Authentically United Methodist: When We're Disciplined
July 5, 2015
Matthew 7: 1-3
I must confess something to everyone gathered here this day: I have a tremendous love of road cycling. I am not an avid fan of basketball, football, baseball, or any other sport, but cycling captivates me like no other sport can. Yesterday, as many people around our country awoke to celebrate the 4th of July, I woke up and immediately began binge watching the start of the Tour de France. It admittedly takes a lot for me to watch a baseball game but this time of year, without fail, I watch the Tour de France. See, paramount among reasons I love cycling is that it is a sport that, at the amateur level, does not require a great deal of hand-eye coordination. Since I lack all sense of hand-eye coordination, cycling is a sport that I can do and do well, rather than basketball, where I usually end up getting hit in the head at some point during a game. All that cycling takes is the skill to ride a bike and the tenacity to bear through an uncomfortable seat and the pain of pedaling for hours on end. In its simplest form it takes just a great source of endurance and anyone can become a cyclist capable of finishing 100 plus mile long courses and hundreds of miles long tours.
There-in lies challenge about cycling. It is all about endurance. It continually requires that a person make themselves uncomfortable. To improve means to enter into a space of discomfort or pain in the great faith that over time it will mean improvement. More to the point, while there are races and competitions the majority of the rides that any cyclist does are all self-motivated. They are for the sake of practice or self-improvement. Even still when many cyclists join in an actual organized event the goal isn’t to be the first across the finish line, it is simply to finish. As we consider the difficult and painful words of the Gospel this morning the discomfort of cycling seems important to hold onto.
Jesus’ words challenge us amidst complacency. At the very least they should make us uncomfortable. As we are so often surrounded by the hopes and dreams that we are doing well, Jesus’ words sound deep to a place that we recognize as flawed. They speak to our own tendency to evaluate and judge one another. They speak to the painful spaces in our human nature and life together where we value others based upon what they can accomplish or what they can produce, not upon who they are as children of God. Jesus’ words speak into that space of judgement and offer us a painful reality check that the very measure which we use to judge others will be used upon us.
Jesus’ words are painful in the realities of our lives. Not only do they offer a challenge to our very comfortable complacency, but they offer us a vision of a life that reaches beyond the paltry consideration of what we can contribute or do and reminds us that in a world that offers judgement we are called to grace. We are called to that space where we ourselves establish the severity of our judgment. We are offered the reminder that God offers to us incredible grace. Rather than entering into that space of judging we are to enter into the space of grace where it is not what we do or what we accomplish but because we are children of God that we are given such loving grace.
Wesley wrote that “we [Methodists] should be rigorous with ourselves and gracious in judging others.” Wesley’s words only serve to add to the difficulty of the Gospel. At the very least, Wesley offers the recognition that we cannot help but judge. It is an undeniable part of being human that we evaluate ourselves and others on a regular basis. Wesley gives the people called Methodists a call to be disciplined in their growing lives of faith. It is the very heart of what we call sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace, that after we recognize our need for Christ, helps us as we continually strive to be closer and closer with God. To be disciplined for Wesley means to consistently enter into the means of grace that could be as simple as prayer, serving others, sharing in Communion, visiting the sick, any other number of spaces where we find ourselves deep in the presence of God, or where we know the presence of God can be found. It is through being disciplined in these practices that we can find ourselves encountering God. Wesley also draws out the importance of being gracious with others. That in the midst of a world where value is ascribed to productivity, knowledge, or family connections, Wesley calls Methodists to live out our undeniable urge to judge as Christ did, by offering grace and love to all despite circumstances or their ability to be productive or righteous as we may understand it.
In Jonesboro, Arkansas there is a weekly road bike ride. Every Saturday morning anywhere from 25 to 100 people slowly make their way to the quaint little downtown main street. They gather together and talk for awhile. Promptly at 6am they begin their ride and for an entire loop lasting about 20 miles those 25 to 100 people all remain close. No one rushes and everyone goes as fast as the slowest person. The continual hope has been to simply enjoy the ride and the time together so they ride for a longer time taking care to speak with one another and watch out for one another. When the loop is finished something changes, a call is made so that everyone knows there will be different paces. All the riders are offered the chance to join a group and everyone goes where they are able. The loop begins again but this time with some people racing, some people riding much quicker than before, and others who fall somewhere between the original pace and the racers. In all of this no one who does not know the route is left alone. There is a clear and concerted effort to make certain that everyone who continues to ride either has someone with them that knows the route or they themselves know the route.
Friends, as we consider what it means to authentically live into our Methodist heritage there seems no better example than that group. There is grace for those who are new and all who are present. There is challenge for those who need to grow. Most of all, there is compassion, love, and joy in the entirety of the endeavor despite discomfort and pain. So as we seek to be rigorous with ourselves in the hope that we may grow as disciples let us look to one another for encouragement, hope, and guidance. As we seek to be gracious with one another let us offer encouragement, hope, and guidance. Brothers and Sisters, as we seek to draw closer and closer to our God, let us love one another.