Created Equal

Paul writes to Timothy these words, “ 21 I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the holy angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone.” This is part three of our series titled, “Can You Give Your Life for the Cause?” We are taking a look at what it means to build the Kingdom in at 21st Century context. Today’s message holds the possibility of being controversial. Remember what I shared with you two weeks ago. Even as I went visiting yesterday, I was once again reminded of God’s great love for us and of His amazing grace.
I don’t share this message for the sake of being controversial, but I believe God has placed this on my heart to share with us. Remember my agenda, “to love you and the community and to build God’s Kingdom.” I have no other agenda, because Kingdom building is way too important.
One of the goals that I have for this series is to present what we as Wesleyans believe in several key social and moral areas. Pastor Greg Reynolds said yesterday that we need to stop apologizing for being Wesleyan. We don’t have to be ashamed. We have a great heritage. The vision statement of The Wesleyan Church reads, “Equipping and empowering churches for Great Commission ministries in the spirit of the Great Commandment. What is the Great Commission? To go and make disciples and teach them everything that Christ has taught us. What is the Great Commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. My agenda for Preston Wesleyan Church lines up with this beautifully. Two weeks ago we looked at Micajah McPherson, a layman from Alamance County, NC. He was a man who stood up for what he believed in, even though it cost him. Slavery was a big issue in the south in the early 1800’s, to be anti-slavery was tantamount to treason.
Before we go any further, I would like to acknowledge some of our students who stood up for the Cause this past week. This past Wednesday was a nationwide event called See You at the Pole. Christian students were urged to gather around the flagpole. Several of our students were leaders during this event. I would like to acknowledge those this morning. Talk about practical application to a message. Do you know what it is like to stand out in front of the building praying while all your friends are passing by? I am proud and you should be proud as well for Anna, Christa, Sarah, Tyler, and Melissa who served as student leaders for this event. We salute you.
One of the areas that we want to look at this morning is in the area of equal rights. As Wesleyans, we truly believe that all were created equal. Genesis 1:27 reads this way, “27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I remember it wasn’t too long after we arrived here that I preached from James 2 about favoritism. As we look at the scripture we will find several references to avoid favoritism or to use another word, discrimination.
James 2 reads this way, “ 1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?
8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.

James was talking about favoritism or prejudice or discrimination. Here he is talking about discrimination based social status or finances. We have some of that in the United States. We also have other types of prejudice; racial, gender, and religious. One of the great things about the Wesleyans is that we embrace equality, at least on paper. In fact, as you’ll remember our denomination was founded because we believed that there was no difference between slave and free – there was to be no slavery in this new denomination. Not only were there to be no slaves in the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, but there would not be any bishops either. Orange Scott, Luther Lee, and three others, succeeded from the Methodist Episcopal Church first because of the slavery issue, secondly because of the abuse of power by those at the top or the bishops. Instead there would be conference presidents. At a church’s local conference, every member received one vote, whether clergy or layperson. At district and general conferences, there would be an equal number of clergy and laypeople voting. This holds true all the way to the present time. At next year’s General Conference in Orlando, there will be an equal number of lay and minister delegates. The same holds true for District Conference held in Roanoke. There are an equal number of lay and minister delegates. It was a consistent application of a principle. Wesleyans believe in the priesthood of ALL believers.
Another way that Wesleyans apply this principle is in the area of human rights. In addition to be standing up against the issue of slavery, Wesleyans were also on the front line when it came to rights of women. Now, before we go any further, we are not talking about the radical feminism of the latter part of the 20th Century and forward, but about basic human rights.
The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848. At that time, women were not allowed the freedoms assigned to men in the eyes of the law, the church, or the government. Women did not vote, hold elective office, attend college, or earn a living. If married, they could not make legal contracts, divorce an abusive husband, or gain custody of their children.
Then, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Seneca Falls housewife and mother of three sons, sat down with a small group of Quaker and abolitionist women, and decided that these wrongs should be made into rights. They called for a Convention, open to the public, to be held in Seneca Falls at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, July 19th and 20th, 1848. There they presented a Declaration of Sentiments, based on the language and content of the Declaration of Independence. Stating that “all men and women are created equal,” they demanded equal rights for women, including – a radical idea – the right to vote. Over 300 people attended the Convention; the document was ratified and was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
Did you notice where this first women’s rights convention was held? It was held in a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, NY. Again, we are not talking about radical feminism, but basic human rights. As I was listening to Debbie last week, she mentioned several times of countries where women and children don’t even have these basic rights. In many countries, women don’t even receive an education of any type. As Debbie noted this is one place were World Hope is leading the way. There are those in the west that consider Christianity is very controlling and it seeks to repress people. It is interesting to note that in countries where Christianity thrives, equal human rights seem to follow. Even though the United States is far from a Christian nation, we all enjoy the benefits of its influence. One only has to look at nations were Christianity is non-existent or has very little influence and you will see that these cultures and countries are male dominant and that female have little to no rights and that they are treated as nothing more than property.
Galatians 3:26 and 27 puts it this way, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one Christ Jesus.”
Antoinette Brown was the first woman to be ordained in America. Her ordination sermon was preached by Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Again, it is a consistent application of principle. Not only do Wesleyans believe in equal rights for women, but we also believe that women can be pastors and can be ordained. Some of you may say, but our church was not Wesleyan Methodist, we came out of the Pilgrim Holiness Church and you are correct. Lee Haines, who is a former General Superintendent, wrote a paper a few years ago. In that paper he is quoted as saying that at one point in the Pilgrim Holiness history at least 40% of the pastors were women. Does that surprise you? I know it did me. It also surprised your board when I mentioned it a few weeks ago. The churches that merged into The Wesleyan Church, both have a rich history of ordaining women. In 2008, The Wesleyan Church will meet for its 40th Anniversary Conference. From what I have heard through various channels is that this may be a historic conference, because we may elect our first woman General Superintendent.
Some of you may ask, pastor are you a Pilgrim Holiness or Wesleyan Methodist? In all reality, I am a Wesleyan. These two denominations merged in 1968 when I was just five years old. So I really consider myself a Wesleyan and not a former anything. By now some of you are probably upset at me and that’s ok. I am unashamedly Wesleyan and the more I find out about our history, the more I am proud to be a Wesleyan and to be a Wesleyan pastor.
Some of you may say, so what! Who cares about all this history? Several weeks ago, I was driving the van and Pam was riding shotgun. Pam said, “If you look at the students we have tonight, you would think we pastor a multicultural church.” In fact, that particular night, Pam and I were one of the few white people on the van and that was ok with us. It’s part of the legacy that we have as Wesleyans. I think Orange Scott and Adam Crooks and Micajah McPherson and Martin Wells Knapp and Seth Cook Rees would be proud. By the way Martin Wells Knapp and Seth Cook Rees were the founder of the Pilgrim Holiness movement. If you look at many of the early Pilgrim Holiness Churches, they could be found on “the other side of the tracks,” ministering to the lesser in society. During the 60’s and 70’s many of these churches moved out those other side of the track locations. Now, we are left we having to reinhabit those places. There is a wonderful pastoral couple named Adam and Christy (both ordained) who are planting an intercity church in Michigan and by the way doing a great job. Two different woman pastors are doing similar ministries to the down and out in our district and we had the privilege of fellowshipping with them this past weekend.
Pastors Pat and Theresa are endeavoring to make a difference in the lives of people. They realize that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity. Can you give your life for the Cause? Can you love all people? Remember, God’s has made EVERYONE in his image. I challenge you to endeavor to make a difference in the lives of people every day. I challenge you to look at people through God’s eyes; to look at people through God’s love; to remember God’s amazing grace in your life and to show others God’s love, grace, and mercy. They desperately need you!

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