Toxic Tribalism In the UMC

It began innocently enough. I responded to a tweet about how fears that a traditionalist viewpoint does not equate to a desire to do away with the ordination of women and that claims to the contrary are fear mongering. I decided to respond. Below is the original tweet followed by mine:

You can read the rest of the tweets that ensued if you are so inclined but what ensued was a nearly day-long Twitter back and forth between me and some others who were not originally involved in the conversation but chose to chime in. The result was largely attacks against my integrity and one tweeter even went so far as to question my faith and further attack me personally. As you can see – and verify on my Twitter account – my response was not in reference to any leader within any of the traditionalist renewal movements (WCA, IRD, et. al.), yet it was assumed that these people were who I was talking about. I was not. As I later made clear, this was based on conversations that I have had with people over the course of several years in several settings. These conversations happened with both lay and clergy persons within the United Methodist Church.

It was demanded of me to name names. I refused because, frankly, it’s none of anyone’s business. What’s more, I’m not going to inject people by name into such a conversation when they have no means by which to defend themselves (many of these people are not on social media as far as I know). Because I would name “name just one” as one person tweeted at me, I was called everything from a gossip to a liar, all because I refused to “out” people who held these views. As I made clear multiple times (which seemed to go unnoticed), my tweet was a general statement intended to express that there are people within the UMC who are against women being ordained into pastoral ministry. While I have no knowledge of anyone currently in a leadership position within the major traditionalist renewal movements holding these views (women are involved in leadership, a point that I have never challenged because, websites, etc.), such people can conceivably have high influence over those who do have leadership titles, or can conceivably gain those positions for themselves. My point was to be on guard and not blindly think that such people don’t exist and would not push their views if given the opportunity. Nothing more, nothing less.

And I was ridiculed for it.

I can handle anyone disagreeing with me. Anyone is welcome to at any time. What I will not tolerate is being disrespected or personally attacked in the course of that disagreement. What happened today was proof that civil discourse has gone the way of the dodo and has given me cause to consider whether or not I will be as quick to weigh in on these subjects. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth the uptick in my blood pressure. And as I told someone offline just today: I have to wonder if this topic is even one worth spending so much energy on, if that hill is really worth dying on.

But what I believe today has further shown me is a reminder of the toxic tribalism that exists in the human sexuality debate in the United Methodist Church. I have further been reminded of the danger of one finding themselves in an echo chamber. I have noted people on both extremes of the human sexuality debate being stuck in these chambers, unable to fathom an argument that is contrary to theirs. They refuse to hear it and engage in ugly forms of debate when they are challenged. Moderates like me – someone who dares to hope that we can find a way to continue to coexist in spite of our differences – often find ourselves stuck in the middle because we refuse to place ourselves in these chambers. We see both sides, we engage with both sides (or, we try to). And more often than not, assumptions are made about our intentions or we are reminded for the millionth time that we need to pick a side.

If we hope to be the kingdom on earth, we have got to figure out a way to engage in dialogue without resulting to attacks on a person’s character and even their faith. It’s unchristlike to engage in such tactics. If you want to know why many people are starting to think that the church can’t be trusted, look no further than Twitter. We have all got to go to the table, engage with one another. In order to do that, we must leave our echo chambers, disband the tribes, and commune. Is there a time to go our separate ways? Perhaps. But we need not engage in behavior that is inconsistent with that of a disciple int he process.

Meanwhile, I cling to Christ. I further cling to the hope offered by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the church at Galatia:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

It’s time for us to start acting like it. I’m looking at you, fellow United Methodists.

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Mental Illness Comes to Church

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a typical Sunday morning and the people are filing into the worship space at First Church in Some Town, Some State. The music flows, prayers are lifted up, and the Holy Spirit is very much present. The pastor comes up and delivers a well written and well prepared sermon and even throws in some humor to help drive the point home. Perhaps the people look upon the pastor and think that this is a person who has it all together, someone who doesn’t have many problems. Perhaps people in the congregation who are so inclined follow the pastor on social media and enjoy the engagement the pastor provides, the inspirational quotes, and the humorous posts they share. The pastor regularly makes posts about fun things they have done with their family, community events they have attended, church events put on, and such. In the pictures, the pastor is always smiling. Their words are always positive, uplifting, and give not one indication that anything is wrong in their lives. The pastor has it all together, they are among God’s favorites, and there is nothing bad going on.

Or is there?

Just from looking at your pastor, you may not know that they have some internal battles going on, battles that they have faced for up to their entire life. Specifically, they may have an invisible illness that seeks to destroy them, a disease that is raging in their brain and spreads to the entire body. If we knew that this person who did not look sick but actually had a disease such as cancer, we would be quick to encourage them in their treatment. But when the disease is not cancer but some type of mental illness, the reaction is often not as supportive. Many try to hide their struggles and live as normal of a life as possible. With the wonderful medications we have available today, counseling, and other means of psychological assistance most of the time people who struggle are able to live normally. But sometimes, the struggle gets harder. The patient – especially people who are in positions of ministry – dare not cry out for fear of being judged unfit for their position or as somehow not Christian enough. So, they struggle as quietly as possible until one day they get tired of the voices in their head telling them they are worthless, unloved, and a bad pastor. The person becomes so desperate to end this pain and – in their minds – improve the lives of those around them that they consider ending it all by killing themselves. And sometimes, they succumb to this disease and go through it.

This even happens to pastors such as Rev. Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, CA.

Rev. Stoecklein took his own life last weekend. The Instagram post from Inland Hills Church began to go viral and eventually made its way to my timeline. As I read it, I felt a lot of emotions. Mainly, I felt sadness for the congregation, his wife and children who must now deal with this tragedy, pick up the pieces, and move forward. The second place emotion was fear. Rev. Stoecklein’s suicide hit home for me because, like him, I’m one of the 1 in 6 Americans who struggle with mental illness. For both of us, this illness take on the forms of depression and anxiety, disorders I have struggled with for over a decade.

Why did I feel fear? Because this could have easily have been me.

To be clear, I have never been suicidal and I at least would like to think that if I found myself in that position I would have the wherewithal to cry out for help. Having said that, one thing I have learned from both firsthand experience and from seeing others struggle is that mental illness can make one do strange things. I have had days where I could not get out of bed to even brush my teeth because my mental illness had zapped every bit of motivation from my body. These bad days are rare; most days you would not have any idea that I have mental illness. Most days, I appear perfectly normal (well, normal for me).

Mental illnesses such as depression are real diseases, as real as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. It’s well beyond time that the stigma that exists about mental illness be ended, to have real and honest conversations about mental illness. People like me who struggle are not crazy. We are sick. We need help. We need love.

It’s time for the church to step up and give love and acceptance to people who struggle instead of judgement. Platitudes such as “You just need to pray more” or “You’re not sick, the devil is trying to steal your joy,” while well intended, are unhelpful and are actually harmful. Collectively, the church recognizes that diseases are real and generally encourage the faithful to seek treatment. But when it comes to mental health, this has not been the case. The church has generally preached that mental illness is purely a manifestation of a poor spiritual condition rather than a brain disorder. This, also, is harmful and toxic. This kind of thinking has caused more spiritual harm than almost anything else. To think that someone is depressed or having anxiety due to being in sin is a ridiculous notion and a gross misinterpretation of scripture. It’s not enough to just want to “pray it away.” In scripture, prayer is always followed by action. We have to act. We can no longer ignore mental illness and pawn it off as someone’s sin or stress.

The church must be a safe place for all of God’s beloved.

I am one of the 1 in 6. So was Rev. Stoecklein. I don’t know all of the details of his situation and it’s none of my business. But I would hope that he was surrounded by love, prayer, and was at least attempting to seek help. The harsh reality is, sometimes the voices telling a depressed person that they are worthless win. Let’s do what we can to be louder than the voices.

We do this with love.

Why the One Church Proposal is Bad for the United Methodist Church

tug-o-warAs we awaited the final report to be published from the Commission on a Way Forward, I resolved to not pledge support to any of the proposals until I had an opportunity to read the reports for myself. With all of the rumors and speculation about what the plans will and won’t do swirling around on social media and elsewhere, I found this difficult to do but I held on to this because I feel that the future of the United Methodist Church is too important to base opinions on some tweets or the views of bloggers (which may be a bit ironic seeing as I am a blogger). So, I continued to wait. Finally, my and everyone else’s patience paid off.

I have had an opportunity to review all of the proposals. I have to admit, I have a hard time supporting any of them. For example: The “traditionalist plan” is not specific enough for me. With the accountability models proposed, I can see a lot of potential for abuse and for witch hunts to ensue. This is not something I can support. I can see a day where clergy are called to the carpet and questioned for basically anything that could even be potentially considered support for homosexual marriage and ordination.

I don’t want a bunch of wannabe Delores Umbridge-types running the church.

The proposal I have the most issues with is the One Church Plan. This may be surprising to read since I consider myself a moderate and One Church has been touted as the proposal that moderates can get on board with. In a nutshell, One Church provides for a local option. Annual conferences and congregations would be able to decide for themselves whether or not they will allow homosexual marriage and homosexual clergy. This is a terrible idea and a proposal that needs to be soundly defeated.

Here are the reasons why I believe One Church is bad for the UMC.

  • One Church would change the polity of the UMC. The United Methodist Church has a connectional and episcopal polity. In a nutshell, this means we have a body – General Conference – that decides matters such as doctrine and theology and sets the official positions of the church. The Bishops oversee the congregations within their assigned annual conferences, appoint pastors, and so on. Congregations are not allowed to decide their doctrine and annual conferences are not allowed to decide which clergy they will and will not accept. This authority rests solely with General Conference. One Church would change this by giving congregations and annual conferences the ability to decide their doctrinal positions on homosexuality for themselves. This may sound like a good compromise but this is a Pandora’s box that should not be opened. If a congregation or annual conference is able to make decisions on human sexuality for themselves, what’s stopping them from deciding that they will not ordain female clergy? What about going against infant baptism? The polity of the United Methodist Church is not congregational. These matters are not for congregations and annual conferences to decide.
  • The United Methodist Church will only be more divided. Congregations that decide they can not abide by the doctrine decided by their annual conference will be given a way to leave the denomination or affiliate with another annual conference of their choice. This will only sew the seeds for further discord and schism within the United Methodist Church. The issue of human sexuality has been very polarizing and tribalism is very strong within the church. We see this with caucus groups such as the Reconciling Ministries Network and Wesleyan Covenant Association and all of the fighting that members of these and other groups have engaged in. One Church will do nothing to support unity and will instead increase division within the United Methodist Church.

Make no mistake: The future of the United Methodist Church is very much hanging in the balance and General Conference 2019 will be a pivotal time for the church. One Church is not going to solve all of the problems and will only increase them. One Church is not “a moderate’s dream come true” as someone stated on Twitter. One Church will only increase the division and tribalism that we are seeing.

But let’s be real: Regardless of which proposal is passed – or if none are passed (yes, that is possible) – we have only seen the beginning of the drama. Congregations and clergy are going to leave the church no matter what. The only question is which ones. I predict that ten years from now we will still be fighting over property and pensions from those who do leave. I have no idea what the “ideal” solution will be but one thing I know is that One Church is not it.

God help us.

Random Thoughts and Ramblings on Being a Moderate in the UMC and The Way Forward

slide-5-communion-of-saints“You need to pick a side.”

“Don’t you believe in scripture?”

“If you don’t pick a side, your opinion doesn’t matter.”

These are actual statements made by various people in response to my right-center position within the United Methodist Church.

I have had everything form my fitness for ministry to my very faith called into question because I refuse to choose a faction with which to align in the human sexuality debate, being it WCA, RMN, Good News, or whatever the cool caucus group of the week is. This has been done by people involved on the left and the right. Frankly, such comments are ridiculous and are largely why there are many like me who refuse to “pick a side.”

I can’t take these people seriously.

Anytime I have brought up this topic, almost without fail the discussion has devolved into unhelpful banter and accusation making. I acknowledge my faults in this and acknowledge that I often can present my arguments better. But, I feel this also illustrates a symptom of a larger problem. We simply don’t know how to discuss tough topics, of which this is probably one of the toughest. We don’t like our view challenged and tend to think the worst of the person on the opposite side of the argument (again, something I have been guilty of). Conservatives assume that progressives are trying to turn the United Methodist Church into a body that worships the devil. Progressives assume that conservatives are trying to turn the church into the church equivalent of a country club.

We (and I definitely include myself) must stop assuming the worst about each other.

We also need to stop thinking that those in the center are apathetic and wishy-washy. I am honestly very frustrated over this more than anything else. My views don’t fit in a box. But here’s what I can say for sure and easily: I know good people on the left and the right (and so do you). I know good people who love Jesus more than anything else and are seeking to give the best witness they possibly can – and these people exist on both the left and the right. Another thing I know is that if we all sat down at tables and had real, deep, challenging discussions we would find out that we all have much more things that we agree on than we do things that we disagree with.

Left, right, center, whatever, we are all made in God’s image.

I think many of us are going to be surprised that there are people we know to hold opposing political views, people who we know only as prostitutes, thieves, adulterers, and others who we view as unfit in the presence of God along with us. We are all afforded the opportunity to accept God’s gift of grace, mercy, and reconciliation. Yes, even the people we don’t like. We have got to figure out a way to get along. This is our mandate as Christians. For my part in stoking the fires of discord, I repent.

But for being somewhere in the middle of what I think the UMC should do, I do not apologize. In his book Being United Methodist in the Bible Belt, F. Belton Joyner likened being a United Methodist to being a passenger on a large tour bus with Jesus driving us all to the same place. All of us together, regardless of our differences. Personally, if there is any way to do so, I would like to keep it that way.

Life is much better when we are together.

Jonathan

Hello, Druid Hills UMC and Lost Gap UMC!

To the folks at Druid Hills and Lost Gap UM churches in Meridian: If you have been googling your new pastor, you may have found this blog. To you, I send greetings! My wife, Jessica, and I are looking forward to joining you all for worship on July 1st where we will start to get to know one another, share in Holy Communion as a sign of our new ministry together and hear about how much God loves us no matter what.

I’m Jonathan Tullos and I grew up in Philadelphia; yes, the one in Neshoba County! Meridian is more or less home and I look forward to being back in the Queen City and Lauderdale County. I was born at Anderson Hospital and after graduating from Philadelphia High School in 1999, I attended MCC and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communications Technology in 2001. I was also a member of Eagles’ 2000 national championship men’s soccer team as a student assistant. I spent several years in radio working at Q101 and, after two years at a radio station in Fort Wayne, Indiana, returned to work part-time back at Q101 (although at that point it was on 95.1) and eventually worked at WZKR (103.3) when it was a country station. I decided the time was right for a career change so I became an EMT and eventually a paramedic (I graduated from ECCC’s paramedic program in 2011). Most of my paramedic career was spent working at Metro Ambulance after working as an EMT at Wayne General Hospital in Waynesboro. As you can see, I have spent most of my adult life working in and around Meridian so I have gotten to know the area and the people very well.

Currently, Jessica and I live in Kentucky where I currently serve as the pastor of Shiloh UMC in Stanton (www.shilohumcstanton.org). We moved to Kentucky in 2015 when I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary and I was appointed to Shiloh. Prior to this, while completing my undergraduate degree online, I served Oak Grove UMC in the Clarkdale community for three years. I have a few classes remaining at Asbury, which I will complete online (with the exception of one class which I have to return for a week in July for) during my first year at Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Assuming no major hiccups occur, I will graduate with my Masters in Divinity in the spring of 2019.

Jessica and I have been married for nine years and will celebrate ten years as husband and wife in November. Jessica hails from all over south Mississippi as her father is an ordained elder in the Mississippi Annual Conference. She is a graduate of USM (bachelors in biology) and MSU (masters in biology) and has taught high school science for nearly fifteen years. She will be teaching at a school in the area (we will be able to share where soon) while I serve at Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Jessica is a gifted, passionate, and award-winning educator and considers her career a calling. Jessica loves crafts, especially scrapbooking and crochet! Together, we have a daughter, Hannah, who unfortunately died soon after she was born. In spite of our loss, we are thankful that Hannah’s all-too-short life has had a lasting impact, as a scholarship fund was established at Camp Wesley Pines in her memory that allows children to attend camp who may not otherwise be able to.

I am excited for what God has in store for Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Know that I am praying for you and for Brother Richard during this transition. I look forward to meeting you all in a couple of weeks! God’s grace, peace, and mercy be with you all.

In Christ,
Jonathan

Heavenly Reunions

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Credit: Marshall Ramey/Clarion-Ledger, 2018.

Today, I want to talk about a man who I have never met but who I respect greatly and gladly call a friend. Marshall Ramsey is the editorial cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s not originally from the magnolia state but has been adopted as one of our own due to his love for our state (even when we don’t agree with him) and for his heart of gold. Marshall is a skin cancer survivor and strives to live every day that God grants him in this world to the fullest. His Christian faith enables him to highlight hope in the midst of death and tragedy. He recently caused a huge wave with one of his recent drawings, which you likely saw when you clicked to read this post.

Marshall’s drawing of Barbara Bush being reunited with her daughter Robin – she died from leukemia at age 3, something I did not know before – in heaven has made the rounds from everywhere from NBC’s Today to Fox News and all points in between. The Bush family saw his drawing and reached out to him to express their appreciation for such a touching tribute. They now have the original drawing, prints, and awestruck surprise from Marshall. To say the least, this drawing has gotten people all over the world talking. Perhaps you want to know why this drawing has caused such a stir, aside from being a beautiful tribute. Well, the reason is simple:

Hope.

I’m a father who has lost a child. My daughter, Hannah, died soon after she was born. When I saw this drawing, tears came to my eyes because it made me think of my own daughter. These tears were not of sadness. Marshall’s drawing was a reminder that there will be a day of resurrection. I don’t know if reunions like the one depicted take place; the bible is vague at best as to whether or not such a scene would play out and not many people agree on one interpretation. But let’s put theology and doctrine aside for a moment. I have hope that I will see my daughter again. I have the promise that there will be a resurrection of the faithful and that my daughter will be among those who are raised. In short, I will see her again. I know I will. And Marshall gave me and all of those who are in the grim fraternity of those who have lost children a reminder that death is not the final answer and that we will be reunited with our children once more.

We have hope and we have the assurance that resurrection is coming. What joy!

Thank you, Marshall. Thank you for being one of the best things about Mississippi. Thank you for spreading hope. And most of all, thank you for allowing God to work through you to bring a reminder of his love, comfort, and compassion in such a meaningful way.

Pastoral Thoughts on the Wet/Dry Vote in Powell County

cross-grave-cemetery-tombstone-161136.jpegMy brothers and sisters,

I greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ and I hope that this writing finds you all well.

As you all know, Powell County is at a crossroads. Soon, we will go to the polls and decide our primary elections as well as whether or not to allow liquor and beer sales within the county. I realize that we all have our opinions on the issue – I have mine as well. I believe that scripture teaches that drunkenness is a sin (Ephesians 5:18, Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21) but as far as scripture’s teaching of consumption of alcohol in general, there is a mix of interpretations. At least today, I will not get into that. When it comes to the wet/dry vote, I feel there is something else that needs to be said right now.

I have been made aware by some members of the community that there is a campaign of harassment and shame being waged against some of the people who signed the petition to have the wet/dry issue placed on the ballot. I also know that there have been letters sent to at least a few pastors in the county – one of whom is me – suggesting that any pastor who does not participate with this group is not really a Christian. The tactics being employed by this group of both lay and clergy persons are disturbing on many levels. I believe that their tactics are harmful and hurt the witness of the Christians in Powell County. Further, I do not believe that such tactics are characteristic of a follower of Jesus Christ and is doing more harm than good.

I ask my brothers and sisters who are involved with this group to carefully consider the teachings and example of the Lord in such matters. One such example is found in John 8 when Jesus stops a mob from stoning a woman who had committed adultery. Jesus simply causes the members of this mob to examine the conditions of their own souls: “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7b NLT) Another teaching that Jesus gave that speaks to this is found in Matthew 7.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.[b]

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye[c] when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NLT)

I’m sad to say that this group is reminding me more of the Pharisees than of a group of concerned followers of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we can and should advocate for our beliefs. I have no issue with that. My issue is the method by which this is being done. We can not allow our passion for an issue to allow us to resort to fear and shame in order to make our point. This is not Christ-like behavior and will only contribute to the stereotype that Christians are judgemental and hateful. I urge you all to please reevaluate the tactics being used and consider employing other methods. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT) Brothers and sisters, we must remember that we represent Christ with everything that we say, think, and do when we claim the name “Christian.” We will not win souls with shame and hateful tones of voice. That’s not how Jesus ministered to the woman at the well and so many others. Let everything we do in the name of God be done with nothing but love… And let’s mean it.

In Christ,

Rev. Jonathan Tullos
Christian, Disciple, Pastor of Shiloh UMC Stanton, KY

Jesus and Swords

 

if-you-dont-own-an-ar-15-sell-your-cloak-and-buy-one-luke-2236
Filed under “Thing Jesus Never Said.”

Earlier today I was involved in a discussion about gun policy and then it happened: Someone said, “Jesus would be in favor of guns, he told his followers to buy a sword! SEE! LOOK!” They then quoted Luke 22:36: “‘But now,’ he said, ‘take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!'” This was something I expected, as many Christians have used this one verse to try and state that Jesus would be against gun control. There’s just one problem with this line of thinking: That is not what Jesus meant. As Dr. Ben Witherington III is fond of saying:

 

A text without a context is merely a pretext for a proof text and it can be whatever you want it to be.

The problem with employing an ultra-literal interpretation of scripture and a hermeneutic of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is that such interpretations ignore important items such as context, cultural considerations, and good old-fashioned common sense. Using so-called “gotcha” texts to make a point that goes beyond any reasonable context for scripture is a poor witness for Christ. Further, while scholars believe that literal interpretation of scripture is considered a high view of scripture, I believe that such is actually a low view because an ultra-literal interpretation does a great disservice to the authors and intended ultimate message of scripture: The story of God’s love for us.

Simply stated: Jesus is not telling his followers to arm themselves. He is not calling for any sort of armed insurrection, revolution, or otherwise telling Christians that employing violent tactics is the way of a disciple. Here is what noted new testament theologian – and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary – Craig Keener said about this passage in the IVP Bible Background: New Testament.

By mentioning the “sword” here Jesus is not inviting revolution like the Zealots did (cf. Pseudo-Phocylides 32–34). Instead, Jesus calls for a temporary and symbolic act—two are sufficient (v. 38)—so he may be charged as a revolutionary and hence “reckoned among transgressors” in accordance with Isaiah 53:12… To be without one’s outer cloak at night would leave one cold; yet Jesus suggests that it is better than being unprepared for the conflict these disciples are about to face.

So, no, Luke 22:36 is not a call for Christians to arm themselves. It’s about the fulfillment of prophecy, specifically a prophecy that said that the messiah must be charged as a criminal. More proof of this comes from verse 37: “For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” Being with people who were armed with swords would certainly give the Romans cause to allege that Jesus was planning an armed revolution against the Roman Empire, therefore fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 55.

To think that Luke 22 calls Christians to arm themselves is just plain wrong. Such a notion also flies in the face of the other teachings of Jesus where he encourages peace, non-violence, and to put down their weapons (remember the scene where Jesus stops a stoning?). Further, one taking scripture completely out of context in order to fit their own belief is tantamount to re-constructing God into their own image. Let us remember that the will of God is not violence, but peace. I close with the words of the prophet Isaiah, and also long for the day when this prophecy is fulfilled. May it be during our lifetime.

“They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

“Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?”

26220101_10159794806340147_6943418189534145442_nIn the summer of 2016, I had the honor of attending the Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Along with seeing sites significant to the history of Methodism and learning from some of the greatest Wesley scholars available, I also had the opportunity to meet people from many different places and from many different backgrounds. Two of my fellow pilgrims hail from nations in Africa. Ande (“Andy”) is an ordained Elder from Nigeria and Julu is a lay leader in Liberia. Both are two of the most committed Christians and United Methodists I have ever met, not to mention that both are just extremely nice men. Both are working hard to make their homes better by taking seriously the call to discipleship and mission.

Both were also among the people President Trump insulted with his “shithole countries” remark.

The words that President Trump used to degrade immigrants from third world nations – many of whom are refugees escaping extreme poverty and war – are the most reprehensible words that I have ever seen or heard attributed to the president. I realize that our political leaders are just as human as you and I but, simply, they can’t say things like that and not expect to be held accountable. The President of the United States wields much power with their words and the words that President Trump used to demonize human beings who are of sacred worth in God’s eyes are beyond comprehension. I join the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops in denouncing the president’s statement and I, too, call it what it is: It is racist. It is evil. It simply can not be tolerated.

I refuse to be complicit in his unbiblical and unchristian statement through silence.

Like many pastors, I follow the Revised Common Lectionary most weeks. I know some view this as “quenching the work of the Spirit” but I disagree, especially when the readings are so prophetic and timely to what is happening in our world today. Sunday’s Old Testament reading is from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 where God calls out to Samuel and declares a judgment upon his own father Eli for not heeding God’s word. The Gospel reading is from John 1:43-51 and the part that strikes me so much as far as this week’s big news is concerned is found in verse 46 where Nathaniel says, “‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” Nathaniel is soon converted as he realizes that, yes, something good has come out of the s***hole Nazareth – the Lord Jesus Christ.

God is still speaking. Are we still listening? Even more so, are we ready to actually heed his word and do what we are expected to do as Christians? Can we stop judging and hating people who look different than us and who are from different places? Can we stop condoning and even defending evil words and actions from our elected officials and our clergy? When will God’s people stand up and shout “no more!” and then actually rise up to do something about it?

All people are made in God’s image. All people are of sacred worth.

All means all.

Worship leader and songwriter Matthew West has a song called “Do Something.” The man in the story names several ills of the world and shouts to God, “Why don’t you do something?!” In the song, God responds: “I did, I created you!”

So, I say again: When will God’s people stand up and say “no more?” I don’t know about you but this one is choosing to respond.

No more!

Sermon: Stories of the Saints

slide-5-communion-of-saintsHere is today’s sermon from Shiloh United Methodist Church in Stanton, KY. We are doing a series based on material from the United Methodist Church Disciple Ministries regarding the saints. In the UMC, our understanding of saints is not the same as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We believe that saints are all of those who lived for Christ and have gone on to their reward in glory.

This sermon is based on verses from Joshua 24 where the prophet tells the people that they can not serve two gods and to choose carefully who they will serve. He begins by relating the story of Abraham and how they, as a people, came to be through his lineage. The stories we weave as disciples are important and can also reflect on all believers. Thus, it’s important for us to make our story the best one it can possibly be.

I hope you find some hope and inspiration in these words. May God bless you and yours. – Jonathan

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 (NLT)
Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.

2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River,* and they worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

16 The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. 17 For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18 It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”

19 Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”

21 But the people answered Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”

22 “You are a witness to your own decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes,” they replied, “we are witnesses to what we have said.”

23 “All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.”

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord.

Last week we began a series on saints, but not the ones from New Orleans or ones who we might celebrate on certain holy days. We began to hear about the saints, ultimately all of those who are in Christ and have gone on to their reward and those who are currently in Christ and will go on to glory someday. We heard about the clothing that a saint might wear – how do we identify them? The white clothing placed on them by Christ certainly does much to show us who these people are – their everyday way of living. Today we hear their stories. What do we hear about from the saints? What ist their story?

There is a song that came out several years ago that contained these lines: “What’s your story about his glory? You gotta find your place in his amazing grace.” Recently I heard this song again for the first time in several years and I began to ponder these words. On first look, I have my faults. Every single day I do things that perhaps at the time I don’t realize are displeasing to God. This could take the form of anything from being rude to someone or not doing something that I know God would want me to do as a disciple. But I also know that I love Christ and I seek to grow in his grace every single day, to do better than the day before, to continue to be transformed into a completely new creation. I desire nothing but Christ and to walk in the Holy Spirit. My goal is perfection and I am, as John Wesley asked his pastors when they were being ordained, earnestly striving for and going on to perfection. But how I live my faith – the outward everyday testimony that I give – tells a story that will be my legacy. I hope to make it a good one.

Here’s a question that’s good to wrestle with from time to time: If I were to depart this world for glory right now, would my story as a disciple of Christ be one that’s worth being shared by others? Every single one of us will be remembered in some way by the people we leave behind. Another sure thing is, some will remember us differently. Some will remember us for the way we made sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving or for the way we told jokes around the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Some will remember that we did some heroic thing one year in a blizzard that kept everybody and everything frozen in place for a week. These, of course, are examples of the good things that someone might remember about us. Let’s hope there are many more of these sorts of stories than the other kind.

A saying that is popular among those in sales is that it can take a very long time to gain a customer but only a very short time to lose one. Likewise, it can take someone years to obtain a good reputation while it may only take a split second to have a bad one. The bad stories that may be recalled about someone after they have departed, unfortunately, can outweigh the good one. We have all seen it. Someone with a bad reputation can die and all some people will talk about is how much of a jerk they were, how badly they treated their spouse, beat their kids, did drugs, or any number of other things. Nevermind that that person could have once saved a building full of school children from a fire, it will be the vices and other bad things that will be remembered the most. Research has proven that negative events and traits can have a larger impact on our memories than positive ones. This may seem counterintuitive but the numbers do not lie. We tend to remember the bad stuff and forget the good stuff.

This is why it’s all the more important for every one of us who are in Christ to strive every single day to leave a positive legacy and to make sure that the story told about us is the best that we can possibly make it. Not only will this story reflect our life but can also reflect on all disciples of Jesus Christ.

Stories are exactly what we are reading about in this passage from the prophet Joshua. Of course, by the time Joshua is talking to the people about their stories as we pick up his story this morning, it has likely been well over three centuries since Abraham had lived and died. His name and some of his stories had been carried forward through the ages. But the first thing Joshua wants to tell the people about their ancestor as he is about to finish his work among them is that Abraham was not always connected to the God they knew as their God. He had served other gods, as his family before him had.

And the second thing he wanted them to know about Abraham’s story was that first our God made a choice, and then Abraham did. Our God chose to call this man who was not serving our God, and Abraham chose to pay attention and devote his life to following where our God led him. God acted first. God called. Then Abraham forsook all other allegiances and followed.

That’s our story, too, isn’t it? John and Charles Wesley would call this preventing, or prevenient grace. Before we were even trying to pay attention to what our God was calling us to do, even before we couldpay attention to such things, God called, and kept calling.

For many of you, you heard that call and you followed. You made a pledge at your baptism, if you were older, you would renounce all other allegiances, and serve Jesus as Lord, accepting the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. And over the years, you’ve learned what it means to rely on grace to keep you connected to God and to others in the body of Christ, the church, and to serve as Christ’s representatives in the world.

This is our story. We were serving other gods. We were following our own way. Even if we were “good Christian people” and “in the church,” and for some of us, even if we were confirmed and meant it at the time, we still hadn’t completely broken all those prior allegiances. Just being “in the church” may not really have been enough of an influence to do what the church promises to pray for us at every baptism– “that we may become true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”

Hear this good news. God keeps calling. The Spirit keeps striving. Prevenient grace is still very much a thing! Even when our story is that we’re ignoring God, God doesn’t ignore us. Indeed, God is calling us toward the fullness of life in Christ even then, even when we’re actively serving other gods or ends.

Hear this even better news. We don’t have to keep ignoring God’s call and God’s promise. We can “choose THIS day whom we will serve.” And in making that choice, our story can become more like that of those robed in white.

Joshua told the people an ancient ancestor story to speak of a God who made them a people –in effect–out of nothing, out of no prior allegiance.

They responded with their allegiance to their God who had done something even more remarkable than that. It would have been enough if God had simply called Abraham and given him descendants. But their story was their God did more. Their God delivered these descendants from slavery and cruel oppression at the hands of the Egyptian empire, brought them through a long journey, and enabled them to settle in a new land. Their God wasn’t just out to get them started, but to see them through whatever would come and work for their good. How could they not pledge sole allegiance to their God?

That’s the story of the saints, too. It’s our story. Some of us may have found ourselves caught in literal slavery and cruel oppression from others. Racism and white supremacy still exercise sway among us. Some of us may struggle with other forms of slavery and oppression such as addiction or other diseases beyond our apparent control. Probably all of us have struggled with patterns of selfishness or habits or actions or attitudes that destroy our relationships with God and neighbor and ourselves. And in our struggles, we may forget the best news of all. God really is out to save us.

God is out to save us.

And save us to the uttermost.

The story that we proclaim and that we weave for ourselves must be one worth telling and remembering. This is especially vital in the age in which we find ourselves. As I mentioned a few moments ago, we all have other gods whom we have been serving and at some point, those of us who have taken membership vows have professed before this or some other congregation that our allegiance is first and foremost with the risen savior Jesus Christ. What we see playing out in certain circles around us is nothing short of evil and idolatrous. We are more polarized than ever and we are also in a place in our nation’s history where we see many people throwing away what they know is morally correct and in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ for the sake of political gain. We are seeing people use scripture to justify everything from racism to pedophilia. We are seeing people equate allegiance with this or that politician or party with being a Christian. It makes my soul ache to know that such is the story that we are collective weaving about the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in the United States. Political gain and the setting aside of morals for the sake of political clout is not why Christ died on the cross. This is not why our veterans offered themselves up for us and why some gave literally everything they had. We can do better than this, we must do better.

As we write the story of our lives and our witness, we must make sure that if nothing else is said about us, it is proclaimed that we placed God above all other things in our lives, period, full stop. That means that we must do everything that we can to serve him and to take every single opportunity to show others the love of Jesus Christ as often as we can. In the sermon titled “The Use of Money” John Wesley said, “Employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree . . . to all mankind.” Do we do all the good that we can, in all the ways that we can, in as many places as we can, to as many people as we can, for as long as we ever can? And when we fail to do good and we cause some kind of harm, do we make amends by confessing, repentance, and amends to the person we have wronged? This is how we make our story as a saint one worth telling. Above all, we love God and then we love all people as Christ loves them. Leave a lasting legacy, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.