By NEMS Daily Journal
The Greater Tupelo Ministerial Association’s series of ecumenical Thursday Lenten luncheons has proven a unifying and refreshing experience for hundreds of people who have attended the hour-long events at host churches – all sharing an understanding of Jesus Christ’s life, his compassion and his sacrificial suffering.
Themes of introspection, personal specificity, confession and renewal in the shadow of the cross and in light of Easter hope bind Christians together, opening possibilities for greater good in the common endeavors of community life.
John Wesley, the Anglican priest who was the founder of Methodism, possessed remarkable, scholarly gifts for preaching.
Wesley never gave short shrift to the sacrificial heart of Christianity and its place in the hearts and minds of people who claim the faith.
In his sermon, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” Wesley urges every person to make the journey personally with “fear and trembling” to gain an understanding that, quoting Paul in Philippians 2, “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
“How remarkable are those words of the Apostle, which precede these! ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God,amp” – the incommunicable nature of God from eternity – amp”counted it no act of robbery,amp” – (that is the precise meaning of the word) no invasion of any other’s prerogative, but his own unquestionable right, – ‘to be equal with God.’ The word implies both the fullness and the supreme height of the Godhead; to which are opposed the two words, he emptied and he humbled himself. He ’emptied himself’ of that divine fullness, veiled his fullness from the eyes of men and angels; ‘taking,’ and by that very act emptying himself, ‘the form of a servant; being made in the likeness of man,’ a real man, like other men. ‘And being found in fashion as a man,’ – a common man, without any peculiar beauty or excellency, – ‘he humbled himself’ to a still greater degree, ‘becoming obedient’ to God, though equal with him, ‘even unto death; yea, the death of the cross:’ The greatest instance both of humiliation and obedience.” (from Philippians 2:5-11)
Having proposed the example of Christ, Wesley then hands the responsibility for gaining an understanding to individuals.
Peter Storey, a South African Methodist bishop who taught at Duke Divinity School, described in a Duke Chapel sermon the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was plucked from the crowd to carry the cross of Jesus on the way to crucifixion:
“Before he knows quite what is happening, the cross of Jesus singles him out. It lays hold on him, and Simon the religious tourist, willy-nilly, finds himself walking behind Jesus, carrying his cross.
“The cross of Jesus has a power all of its own and will confront us when we least expect or want it. Christ says, ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ and it is in those moments, not when we choose the cross, but when the cross lays hold on us, that we are hurled into the challenges that transform everything for us – forever.
“When the cross lays hold on us, it moves us from religion to faith.”
Storey says there’s “a crucial difference between religion and faith.”
Everybody’s got some religion, Storey said.
“On that day,” Storey said, “Simon from Cyrene … was challenged to move beyond religion, into faith. Faith is coming face to face with the one who God sent into the world. Faith calls you out of the crowd.”
That is the heart of the Lenten journey.