The first step can be the hardest, and often involves overcoming fear. Luke’s gospel is full of first steps, beginning with the pre-nativity story. Again and again we see people confront their fear while God sends the words:
Be not afraid, United Methodists when change looms and you lack answers. God is here.
The words ripple out from Zechariah’s priestly point in history; to his wife’s kinswoman; to the average joes in the field, through generations of Jesus’ followers.
Be not afraid, Zechariah(Luke 1: 12)
You will have joy and gladness in a son with God’s powerful purpose.
Be not afraid, Mary(Luke 1: 30)
You have found favor with God who is doing a new thing in and through you.
Be not afraid, out in the fields, doing your work far from home.(Luke 2: 10).
Share in the joy of the universe at who God has brought into the world.
Questions come where fear stops us in our tracks:
“How will I know that this is so?
From Zechariah, struck mute in his position of incredulous authority.
“How can this be?”
From Mary, singing from her humble position of vulnerability, and acceptance.
Mary’s song (Luke 1: 47-56) is the song Jesus hears in the womb. It is the song that will be thrumming through his being when he proclaims the reign of God is at hand. (Luke 4: 18)
Do not be afraid, Peter, now you’ll catch people instead of fish. (Luke 5: 10)
Be not afraid, when you see the glory of God! (Luke 9: 28-35)
Be not afraid to ask Jesus your questions.
Be not afraid to see.
Be not afraid to empty yourself.
Be not afraid to knock on heaven’s door.
Be not afraid to believe the humanly impossible.
Be not afraid of those who could kill you. God values even each hair on your head. (Luke 12: 4)
Be afraid (“woe to you”) only if you will not embrace God’s commandment to love God and others (even the ones who harm you, scare you, or place demands on you) as yourself. Be afraid only if these is no room in you for the authentic seed of grace to take root and flourish.
Be as fearless as little children.
Be fearless in your hunger for God
Be fearless in giving praise.
Be fearless in bearing witness to God’s realm breaking into our lives.
Be not afraid, Jesus, when God asks everything of you. (Luke 22: 41-45)
God has you firmly in hand (Luke 23: 46)
Be not afraid, Jesus’ friends, when you discover the living Christ in your midst. (Luke 24: 36-49). He will help you understand.
Be not afraid world, your redeemer is at hand and love is released into the world with all its power.
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him
Christ, the Lord.
Discipline. It’s a word that can trigger strong reactions. Athletes value it. Two-year olds and teens resist it. For United Methodists it’s that book that holds our history, our beliefs, and our rules. Sometimes we struggle with its contents, which are constantly under review as our global church grows and attempt to live int oGod's call together.
Discipline is also the Wesleyan way of life that formed the USA’s middle class with attention to character, work habits and savings in an encompassing atmosphere of grace.
In our current age, guided often by emotions, returning attention to our will can re-equilibrize teeter totter lives. And doing so in a supportive community of Jesus followers makes it soul work instead of just another self-improvement exercise.
Here are 22 questions the members of John and Charles Wesley’s Holy Club asked themselves every day in their private devotions over 200 years ago. If we dive into this list without practice, it can feel like a jump into the deep end. But time spent with these questions reorients us to a God saturated environment and the daily examen begins to flow. Forming a small group that regularly meets to share what we learn is the Wesleyan way of Christianity.
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
4. Can I be trusted?
5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
7. Did the Bible live in me today?
8. Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
9. Am I enjoying prayer?
10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
13. Do I disobey God in anything?
14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
17. How do I spend my spare time?
18. Am I proud?
19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
22. Is Christ real to me?
Welcome to the Holiness club! (Wesley)
"Take heart; get up, he is calling you."- Mark 10:49
We Christians are entering the last few weeks of the liturgical season called “ordinary.” And yet I don’t remember the last time that life felt “ordinary.” Ordinary time in the church, once called “Kingdomtide, “flows from the Feast of Pentecost, in which we invite again the Holy Spirit to flood our lives. It is a season reclaimed by American Protestants in the aftermath of WW2 as we tried to make sense of the world again. Ordinary time begins by celebrating Trinity Sunday. The remembered chaos of Pentecost is followed by assurance that the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit create dynamic, not static, order as creation unfolds. The season ends with Christ the King Sunday, which always creates cognitive dissonance for me, on the doorstep to Advent’s birth story. It is a celebration of Christ victorious over sin, leading the way into God’s kindom. "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."(Mark 10:49)
If you use a lectionary-based devotional, you’ll have been recently following the story of Job. In this week’s happy ending, after grueling weeks of suffering, you read that Job’s fortunes are wondrously restored:
' Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.'I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.
The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys.
He also had seven sons and three daughters.He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.
In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.
After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children'schildren, four generations.And Job died, old and full of days. Job 42: 3b-17
Happy endings don’t get much better than that!
The happiness, (in scripture the word is actually “blessedness”) came after Job was able to see past his devastating misfortunes, to hear past his friend’s inept attempts to confront and comfort, when he was able to just sit and know God’s presence with him. When he recognizes himself, not as creator but as creature. When he becomes vulnerable to God’s mercy.
It’s a pattern that repeats throughout scripture, building momentum across tie and space. We heard Jeremiah’s words earlier today: See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.(Jeremiah 31: 8)
And still we wake to news of death in the pews in Pittsburgh, just three blocks from Fred Roger’s house; of famine in Yemen; the anxiety that seems to pervade our nation was not lessened this week by a series of bombs mailed to prominent leaders up and down the east coast.
The NY Timesnotes this morning that “Mass shootings have become a recurring part of American life, and religious institutions a recurring setting. In each case, the shock is compounded by the violence at what is supposed to be a safe space for peace and healing.”
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…. (Jeremiah 31: 7-9)
This morning’s passage from Mark gives us a question that I find one of the most powerful anywhere in scripture. When the blind beggar Bartimaeus persisted in calling out to Jesus, Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?"(Mark 10: 51).
I wonder how it might change each of our lives if we took an ordinary moment, every day, to hear Christ asking us this question and to give him our most honest answer.
It seems to me that human listening to that question is the space through which many mercies flow.
Even while we are yearning and working for a happy ending, both for ourselves and for our world, healing comes in the form of many mercies.
You can become Jesus’ voice asking, “what do you want me to do for you?”
You can become Jesus’ heart opening to the answer.
You can become Jesus’ hand taking the hand of the person in need.
I invite you to make time this week to visualize Jesus asking you this question with all the love in his wide open heart.
"Take heart; get up, he is calling you."- Mark 10:49
In churches we notice how people’s worship habits are changing. But have you noticed how other habits are changing as well? The week after Portland, Maine was named Bon Appetit magazine’s top restaurant city of 2018 I caught the end of a radio call in show talk with Maine food writers, producers, and chefs. The places they were all planning to eat out that week were in Brunswick, where the northern edge of Portland influenced Southern Maine overlaps the Midcoast’s fishing and farmland.
Jeff and I live right across the river from Brunswick and are well acquainted with the eating options. We eat out A LOT more than I did as a kid and there are many more options. Back then, a monthly pizza was a huge treat as was an annual trip to Tony’s Clam Shack on Wollaston Beach when we vacationed at Grandma’s. But now eating out fits our full work schedules and interest in new experiences of others’ expertise and creativity. Choosing where we eat is often governed by convenience or curiosity, unlike the homecooked meals we shared when raising our children. At the same time, we are having to pay new attention to nutritional needs at this stage of life.
It’s interesting to me that CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are growing at the same time restaurants are, handing us bags of locally grown veggies, fruit, meat, flowers, or even seafood. High end and low end are both lining up beside the old -fashioned weekly trip to the grocery store. Consumers want convenient, fresh, sustainable, delicious. What might that tell us about worship that would touch the hearts of our neighbors?
Similarly, work patterns have changed. Once most people had something like a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule. Occasionally emergencies or special occasions might have cropped up, but unless you were in the military, the ministry, or some medical fields, you could predict what your weekend would look like. Now, the whole notion of a “weekend” seems to be growing nebulous. Does the workweek ever end when we are working across multiple time zones and communication devices? Flex scheduling in workplaces means people’s work schedules may be up in the air until just before they’re expected to show up.
Most families are spread out now. Jeff and I have reached the point where we need to carefully plan and balance holiday trips to children and grandchildren in three far flung locations. Instead of Christmas worship at our home church, we seek it out where we find ourselves. Hmm, a little like searching out a new restaurant.
Even our recreational lives often demand higher commitments now. Travel leagues, expectations of excellence, and training schedules block off some of our more predictable time commitments. With crazy schedules meals get squeezed in, grabbed on the go, or pulled from a freezer.
No wonder people are increasingly hungry for soul food and for community connections.
There’s no magic formula for how these changes in our lives may reshape the ways we worship and grow as Jesus followers, except to say that following Jesus requires a new level of intention and commitment. And maybe of curiosity as well. Ask someone what they’re hungry for this week. And share whatever is on your menu. Meanwhile, look what God dropped into our flower bed! Surprise seeds produced these almost ready to pick nutritious treats where we least expected them. Keep your eyes open for manna from heaven!
In God’s Grace, Karen
My mother-in-law, Peggy, was a truly remarkable cook. After learning a Midwestern style meant to satisfy active farmers and factory workers (meat, potatoes, canned vegetables, lots of pie), she became an itinerant Navy wife with entertaining responsibilities in the white glove era. Taking hostessing as an art form seriously, she searched cooking magazines and exchanged ideas with others. Menus at the Munson house went from Jell-O salad (with grated carrots) to tomato aspic (with baby greens).
What’s on the “menu” your church offers? Meals you offer the community probably reflect area tastes and church members’ talents. What about your church’s weekly worship feast? Most of us continue to serve our grandparents’ soul-satisfying, “traditional,” menus. Some have moved to offering “contemporary” (baby boomer tradition) or experimental worship feasts. All of these can be yummy and filling.
But I had a problem at Peggy’s table. It was my problem, not hers. When proudly offered tomato aspic at family feasts, it triggered my gag reflex. Every time. No matter how hard I tried to overcome the urge, it just would not go down. This is no judgement on tomato aspic. It just didn't “work” for me. My family ties kept me trying tomato aspic at Peggy’s table until she took pity on me and offered alternatives.
Most of our neighbors today lack family ties to keep them at a worship table whose menu, or scheduling, doesn’t consider their genuine needs. We wish they did. But they don’t. The Portland to Auburn, Maine corridor is currently the most unchurched regionof the United States of America, according to the Barna Group. And it doesn’t seem like telling people they ought to eat their carrots (because they’re good for them, or because mom says they must) will bring them to the table we set with Christ unless we do some careful hospitality planning.
Scripture speaks often of hunger. These three verses could form a scripture “sandwich” of God’s promises to hungry people before, during, and after Jesus’ ministry on earth. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. [God] who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.-Isaiah 49:10 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.-Revelation 7:16
This is not an easy time for designing hospitality. Even hosts of church suppers, fellowship times, and communion tables are now challenged by food allergies and other dietary needs.
But as part of God’s movement of grace, bringing the world into God’s grace and God’s grace in to the world, we are part of God’s hunger management team. If we are genuinely willing to offer soul food to the hungry around us, or to help them learn to cook according to their own needs, the place to start is getting to know what will feed our neighbor’s souls.
I invite you to ask one person outside church this week what their soul hunger feels like. And before you offer them what’s on the current menu at your church, be sure you’re really listening with open ears, mind, and heart. Maybe you don’t have the right menu option for them right now, and that might be hard to acknowledge. But we can thank our conversation partners for trusting us with their stories and informing us about the hunger outside our doors. It turns out there’s more than one way to eat your vegetables. (I like stir fry! Post your favorite in the comments).
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. -Matthew 7: 7
I’ve long imagined this as knocking to get intosomething, maybe even heaven. But now I’m thinking it may be Jesus’ invitation to knock on doors leading outof boxes we create for ourselves. Right before these words are the comment, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? Matthew 7: 3-4
This year’s lazy days of summer are interrupted by the dis-ease of disturbing headlines, urgent emails, the looming uncertainty of our United Methodist Way Forward. It’s so very tempting to crawl in and close the lid on boxes of protected space: caves of set opinion, comfort zones of predictable social activities, familiar physical places. It’s tempting to try to ignore, or learn to live with, the discomfort of the speck in our eye. The blink, blink, blink of irritation becomes “normal.”
Isolation contradicts the sacrament of communion.
Cynicism contradicts the covenant of baptism. -source unknown
But Jesus has something else in mind for us.
Last week I joined a small group of Lewiston residents gathered directly opposite Calvary UMC, outside a laundry mat. In the early evening of a summer Monday, they came to remember a friend cruelly killed the day before in sight of her children. They came with candles, grief, memory, and hope for healing of their community. Their friend’s last meal was at Calvary’s open breakfast table, sharing the daily bread and fellowship that many of Lewiston’s homeless find there each week when the saints risk opening the door to their church. My candle from that night now sits on my desk reminding me daily of the little lights that shone that night on a dark Lewiston street.
At the communion table we extend open hands to receive God’s gift of grace, the life of Jesus the Christ. In the free-flowing waters of baptism we are immersed in God’s Spirit as its life courses through community willing, even if not ready, to be transformed. These are the marks of an open-door church practicing out of the box faith because Jesus invites us to be part of God’s expansive kingdom that is growing right in the middle of the worst human messes.
This year we’ll feature examples of MidMaine churches taking risks to knock on and walk through the door. Please share your storiesso that others may learn and be inspired!
The audacious promise of Jesus’ invitation, the door will be opened to you,is echoed in U2’s popular new song, (which brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it!). Listen here(you can skip the ad).
The door is open to go through
If I could I would come too
But the path is made by you
As you're walking start singing and stop talking
Oh, if I could hear myself when I say
Oh, love is bigger than anything in its way
So young to be the words of your own song
I know the rage in you is strong
Write a world where we can belong
To each other and sing it like no other
Oh, if I could hear myself when I say
Oh, love is bigger than anything in its way
If the moonlight caught you crying on Killiney Bay
Oh sing your song
Let your song be sung
If you listen you can hear the silence say
When you think you're done
You've just begun…..
My covenant group has been practicing mediation on the previousweek’s gospel from the common lectionary. A whole new space for encountering the good news opens up when you have a week of study and presentation behind me and the open space of ongoing reflection before me. Last week’s encounter with Mark 4: 35-41 made me aware of the difficulty that can begin when leaders don’t trust followers. I can remember any number of times when I, unlike Jesus in this passage, did not trust others to take me “into the boat,” just as I am. Instead I sometimes prefer to stay on shore in a beached boat waving to those who set out, paddle my own boat even when exhausted, or avoid a boat altogether and walk alone on water (you can imagine how that turns out).
What I’ve learned by experience is that when leaders don’t trust followers to take us as we are, our identity starts to dis-integrate into private (protected) and public (partial). I’m not saying that we out to let it all hang out. The disciple’s boat in this story was not full of dirty laundry trying to hand dry in the wind before the storm. I am saying that we need to be whole people, authentic wherever we are. The alternative leads to:
1. fractured selves trying to adapt to segmented circumstances in a personally destructive pattern.
2. barriers erected to those we seek to lead, those who are trying to learn how to be authentic people of God be observing how we try to do the same. If what we show them ourselves isn’t real, or is only partial reality, should we be surprised when they don’t live up to our expectations?
By trusting his followers to take him “as he was” into a potentially dangerous situation, Jesus demonstrated that they really are in this together. His quizzical question to them asks why they don’t trust him. I wonder what difference it would have made if their cry in the boat, instead of “don’t you care?” had been, “we need you.”
When, a few verses later, in Mark 5: 24b-34, Jesus encounters someone who does trust him without reserve, both the disciples and we overhear him say to the woman with 12 years of hemorrhaging, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed of your disease.” We don’t hear any more than that. There is no evidence offered of whether it “worked.” We are invited to trust that she found the peace and wellness she longed for. The passage itself is written in a way that draws us into that trusting relationship. Jesus’ followers would have remembered when he noticed the limits of their faith. Will this example lead them/us into deeper faith?
I think that we often read or hear these passages through the lens, “how do I get the results I want (safety in a storm, physical healing). In each of these stories Jesus goes further than he’s asked to, actually stilling the storm, actually welcoming the woman into his family. Jesus’ tendency to exceed expectation is not limited to the supplicants’ attitude (panicked, skeptical, desperate, or willing). It’s just what he does because of who he is. It’s his authentic self at work.
But what Jesus is seeking is the trust, faith, relationship, not the results themselves.
Twenty years ago, on June 21, 1998, I was ordained a Deacon in the Virginia Annual Conference. Every year I remember my ordination vows as a new group is commissioned. But 2018 has drawn me further and deeper back. In my now tattered manila folder is a receipt for my psychological test ($90) and names from the six interview teams. Dwight L. Zavitz and Ernest Herndon actually made the Teaching interview enjoyable and gave me confidence through their encouragement. And my sacraments team taught me group theological reflection in action. The folder has all 6 papers, which I’m reviewing in my theological reflection between now and reaffirming my ordination at NEAC 2018.
It has notes from my mentor, the wise and generous Cynthia Corley. I’ve sent them all thank you notes again this spring. It has my SPRC’s names, three of whom I’ve managed to stay in touch with! It has my ordination certificate with Bishop Joe Pennel’s signature. That was the year he apologized on the floor of conference to the young woman he recognized late in the day saying, “Well, we’ll make time for you because you’re young and pretty.” I learned a lot from seeing our leader model authentic humility and sincere repentance.
I have my call statement which includes “As I have been formed in faith by the United Methodist Church and remain in union with her Wesleyan theology and Social Principles, I identify this call to be specifically rooted in the United Methodist Community as it participates in God’s larger body of believers.” Through all my internal wrestling during the UMC’s current growing pains, this remains true. My call statement ends with “It is my dearest hope that I will someday be able to join the struggles and celebrations of a local church as their pastor.” This remains the highest calling I can imagine, even as I serve for a time in this supervisory role.
How does God build a minister? There is the individual work of the person experiencing call. There is also the work of faithful disciples who God places in our path. Healthy churches have “call” as a normal part of ongoing conversation. There are parents and church members who talk with children and youth about ministry as potential vocational choices, who share stories of pastors who have influenced their lives for the better. There are small group members who notice pastoral gifts emerging in each other and ask, “have you considered….?” and congregations who lovingly encourage the growth of worship and preaching gifts from awkward beginnings to confident proficiency. There are lay folks and clergy who give their time to serve on Staff Parish Relations committees, District Committees on Ministries, and Boards of Ordained Ministry. There are families that walk with us through the growing pains, highs and lows that inevitably arise as we live into these calls.
Would you take some time this month to offer words of encouragement? Maybe they will be to a young person in whom you see gifts for ministry. Maybe they will be to a clergyperson or church leader who God has used to bless you. Maybe they will be to someone who supported your journey into ministry. Always, I hope we will offer words of thanks to God for the call to live into God’s purpose in each of our own lives!
In God’s Grace, Karen
Churches in my Faith Family Tree:
Faith Lutheran Church, Quincy, MA
First Presbyterian Church, Muncie Indiana
Mount Tabor, United Methodist Church, Dunkirk, Indiana
Wesley Foundation, Ames, Iowa
First Congregational Church, Minneapolis, MN
Bremerton UMC, Washington
Twin Towers UMC, Alameda, CA
Calvary UMC, Middletown Road Island
Virginia Beach UMC, VA
Fifth Avenue UMC, Saratoga Springs, NY
Fox Hill UMC, Hampton, Virginia
Christ Crossman UMC, Falls Church, Virginia
Military Chapel, Naval Base, Yokosuka, Japan
Readfield UMC, ME
Brunwick UMC, ME
In case you’re wondering whether the act of preaching still has any power, any relevancy, any potential to impact anyone outside the church, here’s your answer. The most retweeted moment of the recent British Royal wedding was a sermon!!! People are still talking about it a week later. And that’s a long time in today’s media climate.
Coincidently (God-incidently?) on the same day the wedding took place, MidMaine United Methodists launched our year of Proclaiming Excellence. Rev. Bobby McClain blessed us with a classically constructed and theologically powerful proclamation of Jesus’ instruction to baptize and make disciples in his name. Elsewhere in this e-news edition, you will find initial plans for cultivating, celebrating, and sharing excellence in our own preachers over the next 12 months. We’ll also pay attention to other forms of proclamation made possible by communication technology.
The conversation that Bishop Michael Curry, the wedding preacher and leader of the Episcopal Church in America, had with Today showviewers a day after the big event is a great illustration of what many of us experience. [After the sermon on Saturday] “I sat down, and I said to myself, ‘Well, I hope that was OK.’” If you’ve ever preached or shared a witness, can you relate to that?
Curry also admitted to having some nerves at the very beginning. “But then after that, it turned into a church, and I was speaking to a young couple who are in love,” he said. “They are so passionately in love with each other.”
Now, the sermon was not without its critics. (If you’ve ever preached or shared a witness, can you relate to that?) I heard three:
1. “It was too long.” It seems to me that this criticism a) sees the sermon as distraction and b) reflects our shortened attention spans. There are more important things before us. And we only have so much time and capacity for concentrated listening. I want to suggest that part of effective preaching is preparing our audience to learn to listen.
2. “He sure loves the sound of his own voice.” This criticism brought a smile to my face. If a person’s voice is the gift God has given them to develop and use in God’s service, shouldn’t that person love the gift they’re given? False humility and self-centered pride are not our only too options. We can take joy in using well what God has given us.
3. “He only preached ½ the gospel.” This critic wanted to hear an altar call that convicted listeners of their (and all humanity’s) sinful nature. In some traditions the sermon is incomplete without this. But it seems to me that, while Jesus’ own proclamation frequently addressed human sin, his own “sermons” didn’t all come with the modern version of an altar call. Not everything is said at the same time in the same place. Was Jesus’ message in Matthew 22: 34-40 incomplete? Neither does it stand alone without the rest of scripture’s context. The couple would have been kept waiting a very long time if Bishop Curry had tried to cover the entire bible.
Here are a few take-a-ways from the Today Show interview for those of us called to proclaim God’s message with excellence.
Know your audience “Curry’s sermon cited Martin Luther King and made reference to slavery — which some viewed as daring considering he spoke before an audience that included the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as several of her heirs and other members of the royal family.”
Collaborate But Curry said he wasn’t worried since he already touched base with church officials and the couple about what he planned to say during the ceremony.
Search and offer the scripture. Bishop Curry’s proclamation was rich in scripture, not as supporting evidence but as the very source and ground of the message. It was obviously formed by his life’s immersion in God’s word.
Get Feedback:He'd also developed a way of learning whether his message was getting through to parishioners. “Episcopalians aren’t known for being loud and raucous in church, but I’ve learned to be able to hear an 'amen' by looking in their eyes,” he said. “And I was looking in the eyes of people who were there and they were doing quiet British amen.” Curry said he spoke briefly with the royal couple after the wedding at the reception and “they were very gracious."
You can hear and see more of Bishop Curry’s preaching here. And please send my names of other fine preachers you’ve heard. Maybe one of your favorites will become a “preacher of the month” for us learn from in our year of Proclaiming Excellence.
This winter I regularly drove past a five-foot red “Open” banner with bright yellow lettering. It was planted right in front of an obviously vacant storefront with “Barbecue” on the door. Day after day when driving past I’d sneak a peek to see if anything was there. Was the banner a sign of hopeful aspiration that something delicious was coming? Was it a tie to the past, a hint of something that used to be there? Or was it just an illusion, a ruse, a hoax?
Suddenly churches I visit with front yard signs proclaiming “welcome!” came to mind. It’s hard to tell what the welcome message is actually saying until you go through the door. In almost all instances the welcome waiting inside is sincere. But sometimes the way we welcome is designed for the guest while other times it seems designed according to the host’s comfort level or expectation. Occasionally the welcome sign feels like an illusion: when a greeter stands blocking the door or aisle while they chat with a friend, when a hug is not offered but demanded, when the flow of service assumes everyone there knows what to do next without explanation, when worship finishes and no one speaks to the visitor.
Several years ago, United Methodist Communications introduced 2 simple and powerful practices. 1) “Rule of 3” asks us to spend the first three minutes after worship connecting with someone you don’t know before rushing off to greet a friend or pursue church business. Did you know that the thing most likely to help a newcomer feel welcome is when we introduce them to someone else 2) The “circle of 10” asks us to be aware of others within 10 feet of a conversation we are having and to invite them into the circle. This may mean shifting the topic to include the new person(s) as well.
It delights my heart when I visit one of the many MidMaine church that has something real to offer by way of welcome: outreaching community ministry with neighbors, soul satisfying worship, deep dives into scripture, greeters oriented to what makes visitors welcome rather than what they expect from visitors. All of these are banners welcoming people to Jesus Christ’s life transforming love.
Yesterday, I drove by the “Barbecue” place. The red banner was gone. They never had a chance because there was nothing inside. On Sunday, many of us will read a story form the Book of Acts 8: 26-40 about Philip and the Ethiopian official. It is a story of deep hospitality in which one man overflowing with Christ’s love boldly shares it with another man who has seen a sign and is hungry to be fed, both interrupting what they were doing so that they could make the most of a moment God provided. May you know that same holy boldness as you invite each other to share the journey.
In God’s Grace, Karen
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.