World Methodist Evangelism is proud that we began as an initiative of the World Methodist Council, which represents and serves 80 denominations around the globe – over 80 million people. Last August and September the World Methodist Conference was held in Houston, Texas, and a parade of flags representing Wesleyan Methodists from Brasil and Nepal, Ireland and Pakistan, Japan and Nigeria, and many, many more places gave colorful illustration both to the worldwide Body of Christ and to the reach of the Wesleys’ influence.
A line of translation booths edged one wall of the large event room where everyone gathered for corporate worship. Not all Wesleyan Methodists saw eye to eye on every topic: far from it. But there was worship together, and singing, and Holy Communion.
The church is free in ways that no government ever will be, because we belong to Christ, and Christ alone. We accept each other’s wisdom and leadership, we acknowledge the giftedness of the other, the peculiar cultural challenges each region or denomination faces, and the unique contribution our member churches make to the Methodist movement but even more to the Body of Christ. No tradition is perfect – even if we do have the goal of being made “perfect” – complete – in holy love.
But there is beauty in seeing each other as beloved parts of ourselves. South Korea and Peru need each other. Poland and New Zealand need each other. Mexico and Kenya need each other. The United States and Iraq need each other…
Politicians have interests from which Christians may be joyously free. Our faith family is not contained by state lines or party lines, by skin color or culture, by language or ethnicity.
We are free to love each other. And we are free to love others.
What a gift.
Today, we’re thankful for our sisters and brothers around the world. We are thankful that we can serve our global neighbors without fear, because Christ’s yoke is easy, his burden light. To be sure, there is a great deal of suffering in our world. There is pain and loss, terror and trauma.
But Jesus never flinched. He sobbed at human casualty and grief. He raged against oppressors using the Temple as their umbrella for their own corruption. He sweat blood with intensity and agony at the moment of surrender.
But Jesus never flinched.
There are well-known anecdotes of Mother Teresa’s willingness to touch people suffering from all kinds of skin disease and ailments, often dying. In one story readers are told of a time a young sister was tweezing maggots out of someone’s skins at arm’s length, trying to avoid the worst of the stench, repulsed by the process. Mother Teresa gently chastised her, putting her face close to the rotten flesh, telling the young woman, “the body before you is the body of Christ.” For this tiny lady, each person, no matter how filthy, wretched or diseased, represented Jesus. How would we treat Jesus if he were in front of us? This quality of never flinching is itself a characteristic of Jesus Christ.
We are not called to withdraw in horror from suffering. We are called to gently lean closer, tenderly handle the weeping man or woman in front of us.
Christians – and Wesleyan Methodist Christians – lean in toward the smoke-filled hair, the gangrene, the PTSD, the cemetery, the shellshock, the loss of livelihood, the addiction, the empty eyes, the screaming, the language barrier, and we embrace.
We embrace, without a flinch.