God asks us to keep an eye on the big picture at the same time that we live accountably via small choices. For example, while next month’s clergy pre-Lenten gathering will create soul space for re-centering in God’s wider presence and purpose, our meal will be curated to reduce the MidMaine District’s carbon footprint (in addition to being Simply Susie’s delicious catering). In a recent bag of food-I-shouldn’t-eat-if-I-want-to-get-my-weight-down, these two apparently competing fortunes broke out of their cookies. (Yes, I ate both cookies).
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
About time I got out of that cookie.
These two contrasting witticisms sum up stuff all of us in the world are trying to figure out.
What ISN’T broken and shouldn’t be thrown out like the baby and the bathwater?
(Sorry, new metaphor).
What IS broken and how might it be fixed?
What cookie are we are stuck in and how do we break out to find breathing room?
This week in worship, many of us will read familiar words, maybe too familiar.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples
came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -Matthew 5:1-12
When words become familiar, our comfort level scan create husks that shelter us from the speaker’s true intent. Saying the words “right” (comfortably) becomes more important than letting the speaker’s voice break our soul space open. But for Christians, both our lifestyle and our identity are meant to be shaped by these simple words, so familiar that we are in danger of ignoring their muscular power. These are not just instructions (build-a disciple?). These are not a “to-do list.”
With these sacred words, first the Prophet Micah and later Jesus himself work on us as bakers kneading yeast into bread or a potter at the wheel-pushing, pulling, forming us as God loving disciples. The baker has ripped the lovely little yeast bag open to release its contents into the batter. The potter has broken up old pots, crushed them down to their essence, and revived the clay. These words are not just words. They are the shape of God’s own hands, pushing and pulling us into alternate community, enlivened by Christ’s presence.
In a sermon shared with clergy colleagues last week I spoke of how powerful it is to look back and name what God has helped us to do and become. Effective non -profits and businesses do this well. Here’s an example from North Carolina that might get us thinking about how to assess and communicate something similar in our churches.
At the close of one year and the start of another many personal inventories are offered to us. This year seems to be amplified by the turn in decades! We can take stock of what fills our homes, of our work goals, of our relationships, of our health. John Wesley’s “means of grace” offers an inventory of our journey with Jesus. How engaged are we? What discipleship practices were most meaningful last decade? What practices might God be calling us to renew now? (And is your relationship with God through Christ as important to you as other aspects of your life?)
*Acts of compassion, justice, and mercy
Just like an exercise program, growth only happens when we actually put into action what we have been thinking about. I don’t know about you, but I find that much more compelling when I have partners. I pray more often when I know someone is going to ask, “how was your prayer life this week?” I follow through with fasting when I’m in purposeful covenant with others. I encounter the depth and nuances of scripture more deeply in conversation with others as well as on my own.
It can be tempting to get distracted or to push pause when uncertainties loom. Wesley reminded the Christians of his day, as Jesus did in his, that the time to recognize God’s transforming presence is now. We do not wait for perfect structures or outcomes. My prayer for each and all of us is that in a new decade our practices would grow in intention, partnership and power.
In God’s Grace, Karen
P.S. For a good introduction to Wesley’s means of grace, try Elaine Heath’s little book, “Five Means of Grace: Experiencing God’s Love the Wesleyan Way.” Even better, read it with a friend.
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.