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By Rev. Matt Ashley, District Superintendent of the South District

We are the United Methodist Church, and we are what our name says.

We are United. Formed in 1968 by the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church, we are an expression of the will to come together in spite of differences to worship God and to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world. We continue that legacy today by seeking to be a place for all of God’s people, a Church that Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, races, and sexual orientations. We are United.

We are Methodist. John Wesley and some of his friends at Oxford University were students who had a distinctive method, a pattern, a process for orienting their lives towards Jesus Christ and serving in God’s Church. Some of their less-pious classmates noticed these earnest Christians getting up early and following a strict schedule of spiritual and service-oriented activities and started mocking them as ‘Methodists’ and from there the name just stuck. Today we continue to have a distinctive method, a pattern, a practice of being the Church together. We are Methodist.

We are the Church. Jesus began forming us when he called some fishermen to be his disciples, and the circle kept expanding to include people of all ages, nations, races, and sexual orientations. We are the ekklesia, the gathering of people who want to know Christ and make Christ known. We are people who’ve joined together on The Way to salvation. We are the house of God made of living stones. We are people committed to resisting evil, injustice, and oppression together. We are the Church.

A name is important. A name is a sign and a symbol, a record of a family legacy, an expression of the tradition that formed us. A name reminds us of who we are at those crucial moments when we are in danger of forgetting our identity.

We are United. We are Methodist. We are the Church.

Do you remember the story when the disciple Simon receives a precious gift from Jesus? Simon has just boldly proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus speaks words to him that he will never forget. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”  (Matthew 16:15, NRSV)  Jesus gives him the gift of a name – a sign, a symbol, a legacy of who he is and who he will become.

Imagine being called a rock by the One you know as Lord. Imagine the strength that the moment of receiving a new name, a new identity from Jesus would give you for the rest of your life. Imagine weeping bitterly early in the morning because in your weakness you have denied Jesus three times before the cock crows (Matthew 26:75, NRSV) – and then you remember his words. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” And you know at that moment that you will not give up, that he believes you can be a rock and that’s exactly what you are going to do. You will carry on and you will carry Christ’s name to the whole world.

There is power in a name. There is strength. It is a sign. It is a symbol. It is a legacy.

We are the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, where love lives, and we are who our name says we are. We don’t want to become someone or something else.

We are United. We are Methodist. We are the Church.

We are where love lives. Amen.

 

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