By Dr. Kevin Thomas —
I created a crisis for the spiritual formation group I was leading. For weeks, we met to discuss Bible readings and excerpts from devotional classics. Those meetings were well within the comfort zone of the seasoned church leaders in the group. In addition to those discussions, I asked the group to
feed a meal to the residents of a local homeless shelter. In fact, I asked that they do more than serve the meal. I asked them to sit down and eat with the homeless people. In the days leading up to the meal, various members approached me to ask if it would be safe. I discovered in their questions that they had no first-hand experience with the homeless. Their opinions were shaped by stereotypes and a combination of information and misinformation. They imagined them to be very different from us, but they trusted me and went to the shelter in spite of their fears. What they discovered were people, just like us, who could have been us except for a few decisions that went a different way. Experience changed my group’s opinion. Some even said they met Jesus in that meal.
As United Methodist, we discern the truth through a four-fold model called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. We discover truth through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. All four are vital. Our understanding will be skewed if we leave out even one element. But, I’ve discovered that often it’s experience that leads to life change. It’s easy to build a philosophical case against this group or that one, to paint them in broad strokes, and to oppose whole groups of people on principal. Real life experience of people, like our homeless brothers and sisters at the shelter, shatters our philosophies and stereotypes. We may debate ideas all we like, but we are called to love people, and that can only happen when we show up where they are, just as Jesus shows up where we are. We call it the Incarnation, God showing up where we are. In the same way, Christ calls us to be incarnational.
Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”