Thursday, May 22, 2014

Claiming Expanded - Bishop Linda Lee on Grace Upon Grace: A Life Changed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by
Bishop Linda Lee, Bishop-in-Residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological SeminaryBishop Lee is responding to Dr. Glen Messer's comments on the eighth section of the document, "A Life Changed By Grace."  Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

The importance of reclaiming both our theological and our ecclesiastic roots was described in Messer’s commentary on “A Life Changed by Grace,” (Paras. 42-46 of Grace Upon Grace).  He discusses the importance of both these aspects of our United Methodist roots in the formation our Christian identity.  As United Methodists we are changed by the grace of God’s forgiveness (justification) and given new life through the process and practice of sanctification.  Reclaiming both our Evangelical and our Pietistic religious roots offers the perfect mixture for the Divine love of God to be expressed through our mission, both within our denomination and ecumenically.   This theological and historical reflection assists us to reclaim both the inward practices of personal piety and the outward response of social holiness and action.   John Wesley and our predecessor movements provide United Methodists with a sacred blend of the inner and outer expression of our faith as a response to God’s grace.  Messer says it beautifully:

“The emphasis upon justification was the driving force behind the Evangelical Movement.  The emphasis upon the Christian life was the driving force behind Pietism.  Methodism mixed the two like rocket fuel and oxygen – the spiritual power of love Divine, all loves excelling.”

As we consider these aspects of how United Methodist identity has been shaped, it seems good, in this 21st Century global world we live in, to also be intentional about claiming, celebrating and expanding and incorporating the diverse cultural and racial roots of our DNA as well.  Silently and sometimes unnoticed, since its inception, Methodism has been shaped by the theological and evangelical witness of people of color who bring fresh understandings of God’s movement in our midst.  Understandings of forgiveness  and new life from the perspective of those who have been the mission field, open new possibilities for what it means to be changed by God, and even of to whom it is we are to be in mission.  God has given us to one another and we long for that human confirmation described by Martin Buber in I and Thou:

“{Hu}Man wishes to be confirmed in his{her} being by {hu}man and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other…. Secretly and bashfully {s}he watches for a YES which allows him{her} to be and which can come to him{her} only from one human person to another.”

Through this authentic human encounter we become open to the work of God within us that compels us to live out our identity as those who have been changed by God and by one another.  Our mission requires us to reach out to the world.

Our world is shifting.  Our identity as United Methodists is shifting.  Our mission and mission fields are shifting. The needs in the communities and cities, towns and villages where our congregations are located or are near, make it a day to make the shift into the living out of Christ’s perfection in love not quite mentioned in this section of “Grace Upon Grace” as Messer notes.  Claiming the base of our heritage historically, ecclesiastically and culturally can give us the kind of foundation needed to be in mission in the 21st century with the personal piety and social holiness which are the roots of our Wesleyan legacy.  Our mission will indeed ‘bear new fruit in our time,’ and perhaps even yet see John Wesley’s dream realized:

“I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.” (How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer)

To reclaim our roots and to claim the fullness of our historical, ecclesiastical and cultural diversity is another way to experience and to share the ‘grace upon grace’ that continues to be poured out through Jesus Christ.

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