A decade ago I received a very special Christmas gift from a congregation member: an 1894 edition of "The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South." When a new member joined the church, this book instructed the pastor to say, "All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which [the Church of God] alone supplies; and it invites all alike to become fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God." The invitation to "all alike" was expansive and welcoming, yet the word "South" in the title of the book reminds me that the all-inclusive invitation existed in the context of a Methodist Church that had split 50 years earlier, north and south, over slavery and would not re-unite for another 45 years. The all-inclusive invitation existed in a context that had also created the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in the south and the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the north. Even as the church wanted to be a place for everyone, it was deeply divided around race. Today, Methodists have similar words that affirm our aspiration to be a church for all races and also guide us towards how to become that.
The newer editions of that 1894 book now instruct pastors to ask:
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
The words put a definite responsibility on us, but they also acknowledge Christ's role when we take on that responsibility. We acknowledge that Jesus is our Savior. We acknowledge that we and the world we live in are broken, not what God desires, and that we can't fix ourselves or the world on our own. We need a Savior. And we have one in Jesus Christ.
Those words speak of grace. God's grace is the gift of God that welcomes us and empowers us to welcome others even when it's difficult, when it requires us to change, and when we don't even know what we need to change or how.
Those words also speak of trust. They challenge us to put our "full" trust in God's grace. They challenge us to build bridges of understanding and welcome across racial lines. They challenge us to see and learn how race affects church and society. And they challenge us to make changes that will bring our reality closer to God's vision, all the while trusting that God's vision is worth striving for and trusting that God's grace will enable us to do what we couldn't do on our own.
I'm grateful and excited that Pastor Julie will help us explore race relations as she preaches this Sunday. I hope you will join her and me, the Access band, and the rest of the Access congregation as we all gather to affirm our faith and seek God's grace to help us grow into the people and church God would have us be.
First United Methodist Church Richardson