September 3, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Jean and I spent Labor Day weekend in the San Juan Islands. We went there a couple of years ago and had a great time seeing Orca whales. We went whale watching again on Sunday out of Friday Harbor. This time we saw transient Orcas, as opposed to the resident whales we had seen two years earlier. We had to go all the way to Sydney, B.C. to find them – five of them, the youngest just over a year old! And it was just as exciting to see these as it was to see the others two years ago.
After the trip, as we were sitting above Friday Harbor waiting for the ferry back to Anacortes, I was aware of how peaceful I was feeling. A day with nature. A day of awe. No thoughts of work. There’s something to this Sabbath stuff!
I hope you are taking care of you even as you continue to care for others.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
On the Sunday before our country remembers the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it's a deep blessing to encounter lectionary texts that remind us of Jesus' commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" in very concrete, practical ways. The commandment's radical empathy won't allow us to just wish good things for our neighbors -- we must "do" and "be" the good. Over the last eight years, we know that so many of you have responded to the attacks with transformed/transforming, loving acts. We pray that through your active empathy, not only will your neighbor know new expressions of Love and Grace, but that you may as well.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
In reflecting on Kingdomtide, the Desert Rain Community of New Mexico writes: "During his earthly ministry, the central good news that Jesus proclaimed was the gospel of the kingdom of God. ...'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!' (Mark 1:15). However, Jesus did not merely proclaim or teach about the kingdom of heaven, he demonstrated it by healing the sick, delivering demoniacs, and performing all kinds of powerful miracles. Heaven had begun to invade earth."
During this season, Radical Gratitude continues to look at how we (God's stewards) are called not only to proclaim/teach the good news of God's "invading" realm of Grace, but to actively engage in this invasion. In the process, may we all find that our lives have been invaded by Grace as well.
From theologian Joerg Rieger*:
"One can see how seriously the mature [John] Wesley takes the love of neighbor by the fact that he now includes 'works of mercy' -- good deeds for the benefit of the neighbor -- into the list of the means of grace. ...Works of mercy are more than just correct actions . . . they are channels that convey God's grace to the one who acts mercifully. A work of mercy is, therefore, no longer a one-way street leading from the well-meaning Christian to the other in need. Something comes back in return, which transforms the doer of mercy as well. In doing works of mercy . . . a real encounter with God takes place that cannot be separated from the encounter with the other."
Have you ever experienced a "work of mercy" ("good deeds for the benefit of the neighbor") to be a two-way street? If you have, reflect why this was the case. If you haven't, how could you actively seek out this sort of experience?
*Reiger, "Between God and the Poor: Rethinking the Means of Grace in the Wesleyan Tradition," in The Poor and the People Called Methodists, Richard Heitzenrater, ed., Nashville: Kingswood, 2002, p.87; bold added for emphasis.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for September 9, 2012: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125 or Psalm 124; James 2:1-10, (11-13,) 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
For centuries, Christians have debated about the relationship between doing good works and having faith in God's un-earnable Grace. While the debate didn't begin with Martin Luther, he added a lot of heat to it when he called James an "epistle of straw" -- a book that insists that faith without works is dead. Because of the great injustices he saw within the church of his time (a church that insisted that one could actually earn or buy God's Grace), Luther adamantly clung to the belief (based on his reading of Paul's letters*) that God's freely given Grace was just that: completely free. In other words, he believed that there was no action or good work that could earn Grace. Luther firmly rooted his entire theology and ethics in this belief.
Following in this Protestant tradition, John Wesley also rooted his practical theology within "free Grace."** But, Wesley believed that free Grace naturally awakens all sorts of responses within us -- responses that are both spiritual and action-oriented. Last week's Radical Gratitude offered this quote from Wesley that is relevant for this week's reflection as well: "We are doubtless 'justified by faith.' This is the corner-stone 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."
Wesley wasn't just trying to convince "the people called Methodists" of their stewarding responsibility: to share God's Grace with those most deprived of it. Certainly, Wesley shared James' passionate concerns about the poor who were oppressed or neglected by the rich (James 2:2-3, 15-16); certainly, he strongly adhered to the second greatest commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (cited in 2:8); he shared Jesus' passion for extending God's Grace to even the most socially/religiously disenfranchised (see this week's passage from Mark****); and certainly he would have resonated very strongly with this week's passage from Proverbs. But, John Wesley had an equally important concern: the risk of apathy, atrophy, and apostasy that the rich, powerful, socially/religiously-enfranchised faced if they didn't respond actively to Grace. He feared that their faith -- their sense of the awesome reality of God's Grace -- would die if they didn't put it into action. Wesley believed that "hoarding" God's gifts of Grace (e.g., time, money, compassion, etc.) "...in the face of needy others directly endangers such virtues as humility and patience while fostering such vices as resentment and contempt."***** In addition to cultivating virtues and avoiding vices, Wesley believed that "the encounter with those in need sheds light on our understanding of God. ...That is to say, works of mercy (the encounters with the needy) are channels of God's grace that help us better understand who God is. While works of mercy do not tell us the whole story, they do in fact offer a glimpse of God's identity, as Jesus' own story shows."****** In light of potential of glimpsing God's identity, the words from Proverbs 22:9 -- "Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor" -- ring with even greater truth and joyful possibility.
*In his preface to James, Luther wrote, "[James] contradicts Paul by teaching justification by works."
**See, for example, Wesley's sermon "Free Grace."
*** Wesley: (Sermon 35: "The Law Established through Faith")
**** For excellent commentary on this difficult passage (i.e., regarding the Syro-Phoenician/pagan woman's daughter), please see Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus, New York: Orbis, 1988; in particular pp. 197-205.
*****Randy L. Maddox, "'Visit the Poor': John Wesley, the Poor, and the Sanctification of Believers," in The Poor and the People Called Methodists, Richard Heitzenrater, ed., Nashville: Kingswood, 2002, p. 76.
****** Reiger, "Between God and the Poor: Rethinking the Means of Grace in the Wesleyan Tradition," ibid., p. 96; bold added for emphasis.
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:
Even though summer "officially" ends on September 22 with the fall equinox, we all know that Labor Day weekend is "really" the end of summer. It marks a transition in our culture when school begins and much of life changes with it. For many of our churches if means that programs in music and Christian Education ramp-up as well.
Today as we bring our gifts and tithes and offerings, let's celebrate the new ministry opportunities that this fall season brings for us as we continue to boldly make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Awareness and Action
Please consider this excerpt from Rev. Peter Sawtell's article "Affirming Stewardship":
In many churches, this is the stewardship season, and we devote lots of time and energy to building our financial base for the coming year. In most cases, though, we're not being accurate when we call it "stewardship." What we're really doing during these months is pure fundraising work. Our efforts at education and persuasion are about philanthropy, benevolence and charity, and those are very different from stewardship.
Dictionaries clarify that a steward is one who manages the affairs and resources of another. ...In contrast, philanthropy, benevolence and charity have to do with the humanitarian distribution of one's own assets. ...Stewardship is totally different from ideas of benevolence in asserting whose stuff and whose intentions are important. A philanthropist is noted for generosity with her or his wealth. A steward does not need to be either wealthy or generous, only capable and responsible in dealing with the assets of another.
Our efforts at church fundraising may be practical and effective, but they are theologically shallow. We have conceded that the members of our congregations see their wealth, time and talent as their own. And so we ask them to give out of what is theirs; we don't ask them to be responsible in their stewardship of what God has entrusted to them.
If you would like to help your church explore Christian stewardship in greater depth, please check out our free resource: "Grace & Gratitude: A Four-Week Worship Resource for Exploring Christian Stewardship in the Wesleyan Tradition." With Wesley's three-part stewardship "formula" as its foundation, this resource provides four, complete worship services; Grace & Gratitude response cards; helpful organizers' timelines; and many other resources that will enrich your church's perception and practice of stewardship. Click here to download this resource.
“Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”
--Proverbs 22:9. NRSV
“My favorite Sunday school teacher,” recalled Steven Adair, “was Peggy Stevens at Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Our teachers did a rotation, and I was always most excited about class when she was the teacher every fourth Sunday.
“She was like another grandmother … a loving Christian. I now keep her memorial service program in the Bible she gave me in third grade.” Today Adair assists with coordinating Rethink Church community events through United Methodist Communications, Nashville.
“Cool, very conscientious” Sunday school teachers were important in Charles Niedringhaus’ youth. In particular, he remembers two influential men who helped shape his life back in the ‘60s at Grace Methodist Church, Charlotte, N.C.” Today he teaches Sunday school.
Church camp made a difference in Kathleen Barry’s life. “In 6th grade,” she said, “I was allowed to go to Cincinnati to a two-week boarding camp. We rode horses, made crafts with dead insects and had a day where we wore the most unmatched patterns we could find. I had a blast and could have stayed all summer.”
Every year, often in the autumn after a summer hiatus, United Methodists observe Christian Education Sunday. A special, annual conference-sponsored offering strengthens programs of Christian nurture — Sunday school, confirmation classes, vacation Bible school and camp.
What an opportunity to celebrate the saints who make the time to share Christ’s love with people of all ages!
As we survey a world troubled by conflict, terror and natural disaster, God’s image often is absent or distorted. Where is God is in the midst of pain and turmoil?
One role of Christian education is to teach and affirm that God is concerned with and involved in all of life. It is a hard lesson to retain when things are falling apart, and that is precisely when we must trust it the most. When we need to see God’s image reflected back to us, we should be able to expect it in the lives of our Christian friends.
Consequently, we have an obligation as members of the family of faith to live so that others, who need to see the light of Christ, will see it in us.
Through Christian education, we invite people and communities of faith to be transformed as they are inspired and challenged to:
•Know and experience God through Jesus Christ
•Claim and live God's promises
•Grow and serve as Christian disciples.
--Prayer and newsletter nugget adapted from a Christian Education Week guide by the Rev. Diana L. Hyson for the General Board of Discipleship
Your Scripture tells us:
"Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor."*
Please forgive us for those times when being generous feels less like a blessing
and more like drudgery.
In this time of offering, please restore to us the joy
that comes with giving our full lives back to You
through "the poor," Your "bosom friends."**
In Your name, Amen.
**A term used by Charles Wesley -- one of the founders of the United Methodist tradition -- in reference to "the poor."
from Radical Gratitude
O God, we trust your wisdom and value your instruction. Thank you for the teachers whom you call and equip to speak your good words. We pray that they will know the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit and that we will receive their lessons with open hearts and minds. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Almighty and most gracious God, we come together this morning and offer our praise and thanks, even as we offer these gifts from the abundance you have given us. Remind us that, through your word, you call us to care for one another, to share generously, and to treat the poor as those who are your beloved children. Remind us continually that there are blessings you have reserved for those who share generously with those who are in need. Bring us to the world that most resembles your Kingdom, where justice and compassion are shared like the air we breathe. In the name of Christ our Savior, we pray. Amen. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Jesus spoke about money more than any other single subject, except the kingdom of God itself. Perhaps this was because Jesus understood how money itself can become a god."
--Eugene Grimm, Generous People: How to Encourage Vital Stewardship