October 15, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Six years ago I got to be a part of an UMVIM team to Angola. While I was there I met a number of people who had malaria, or who were just recovering from malaria, or who had had children die of malaria. (Of course I was safe because I was taking anti-malarial drugs.) Although “Nothing But Nets” had begun, Angola was not among the countries receiving nets at that time.
This week, things have changed. An initial distribution of some 9,000 insecticide-treated nets is taking place through Bom Jesus United Methodist Church. Two of our Western Jurisdiction bishops, Bishop Stanovsky of the Mountain Sky Area and Bishop Brown of the San Francisco Area, are participating in the distribution.
Since I was in Angola we have cut the death rate from Malaria in half – but that’s still not good enough. Zero deaths will be the only acceptable number.
I’m feeling really grateful today for The United Methodist Church and the work we are doing with Imagine No Malaria.
Thanks for your part in all we seek to do together.
Grace and Peace,
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon presents the 2012 Collins Lecture, God’s Economy: Faithful Response to the Economic Crisis at 7:00 pm on November 1 at Trinity Cathedral in Portland. The lecture features Dr. Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. The lecture is preceded by a workshop on economics from 2:30 to 5:30. Dr. Dorrien is also speaking on November 2 at First UMC of Eugene at 11:50 am and Willamette University in Salem at 7:00 pm. Click here for more information and a registration form.
In the Financial Homestretch: Ending the Year Strong is the next of Ken Sloane's series of stewardship workshops. This one is on November 8 at 5:30 MST, 4:30 PST. You've worked hard to guide the financial life of your local church through these tough times. Now that the finish line is in sight, it's not time to rest but to pick up the pace and finish strong! Join us for some ideas that may help you finish the year with celebration, not disappointment! Click here to register.
Living in God’s Grace
Please think of the person in your life whom you most respect; try to get a really clear mental picture of him or her. Now, envision this person unexpectedly arriving at your front door. After you greet each other, this person rolls up his/her sleeves, then (without warning) prepares and serves you a delicious meal, cleans the food-encrusted dishes that have been piling up for days in your kitchen sink, and then gets on his/her knees to scrub your dirty floors. What kind of strange Grace is this? This scenario represents the sort of radical, destabilizing, life-giving Grace that Jesus might have had in mind when he told his disciples (in this week's Gospel reading from Mark) to strive to be like himself: a household servant (Greek: diakonos; household waiter and/or worker acting on behalf of the owner) and slave (Greek: doulos - household slave) of all. It's the kind of Grace that awakens us from the illusion that God's household (or Kingdom) could ever come into being by force or by "tyranny" (Mark 10:42-44). Rather, God's household comes into being when we welcome a beloved, respected "servant" into our midst and when we join him/her (often with rolled-up sleeves, on our hands and knees) in the blessed work of restoring God's household.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
During the second half of this Ordinary Time season, we have shifted our stewardship focus towards the third part of John Wesley's stewardship formula: "earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." To be clear, it's easy (especially in North America) to hear Wesley's "earn all you can" as an endorsement of aggressive acquisition, "save all you can" as an invitation to hoard and stockpile what you "earn," and "give all you can" as a call to optional, charitable giving (i.e., it's often heard as: "give whatever you can, if/when you feel like it"). Earlier in Ordinary Time, Radical Gratitude explored "earn all you can," not as aggressive acquisition but as a life-giving call to active cooperation (with God and others) in helping to unveil God's Grace alive in the world. Back in the Lenten and Easter seasons, we explored "save all you can" as Wesley's call to simpler living -- his call to resist the life-depleting urge to hoard God's gifts of Grace for ourselves alone.
During this season, as we explore "give all you can," let us hear UMC Bishop Kenneth Carder's clarifying words* on Wesley's third component of Christian stewardship:
"God has a prior claim on everything and not just that which we label as 'tithe.' The popular notion that we acquire as much as possible and then give to God out of what is left over after our wants and needs are fulfilled falls short of Wesley's holistic understanding that stewardship is derived from God's ownership of everything and our invitation to be in the world as recipients and means of Grace. ...It is the third rule ["give all you can"] that gives meaning to the first two. We are to gain all we can and save all we can so that we can give all we can; and for Wesley, that means giving all to God, to whom everything belongs."
This week's reading from Mark 10:35-45 reinforces Wesley's "give all you can" call. If we, as Wesley suggests, start with the notion that God "owns" everything (picture a "household" containing all creation), then it seems only natural to "render unto God" that which truly belongs to God: every gift of creation entrusted to us, including our full lives. We don't render unto God by only putting a little bit of money into an offering plate or giving generously to our churches upon our deaths. We do this every moment of our lives when we live as Jesus did: as "servant" and "slave" to "the least of these" within God's household of life. By following Jesus' model as servant leader, we become freed from service/enslavement to another household that we think we can/should own. In following Jesus, we are finally free to be essential, beloved members of God's household of life.
*Bishop Carder offered these words at the United Methodist Summit on Christian Stewardship, Feb. 2003. Source: UMC Foundation.
From Pastor and Author, Martin B. Copenhaver*:
"In [God's] realm, everything is turned upside down, and many of our usual assumptions begin to shake loose. To lead is to be a servant. The place of greatest honor is not at the head table but in the kitchen. The greatest reward is not a gold watch but a dish towel.
"In our day we have a renewed opportunity to grasp this teaching. Most of us remember a time when the culture at large honored the Christian church as a place of special prominence. Today, of course, much of that has changed. Once again the church finds itself on the sidelines of the culture. Many decry these changes. But when the church is not invited to the banquet, there is another possibility. We can stop looking for the world to give us the places of honor and get back to our rightful place - in the kitchen."
What would serving in Copenhaver's metaphorical "kitchen" look like for you and your church?
* Martin B. Copenhaver's "Jostling for Position," Mark 10:35-45, Living by the Word Column, Christian Century, Oct 5, 1994. (Emphasis added.)
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for October 21, 2012: Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
The texts for this week provide many important insights into Christian stewardship; and because we're still in the season of Ordinary Time, we continue to look at the texts somewhat independently from one another (rather than looking for a common theme running throughout all texts, as we might in other seasons). So if you're focusing on Hebrew wisdom literature, this week's reading from Job (and Psalm 104 as well) reminds us of a fundamental understanding of Christian stewardship: God is the one who laid the foundations of the earth, makes the rain the fall, sends forth lightning, is the source of wisdom, provides all creatures with sustenance.... The key understanding here -- relevant to Christian stewardship -- is the fact that God is Creator, Sustainer, and even Owner of all that exists -- not us! In contrast to this important and humbling understanding, our broader culture bombards us daily with the message that it is not only right to envision ourselves as "owners" of all that exists, but that we should strive to acquire, hoard, and stockpile what is rightfully "ours." As mentioned previously, you may want to check out Bill McKibben's s sermon, "The Comforting Whirlwind" -- a thought-provoking stewardship reflection on this text from Job that examines these contrasting biblical and cultural messages.
Regarding this week's text from Mark, we (Tom, Tanya, and many local clergy) had the blessing of hearing some important insights on it from Robert Linthicum at the Bishop's Symposium back in 2006. His insights on Mark seemed to be essential to the discussion of Christian stewardship. Linthicum summarized the events told in Mark 10:32-45: just after Jesus tells the disciples of his death and resurrection for a third time, James and John (with seemingly insensitive/ignorant/foolish swiftness) ask Jesus to "do for us whatever we ask of you" (i.e., "serve us"). What they wanted from Jesus was to sit in positions of great political, economic, and religious power after -- as they believed -- Jesus led the Jewish people in overtaking the Roman Empire. Not only this, but they rushed to request this of Jesus before the other disciples had a chance to do so -- believing that they could somehow attain and hoard Jesus' life-giving/saving power for themselves alone. (This, of course, angers the other disciples who would also like to hold positions of status, wealth, and power in what they foresee as the new hierarchy with Jesus at the top of the heap.)
In his presentation Linthicum illuminated Jesus' response to the power-clamoring disciples:
"Jesus contrasts the exercise of leadership by 'Gentile rulers' (that is, the Roman colonial administrators and the collaborating Jewish priests, Pharisees and Sadducees) with Jesus' style of leadership. How do they differ? Jesus says, 'Among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them' (10:42). The Gentile rulers and their Jewish counterparts rule by dominance. Whether that leadership is political, economic, or religious, it is all built upon the premise that 'might makes right.' They are 'tyrants' -- exercising power unilaterally that results in a selected few having authority and domination over all others.
"...Rather than 'power over,' [Jesus tells the disciples that their community will practice] relational power [, which] is 'power with,' shared power, mutual power, reciprocal power -- the power that love and trust can build. It is not the power of weakness, of acquiescence, of apathy. It is direct, specific, realistic, flexible, accountable and negotiable. It is a power that . . . seeks the good of the other as well as one's own self. Therefore, by definition, it is a power that seeks 'not to be served but to serve' even if that means giving one's life as 'a ransom for many.'"*
In this community that will help to usher in God's Kingdom/household, everyone (especially would-be leaders!) is called to the role of diakonos (servant) and doulos (slave) for the joyful upbuilding of God's realm of justice, generosity, and joy.
For further reading on Mark 10:35-45: Please check out UMC Bishop Kenneth Carder's excellent article "The Call to Downward Mobility."
Image: "'Out of the Whirlwind' -- Job xxxviii," by an unknown artist.
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:
When First United Methodist Church of Corvallis decided to participate in a weekend consultation, it involved a huge commitment on the part of its leadership. It also involved a commitment on the part of the annual conference through The Vital Church Project. The comments following the event were incredibly positive. This is one more way that our Shared Ministry giving supports the renewal of local congregations who make disciples who change the world.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings. Let’s do so in celebration of our shared ministry of congregational development.
Awareness and Action
Halloween and Fair Trade Chocolate
"How could chocolate possibly be more delicious than it already is?" For now, chocolate is a bitter sweet:
- 284,000 children toil in abusive labor conditions in West Africa's cocoa fields
- Cocoa companies pay prices so low that many cocoa farmers cannot meet their families' basic needs"
But...with Fair Trade certified chocolate:
- Forced and abusive child labor are prohibited
- Farming families earn a price that is adequate to meet their basic human needs
- Environmentally sustainable production methods are required."
This Halloween, you can support Fair Trade-certified chocolate farmers/communities in at least three ways:
- Fair Trade your Halloween this year. I’m a bit late but check out these ideas.
- Purchase and pass out Fair Trade chocolates to trick-or-treaters who come to your home. (A wonderful treat for church events too!)
- Send a thank-you to Hershey’s for committing to participate in fair trade sourcing.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
--Mark 10:43b-44, NRSV
Who are the laity that make your church tick? I asked that question and heard about some remarkable people.
“Erin, a young woman in our church, is so humble,” one person said. “People see her doing events like vacation Bible school, but don't realize she's coordinating it. When the city flooded, she gathered home items for persons affected. She goes to local government meetings to listen and learn how to get permits for a 5K run. She is a true servant, and when I grow up (I'm a month younger than she), I want to be like her.”
Another person introduced me to Hugh.
“Our organist invited Hugh and his wife to church 10 years ago,” he said. “Overcoming some challenges in his life, he is close to receiving his five-year coin from Alcoholics Anonymous. Hugh has made a difference in the life of our church and the people who have encountered him as our lay leader the last four years. He is truly an inspiration and is so faithful to furthering God’s purpose through the work of the local church.”
United Methodists celebrate Laity Sunday annually, usually on the third Sunday in October. This observance calls the church to celebrate the ministry of all lay Christians as the Holy Spirit empowers their lives for ministry. It is a wonderful time to thank the Erins and the Hughs in our lives.
When the Rev. Olujimi Brown was 14, his pastor asked him to assist in leading worship and help with pastoral responsibilities. The congregation was uneasy because they knew a little of Olu’s reputation and he was so young.
God worked through the congregation and in Olu’s life. As a young adult, Olu started Impact United Methodist Church in Atlanta that today draws 1,200 people to worship.
The church website reads, “At Impact, it's not about who is sitting in whose pew, what Sister Jones is wearing, the color of the walls or what kind of cars the ministers drive. It is simply about praising God and sharing his love with others. We're going back to the basics by taking the ‘churchiness’ out of church.”
As the church, we may find it challenging to connect with young people today. However, we need to take risks and believe in young adults.
Change will not happen overnight, but if we remain faithful and committed to taking gospel risks, God will bless our ministry.
--Adapted from a message from Bishop John Schol, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, Sept. 11, 2012
It's hard to understand why You --
the "Owner" of everything that exists,
the "Proprietor" of this creation-encompassing household --
have chosen to become a common household "Servant."
While we may never understand Your choice fully
we ask that You reveal to us the immense joy and meaning that You find in it.
May such joy and meaning permeate our every act of servanthood,
even this very act of offering.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Loving God, thank you for Erin, Hugh and the many people who give so generously of their time and talents. Remind us often that, indeed, “yes, we’re the church together!” In your holy name, we pray. Amen
from United Methodist Communications
God of wisdom and compassion, as we offer these gifts to you, we confess that too often we have tried to offer gifts with strings attached; we have mimicked generosity in the hope we might sway you to our agenda. We have envisioned ourselves as the ones who should be served, ignoring your command that we be the ones who serve others. May these gifts be used as instruments of your compassion, but more than these, may our lives be the tools you use to make your love real. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Mark 10:35-45.)
from General Board of Discipleship
"If we define generosity as dollars, we've missed the point. Generosity has to do with life."
-- Rick Rusaw