How Methodist Is Jesus

Boxes from which Jesus escaped

Jesus is a great Christ. In fact, he’s the best Christ.  However, I think he would be a horrible Methodist.  By today’s evangelical standards, Jesus wouldn’t be “church” leadership material. He’s a little squishy on the crucial theological issues of the day. Jesus doesn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. He loves unconditionally.  I’ve never seen Jesus forward a meme asking anyone to type “Amen”.  Truly, the man is not a distinction drawer. This would make some people uncomfortable.  People like his disciples.

Mark 9:38-41 illustrates how poorly Jesus would fit in with contemporary Methodists. The disciples have come to Jesus with a complaint. “We’ve seen others doing things in your name, people casting out demons. But here’s the thing, Jesus. We don’t know the guy. He doesn’t hang around with us. He seems to be someone who’s heard about you and is now off doing is own thing.” Speaking like keepers of the institutional flame, the disciples want to know why this man is doing Jesus-like things without going through an official board or a litmus test of theological orthodoxy.

Jesus’ answer gives him away. It tells me he wouldn’t be a “good” United Methodist. (Official Methodism has structures designed to limit people from operating outside the system.) Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” Not only does Jesus want the disciples to refrain from hindering this man, he reminds them, “whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The apathetic masses, Jesus says, those millions who don’t go to church or do church differently are actually for us.

The disciples are wondering: How can those who are indifferent to us do any tangible good (for the kingdom) in the long run? People who aren’t against us may be for us, yet they don’t pay our apportionments. The disciples want to know how Jesus would report this at Charge Conference.  Jesus certainly isn’t a United Methodist.

No, Jesus doesn’t sound like a Christian, United Methodist, Evangelical, or anything else. He’s none of those things. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. He will not fit into the boxes we’ve built.  Thank God. That’s the way it should be. Now, more than ever, we need to work with people who are different from us and realize the guy working in Jesus’ name who makes us uncomfortable IS Jesus.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Tangible Things Jesus Does (Luke 13:10-17)

We don’t have to invent or infer Jesus’ actions.  There’s no need to guess or ask, “What would Jesus do?”  We know.  Read the gospels.  The New Testament offers specific examples of Jesus’ behavior, beliefs, and deeds.  For example, there is little mystery as to Jesus’ attitudes toward the poor, elderly, or the sick.  If one wants to follow Jesus, read and contextualize his words for our day and time.

In this week’s gospel passage we see several different areas that are regularly emphasized in Jesus’ life and ministry.

  1.  Jesus teaches in the synagogue.  Contextually, this means he’s in the church or a worship experience.  Jesus goes to synagogue, participates, leads, and is active in worship.  Presence is important.  Sharing in Psalms, scripture, and community matter.  Jesus is modeling best practice.  He doesn’t find God on the Sea of Galilee. He goes to a worship space.  We can learn something from Jesus.  He’s our role model.
  2. The woman he heals is also in the common worship space.  We’re not told (as we are in other instances) that she’s there to be healed.  She’s simply present (despite her pain and infirmity) in the worshiping community.   It’s important to draw near to God.  The healing is an outgrowth of the worship.
  3. All time is holy.  Jesus is attacked for healing the woman on the sabbath.  Humanity’s concept of linear time is opposed to the divine idea of circular time (kairos vs. chronos time).  We forget that God works in the moment.  All time is Gods.  Jesus reminds the synagogue staff: human need (i.e. people in pain) outweighs any rules we think we are trying to enforce on God’s behalf.

Richard Lowell Bryant

After a Move, Jesus Reminds Me of the Value of Minimalism

We are burdened by stuff. I knew this before I moved, and now I know it more to an even higher degree. It is the curse of our people. We have too many things. Even if you live as I did, in a small home, it’s possible to pack one’s belongings in even tighter. Then, when the day of reckoning arrives, and you’re required to lay hands on each item, you realize the overabundance of your possessions. The absolute greed of the minutiae which dominates every area of your life is beyond befuddling.

At the moment it needs to be packed and loaded into a vehicle and transported to another house of worship, never greater is my urge to destroy all my belongings and begin my new ministry with only the clothes on my back. Donate them, destroy them, burn some; by this point in the process, I no longer care. I want to be free of the junk I’ve collected. Purge is probably the correct word. I want to confess my sins made manifest in the garbage I’ve carried year after year and to church after church. I seek absolution. Throw that dresser and its contents as far as the east is from the west. I am now a minimalist, and I will be happy.  I’m not just saying this.  I am happy.

I learned everything I need to know about being a minimalist disciple from Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, this week’s lectionary passage makes the case for downsizing dramatically. In Luke 10:4, Jesus sends out the disciples with these instructions, “Carry no wallet, bag, and no sandals.” Wow! That’s basic! I love it. Think of all the stuff we claim we need to do ministry. How many Bible apps do I have on my iPad and iPhone combined? I’ve got four robes, a dozen stoles, and I moved more pairs of shoes than I can count. I have two wallets. Why do I need two wallets?

Jesus wanted the disciples to be dependent on those they encountered and their hospitality. People matter more than things. Stuff, like the batteries in our gadgets and headset microphones, will eventually fail. Our wallets will be stolen. We build community by opening up to others. If the doors don’t open, Jesus says move on. The kingdom of God is coming one way or another. How free are we to move, whether we’re itinerant clergy or not? Are we able to walk across the street or down the road? Is there emotional baggage holding us back? What do we need to put down so we can go serve Jesus? Somewhere, something is needing to be done.

Richard Lowell Bryant