August 6, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
We seem to be overrun with fruits and vegetables this summer. As members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) we pick up our box at the farm each Friday afternoon. It’s like opening birthday or Christmas presents – seeing what’s in it each week. And it’s offered some challenges in finding ways to incorporate the produce into meals for the week. (We’re still looking for exciting kohlrabi recipes.) But it’s a fun challenge. And, although we only subscribed to half a share (feeds two people) we always have way more than enough.
It’s a metaphor for God’s abundance in our lives. As a world we have more food than we can use. I find myself grateful for the abundance of food - not to mention abundance of God’s grace and love – and am equally grateful to be a part of these people called Methodists who are committed to making sure every person has enough to eat.
Thanks for all that you do.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
How does one experience "radical gratitude" in the midst of brokenness? This question has been on our minds recently after learning of an unprovoked, very violent attack against a friend. Perhaps you've asked a similar question lately, especially if your life has also been touched by brokenness: the terminal illness or death of a loved one, the injuries and deaths of innocent children throughout the world, the extinction of an entire species of God's creating ...the list goes on and goes straight to one's soul. So, how can one's soul simultaneously be touched by brokenness and authentic, radical gratitude? Is it foolish or inappropriate to think that it could be?
Radical means "root": "of or from the root or roots; going to the foundation or source of something; fundamental; basic." (Webster's) Could it be that gratitude is that which roots and constantly connects one with Grace? Think of a tall tree, buffeted by the wind, holding on by its profound roots to its source of strength and sustenance. Though the roots may stretch and groan in the midst of that which would break the tree, they remain (often, but not always) rooted. In the midst of that which would buffet and break any of us, we may groan and ache to remember the gratitude that roots us in the "ground of our being": the God of Grace. And yet, we all must remember that we are moored to Grace - our lives and the life of the world depends on it.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Theologian Paul Tillich contends that we live most of our lives on a superficial level. He writes:
Most of our life continues on the surface. We are enslaved by the routine of our daily lives, in work and pleasure . . . We do not stop to look at the height above us, or to the depth below us. ...We are in constant motion and never stop to plunge into the depth. ...Like hit-and-run drivers, we injure our souls by the speed with which we move on the surface; and then we rush away, leaving our bleeding souls alone. We miss, therefore, our depth and our true life. And it is only when the picture that we have of ourselves breaks down completely, only when we find ourselves acting against all the expectations we had derived from that picture, and only when an earthquake shakes and disrupts the surface of our self-knowledge, that we are willing to look into a deeper level of our being.*
Perhaps his analysis is too extreme; but perhaps it also holds helpful insights for us during Ordinary Time.
Even though we know that the name** of this church season isn't synonymous with "Routine Time," without the excitement of high holy days it's easy to just rush past, or gloss over, places of profound Grace. Then, when our lives are shaken by unexpected tragedy, pain, or even joy, we may feel an "earthquake [that] shakes and disrupts the surface" of our seemingly routine, ordinary lives.
Rather than rediscovering places of profound Grace in fits and starts, Ordinary Time invites us to cultivate deep, enduring roots that connect all the way down to "a deeper level of our being." (Tillich says, "The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God.") Such cultivation is the work of Christian stewards - those who God calls to not only steward money, time, talents, the gifts of creation, the Gospel, but souls as well. And while it may seem as ordinary as your garden-variety carrot, cultivating gratitude is one of the finest ways to connect a soul with the ground of its being.
*Paul Tillich, Shaking the Foundations
**As mentioned in past editions of Radical Gratitude, the season of Ordinary Time is named for the number (the "ordinals") of weeks following Pentecost and Epiphany.
From the clergyman and former slave trader, John Newton*:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see. ...
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Have you ever experienced Grace during a time of danger, pain, or brokenness? What did this feel like? How did this experience impact your life from that point forward?
*From Wikipedia.org: John Newton (1725 - 1807) was an "English clergyman, slaveship master, and author who wrote the hymn 'Amazing Grace' after converting to Christianity and abandoning his participation in the slave trade. ...In 1743 he was pressed into naval service, ...deserted, was recaptured and reduced to the rank of a common seaman, exchanged to a ship in the African station, became a servant to a slave trader, [was brutally abused,] and was rescued in 1748 by a friend of his father's, being converted to Christianity on the way home in a storm at sea. He continued at sea till 1754 ...It was after much soul searching and Bible reading that Newton saw the horrors of slavery and the hypocrisy it made him feel as a Christian. He soon gave up his association with slave shipping. He was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, England from 1755 to 1760, where he heard George Whitefield and John Wesley preach." Click here to read the story of John Newton.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for August 12, 2012: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31- 33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; and John 6:35, 41-51
(As mentioned in previous editions of Radical Gratitude, during Ordinary Time lection texts are typically considered independently from one another. This week's reflection will focus on Psalm 130.)
The Psalm for this week is profound in the true sense of the word: it's deep. It's one of the most common Psalms read at funerals (with the exception of, perhaps, Psalm 23) -- the time when we commend the bodies of our loved ones into the depths of the earth. It's one that John Wesley heard sung by the choir at Aldersgate on the day of his most profound conversion experience. The Psalm's opening words, "out of the depths," are meant to evoke common Hebrew Bible images of the primordial, watery, chaotic deep. It's a deep Psalm.
What happens in "the deep"? The Psalmist(s) cries out to God in this place, so we can assume that scary and perhaps painful things are going on there. But, the Psalmist discovers that God -- the "steadfast" (v. 7), "ground of our being" (Tillich) -- is present and working in this deep place. God is not absent from the deep. Just as "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1-2), in the deep the God of Grace is at work simultaneously forming, re-forming, and sustaining creation. For the dwellers of the deep, the formative work can be scary and painful -- so much that it overshadows God's sustaining work. And so, the dwellers must wait and watch (vv. 5-6) until God's steadfast, sustaining love becomes real once again. As God's co-workers and stewards, we're called to enter deep places (within ourselves and throughout the world), faithfully wait and watch until we notice God's presence again, and then get to work with God and the community (vv. 7-8) of God's people in helping to reveal God's presence to others.
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:
On her Facebook page, Abigail posted this: "Next week I get to go to church camp. I can't wait. I get to see my friends, and it's the one place where I get to be me, the real, honest-to-God me." What an incredible experience we provide to our young people through our camping ministry!
So, today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let's celebrate how we, as a conference, are are helping people like Abigail find the fullness of life that God envisions for them through our camping ministries.
Awareness and Action
Mother Teresa was a faithful steward of the bodies and souls entrusted to her care. After decades of ministering with those crying out from "the deep" (the expression used in this week's reading from Psalm 130), she commented, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst poverty of all." Her words help us all to hear these cries from the deep and to realize that, as God's stewards, we're called to be God's Grace-delivering co-workers in the deep.
Consider those in your life who may be feeling particularly lonely or unwanted (e.g., an elderly neighbor, service-men and -women far from their families, an "enemy" in need of forgiveness, an abandoned pet, etc.). Take at least one concrete action this week (e.g., a phone call, a letter, a visit, etc.) that will help to unveil Grace to this beloved member of God's family.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
and live in love, as Christ loved us.”
--Ephesians 5:1-2a, NRSV
Combines lumber around cornfields next to New Hope Bethel United Methodist Church in Ohio. Inside the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, most of the 25 to 30 regulars favor blue jeans and flip-flops.
This is one United Methodist church not used to holding meetings, preferring to “settle any issues” between Sunday school and the worship service, says congregational leader Ben Smith.
For more than a century, the rugged individualism that built and sustained rural America, along with periodic ice-cream “crank-offs,” kept New Hope alive as a viable congregation.
Then, as in thousands of United Methodist congregations across the United States struggling with rural flight and a poor economy, the old ways were no longer enough. New Hope could no longer afford an experienced pastor.
Church members faced a choice: Continue to struggle on their own, or become part of a five-church parish ministry sharing a senior pastor and three other clergy. New Hope chose to become part of the Greater Leipsic Multi-Site Parish, anchored by the larger Leipsic United Methodist Church.
Similar decisions face congregations and church leaders throughout the denomination. New ministry models include parish partnerships, re-imagining rural communities as mission fields and strengthening community-outreach programs.
United Methodists celebrate parishes like Greater Leipsic on Rural Life Sunday on a date of their choosing. They may receive an offering to strengthen the nurture, outreach and witness of town and rural congregations.
--Adapted from a United Methodist News Service release by Linda Bloom, Feb. 10, 2011
While some struggling rural congregations across the United States have closed, rural churches still represent an estimated 20,000 of the denomination’s 33,500 U.S. congregations. Rural churches also are part of the United Methodist global landscape.
Such communities offer an important context for mission and ministry. To that end, United Methodists observe Rural Life Sunday to celebrate the church’s rural heritage, recognize the ongoing rural crisis and affirm the interdependence of rural and urban communities.
“Rural churches and churches of any size are in the same boat regardless of context,” asserts the Rev. Ed Kail, former head of the United Methodist Rural Fellowship. “The need for vitalization or revitalization is critical all over.”
The Rev. Roger Grace agrees. “The reality is the focus seemingly is almost always on the fast-growing areas where there are lots of people,” leaving town and country congregations overlooked. He currently leads the fellowship.
However, he adds, “if churches want to be centers for making disciples, they can do that with a small, core group of people.”
--Adapted from a United Methodist News Service release by Linda Bloom, April 10, 2012
God who hears us
when we cry out from the depths
of pain, lonliness, violence, and despair,
help us to be more like You:
fully alert to the cries of others,
quick and able to meet their needs.
Please use these offerings
to enhance our ability,
as Your body on Earth,
to listen and respond to Earth's cries.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Nurturing God, whether our congregation numbers 15 or 1,500, you call us to serve you and our neighbors. Guide us as we make difficult decisions to decide how best to reach out in ministry to your children everywhere. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Gracious and forgiving God, you have called us through your word to live in love and to be imitators of Christ. We know we fall far short of that, and yet your love is not held back from us. The giving we do this morning is small compared to all Jesus offered up on our behalf, but accept it as our expression of love and devotion as we strive to walk more faithfully in the way he showed us. In the power and potential of Christ's name, we pray. Amen. (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
from General Board of Discipleship
"When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed."
-- Maya Angelou