September 10, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I’ve never been much of a fan of bumper sticker theology, although I confess that bumper stickers have provided a lot of sermon material. One of my favorites was the one that said, “Honk if you love Jesus.” It provided a sermon title, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anybody can honk.”
So I was intrigued by the recent Christian Century project of stating the gospel in seven words. Walter Bruggemann contributed “Israel’s God’s bodied love continues world-making.” For Brian McLaren it was “In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation.” Bill McKibben added “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Kathleen Norris put it this way, “God is love: this is no joke.” You can read more, and add yours, by clicking here.
The gospel lesson this week lands us dead center in Mark’s gospel, where Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” As we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, it’s our challenge to communicate clearly who Jesus is and what his message is. I’m not sure about using only seven words. I am grateful for all of you who continue to make the gospel message relevant for a time when much communication is limited to 140 characters.
I hold you in prayer this week as you spread the good news. May you find joy in our common work.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Part of our "working definition" of "Christian steward" reads: "As expressions of their awareness, stewards choose to enter into active partnership with God and others to lovingly care for every gift of grace that God entrusts to them." Throughout this season, we've been focusing on this "active partnership" -- on what motivates us to enter into this partnership and what the fruits of this partnership may look like. This week, we remember those times when this partnership means that we're simultaneously "broken healers of creation" and "joyful bearers of salvation" (the words of JD Walt's poem below).
Grace and Peace be with you on this day of remembrance.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
PNW Annual Conference Image: Gardeners at Trinity United Methodist, Seattle.
The following "spoken word poem and would-be benediction" was written by John David Walt* as a celebration of Kingdomtide. We offer it for your reflection during Ordinary Time/Kingdomtide/Season of Creation because of its reminder that God's Kindom is found in the "ordinary": seeds, breeze, trees, a feast, sharing, etc. We also offer it because of its call to be "broken healers of creation, joyful bearers of salvation" -- a call to active stewardship of all that God loves.
Kingdomtide: Creation Healed
It's that sound
In the ground
When the seed becomes found
And the world gather's round
Can you hear it?
It's the ease
In the breeze
From the healing in the leaves
Clapping hands of the trees
Do you see it?
It's the feast
In the yeast
When the great feed the least
War and strife cease for peace
Will you taste it?
It's the care
In the air
When the rich start to share
Fragrant skies perfuming prayer
Won't you smell it?...
Go now and be
Broken healers of creation
Joyful bearers of salvation
Crucified saints of a cruciform nation**
Are you Ready?
*John David (JD) Walt is the Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary. This poem was reprinted by permission of the author and excerpted from Asbury's Poetry and Arts Blog.
**"Cruciform nation" is another reference to God's Kingdom/Kindom.
From poet Marge Piercy*:
"I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
"...The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn
...The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real."
To you, what is the most needed "work of the world"? Does your life "cry for" engagement in such work? In what ways can/do you heed this cry?
*Excerpted from Marge Piercy's poem, "To be of use," from Circles on the Water © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for September 16, 2012: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
In this week's reading from Mark, Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" Peter, the disciple with the correct response, identifies Jesus by his work: Jesus is the "anointed" (blessed and legitimate) leader who will unveil God's restored Kingdom. For Peter, Jesus' work was exciting -- so exciting that Peter willingly left the security of his previous work and home to "get behind" (opiso mou, in Greek, as in Mk. 1:17 & 20 and in 8:33) Jesus. And in following Jesus, Peter certainly experienced the thrill of all sorts of miracles (healings, walking on water, raising people from the dead) -- powerful signs that said to him: "Surely, Jesus is the Messiah; surely, he is one who will finally free us, Israel, from political oppression and restore our fortunes and honor." Peter had "signed up" to contribute his life energy to the sort of work that he believed Jesus was about. Perhaps he believed in this so strongly that he even rebuked Jesus (v. 32) for casting doubt on his glorious vision of this work.
Like Peter, it's exciting to follow Jesus when we believe that we're signing up for a life of thrilling, soon-to-be triumphant, even glamorous work. But, as Jesus sharply pointed out to Peter and the other disciples, the work of unveiling the Kingdom can be humiliating and profoundly painful, yet it invariably means resurrection (Mk. 8:31). Unearthing the Kindom "is common as mud . . . it smears the hands" (to use Marge Piercy's words above) and it means new life for all. It's the work of all Christian disciples and stewards. The early Christians who were part of Mark's persecuted community knew such suffering, such common, humiliating, treacherous, yet most needed work. In Mark 8, Jesus rebukes those who would only "sign on" for a glamorous political revolution without (1) being willing to make deep personal sacrifices, (2) entering into the suffering of those with whom Jesus suffered, or (3) expecting resurrection.
In reflecting on what we're "signing on" for, we offer you an extended excerpt from UMC Bishop Kenneth Carder speaking on this passage from Mark:
"This image of God [who suffers] is as objectionable to us as it was to Peter. We want an invincible God who shields us from our own vulnerability. That is the God we imitate and worship -- invincible, self-sufficient, controlling, an all-powerful God who shares divine power with us. 'Immortal, invincible, God only wise' is the God we consider worthy of worship and emulation. Strength in weakness, gaining by losing, the power of the cross -- that still seems foolish to those who measure strength by gross national product and megaton bombs, those devoted to finishing first, those who thrive on power as prominence.
"But the Bible bears witness to another God, a God who hears the cries of the poor and defends the orphans, widows and immigrants. The God of the Bible suffers with the people. God comes among us as a vulnerable baby born among the homeless, lives as an immigrant, associates with the outcasts and compares the kingdom to receiving a little child. God is then executed as a criminal and buried in a borrowed tomb.
"The message is profound: The Transcendent One has moved into our vulnerability, our guilt, our alienation, our suffering, our death. God has claimed our weakness as a resource for divine power. God has claimed our wounds as potential means of healing.
"...Because we follow a crucified Christ, we enter into solidarity with the world's suffering masses. We experience the power and love of God through the vulnerable and suffering. Friendship with those who suffer brings power. Nothing so snaps us to attention and moves us into the depth of life's meaning as an anguished cry from one we love. Peripheral concerns are stripped away and we enter the sacred world of shared suffering. We enter into the presence of the crucified God. We follow the crucified Christ as people of hope.
"We live on the other side of the cross from Peter. What Jesus hinted to Peter at Caesarea Philippi happened. The Crucified One became the Risen One. Those who follow him know the future does not belong to the triumph of suffering, sin and death. It belongs to the reign of Christ all over creation. We have no reason, therefore, to be ashamed of him or hesitant to follow him. The One who calls us to take up our cross goes with us to the cross . . . and beyond."
*From Bishop Carder's "Why Follow a Crucified Christ? (Mk. 8:27-38)" article that appeared in the Christian Century, Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 1997, p.753; 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:
Although Hurricane Isaac didn’t reach the magnitude that Katrina did, it still spread devastation across a wide area. As usual, United Methodists responded from Haiti through the Gulf States and further north. Some are providing hands-on assistance, while others are participating through monetary gifts.
Today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in our shared ministry to those who suffer the ravages of nature.
Awareness and Action
In the spirit of this week's readings from Proverbs ("Wisdom cries out in the streets"), Psalms ("The heavens are telling the glory of God"), and James (taking great care with one's "voice"), let us consider the "vocation" (from the word vocare, "to call") of poet in the world today. JD Walt (the author of the above poem, "Kingdomtide: Creation Healed") writes*:
"The time has come for pastors to once again call forth and encourage poets. Poetry is a fragile craft and poets die a thousand deaths from timidity and discouragement. Poetry lives in the place of travail and thrives in the realm of mystery. We must call forth our poets and take time to declare their verse 'alive.'
"...Poets must be encouraged, for with a mere handful of words they subvert the world order. Is it any wonder our poets are the most dangerous liaisons of the Kingdom? Poets take words to their highest power. Like chemists experimenting in the lab, poets combine words into combusting compositions. Theologians laboriously wrestle with words to describe, define and delineate the qualities and character of God. Poets train words to dance in the declaration of God's glory. They craft cathedrals with words. And when poems burst into song the world joins the dance."
Take time this week to reflect on the poems in this issue of Radical Gratitude. In addition, consider discovering new poetry from among a wide range of Christian poets (from evangelical to mainline Protestant and Catholic, from Orthodox to "syncretistic") at the Modern and Contemporary Poets of Christian Faith web site. Also, consider writing a poem of your own -- perhaps one that considers the "shape" of God's Kingdom/Kindom and your role within it.
*Source: Asbury Theological Seminary's Poetry and Arts Blog.
Image: Student poet from Montomery Blair High School (Silver Spring, MD).
“Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. …
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
--Psalm 19:2-4, NRSV
Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, celebrates the contributions of Hispanic-Latino people to the United States. It is a time for Hispanic-Latino people to celebrate who they are and for the whole nation to celebrate that anyone can be part of the United States without abandoning or diminishing his or her culture.
As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, the term “Hispanic” refers to Spanish-speaking people of any race. On the 2010 census form, people of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin could identify themselves as Mexican/Mexican American/Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.
According to the Census Bureau, more than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. This increase accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million growth in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.
“Such diversity,” said retired Bishop Woodie White, “enhances life and culture in our nation.”
Communities across the United States celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with parades, festivals parties, and radio and televised programs. It is an opportunity also for congregations to celebrate the contributions of all people to the life and ministry of the church.
--The Rev. Liana Pérez Félix, with data from http://2010.census.gov/2010census/
Hispanic Heritage Month honors the culture and traditions of Hispanic Americans. The observance begins in mid-September because the 15th is the anniversary of independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; the 16th for Mexico; and the 18th for Chile.
From government to the armed forces, from the culinary arts, education, science and sports to film, theater, music and dance, Hispanic-Latino people are valued members of U.S. society.
Writing a reflection in The United Methodist Reporter (Oct. 4, 2011), retired Bishop Woodie White said the Hispanic Heritage event began in 1968 as a weeklong observance, but was expanded to a month in 1988.
“While the early settlers of America came from Europe,” White said, “more recent immigration patterns are from Latin America, Africa and Asia. National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes our citizens and ancestors who have come from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. They represent diverse cultures, colors and traditions, and during this time, we celebrate their histories and contributions.”
We are Your stewards.
We are Your partners working lovingly to care for
every gift that You've entrusted to us.
This work -- this stewarding -- is as common as mud
and as beautiful and satisfying as the finest piece of art.
Please receive these small fruits of our work
as symbols of our commitment to continue in
Kingdom-building partnership with and for You.
In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
God of diversity, thank you for making each of us unique. Help us to welcome all of your children and to encourage newcomers to become part of our church family. Thank you for ways we are alike and for ways we are different. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Generous God, remind us that every day we answer the question, "Who do you say I am?" by the words we speak, actions we take, the gifts we offer, and the witness of our lives. We want to proclaim Christ as the Savior – of the world and of our lives! Take this offering we give and let it be dedicated to that proclamation, and more than these, that when Christ asks that question to our hearts, our response will not be hearsay but personal witness! We pray boldly in the name of our Rock and our Redeemer, Messiah, Son of the Living God! Amen. (Mark 8:27-38)
from General Board of Discipleship
"People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things."
-- Sir Edmund Hillary