July 25, 2011
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Yesterday I worshipped in Redmond, WA with my mom. The pastor, Cara Scriven, preached on Exodus 18, where Jethro gives gives his son-in-law, Moses, some advice about not trying to do it all himself. Eugene Peterson translates it this way, “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out.”
She noted that as a Church we have this incredibly huge mission, nothing short of transforming the world, and it would be ridiculous to think that any one of us can do it alone. Cara is in her first month of this new appointment and I think the choice of this scripture at this time demonstrated a great deal of wisdom.
As you’re planning for the ministry of your congregation, I hope you are taking Jethro’s advice.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
In part, miracles are miraculous because they catch us off guard, revealing the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. This week's lection brings us back to one of Jesus' greatest miracles - the feeding of the 5000+ in the midst of assumed scarcity. While his actions are certainly miraculous, Jesus isn't a lone miracle-worker in this story. He actively recruits would- be disciples/stewards to participate in this extraordinary-out-of-the-ordinary, abundance-out-ofscarcity miracle. Like the stranger in the children's story about "Stone Soup," Jesus is the necessary catalyst for this feeding miracle. This doesn't make Jesus' work any less holy or extraordinary, it just means that we get to participate in it. Thanks be to God!
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Image: "Waiter, there's a rock in my soup" from Food on the Food.
As mentioned in previous editions of Radical Gratitude, during this first half of Ordinary Time we focus on John Wesley's* stewardship guideline: "Earn all you can." Wesley instructs his followers to "earn all" they could for the unveiling and upbuilding of God's Kingdom (rather than "earning" for the sake of one's personal aggrandizement). Wesley's instruction has a tone and intention similar to Jesus' instruction to his disciples in this week's Gospel reading (the feeding of the 5000+): "You give them something to eat" (Mt. 14:16) - in other words, you help them to taste God's Grace! Certainly Jesus could have performed a miracle all by himself, but instead he (like Wesley) calls upon his followers to participate in his life's most joyful, fulfilling work. "Come, let's unveil God's Grace together!"
And, as is so often the case, this sort of joyful, fulfilling work is extremely contagious. Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor* ponders the contagious nature of Jesus' vision and work in this week's Gospel reading:
"I wonder if [people in the crowd] did not look at that small basket of food going around and feel the food hidden in their own pockets begin to burn holes in them. Because you know they all had some - a bit of lamb wrapped in a grape leaf, a few raisins . . . a little something [tucked] away before heading off on foot to a lonely place apart.
"...They might have been able to keep their own food for themselves if that bread basket had not come around, full of scraps, everyone so careful not to break off too much, everyone wanting Jesus' crazy idea to work so much that very carefully, very secretly, they all began to put their own bread in the basket, reaching in as if they were taking some out and leaving some behind instead, so that the meal grew and grew... .
"...But that is not a miracle! . . . That is just human beings being generous, sharing what they have - even when it is not much, even when it is not enough to go around. That is not a miracle! That is just a whole crowd of people moving from a sense of scarcity to a sense of plenty - overcoming their fear of going hungry, giving up their need to protect themselves. That is just people refusing to play the age-old game of what-ismine- is-mine-and-what-is-yours-is-yours, people turning their pockets inside out for one another without worrying about what is in it for them. That is not a miracle! Or is it?
"The problem with miracles is that we tend to get mesmerized by them, focusing on God's responsibility and forgetting our own. Miracles let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all to happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all.
"...[But] Jesus says[,] 'You give them something to eat.' . . . Stop waiting for food to fall from the sky and share what you have. Stop waiting for a miracle and participate in one instead."
*John Wesley is a founder of the United Methodist Tradition. His three stewardship guidelines are " Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can."
**Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 51-52; bold added for emphasis.
John Shea,* commenting on Matthew's account of the feeding of the 5000 (Mt. 14:13-21):
"It is evening, and the need that arises every evening arises - the need for food at the end of the day. ... Jesus has [a] solution: instead of the crowds going and buying for themselves, the disciples should supply food. However, their understanding is that they do not have enough. What they focus on is their lack of resources. They have 'five loaves and two fish,' perhaps enough for themselves but not enough for all. But five plus two equals seven, a sacred number symbolizing that what they have is a gift from God. There are two choices: look at the food as God's gift or look at it as not enough. How you see it will determine what is possible.
"Jesus sees whatever they have as God's gift. When this spiritual consciousness emerges, the desert becomes a garden. Jesus takes the available food and recognizes it as God's gift . . . and he praises and thanks God. Gratitude for what is given fills Jesus completely, fills him to overflowing. With this abundance of Spirit he breaks the too few loaves and gives them to the disciples. He has freely received and now he freely gives. The disciples have learned from their teacher. What they have received, they give to the crowds."
How does our understanding of "enough" or "not enough" affect our stewardship practices? How does it affect our discipleship?
*John Shea, On Earth as It Is in Heaven: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004) 242. Dr. Shea is a theologian and storyteller.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for July 31, 2011: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13- 21
Some stories about Jesus are so important that all four Gospel writers include them - accounts of the crucifixion and Resurrection, for example. Then there's the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5000+ - a story that all four writers recount because "it was too important a story to leave out - too important in the life of Jesus and too important in the life of the church."* And while we've already offered a reflection on John's (6:1-21) account of the story, we feel that it's too important to Christian stewardship to not look at it again this week. So, in addition to our past reflection, we offer the following sermons and articles that call us to participate in the "miracle" of distributing God's abundance:
Rev. Dan Matthews: "Our Mentality of Scarcity among God's Abundance." Rev. Matthews was the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in NYC - across the street from "Ground Zero" - at the time of the 9/11 attacks. In this sermon, Rev. Matthews says, "You remember the story about . . . the loaves and the fishes. Jesus gave thanks for the little bit they had and, in that moment of gratitude, there was enough for everyone. Gratitude is the central theme of the feeding of the five thousand and that exciting story and miracle appears in all the four Gospels."
Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor: "The Problem with Miracles" in The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004) 47-53. Rev. Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and professor at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia. In her sermon, she explores the "miracle" that may have happened if - inspired by Jesus and his disciples - the 5000+ began to share their meager bits of food. She writes, "...Remember that there is no such thing as 'your' bread and 'my' bread; there is only 'our' bread, as in 'give us this day our daily bread.' However much you have, just bring it to me and believe that it is enough to begin with, enough to get the ball rolling, enough to start a trend...." (For a more extensive excerpt, please see the "Living in God's Grace" section above.)
Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Miracle of the loaves and picnic baskets: Uncounted women make world food go round." Dr. Radford Ruether is currently Visiting Professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont School of Theology. In her thought- provoking article she connects the life-preserving practices of "uncounted" women in this story with those of women around the world today - those with the task of carefully stewarding even the scarcest resources.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker: "The Parties People Put On." Rev. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and author. In his sermon, he contrasts life- threatening practices (represented by Herod) with life- giving/preserving practices (represented by the "party" that Jesus puts on for the 5000+). Commenting on Jesus' party, Rev. Hoffacker writes, "The party's a splendid success. The only problem comes at the end: deciding what to do with abundant leftovers." (Would that all stewards have this "problem"!)
Ched Myers: "The Miracle of One Loaf." Mr. Myers is a biblical scholar and activist with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. In his article he writes, "In the wilderness feedings, this hope takes flesh in the 'miracle of enough' for the hungry masses through a model of cooperative consumption."
*Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven, 48.
Image: "Loaves and Fishes" by John August Swanson, (c) 2003.
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:
The attack in Oslo last week was horrible. It’s even more horrifying to learn that the perpetrator was motivated by his Christian perspective. In contrast, our Board of Church and Society has recently established a joint effort with Asbury seminary to create materials to help local churches understand and combat religious intolerance.
Today, as we pray for the people of Norway, and as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s give thanks for our Church and its ministry in the areas of building peace and tolerance.
Awareness and Action
'Years of drought in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti have escalated in recent weeks, causing widespread hunger and, in two regions of southern Somalia, famine.
“According to the United Nations, today’s drought is the worst the region has seen in half a century and has left an estimated 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. It has provoked acute malnutrition and death, especially among children and other vulnerable populations.*
Support relief efforts through the United Methodist Committee on Relief's International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450.
Learn more about the politics of food. Renowned food analyst Frances Moore Lappé wrote some three years ago: "News broadcasts report a horrific 'world food crisis.' But there is no food shortage. In fact, there's more than enough food to make us all chubby -- even counting only the 'leftovers,' what remains after turning more than a third of the world's grain and fish catch into feed."** The July 2008 issue of Sojourners provides very readable articles on the subject, including Moore Lappé's "The Shortage Isn't Food, It's Democracy" and "7 Steps toward Food Sanity." Consider discussing these articles with others and then acting on some of their suggestions for more equitable distribution of God's gift of food.
*From UMCOR article "Crisis in the Horn of Africa"
**From Frances Moore Lappé's "The Shortage Isn't Food, It's Democracy."
“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.”
—Psalm 17:6, NRSV
When Linda McGowen heard God calling her to ministry, she knew just what to say. “No, thanks!” Whenever she heard people talking about their calls to ordained ministry, she felt nudged, but she knew she wasn’t meant to be an elder, called to be ordained and lead a congregation, so she did not heed the call. Finally, after 30 years of a successful nursing career, she met a parish nurse and began to wonder if that was what she was called to do. After a little more resistance, she heeded God’s call to pursue deacon’s orders, went to Methodist Theological School in Ohio and was ordained.
When Jen Williamson realized she, too, was called to ministry, she was excited. She loved digging into the Bible and building a close relationship with God, so she was happy to be at Drew University, The Theological School, in New Jersey.
While the women's calls differed in many ways, both McGowen and Williamson followed God’s leading to a United Methodist seminary. Has a pastor touched your life? Remember to support their callings by supporting United Methodist seminaries.
The Ministerial Education Fund represents 12 to 20 percent of their annual budget — a huge part of keeping seminary affordable. The fund also equips annual conferences with local pastor course of study, continuing education and many other efforts to recruit, educate and support people called to ministry.
If your congregation supports the Ministerial Education Fund, it might help to know some of that money — 25 percent — supports people in your annual conference.
Amee Miller, a student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., expressed gratitude. “Your contribution to Garrett-Evangelical affirms your commitment to equipping our churches with well-educated leaders. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea how much I needed to learn until I got here and got started. I now see more than ever how crucial our seminaries are to the growth and development of the church.”
A call to ministry is life changing, whenever it happens. The late Bishop James S. Thomas said, “I have never regretted responding to that call to ministry. God has been faithful to me, and I have done my best to be faithful to God.”
The Ministerial Education Fund is essential for The United Methodist Church to continue its commitment to prepare quality pastoral leadership. Let’s make sure that those whom God calls can afford to be faithful to God’s call!
--Adapted from eocumc.com and gbhem.org
Provider of our daily bread,
Rather than doing the work of hunger-ending, justice-making, wound-healing, debt-relieving, captive-freeing… all by Yourself,
You lovingly embrace us and invite us to be Your miracle-working partners.
We realize that even this offering moment is an expression of Your embrace and invitation.
Please help us to move beyond personal fears, doubts, and greed
so that we might respond to Your invitation with swiftness and joy!
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Guiding God, teach us to hear and to heed your call — whether it is to ordained ministry or another vocation. Bless our pastors and inspire us to help those whom you call to shepherd your church. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
In feeding the five thousand, Jesus showed us that while we may see scarcity, there is true abundance in the Kingdom. Loving God, we ask that by putting our trust in you, all in our world will be satisfied. Amen. (Matthew 14:13-21)
from General Board of Discipleship
"You can never get enough of what you don’t really need."
— Eric Hoffer