October 29, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Thursday is All Saints Day. You may have celebrated this holy day yesterday, or you may be joining others in doing so on November 4. It has always been an important and meaningful day for me. I particularly love the opportunity to remember the saints as we celebrate the communion of saints.
Whether those saints are the saints that the whole Church remembers, or those that have been the saints of my personal faith formation, I am grateful for their witness and the example they provide me when faithfulness seems most difficult.
For all the saints who have helped shape you and me and our church, I give thanks.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, PBS broadcast a "Frontline" documentary titled "Faith & Doubt at Ground Zero." The documentary interviewed "priests, rabbis, and Islamic scholars, victims' families and World Trade Center survivors, [and others]" to explore "whether, and in what ways, Americans' spiritual lives may have changed on that day." One of the interviewed rabbis, Irwin Kula, lived close to the attack site and was profoundly impacted by the events of that day in 2001. Here are a few of Rabbi Kula's remarks:
"Every morning, three times a day since I'm five or six years old, I've been saying, 'Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.' ...If you ask what 9/11 really did, it made me understand the truth of that. The truth of that, 'Everything is one.' Not that there's some 'guy' hanging out there who has it all together, who we call 'One,' but that it is all one. We all know it deep down. We've all had those experiences. Whether it's looking at our child in a crib, or whether it's looking at our lover, or looking at a mountaintop, or looking at a sunset. ...And we recognize, 'Whoa. I'm much more connected here.' That's what those firemen [at the World Trade Center] had. They recognized; they didn't have time to think about it ...All they knew is we're absolutely connected. We're absolutely connected to the 86th floor."
What happens when we take this week's reading from Mark 12:28-34 seriously; when we really see that God is One -- "pervading, embracing, and penetrating" the entire universe*? According to Jesus' words in Mark (and Luke and Matthew as well), when we take this seriously, concrete manifestations of "love of neighbor" naturally flow from our love of God. Once we realize that God embraces us, our families, the World Trade Center worker on the 86th floor, the selfless fireman/woman, the "enemy" whom we can't see or understand, and every single living being -- then we can't help but express our love for the "One" through concrete acts of love for the many.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
*From a quote by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-395): "For when one considers the universe, can anyone be so simple-minded as not to believe that the Divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it? For all things depend upon God who is, and nothing can exist which does not have its being in God who is."
In just a few weeks, we'll be leaving this season of Ordinary Time/Kingdomtide and beginning a new church year. What sorts of "fruits" has this long "greening"* season (which began back in June!) produced in your life? How will you share these new fruits as we move towards Advent and Christmas?
Before we enter this new season, there are several special days that your church may want to celebrate. As mentioned in last week's issue of Radical Gratitude, churches may wish to observe All Saints Day on November 4 -- an ideal opportunity to give thanks for the model stewards in our lives. From a stewardship perspective, Thanksgiving Day (November 22, 2012) also provides an ideal opportunity to express deep gratitude for every gift of God's Grace. It's also a day to recommit our lives to being gifts of Grace for others. This same day is "Christ the King/Reign of Christ" Sunday -- a day to celebrate the paradox of Christ as both King and Servant, a day to celebrate the in-breaking of the Servant/King's "reign" and realm.
*As mentioned in several previous issues, green is the liturgical color for this season. This color is particularly relevant for churches that celebrate Kingdomtide and/or the Season of Creation during this time.
From John Wesley:*
"It is in consequence of our knowing God loves us, that we love [God], and love our neighbour as ourselves. Gratitude towards our Creator cannot but produce benevolence to our fellow creatures. The love of Christ constrains us, not only to be harmless, to do no ill to our neighbour, but to be useful, to be 'zealous of good works'; 'as we have time, to do good unto all...'; and to be patterns to all of true, genuine morality; of justice, mercy, and truth."
From author and scholar, Rev. Robert W. Lynn:
"...the steward is the one in the middle -- the one to whom responsibility is delegated and of whom much is expected. In that sense, stewardship is indeed a perfect symbol for the Christian life of care and responsibility, because that's how most of us live -- in between God and our neighbors."
As Wesley said, "Gratitude towards our Creator cannot but produce benevolence to our fellow creatures." Consider a time in your life when you may have felt such gratitude. How did you express this gratitude?
*From John Wesley's sermon, "The Unity of the Divine Being"; bold added for emphasis.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for All Saints' Day, November 1, 2012: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for November 4, 2012: Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34
This week's Gospel reading (Mark 12:28-34) finds Jesus in Jerusalem, moving closer and closer to the cross (and Resurrection). Let's look at the context of this reading. After he "cleanses" the temple (11:15-19) -- an act that profoundly challenges the corrupt/oppressive economic practices of the religious, ruling class -- Jesus faces a series of difficult confrontations with religious officials who are "looking for a way to kill him" (11:18). After three hostile confrontations, a surprisingly non-antagonistic scribe (also a member of religious ruling class) asks Jesus: "Which commandment is the first of all?" At the time, this was a common question to ask of a respected teacher/rabbi. And, "the scribe is asking, not which commandment is [the] first of many, but rather which commandment defines the core of Torah law -- stands at its center -- summarizes it."* So Jesus, momentarily free from hostile questioning, has an opportunity to offer words that will become the cornerstone for all who will follow him.
Jesus begins by offering a very respectable, typical response to the Jewish official: he invokes the Shema -- the prayer that voices the theological center of Jewish belief and practice. "Shema" is the Hebrew word for "listen" or "hear" - as in "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (from Deut. 6:4). It is both a declaration of fidelity to one God (Adonai [the Hebrew God/"Lord"] = Eloheinu [generic term for "god"]) and of the "oneness of God." Alan Mintz says, "Exclusive fidelity to God and God's unity are the two major concepts of the Shema. The first demands that no system of value -- not just another religion, but an ideology, art, success, or personal happiness -- be allowed to replace God as the ultimate ground of meaning. God's unity . . . asserts that all experienced moments of beauty, good, love, and holiness . . . are disparate and scattered signals of the presence of the one God."** Both points raise important insights for Christian stewards: (1) that we're called to "love" no gift of Grace more than its Source and (2) that we're called to lovingly care for all "scattered signals of the presence of the one God." Such active (not merely intellectual) love requires the fullness of our lives: heart (in Heb., the center of thought, emotions, passions, and will), soul (a being's life/breath), and strength (which "could refer to anything that gives us power -- whether physical strength, beauty, wealth, position, reputation, or talent"***).
But, we know that in Mark, Jesus doesn't offer only the traditional Shema as the "first"/greatest commandment; Jesus combines it with a second, widely known commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," which comes directly from Leviticus 19:18. Ched Myers writes, "The Leviticus tradition is of particular interest, for it defines love of neighbor in terms of nonexploitation. The verse Jesus cites is the culmination to a litany of commands prohibiting the oppression and exploitation of Israel's weak and poor (Lev. 19:9- 17)."**** By binding together a "weightier"***** commandment (i.e., the one from Deut. 6:4) with one of lesser "weight" (i.e., Lev. 19:18) Jesus is declaring that love of God can never be separated from love of neighbor. And, agape love of God and neighbor takes the shape of actions that prevent and heal oppression wherever it may be found. Agape love, "...is more than a feeling. It finds expression in concrete acts and on a corporate level takes on the character of justice."****** And as many issues of Radical Gratitude have suggested, "neighbor" for Jesus isn't just people close to us or fellow Israelites (as Lev. 19:18 originally suggests), but all members of God's household of creation. Such an expansive view of "neighbor" means that we have a great deal of stewardship work to do -- and so, we devote our whole lives to this active vocation of living love.
*Source: Richard Donovan at lectionary.org.
**Source: MyJewishLearning.com; bold added for emphasis.
****Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (New York: Orbis, 1988) 318.
*****Richard Donovan notes: "Jewish law includes 613 commandments.... Scribes divide these into 'light' and 'heavy' commandments, the light commandments being less important and the heavy ones more important." While earlier voices bring these two commandments together (e.g., in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, c.100 B.C.E.), Jesus seems to be the first to give them equal weight as the "first"/greatest commandment.
****** Charles Cousar in Brueggemann, Walter et. al., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 575.
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 the days shorten and the nights turn colder, the effects of homelessness and hunger become more profound. Yet congregations across Oregon and Idaho continue to step up to the challenge of reaching out in the name of Jesus Christ with a meal or a place to stay the night.
Today as we bring our gifts and tithes and offerings let's do so in celebration of these ministries that our part of the Bishop's Initiative to End Hunger.
“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
…who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.”
--Psalm 146:5a, 7, NRSV
Sonia Vargas Maldonado is a missionary in Santurce, one of the most populated areas of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
As a church and community worker, Maldonado ministers to the poor, the unemployed and the homeless in an initiative to transform her native country.
This initiative consists of five churches that “minister to people who are homeless, who are drug addicts, who live on the street,” she said.
“We see women that are victims of domestic violence and abuse by their partners, and they are damaged physically and emotionally. They reach out to our communities, looking for help.”
The churches offer mentoring and support programs for schoolchildren. “We help our young people understand the importance of education and why they must make it their first priority,” Maldonado added.
Maldonado herself benefited from mentors.
“From an early age,” she explained, “I had the privilege of seeing men and women who served the church as missionaries, who brought Bible into homes in my community. This changed my life and touched me deeply by establishing some deep and basic principles for … the importance of God in my life.
“God has given us so much so that we can share and we can love the world.”
Thanks to your congregation’s support of the World Service Fund, church and community workers, related to the General Board of Global Ministries, share God’s profound love. Thank you!
“One cannot live alienated from the community or the world,” asserts missionary Sonia Vargas Maldonado. “There are needs, and we can contribute with a grain of sand to the mutuality of life of our brothers and sisters, no matter their situation.
“We must be part of the solution to the social problems of our communities, our neighbors, our friends, … including the homeless that you see whenever you cross the street, every morning.”
The General Board of Global Ministries commissions church and community workers like Maldonado to serve in ministries that uplift the poor and disenfranchised in rural and urban areas primarily in the United States. They are assigned to cooperative parishes, ethnic ministries, criminal justice programs, congregational health projects, immigration and disaster response.
“I want to serve these people,” Maldonado said, “because Jesus did it for me so that I can do it for others.
“God is putting in your heart the feeling, the love, the need, to care for others. It’s there that you’ll recognize that God is calling you.”
You are our God,
and You are One, whole, all-encompassing.
In this time of offering, we praise You
for every expression of "beauty, good, love, and holiness,"
knowing that these are but "scattered signals"* of Your unified presence.
We praise You for designing us
to be some of Your most brilliant, scattered signals on Earth.
Unified as one body in Christ, we dedicate these offerings
-- along with our hearts, souls, and strength --
to preventing and healing oppression wherever it may be found.
In Your name we pray, Amen
from Radical Gratitude
Caring God, you show us how to care for our sisters and brothers. You have given us “so much that we can share and we can love the world.” Teach us to be innovators, to reach out in new ways. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of Abraham and Sarah and all our fathers and mothers in the faith who have followed: we give you thanks for the gift and promise you have given to us in your son Jesus, the Christ. By his love and sacrifice and the sacrifices of the saints, we can come to this place and know the joy of your love and grace. May the gifts we offer to you this morning be a token and a testimony for all we have received from our cloud of witnesses, but most of all the saving grace that came through the cross of Jesus Christ. In that holy name, we pray. Amen. (Hebrews 9:11-14.)
from General Board of Discipleship
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
-- Harriet Tubman