Let me tell you about the character of a Methodist. Last week we celebrated the life, death and resurrection of Jim Meines, a retired local pastor in our district. I only served as Jim’s district superintendent for four months before he retired from Unity and Sitka UMC’s, but his life touched me in ways that will impact my life forever.
Jim was a third career pastor. He was an officer in the Wyoming Police Department for 33 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Jim also served for 25 years in the Air National Guard as an E9 Command Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted position available.
While worshipping at the Reed City UMC, Jim felt the call to ministry and went through licensing school in 2000 to become a local pastor. While he excelled at his other two jobs and was highly respected and esteemed, Jim often said that the ministry was the most important of his vocational callings.
Jim was the pastor who took me out for dinner several months after I became a superintendent, just so we would have a chance to get to know each other, and he could acquaint me with his churches. Like all of us, Jim faced challenges in his ministry, but he led with graciousness, insight, spiritual depth and joy. Jim absolutely loved being a pastor.
Jim and I rarely talked about theology. I don’t know what his views were on social issues, the war in Iraq, evangelism and church growth, or biblical interpretation. But I do know this. Jim had the character of a Methodist.
It was no coincidence that I read John Wesley’s sermon, “The Character of a Methodist,” the day after Jim’s funeral, as I was still pondering the gifts that I received through Jim’s life. Reading this sermon was part of my preparation for a conference this past weekend at Lake Junaluska of United Methodist bishops and extended cabinets from across the connection. Our purpose was to explore what spiritual leadership means at this time in the life of our denomination.
Do you remember how Wesley introduces the sermon? “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort.” Have you ever heard the remark that since United Methodists are so accepting of different views that they really don’t believe anything? What they are usually referring to is the fact that we do not position ourselves over and against other Christians by our theology.
According to Wesley, what makes us different from other denominations is precisely the fact that we do not claim to have the only truth. In addition, Methodists are not distinguished by the particular religious jargon we use. We do not set ourselves apart from others by how we dress, by what we eat, or by our peculiar customs. We are not distinguished by insisting that one part of the Christian faith is more important than any other. We do not marginalize or alienate those who think differently or accuse others (as well as our Methodist brothers and sisters) of heretical theology. “But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.”
What is the character of a Methodist, then? Wesley writes, “I answer: A Methodist is one who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.” A Methodist is happy in God, knows how to be content in all circumstances, prays without ceasing, has a heart full of love for all people, is pure in heart, is single-mindedly focused on God’s will, bears fruit in his/her life, and does everything to the glory of God. Lastly, a Methodist does good to all people.
Wesley astutely refers to those who deride Methodists by saying, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” To which Wesley replies (in my words), “You’re absolutely right. We refuse to be distinguished from our brothers and sisters in other denominations. We are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Jim Meines had the character of a Methodist. He loved his country and felt called to service above self, which is what we honor and remember today on Veteran’s Day. He expressed the wholeness of the gospel in his military service, in his vocation as a police officer and in his call to be a pastor. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself and lived every day as Christ’s representative.
During his journey with cancer, Jim was convinced that God would heal him but also looked forward to the day when he would be “burst into glory” and called home to heaven. Jim and Noreen leaned on their deep faith in Jesus and the love of family and friends to sustain them along this path, not of their choosing.
The day before Jim died, I visited him at the Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids. There was nothing more the doctors could do for him, yet his faith was deep and strong, his eyes were bright, and his love for Jesus filled the room. I prayed for Jim, and then, surprisingly, Jim prayed for me. “God bless Laurie in her ministry. Give me grace to endure this. Grant me your healing. I am grateful for the four years I had as a pastor. I served you as best I could. Thank you, Jesus.”
The subtitle of Wesley’s sermon, “The Character of a Methodist” is “Not as though I had already attained.” Developing the character of a Methodist in our lives is a life-long journey toward Christian perfection. However, it all comes down to Wesley’s question near the end of his sermon, “Dost Thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give Thee the right hand of fellowship.”
It was enough for Jim Meines. May it be so for us as well.
P.S. I would encourage you to make room in your week to read John Wesley’s, “The Character of a Methodist,” which can be found at www.gbod.org/extendedcabinet/CharacterMeth.pdf