July 16, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I’m just getting ready to head to San Diego tonight for Jurisdictional Conference. While three of the five jurisdictions will be electing bishops, ours will not. However, one of the questions that will be answered is the one about who our bishop will be for the next four years. The recommendation is scheduled for Friday morning. Pray for us. I’ll pray for you.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Last week's edition of Radical Gratitude was filled with "household" words; it focused on household words found in the Greek New Testament. In particular, it reflected on the image of creation as a household (oikos in Greek) that belongs exclusively to God. It spoke of God's ultimate "plan for the household" (meaning "economy"/oikonomia): to restore everyone and everything to a place of wholeness within God's Grace-filled household. And, it looked at the role that humans play within God's household: stewards ("household keepers"/oikonomos) who care for the household and actively help to bring about God's economy/plan for it.
This week's New Testament readings invite us "home" again. Specifically they invite us to revisit the question of who and what actually resides in God's household of Grace. These readings also help us to see that we're not just temporary guests in God's household nor are we just "an outsider or employee, [because] the steward has been adopted into the family of God."* It's a blessing to be co-stewards of God's household with you.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
*From "Stewards of the Household of God," by Inagrace Dietterich, the Center for Parish Development.
Image: The World Council of Churches' logo. The Greek word "oikoumene" means "the whole inhabited earth." The English translation of this word is "ecumenical."
Have you ever come home after a lengthy time away and felt the relief of collapsing into a favorite chair, sleeping in your own bed, or enjoying a home-cooked meal with loved ones? This summer season finds many of us traveling and hopefully enjoying the relief of homecoming.
During this season of Ordinary Time, Radical Gratitude has been talking about God's creation-encompassing "household" and our role as stewards within it. This week's scripture readings can evoke questions like: What comes to mind when you think about God's all-encompassing household? What would it look like for you to "come home" and rest in this place of deep Grace? Who and what lives in this household with you? What prevents you and others from always being able to access and dwell within God's household?
May you be blessed this summer season with a sense of coming home to God's household, which is growing before us (Eph. 2:21). May you feel so blessed that you will share in God's longing to gather all things in heaven and earth (Eph. 1:10) back into this household.
From theologian Douglas John Hall*:
"Although the steward of God (or Christ) . . . can claim nothing for him- or herself, that steward is not merely an outsider -- hired help, so to speak. Rather, the steward participates in the very 'household of God.' As such, the steward is called and enabled to share 'this grace' (Eph. 3:8) with others, and to bring them in turn into God's household. ...The steward is herself a participant in the very bounty (grace) for whose distribution she has now a mandate."
From theologian M. Douglass Meeks**:
"To be part of a home or a household is to have access to life. ...To be no longer 'strangers and aliens' but 'members of the household of God' (Eph. 2:19-22) means becoming a part of God's attempt to bring all of God's creatures into God's economy of life."
God's household encompasses much more than our church families and buildings -- it includes all of God's creation. When have you felt like a member of God's all-encompassing household? Describe a time when you/your church worked to help make this household accessible to those who are typically denied access to it.
*Douglas John Hall in The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age
**M. Douglas Meeks in God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for July 22, 2012: 2 Samuel 7:1- 14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53- 56
This week's reflection will focus on the readings from Ephesians and Mark.
Last week's reading from Ephesians 1:3-14 presented us with the goal of Christian stewardship: to help unveil God's "plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth" (v.10). The goal of stewardship isn't simply about prudent financial planning or "time management," it's about helping to restore everyone and everything in creation to God's household of life abundant! It's about savoring our existence as "members of God's household" (Eph. 2:19) of Grace, longing to share this place with others, and acting on our longings.
The writer of Ephesians (probably a disciple of Paul) savors this household (oikos in Greek) -- mentioning it six times within this short passage and persistently throughout the epistle. The writer also longs to share this household with those who traditionally (under Jewish law) have been denied access to it: the Gentile, the uncircumcised and unclean, and the stranger and alien. The writer seems to be of the conviction that if the church of Christ is to act as a model and instrument of God's restored household of Grace, then it would be completely unacceptable to deny access to those typically labeled as "aliens" (paroikos in Greek, meaning "one who dwells outside of the household"; see v. 19).
Biblical scholar Ched Myers writes, "Ephesians in fact challenges the community of faith to disengage itself from all social institutionalizations of enmity. ...This people has been called together in grace for the purpose of putting [God's plan for gathering up all things] into practice." "Institutionalizations of enmity" even include those things that once served as channels for Grace (e.g., for the early Jewish Christians "the law and its commandments," in v. 15), but now pose barriers to it. What are the institutions of enmity -- those pernicious ideas, fears, unseen obstacles, etc. that pose barriers to dwelling in God's Grace -- that exist in your own life and in our churches' lives today? Inspired by Christ's reconciling work and empowered by the Holy Spirit, how can you work with others to help break "down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility" (Eph. 2:14) that prevents any living being from dwelling in whole, Grace-filled relationships?
Theologian Douglas John Hall writes, "The steward is called to a service that extends way beyond the boundaries of her or his own family, race, gender, generation, nation, and world." The steward is called to work with God to expand the human-stunted boundaries of God's household. Such was the case with Jesus, who models household-expanding stewardship in this week's reading from Mark. This reading conveys one of many "sea crossing" accounts -- crossings to "the other side" (the non-Jewish side) to extend God's grace to the stranger, the Gentile, the unclean, the social "other." Ched Myers writes, "These [voyages] are forays beyond the accepted social boundaries of first-century Palestinian Judaism in order to extend the messianic mission of liberation to the alienated and the outcast." Jesus' compassionate longing to gather up these "others" (like a shepherd longs to gather up lost sheep; Mk. 6:34) led him to cross every geographic, ideological, cultural, social, religious, physical (touching the "untouchable") boundary that posed a barrier to God's Grace.
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:
War in Liberia robbed Christian Zigbuo of his parents and three siblings and turned him into a refugee when he was 10 years old.
His life was turned around by United Methodists who helped him obtain an education as a child in Côte d’Ivoire and as an adult at Africa University.
He’s now serving in the United Methodist Young Adult Missionary program, giving him a chance to give back.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s celebrate the ways in which our Shared giving is changing lives like Christian’s.
Awareness and Action
In the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi
As churches, we try to be mindful of the people who have typically been denied access to God's "household of Grace." Many of us go to great, courageous, and sometimes painful lengths to create access for all of God's children. Being ever mindful and prayerful of these sisters and brothers, our identity as stewards calls us also to be mindful of other members of God's creation that lack full access to God's life-giving Grace. Consider, for example, the fact that currently 11% of the world's bird species, 25% of mammal species, and 34% of all fish species face immediate danger of extinction. Their extinction -- representing a complete separation from God's household of life -- is largely the result of human-created/perpetuated habitat loss, pollution, and global warming. In our efforts to make sure that God's household is indeed as expansive as possible, how can we be mindful to include even non-human members of this household?
Although it's several months away, churches may want to consider observing a celebration of St. Francis of Assisi (his official "feast day" is October 4) -- the patron saint of animals and ecology (a word that means "knowledge of the household/oikos"). Francis believed that "God's household" included all of creation, and the most vulnerable parts of creation especially revealed the vulnerable and beautiful face of Christ. He believed that he shared a home with the moon, sun, stars, water, fire, flowers, children, elders, birds -- all of whom were held together by the "same heavenly Father." And to all who shared this home, Francis called brother and sister -- not "stranger" or "resource," but kin.
Many churches now observe a "blessing of the animals" on one of the Sundays at the beginning of October. This is an opportunity to visibly remember and bless other members of God's household that we don't typically see or hear in our churches on Sundays. This is also an opportunity to expand our vision of just who and what is included in God's household. If your church is considering celebrating St. Francis' vision, please visit these web sites:
• For organizing ideas and an order of worship for a blessing of the animals service.
• Web of Creation's blessing of the animals resource page.
Prayer of St. Basil the Great (c.329-379):
"O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that all creatures live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life."
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are citizens together
with the saints and members of the household of God.”
--Ephesians 3:19, An Inclusive-Language Lectionary
Jan Love, dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Atlanta, said the Ministerial Education Fund is essential to Candler, one of 13 United Methodist seminaries.
“We use it to support scholarships for United Methodist students and to offer the United Methodist courses … required for ordination,” she said, adding that because of the fund, U.M. students at Candler can get a reduced tuition and sometimes full-tuition scholarships.
“It’s a wonderful partnership between The United Methodist Church and the seminaries to make sure the church gets extraordinary leaders,” Love said. “We’re dedicated to that. We are definitely growing leaders for The UMC. We see it as an essential part of our identity as an official United Methodist seminary.
“We are delighted about the partnership and look forward to deepening it,” Love said.
Love noted that the Ministerial Education Fund has not kept pace with the need. For most seminaries, fund support represents 9 to 20 percent of their annual budget.
Along with educating clergy, United Methodist seminaries provide continuing education, programs for lay education, and resources and research used by faculty at non-United Methodist schools.
The Ministerial Education Fund is the church’s affirmation that all United Methodists share the responsibility for education of our clergy. The fund, along with the annual conference and the seminarian’s local congregation, forms a circle of support for those on the path to ordained ministry.
More than $682 million has been raised to support the work of the Ministerial Education Fund since the 1968 General Conference created it, according to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
“The MEF is the primary means through which United Methodists in the U.S. can provide theological education in the Wesleyan tradition for those who have been called to ordained ministry,” said the Rev. Gwen Purushotham of the board’s Division of Ordained Ministry. “Those elders and deacons will be sent out to preach, to teach, to connect the church and the world, to minister to persons in combat, to be present with the dying, to reach out to prisoners (and) to provide pastoral care for those in crisis.”
The fund also subsidizes the costs of people training to be licensed as local pastors through the course of study.
Each annual conference keeps 25 percent of the total it collects for the conference board of ordained ministry, while 75 percent goes to the general board to strengthen ministerial education.
--Adapted from an article in General Board of Higher Education and Ministry News, March 23, 2012, by Brown, associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, GBHEM
We know that we are "no longer strangers and aliens,
but citizens with the saints
and members of Your household of abundance."
Emblazon this knowledge on our hearts
so that will live less like strangers
barely scraping by on the edges of habitability
and more like Your grateful, generous children.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
Based on Ephesians 2:19
from Radical Gratitude
Loving God, you call your people to serve in many ways. Give wisdom to and guide those who shepherd congregations. Strengthen those who struggle with the call to ministry. Show us how to serve. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Great God of the entire universe, you remind us through the words of the prophets that while humanity often builds attachments to things and possessions, you have valued your attachment to us more than anything. When the Hebrew people sought kings to rule them and palaces to house their kings, you sought only to dwell in a tent so that you could be close to your people, living in covenant with them. As we give our gifts this morning, help us to be those who value relationships above possessions, compassion over status, and love over wealth. Help us to live this with our families, with our neighbors, and with our global community. In the rich and powerful name of Jesus, we pray. Amen. (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)
from General Board of Discipleship
It is not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong;
not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich;
not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned;
not what we preach but what we practice that makes us Christian."
-- Francis Bacon