One of my favorite parts about teaching at a United Methodist seminary is getting to preach and teach at various levels of the UMC. This weekend I had the privilege of preaching and teaching at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo, MS at their annual Preaching and Teaching Event. It was such a blessing to me!
I preached twice on entire sanctification. I have been working on a short popular book on entire sanctification and its importance for contemporary Methodism. Working on this book has increased my passion to offer this core teaching of Methodism – the reason Wesley believed God breathed life into Methodism in the first place – to laity.
It is important for me to connect with local churches because it keeps me honest. The academy is great in many ways. But it is also not the church. And scholars that seek to serve the church need to spend significant time in both places. I found that preaching on entire sanctification was more challenging than I anticipated it to be. In short, I felt like I needed a lot more time to do what I needed to do. But that is part of why it is important for people like me to preach. I need to remember what it is like week in and week out for pastors anchored in the local church serving week after week.
When I talk about entire sanctification in any context, I expect skepticism and some pushback. I was encouraged by the number of people who were willing to be challenged and were open to thinking more about the doctrinal treasure God has entrusted to Methodists and what is possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
My favorite comment of the week went something like this: “I was very skeptical of what you were saying and you came close to losing me a few times. But I think you may have convinced me at the end when you said that Christians are not entitled to say that sin has to be a part of Christian’s lives on this side of the resurrection of Jesus.” Hearing a comment like that which shows that the person was working hard to understand what I was saying and that the main point of the sermon connected is as good as it gets for me.
That was only one of so many thoughtful comments. I am not sure I have ever been in a church where the entire church seemed so committed to doing everything they could think of to welcome me.
The music was great in both services. I enjoyed worshipping with the band in the contemporary service. The music chosen by Beverly McAlilly, the Music Director, for the 11 o’clock service was unbelievable. Despite not giving very detailed information about my sermon beforehand, the music could not have been better from my perspective. The Offertory Anthem was the most beautiful version of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer that I have ever heard. And we sang “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Jesus, Thine all-Victorious Love,” and “A Charge to Keep I Have.” It was awesome!
I was also able to give three teaching sessions Sunday and Monday. I talked about the doctrine, spirit, and discipline of Methodism and its core identity. I also talked about the importance of connection for the Christian life and the class and band meetings. And I shared some thoughts on how to succeed in implementing groups like class meetings in the local church.
The folks at FUMC Tupelo were extraordinarily gracious and generous hosts. I was welcomed into people’s homes to share meals with them. Dozens of people took time out of their lives to not only seek to better understand their faith, but also to make me feel appreciated and welcomed. I have to say this was at the top of my experiences of Southern hospitality.
Something that may be obvious to you, but I had missed until I got there, is that Tupelo is also a tourist destination. Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo and lived there until, I think, 6th grade. Tupelo has a museum that preserves the house of Elvis’s early childhood. Next to the house is an Assembly of God church where Elvis worshipped (it has been moved near the house). I was not able to enter either because most of the downtime I had was on Sunday when the museum was closed. I was told by multiple people that the Church has a particularly effective video presentation that gives visitors a glimpse of the influence the music that Elvis heard in that church as a young child had on him.
I even met a wonderful woman, who blessed me multiple times during my trip, who surprised me Sunday evening by telling me that she went to school with Elvis!
Thank you First United Methodist Church, Tupelo, MS!
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.