Witness and Loyalty

I always hate it when I forget to mention something pertinent in my sermons, particularly when it is what in the world I mean by a particular sermon title. Fortunately, the newsletter gives me an opportunity to “tip it in.” (a little shout out to all you March Madness fans out there).
There was a focus on Jesus’ feet on Sunday, as we heard the beautiful passage about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with oil and tears, and wiping them with her hair. The sermon title was a scriptural allusion to Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” In this case, the title referred not only to Jesus, but anyone who embodies his message to “Love one another as I have loved you, by this others will know that you are my disciples.” Loving one another is the action component of the verbal witness of good news, peace, good tidings, salvation, and the praise of God. And by the way, we added two more “beautiful feet” to this congregation when we heard the profession of faith and witnessed the baptism of John Ruff. Bringing good news, proclaiming peace, bringing good tidings, proclaiming salvation, and praising the triumphant reign of God is something meant by the newly included “witness” aspect of our membership vows, “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” It is by witnessing to all of those things that Isaiah mentions that we “resist evil in whatever forms they present themselves” and “serve as Christ’s representative in the world” as the Baptismal covenant asks us to do.
Something I didn’t forget to do (though I didn’t take the time to explain it) was make another change in administering the membership vows than the way they are printed in the hymnal. This change was altered at the last General Conference in 2008, and I was reminded of it when I sent the membership vows to John via email from the most recent book of Discipline rather than the Hymnal. Since it helps to explain a question about the vows that a new member raised as far back as a few months ago, I’ll call this one a “three-pointer” rather than a “tip-in.” You may have noticed that instead of asking John if he “as a member of Christ’s Universal church would be loyal to the United Methodist Church and do all in his power to strengthen its ministries,” I asked him “would he be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church…” I remembered one person being kind of surprised by that question as a “loyalty oath” as being out of character with the ecumenical spirit of the United Methodist Church, since it seemed that we were asking the new member to pledge loyalty to the denomination rather than to Jesus. This person would have found friends at the General Board of Discipleship, who wrote the successful petition to the 2008 General Conference, stating in their rationale that
“Paragraph 217.5 had called for loyalty to The United Methodist Church. This appeared to our Board to suggest that our discipleship is to a denomination rather than to Jesus Christ. The changed language clarifies that our loyalty, and thus our discipleship, is to Jesus Christ, and that those seeking to become professing members of this church are here promising loyalty to Christ through their participation and ministry with The United Methodist Church.”
A good change, I think! I’m glad to have come across the change so that there might no longer be any “cocked eyebrows” when I administer the vows of membership—which I hope to do soon and often!

If you’d like to “dig further” into the rationale for the GBOD’s amendments, Taylor Burton Edwards writes this rationale

1 Comment
  • Cindy Hartman Posted 03/28/2012 8:29 pm

    I feel that I am loyal to Jesus, and faithful to the United Methodist Church. How’s that?

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