April 16, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Both my mom and my wife’s mom are in their early 90’s and still pretty independent, living in their own homes. The night after Palm Sunday the apartment building Jean’s mother lives in caught fire. Her mother and all of the other tenants evacuated and no one was injured (except one of the 40 some firefighters who responded to the fire). The building will have to be demolished.
It’s been a challenging time. Jean has been in Montana for almost two weeks now, getting her mom relocated in an assisted living facility and trying to clean up the mess. By Good Friday she was really looking for some Easter.
In the midst of it all, we’ve found ourselves filled with gratitude. Gratitude for the smoke alarm that awakened her mom and the person who got her out of the building. Gratitude for friends who have housed, fed and done laundry for Jean these past weeks. Gratitude for family and friends willing to dig through charred and smoke damaged remains to seek out treasured items. Gratitude for the support of our faith communities. Just to name a few.
I’ve never been one to ascribe disaster to God’s plan, but I’ve always been one to believe in the power of resurrection love to transform and redeem even the most broken of conditions. Glimpses of that Easter Jean was looking for have been most apparent in the actions of Christ’s body in the world.
This evening I’m grateful for all of you who continuously point out the places God is at work, redeeming brokenness and bringing healing and new life.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
With Easter baskets and blow-up bunnies on sale in local stores and Easter goodies a distant (albeit yummy) memory, churches find themselves still celebrating Easter. Yes, we're out of sync with our broader culture. While the thrill of Easter has begun to fade around us, churches are still celebrating Jesus' resurrection, looking for his ongoing presence, and celebrating a fifty-day Easter Sabbath season. We hope that you and your church will enjoy this opportunity to be out of sync with our culture - may it show you new ways to delight in and care for the gifts that God entrusts to us in every season.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
In this "Great Fifty Day" Easter season, each edition of Radical Gratitude centers on the early church's observance of a fifty-day Sabbath (celebrating the Resurrection) and the importance of Sabbath observance in today's fast-paced, production/consumption-driven world. More than just a "day off" (or fifty days off), Sabbath provides a fertile space for change, new understanding, and rebirth.
Ancient midrash (rabbinical commentary) on the Genesis 1:1-2:4 creation story tell us that the seventh day/Sabbath was not simply God's day off. Rather, God had one more thing to create on this day: menuha - deepest tranquility, peace, delight, and rest for all creation. Menuha provided fertile space for learning, healing, and (eventually) new creation. Some rabbis even said the "goal" (telos) of God's creative activity was that God and the entire creation might experience the delights of menuha.
In honor of the risen "Lord of the Sabbath," let us (those called to steward God's gifts -- including the gift of menuha) reflect on what menuha might look like today and why it might be essential in our world.
St. Augustine of Hippo:*
"O Lord...you have made us and directed us toward yourself, and our heart is restless until we rest in you."
From Dee Dee Risher:**
"We are not content people. Indeed, there is an overwhelming cultural...bias against contentment. ...I suppose it's inevitable. Our social and economic structure has long been driven by discontent. Its survival hinges on its ability to foster in people a desire to want and consume more. In most of us, it has been successful. ...Given our worldview, a spirituality of contentment is threatening. A spirituality that would free us, creating space to exist and simply live in God, is the most radical, revolutionary spirituality one can cultivate."
Through observing the Sabbath (in whatever form you regularly observe it), we can enjoy blessed "rest in God" during our lifetimes, not just after them. Have you ever felt -- even if for just a brief moment -- a sense of "rest in God"? Take time to remember and offer thanks for this opportunity. How do/might you experience such moments on a regular basis?
*St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Book 1, Chapter 1):
St. Augustine lived from 354-430 C.E.
**Dee Dee Risher, "A Spirituality of Contentment," The Other Side, Summer 1992; bold added for emphasis. Dee Dee Risher is a writer and former editor of The Other Side magazine.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for Third Sunday of Easter
Revised Common Lectionary texts for April 22, 2012: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Today's Gospel reading uses a Greek word that occurs only four times in the New Testament: pselaphao, meaning to touch, grope, or mentally seek after. The risen Jesus uses this word in reference to himself: he invites his terrified, doubting disciples to look at him and to pselaphao him. Jesus invites his disciples - wrestling with grief, confusion, and fear - to not only glance at or lightly touch him, but to grope and understand his scarred (as we read in last week's text from John 20:24-29), very real flesh.* Through their groping, Jesus somehow transforms his disciples' fear and confusion into the familiar and deeply comforting: a simple meal and a profoundly fulfilling conversation.
In times of grief, confusion, and fear for what do we grope? In these times, some of us may grope for new material things (e.g., partake in "shopping therapy"), or in other distractions, pleasures, comforts, and sources of meaning. For all of us who have attempted to satisfy the groping of our souls in such ways, we may know the sort of restlessness, debt, emptiness, and even depression that these activities can breed (rather than alleviate).
When we find ourselves groping for answers, comfort, and meaning, we can remember this image from Luke: Jesus lovingly inviting his followers to grope for something that - at first - may seem strange and even repugnant. We can remember Jesus who invites his beloved followers to grope his resurrected body and the scarred, very real world through which Christ continues to reveal himself. We can still touch Christ through being in direct, compassionate relationship with the most vulnerable of creation. In accepting Christ's invitation, we may find that we are no longer alone in our soul groping. In accepting, we too may come to find ourselves suddenly resting/reclining at table with Jesus, and his/our fellow sisters and brothers, once again. Furthermore, such acceptance (at least according to Luke) precedes our work as "witnesses" (vs. 48) and God's stewards - it is a form of fertile "Sabbath" rest that precedes and allows for all other work.
*It was very important to "Luke" to declare that the risen Jesus have "flesh and bones" in order, at least in part, to refute prevalent (at that time) Docetic beliefs (i.e., that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body).
Image source: Hermanoleon Clipart.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
Jason Lee is a prominent name in these parts. Remember that his coming to the Pacific Northwest was precipitated by four Nez Perce from here who walked to St Louis seeking to learn about the white man's God and the Book of Heaven. By the time Lee and the others arrived here most of the Native Americans had died of white man's diseases like smallpox.
We're still seeking to be intentional about ministry to and with our Native American brothers and sisters in Oregon and Idaho. Our Native American Ministries Council leads the way for us.
Today as we bring our gifts and tithes and offerings, I invite you to give generously to the Native American Ministries offering as as a continuation of an effort begun long ago by Jason Lee.
Awareness and Action
April 22: Native American Ministries Sunday
"In this decade, two-thirds of Native people identify themselves, at least marginally, as Christians."* On this Native American Ministries Sunday, (April 26) consider some of the "scars" our Native American sisters and brothers have born and continue to bear:
- "Slavery in the Americas began with Native people. In California, until the Emancipation Proclamation, young women sold for $300, while children sold for as low as $50. California law allowed non-Indians to indenture Native people for up to 16 years for a fee of $2."
- "Many Native people were forced to convert to Christianity by European colonists. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, Native children were sent to church-sponsored boarding schools, where they were not allowed to speak their languages or practice their religions and customs. Often, those who did were beaten or isolated. As a result, many customs, languages, and religious practices were lost. The federal government banned some practices of Native religions until the 1972 Religious Freedom Act."
- "Native people still remain the poorest of all Americans. Misinformation, based on gaming revenues from a handful of wealthy tribes, results in under-funding of programs for the vast majority of Native people who live in desperate conditions."
- "Native people suffer violent crime at twice the rate of African Americans, and two and one half times the national average. Native people are twice as likely as African-Americans and three times more likely than whites to be victims of rape or aggravated assault."
- "Unemployment among Native people is 15%, about three times the national average. Unemployment on reservations is around 54%. Some reservations experience unemployment in rates higher than 80%."
- "A Harvard School of Public Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that American Indian/Alaska Natives have the lowest life expectancies in the country and, indeed, any nation in this hemisphere except Haiti. Indian people suffer disproportionately higher morbidity/mortality rates [when compared to] all U.S. populations, as shown (as follows): Alcoholism: 950%, Tuberculosis: 630%, Diabetes: 350%, Unintentional injury: 270%, Suicide: 70%, Pneumonia and Influenza: 61%, Homicide: 60%."
Study and Discuss:
Celebrate, Partner, and Share Gifts with Native American ministries on this Sunday. Worship resources and bulletins are available through the UMC web page.
*All of the quotes in this "Awareness" section come from United Methodist Communication's "Dancing with a Brave Spirit: Telling the Truth about Native America, 2005-2008."
“I have God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day. …
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together.”
--Psalm 4:7-8, The Message
According to Luke’s Gospel, when Mary, Joanna and Martha first encountered the resurrected Christ, they remembered and shared the good news. Memory leads to action, and we should remember the good news of Christ in our lives, too. As we recall God’s blessings, God leads us into service.
When I was in seminary, I received the Native American Seminary Award. It was one of the greatest honors ever bestowed upon me. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry gave me the award when I was studying at Duke University — The Divinity School.
The award is presented to Native American students earning a Master of Divinity or its equivalent at a United Methodist University Senate-approved seminary. It was a humbling experience to know I had the approval and the support of The United Methodist Church and every local congregation participating in the Native American Ministries Sunday special offering.
Studying at Duke was challenging. On the eve of my ordination, I was thankful for the support of my family and my church during my years of study.
Because memory leads to service, I committed myself to a lifetime of service to our United Methodist Church. The mountains and valleys I encountered in seminary remind me of God’s power and promise.
On this special Sunday, please remember God’s blessings and give generously to the Native American Ministries Sunday offering.
--The Rev. Matt Locklear, adapted from the North Carolina Annual Conference website.
Today is the United Methodist Festival of God’s Creation.
“As disciples of Christ,” says Resolution 1027, God’s Creation and the Church, “we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation. Accordingly, we call upon The United Methodist Church to adopt fresh ways to respond to the perils that now threaten the integrity of God’s creation and the future of God’s children.” (The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2008)
Here are five ways to engage faith communities through eco-justice. For more, visit www.nccecojustice.org/earthday.
1.Focus on food: Host a fellowship dinner that features locally produced food.
2.Limit transportation impacts: Carpool or arrange group bike rides to travel to church events.
3.Protect local waterways: Gather a group to clean up a local park or waterway.
4.Seek justice: Identify a vulnerable population in your community that suffers from an environmental injustice and discover ways to become more involved through education, fellowship and advocacy.
5.Study Scripture: Conduct a Bible study or an educational forum focused on local water, food or air issues.
--Adapted from the General Board of Church and Society website
God, our refuge,
Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
We thank You for this Sabbath time -
this sacred break from our longings, worries, busyness, and strivings -
this time to touch You once again.
We pray that all of Your creation
might know this kind of Sabbath rest,
especially the most fragile, scarred, and broken parts of Your creation.
Please accept these offerings
as a sign of our intention to help extend the blessings of Sabbath to all of Your creation.
In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
God of creation, today we celebrate the contributions of Native Americans to our churches and communities and your beautiful world, which you call us to nurture. Guide us to care for the earth and for the people — your children — who inhabit it. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of all creation, you have put a gladness in our hearts that goes far beyond any craving for food, drink, or the comforts that the world would offer us. Help us to see beyond the many desires for things that can't begin to bring us the contentment that being generous disciples will pour into our lives. As we present these gifts to you, may our offerings of service, of prayers, of witness, and of wealth be pleasing to you and fill our lives with the joy that is like no other. We pray in the name of the Risen Christ. Amen. (Psalm 4)
from General Board of Discipleship
Many a humble soul will be amazed to find that the seed it sowed in weakness, in the dust of daily life, has blossomed into immortal flowers under the eye of the Lord.
-Harriet Beecher Stowe