“For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people” (Titus 2:11)
I once heard a comedian do a piece on how interesting it is that we speak English in America, and yet, hardly anyone speaks it in the same way. He was referring to our accents. He took a few sentences and spoke them in several regional accents, pointing out how different we all are.
He pointed out there is no such thing as a “Southern Accent” as that can be broken down into State differences. Someone from Georgia sound very different than someone from North Carolina. A South Carolina and someone from Kentucky sounds completely different. It’s the same in the West and in the North as well.
Of course, we in the Midwest really want to believe that we have no accent. One could take a very Zen approach and say “No Accent is the Accent.” But we are fooling ourselves. Chicago, Northern Ohio, Southern Indian, we all have a different accent.
The accent adds flavor to our common spoken language. We understand one another, yet we all say things a little differently. It speaks to our heritage and our family upbringing as well. The accent says much about who we are. My father and his family were all from East Central Kentucky. Not only did they have a distinctive accent, but it would increase in mass when they got together.
Christian denominations have accents as well. Hopefully we speak a common language to the world as followers of Christ. But how we speak it will be very different. It doesn’t mean that if someone else speaks their faith with a different accent than mine, that they are not a Christian. It just means their accent is different. As long as we speak a common language of Christianity, we can be of one family.
So what is our accent as United Methodists? Do we even have an accent? Or have we become the “midwest of the Christian faith,” where there is nothing terribly distinctive about us? While I fear that may be the case for many, the truth is we have a rich, distinctive accent rooted in our Wesleyan theology and heritage. And it’s high time we begin to reclaim that accent in our lives and in our churches.
So what is that accent? In other words, what should a United Methodist sound like? Well first, let me say that above all else, While there is evidence to the contrary at times, one can’t believe anything one wants and be a United Methodist. While we believe there is a broadness of our faith, the come a point where one no longer speaks our language. There is an orthodoxy to our faith. Again, like English there are many accents, but a common language. But there comes a point where one is no longer speaking English. We understand there can come a point where one no longer is speaking our common language of Christianity.
We speak with an accent rich in the authority of Scripture in our lives. We believe in the primacy of Scripture and its authority over us in all matters of faith and practice. John Wesley said that he was a man of one book. It doesn’t mean we don’t engage our minds. Although a man of one book, Wesley was incredibly well read across varied interests. He engaged the issues of the day, as should we. He believed there was a place for reason in our debates. But in the end the Bible was the foundation for all he did. It’s a dangerous way to speak by the way. The world around you will pick up on that accent that speaks against ever changing cultural morays and dares to hold to absolute truth. It’s dangerous, but it’s still our accent.
We speak with an accent that is dripping with grace. Our accent tells the world we believe Jesus died for everyone, that all can come to Christ and be redeemed if they will come. We speak of a grace active in our lives, wooing us to the savior long before we know anything about Jesus. But we believe we have to answer that call. We believe that grace can free us from the power of all sin, forgive every sin and makes us righteous and assures of us a right relationship with God. But we have to come and accept it. We believe that grace continues to work in our lives until we become holy in every area of our life, with no desire to sin. A grace that allows us to love with the perfect love of Jesus.
We speak with an accent that says while we are not of the world, we must be in it. Our very theological DNA calls us into mission and ministry with the least in our world. Wesley was as known in his day for visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry caring for the poor as he was for preaching holiness. We could not conceive of an accent that didn’t speak to our being in mission in the world. Truly, its hard for me to conceive of anyone who can claim to be United Methodist and not have a desire to care for those around them
Our accent, we believe is best heard in the fellowship of others. Ous is not a private faith, but one that must be in the abiding presence of others. John Wesley believed there was no personal holiness without social holiness. while that is often used to give credence to a social witness, what Wesley was actually saying was that it’s impossible to be holy without having a group of other Christians around you. Ours is the accent of the small group, of accountability. Even the way we govern ourselves is done in connection. Ours is an accent of authentic relationships.
Rooted in the word of God. Belive that word still speaks truth to us today. Grace that can change any life. Authentic relationships. reaching out to change the world around us and caring for the ill’s of our society. This is our accent. We dare not lose it since we live in a world that is desperate to hear it. What does your accent say about you?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><