or matter. 

So what does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life?

Jesus tells us quite explicitly in the Gospel of John: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the bond that connects the church to God. 

In the Methodist tradition, we believe that the Holy Spirit is present with us from before we are even aware of God. We call this prevenient grace (which means the grace that comes before). When we say Yes to God, it is because God has said yes to us through the Holy Spirit. But more than that, the Spirit that is with us is not simply a messenger of God but is true God from true God.

We see a connection between the creation with the Spirit or breath (Ruach) of God flowing over the waters to bring forth life. We see the Spirit with Moses and the Bush, and with Jesus, the Spirit that descends, the Spirit that is sent out, the Spirit that is with us today. 

The reason why the church exists, why this church exists, is not due to the extraordinary actions of a few individuals but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit were not with us, if the Spirit were not God, we would be alone to the whims of a tyrant like Zeus rather than the creator who is love.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The_Ressurrection_of_Christ Blog Post.jpg

Easter is the high point of the Christian year. Eastertide lasts between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is a season of resurrection. Eastertide takes place in Springtime, a time of new blooms and new leaves, when nature itself seems brimming with new life. Yet the resurrection we celebrate as Christians is unique. 

Trees lose their leaves in the fall and go dormant, budding in the springtime. Jesus Christ did not go dormant. He did not go to sleep. He died. And then the impossible happened. 

Resurrection is a belief that the God of all creation has defeated death and will make all things new, beginning with Jesus, continuing with all of us. The Christian hope does not rest in clouds and harps but in the new creation, in all things being made new. 

To live into resurrection is to imagine something more than the possible. We often times feel limited with what we can or cannot do. Resurrection points beyond these limits. Resurrection lets us hope in a concrete possibility of abundant life, but only if Jesus really did rise. Here is what the Third Article of Religion states:

Article III — Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he returns to judge all men at the last day.

Another description of Resurrection that I appreciate is from a poem by the novelist, John Updike. Updike wrote it in his twenties for a magazine, but it has a lasting power because of the biological details: 'amino acids', 'valved heart.' The poem helps us to remember that resurrection is not a metaphor. Or, if it is, than it is truly worthless to us.

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

What do Methodists Believe?: Jesus Christ

Methodists believe in Jesus Christ as the ultimate revelation of God, as the second person of the Trinity. As our savior, as the anointed one of God, the Messiah, as Emmanuel, God-with-us. The second article of the UMC Articles of Religion go into detail in the somewhat archaic language of the 16th century

Article II — Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

I found the formulation of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity be more direct in confronting the difference between how Jesus is sometimes portrayed culturally and the God revealed in the Scriptures.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

It matters that Jesus is God for our worship. It matters that Jesus is God for our salvation from sin and death. It matters that Jesus is God for the way that we respond to salvation in loving our neighbor because, since Jesus is God, we find Jesus not in the positions of comfort but in the people of this world who are hurt, broken, and tired.

Because God first loved us in Jesus Christ, we love. As Christians, as Methodists, this is because Jesus is God and that he has been revealed to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

What do Methodists Believe?: Trinity

What on earth does the Trinity have to do with me? God is three in one? How is that supposed to work? These are not stupid questions. The Trinity is the first article of religion and by far the most difficult to understand. In fact, you cannot understand it. I can’t understand it. Not in the way we understand every other object or form of knowledge in creation. You may not understand exactly how a computer works, but someone does. And, if need be, you can find the expert and given enough time and interest, you can learn how computers work to the point that you would understand. God is not an object like other objects. God is not a creature like other creatures. God is not this really powerful being really far away telling us what to do, controlling us like puppets. God is the source of all existence, all being. As Paul says in Acts 17, God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being.  We believe that God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, of one substance, because it has been revealed to us. It is an act of faith. Here are three analogies that I find helpful when approaching the Trinity. Each has its virtues but each is also limited. Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin. Water: It was written, “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4) The well, spring and stream have been used also as an analogy for the Holy Trinity: Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate and yet there are in fact three visible objects and three names yet they all have the same water. Love: Lover, Beloved and Love. "And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17). God the Father loves God the Son through the Holy Spirit.  So why should we not forgot about the Trinity since it is so complicated. Many people have done this over the years. Unitarians came into exist because they denied the Trinity.  Basically, though, the reason to keep proclaiming the Trinity as true is because of who Jesus is and has been revealed to us through Scripture. If there is no Trinity, Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God. Therefore, Jesus has no salvific power and his crucifixion and resurrection have no world-altering effect beyond the whims of some tyrant god. If there is no Trinity, the Holy Spirit has no power to be present with us, to comfort and advocate for us because the Holy Spirit is not God.  Finally, prayer: if God is not triune, than the Spirit is not present with us in prayer. If God is not triune than God does not desire friendship with us but servitude. Trinity frees us to follow the God that is love fully, only limited by our weakness. And even then, free to be transformed by the God that is love through power of God’s triunity. From the UMC Articles of Religion Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.


What on earth does the Trinity have to do with me? God is three in one? How is that supposed to work? These are not stupid questions. The Trinity is the first article of religion and by far the most difficult to understand. In fact, you cannot understand it. I can’t understand it. Not in the way we understand every other object or form of knowledge in creation. You may not understand exactly how a computer works, but someone does. And, if need be, you can find the expert and given enough time and interest, you can learn how computers work to the point that you would understand.

God is not an object like other objects. God is not a creature like other creatures. God is not this really powerful being really far away telling us what to do, controlling us like puppets. God is the source of all existence, all being. As Paul says in Acts 17, God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being. 

We believe that God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, of one substance, because it has been revealed to us. It is an act of faith. Here are three analogies that I find helpful when approaching the Trinity. Each has its virtues but each is also limited.

Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin.

Water: It was written, “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4) The well, spring and stream have been used also as an analogy for the Holy Trinity: Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate and yet there are in fact three visible objects and three names yet they all have the same water.

Love: Lover, Beloved and Love. "And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17). God the Father loves God the Son through the Holy Spirit. 

So why should we not forgot about the Trinity since it is so complicated. Many people have done this over the years. Unitarians came into exist because they denied the Trinity. 

Basically, though, the reason to keep proclaiming the Trinity as true is because of who Jesus is and has been revealed to us through Scripture. If there is no Trinity, Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God. Therefore, Jesus has no salvific power and his crucifixion and resurrection have no world-altering effect beyond the whims of some tyrant god. If there is no Trinity, the Holy Spirit has no power to be present with us, to comfort and advocate for us because the Holy Spirit is not God. 

Finally, prayer: if God is not triune, than the Spirit is not present with us in prayer. If God is not triune than God does not desire friendship with us but servitude. Trinity frees us to follow the God that is love fully, only limited by our weakness. And even then, free to be transformed by the God that is love through power of God’s triunity.


From the UMC Articles of Religion

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

What do Methodists Believe?: Introduction

Blog POst March 30.jpg

When we look back to the history of the United Methodist Church, one of the biggest turning points was the American Revolution. Before then, Methodists had simply been a group within the Church of England. However, once England no longer has authority over the colonies, all the Anglican priests go home and so John Wesley knew that the Methodists in North America still needed guidance and sacrament. 

Thus, he ordained Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury and sent them across the Atlantic. As well, he edited a copy of the Book of Common Prayer (which he titled the Sunday Service) and a version of the 39 Articles (which was and is the doctrinal standard of the Church of England) called the Articles of Religion.

In 1968, with the merger between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the EUB Confession of Faith was added as a doctrinal standard to the Articles of Religion.

Now, doctrines in and of themselves sound about as stale as a sandwich left out over night. Doctrines are simply things about God, humanity, reality that have been revealed in the Christian faith to be true. Not true in an abstract, ivory tower kind of way. True in a way to describe our own experience of life. Doctrine is not a tool of oppression but a way to see the world rightly and to live and act in right relationship with our Lord and our neighbor through grace. 

And so, over the next few weeks (months) every week that I can, I will publish a blog post on one of the articles of religion with the express aim of describing the purpose and relevancy of each article for the Christian life today. Methodism has been described as a religion of the head and the heart. Doctrine is usually put in the category of the head. I want to show that it is of the heart as well. Some of the language is archaic, but the meaning is not. I hope you will be able to follow along with me on this journey. The first four articles are the most important, and so I am publishing them now.

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Article II - Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Article III - Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

May you find in these words not the stale bread of the 16th century but the living water of the body of Christ throughout all ages.

Liturgy: Benediction

Worship begins when we enter the space and are welcomed. Worship ends when we are blessed and sent. Worship always has a point. A person does not leave worship. They are sent. Sent for what? Sent to love and serve the Lord. Mission comes from the latin 'to send'. The mission of the church is what we do when we leave worship. Jesus tells us things to do in this way. The Great Commission, the exhortation Jesus gives at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is to Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The mission of Berkeley United Methodist Church is to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is what we are to do when we are sent. It would be an impossible task, were we to be charged with this alone. However, one way to understand the entire worship experience is to understand what we are to do when we are sent.

Worship is a time to come together as the body of Christ. To greet each other in peace, to sing praises to God, to hear God's word read and proclaimed, to pray together, to offer ourselves up to God, and finally to be sent. All of the specific actions shape us to be disciples. Our church understands discipleship as encountering the risen Christ, loving God above all else, and responding to a costly a joyful relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Worship is the encounter and the loving of God, our response is found in mission and it is found in mission together. Mission cannot be separated from evangelism, from sharing the Good News that Jesus is Lord and we are forgiven and you can be forgiven, as well. You are loved. You are special. 

The benediction is an encouragement, a reminder, and a sending. As you go from worship, may you remember that you are sent on a mission and that God is with you.

Liturgy: Prayers of the People

Prayer is not a means to an end. That is, prayer is not an action one undertakes in order to get a result. Prayer is a goal in itself. Prayer is life with God. The Bible is full of people at prayer. The psalms are known as the Prayerbook of the Bible. Each psalm is a prayer. The Christian tradition is filled with a multitude of witnesses to the power of prayer and the possibility of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts the people not to pray on the street corners like the hypocrites but to go into your secret place to pray for your Father who is in secret will hear you there. A vibrant personal prayer life is what many Christians strive for, but most of us feel like we always fall short. John Wesley preferred private prayer as a means of grace, a way that God acts in our life. Another means of grace is corporate prayer, and this is what we do on Sunday morning with the prayers of the people.

We lift up prayers together for two reasons: to intercede on behalf of others, and to remember that we are one body. Intercessory prayer is prayer for another, and when we lift up the names of people on our life who are sick or in need, we collectively ask God to intercede in their lives with healing in grace. This is the first and more obvious reason. The second is just as important. When we voice our prayers, we remember that in the church, truly, the words of John Donne are true, "no man is an island unto themselves." We are connected. When one of our members hurts, we all hurt. Just like when a single part of your body hurts, you hurt. If my feet are hurting, I am hurting. When my sister in Christ is hurting, I am hurting. When my brother in Christ is grieving, I am grieving. 

We pray each other's prayers to remember that we are not alone. God is with us. In worship, God is with us. In pain, God is with us. As we pray together, let us not forget our connection to each other and to this world. Lord in your mercy, here our prayers.

Liturgy: Offering

The most important offering at any worship service is the offering of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation. This is central. The original offertory was the time in the service after proclaiming the Word of God that the bread and the wine would be brought forth to the table. 

God has offered himself for us. Yet even before that we were created by the miraculous action of God in creation. On Sunday mornings, when we pass the plate, our actions are responses to what God has done in our lives and with our livelihood. To give to the church is an act of discipleship first and foremost. It is not the paying of dues. It is not the purchasing of services. We give in response to God's gift to us. God has been generous to us in love beyond measure. Holy generosity responds to that love.

A tithe is an act of faith. It is not an easy thing to do. Think to the words of Jesus when he describes the how the scribes and tax collectors flaunt their gifts at the Temple, while the widow gives only a penny but gives all that she has. She gave out of faith believing in God's faithfulness towards her. 

When we offer what we have to God, it is an act of faith that God will continue to bless and support us. It is not easy to give. Each of us have a myriad of financial obligations. Financial stress is continuously increasing in today's age. Our offering is not a salve to stress but an act of faith.

And so during the offertory, whether you give in person or online, may you reflect on Christ's offering for us and remember that each gift is an act of faith and faithfulness.

Liturgy: The Sermon

February 12 Bulletin Image.jpg

When many people think of church, they think of sermons. When many people think of churches that they have attended, they think of sermons that they have heard. What a sermon functionally is, though, differs from church to church. For some, the sermon is an extended set of anecdotal stories marginally related to the Christian theme. For others, it may be a series of scolding claims about how nobody is as good as they used to be. Others may be about how everyone is going to hell unless you follow these three simple rules. 

In secular society, the TED talk has virtually replaced the sermon. As my brother has pointed out to me, a TED talk basically is a sermon, a preachers basically have to do one once a week. As I mentioned in my sermon on Proclamation, there are many different styles of preaching. For all of these parts of the liturgy, this is the least likely to be confusing to people walking into the building. Few people enter a church and think to themselves, "Why is this person going on and on about the bible?" 

Some people think all preaching needs to be relatable. Others think all preaching needs to be much more bible based. Some people think sermons need to be relevant for today while others think sermons need to point a future hope.

I am not an expert on preaching or sermons. But I do know they should not be boring. Because if a sermon is boring, you know for sure that Jesus Christ is not being proclaimed as Lord. We often bring so much of our own baggage that we cannot even hear what is being said. Frederick Buechner puts it far better than me. 

WHEN A MINISTER reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson, something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.

Liturgy: Reading Scripture

d388045500d721e15697b3101029df78.jpg

 

We read together at church. This is not a minor thing. We read together from a Holy Book. The point of the Scripture reading is not simply a jumping off point for the sermon. Often it is seen as this way, as if the purpose of the Bible is to give us, preachers, an avenue for as many funny anecdotes as we can manage.

Sometimes after Scripture readings I don't feel the need to even stand up and say anything because Christ is proclaimed so clearly and with so much conviction in the reading itself.

In the Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church that John Wesley adapted from the 39 articles of the Church of England, Article 5 says the following:

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The scripture itself contains what we need to have life and life abundantly. It is not the preacher it is the Scriptures. Because in the word of God is the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus is here in this strange, old book. Sometimes the book may seem dated, but Jesus is here. Part of the preacher's job is to remind you and themselves that this book is not dated or irrelevant because Jesus is here.

We read together and those who cannot read listen. We read for those who cannot listen. We read for each other. We read for ourselves. We read for the one who gives us life. We read and we worship our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Blessings,
Wilson

Liturgy: Prayer of Confession

Every Sunday we confess our sins to God. In the modern world, this may seem strange. It may look like we Christians are just saying sorry a lot. To some people, saying sorry is a greater sin than almost any act you can commit. As long as you never say sorry, you never need to be forgiven.

The hubris found in this ideology cuts across the mission and ministry of Jesus. Over and over, throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that he came to save the sinners and not the righteous. Paul writes that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is the starting place of Christian hope. In confession, in acknowledging our sin, we realize that we cannot save ourselves and that we are in need of a savior.

In saying a Prayer of Confession, no one should ever feel sorry for themselves. Confession is not a pity party. Confession is a sober account of reality. Confession is the ability to see the world clearly and not for our own advantage. Confession is letting go of the power games of the world in order to follow the power that created the world.

Methodists do not confession as a sacrament on par with communion, as Catholics do. However, we believe that God acts in our confession, God forgives us of our sins as far as we are able to forgive others, as far as we are able to be truly contrite. By praying the pray of confession early in our worship time, we are able to free ourselves to fully encounter our risen savior. When we hold back from admitting our faults, we hold back from seeing our Lord.