To me the most moving words were spoken in the context of worship, reflecting Jesus Christ and proclaiming the hope and power of the Resurrection.
Especially powerful was when the Pope declared in Philadelphia (at the World Meeting of Families): “Family is like a factory of hope - a factory of the resurrection.” Families have, he continued, “a citizenship that is divine.”
These words resonated with me deeply.
They come as a powerful corrective to what’s heard so often: “It’s all about me!”
Our self-centered emphasis on whatever feels good has destroying our families. Sacrifice, honor and commitment to others is out of vogue. “Do it for yourself,” “You deserve it” and “You only live once” have replaced concern for others, authentic community and loving relationships.
So these words of Pope Francis are both refreshing and “counter-cultural.”
A little history….. I often describe our United Methodist Church (UMC) as “half way between the Roman Catholics and the Baptists/ Independents.
We affirm that all those following Christ in the historic understanding of Father – Son – Holy Spirit (The Trinity) are close and spiritual brothers and sisters to us.
When we baptize, we baptize into the universal body of Christ, accepting the baptisms of other Trinitarian churches and praying that they accept ours.
We work together “Ecumenically,” with other Christian organizations to advance the cause of Christ and the love of God in the world, even if we have some differences on doctrine and practice.
(We also work with other religions of the world to promote shared good words, understanding of our differences and basic respect. But that’s another column.)
But as Protestants, we did not always regard the Pope so highly. Our “Protestant” origin came from “protesting” the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church hundreds of years ago.
We are in the tradition of Martin Luther, John Huss, John Calvin, John Knox, Thomas Cranmer and others who severely criticized the Roman Catholic Church and it’s hierarchy that was directed by the Pope.
In those days, the Roman Catholic Church was seen as corrupted and false. The Protestant Reformation called everyone back to the Bible and to have a personal, direct relationship with God through Christ.
And even today, in some circles of the Christian movement, Catholicism and the Pope are highly suspect.
Rev. John Wesley, the founder of our own religious tradition, warned us of things that were “pope-ish”. (Partly in response that Methodists were seen as trying to re-establish Catholicism in England. We got it from both sides.)
Likewise, in Latin America, our Methodist movement very clearly stands in the middle of the religious landscape with the Roman Catholic church on one side (often still seen as suspect and allied with rich landowners) and the more charismatic protestant churches on the other.
Owing to our roots in the Church of England we celebrate Holy Communion and Baptism in ways close to the Roman Catholics. We observe Advent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week and Pentecost, We often use robes, candles, an altar table and a baptismal font in worship.
But we also have the congregational freedom found in the Baptist, Independent and other protestant churches. As a congregation we decide where our funds are spent, the style and music of our worship, the programs to support and the missions to promote.
We have no Pope or Vatican City. We do have Bishops, but they are primarily to provide spiritual inspiration and teaching, upholding our “Discipline” and the care and nurture of the clergy, assigning them to the churches as needed.
No one in the Methodist movement is seen as infallible, we are all sinners, ones who are self-centered and often fall away.
To be a Methodist means that grounded in the Holy Bible, all are challenged to think and reason, learn from our traditions and experience the Holy Spirit in the presence of God.
So it is with joy and the recognition of a long history of relationship in the body of Christ that even as “Protestants,” we welcome and celebrate the visit of the Pope and the words he has for all of us.
We don’t agree with all the social and theological positions of the Roman Catholic Church, but we do affirm that Christ is present in the Roman Catholic Church and in all the churches of the Christian movement.
And that is why his proclaimation that “Family is like a factory of hope - a factory of the resurrection.” and that we have “a citizenship that is divine” is important.
This means that because of the Resurrection of Christ, we are all given accessibility to God and God’s love. The presence of Christ makes heaven on earth a reality.
In Jesus, we gain a foretaste of eternal life, eternal love. We are given the opportunity to live as ones already acceptable to God.
And the place that this heavenly gift becomes most real is in the family. Families can be the place of Godly hope, of forgiving encouragement, divine inspiration and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
And sadly, families can also be places of dysfunction, pain and tragedy inflicted on one another when we stay focused on ourselves.
We have the choice as to what our families will be.
We have been given the power to transform what the world wants us to be (self centered and entertainment seeking) into families of deep grace, filled with forgiveness and hopeful love.
Is your family one filled with this “Resurrection Love?”
Do you want it to be so empowered?
Then join us every Sunday. That’s what we’re here for.