July 2, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Yesterday in worship we commissioned 25 youth and 9 adults who will be heading out this Saturday for a week-long mission trip. I know that they will be working hard scraping and painting and tearing down and building. They will also be building community, worshipping together and reflecting on their faith. They will make a difference in the community where they will serve. And, I am confident they will be transformed themselves by their experience.
This church is not unique. Churches across the conference are sending youth and adult mission teams out into the world this summer. And at the end of each trip the world and the participants will be better for it.
Thank you for your part in providing opportunities for growth and service.
Grace and Peace,
Ken Sloane is offering the next in his free series of Stewardship webinars, “Are you Raising Funds or Raising Generous Disciples?” on July 12 at 5:30 pm MDT/ 4:30 pm PDT. You can register here.
Living in God’s Grace
On Pentecost Sunday, perhaps you sang the words of Jim Manley's hymn, "Spirit." In this stirring song, the Holy Spirit blows like the wind through the wilderness, over the sea, through the desert, and through "Your people, on the rush of the wind." This song reminds us that, like a talented flautist blowing through a cherished flute, God "blows" through all of creation. The resulting "music" is breathtaking, awe- and gratitude-inspiring. As channels for God's Grace, we stewards are called to offer our full lives as such instruments. May you feel awe and gratitude in listening to your life's "song," and in listening to the life songs of others.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
On this Sunday in Ordinary Time, many United Methodist churches may be celebrating a newly appointed pastor, associate pastor, or deacon. This provides an ideal opportunity to recommit ourselves to the call that each of us (including our leaders) has to be God's instruments -- instruments that play, sing, and announce God's Grace to a world that yearns to hear Grace's life-giving, healing, saving "song."
Our lectionary readings from 2 Corinthians and Mark help us to see that in order to be such instruments we must completely put our lives and ministries into God's loving hands -- rather than attempting to rely on our perceived strengths, past achievements, professional titles, material "security" (e.g., the items that the disciples leave behind in this week's reading from Mark 6), etc. To do God's work, we must relinquish every aspect of our lives into God's hands. This Sunday is a day to rejoice in Paul's words of self-relinquishment: "But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
"I am a hole in a flute that Christ's breath moves through -
listen to this music."
In what ways is your life like an instrument expressing God's Grace to the world? Where are the "holes" -- those points of blessed weakness and emptiness -- in your life through which Christ's breath moves?
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for July 8, 2012: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
(As mentioned in previous editions of Radical Gratitude, during Ordinary Time lection texts are typically considered independent from one another. This week's reflection will focus on the reading from 2 Corinthians.)
As stewards, God calls us to help unveil Grace to God's entire creation "groaning" to be redeemed to a state of wholeness (Rom. 8:1-23). What are your credentials for engaging in such immensely important work? This question is, in part, the subject of today's reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10. When Paul's critics (the "super-apostles," 2 Cor. 11:5) pose this question to him, he realizes that for the sake of his ministry he must produce a convincing answer. He considers using his profound, "third heaven" spiritual experience as his lead credential; but then rejects this sort of boasting. So what credential should he use? He chooses the most prevalent one given to him: his weakness. Rather than boasting about spiritual experiences, number of churches established, fundraising achievements, etc., he "boasts all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses." In this and the previous chapter, he boasts of his insults, hardships, persecutions (e.g., countless floggings, 5 public whippings, 3 public beatings with rods, 1 stoning, multiple imprisonments), calamities, etc. that allow God's Grace to shine most clearly through his life. As John Wesley says, "[God's] strength is more illustriously displayed by the weakness of the instrument." Those who witness Paul's life know that he's got nothing going for him except God's strength and Grace. It is this Grace that "covers" him "like a tent" (an alternative translation for "dwell" in verse 9) - providing him shelter, protection, "abundant consolation" (2 Cor. 1:5), and "power" needed to embody and proclaim the Good News (2 Cor. 10:16).
Can we claim our weaknesses as our most important credential in living into our call to be God's stewards? Should we? When we claim our weaknesses, many things can happen: (1) we can learn to identify and seek healing for our own places of brokenness before (and while) we attempt to do so with others; (2) we may be better able to enter into relationship with those who experience weakness and brokenness -- knowing that their weaknesses are shared by both ourselves and Christ; (3) we might get beyond the notion that we somehow can live without Grace; (4) as with Paul, we can help reveal to the world what Grace -- independent from human ingenuity and strength -- can do; and (5) we can touch those places in our lives and in the world in which God is most actively bringing about the work of healing.
But, the question persists: "should we claim weakness as our main credential?" Certainly we should not if doing so becomes a justification for inflicting "weaknesses" upon ourselves (note: Paul begs three times to have his "thorn" removed) or if it becomes a pathway for shutting ourselves off from experiencing God's Grace (note: Paul's weakness made him "stronger," better able to receive and express God's Grace). And, certainly we should not boast of our weaknesses if doing so becomes a justification for either inflicting weakness on others (humans and other members of God's creation) or ignoring the injustices that keep others in a state of weakness. Rev. Gene Beerens* reminds us that the opposite is to be our reality: "Our journey into weakness is absolutely essential for us to minister [with] the poor and to discern the true meaning and significance of the good news in our contemporary historical context."
May we steward our personal and church-wide weaknesses well -- wisely using them as tools for receiving and revealing God's Grace.
*From Gene Beerens' "Blessed Littleness" in Sojourners Magazine, September 1983; bold added for emphasis.
Image: Icon of St. Paul by Andrei Rublev
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:
The evaluations for our annual conference session indicated a great appreciation for the leadership of our bishop. Whether at annual conference, or making appointments, or helping celebrate a 100th anniversary, or mentoring new leaders, or in representing us in the world, our bishop's leadership is essential to our work of boldly making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This leadership is supported through our apportionment giving.
So today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let's celebrate the inspirational leadership and ministry of our bishop.
Awareness and Action
In the United States, the average morsel of food travels 1,500 miles from farm to table. As a result, we know little about how our food is grown -- if, for example, land and livestock were stewarded with care or if those who work the land were treated fairly and with respect. Buying our "daily bread" directly from the people who grow it allows us to gain this knowledge and make choices that are consistent with our call as Christian stewards. And, while buying foods that are healthier for our bodies, our families and loved ones, and for God's entire creation, we'll also help to support our local, family farmers.
With the bounty of summer upon us, it's a great time to visit and shop at one of the many farmers markets and produce stands throughout our region. Here you will find persons who are passionate about the "fruits of their labors" and thrilled to share information regarding farming practices, nutritional values, food preservation tips, etc. To find a farmers market near you, please visit the Oregon Farmers' Markets Association or the Idaho Farmers Market listing. To find other direct-from-the-farm buying opportunities throughout the entire country, please visit Local Harvest's web site.
Image: From U. District Farmers Market, c/o Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (Seattle)
“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions,
and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
--2 Corinthians 12:10, NRSV
In his ordination sermon during the 2012 North Alabama annual conference, Bishop Will Willimon shared that at age 10, he was ordered by the principal to visit a truant classmate and invite him back to school.
“Like you,” he told the ordinands, “I am here because I was sent. And, when the time comes, you will leave, as I am leaving, because you have been sent. A sent ministry is a countercultural challenge.”
The young Willimon discovered that the class troublemaker lived in a shabby house with a mom of questionable repute. Asked why he was there, Willimon stammered, “He sent me to say … that everybody at school misses Jimmy and wishes he were there today.”
Wordlessly, the two boys walked to school. “For the first time,” the bishop recalled, “Jimmy seemed not mean and threatening at all, but very small.
“That day was the best day of my whole time at Donaldson Elementary,” he said, “preparation for the rest of my life, my first experience of a God who thinks nothing of commandeering ordinary folk and handing them outrageous assignments. That day … was dress rehearsal for a summer night two decades later, when I knelt before a bishop, and he laid on hands, and pronounced the words, ‘You, go down Tindal two blocks and turn left, go two more blocks, number 15. I need a message delivered.’”
U.S. jurisdictional conferences meet in July every four years, following General Conference. The main purpose of jurisdictional conferences, which involve twice as many U.S. delegates as General Conference, is to elect and assign new bishops. New U.S. bishops will be elected during jurisdictional conferences July 18–21.
Bishops may serve up to three consecutive four-year terms in one episcopal area. In each jurisdiction, a committee on episcopacy reviews the bishop’s work and character and proposes a new assignment. The jurisdictional conference then has the ability to accept or reject the assignment. Bishops elected at the 2012 jurisdictional conferences will begin their new assignments Sept. 1.
“Each of us,” said Louisville Area Bishop G. Lindsey Davis, “will gather for worship, for reconnection as a body and for a fresh invitation from God to go make disciples. Lay and clergy, delegates and guests, current and newly elected bishops, agency leaders, jurisdictional ministries representatives … will have a fresh opportunity to hear and respond to God’s invitation by saying, ‘Here I am, Send me!’”
We declare to You:
"Your Grace is sufficient for us."
Yes indeed, it is sufficient for all of Your beloved creation.
And yet, it still feels like there are "holes" -- places of insufficiency
and even scarcity -- in our lives.
We pray that You would move through those places
in which we feel less-than-whole.
We pray that You would fill every bit of our beings with Your Spirit
so that our whole lives become like the sweetest music
and most precious offerings.
Fill us this very moment, loving Spirit, as we present these offerings.
In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Extraordinary God, you call ordinary people to ministry. Some accept the challenge; others hesitate and find excuses. Help us, God, to listen for your voice and to respond, “Here I am; send me.” Guide our bishops as they lead our church. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Heavenly God, as Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs, so you long to send us to transform a world in desperate need of your love and compassion. Too many of us have answered hesitantly: If we were more financially secure, we would be more ready to go in your name. Remind us that Jesus sends us, not based on what we have, but on our willingness to let go of earthly treasure that we might trust more deeply in your providence and the hospitality of others. As we give this morning, help us to be ready to let go and be sent by you into the world, whether near or far. We pray it in the name of the one whom we proclaim as Savior and the Light of the World. Amen. (Mark 6:1-13)
from General Board of Discipleship
“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.”
--Dale E. Turner