by David Phelps

"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa

April, 2005
In Mel Brooks’ western spoof “Blazing Saddles,” villain Hedley Lamar decides to send “an army of the worst dregs ever to soil the face of the west” to attack and destroy the quiet town of Rock Ridge. So he instructs his henchman, Taggart, to recruit “rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, . . . and Methodists!

We might be tempted to object to the idea of Methodists being lumped in with “the worst dregs” of society but we shouldn’t. After all, we serve a savior who was born in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, hardly the pinnacle of society. He grew up in a plain, ordinary family; his Earthly father was a simple carpenter, for all that he was a distant descendant of King David. And after he grew up, he ate with “tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Matt. 9:10, Mark 2:15). He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,” (Phil. 2:6b-7a NIV). But he said to the “righteous” people, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13b NIV). The first of the “beatitudes” is aimed at people who are not among the “best” of society: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3). The “poor in spirit” hardly brings to mind anyone who was righteous. When “a woman who had lived a sinful life” came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, Simon the Pharisee wondered why Jesus had anything to do with her. But Jesus told Simon that the woman had been forgiven many sins and so loved him more than someone like Simon, who believed he had no need of forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50).

And, if we are “the worst dregs,” we’re in good company. Paul wrote, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience” (1 Tim. 1:16b NIV). If Paul was “the worst of sinners,” what can we say about ourselves? In the same way, Peter wrote, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Pet. 4:18 NIV; Prov. 11:31). Jesus taught that we’re all sinners in need of grace (John 8:7).

And when Jesus died, it was on a cross between two common thieves (Matt. 27:38), a criminal’s death. He was mocked, tortured, and persecuted. And in the end he was buried in a borrowed tomb (Matt. 27:57-60). Certainly not a fitting end for anyone who was of any importance. But he had already asked his followers “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” (Mark 9:12 NIV). We know the answer: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8 NIV).

Paul wrote that God “chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things” (1 Cor. 1:28a NIV). We may be lowly or not but we are chosen by God to accomplish the work of the kingdom on Earth. Paul also wrote, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31b NIV, Jer. 9:24). We are only vessels through which God can work. None of the work is of our doing and none of the results could be achieved without God. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need to minister to “the least of these” (Matt. 25:34-46). “The least” are no worse than we are. All of us are sinners in God’s sight. Yet God continues to work through “the lowly things” and “the worst dregs,” like you and me. And even Methodists.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:12-16 NIV.)

Copyright © 2005 by David Phelps