August 27, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I've been at the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center today participating in an orientation event for clergy new to our conference. It’s great to have this opportunity to meet new colleagues and to help them get oriented to what it means to do ministry in our area. Some of the conversation is a bit technical – how to complete your year-end reports, etc – but most is deeper conversation about how we can do ministry in a place where church isn’t the norm.
I’m grateful for all of my colleagues who are willing to enter the conversation and serve in our neighborhood. May you be richly blessed in your ministry this week.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
As Labor Day weekend approaches, we hope that you're looking forward to a time of rest from your labors. While Labor Day is generally regarded a time of relaxation (and maybe your last "hurrah" this summer), it originates in the Knights' of Labor parades* (in New York City in 1882 and 1884) that brought needed attention to workers' rights. This labor union's motto was "an injury to one is the concern for all" and they worked on ending the use of child labor, attaining equal work for equal pay, shortening the work day to eight hours, and other efforts. The Knights' efforts express a vision for a more humane approach to human work and (from a Christian perspective) for good stewardship of the health, energy, and talents that God entrusts to us. It's the sort of good stewardship that John Wesley strongly promoted in his sermon "The Use of Money" in which he writes, "We ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor (which is in effect the same thing) at the expense of our health."
Rather than something oppressive, human labor can and should be an expression of God's grace-filled creativity alive in the world. While the Knights' of Labor no longer exists today, Labor Day still offers us a restful opportunity to reflect on the true nature of human work -- work that can and should be a loving, life-giving response to God's own work.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Image: Catholic Worker Movement logo.
As mentioned last week, what was once simply the season of "Ordinary Time" (the season following Pentecost) now comes with two optional observances for churches: Kingdomtide and the Season of Creation. The former option focuses on "Christian social concerns"* -- those aspects of "social holiness" (John Wesley) that help to reveal God's Kingdom/Kin-dom in our midst. The latter option expands these concerns to include stewardship/care of God's broader creation. In whatever ways you observe Ordinary Time, may they enrich your vocation a steward helping to unveil God's Kingdom.
*The New Handbook of the Christian Year, Hoyt Hickman et. al, p. 241.
From John Wesley:*
"We are doubtless 'justified by faith.' This is the cornerstone of the whole Christian building . . . but [good works] are an immediate fruit of that faith ...So that if good works do not follow our faith, even all inward and outward holiness, it is plain that our faith is nothing worth."
From UMC Bishop Kenneth Carder:**
"[John] Wesley's stewardship practice . . . is summarized in the familiar three-part formula: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. ...Do we need any admonition to earn all we can? Close reading of Wesley, however, quickly shows that he was not giving theological rationale for an aggressive acquisitiveness that characterizes much of American society. Instead, Wesley's emphasis is on earning all you can through participating fully in God's healing and creative work in the world. ...'Earn all you can' is a call to vocation that contributes to God's mission of salvation (healing) of creation."
How are your "good works" related to how you earn a living? Why might both be essential expressions of Christian faith?
*From John Wesley's sermon, "The Law Established through Faith."
**From Bishop Carder's presentation: "A Wesleyan Perspective on Christian Stewardship."
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for September 2, 2012: Song of Solomon 2:8- 13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 or Psalm 72; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Beginning this Sunday, the lectionary moves into readings from Hebrew wisdom literature, James (considered by many as "Christian wisdom literature"), and Mark. This move leads us to texts (at least in the case of James and the Hebrew scriptures) that were written for practical, instructive reasons. The practical nature of these writings makes them particularly helpful in this season in which we reflect on action-oriented responses to God's Grace -- responses that fall under the umbrella of Christian stewardship.
The passage in James begins with a remembrance of God's Grace and then moves quickly on to suggesting responses to Grace. It begins poetically, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." Like the familiar hymn reminds us, "Great is thy faithfulness . . . there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, they compassions, they fail not...," the writer of James reminds early Christians that God's abundant, un-earnable Grace is unending. James was addressing Christians of the new "diaspora" -- scattered peoples living in alien (and sometimes hostile) environments who needed to be reminded of God's unfailing Grace.
But, more than reminding Christians of the theological foundations of their faith, James is concerned with whether or not the dispersed Christians are expressing it (i.e., How are they living as the "first fruits" of Grace?; v. 18). He's concerned that just passively believing in God's Grace, and not responding to it, will make a mockery out of this "pure" (v.27) faith and breed apostasy among believers. Therefore, James strongly urges his readers to "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers" (v.22). "It is not that faith is unimportant, but rather that faith without works is not faith at all. James' concern is that faith and works must be unified, his goal is completeness and integrity."** "Works" for James do not replace faith (or help one to "earn" God's Grace that is freely given), they help one's faith to grow into its full expression.
What sort of "works" did James have in mind? In this first chapter, James begins to talk about expressions of both personal and social holiness (terms that may be familiar to United Methodists). Personal holiness was one way of acting out the "law of liberty" (v.25). This law was not about empty, oppressive rituals (like those practiced by the Pharisees in this week's reading from Mark***), but about actively avoiding excesses (the "superfluity," as Wesley said) that inevitably surrounded the scattered Christians. Social holiness was also about acting out the "law of liberty" -- expressing justice, love, and charity in ways that actively care for those most cut off from God's Grace (e.g., orphans and widows).
Again, this combination of personal and social holiness was essential to John Wesley. He believed that this combination -- which he also characterized as "works of piety" (e.g., prayer, corporate worship, healthy living) and "works of mercy" (a wide range of loving actions that benefit others****) -- was essential for receiving and responding to Grace. He also believed this combination to be essential for helping one's faith to grow into its full expression. For example, he believed that "...works of piety like worship -- which express responsive love for God - would deepen our love for others, while works of mercy would deepen our love for God."***** Over the next several weeks, Radical Gratitude will explore why this was the case for Wesley and why it's the case for Christian stewardship today.
*Richard Scheef comments, "It would be a mistake to look into James for profound theology. The letter is no such theological treatise. It is rather a collection of moral exhortations. The practice of the Christian life is the author's subject." (The Interpreters' One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, Charles M. Laymon, editor, Nashville: Abingdon, 1971.)
**The UM Women's Study on the Epistle of James.
***On this subject the UMC GBOD Worship site comments, "Jesus took issue with their ritual observances because they had abandoned the commandments of God in favor of human traditions. Over time, Pharisee traditions came to be regarded as the Law, obscuring the Law's real intent, which was to provide a ritual way for human beings to stay in relationship with God." For excellent commentary on Mark, please see Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus, New York: Orbis, 1988.
****Wesley lists some of these works of mercy in "Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount (VI) ": "...every work of charity included, every thing which we give, or speak, or do, whereby our neighbour may be profited; whereby another man may receive any advantage, either in his body or soul. The feeding the hungry, the clothing the naked, the entertaining or assisting the stranger, the visiting those that are sick or in prison, the comforting the afflicted, the instructing the ignorant, the reproving the wicked, the exhorting and encouraging the well- doer..."
*****Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology, Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1994, p. 215.
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:
As tropical storm Isaac approached Haiti, UMCOR staff there were watching closely and preparing for the storm’s arrival. After the storm, the staff is engaged in relief efforts, even as UMCOR keeps watch as the storm enters the Gulf of Mexico. As always, United Methodists are living out their commitment to serve in the name of Jesus.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of our shared ministry to those who experience the ravages of nature. I invite you to add a special gift to UMCOR to continue this ministry.
“Defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor!”
--Psalm 72:4b, An Inclusive-Language Lectionary
“A single mother is someone who takes risks and sacrifices everything so that her children can grow up in a comfortable environment. Single mothers are the wonderful inspiration that keeps flowing like a river, and I am one.”
Tarsha Degay was a resident at Warren Village, a United Methodist-supported ministry in Denver. Fleeing an emotionally abusive relationship, she said she was going shopping while actually going to Warren Village and secretly signing a lease. She realized her life was starting over.
Degay credits family advocate, David, for giving her the hypothetical toolbox necessary to construct her house of support. “He had me fill out a goal worksheet and helped me say nice things about myself. He was my rock, and at the time, I needed that. David was the first man that I was able to trust, and he never gave up on me.”
After enrolling in school and earning an associate degree, Degay has a new goal: to obtain a master’s degree in counseling psychology and to start a nonprofit organization for single parents. She attributes her success to the guidance she and her two children received at Warren Village through child care, activities, advocates and life-skills classes.
“I thank Warren Village,” Degay said, “for giving me the tools to build my house, actually live in it and enjoy the fruits of my labor. It really takes a village!”
--Adapted from The Warren Village Villager, Summer 2012
Knowing that the Bible story was about Daniel, a grandmother, whose special-needs grandson was visiting vacation Bible school, hoped the boy’s day had gone well.
“What did you learn today?” she asked.
“Well, we learned,” he said, with a long pause, “that when things change, God is always with you.” Explaining further, the first-grader told his grandmother, “Daniel had to move to a new place, but he wasn’t afraid because God was there too!” Wow! Lesson learned!
Heading back to school can be a scary prospect for a small child, especially one with few resources. Through Clothes 4 Kids, one of several outreach programs of United Methodist-supported Skyline Urban Ministries, Oklahoma City, children receive new clothing and affirmation that they belong. The No. 1 goal is to offer dignity. Our faith teaches that we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Like the first-grader attending VBS, we also know that “when things change, God is with us.”
--The Rev. Claudia Lovelace, executive director, adapted from Skyline Monthly News, August 2012
Your abundant, un-earnable Grace never ends.
In this time of offering, help us to remember
that we give not to earn Your Grace,
but to say thank You, thank You, thank You
for every expression of it.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
God of deliverance, we have the tools and the ability to free your children from abuse, low self-esteem and fear. Show us new ways to reach out to hurting people everywhere and to share your love. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Loving God, as we offer these gifts to you this morning, we pray that not only these tokens but our lives in their totality might be seen as generous acts of giving – reflecting you as the source of all good things. May we be doers of your word and not just hearers, and may the lives we live as we leave this place this morning be a testimony and sermon about your love, grace, and compassion for all your children. We pray this in the name of your Son who lived among us as your gift of love; in Christ's name, we pray. Amen. (James 1:17-27)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Stewardship does not describe any one dimension of the Christian life; it describes the whole posture called 'Christian.'"
--Douglas John Hall