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.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
-Isaiah 65: 18-19
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach. (Thank you, Rev. Elizabeth Bachelder Smith for the invitation into your pulpit). It felt so good! It was where I needed to be, doing what I need to do. I hope that if you are a preacher, you love preaching (almost) every Sunday. I hope that if you extend the hand of Christ in a food, or clothing, or teaching, or singing, or wood chopping, or photocopying, or praying with, or any other kind of ministry, you truly love what you are doing.
I’m not taking about a superficial happy face that grins and bears it. I’m talking about a deep connection with the purpose God has given you as your special gift. Lisbon UMC’s leaders reminded me of this as they described finding their fire delightfully reignited. Their Discovering the Possibilities team is intentionally opening their hearts in spiritual formation and their doors in deeper community engagement. Opening the doors doesn’t only mean inviting people in. It also means inviting church members to venture out in purposeful ways. Have you ever looked at a painting of Jesus knocking at the door and wondered whether he was asking to be let in or whether he was asking us to come out?
False humility can mask the delight we find in the work to which Christ invites us. “Ah, I’m just doing what I otta,” is hardly a delight-full response to someone noticing that we are doing good work. What difference might it make if, when someone notices what we’re up to, we said something like, “it just makes me so happy that God gave me this work.”
The thing about doing God’s work is that the harder it gets, the more the light can shine through us. And to people wondering whether God will ever get them through what they’re going through, the prophet says that God designs us for work that is ultimately full of delight, the hallmark of kin-dom living.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent--its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
PS Want to know the secret of the Lisbon team’s energizing experience? Each meeting opens with shared prayer, moves into the bible for open listening, shares the wisdom of an author, then asks what does God have for us to do and how shall we go about doing it?
So simple, so transforming, so Wesleyan! Be ye transformed……..
Many of us grew up being told (or telling ourselves) to be good and do well. In other words, learning to follow the rules and achieving admirable goals. Psalm 108starts out there but then heads in another direction. Will you look through it line by line with me?
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.
The singer begins his/her morning by declaring their position, “I am steadfast.” I can imagine someone swinging their legs out of bed with resolve for a new day of challenges. They tell God that they are ready.
I will sing and make melody. Here’s the first work of the day.
Awake, my soul! And here’s the personal pep talk!
Awake O harp and lyre! Get your tools in gear!
I will awake the dawn.
Now awake, he/she feels empowered to impact all of creation.
It’s like a yoga power pose. This song will rock the world. And in that moment of empowerment, the singer’s attention refocuses. He/she is greeting the dawn, but not the creator of it.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples
And I will sing praises to you among the nations.
Not only is he/she not in charge of the world but, as they continue to awaken, they see that they are not alone. In their empowerment they are surrounded by others of God’s making.
For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens
And your faithfulness reaches to the clouds
The awestruck singer’s mind opens wider, their hands and heart reach higher-up, up up, out, out out. It is a stretch that brings new power to his/her body and soul. God is good! It is God’s steadfastness that grounds my own attempt to stand on these two feet, to wheel my chair, to dance each day’s dance.
For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
And your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
My creator’s love is impossibly expansive, more than I can imagine, and yet still it holds me.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
And let your glory be over all the earth.
I lose myself in God’s glory. And still I am found, here in God’s earth-creation singing, searching, shouting, crying.
Give victory with your right hand, and answer me,
So that those whom you love may be rescued.
The “so that” pierces my heart every time.
My imagination can only begin to grasp the day he/she faced. The original singer of Psalm 108 lived in a disparate time of international conflict. Verses continue to flow, now describing the battles that are the singers' work, full of moments of achievement and frustration. It ends with a reminder that completion of the work is in God’s own hands not the singer’s.
This past summer, I read this psalm 64 times with pastors during our annual conversations. It became a rhythmic soul exercise. As I prepare to post these thoughts now the sun is coming out over a rain-swelled pond. Light glints on the surface. A loon is joining the song. I am not alone. I am awake. I am finding my voice. I am in community. I will face challenges in a post 9-11 world. I have a purpose that is not only my own but part of God’s own. The Christ desires that we be well and do good. The living Spirit breathes that possibility into us each day.
Good (God’s) Morning!
With God we shall do valiantly.
I almost didn’t go.
There’s just so much on my to-do list,
so much to follow up on after Annual Conference,
so much to prepare for a new appointment year,
so many beloved people (family, friends, churches, organizations) needing something.
It felt selfish.
But it also felt necessary.
I went to step out of the steady stream of joyous and productive business.
I went to renew an old acquaintance with Rev. Naomi Tutu.
I went to meet Fr. James Allison, a biblical theologian who’s gifted me with new insights.
I went to refresh my theological perspective.
Leaving for the Theology and Peace Conference in Nashville, immediately after Annual Conference, meant trusting that God would provide, hold, tend to all those things that almost kept me from going to what turned out to be the richest continuing education experience I’ve had in years.
Maybe the harder it is to walk away for a while, the more we really need it. Isn’t that the point of Sabbath? Even when we absolutely love the work we do, we need to practice letting it be God’s, and letting ourselves be God’s. This means personal sabbath and it also means putting down our work for a while when we are called to come together for Annual Conference, Ministry Day, or covenant group time. If we don’t prioritize these in our planning we are essentially saying to God, my work is more important than yours.
It can also be hard to step away when we are reluctant to embrace what we are called too. I almost didn't go because I know Nashville is hot and humid in the summer. But my anticipation of "the worst" was more than overcome by my experience of "the best."
This summer, I find myself wondering what it would be like for all of Methodism to be in Sabbath? In the exhausting work of ministry and of transformation, could we simply rest together for a while as community in the presence of God? I know from the renewal I feel coming back from Nashville that laying it down renews us for picking it back up again (or for leaving some things rest so that new things may begin).
It’s a great joy to see how many of our churches are active this summer, worshipping, playing, and resting together. (23% of our MidMaine churches increased worship attendance in 2018 due to their increasing community engagement.) May God bless your coming and your going, your work and your rest in this delightful gift of a season in Maine!
"It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.
To the thirsty I will give water as a gift
from the spring of the water of life.
-Revelation 21: 6
The small and mighty choir loved singing heartfelt gospel songs, especially ones they’d known for years. Their new director did too but wanted to stretch their musical horizon. So, he set them to work on “Alpha and Omega” by the Gaithers, with its tempo changes and challenging harmonies. (In the interest of full transparency, the director was my husband and the choir at Readfield UMC, my first appointment as a United Methodist Church pastor.)
For weeks (seemed like years) we made mistakes and moaned. He helped us conquer that piece phrase by phrase until it entered our very selves and we could toss it around with skill and delight. Sometimes discipleship, progress into God’s vision, is like that.
I have heard that wonderful little band of brothers and sisters singing in my memory over the past few months and here, this week, comes the passage, Revelation 21: 1-6:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also, he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
I still can’t listen to “Alpha and Omega,” the song, without parts of my body starting to move. From the very first piano notes the hairs on my head stand up and take notice. And I can’t read “Alpha and Omega,” the scripture, without the song erupting in full voice in my mind. (Very distracting when you’re trying to write an article….)
I think that our best ministry moments as disciples of Christ (laity, certified, licensed, ordained) resonate like that. We yearn and practice to be more like Jesus, to step to the odd rhythms of faith-filled-living and then, when we least expect it, it all comes together and our souls soar. Everything aligns with a harmony only God could create.
And then we find ourselves faced with a new “piece” to learn, even while the one we’ve come to know and love feels like a place we’d like to stay a little longer. (Remember Peter’s test offer to Jesus on the mountain?). And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." What does flourishing ministry look like, act like, in the new and changing reality we where we find ourselves? What does flourishing as a disciple of Jesus Christ feel like as we practice toward the new reality God promises?
We live in a time when the multiple realities of past, present, future, and realm of God seem to be in incredible tension. Last fall I attended an event that brought together pastors serving in cross cultural contexts. Louisiana Area Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said, “This room is what I think heaven must look like — and I didn’t have to die to see it.”
But in that space, around conference tables, frustrations were shared. A Korean pastor was criticized by a member of the congregation for “mispronouncing” words with his accent. A black female pastor dealt with white churchgoers touching her long, dreadlocked hair without invitation. An African-American pastor was met with hostility by his wealthy, suburban church after speaking out against the wave of police shootings involving black men because “that doesn’t happen here, so it’s not our problem.” One Latina pastor serving cross culturally becameknown as “the angry pastor” when she tried to defend herself and push the church into deeper understanding of difference. But sheacknowledged that the cultural divide works both ways. “I underestimated the power of my own biases. I didn’t love that church as they were, unconditionally,” she said. “…… Micro aggressions require us to respond with macro grace.”
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among
mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."
Sometimes we try to protect the little piece of “heaven on earth,” what we’ve known so fiercely that God’s still developing melody has trouble being heard. "See, I am making all things new." I love that little song I learned so laboriously back in the day. But even more than the song, I love the way it taught me to persist toward the vision, especially when it got uncomfortable and I wanted to walk away.
That was when laughter erupted in our choir practice and washed us with the joy of being human together. The kingdom of God is like sheer delight, like walking on water. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
In God’s Grace, Karen
The first months of 2019 have been a tumble of voices and thoughts in the United Methodist connection. Before, during, and after the meeting in St Louis, there is a sense of being pushed, pulled and gathered into community where momentous conversations are underway. I am caught up in, and trying to help lead part of, a global crowd in tumultuous circumstances. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m very aware of the crowd in Luke’s holy week narrative.
The week will begin this Sunday with a crowd of followers shouting praise. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road. As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
(Luke 19: 36-40, CEB)
Midweek, we’ll seea crowd insisting that Jesus is a threat. The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no legal basis for action against this man.” But they objected strenuously, saying, “He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.” (Luke 23: 1-5, CEB)
And we’ll finish the week on Friday in a crowd that demands death.
Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.”[a]
But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)
Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.
They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.” But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. (Luke 23: 13-23, CEB)
As much as each of us, especially in western culture, would like to stand out from the crowd, we do get swept up in a flow of humanity that at various times praises, feels threatened, and wishes death on others. We are part of a growing crowd of people who have tried to live together on this planet earth, one generation after another. We weather the small challenges but every once in a while, a break in the community looms before us and crowds form on opposite sides of the fissure.
Luke records some of these breaking points in the last days of Jesus’ life:
When Jesus entered the temple after his palm strewn journey, he triggered a breaking point in the temple community. “He threw out those who were selling things there. He said to them, “It’s written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for crooks.” (Luke 19: 45-46CEB))
When Jesus share bread and cup in what we now call the last supper, it triggered two breaking points in the fellowship. After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this. An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22: 19-24 CEB)
How often do we remember during Holy Week that not only did the betrayer, Judas, leap from the table into action, but the body of those who remained with Jesus fractured into who will get what, right there at the table!
In the final hours of Holy Week the crowds intersect, those who praised and those who felt threatened and see the enormity of what both praise and fear have brought to pass. It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.”After he said this, he breathed for the last time. When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things. (Luke 23: 44-49 CEB)
Do they really know what they have seen, what they have participated in? Do they have any sense of the depths of the forgiveness this event has unleashed for generations to come? The crowds leave the scene as one, overcome with emotion.
We enter a time of silence in the story, Jesus’ body is tended by a few friends and the opening closed. Every bible should have a blank page between Luke 23: 56 and Luke 24:1 to remind us of the immense pause in human history. Until the women return to the open tomb and everything changes, there should be an illuminatingly bright blank page where we in the crowd rest and wonder how death could possibly turn to life.
The last crowd Luke shows us is the group that Jesus sends.Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24: 45-48, CEB)
It is again a crowd of praise, being sent post-Easter back into the human fray. We are equipped as we go by living holy presence, by joy, by promise, by purpose, by the blessing of the Holy One-in -Three.
Where are you in the crowd this year?
At what breaking edge might you find yourself?
What promise is coming into sight on the other side of that broken place, that other side of the fissures that separate us, where Jesus waits to form us with new life?
As I write, on April 1, part of me is thinking “wouldn’t it be nice if the whole mess was an early April Fools prank. Can’t we just carry on with the vital local mission and ministry our churches extend in their community and share with each other in worship and devotion?” But I know that denial is avoiding reality. And avoiding the reality of changes and challenges underway in the United Methodist Church would mean closing our eyes and ears to developments that are critically important to each UM church’s future.
Many people’s eyes glaze over when it comes to the structure and workings of our denomination. We may know what we want in a church and don’t want to be bogged down in the details of what actually makes a church work. Or we may want to spring into action or just react to tidbits we hear. But constructive, effective action is based on good information.
This week’s Topic: “What about our buildings?”
When asked “what do you need to move forward,” participants gave variations of:
To keep our church building.
An answer to how properties and pensions would be divided and supported.
One of the less understood characteristics of connectional churches is the Trust Clause.
(Presbyterian and Episcopal churches are two of many other connectional denominations with trust clauses.) The General Council on Finance and Administration’s excellent guide to the trust clausegoes to the heart of who we are as a connectional, itinerant, missional church. It also answers the question:
I’ve heard people in my church say it isn’t right for the denomination to have such control over our property through the trust clause. They say it isn’t fair because it was our contributions that built this church and paid for its upkeep. Therefore, it should be our church. How should I respond to these statements as a faithful United Methodist?
“You could start by telling them they are right – it is their church! And as United Methodists, because of the trust clause, they can say the same thing about every other United Methodist church. You could also say it wasn’t just their contributions that built and sustained the church, but also the contributions of perhaps generations of people before them who contributed with the purpose and hope that the church continues to be a United Methodist church in the future. You could then tell them their financial support of the church is just one side of a covenant. The United Methodist Church also made a covenant to supply and supervise ministers, provide financial and other aid to the church if needed, develop Sunday school materials and hymnals, and many other things.
But, again, the most important point is that no United Methodist church stands alone. Each United Methodist church is part of a larger connection of shared purpose and mission that has been in existence for hundreds of years. And this connection is at the core of what it means to be United Methodist. You and your church are part of something much larger than yourselves – something you can be proud of as Methodism reaches the world over to make disciples for Jesus Christ.”
Every church in our connection has benefited throughout its life span from resources of the other churches. But now there are two stresses on the covenant relationship described in the excerpt above:
So, what happens if a church wants to leave the denomination? (Remember that, until the Judicial Council rules and until after General Conference 2020, there is confusion about what a church would be leaving behind!)
There have been questions about Annual Conferences forming new denominations. However, the 2019 General Conference failed to create a process for this, leaving legal questions currently being investigated. Stay tuned!
Next edition’s topic: Questions about the Judicial Council process.
Meanwhile, what can you do now?
Who is God? Who am I? Who are we together?
These core concepts and questions have never been more important.
Groups of several different perspectives are networking as all await the UMC Judicial Council’s rulings April 23-24, 2019. You can learn more about the Judicial Council itself by clicking on this link.
Here are the main streams of development:
Wesleyan Covenant Association,“WCA,” are the sponsors of the traditionalist perspective that prevailed, though its full plan did not, at General Conference 2019. They will hold a Northeast Jurisdiction event,“Envisioning the Next Methodism”at Washington Crossing UMC, Washington Crossing, PA.Saturday, May 11, 2019, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
For more information, contact Joe DiPaolo (firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-394-7231)
UMForward shares stories of the people most impacted and information about a planned summit May 17-18 people of color, queer, transgendered centered discussion about the future of the United Methodist Church.
The Reconciling Network is a way that United Methodist churches and individuals committed to full inclusion (including marriage and ordination) can not only demonstrate their support but learn how to live into it in their own ministry settings.
There is also evidence of a “Compatibilist” movement forming, designed to bring Centrists and Progressives together. The Church of the Resurrection’s annual fall Leadership Institute will be dedicated to General Conference 2019, 2020 related topics, September 25 - 27, 2019. Event details and registration will be available in May 2019 at li.cor.org. Note: While several national leadership meetings have been mentioned, I have not been able to find any ways to connect with this movement. If you learn of one, please let me know so that we may share.
Beloved Friends in Christ,
Yesterday we entered the season of Lent. It comes at the end of winter, when most of our ancestor’s resources ran low and when we long toward the warmth and light of a new growing season. We are called to remember our vulnerability. We are invited to see our utter reliance on God more clearly, not as something to fear but as a reality to celebrate.
I have loved Romans 12:2 since I was 17 years old.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. It inspires me to constantly and humbly seek understanding of scripture that is not static. Paul’s words call me to aspire to the perfection God desires, which I cannot see in its entirety because I am not God. Our beloved United Methodist Church is convulsed by conflicting interpretations:
1) of the perfection God desires in human life and community
2) of what responsibility each of us has for bringing perfection to others’ lives and
3) the degree and form of communal enforcement required to maintain those standards of perceived perfection.
At no time in scripture are human beings described as actually being “perfect,” no individual, no community, no human product or process. Even the first God made, Adam and Eve, were quickly revealed to be “not up to snuff.” Proverbs 31: 10-31 comes closest when it describes a beloved female head of household. Many women have done excellently but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised….I remember being startled when one biblical scholar suggested, based on contextual evidence from the time this was written, that it may have been tongue in cheek, an impossible standard for any human woman to meet. (There’s also the Song of Solomon’s luscious description of the bride’s physical perfection, but perhaps that can be ascribed to the heat of the moment).
There is also the passage in Ezekiel: You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and worked in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. Ezekiel 28: 11-13 (NRSV)But this image of perfection is hyperbole bracketed by judgement, You were blameless in your waysfrom the day that you were created,until iniquity was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned;so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you outfrom among the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.I cast you to the ground….Ezekiel 28: 15-17 (NRSV)
Jesus appeared on the human scene in a community that was beat down, out of power, and splintering into religious factions. And Mathew’s record shows that Jesus called his followers to “be” perfect by behaving in these two ways:
"....if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect." -Matthew 5: 47-48 (NRSV)
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
-Matthew 19: 21 (NRSV)
Extend God’s hospitality and love to those who are outside your immediate “family” and offer all that you have to serve those who are in need, these are Jesus’ instructions to the people he knew were trying so very hard to be perfect. They are not some "set in stone" list of things we need to tell other people to be.
Of course, scripture speaks more frequently about the law, which is God’s way of trying to reign in human behavior before we hurt ourselves and each other. Jesus got into a lot of trouble around how to live according to the law, saying that the law was created for people’s well-being and not the other way around. He “harvested” grain to eat on the sabbath, plucking heads of grain as he walked past fields. He healed the sick rather than waiting for office hours. He ate with sinners (those who knew they were and those who didn’t). Jesus was non-conforming when the rules failed to meet real human need.
The season of Lent is a season of humility. May each of us humble ourselves in our practices of reading scripture more deeply. May all of us watch for evidence of God’s radical acts of love.
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.