Authentically UMC: When Love Defines Us

Authentically UMC: When Love Defines Us

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers

St. Timothy’s UMC

1 John 4:19-21

There are certain moments, days, weeks, and years in the life of human existence. This week has encompassed many events that are momentous. Moments that rattle and shake our soul from the depths of our faith, action, and commitment to Jesus Christ. This has been one of those weeks!!

Today, we start a series that will focus on the uniqueness and joys of being a United Methodist Christian. I will outline the series in the mid-week update this week (as time would not allow me to verbally do that this morning). We will look at several aspects of how being a United Methodist, we approach and use the faith of Christ in our lives.

However, as we have seen this week in our world, there are a lot of definitions to what it means to be uniquely Christian. We have witnessed a movement this week in the world that require us, as Christians and United Methodists to take serious notice, to take a deep look at our faith, to take a deep look at the way we love our neighbor and treat our families and the family of God. It will require us, as it should every day, to be a people of love and faith! I find it odd to have to say that, but I believe there are Holy God moments in our lives that shake our souls to realize that we are children of God for a specific reason! That specific reason, I believe is revealed in our topic this morning, LOVE!!

We hear this morning in our scripture those powerful words that define our existence as Christians, “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19). John Wesley, our founder of Methodism wrote in a 1742 treatise entitled The Character of A Methodist, and within that treatise he placed 5-Five Marks of a Methodist, not in any particular order, but as advancements in discipleship and the way to lead a Christian life.

However, his first characteristic that he mentions is that a Methodist “loves God”- he says, “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer; A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given to us.”

Wesley believed and I certainly believe that our living of the Christian life is in relation to two great commandments; the command to love God, and the command to love others! Wesley would argue that there is no other way to start our faith journey than to love God and in that context it is understood that by loving God we then in turn love Jesus! Who in turn requires that we love the people around us!!

Jesus asks that question in a number of ways, none more common as “do you love me?” Jesus realizes that the human predicament is deeper than the self-avowed love but it finds itself rooted in the love of and for Jesus. But it is not only in the giving of our love for God, but it is found in what we claim to be our “receiving” of God’s love. When we receive this wonderful love from God we realize what a difference our life makes and how different our life becomes!! We are changed! We are changed because of love. When Jesus asks the question, “Do you love me?” Jesus is not excluding other loves but offers a way of bringing all our loves into what Wesley called a “Holy Relationship.” As Jesus reminds us again that this is the first and the greatest commandment, it is the love that brings us (as a whole person of Christ/God) together. The great contemporary and popular theologian Parker Palmer puts it, “we are divided no more”!

“Love” for Wesley was the “action word.” It was the key note word that directed his life and ministry. His later writings and treatises and his actions in the mission field are directly correlated with the way in which Wesley embodied the Gospel. Hence, his instructions to his small groups, “the Holy Societies” were based along those lines, love, embodiement, and action!! That was the way in which Wesley understood and saw Methodism. Wesley embodied the Gospel by doing and practicing that Christians (and especially those called Methodists) to read and receive it both ways- receiving God’s love into our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, then responding to that love by putting it to work in the great commandment of loving God and neighbor.

My friends, as we reflect upon the scripture this morning we are not given an option! We are required, to love because God first loved us! The scripture tells us this morning that if we claim this and then say I hate my brothers and sisters then we are “liars.” Here again the writer calls the question. How can you “hate” what you see and then “love” God whom you haven’t seen?

Therefore, the commandment we have is “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters’ also .”

Like I said earlier, there are weeks, months, days, and years that require us to take “serious” notice of what is happening around us in the faith. This my friends has been one of those weeks! We have been challenged by racially motivated murder! How are we to love through this? We have been challenged by a legally constituted judgment on what has been seen as a “religious act” separate from the state? How do we love? How do we love the people, the worldly organization?  

As a pastor, a minister of the Gospel, I have struggled with this all week and to no surprise, I am still struggling!! Yet in my struggling and in my journey of faith, I am assured of one vital part of the struggle. That is, if I lose my ability to LOVE, then I have lost my ability to work faithfully as a Christian.  

I would be worried if we all weren’t struggling in some way over the events of this past week in some way. I would be worried that your blood had stopped flowing if you weren’t just a little un-easy about the status of the world in which God has placed you in! I would be worried if you weren’t able to cry, whether is grief or dismay, over the perplexing issues that face us, that face the Church!  

I don’t often get riled up in my preaching, but my friends, the Church must act in this world!! John Wesley would be more alive today than ever before, if he had witnessed the events of this week. Proclaiming love to ALL of God’s people!!

He would challenge the divided United Methodist Church over what it means to love All of God’s People!! He would challenge us to love those who live a different life style than some of us, he would challenge us to love Dylann Storm Roof in the midst of his turmoil and anguish. He would challenge us to love all those who grieve in Charleston and the world.

My friends, what defines us as “Authentically United Methodist” is our ability to love! Our ability to love and put into action the guiding principle of the Gospel! We love not because John Wesley wanted us to love, but we love because God through Jesus Christ, commanded us to love God and all those around us!!

It is my earnest and fervent prayer, more than ever, that over the next several months, years, and into the future, that we, as the United Methodist Church learn to love unconditionally, all of God’s people wherever they are in their journey, in their life, and in their relationship with God.

Always keeping in mind, that in order for us to love, we must first receive and acknowledge that God loves us and that no matter where we are in our life station, God loves us!! We can’t get the
“cart before the horse”!! It is the love of God to which we aspire, to be loved and then to love as we have been loved.

Both John and Charles Wesley saw that a true disciple loves God!! To which I think Charles summed it up in the most appropriate way:

“Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven, to earth come down, Fix in us they humble dwelling, All thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus, thou art all compassion, Pure, unbounded love thou art; Visit us with thy salvation! Enter every trembling heart.”

May our trembling hearts be moved to love, like never before!!