September 17, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
In his new book, Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life published by Alban Institute, David Edman Gray reminds us of the importance of balancing life and work. He writes, “Establishing healthy practices can help both clergy and lay leaders avoid burnout. While congregations may push their leaders to meet all their needs all the time, when church leaders are balanced and refreshed, they are much better able to serve and lead their congregations over time.” [You can read his ten Healthy Practices for Practicing Balance here.]
I confess that I am not a model of this balance. But Gray’s book is a reminder to me that I really can serve best when I also care for me and my relationships. It’s part of my commitment to “whole-life” stewardship.
As the pace of work and programming has ramped up with the arrival of fall, Gray reminds us that self-care is critical to sustaining healthy leadership. I hope you are remembering to care for you.
Grace and Peace,
Coming Up: World Communion Sunday is October 7. For interpretive materials and offering resource visit the UMC World Communion website.
Living in God’s Grace
With school and work back in full swing, many of us may be revisiting an important life question: what is my vocation? What is God calling me to? On several occasions in Radical Gratitude, we've mentioned theologian Frederick Buechner's definition of vocation: "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."* "Deep gladness" speaks to those unique places in each of our lives where we most immediately experience God's Grace alive and at work; "deep hunger" refers to those places within our life contexts (neighborhoods, country, the world) that seem to us to cry out most for God's Grace.
In this week's lectionary readings, Jesus models and proclaims a particular vocation: "servant of all." We also come across Proverbs' "woman of substance" -- a model, wise steward who serves her household and community. But, how could living into a "servant-of-all" vocation meet Buechner's definition? It might meet the "deep hungers" part of his equation, but would it meet the "deep gladness" part? The equal marriage between the two parts of this equation -- between receiving and sharing Grace -- is essential to being God's Grace-filled/Grace-distributing servants and stewards. May you find and rejoice in this marriage within your own life.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
* From Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.
Throughout this church season we've been exploring John Wesley's instruction to Christian stewards to "earn all you can." This action-oriented instruction is especially appropriate during these productive late days of summer. While Wesley's instruction may conjure up images of the industrious ant in Aesop's fable ("The Ant and the Grasshopper"), Wesley had something much different in mind than just working feverishly to store-up and hoard our earnings. His vision was one of acting as co-workers with God and others to help unveil God's Kingdom/Kindom -- God's restored household of Grace. He said that such co-work (performed by means that were, in themselves, life-giving expressions of Grace) was our Christian "calling" and "bounden duty." The fruits of such work would surely mean "food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked . . . defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick . . .."* In other words, such work would radically help to unveil God's Kingdom/Kindom alive among us. As the summer begins to turn to autumn, may you know a wealth of joy in participating in God's Kindom-restoring work.
*From John Wesley's sermon, "The Use of Money."
From theologian M. Douglas Meeks*:
"...love of God is meant to be expressed also through the human being's work. The mystery of work is the power given to the human being to love God by serving life in God's creation."
How is your work (paid and/or unpaid) an expression of your love for God?
*M. Douglas Meeks, God the Economist, p. 146.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for September 26, 2012: Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Reflections on the Reading from Mark:
In last week's text from Mark, Jesus announced his destiny for the first time: "...the Son of Man must undergo great suffering . . . and be killed, and after three days rise again." (8:31) The disciples (specifically Peter) reacted to this announcement by chastising Jesus for not living into their preferred vocation as soon-to-be-triumphant liberator of Israel. Jesus reminded them of his true vocation: undergoing great suffering with all who suffer, for the sake of experiencing resurrection with all. This reminder also suggests the sort of vocation that Jesus had in mind for his disciples: to join him in entering into the world's suffering, in order to help restore God's Kingdom/household of Grace. In other words, to be God's stewards.
In this week's reading in Mark, Jesus announces his destiny a second time (9:31). This time rather than rebuking Jesus, the disciples side-step their misunderstandings and privately move on to another subject: who among them is the greatest? Can you imagine their conversation? Why would anyone care about being "greatest" if they knew that a beloved friend would be killed soon? (Perhaps, because they wanted to discern Jesus' would-be successor; perhaps simply just to move onto a more appealing subject?) And, what would be their criteria for being "greatest"? (Maybe physical and intellectual strength, wealth, social status, gender, age, etc.?) As with his first announcement, Jesus uses the disciples' reaction to reiterate the true nature of his vocation and that of his followers: to be servant of all. Donald Juel writes: "[In the New Testament] the servant here is a diakonos, one who waits on tables. The disciples do not think of themselves as waiters. They dream, as do ordinary partisans of a powerful leader, of position and rank. Divine standards run headlong into conventional measures."*
To illustrate this vocation, Jesus receives a child** into his arms -- and in essence says, "Be and do likewise." In other words, "be" like the child/servant -- the most vulnerable ones in first-century Palestine society; and, simultaneously, "do" like me and welcome/receive all other children/servants of God -- those with the least ability to repay your hospitality. Be those who joyfully rely on God's Grace alone -- those "sent" on a mission (Mark 6:11) and "vulnerable, dependent upon being received in hospitality."*** Do share God's Grace as widely and courageously (even with threats to your personal "greatness" and financial stability) as you possibly can. In being and doing so, one experiences Grace and welcomes others into Grace -- again and again.
Reflections on the Reading from Proverbs:
The image of the "Woman of Substance****" in Proverbs 31:10-31 is a verbal mosaic (an alphabetic "acrostic," the "A-to-Z's") of Wisdom in the flesh. The image isn't about just one, ideal woman (or man) or even a group of people. It's about Wisdom's unconventional power embodied within a particular socioeconomic context and time period (in this case, the post-exilic Persian period). In this context, only the rare woman is wealthy enough to be a "woman of substance" -- and even this rare woman doesn't actually own her wealth: this belongs to her husband.***** And yet, this rare, unconventional person personifies wisdom -- the shrewd steward who provides well for her household and the poor.
Today, throughout the nation and world, a "woman of substance" is still rare. Poor women continue to outnumber poor men (some statistics say by 70%, others say by 55%). "Most women do not have legal or traditional rights to land or other assets. They can't get loans or credit because they have no collateral. Other resources needed for success in business include skills training, time, and information on markets. Women are less likely to have these resources than men, and hence they are concentrated in low-return, insecure, informal occupations."****** And yet, the poorest women in the world continue to personify the sort of wisdom expressed in the Proverbs' passage: they provide for their own households, the poor(er), and even the rich. How might we learn from these shrewd, most courageous and innovative stewards? Thinking back to the passage from Mark: how might we better emulate such stewards and how might we better welcome them into God's household of Grace?
* Juel, Donald "Mark," Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, p. 133; bold added for emphasis.
**In Aramaic the word for "child" and "servant" is the same (oly).
***Please see Ched Myers' comments on the status of children in Binding the Strong Many: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus, pp. 226- 271.
**** "Substance" is an alternative translation to "capable" (chayil, in Hebrew) - the term also refers to strength, an army, wealth, ability, and bravery.
*****See Christine Roy Yoder's article: "The Woman of Substance: A Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs 31:10-31," Journal of Biblical Literature 122/3 (2003), pp. 427-447.
******Oxfam on-line article: "How Does Poverty Relate to Gender Inequality?"
Image: Displaced mother and child at a collective center in Tasanj, Bosnia, 1995. Source: UMC Global Ministries Image Gallery.
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:
We’re often reminded that we didn’t get here on our own. We stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us. Among those shoulders are those of our retired clergy. One way we express our continuing gratitude is through a health benefit provided through our Shared Ministries apportionments.
So, today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of the years of faithful service rendered by our retired clergy and our ministry to them in their retirement years.
Awareness and Action
"We walk because they walk"
From the logo on the right, you can see that the motto for Church World Service's (CWS)* annual CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty) Walks is "We walk because they walk." The "they" in this statement are people (mostly women), around the world, who must walk to bring life's basic necessities to their families: water, firewood, foraged food, etc. They continue to walk to combat statistics such as the following: "In the last 50 years, almost 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation -- that's three times the number of people killed in all wars fought in the 20th century."**
As individuals and entire church communities, we can walk in solidarity with the poorest people throughout the world -- including people in our local communities. Between mid-September and mid-October, churches throughout the country can join in scheduled CROP Walks. Up to twenty-five percent of what each CROP Hunger Walk raises helps stock food pantries that provide emergency assistance to families in need in that local area. The balance is used to help the relief, development, and refugee assistance agency in its efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty around the world.
To join a CROP Walk near you:
• Look and listen for CROP Walk announcements in your church. If you don't hear of a Crop Walk, start to talk with others in your church about participating in one (see links below).
• Click here to find scheduled CROP Walks in your area or anywhere in the U.S.
*The UMC is one of many CWSparticipating denominations/communions.
**Source: Bread for the World.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life
that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”
--James 3:13, NRSV
In July 2012, Jodi Sandoval's 14-year-old son, Noah McGuire, was shot and killed.
Sandoval, of Cincinnati, doesn’t blame her son’s friend, who pulled the trigger in what police say appears to be an accident.
She shares her son’s story, so more people will try to protect children from gun violence. Recently, Sandoval addressed a presentation on children and gun safety during the Children’s Defense Fund national conference.
The nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, which sponsors the annual Children’s Sabbath, speaks out for children, seeks to protect them from poverty and abuse, and strives to improve access to health care and education.
Tearfully, Sandoval spoke about her son.
Shortly after McGuire’s death, Sandoval told the boy who pulled the trigger and his family that she forgave them. “Blame delays solving the problem,” she asserted.
Convention attendees also focused on poverty and its possible solutions. They heard from several young people, including De’Von Jennings, 17.
Growing up in foster homes, the young man watched drugs and crime plague several of his foster siblings. Determined to be different, he earned good grades and lettered in sports. Now he is preparing to study civil engineering at Arizona State University.
“We all stand up and say that children are our future,” declared Holly Mitchell, a member of the California State Assembly.
On Children’s Sabbath, people of faith focus on the state of today’s children and families.
--Adapted from an article by Rebecca McKinsey, The Columbus Dispatch, July 24, 2012
Every year, United Methodists celebrate Children’s Sunday and Children’s Sabbath. This year’s observances are Oct. 12-14. Both are opportunities to welcome children as active participants in the life of the church. Related to the Children’s Defense Fund, Children’s Sabbath is an ecumenically celebrated weekend committed to educating the congregation about the state of today’s children and families in America. Children may sing, read Scripture, preach and lead in other ways.
Here are some ideas for this special weekend:
•Select a biblical theme.
•Select music for the children’s choir, congregational hymns, prayers and readings based on that theme.
•Invite children to create paraments, banners and the bulletin cover; write prayers and responsive readings; and plan dramatic readings and liturgical dance.
•Include every child in a way that uses and respects his or her gifts.
•Rehearse so children will not feel nervous during worship.
•Include teachers and leaders in planning.
•Remember that this a time for children to share their gifts with God and the congregation, not perform.
--Melanie Gordon, General Board of Discipleship, The United Methodist Church
You invite us all to be Your beloved children:
to live as if our lives depend solely on Your Grace
(because, indeed, they do),
to share Your Grace freely with every life that depends on You
(because, indeed, every living thing does).
With childlike trust and joy, we now share these humble offerings --
expressions of the Grace You shower upon us --
with our "siblings" throughout the world.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
God of all ages, we talk and talk and talk about how children are our future. Then we make decisions that jeopardize their well-being. Help us to put prayerful action before politics and to find ways to reach out to all of your children. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of wisdom and light, as we offer our gifts this morning, we pray that you will help us grow hearts of generosity and not selfishness, compassion and not resentment, contentment and not envy. Help us to see the abundance you have given us, and help us to focus on what we have instead of what we don't have; on abundance and not scarcity. Help us to see we are rich in your love and grace and in so many other ways. We pray it in the name of Jesus, who gave all for us. Amen. (James 3:13-4:3,7-8a)
from General Board of Discipleship
"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."
-- Theodore Hesburgh