METHODIST MARKINGS (Part 1) Loving God & Others, Pentecost Sunday, Matthew 22:34-40 Pastor Carey June 4, 2017

A pastor was speaking to a funeral director at the local cemetery and was asked, “Have you ever considered the effect wind has on things that grow?” He told the pastor, “Over time, trees that have to stand out in the open become shaped in the direction the wind is blowing. Unless there are other trees around to block it from happening, a tree will eventually be shaped by the force and direction of the wind.” Then he began to point out tree after tree that had all been shaped in this way.  The pastor admitted that he had passed by those trees many times, but had never really noticed them until then. Once it was pointed out to him, he began to see them everywhere. The cemetery was literally filled with them! All shaped by the winds of God!  So, like those trees in the cemetery, do we, as individuals, and as a congregation, show any evidence of being shaped by the winds of God’s Spirit? Has Pentecost become a fresh, yet continuing presence in our lives?

As United Methodist Christians, we continue to discover the ways the Holy Spirit empowers and shapes us into disciples of Jesus every day.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to every person, everywhere for all time.  Bethia UMC is now 130 years old!  We are a part of that Methodist legacy that began in the mid-18th century that continues to live into a deliberate methodology of Christian discipleship where we are shaped by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit and called to holy living. Huh? What does THAT mean?  Good question!  Put simply, it means that Methodists have been marked by specific traits since the Wesley boys began meeting together as the Holy Club in 1729.  This is what we will look at during June.  How are we called to live, minister, serve and worship our Lord Jesus Christ?  So today, let’s spend a few moments reflecting on the first Methodist marking: Love God and love others.

Two weeks ago we looked at today’s scripture passage and were reminded that Easter people are called to love God with no holds barred.  We love God with everything we’re got: our emotions (heart), thoughts (mind), strength and our true selves (soul). Methodism begins with loving God!  It marks us because it changes us from what we were to what we were created to be. Everything else about our faith walk hangs on this.  When our relationship with God is THE most important thing in our life, everything else falls into place.  Jesus’ last conversation with Peter in John’s Gospel begins with a question asked 3 times: “Do you love me more than anything else?”  Loving God begins with answering “YES”.  That is the beginning point for personal holiness.

Then, our love for God effects and affects our love of and our love for others.  This is why Methodists have been concerned for our community, our nation and our world.  This is known as social holiness.  It is a concern for humanity that draws us to those who are hurting, or abused or abandoned or been wronged by others.  The Old Testament is filled with God’s reminding the chosen people to look out for widows, orphans and the poor.  Micah 6:8 tells us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” every day.  And while our loving God is a personal and individual relationship, our loving others is communal.  We love others because our love for God has made us a family – a community of believers.

And graduates here today, the truth be told, you graduated, but you didn’t graduate on your own.  Every graduate has had help from teachers to parents, family, friends and even strangers who helped us along the journey through passing along wisdom and knowledge; or encouraging us when we wanted to quit; or supporting us financially, emotionally and spiritually.  We may hear that God is not in our schools, but look around, every graduate we celebrate today has been the focus and recipients of prayers by the faithful!  We have been loved by others!

John Ortberg tells the story of a friend who made his first trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line from Chicago to Georgia. On his first morning in the South he went into a restaurant to order breakfast, and it seemed that every dish included something called grits…which, as most Southerners would agree, is exactly the way God intended it. Not being familiar with this southern delicacy, he asked the waitress, “Could you tell me, exactly what is a grit?” Looking down on him with a mixture of compassion and condescension, she said, “Sugar, you can’t get just one-grit. They always come together.”

John Wesley knew there was no personal holiness without social holiness, and as Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard once said, “You can no more go to God alone than you can go to the North Pole alone.” Methodist Christians are just like grits…you can’t get just one. Like the trees in that cemetery, they are shaped by the Holy Spirit’s wind and they come together.

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