August 13, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I was in Bellevue the latter part of last week to help get my mom’s possessions packed and loaded into a U-Haul so she can move to Billings, Montana. She’s lived in Bellevue for 27 years. At the age of 92 it’s difficult for her to give up her independence, which has included living in her own home and being able to drive herself wherever she wanted to go. I am sad that she is leaving the northwest. It’s been wonderful these past four years to be close to her and to be able to spend holidays and special occasions with her.
In the midst of my own grief that she is leaving, I was a bit surprised by the sense of gratitude that I had. I am grateful for the four years we’ve lived in closer proximity. I am grateful for the opportunity my mom has had to be close to my sister and her children and grandchildren these years. I am grateful that she will be moving close to my other two siblings and two other grandchildren. I am grateful for my siblings and nephews who helped with the move. And I’m grateful for the love and grace my mom has given me.
And I’m always grateful for all of you who constantly work to build up the family we all share.
Grace and Peace,
Coming Up September 13: Ken Sloane will be presenting another in his series of webinars on stewardship. This one is titled "Five Key Elements in Successful Stewardship Strategies." Stewardship in the local church is not a "one size fits all" proposition. There are some elements that are consistently present in churches that do stewardship really well. Join us as we explore five important ones! You can register here.
Living in God’s Grace
Last week's edition of Radical Gratitude included a quote from theologian Paul Tillich that challenged us to dig beneath the seemingly "ordinary" ground of existence, to help unearth God's extra-ordinary, life-sustaining Grace. This week's edition takes Tillich's challenge even further: don't just stop at uncovering Grace ... ingest it, embody it! If the word "ingest" seems strange to you, then you may get a small taste (so to speak) of the reaction of many who heard Jesus talk about ingesting his flesh and blood.
The Christian faith is full of things that (at one time or another) can seem very strange and even shocking; topping the list: the eucharistic scandal that lies at the center of our faith. This scandal clearly distinguished Jesus' earliest followers. Today, there's little that's scandalous about casually nibbling on a communion wafer within the comfortable walls of a North American church. What persists to be scandalous is boldly "munching on" Jesus' living flesh and drinking his life-blood wherever we unearth it; fully receiving these gifts of Grace into our beings; enfleshing what we ingest; and becoming living Grace for others who hunger for it. While it may sound strange or scandalous, this is our joyous call as Christian stewards: to constantly receive Grace into every fiber of their beings and constantly offer our lives as food for all.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Michael Schut writes, "The Christian tradition recognizes God's presence in the ordinary experiences of daily life. Everyday rituals such as eating can reveal God to us . . . In this sense, food is a sacrament."* A sacrament, as defined by John Wesley, is "an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."
As United Methodists, we single out certain Sundays to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. But, as people like Michael Schut and John Wesley suggest, we can and should celebrate this sacrament as often as possible. In his sermon, "The Duty of Constant Communion," Wesley attests, "we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord's Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us. ...As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection."
While Wesley was speaking of the actual ritual of communion, if we truly believe in the incarnational nature of our faith (i.e., that "God comes not as an otherworldly interruption into the stuff of our lives, but as grace and power within the stuff, the 'matter' of our lives"**), then we can experience such sacramental moments on a daily basis. Ordinary Time provides the ideal space in which to experience Grace in the "stuff" of life, to savor it, and to "perform our duty" of passing Grace on for others to savor.
*Michael Schut, Food, Faith, and Sustainability
**Quote from Rev. Carla Valentine Pryne
From Rev. Carla Valentine Pryne*:
"Eating and being eaten is at its most basic and literal reality, a deeply mystical matter. When we eat, we not only take into ourselves another being, but that being becomes part of us, those molecules become part of our human tissue. The metaphor for food here is less that of fuel than that of communion. Eating and being eaten incarnates one of the central mysteries of life: each life at some point becoming food for other life, in an on-going chain of life, death, and mutual sustenance."
From Richard Donovan**:
"[Through the Eucharist,] Jesus establishes the life-giving chain of authority. The 'living Father' sent him, and he lives because of the Father. In like manner, the person who eats him (believes in him/ accepts him/participates in the eucharist) will live. As the Father gave him life, so he gives us life."
How can/do you participate in the eucharistic "chain of life, death, and mutual sustenance" on a daily basis? In what ways do you help to continue this "chain"? In other words, how do you embody and pass on the Grace that Jesus passes on to you?
* Rev. Valentine Pryne is the Founding Director of Earth Ministry.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for August 19, 2012: Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
(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 John.)
This week's reading from John is the fourth in a series of five lection texts that center on the miracle and meaning of the Eucharist. This series began with the feeding of the 5,000+ and now continues with Jesus' elaboration on the ongoing significance of this one-time feeding miracle. In this week's passage, Jesus' words grow increasingly bold and vivid, to the point where they become just plain scandalous from the perspective of their audience (i.e., the early Johannine, Jewish Christian community). But, it wasn't scandal just for the sake of scandal -- Jesus' words were meant to evoke a strong, active, embodied response. Let's look more closely at some of the elements of this scandal and possible evocations.
First of all, Jesus offers this Bread of Life discourse (6:22-58) at the synagogue in Capernaum -- Jesus' hometown as an adult. Here's your next-door neighbor who has the audacity to call himself "the living bread that came down from heaven" and the "Son of Man." Strange, provocative. Secondly, here's a Jewish man, in the synagogue, talking about eating human flesh (as in cannibalistic rituals) and drinking human blood (one's life-essence in Jewish tradition, which forbade the consumption of any sort of blood) -- practices that would have been blatantly anti-Torah and utterly abhorrent. Thirdly, here's a man who not only gives this command in a symbolic sense, but in a literal, graphic, earthy sense. He makes this third point by shifting from "the polite word for eating (phage) [v. 53] to a much coarser word (trogan) [v. 54] -- munch -- a word more commonly used for animals munching on their feed. Trogan . . . is provocative, designed to get attention."*
Why such provocation? In looking at the Johannine community, we know that these early Christians risked painful discrimination and possible ex-communication from the synagogue because of (1) their verbal confession of "belief in Jesus" (12:36b- 43) as Messiah and Son of God (20:31) and (2) their practice of the Eucharist. This week's passage from John, "removes the possibility that the Eucharist is a mere metaphor for 'remembering' Jesus and emphasizes the physical act of consuming bread/flesh. To be disciples -- to have life -- believers must risk social ostracism and institutional religious rejection and link themselves with the Johannine community."** It could be that the author of this Gospel is trying to make it abundantly clear that being Christian isn't just about personal belief and verbal profession; it's also about the risky business of embodying -- day after day, in the most compromising situations -- incarnate Grace? The provocation may be the author's way of destabilizing any would-be Christian fence-straddlers who are content to nibble on Grace without letting it genuinely penetrate every cell and fiber of their being.
Larry Broding's*** words emphasize this point:
...it was not enough for the follower to simply take polite bites. He or she needed total involvement (hence the verb that meant "gnaw" or "chew"). The Christian should continuously gnaw on the living bread like a good barbequed pork rib. The act was to be messy. The act required total immersion, total concentration, total commitment. The act itself caused scandal. Jesus punctuated the act with the words "flesh" and "blood." In the Semitic mind, the word 'flesh' equated with the person and 'blood' equaled life. Those who ate the flesh of the Son of Man and drank his blood joined themselves to his very being and his life source (i.e., the Spirit).
The challenge that Jesus presented, the scandal he caused, still remains today. In a culture that, at best, will politely nibble on the more palatable aspects of Jesus, authentic Christian stewardship calls and equips us to munch, gnaw, suck the marrow out of Grace so that we can become embodied Grace for a hungry world.
*Richard Donovan, www.lectionary.org.
**Wes Howard-Brook, "Undermining the Power of the Law," Sojourners Magazine, May 1993.
***From Larry Broding's article "The Scandal of the Living Bread" in word- sunday.com.
Image: Last Supper woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg.
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:
Clara Biswas works with the ‘poorest of the poor,’ especially children, in slum areas and garbage dumps in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She helps facilitate their transition to relocation and rehabilitation centers. She is just one of our missionaries who minister on our behalf to change lives and transform the world.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings let’s do so in celebration of Clara’s ministry and the ministry of each of our committed missionaries serving in Jesus’ name across the globe.
Awareness and Action
Farmer and author Wendell Berry writes, "I do not mean to suggest we can live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration ...in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want."
If you would like to move towards eating in more knowing, loving, skillful, reverent ways, here are some questions that you might want to consider as you make food purchases this week:
- Where does my food come from (i.e., before it reaches the market/store)?
- Were those people who grew, harvested, and prepared my food treated with respect and given equitable compensation? Were the land and/or animals treated with care?
- Will my "food dollars" help to strengthen communities that provided me with the gift of daily bread?
- Will I spend my food dollars frugally or justly? Are there ways in which I can do both? In times when I can't, which value will I prioritize?
- The big question: Does the way in which I choose to spend my food dollars reflect my Christian values and call to be "a channel for God's Grace"?
Image: Joel Huesby and cattle, Thundering Hooves Farm in Walla Walla, WA; photo c/o WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources
“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. God’s praise endures for ever!”
--Psalm 111:10, An Inclusive-Language Lectionary
In September 2000, Bishop Max Whitfield began a 12-year journey as episcopal leader of the Northwest Texas and New Mexico annual conferences of The United Methodist Church.
His tenure brought healing to a fractured region of churches, the Rev. Billie John Couch, pastor of LakeRidge United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas, told a reporter from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
“He helped us to listen to one another,” Couch added.
Whitfield encouraged local churches to focus on the denominational mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Couch said.
Murray Murphy, a layperson from Big Spring, Texas, told the reporter that he appreciated Whitfield’s inclusion of laity in mission endeavors.
“He said we need our laity to step forward,” Murphy explained.
Whitfield’s younger brother, Charles Whitfield, shared personal vignettes of the bishop’s formative years. “He taught me about … caring about family,” he said. Whitfield’s family expressed pride in the bishop’s ministry.
Ordained by the North Arkansas Conference, Whitfield served congregations in Texas and Arkansas and as a district superintendent.
Whitfield’s appointed ministry for the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences ends Aug. 31.
On Sept. 1, he will become as bishop-in-residence at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
United Methodists support bishops like Whitfield through the Episcopal Fund, which pays bishops’ salaries, office and travel expenses, and provides pensions and health benefits. Please give generously.
Four Logan, Iowa, congregations — including First United Methodist Church — joined forces for vacation Bible school, drawing more than 150 children.
“That was a surprising and gratifying number of students,” co-organizer Karen Ryerson told the Logan Herald-Observer. “It is proof of the power of this program.”
More than 50 volunteers led Bible study, crafts, music and recreation. The congregations shared costs and recruited volunteers. Each church took charge of a day’s lesson and snacks.
Two ministries benefited from the joint VBS — an annual food drive and the PET (Personal Energy Transportation) project spearheaded by First United Methodist Church. The children raised $440, almost enough to buy two PET units.
“This is a great mission project to provide the students and our neighbors with the vision to give locally but to also have a global reach,” Ryerson told the newspaper.
The interfaith VBS illustrates the importance of the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which enables United Methodists to have a presence and a voice in the activities of national and worldwide ecumenical and interreligious organizations.
We come together to share Your Living Bread --
the feast of Grace
that You set before us this and every day.
Transform us into that which we eat:
the food that sustains the life of the world.
Let these gifts be signs of our transformation
and ingredients of life abundant for all.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
Inspired by John 6:51
from Radical Gratitude
Beckoning God, whether we are elected bishops or eager volunteers, our task is important. Thank you for our episcopal leaders and for our “everyday people” who keep the cogs of your church moving. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Creator and Architect of the Universe: Like Solomon so long ago, we pray to you and ask for wisdom -- wisdom to know your will, wisdom to realize the transient nature of what the world says is wealth, wisdom to invest our time and talent in things that will last and will have eternal significance. What we offer to you this morning is but a token of what you are due, but we offer it as a reminder that if we invest wisely in things that help usher in your Kingdom of love and compassion, we will never be found wanting. In the name of the Christ who held nothing back, we pray. Amen. (I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)
from General Board of Discipleship
“If there is no laughter, Jesus has gone somewhere else. If there is no joy and freedom, it is not a church: it is simply a crowd of melancholy people basking in a religious neurosis. If there is no celebration, there is no real worship.”
-- Steve Brown