July 30, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I spent most of last week with about 350 Lutherans and one other United Methodist at Luther Seminary talking about stewardship. It was an excellent event.
One of the great quotes I picked up was from Mark Allan Powell, a New Testament scholar from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. When someone complained that the church talks too much about money, his response is, “If you think we talk a lot about money, wait until you meet Jesus.”
Another was from Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament scholar from Luther. He said, “God cares as much about how you spend the other 90% of your money as God does about the 10% you give to the church. In fact, God probably cares more about how much tip you left for the undocumented worker who cleaned your room than the amount you put in the offering plate.”
It reaffirmed my belief that whole-life stewardship encompasses every aspect of the earning, managing and spending of our resources. And it’s all discipleship.
Thank you for your leadership in forming disciples of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
In 1964, a French Canadian named Jean Vanier paid a visit to his friend who was serving as chaplain to 30 men with developmental disabilities living in Trosly Breuil, France. Reflecting on his time with this community Jean said: "I was challenged by their simplicity, their sense of welcome, their urgent call to relationship. This experience moved me and I decided to visit homes for the mentally handicapped, homes for the elderly and psychiatric hospitals. What I saw came as a terrible shock to me. ...throughout the world I have seen children chained up; I have seen 200 men and women piled into a room and living in filth... I discovered an atmosphere of violence, of cries, and yet, at the same time, I felt that God was deeply present."
Based on these profound experiences, Jean felt called to share his life with two men with disabilities (Philippe Seux and Raphaël Simi); he welcomed them into a home he called "L'Arche," which means "the ark" in French. He wanted to give them a home -- free of oppression and filled with Grace -- where all could discover their unique God-given gifts and begin to reveal these gifts to others. It would be a place where Jean's dream could become reality: "a dream of a world ... where people, whatever their race, religion, culture, abilities or disabilities ... can find a place and reveal their gifts." Today, 137 L'Arche communities thrive in 40 countries throughout the world -- with several in the Pacific Northwest (Spokane, Tacoma, Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver B.C.).
Have you ever experienced an "ark," a L'Arche, situation -- a time and space free of oppression and filled with Grace? A place in which you could see clearly God's gifts within yourself, within others, and throughout creation? A place where you were able to break free from the chains of pity, shame, embarrassment, distain, arrogance, apathy, etc. to see Christ in the most vulnerable places? Jesus broke these chains in receiving loaves and fishes from a poor boy; Jean broke them in receiving Phillippe and Raphael into his life. And once broken, God's latent gifts would become nourishment for 5000+ people and 137, grace-filled L'Arche communities. May the breaking of Grace-inhibiting chains and the multiplication of God's abundance abound forever!
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Image: Jean Vanier (right) with a member of the L'Arche community.
Sister Joan Chittister comments, "it is in 'ordinary' time that the really important things happen: our children grow up, our marriages and relationships grow older, our sense of life changes, our vision expands, our soul ripens." With the world ripening around us, we have the perfect opportunity to step back and marvel at what God is doing within our lives, the lives of others, and throughout all of creation -- often most clearly in fragile, vulnerable places. Without the frenetic pace of life that often accompanies Easter, Christmas, and other "extra-ordinary" church seasons, this is the season to simply marvel, give thanks for the gifts, and live our full lives out of this place of gratitude. When we do, we may glimpse what Meister Eckhart meant when he said, "This is salvation: when we marvel at the beauty of created things and praise the beautiful providence of their Creator."
*As mentioned in previous weeks, the term Ordinary Time refers to the "ordinals" or numbering of Sundays following Pentecost.
From 1985 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren:
"Every living being is unique. The skills and creative abilities of each of us are woven into the fabric of life. To lose the contribution of any one person because of apathy, feelings of inferiority, or fear of failure is to reduce the whole. God's plan calls for the full use of the gifts that we have been given."
From Benjamin Disraeli:
"The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own."
One way to discern your unique gifts to God's world, is to reflect on what awakens a sense of "deep gladness" within you. Freed from thoughts of "I should" and "I ought to," these are places in which you can simply enjoy and express those spiritual gifts and talents that God creates within you. For some of us, our deep gladness may be in singing, gardening, working on cars, caring for children, praying with others, advocating on behalf of those deprived of "voice," etc. When have you encountered your unique, God-given deep gladness? How might you help others to do the same?
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for August 5, 2012: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; and John 6:24-35
(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 readings from John and Ephesians.)
In last week's reading from John, Jesus performed a Eucharistic* miracle -- the feeding of 5000+ people using the humble gifts (loaves and fishes) of a poor boy. In this week's reading from John, Jesus speaks to a crowd of people who follow him because they've experienced or heard of this feast of lavish Grace. Everyone's hungry for more! While Jesus would never give a stone to those who ask for bread (Mt. 7:9), he uses this opportunity to help the crowd truly digest the meaning of this Grace feast. He uses this moment to help the crowd understand that "the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (Jn. 6:33) -- bread that alleviates hunger for all time to come. Jesus identifies himself as this "bread of life." But, what exactly is this bread and how can we get our hands on it?
The feeding of the 5000+ itself helps to shed light on these questions. This one-time, emblematic Eucharist consisted of the gifts that a small boy entrusted to Jesus. The broader, ongoing Eucharistic feast consists of the gifts that God entrusts to Jesus: his body broken for all, his blood poured out for the nourishment of all. Jesus' broader Eucharistic feast presents a new way of living in the world, a new economy** of Grace: when we break open and share the gifts that God entrusts to us, all may partake in God's lavish feast of abundant life. We no longer have to fearfully hoard or ignorantly disregard the gifts (loaves, fishes, talents, possessions, etc.) that God entrusts to us; the one who practices Eucharistic self-emptying remains continually open to receive and distribute God's Grace.
The reading from Ephesians talks about some of the gifts of Grace that God entrusts to the fledgling church -- the "body of Christ." This list of gifts echoes Paul's own list in I Cor. 12 -- all of which are to be distributed and used for "the benefit of all" (12:7). This body of Christ is to continue growing the new, Eucharistic economy: appropriately sharing the gifts of the Spirit, of Christ, of grace for the benefit of all.
*See John 6:11; "given thanks" translates as the Greek word that is the source of the word Eucharist.
**Previous editions of Radical Gratitude have used the biblical image of God's creation (everyone and everything) as a "household." The word "economy" literally means "household rules" or "household plan" -- a way of living and acting within God's household.
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:
You may have missed the news about a devastating wildfire that burned over 100,000 acres and destroyed 23 homes on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana this summer. But UMCOR didn’t miss it. As we’ve come to expect, UMCOR is there when people suffer. Through a grant to the Yellowstone Conference, the United Methodist Church in Sheridan, Wyoming, is reaching out to meet the needs of the victims of the fire.
Today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of this compassionate response made in the name of Jesus.
Awareness and Action
As this week's texts explore gifts of Grace and the "economy" of the early "body of Christ" (i.e., the Church), we do well to constantly ask ourselves: what does the body of Christ look like today? Perhaps it looks like your local church, like a L'Arche community (described above), or like ethnically diverse churches springing up all over North America and the world.
The United Methodist Church has a "Comprehensive Plan" for supporting the flourishing of some of the most vital churches in our midst. These ministries include:
To learn more about these ministires and how you can become involved in them, please click on the above links or visit the Comprehensive Plans web site.
“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love.”
--Ephesians 4:1b-2, NRSV
Sue Mullins, a member of First United Methodist Church, Loveland, Colo., wondered why students hung out on the church lawn after school.
The students, all from Bill Reed Middle School, were responsible for picking up their younger siblings from the nearby elementary school. With nowhere to go, they waited outside, often in poor weather, until their siblings were dismissed from school.
“There's a big sign out there that says, ‘Open hearts, open minds,’” Mullins told the Loveland Reporter Herald. “We need to bring these kids inside.”
She talked with the youth pastor, the Rev. Jane Riecke, who created the Popcorn Ministry — so named because church volunteers served popcorn.
A rotating staff of 16 volunteers serves snacks and chats with the students, who choose from air hockey, foosball, ping-pong and pool as well as board games.
“It's a safe place,” said Riecke. “It's a place of hospitality.”
The congregation also launched an after-school tutoring program for elementary students.
“We believe strongly in service,” member Michael Gillette told the newspaper.
“We have boundaries, but we know they need to let off steam,” Mullins said. He noted the motto, “Respect this place, respect one another and respect yourself.”
Two Popcorn Ministry participants are Donald Sanchez and Jack Deng, who both have little sisters.
“These people are really nice to us,” said Sanchez. “They offer to play games with us here. They give us food.”
The Dunkin Disciples Ministry of Hall United Methodist Church, Glen Burnie, Md., was birthed in autumn 2011. That Sunday morning, in a series of ministry encounters reminiscent of a flash mob, church members appeared at selected venues within the community at a predetermined time to engage in ministries such as sharing food and care packages.
The ministry of the Dunkin Disciples is to “show up” at the local Dunkin Donuts and treat customers to a cup of coffee or beverage of their choice. Many cannot believe there is no catch, and it creates a space for conversation and prayer, as requested, with the customers. It has proven to be a great place to meet people where they are.
This ministry also has engaged some members previously not involved in outreach efforts. Additionally, those who serve in this ministry often are the first to step up to give in other areas and projects such as vacation Bible school, Bible study and Operation Uplift, which sends packages to troops serving in Afghanistan.
--Adapted from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference e-connection, June 28, 2012
This we know, dear God:
You have given each of us Grace
that is immeasurable, boundless, never-ending.
To some of us, You have given the gift of apostolic sending to places unknown,
to some, the gift of prophecy and radical truth-telling,
to some, the joy and ability to share Your Good News, to pastor, and to teach.
Whatever the unique manifestation of Your Grace through our lives,
we know that every gift we hold is
for building up the body of Christ.
And so, we ask that you take these small gifts --
small fruits of the gifts You lavish on us daily --
and use them to "promote the body's growth in building itself up in love."
In Your name we pray, Amen.
Based on Ephesians 4:7-16
from Radical Gratitude
Loving God, you ask us to serve, sometimes in unexpected places. Open our eyes to new opportunities to share your love with whomever we encounter. Inspire us. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Caring God, who both leads us and feeds us, who nurtures and nourishes us, we bring these gifts to you, confessing that we have often been those who have put the bread for our stomachs before the bread for our soul. We have consumed lavishly and given grudgingly. Help us to keep our sights on what you offer that has real power to sustain us: the Bread of Life! Help us to give as those who trust in you and in the bread that can satisfy all our needs. We pray this in Christ's holy name. Amen. (John 6:24-35)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Be forewarned: Man and money
cannot remain together forever.
Either the money is taken from the man,
or the man is taken from the money."
-- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov