These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, January 28, 2018. The discussion was based upon a reading from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here. Note: the questions on this handout are often different from the questions raised in the discussion.
It is my understanding that there is a football game (the Super Bowl) next weekend. And, as that day approaches, we will no doubt learn where each of our loyalties lie.
What does it mean to be loyal to something?
Loyalty may evoke notions of formality. Put another way: what does it mean to support something?
What does it look like to be loyal to/support a brand, an idea, a job, a spouse?
Can you tell if someone’s loyal/supportive? if someone’s not?
At our baptism as an adult, or at our confirmation of baptism (if we were baptized as small children), we pledge a vow of loyalty. Individuals are asked,
According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?
Vows of loyalty are important. Solemn pledges keep us focused and help us get through the tough times of a relationship. Its why partners make vows
…for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
until we are parted by death.
It is a reminder that things won’t always be easy. Relationships are not all smooth sailing. There are rough patches, times that seem lonely and dark. Relationships are hard.
It’s not always easy being a part of–being in relationship with–the Church. It is full of sinful and imperfect people, including clergy. When challenges or conflicts arise, it is easy to give up on the Church; after all, some will say, why do I need the church when I can experience God in the mountains, a concert, or the baseball stadium. While one can absolutely have a spiritual experience in those places, the Christian faith proclaims a God who calls people into relationship, a community—who, in the words of Paul, is entrusted with reconciling people through Christ back to God. We profess a faith that calls people into community; and, God has entrusted us with caring for and growing it.
Through our baptism, we are not only initiated into this community, but also entrusted with its care. Through our baptism, we commit to live in community. Even if that mean we have to put up with one another’s warts.
What are the benefits of such a commitment? The primary benefit is the presence of the living Christ. Indeed, he promises that we will greet him in the midst of the faithful—“…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). The church continues to insist that our hearts are warmed as we hear the Scriptures read and proclaimed (Luke 24: 32), that the Risen Christ is known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24: 35). Indeed, the mystery of the Risen Christ is present in the midst of my sisters and brothers. They hear my confession and proclaim God’s forgiveness. They embrace me, they laugh and cry with me, and God heals me in and through all of that. My brothers and sisters know my shortcomings, and so they keep me honest, but they also know my potential, and so they call forth my gifts. They share their heritage and their wisdom and give me people to teach. I need their commitment to me, and they need me as well.
John Wesley once said that there is no such thing as a holy solitary, no holiness but social holiness. In other words, we cannot grow in faith and love alone. We need one another.
So what does it mean, then, to be loyal to the Church?
Our commitment to the church cannot be fully measured by the number of worship services or Bible Studies we attend. And, it cannot be measured by the amount of money we give to the Church. These things are important and often hint at loyalty; but, our commitment to the church is best demonstrated in our willingness and ability to see, hear, and follow God in and through community.
Experiencing Christ in the community of faith will naturally draw one deeper into it. This commitment will result in a gradual reorientation of one’s life such that their time, talent, and resources go to building up the community so that others might experience reconciliation with God, know their sins forgiven, and be drawn into community too.
Other thoughts and questions:
- What is being said about individuals can also be said about the local church. Local church vitality cannot be fully measured by the number of people who attend worship or bible study, nor by how faithful the church is in paying its apportionments. Vitality comes in how a community understands itself within the whole and contributes to the whole such that disciples of Jesus Christ are being made locally and around the world. Much like the individual, as the local church grows, it reorients its time, talent, and resources to further the mission of the entire body. Growth in worship attendance and bible study, faithfully paying apportionments are often indicators of such faithfulness, but not necessarily.
- For a great discussion of the membership and baptismal vows, see Our Membership Vows in The United Methodist Church by Mark W. Stamm. You can find a free electronic copy of the resource here.
 Mark W. Stamm, Our Membership Vows in The United Methodist Church (Discipleship Resources/General Board of Discipleship, 2013), p18.