Tag Archives: General Rules Book of Discipline

Embrace the community of the future

given on Sunday, August 3, 2014, including the scripture and the excerpts to support the sermon

The Word Mark 9:36-37 & 10:13-16                NLT

9 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

10 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

Matthew 19:13-15                                            NLT

19 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

 

Today’s sermon  “Embrace the Community of the Future”

From the Book of Discipline: ¶162.III The Social Community

C. Once considered the property of their parents, children are now acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations. Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. . . . Moreover children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.

Embrace the Community of the Future”

Oh my goodness! August has arrived and school is just around the corner. Maybe this does not strike many as a major life event, but I continue to follow the school calendar even though I may be cataloged as one of the “over the hill” teachers.

Walking down the aisles at the stores, the itch hits to pick up a new pack of pen and pencils. To look at the new styles of spirals, composition notebooks—which have made a rebirth in the past few years—to check out the crayons and maybe even pick up a package to smell those new neon colors.

The new school year is the ideal time to review the church’s stand on the youth in our community. How easy it would be to ignore what is going around us even in our small rural communities. We see the news and hear all the deplorable things young people are doing, the gangs, the self-damage of the newest social media challenge—setting oneself on fire and posting the videos.

Listening to all the crazy things young people do or all the horrific things adults do to the kids in our communities can be overwhelming. It is easy to put distance between the community of the future and the community in which we have lived our lives. Why should it matter to us in our retirement or in our later years? It matters because the youth are the community of the future. The grandchildren we dote on are these youth.

Jesus had just three short years to teach his disciples how to live and to minister to the world. He knew the time was short, but the disciples did not. The disciples were concerned that the kids were disrupting the Master as he was training them. They could not see why the children should be allowed to interfere with another teaching session. But Jesus knew they were the community of the future:

Mark 9: 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

We cannot afford to ignore our responsibility as Christians to focus on the community of today’s youth because they are the future.

The problem that develops, especially in the small, traditional churches of all denominations, is what can we do for the youth? As we look at the situation, we cannot see a way to reach out to kids when even their parents are not involved in churches. Logically the problem shifts to reaching the working class, the middle aged, the parents of the children. But using logic is not the way God works. God works by unconditional love and a servant’s heart.

The problem is not new, the problem has existed even during Jesus’ lifetime:

Mark 10: 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.

Certainly we do not want to fall into the same rut that the disciples did. We know that the perfect scenario is when the Christian parents raise their children as the next generation of Christians, but that is not a guarantee. Remember in our personal histories we know of classmates or neighbors or family members who may have been raised by Christian families in church, but the real world distracted them and they left the church, forgot the Christian lifestyle they were taught.

In the UMC Book of Discipline, one paragraph targets this very problem:

. . . . Moreover children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. [¶162.III.C]

Granted, we are a small community and we have roadblocks such as age, health, and/or finances, but that does not excuse us from embracing the community of the future. The question becomes what can we do regardless of all the roadblocks that we could easily use to ignore our social, Christian responsibility.

The answer may be so much closer than ever dreamed and the clue is in the same paragraph from the Book of Discipline:

Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. . . . In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.

Maybe the wheels in our brains are not turning yet (yup, that is a cliché), but it is time to brainstorm or to review what we do try to do.

As an educator, also, ideas for what can be done start bubbling up. Pretty soon the pot begins boiling and without supervision the ideas boil up and over the edge. Acknowledging that too many ideas too fast might not be a good idea, the ideas need to be shared, evaluated and carefully tried. At Reese, one of the most valued pieces of the week are the homemade goodies the Reese Grandmothers provide each and every week without failure.

These two ladies heard about the students being served at Reese and decided they needed some home baked goodies. They approached the principal and asked if they could do this and when would be the best time to have them at school. Over the past two years, the Reese Grandmothers have baked cookies, cupcakes, breads, and so many tasty tidbits and delivered them each Friday of the school year. The 30+ kids enjoy them and the staff makes sure that they acknowledge the efforts of these two ladies.

Such a sweet, small contribution to a group of at-risk students who may not have the supportive family or grandparents that many of us were blessed to have. These two ladies are past retirement age and are not confined with any health roadblocks plus have their own grandchildren they love. Yet, they love unconditionally these at-risk students without fail.

Ministry efforts do not have to be long-term. They do not have to cost a fortune. They do not have to be so big that everybody knows it is being done. Ministry efforts can be so small that some might overlook them. For instance, what if we step out our doors in the morning as the bus goes by and wave. What if we watch the kids from the porch, as they walk to school making sure they get a hearty “good morning” and that there is no bullying going on or no one tries to harm them?

Maybe it is identifying the school as a separate, yet complete, community. What efforts can be made to create the most welcoming, inviting, safe environment for the children?

Maybe focusing on the teachers is a key. They need unconditional love and support, too. Maybe providing treats to them so after school is out the can decompress with a cookie and a cup of coffee or tea. Possibly there is some teaching tool the local budget cannot manage and we can. If you have an hour or two or more you can give to the school, maybe there is a child who needs help with homework or needs to practice reading.

The list of ideas can just keep growing. The office ladies might need help once and a while to file papers, collate and staple papers. The maintenance crew could use some help, too. The list of chores is unending. A workday around the building could include pulling weeds, landscaping, or painting windows frames.

Jesus asks us to serve. The more we can do, the better we can demonstrate God’s love. The young people are watching. They know what is genuine and what is fake, so living our Christian faith publically is so important.

In the familiar verse from Matthew, another issue shows up:

19 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

Our words often reveal un-Christian behaviors. Children today may not have parents who have attended church regularly or maybe did not have parents who were connected to a church, but at birth children are granted grace. What we say out loud does not always model God’s grace. God wants us to demonstrate unconditional love for all people—children and their parents.

When young people, their parents and grandparents, and even friends, arrive at our door, welcome them. Love them. Serve them.

With school beginning and the community fair coming, there will be many opportunities for us to embrace the community of the future.

14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

Do not be like the disciples who thought the children and their parents were a bother. Open your hearts, your arms as we open the doors each. Let us be the arms of God embracing his children.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, father and teacher,

Give us the wisdom to embrace the community

in any way that we can.

Give us the strength to serve the community

in all the ways that we can.

Give us the voice to share our faith

with all that we can.

Open the ears and the hearts

of all who walk within these doors.

Open the doors to all your children

despite from where they come.

Open the minds to the future

so ministry can reach those needing you

Thank you for the wisdom of your word.

Thank you for the example of your Son.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit within us.

May we rise to the challenge of loving one another

as we want to be loved.

May we accept the commission to make Christians

of those who will be the community of the future.

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Rule No. 1: Do No Harm

given on September 9, 2012

Rule No. 1:  Do no harm

based on Rueben P. Job’s

Three Simple Rules:  A Wesleyan Way of Living

         Bishop Rueben P. Job did not generate a new approach to John Wesley’s methods.  Wesley wrote down the ‘three simple rules’ in his essay “General Rules.”  There is no change in any wording.  The three rules are identical:  1.  Do no harm.  2.  Do good.  3.  Stay in love with Jesus.

Why did the Bishop decide to write his little book?  Why has the book created such a whirl of interest?  The answer lies in the introductory quote shared last week:

Forgetting the struggles and sacrifices of the past may have lead to a complacency that took community too lightly, individualism too seriously, and neglected our call to faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p.11)

This ‘blueprint’ for living is simply the Wesleyan interpretation of the Greatest Commandment:

Matthew 22:37-39  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  (NRSV)

The same commandment is repeated in John 15:17 and again in Romans 13:9.

We know this commandment.  We have read it, preached it, listened to it, and live it.  Or do we live it?  Maybe we are so complacent that we must have it hammered into our conscious once again.  The Bishop stated that in the preface:

Now it is up to us to see if we will take it, teach it, and practice it until it becomes our natural way of living—a way of living that will mark our life together and our lives as individual Christians.  (p.10)

This is the reason we are reviewing these three simple rules.  And the first one, do no harm, is hardly simple.

Yes, the rule does sound simple, but the Bishop’s analysis demonstrates just how complicated the rule really is.  He begins with a quote directly from the Book of Discipline which states in the paragraph 103, “Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules”:  “. . .By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as . . .”  The paragraph continues to outline the evil practices.  The list is lengthy and encompasses a great deal of our most unflattering behaviors.

In our scripture, Galatians 5:13-15, Paul equates this rule with giving us Christian freedom.  In the NRSV translation the verses are more focused on this idea:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The translations are similar and the point the same, but the application still is not easy.

How do we practice this rule?  We certainly must believe that we are, yet I began realizing how easy it is not to practice this rule.  The focus on gossiping seems the clearest example of how easy it is to slip up and fail maintaining this rule.

Think of how many times you are visiting with a friend or a co-worker or even a family member.  You start talking about somebody’s behavior in one way or another.  The person about whom you are talking has no idea what you are saying.  In that one-on-one conversation there is no intent to harm someone, but all too often that private conversation is opened up with another person and the story is retold.

Each retelling has a way of changing.  Even the fact that a rumor or an opinion shared is then shared with somebody else risks becoming twisted or colored by another’s emotions.  Gossip is so easy to join in, and just as easy to end up harming someone else without them even knowing it.

This week one of the most damaging ways of harming someone became a focus.  Students become victims of negative talk.  When we begin working with at-risk students, we know that all too often they have been hurt by words to the point that they begin using the same negative talk about themselves.  They do not love themselves and that becomes evident when they lash out and do not love others as themselves.  They were harmed by talk, they harm themselves by talk, and they harm others by talk.

On Friday, we have “boot camp” some time in the day.  Now this is just a term we use for our teaming, not literally a boot camp.  Anyway, Friday the challenge was issued—run up the hill directly outside the building.  The hill is a steep grade and is about three blocks long.  It is not an easy hill to walk up and the kids were asked to run up the hill.

All kinds of kids—short, tall, lanky, lean, not so lean, athletic and not athletic, male and female.  Running up that hill would not be for me, but the key is that it takes a team to run up the hill, to encourage, to praise, and to support—maybe even physically.  The hill was tough, the experience was self-rewarding, but the lesson was even bigger.

When we came in to process, or discuss, the reason that it is so important that everybody work together to accomplish a goal.  The Director elegantly demonstrated the Wesleyan rule, even using that famous quote—do all that you can, for all that you can, in all the ways that you can….

The team, whether you are an athlete or not, needs you.  No matter how small you think your contribution, it is needed.  The Director emphatically demonstrated that even if it is just this tiny little bit of verbal encouragement that you could provide, you are needed.  If you use negative talk, whether against yourself or others, you cause harm—you fail the team in reaching the goal.

Are we failing as Christians?  Are we causing harm in such small, almost non-existent negative self-talk that we are causing harm?  Are we gossiping?  Are we judging one another?  Are we promoting ideas that harm someone else?  Are we doing harm?

We do not live in isolation.  In fact, our homes are no longer our private safe sanctuary away from all the madness of the world.  Our homes are now literally connected to homes wrapped in a net all around this globe.  The internet, the world-wide internet, has linked us to one another in ways we could not imagine only 25 years ago.  We can cause harm or we can do good within this net.

The television program 20/20 demonstrated this on Friday night.  The show focused on how people now use the instant media available to record and to share all the life-changing events and transitions we now experience.

To begin they safely shared how cats have been equipped with cameras to learn what they do 24 hours a day whether owners can see them or not.  Cats were being cats, and the knowledge that the cameras revealed to the owners was upsetting—hunting for birds, mice, snacks; roaming through the streets and sewers; and even adopting a neighbor as a secret second family.

The negatives and the harmful ways of reaching into one another’s life is a reality of today’s technology, yet there is the good, too.  The show went on to share how many different events people are recording and sharing through this global net.  There were the engagements, the pregnancy tests, and the acceptance into college; but it was the last story that demonstrated the enormous value of this net.

The loss of a digital 35mm SLR camera in a mountain stream became the tool of doing good.  One man’s discovery became another man’s reconnect.  One month of devoting time to finding the camera’s owner allowed for one man to heal.  Just like the Director tried to emphasize to the students.  You may not realize how important your efforts are in this world, but you make a difference.  You may become the blessing for someone else just by doing no harm.

We cannot ignore the immense power we possess to harm others.   With the 21st century technology, the risk to harm others is infinite.  We must do all that we can to keep from harming others even through our own negative self-talk.

Once we are committed to look at this world through God’s eyes and not to do harm, we are given a freedom that opens up this world to us in ways we cannot imagine.  The Bishop stated it like this:

When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.  . . .

 

To adopt this first simple rule as our own is a giant step toward transforming the world in which we live.  . . .

 

When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God—a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved—just like myself.  . . .

 

And this personal transformation leads to transformation of the world around us as well.  . . . so those who practice this simple rule begin to think, act, and perhaps even look like Jesus.  (pp. 23, 30-32

Just one of three simple rules for us, Methodists or not, are needed to transform the world.           Wesley wrote them down first in our denomination, but his words were from Jesus.  Bishop Job wrote them again so that we see them through our lives today, the 21st Century.  Are we capable of taking them and polishing them up so we can shine as Christians today?  Or, have we failed to use them and tarnished the Christian images being broadcast around this globe.

Do no harm.  Experience the freedom it provides you.  And then be ready to move on to the second rule:  Do good.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We ask you to guide us this week

     as we analyze our own behaviors.

We ask you to show us the ways

     in which we harm ourselves and others.

We ask you to lead us in ways

     that cause no harm.

Let us find that freedom that comes

     with loving one another.

Let us find ways to share that love

      even in the smallest of portions

      so this world can be transformed

      by love.

                           Amen.

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