Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

Reflecting on changes since 9/11

 

Yesterday I tried to gather thoughts for sharing, but I just could not find a thread to bring them together. Today, this day especially, a thread begins weaving thoughts together.

 

As an American, one cannot escape the memories of 9/11.  But there are other days that are cemented in my memory that have bound us together: JFK’s assassination, the OKC bombing, the Challenger tragedy, not to mention the natural disasters such as the hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires that keep us spellbound to the news.

 

Throughout all these historical events, I am constantly reminded about how key a faith system is to the way in which we manage these experiences.

 

The denomination is irrelevant.  The common element is—GOD.

 

I recognize that many of our younger generations—note the plural—struggle to understand the ‘need’ for a faith system, but I also know that there is an underlying curiosity about why faith is so important to their parents and grandparents.

 

On Saturday, the Missouri Methodists held a kick-off event for the three priorities the conference has established for the current year:

  1. Pathway out of poverty: to deepen & grow partnerships between schools & churches
  2. Creating new places for new people: introducing church (faith) to one person not involved in any church for at least one year
  3. Missional leaders: to identify & mentor new leaders in the church

 

Today’s churches are facing the global community that continues to be rocked by disasters whether at the hand of humans or at the mercy of nature.  The challenges each person faces has the potential to destroy one’s security, one’s family, one’s confidence to wake up each morning and start fresh to live a new day.

 

During the kick off event, the question Roger Ross presented sums up the concern the long-established churches must consider:  Why on earth do we start new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?

 

The United Methodist Church is recording losses in membership, but I propose those losses signify a shift in the demographics more than anything.  The denomination has not adapted well to the cultural changes that began in the 1960s when Vietnam was the primary news story shortly after JFK was assassinated.

 

Ross went on to explain why the conference has decided to emphasize the need to reach out to new people in new places:

 

“. . . Over the last 10 years, the Missouri Conference has started 40 new churches—30 of them are still reaching people today.  We’ve found that new people, younger people and more diverse people show up in disproportionately higher numbers in these new churches than our existing ones.  . . . “

 

Today, as we remember the horrific events of 9/11, I cannot ignore the enormous effect that faith has had on the generations that lived through that attack.  Look at all those who raced into the horror to do all they could for all they could reach in any manner that they could—with no regard for their personal safety.

 

These people were images of God incarnate.  They were moved into action by training, yes.  By a sense of purpose, yes.  By an unseen force those in the faith community know as the Holy Spirit, yes.

 

I suggest that every single person has the foundation of faith within his/her psyche.  I suggest that God is within each individual, waiting, struggling, and anticipating to be acknowledged

 

God’s church is not a denomination, but all denominations.  Any church who identifies its purpose and works together to become the arms and legs of God in any way that it can, will shine the metaphorical light to those still searching to know God personally.

 

For Missouri Methodists or any denomination to succeed in making disciples of Christ (remember Jesus’ greatest commandment), the purpose must be defined, and the current disciples must reach out to others to develop relationships with others.

 

The methods to reach out to others should not matter.  Whether meeting at a local restaurant or coffee house or gathering in a cathedral, establishing relationships with one another is the key to others learning about how God operates within their lives.

 

I have walked through the tragedies of life, but I have my faith.  I know that I can manage anything as long as God is my partner in this life. I know that doing all that I can for others—whether in a classroom, within my family, or as I walk in and out of stores.  God is my operating system.

 

This does not mean I am perfect.  I am human. But as long as I keep my eye on God and follow the teachings of Jesus, I should be alert to the power of the Holy Spirit within me equipping me to manage in this life.

 

With my faith system in place, I see glory in the sun’s morning rays shining in my eyes.  I hear the hymns sung by the birds and even the evening insects.  I feel the warmth of the sun, the hug of a friend or family member, or even the warmth of a sweater wrapped around me.  I taste the sweetness of honey created by the bees or the strength of the beef and pork raised by the farmers.  I smell the perfume of the sweet autumn clematis or the spring’s lilacs, the freshly mown grass of summer and even the snow’s freshness as it blankets the grey world.

 

I love God.

 

I love life that God created and gifted to us.

 

I love others, too, and want to love them as I want to be loved.

 

I pray that as we continue to face the evils of this world, that The Church continues to transform into the body of Christ whether it finds a home inside a church or whether it moves into action along the sides of people in need anywhere within our global community.

 

Dear God,

We certainly do not understand everything

     within this enormous world you created.

We certainly struggle to understand the disasters

      that challenge us at any time in our lives.

Open our minds so that we may hear, see, taste,

     smell and touch all that you have created.

Open our hearts so that we may share in the joys

      of our lives and the pain, too, so we move

      to love one another in all the ways we can.

Open our doors not only of our churches but

       of our homes and businesses so others

       may come to know your love above all else.

Thank you for all that you have given to us.

Thank you for continuing to love us when we err.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

       because you stepped on this earth with us,

       taught us how to love one another,

       and then died so might live eternally.

In your name,

In the name of your son Jesus Christ.

And in the name of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

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Filed under History & Government, Religion

In the end, no dry bones. . . just the lion, the wolf and the lamb

This is the final sermon after 10 years in the pulpit.  Sunday, June 24, will also be the last sermon that I have threaded together the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS).  This has been such an interesting six months as I have studied the window and considered its creation as a visual sermon.  There is so much to share concerning God and his story that the ideas never seem to run out.  Ending 10 years does not mean an ending to ministry, just an ending to this pulpit at this time.  I will do my best to rest for a bit, but my mind continues to spin out ideas.  Thank you for reading and following these sermons.  I do not plan to end blogging, just the postings may be different.  Only God knows what will appear on this site at this time.  Please be patient and continue to follow.

 

Sitting at the desk with the funeral of the two KCK police officers in the background, I struggle to pick up the task of writing this final sermon.  I am reminded that evil lurks in every community and that as Christians we are to be God’s eyes, hands, and feet.

Looking at the COS window, there is one more image that cannot be overlooked:

 

#31  THE LION, WOLF AND THE LAMB—In the Restored Paradise, all of God’s creatures live together in peace and harmony.  The healing salve of God’s kingdom extends beyond humanity to include all of creation, raised to its highest pitch of existence.  (Read Isaiah 65:25)

 

I was familiar with the image of the lion and the lamb and was surprised to see the wolf included still the scripture does include all three animals.  Understanding the significance of all three broadens the message even though most religious art includes just the lion and the lamb.

The window’s image is based on the ultimate goal God has where evil is overcome by good; where all live in harmony.  God’s ultimate goal needs to be the same for each of us.  The concern is how do we reach that goal, even if just in our own church, our own community.

Reading the lectionary provides a structure for all Christians regardless of denomination, nationality, age, gender, or any other identifying label.  Even though I have used the images in the window to prepare sermons since Christmas, the lectionary provides a foundational connection to all Christians and often fits right in with the images in the window.

Reading the lectionary included Ezekiel 37 a few weeks ago, and that scripture provided me the foundation for today’s reflection. It does not connect directly to the image of the lion, wolf and lamb, but it does speak to this church family facing the next transition in leadership.

Let me share Ezekiel’s story.  The Israelites were captives of Babylonia, and Ezekiel was a trained, young priest and a contemporary of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah ministered to the Israelites in Judah, but Ezekiel prophesied to those exiled in Babylonia.

Consider the exiles.  They were forced out of their homes and living in a culture that was foreign to them.  They must have felt hopeless.  They must have felt abandoned.  And Ezekiel was a “street preacher,” as study notes labeled him.  He was a prophet who had to feed hope to the Israelites.  He had to guide them through prophecies and scripture to remain faithful to God.

Ezekiel’s words recorded in the Old Testament were written about 571 B.C., yet the words are timeless and his message is as important today as it was 2,500 years ago.  Hear his vision of “A Valley of Dry Bones”:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

    So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

    10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live againand return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

 

Continuing the reflection:

Certainly we do not live in exile as the ancient Israelites did when Ezekiel was prophesying, but the truth is that we are living in a valley of dry bones.  We live in exile because evil continues to thrive.  We cannot ignore how close evil is, especially this week as we have lost two more police officers to evil and as we watched children ripped from their parents in the name of federal law enforcement.

Evil places you in exile in your own community.  And you become tired.  You become the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.  You lose hope.  Yet, you return to worship each week because as Christians that is part of your lifestyle.  But, even sitting right here in your very own sanctuary, in your own spot on the pew, you are at risk of being the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.

God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones could be brought back to life.  Ezekiel, the priest, answered, “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”  He placed full faith in God.  Do you?

Today, even I feel like dry bones.  I stepped into the pulpit ten years ago with a vision. The community is not a valley of dry bones, but it is a valley of lives who desperately need to know God.  God can breathe new life into the dry bones, but it takes a community of faithful who can see the community through God’s eyes and rely on God to breathe life back into dry bones.

Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones did not end his story.  He was encouraged by God’s demonstration of bringing the dry bones back to life.  Can you say that God’s Holy Spirit is keeping your bones alive?  Or do you feel that you are nothing more than dry bones?

As you make the change from one pastor to another, remember that God can bring a valley of dry bones to life to continue the work he assigned to the faithful.

God told us to be good stewards of this earth.  God told us to love one another as we want to be loved.  These are not commands that can be ignored.  These are the simple instructions God has to keep evil away, to keep peace, to keep the lion, the wolf, and the lamb lying peacefully together.

As this month closes out, July brings a new beginning for this community of faithful.  God lives within each and every one of you, but you must do your part to keep it alive.  To avoid becoming a valley of dry bones, you must follow the discipline of the faithful.

  • You must read scripture.
  • You must pray.
  • You must participate in a community of faith.
  • You must remember your baptism.
  • You must serve one another in love.
  • You must see the world through God’s eyes—all the world, not just your own household.
  • You must listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides you to serve as God’s arms and feet in this community, part of God’s entire world.

If you do not, evil will win and the valley will be filled with nothing more than dry bones.

Concluding the reflection:

            In the book of Ezekiel, God assures Ezekiel that he is able to revive the dry bones:

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again. . .

Today I tell you, God does reside within you as the Holy Spirit.  You do not have to be dry bones.  You must follow the discipline of the faithful and God will keep you alive.

The Church continues its work.  It depends on the entire network of congregations to serve as God’s agents defending against evil, seeing to the needs of all God’s children, and finding ways to keep dry bones alive.  In our denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have so much to do, so many tools to use, such a faith community to serve in so many ways.

Today we follow the Methodist tradition of serving in ministry, too.  We change roles as we are called to do.  We stand together to serve as we are called to serve.  We know that there are lions, wolves, and lambs surrounding us, but if we do our job the best that we can, they, too will be able to lie down together in peace.

In Isaiah 65:25, we hear these words:

The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
But the snakes will eat dust.
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.

 

Each community that fails to love one another as they want to be loved needs God.  My prayer for the community, here and globally, is that with the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s work can lead to all working side by side to minister to others in need.

 

Sharing of the Missouri Methodist’s 2018-2019 mission goals:

            During annual conference, three mission goals were identified through special offerings.  I have asked Sharon, Vada and Tamera share them with you at this time. When the local church is tired and at risk of becoming a valley of dry bones, connecting with others in mission is one more way to be alive:

 

  1. Mozambique Sustainability Reboot (Sharon)

This offering will relaunch the Mozambique Initiative’s efforts to create opportunities for church-going entrepreneurs through sustainability projects. In 2012, the Mozambique Initiative added sustainability as a key component to our partnership. After reviewing projects completed during the 2012-2017 program, we believe the best way to reboot is by focusing on smaller projects ($400 or less) for individual entrepreneurs. Our goal for this offering is to provide microloans for at least 25 entrepreneurs in Mozambique.

 

  1. Pathway Out of Poverty (Vada)

Gifts shared in this offering will be distributed for the work of administering our Pathway out of Poverty initiative focused on literacy. Your gift to this initiative will help us equip local churches to connect with schools in their communities and provide them with relationship-building resources. Research shows that children who struggle to read in first grade are 88 percent more likely to struggle in grade four. And those who struggle in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Give generously today as we seek to break cycles of poverty by connecting with our schools.

 

  1. Puerto Rico Disaster Response (Tamera)

The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thirty-eight churches were damaged with 10 nearly destroyed. Yet, the people of Puerto Rico have remained strong. Your gift will help rebuild a Methodist health clinic on the island of Vieques. This clinic will be the primary point of care for the island’s population of 12,000 people – care that is desperately needed as residents wait a projected two years for electricity to be fully restored. Join us in standing with the people of Vieques; your donation will make a difference today!

 

The United Methodist Church is not a valley of dry bones. The church is an army of Christians who are equipped to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

You are part of God’s army here in this community, but you are part of a global community, too.  Let the Holy Spirit loose to serve here, but also to join with others in any way that you can so the lion, the wolf and the lamb can live peacefully together.

Closing prayer:

            Dear God Almighty,

You created a world filled with good,

And evil found its way in.

You commanded each of us

To take care of this world and each other

Yet evil continues to exist around us.

Breathe into these dry bones

New life, new energy to do your work.

May the Holy Spirit fill up your children.

May your children see dry bones come alive.

In the name of you the Father,

the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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The Church: Begins, Grows, Evolves

Sermon given on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.  What a powerful day to bring together the messages of Pentecost, John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, and the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Evangelical Brethern and the Methodist churches in 1968.  

Reflection:  The Church Begins:  Pentecost Ignites the Apostles

Pentais Greek for the number five, and pentecostliterally means the 50thday.  Originally this was 50 days after Passover in the Jewish tradition, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, which concluded during the Jewish Passover festival, the term pentecosthas developed its own significance as the birth of The Church.

Today, May 20, 2018, we celebrate Pentecost as the birth of The Church but more importantly the arrival of the Holy Spirit as God with us.  The Apostles were still trying to sort out what they were to do after the crucifixion and the resurrection of their teacher Jesus Christ.  There was no university program designed to equip them with the skills to take a peaceful, service-minded, loving idea and set up an organization to drive the movement forward.  But as they sat in community, the Holy Spirit arrived:

Acts 2 1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Can you even imagine what the experience must have been like?  The closest thing we could even compare to that is a tremendous thunderstorm suddenly developing, but this happened without the meteorological event—and not outdoors but inside a closed building.

The record in Acts is not the first mention of the Holy Spirit.  The first reference is in Genesis 1:1-2:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

This event followed the Resurrection, 50 days later.  Bob Deffinbaugh, a pastor from Texas describes the event:

The Day of Pentecost arrived when the small company of believers were gathered together in one place. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them in a powerful and dramatic way. The accompanying sound from heaven attracted a large crowd, many of whom were devoutly religious. A large number of them had come from distant lands to reside in Jerusalem (to be there when Messiah appeared?).  [Accessed on May 17, 2018 at https://bible.org/seriespage/4-peters-sermon-pentecost-acts-214-36%5D

 

The event now known as Pentecost for Christians across the world and throughout all denominations marked the beginning of The Church as the Apostles began their work.

Deffinbaugh describes the gathering as a “small company of believers,” but that is a very relative term.  In Wesley’s Study Bible, the commentary states:  “They” probably refers to the 120.  The “one place” may be the temple courts, due to the group’s size and the crowd’s reaction. (p.1324).  That number refers to Acts 1:15 in which it states that Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120) . . . The gathering was also in conjunction with the Jewish harvest festival during which the faithful practiced a covenant renewal.

How appropriate was the setting and the crowd for God to send the Holy Spirit in a highly visual manner, or as Deffinbaugh said, “a powerful and dramatic way”!  The prophecies of the Old Testament and of Jesus were fulfilled by the anointing of these Apostles and the earliest disciples with the Holy Spirit. The ability for all to hear the words in their own language demonstrates the inclusiveness of God’s message.  The Church began its work as each one of those Apostles and faithful stepped out to share God’s message of loving one another.

Today’s celebration is global.  The work is global.  The audience is global.  We are just as important today as the very first disciples were on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection.  We are The Church.

[Join in a time to talk with God.]

Reflection resumes:  Pentecost: John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed

Pentecost is reflected in the COR’s stained glass window, but the real impact can be seen right here in this sanctuary.  Our own stained glass story is “dramatic and powerful” and we can witness the effect of the Holy Spirit in our own history.

Each one of us knows how the Holy Spirit works in our own lives.  We have met others who are filled with the Spirit as they serve others in love.  We have felt moved to love someone in some manner that may have surprised even you.  We have suddenly turned down a road we did not plan turning onto only to discover we were there to listen to someone in pain or to help someone with a flat tire or to spot a situation that needed immediate help.  We know God works through us in ways we may not even suspect. This is the evidence of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe we have not experienced a life-altering event, or have a “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley did.  But God is present with us as the Holy Spirit, and it is alive when we serve one another in love.  God’s work is mysteriously done in not so mysterious ways as when Christians actively live out their faith in their daily lives.

Pick any day of the week, month or year, and you can see God alive in this world.  You can see it in your own homes, on the roads you drive, and at the businesses you visit.  Sometimes it is easy to see; sometimes it is more hidden.  At the same time, you can see so many places in which God is needed. God asks us to live our faith out loud. He asks us to respond to the cry of those in need.  He asks us to take care of this world he created.

Pentecost, as an event, occurred on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, but Pentecost occurs each time we experience empathy with another, when we feel moved to act as God would act, when we see through God’s eyes, when we hear with God’s ears, when we step into the sanctuary and feel calmed by his presence.  God is with us all the time.  He is triune—as creator, as Jesus Christ the human son, and as the Holy Spirit that resides within all who believe.

So, happy birthday to The Church that was born when the earliest believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit on that harvest festival day in Jerusalem.  The Church grew from that point in time, that place in the world, to the Church it is today that wraps around this globe.

(Pause for the offering and hymn.)

Resuming the reflection:

Another birthday, so to speak, is included on this day, and that honors John Wesley’s epiphany when he was attending a study group on Aldersgate Street when “he felt his heart was strangely warmed.” This experience was on May 24, 1738, often referred to as the Aldersgate experience.

In an on-line article from UMC.org, Rev. Fred Day explains the experience:

. . . John Wesley was at a low point, having just returned from his disappointing missionary efforts at the colony of Georgia in the New World.

Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting on the evening of May 24th on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”

Rev. Fred Day: “He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me.” I experienced that God loved me. It was no longer something that was in my head, but it’s something that I felt in my heart.”

 

I can remember a conversation with my dad about knowing the truth of one’s own faith.  He said wondered if he really knew God because he had never had an experience that told him he did.  I know Dad experienced times when his heart “felt strangely warmed” because he also said explained that sometimes driving and listening to the news he would just start crying.  Surely these were moments when the Holy Spirit were speaking to him.

The Pentecost comes to each of us in our own way. Today, one of the closest Sundays to May 24, honors Wesley’s Aldersgate experience.  With Pentecost being celebrated today, what better time to acknowledge that Wesley’s personal Pentecost that moved The Church forward through his own work that has resulted in the denomination of which we are part—Methodism.

So today, let’s say happy birthday to the Wesley’s Methodist movement.

(Pause for a small celebration.  Singing and cake are possible additions.)

Concluding today’s reflection:  The Church Evolves:  50years as United Methodists

And The Church continues to evolve.  The Methodist denomination that grew out of Wesley’s ministry has also evolved.  Today the United Methodist Church celebrates 50 years.  In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical Brethren Church.  Personally I can remember that because I had a classmate who was a member of the Evangelical Brethren Church and when the announcement was made, I wondered if she would begin attending with me.  (She did not; but she also lived in another community so I have no idea where she worshipped.)  That merger was 50 years ago:

[Show the UMC.org video on You Tube.}

So, another happy birthday we say to the United Methodist Church.  The Church continues.  Each denomination has its own story.  The heritage is filled with changes because humanity is static, every-changing, too. Therefore, The Church continues to evolve.  The stories in the stained glass window(s) capture the history, but it cannot freeze the evolution of The Church.

The United Methodist Church is currently undergoing another stage of change.  The social and cultural changes that are challenging today’s people are beginning to be addressed by so many organizations and the United Methodist Church is one of them.

The Council of Bishops has worked for several years to create appropriate amendments to the Book of Discipline that reflect the Christian values in today’s global culture.  The Bishops finally submitted five amendments:

  1. The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6. This new paragraph would have focused on gender justice. (66.5%)

 

  1. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in “The Book of Discipline.” If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added “gender,” “ability,” “age” and “marital status” to the protected membership groups. (61.3%)

 

III. The third amendment dealt with the election of delegates to the General Conference as contained in Paragraph 34. As ratified, the amendment adds this sentence to Paragraph 34: “Such elections shall include open nominations from the floor by the annual conference, and delegates shall be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the ballots cast.”  (90.3%)

 

  1. The fourth amendment clarified the time of election of bishops in Central Conferences as contained in Paragraph 46. As ratified, the amendment adds the following words to Paragraph 46: “provided that episcopal elections in central conferences shall be held at a regular, not an extra, session of the central conference, except in the case where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.” (92.9%)

 

  1. The fifth proposed amendment adds language to Paragraph 50 regarding how the Council of Bishops holds its individual members accountable for their work. As ratified, the amendment adds the following sentence to the end of Paragraph 50: “These provisions shall not preclude that adoption by the General Conference of provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.”(81.2%)

 

The amendments had to receive 2/3 majority to be passed, and much to their own surprise, the first two amendments did not receive the required 2/3 majority (the percentage of yes votes are indicated in parenthesis after each amendment).

This is the reaction by the Council of Bishops:

“While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church,” said the Council statement.

 

Another surprise was the expressed by the female bishops who wrote in their letter:

“Like Rachel weeping for her children, so we as episcopal leaders weep for our church. We weep for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm that is inflicted upon women and girls because of this action. We weep for those who are denied the ability to use their gifts to make a difference in the world. We also weep for those who are not protected from exclusion in the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”

 

On May 7, 2018, Bishop Robert Farr, our state’s bishop made the following statement:

I am saddened and disappointed that two of the constitutional amendments related to the right of girls, women, and other vulnerable groups did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church. Please know that as your bishop in Missouri, I am firmly committed to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church. I stand beside the active and retired women bishops’ statement released alongside the announcement.  . . .

 

While I believe we have made progress in Missouri, I know we have miles to go before we realize gender justice in the Church. Both amendments passed handily in the Missouri Conference at 90% and 80% respectively. In fact, it passed in both of our partner conferences in Mozambique, too, by even greater margins.

 

The Church evolves.  We are connectional, but as a congregation we are responsible for carrying out God’s work in all the ways that we can, as best as we can, for as long as we can.  The Church is all denominations and how our community defines itself is by the work of this church family in relation to the community in which it exists.  The Church is much more than its discipline and its connectional organization.  The Church is the action of the Holy Spirit within us.  This Pentecost Sunday is a time to review the birth, the growth and the evolution of The Church since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The story continues. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear All-knowing Lord,

 

Thank you for the Holy Spirit

            Who is your presence within us.

Thank you for the earliest Apostles

            Who established The Church.

Thank you for all the reformers

            Who continued The Church’s growth.

Thank you for accepting efforts

            That keep The Church evolving.

 

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

            To continue your work

            Sharing the story

            Loving one another

Guide us to listen carefully

            In how to work together

            In how to grow the church

            In how to serve one another.

Guide us to see this world

            By the power of the Holy Spirit

            By the vision of Jesus Christ

            By your unlimited love.

 

May our work reflect your perfection.

May our work continue the story.

May our work strangely warm others hearts.

 

In you name, Heavenly Father,

And in your son Jesus Christ’s,

And through the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Mothering: Susanna Wesley Style

Sermon for Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018.  Susanna Wesley is one of the figures included in the Church of Resurrection’s, Leawood, KS, stained glass window which has loosely tied the sermons together for the past several months.

            Just imagine where The Church would be without mothers.   Mothers have raised children perpetuating their culture’s faith foundation even before Jesus was born.  Looking at the COR window, the images include other mothers, too, but Susanna Wesley cannot be ignored within our tradition.

John Wesley learned his faith and developed his methods from his mother’s teaching.  He along with his nine other brothers and sisters including Charles, were raised in a devout Church of England family.  Their father was Samuel Wesley, a priest in the Church of England, who even left the family for a year simply over a political argument with Susanna.

The article from historyswomen.com quickly introduces Susanna Wesley as the Mother of Methodism:

As a wife and mother in a small 18th century English parish Susanna Wesley herself received little recognition for how she managed her household, raised and educated more than a dozen children and coped with a sometimes impecunious, idealistic and occasionally difficult clergyman husband. Yet from her personal influence and loving home came a son who would experience a spiritual awakening and use that inspiration to begin a ministry that would fill a void in the national spiritual life and also develop into a world wide church. Indeed, it might be said that the movement called Methodism had its foundations in the home of Susanna Wesley.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

I have no idea if Mom and Dad connected my name with Susanna Wesley, but I do know that Mom certainly referred to Susanna after I had my two kids.  Susanna had ten children who survived beyond infancy, but I clearly remember one of Mom’s pieces of advice that I am sure is familiar to many:  “You need to give each one an hour.  Susanna Wesley had ten kids and she devoted one hour to each one.”

Now, I am not certain if that is completely accurate, but I did find a similar statement in historyswomen.com biography:  She gave each child individual attention by purposely setting aside a regular time for each of them.  [Ibid.] A second website, christianitytoday.com, added this statement: Susanna made it a rule for herself to spend an hour a day with each of the children over the period of a week.

One thing I do know is that Mom greatly respected Susanna Wesley and so did her own son.  My mom also told me how the family’s home burned and John almost died. The biography on christianitytoday.com also affirmed Mom’s references:

After the fire of 1709 family discipline broke down, but Susanna managed to restore it later. She paid special attention to John, who was almost lost in the fire. He referred to himself as “a brand plucked from the burning fire,” and his mother said that she intended to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child that Thou hast so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been, that I may do my endeavors to instill into his mind the disciplines of Thy true religion and virtue.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

Today we honor our mothers, true; but consider where today’s church would be without Wesley’s mother.  She was the daughter of a priest, she married a priest, and she mothered a priest (remember John Wesley was ordained in the Church of England as a priest).  Her personal upbringing greatly influenced her mothering.  One can only speculate how the scriptures prepared her for that role.

Looking at the Old Testament, the wisdom of King Solomon is found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon/SongsSurely Susanna knew these words well:

Scripture:  Proverbs 22:17-21

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.
20 I have written thirty sayings for you,
filled with advice and knowledge.
21 In this way, you may know the truth
and take an accurate report to those who sent.

 

Proverbs are“short, concise sentences that convey moral truths,” as explained in the Life Application Study Notes.  These statements cover

“a range of topics, including youth and discipline, family life, self-control and resisting temptation, business matters, words and the tongue, knowing God, marriage, seeking the truth, wealth and poverty, immorality, and, of course, wisdom [defined as applying knowledge/facts to life]. [p. 1306]

 

As Susanna was raised in a religious home, she must have known these proverbs well.  In an UMC.org feature by Joe Lovino, a letter she wrote to John outlines her mothering tips. The tips are outlined in these categories:

  1. Religious education
  2. Education
  3. Order and Discipline
  4. Sleep
  5. Meals and Dining
  6. Manners

 

Reading through Proverbs 10-24, which is titled “Wisdom for All People,” many of Susanna’s tips seem to echo several proverbs.

Additionally, Susanna practiced self-discipline, too. In fact, her prayer life was extremely important, and I stumbled into one blog that discussed her use of a “prayer apron”:

When Susanna was young, she promised the Lord that for every hour she spent in entertainment, she would give to Him in prayer and in the Word.  Taking care of the house and raising so many kids made this commitment nearly impossible to fulfill. She had no time for entertainment or long hours in prayer!  She worked the gardens, milked the cow, schooled the children and managed the entire house herself.  So, she decided to instead give the Lord two hours a day in prayer!

She struggled to find a secret place to get away with Him.  So she advised her children that when they saw her with her apron over her head, that meant she was in prayer and couldn’t be disturbed.  She was devoted to her walk with Christ, praying for her children and knowledge in the Word no matter how hard life was. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at http://sharonglasgow.com%5D

Certainly today’s mothers know the difficulty of finding quiet prayer time; therefore, let us quiet our own lives, consider throwing an apron over our heads, too, and spend some time in prayer:  (The practice in our church family is to join in a time of prayer during our worship, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.)

Reading through Susanna’s letter to John, provides today’s mothers solid advice on raising their families.  Even though few families have ten kids living in the one house, the wisdom of her motherly advice is worthy of review.

  • Religious education:

Devotions:  “The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s prayer. . .

Worship and music:  “. . . the day began with reading or singing a psalm, reading an Old Testament chapter, and saying private prayers—all before breakfast.  At the end of the school day, they paired up to read a psalm and a New Testament chapter.”

Sabbath:  . . .The children “were very early made to distinguish the Sabbath from other days. . .”

  • Education

Focus:  School was 9-12 noon, and 2-5 pm

No goofing off:   “Rising out of their places or going out of the room, was not permitted unless for good cause. . .

Reading:  Each child was taught to read at age five. . .

  • Order and discipline

Routine:  a tight schedule. . . [with] times assigned for naps, education, meals, and bedtime.

Self-regulation:  Susana believed “self-will is the root of all sin and misery,” . . worked to help her children develop self-control.

Forgiveness  . . . never be punished for the same offense twice.

Peace  . . . household was not chaotic . . . much quietness as if there had not been a child among them. . .

  • Sleep

Bedtime  . . .all in bed by 8:00 pm whether they were ready for sleep or not.

Naps  infants . . . napped on a schedule. . .to bring them to a regular course of sleeping

  • Meals and dining

Dining  Mealtime was family time.

No snacking

Choosing meals  . . . expected to eat was served.

Medicine  . no problem when “. . . used to eat and drink what was given them”

  • Manners

Polite speech  be polite. . . [if] wanted something they were to ask

No lying  . . .if confess it and promise to amen, they would not be punished.

Respect for property  . . . taught to keep their hands off of another’s stuff. . .

 

Mothers all know the struggles to raise children, and Susanna was like all mothers yet today.  She knew how difficult managing a household can be much less homeschooling the ten children.  And among those ten children were two sons John and Charles Wesley.

The Church grew as John adapted his own organizational methods to take God’s message to those beyond the doors of the Church of England and even across the Atlantic to the United States

John’s brother Charles worked side by side with John and is accredited with writing so many hymns that appealed to the populace:

[Charles]was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world’s greatest hymn writer. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at Christianitytoday.com]

 

Susanna’s motherhood was not easy.  Susan Glasgow’s blog summarizes Susanna’s motherhood:

A devastated home isn’t always apparent on first impression, is it? Susanna Wesley was married to a preacher.  They had 10 children of which, two grew up to bring millions of souls to Christ. That would be John and Charles Wesley.  It’s a powerful story if you stop there, isn’t it?

But, behind the door of her home, hopeless conditions were the norm.  She married a man who couldn’t manage money.  They disagreed on everything from money to politics.  They had 19 children.  All except ten died in infancy.  Sam (her husband) left her to raise the children alone for long periods of time.  This was sometimes over something as simple as an argument.

One of their children was crippled.  Another couldn’t talk until he was nearly six years old.  Susanna herself was desperately sick most of her life.  There was no money for food or anything.  Debt plagued them.

. . .One of her daughters got pregnant out of wedlock and the man never married her.  She was devastated, but remained steadfast in prayer for her daughter.

 

The Church continues through the efforts of mothers everywhere.  Susanna Wesley may be the mother of the Methodist denomination, but she is really the same as Christian mothers everywhere.  Her model of mothering includes the self-discipline of works of piety her son outlines:

  1. Reading, meditating and studying scriptures
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Regularly attending worship
  5. Healthy living
  6. Sharing our faith with others

 

The model of Susanna Wesley reflects much of the wisdom shared in the book of Proverbs.  As our opening scripture shares, we are . . .

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.

Today, we can turn to Proverbs and share with others the wisdom, too.  If Susanna can do so, so can we.

[Distribute at least 30 proverbs among those in attendance and have them read them aloud to the others.]

 

Thank you to Susanna Wesley for her mothering skills.  Today, we can understand how challenging it is for mothers in our world by realizing that mothers have always managed life challenges.  The key is to study scripture and to raise our children the best that we can, teaching them the wisdom found in scripture.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for providing words of wisdom

as we find in the scripture.

Thank you for Susanna Wesley

raising her children in faith.

 

Guide us to continue following leaders

who live faithful lives  based on scripture.

Guide us to teach our children

to do all that they can for all they can.

 

May our efforts continue The Church’s work

carrying your story forward.

May our work demonstrate the true wisdom

in loving one another as we want to be loved.

 

Thank you for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Thank you for Susanna, the mother of John.

Thank you for loving us, your children.

 

In your name,

In the name of Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Riding The Church’s Circuit

Sermon for May 6, 2018.  This continues the connection to the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  This sermon focus’s on Francis Asbury, but also explains a personal decision effective July 1, 2018.  The Methodist itineracy continues.

 

            Searching through the images of the COR’s (Leawood, KS) stained glass window, I found Francis Asbury.  Yes, the name is familiar to Methodists, but how does his story demonstrate how The Church moved forward?

As Methodists, we may think that our denomination is the first church that used the circuit riders, but the practice actually began much earlier.  Consider even the Apostles who were commissioned by Jesus himself. Interestingly there is a parallel between the story of Philip and the Eunuch and a story of Francis Asbury meeting a freedman.

The story is in Acts 8:26-40 (NLT):

     26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

     30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

     31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

     32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

     34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

     36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

 

The Church grew because the Apostles took to the road sharing the Good News.  Interesting that the Apostles were not first known as Circuit Riders, in fact, the title Circuit Rider is believed to begin with the Wesleyan movement.

An on-line article from the UMC’s General Commission on Archives and History, includes a brief summary of the development of the circuit riders:

John Wesley’s Methodist plan of multiplemeeting places called circuits required an itinerating force of preachers.  A circuit was made up of two or more local churches (sometimes referred to as societies) in early Methodism.  In American Methodism circuits were sometimes referred to as a “charge.”  A pastor would be appointed to the charge by his bishop. During the course of a year he was expected to visit each church on the charge at least once, and possibly start some new ones. At the end of a year the pastors met with the bishop at annual conference, where they would often be appointed to new charges.  A charge containing only one church was called a station.  The traveling preachers responsible for caring for these societies, or local churches and stations, became known as circuit- riders, or sometimes saddlebag preachers.  They traveled light, carrying their belongings and books in their saddlebags.  Ranging far and wide through villages and wilderness, they preached daily or more often at any site available be it a log cabin, the local court house, a meeting house, or an outdoor forest setting. Unlike the pastors of settled denominations, these itinerating preachers were constantly on the move.  Their assignment was often so large it might take them 5 or 6 weeks to cover the territory.  [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

Francis Asbury, included in the stained glass window, is credited as the leader of the American Methodist Episcopal movement that grew through the work of the circuit riders.  In the Wikipedia biography on Asbury, a meeting with a freedman, Henry “Black Harry” Hosier might compare to Philip’s meeting with the Ethopian Eunuch:

In 1780, he met the freedman Henry “Black Harry” Hosier, a meeting Asbury considered “providentially arranged”. Hosier served as his driver and guide and, though illiterate, memorized long passages of the Bible while Asbury read them aloud during their travels. He eventually became a famous preacher in his own right, the first African American to preach directly to a white congregation in the United States. [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

The Church grows through the efforts of those called to ministry whether in the pulpit or whether in the saddle.  Asbury carried the Methodist movement into a growing denomination during the earliest years of this country’s existence following the Revolutionary War.

The circuit rider images have faded into our memories.  These Christians answered a call into ministry that was filled with challenges as simple as where one might find food, clothing and shelter along the paths between settlements.  The circuit rider’s lifestyle did not lend itself to establishing a home base or even a family.  They made friends, but the work was so demanding that it frequently took a toll on the health.

In the GCAH article on circuit riders, the lifespan of circuit riders typically was no more than 30 years of age.  Asbury came to the US at the age of 26, and he lived until 1816—71 years old.  Of course, Asbury also became one of the American co-superintendents, now more akin to that of a Bishop, with Thomas Coke being the second one.  (The Methodist publishing service Cokesbury is named for these two men.)

In the final paragraph of Asbury’s autobiographical flier (bulletin’s insert), one can see the numerical evidence of his work:

… in 1784, Asbury had 15,000 members and 83 preachers to shepherd.  Thirty years later, he herded 212,000 members, 700 ordained pastors, and 2,000 lay preachers.

 

Today, the United Methodist Church data services provides these figures:

World UM US Africa, Asia & Europe
Lay Members 7,064,602 5,663,340
Clergy Members 44,080 11,859
Baptized Members 571,507 N/A
Local/Organized Churches 31,867 12,255
Districts 419 451
Annual Conferences 56 80
Bishops/Episcopal Areas 46 20
Jurisdictions 5 N/A

 

Asbury and Coke answered God’s call to ministry and took John Wesley’s Methodist movement and created the American Methodist denomination that continues today as the United Methodist Church.

Today’s UMC congregations still remain in connection using the itinerant system of appointment.  The itineracy, as defined on line by the UMC website, is a result of the circuit riders:

The system in The United Methodist Church by which pastors are appointed to their charges by the bishops. The pastors are under obligation to serve where appointed. The present form of the itineracy grew from the practice of Methodist pastors traveling widely throughout the church on circuits. Assigned to service by a bishop, they were not to remain with one particular congregation for any length of time.

 

I am convinced that the artist who selected the figures to include in the stained glass window consciously chose those who have answered God’s call to ministry and have continued the mission of The Church despite all the trials and tribulations that batters Christians.  I am glad that he included Francis Asbury, because the history of our denomination grew from his work.

Wesley sat the bar for his followers:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

 

These words are so engrained in my psyche that it is makes accepting my own efforts as adequate.  Over the last three years, I have felt a pulling to do something else. I cannot define it.  I can only say, I know there is something more that I am to do.  The district superintendent has listened, questioned, and advised me.  Two weeks ago, we met and he asked what I needed. His perception was that I was tired and needed rest.

The stained glass window has inspired much of my research and guided me through these past few months.  The story of Teresa of Avila seemed to open a new awareness within me of my theology differently than any of the other stories. I felt a thrill and a hunger for more.

I have read I John over and over.  I have turned to the gospel of John several times over the last month, and the pull to do something more continues to grow.  I finally heard the DS say, “You are tired.”

Yes, I am tired.  I am so mentally and spiritually tired that I cannot hear God’s direction.  Therefore, I will not be taking an appointment at this time.  I suspect I will need at least six months of rest, to read, to listen, and to pray about the next appointment—whether or not it is a pulpit or some other form of ministry.

From John’s first letter, I am focusing on knowing God as light, love, and life.  I have more work to do; but to do it, I must rest.  Please hear John’s words:

  • I John 1:5-7This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

  • 1 John 3:16 16 We know what real loveis because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
  • 1 John 3:18  18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we loveeach other; let us show the truth by our actions.
  • 1 John 5:11-12 11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not havelife.

When one completes the Course of Study, one of the final requirements is to write one’s own credo.  I decided to review it because so much scripture that I have highlighted as support for my credo is located in the writings of John.  I am hopeful that you will hear these words and recognize something about me:

I believe in the Triune God,

Father, the Creator;

Son, Jesus Christ the Teacher;

And the Holy Spirit, an ever-present ally.

As a believer.

I accept the responsibility to live a God-centered life.

I accept the responsibility to love this creation.

I accept the responsibility to love one another.

As a member of The Church, I believe

                        I need to do all that I can

                        For all that I can

                        In all the ways that I can.

 

Once called, always to serve.  To serve in the pulpit and to join in community with each one of you is to love. Here in this sanctuary, I find light, I find love, and I find life.

As the next few weeks lead us to find new directions, I cannot wait to share more of the stories of The Church.  We continue to grow together in fellowship, much as John concludes that first letter:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts

Concluding prayer (in unison):

            Dear Loving Father,

 

            You are the light, chasing away darkness.

            You are love, binding your children together.

            You are life, always and forever.

           

            Guide us in turning on the light for others.

            Guide us in loving one another.

            Guide us in living for life eternal.

 

            Help us to find ways to chase away sin’s darkness.

            Help us to demonstrate love through our actions.

            Help us to live life in full connection

                        through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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Prayer-filled Lent Reflection #3: Praying for justice

given on Sunday, March 8, 2015 (due to the winter weather conditions, the 2nd Sunday in Lent had to be canceled at the rural churches)

Okay, I admit that last week’s winter snow disrupted my Lenten resolve. Snow days can bring welcome breaks from our daily routines and provide us with a day of rest and delightful surprises of nature’s beauty. Certainly these are welcome, but a Sunday snow day? Last week’s Sunday snow day broke into my prayer-filled Lent.

The original plan for the second Sunday in Lent was to focus on Communion and praying for the Church—the universal church, the denomination, and the local churches. The path developed a huge pothole and I hit it!

In fact, I began thinking about re-routing the entire Lenten theme and start all over again. I looked over my notes, reviewed the acronym PATH, read the lectionary, and prayed.

When Jesus met with the disciples for the last supper together, no one present knew—except for Judas—the changes that were about to occur. From our perspective today, that supper was the initiation of the universal church.

The 2,000 years since that supper has created a social phenomena that has sustained cultural and historical challenges that lead to reform creating an institution that reflects all the various ways Christians choose to practice worship and to fulfill the Great Commission. The Church does need prayer for God’s help in maintaining its integrity and its mission.

The mission from that first day was to bring about change in a world filled with corruption. The mission was to transform a rigid, inflexible, intolerant culture that had distanced itself from God.

And snow day or not, prayer is needed for The Church, but today the global culture demands attention and as Christians, prayer is a force that cannot be stripped from any one person, one community, one denomination nor any other cultural unit that focuses on fulfilling God’s mission.

Snow day or not, prayers must continue for the well-being of The Universal Church, and Christians must face the reality of the world armed with all their individual gifts and prayer. Prayer is the most powerful tool Christians can use to confront the social injustice that attacks God’s children anywhere, well everywhere!

Within our denomination, prayer is the foundation for the action we take confronting all the injustice we can. John Wesley was an activist. He did not accept the ‘hands-off’ approach to being Christian. He saw and demonstrated that being Christian meant literally serving as God’s hands and feet.

The Wesleyan method of Christianity meant looking at the world around oneself, as God would see it. What was good was praised; what was bad took prayer and action. The Methodist movement has become so refined and formalized that the action has evolved into a mission force throughout the world.

The Methodist’s have even incorporated prayer into action by including it in its Book of Discipline, the formal document that structures the denomination. Part IV of that document is “Social Principles:”

The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. The Social Principles are a call to all members of the United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice. (p.97)

 

The Social Principles are not law, but an effort to help focus Christians, especially Methodists, to identify problems within the culture that need attention in order to protect God’s creation and his children—us—in this world.

Our prayer-filled Lent must extend throughout the year to put our faith into action. The Christian lifestyle includes dealing with the challenges to our lives, in every facet, most of which are included in the social principles. Just consider the categories, which begin with paragraph 160:

  1. The natural world
  2. The nurturing community
  3. The social community
  4. The economic community
  5. The political community
  6. The world community

 

Simply reviewing the six categories, the completeness of the world is identified. There is no single factor of our lives that is not included within those six categories. And our Christian responsibility is to do all we can to help manage our lives and the lives of all people all around the world.

Such an inclusive list of social concerns easily fills Lent, but can fill each day throughout our lives (not just a season but every day). Looking more closely at each category provides an idea of how inclusive and how diverse the prayer topics are. The list also covers some of the very news topics we are witnessing daily. [The following quotes are taken from the Book of Discipline, Par IV: Social Principles.]

 

  1. The Natural World: “…we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. …Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies.”

 

  1. The Nurturing World: “… We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals. … therefore support social climates in which human communities are maintained and strengthened for the sake of all persons and their growth. We also encourage all individuals to be sensitive to others by using appropriate language when referring to all persons. … We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ loved and accepted us.”

 

  1. The Social Community: “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. ..We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. … We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status.”

 

  1. The Economic Community: “We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order. Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation. We believe private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing business, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable. … We believe that persons come before profits …and encourage the sharing of ideas in the workplace, cooperative and collective work arrangements.”

 

  1. The Political Community: While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. … The rightful and vital separation of church and state … should not be misconstrued as the abolition of all religious expression from public life. … Citizens have a duty to abide by laws duly adopted by orderly and just process of government. But governments, no less than individuals, are subject to the judgment of God. …we recognize the right of individuals to dissent … refraining from violence. … We offer our prayers for those in rightful authority who serve the public, and we support their efforts to afford justice and equal opportunity for all people.”

 

  1. The World Community: “God’s world is one world. … We recognize that no nation or culture is absolutely just and right in its treatment of its own people, nor is any nation totally without regard for the welfare of its citizens. … We affirm the right and duty of people of all nations to determine their own destiny. … We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. … We reaffirm our historic concern for the world as our parish and seek for all persons and peoples full and equal membership in a truly world community.”

 

Lent is a time for prayer and reflection. Our world is complex and it is so easy to become consumed by all the issues that confront us personally and then all those social and cultural issues played out in front of us in real life, reported on the news, or presented in fictional worlds of television, movies, and now games. Prayer must become a constant in our lives if we are to maintain the Christian lifestyle we have committed ourselves to living.

Each day, pray. Each newscast you watch, pray. Every conversation that focuses on the ills of politics, work environments, sports competitions, and more, pray.

Keep God informed. Keep the channel open between you and God. Listen for God. He is telling us what we should be doing all the time he can. Prayer is the conversation and as in all conversations, we must share and we must listen.

We must simply pray, but when God tells us what to do, we must act, too. We must look around our community and call on our own gifts and skills to act. We must find ways to actively be Christians through writing letters to business and political leaders. We must find ways to help feed and clothe those in our communities right here but also around the world. We must identify a problem, then find a solution, and then do whatever we can to get it done. With prayer, I know it can be done.

Closing prayer:

Thank you, God!

(Praise)      You have given us the world filled with glories.

You have given us communities to support us.

You have given us gifts to care and share with others.

(Apologize) And, sadly, we misuse and abuse all you have given.

Time and again, we complain rather than act.

We look away and avoid our responsibility.

(Thank)      Thank you for listening to all our groaning.

Thank you for being patient and waiting on us.

Thank you for guiding us into action.

(Help)        Help us to move our thoughts into prayers.

Help us to hear your words above all else.

Help us to work with one another

to love one another,

to make disciples of Christ,

to transform this world. –Amen

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Building Our Christian Foundation Series: 2. The Sacrament of Baptism

given on Sunday, January 18, 2015

  1. The Sacrament of Baptism

 

The weeks after Christmas traditionally review the story of the Baby Jesus and his early, pre-ministry years. The Bible provides only small pictures of those first 30 years as Jesus grew up, learned a trade, and prepared for the ministry he was born to provide.

One of the stories in the scripture is that of John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin. As you remember, when Jesus’ mother Mary discovered she was expecting, she went to visit her older relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). When Elizabeth learned she was expecting, the Holy Spirit filled her and she knew that Mary’s baby was the Messiah. Elizabeth herself was expecting and she gave birth to a son John.

The Scripture tells the story and provides Christians the very foundation that supports our faith. Still the Scripture needs careful study and analysis to maintain our strong foundation. As all builders know, a strong foundation will need monitoring and attention throughout the life of the building or it can deteriorate. The building can fail just as one’s Christian lifestyle if we do not continue reading and studying the Scripture.

The Scripture also provides the other building blocks for our faith. The story of Jesus’ baptism is one more brick in our Christian foundation and it supports another—the sacrament of Baptism. One thought might be if Jesus is baptized, then we need to be baptized; and that is one basic way to rationalize our own baptism, but there is more to the sacrament than just dipping some water over our head.

First, what is a sacrament? Basically a sacrament is a religious act of outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace, in particular.

 

Sacraments are very important to the life of the Church. They are a means of grace. John Wesley said, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace[The Means of Grace. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john_wesley/sermons/016.htm%5D. This means a sacrament is an outward action that represents God’s giving His grace on the inside. They are God’s channels for supplying His grace to human beings. [Accessed on January 17, 2015 at https://www.nph.com/vcmedia/2369/2369939.pdf]

 

A second sacrament that the United Methodist Church practices is communion that is included more frequently in our calendar than baptisms.

Today we are going to reaffirm our baptisms because the UMC honors any Christian baptism. Once baptized, there is no reason for a second baptism. Of course, if one has not been previously baptized, participating in the reaffirmation can include a first-time baptism with a few additional questions.

For those who are unfamiliar with UMC baptism, the denomination’s website provides this abbreviated set of descriptors:

  • Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere.
  • Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God’s love and forgiveness of our sins.
  • Persons of any age can be baptized.
  • We baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring.
  • A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his/her life.

 

As we read through the liturgy (the written script in the hymnal), we should see the way these descriptors are blended into the language. The one thing you will not see is the action of sprinkling, immersion or pouring by the pastor upon the members. In a reaffirmation, the already-baptized members dip their own hands into the water or touch it and decide how they want to experience the water on their own. (If you are not baptized, we can do so today or we can make a plan to have a formal baptism at another time.)

Understanding baptism is often assumed and not reviewed as much as communion or even the Christian seasons of Advent and Lent. Baptism may not even be part of one’s memory if our parents had us baptized as infants. Participating in the reaffirmation gives us a review and may even stir up that tiny little fire into a raging flame. We cannot predict when the Holy Spirit will make its presence known, but we open the door to it when we are baptized.

One of the explanations for baptism uses the metaphor of a door:

From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God’s grace by reciting the renunciations, affirming one’s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the “Body of Christ: in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.

 

Entering into the Christian family through the door of baptism, begins a relationship which carries responsibility. Baptism is an open sign that we have accepted Jesus as our savior and that his life, death and resurrection was done so that we might have salvation, life eternal.

A covenant means responsibility. Baptism is an outward sign that we believe, and in the liturgy that belief is outlined with the Apostles’ Creed. It explains each part of what we believe as Christians. When we reach that point in the reaffirmation ritual, read each line, pause, reflect, and then move on.

Sometimes being a Christian is stressful because we are challenged by the secular world around us. At baptism, adults can understand the responsibility of accepting God’s commandments to love God and to love one another. We also accept the commandment to share the story and make disciples of others for the transformation of the world.

Right now, those responsibilities are being challenged. What is swirling around us is evilness. We, as baptized children of God, we must accept the job of living our faith openly. We raise our children to follow God’s law. We model Christian lifestyle in our communities. And we participate in ministry so the Word can reach others.

As for our children, they too are part of the Christian church. The United Methodist Church does practice infant baptism, but until that child can make the decision to join the church, it is our responsibility to provide the teaching, the guidance, and the practices of living our Christian faith. As parents, if we baptize infants, we are acting on their behalf.

Today’s reaffirmation ritual is an excellent time to teach them that they are baptized. If they are not baptized, we need to ask them if they are ready. If they are unsure, that is their choice. If anybody wants to be baptized, they are welcome to do so. If there are still questions that have not been answered, then ask. We are building foundations so now is the time to make sure we understand, that we have made the right choices, and that we move forward in the process of building our Christian foundations.

Please join me in a closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Today we remember our baptism

and offer baptism to your newest children.

We confess we have forgotten

our own baptism and its significance.

 

Remind us that water symbolizes

the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

During these moments,

remind us, too, of our parenting role

as we promise to help others

build their own Christian foundations.

 

As we depart today,

fill us with your Holy Spirit.

Knowing our foundation is strong

because we love one another

as you love us. –Amen.

 

*Let us now turn to the UMH #50 for the reaffirmation of our baptism.

 

 

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