June 11, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I’m not a fan of American Idol, but because my wife and several colleagues are, I live in full awareness of the happenings on the program.
In the most recent season, a guy named Phillip Phillips won. His hot new single is called “Home.” As I listened to the words (remember I am a clergyperson and this is the time of year United Methodist pastors move to new appointments), I thought of the times I was sent to a new place wondering what it would be like to live there, only to learn that by grace, God turned the new place into home for me. So, I invite you to think of these words as the promise of God to you in your new place, or for that matter, in whatever place you find yourself.
Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road.
And although this wave is stringing us along,
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home
Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear.
The trouble it might drag you down,
If you get lost you can always be found.
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Once on a hike at Mt. Rainier, a fellow hiker marveled at the intricacy of wildflowers in radiant, full bloom. With great excitement she exclaimed, "Some people say that the devil is in the details. Well, I say that God is in the details!" This hiker's words are important to hear as we enter the season of Ordinary Time -- a name that can evoke a sense of tedium rather than excitement. Perhaps this is where we find God's realm: in the details of ordinary, everyday life.
In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, we come across an exquisite detail of life: the mustard seed. This dull, tiny seed may not evoke excitement until we view it through the lens of faith. When we do, we may discover that in it lies the fullness of God's realm of Grace. During Ordinary Time, may we all come to discover more fully the ways in which God is calling us to notice and cultivate every "mustard seed" of Grace that God entrusts to us.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
After Pentecost, we reenter the church season known as Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time first begins in Epiphany, stops on Ash Wednesday, resumes after Pentecost, and stops again just before Advent. The word "ordinary" doesn't mean dull or "business as usual"; it's simply the word that churches use to refer to the "ordinals" or numbering of Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost. In Ordinary Time, churches celebrate "the mystery of Christ not in one specific aspect but in all its aspects. The readings during the liturgies of Ordinary Time help to instruct us on how to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives."* What a blessing to have an entire season to explore this "mystery" and how it shapes our day-to-day living.
Throughout the first part** of this season, every edition of Radical Gratitude will touch on another fundamental question that Wesleyan stewardship raises: how do we, in our day-to-day lives, help to unveil God's Grace alive in the world? Several months ago, we introduced John Wesley's (the founder of United Methodism) stewardship "formula": "Earn all you can...Save all you can...Give all you can." The call to "earn all you can" was Wesley's way of inviting "the Methodists" to actively help unveil God's Grace, and God's in-breaking Kingdom, in the world today. Wesley's was not a call to acquisitiveness, hoarding, and overwork; to the contrary, "earn all you can" prohibits these things.
On this note, UMC Bishop Kenneth Carder writes:
"...Wesley's emphasis is on earning all you can through participating fully in God's healing and creative work in the world. His sermon ['On the Use of Money'] is actually a polemic against destructive ways of earning. How income is earned is as integral to Christian stewardship as what is done with the earnings. Wesley warns against earning money by hurting oneself or others or God's creation. ...'Earn all you can' is a call to vocation that contributes to God's mission of salvation (healing) of creation. Our labor and vocational choices and practices are part of the giving, not a means to personal gain."
In this season, may we all discover and celebrate the ways in which God constantly calls us to "earn all we can" for the salvation and healing of God's whole creation.
* From the Catholic site, CyberFaith.
**For the second part of the Ordinary Time season we'll explore another part of Wesley's stewardship formula.
***From Bishop Carder's presentation, " A Wesleyan Perspective on Christian Stewardship."
"The architects of McWorld** define the ultimate in terms of economic growth and economic efficiency and would have us believe that ultimate satisfaction will come from our increasing consumption of things. The mustard seed movement defines the ultimate in terms of God's kingdom breaking into the world to redeem a new global community from every tongue, tribe, and nation. And Jesus tells us that we will find our ultimate satisfaction not in seeking life but in losing it in service to others."
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179):
"God created humans so that we might cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly."
Where do you see "mustard seeds" of God's Kingdom/Kindom in the world today? How do you -- personally and as "church" -- nurture and cultivate these seeds?
*Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Versus McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future,(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).
**"McWorld" is a term that Sine, an evangelical minister, and others use to characterize the "new global economic order" (which is not synonymous with free-market economics) and the economic, political, and ideological power it wields.
Image: Hildegard of Bingen's illumination titled, "Cultivating the Cosmic Tree"
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary readings for June 17, 2012: 1 Samuel 15:34- 16:13; Psalm 20 or Psalm 72; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
In looking at the texts over the coming months, it's important to note that in Ordinary Time we take up Sunday-to-Sunday "continuous reading" of scripture. While the Revised Common Lectionary selects the scripture readings between Lent and Pentecost based on their relationship to one another, during Ordinary Time this is not the case. Throughout this season, the Hebrew Bible readings will begin with the stories surrounding David then move into Wisdom literature, the Epistle readings will explore four of Paul's letters, and the Gospel readings will come mostly from Mark. So, on any given Sunday, you may want to reflect on the Hebrew Bible, Epistle, and Gospel readings independent from one another; and yet, from time to time, you may discern common threads among them.
The seed parables in today's Mark passage are appropriate for the beginning of this verdant, spring/summer, "green" (the liturgical color of Ordinary Time) season. They are also important texts as we explore what it means to be God's stewards -- those who partner with God and others to help unveil God's living Kingdom/Kindom, God's realm of abundant, shared Grace. Using agricultural images (which would have been understood easily by farmers and farm laborers, but not necessarily the elite, in first-century Palestine), Jesus painted pictures of the mysteries of God's realm of Grace.
The first parable points to the fact that the God's Grace grows up freely -- "the earth produces of itself" -- just as God intends. God's entire creation is permeated with Grace that "awakens everything to life" (Hildegard of Bingen). And while we'll never fully comprehend or control such awakening and growth (v. 27), this parable suggests that we have important roles to play in the process of helping to reveal Grace to a world that hungers for it. Humans, in this parable, participate in sowing and harvesting that which God grows among us. Some of us sow the seeds of justice, compassion, peace... and then we wait. Some of us will see the fruits of our labors, while others will have to trust in God and in future generations of stewards who will harvest the fruits of the good seeds we've sown. This work of Christian stewardship requires patience, watchfulness, and trust.
The second parable centers on the little, unassuming mustard seed. Any gardener who has sown seeds from the mustard family (e.g., broccoli, collards, bok choy) knows how easy it can be to lose these tiny seeds. But, with a bit of good soil, water, time, and good stewardship these little, once-vulnerable seeds can grow into plants that fill an entire garden. The spread of God's realm of shared Grace is like the mustard seed -- like tiny, ordinary seeds (which some people might even call "weeds") that grow into an extraordinary source of nourishment and protection for many lives (e.g., "birds of the air" in Mark). Likewise, the fragile seeds of compassion, justice, mercy, and peace that we faithfully sow (often in an inhospitable world) and steward will indeed help to grow God's wildly growing Kingdom/Kindom. With faithful eyes, we see mustard seeds for what they truly will be: sustenance, protection, and Grace for all. As we find these seeds within and around us, may we protect and cultivate them with our full lives.
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:
In the twenty years since its inception, Africa University has grown from an enrollment of 40 students to more than 1,200. The two initial faculties – Agricultural and Natural Resources and Theology – have expanded to include Education, Health Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, Management and Administration and the Institute of Peace Leadership and Governance. The vast majority of its graduates have stayed in Africa, changing the continent, changing lives, and transforming the world. Even though it’s a long way away, it’s part of our ministry.
Today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of the opportunity we have to partner with our sisters and brothers in Africa to sow seed of hope and transformation.
Awareness and Action
UMCOR as "Seed Stewards"
This Sunday, as we reflect on the parable of the mustard seed, consider some of the small "seeds" that God entrusts to us that can be hope, life, and nourishment for others. For example, consider pennies that many of us actively try to "get rid of" or simply ignore and walk past on the sidewalk. Bread for the World reports that for "seven cents per American per day, hunger could be cut in half in the United States and worldwide by 2015."*
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a great steward of the "seeds" (small and big) that God entrusts to us: whether it's 7¢ per day or a "food bucket" or a "school kit" or a gift of your time, UMCOR will take these small gifts and combine them with gifts from other people to make a huge difference in the lives of others. To learn about all of the creative ways that you can give through UMCOR, please visit their "How to Give" web page or their "Volunteer Opportunities" page.
P.S. Here's an idea for Fathers Day: Instead of buying another necktie, how about making a donation to UMCOR in honor of someone who has been a father to you? This is a great way to express appreciation for those who give us life: sharing the gifts of life with others.
*Bread for the World
Image: An UMCOR community worker lifts young groundnuts to show how bountiful the crops would be come November's harvest. Credit: Stephen Guy/UMCOR
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”
--2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV
People with physical, developmental, intellectual and other disabilities – and their families – are loved children of God and welcome additions to The United Methodist Church.
“Disability Awareness Sunday is simply a way to acknowledge that our hearts, minds and doors are open to all people with disabilities,” said Beth DeHoff. She leads the Indiana Annual Conference Disability Concerns Team.
DeHoff’s son, Kyle, now 12, was born with Down syndrome. Speedway United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, has guided Kyle and his family through challenges related to Down syndrome, autism and leukemia.
“Churches are often seen as too rigid to welcome people with obvious disabilities,” said DeHoff, “but I saw how open my church was to my son, and I knew United Methodists could both minister to people with disabilities and be enriched by their presence and service.”
Today, Speedway offers various outreach programs for more than 100 people with disabilities and their families. Several have joined the church.
“On any given Sunday, our service is dotted with wheelchairs, with my son sitting on the floor in the front of the sanctuary rocking wordlessly to the music, with others vocalizing with excitement or pacing in the back,” said DeHoff.
“May of these individuals … participate in a program that gives back to the church with service projects as well. It’s a vibrant celebration of God’s people, and I believe everyone in our church benefits.”
--Adapted from the Indiana Annual Conference website
Disability Awareness Sunday is an opportunity to raise awareness of people with disabilities and to explore their full engagement in church life.
•Start with a planning committee and target community needs. Invite people with disabilities and their families to participate in worship and educational programs.
•Complete a church accessibility audit that involves church leaders and people with disabilities. Make your church as accessible as possible.
•Schedule an adult forum on living with a disability. Offer children a chance to meet people with disabilities, use a wheelchair and crutches, and learn sign language.
•Plan a worship service themed around God's love and acceptance. Ask people from your church community who have a disability or parent a child with a disability to share their experience.
•In worship planning, invite people with disabilities to share their gifts, but avoid putting people with disabilities “on display.”
•Use “people-first language” (the child who is blind, the man who is paralyzed).
•Emphasize that God made all people in God’s image and that all are part of the body of Christ.
--Adapted from “Ways to Celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday,” Reformed Church Press
Your Kingdom of Grace is growing wildly
all around and through our lives.
Ever gift that You entrust to us -- small and large --
is a seed for Your Kingdom's up-building.
Through this time of offering, teach us to
scatter these "seeds" broadly,
steward them lovingly,
and ready ourselves for harvest time.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Accepting God, you give each of us gifts, and everyone has something to offer. Forgive us when we assume one of your children cannot participate fully in worship and outreach. Help us to learn from one another. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Father God, these gifts that we give to you are like seeds that your church will sow in the world. We will marvel at how they take root and grow, but will remember that while we sow and nourish these, you alone are the giver of the growth and the harvest. Help us to be conscious of where we invest the seeds of our lives: in our families, in our church, in our communities, and in places around the world we will never see, but where you will likewise bring growth and harvest. And when the harvest day comes, gracious God, help us to remember that all good gifts have their start in your generous giving. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen. (Mark 4:26-34)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism. We have a love affair with "more" - and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not just a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us through."
-- Walter Bruggemann, "The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity" from Money & Faith Michael Schut, ed.