Audio podcasts of Pastor David’s weekly sermon may be found at sermons.net.
“On entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage…And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their country by another road.” Matthew 2:11-12
“Resistance is futile.” The Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation
First, please forgive me for the use of pop culture and a bit of holy humor in sharing a message about a very significant subject in my life, in our life together as church and in the future of our United Methodist Church. Sometimes humor is another road to an important destination.
If it were ever to be written, The Gospel According to Star Trek might include this above gospel passage next to the ominous warning of The Borg, the pseudo-cyborg army and primary enemy of Captain Picard and his crew. The Borg seek to assimilate all species and worlds into one collective, against their will, values and hopes for civilization at peace through understanding of commonalities, respect of cultures and celebration of diversity.
The traditional Epiphany gospel story from Matthew of the Wise Men/Three Kings/Magi offers us an ancient path of resistance of faithful people who when confronted by tyranny choose a different option. Inspired by a dream, the foreign travelers whose safety and ability to share the good news of the new king’s birth would be impaired by returning to the evil King Herod choose to resist creatively by taking an alternative route home. They stayed alive and blessed their world with the message of God’s salvation. Resistance was not futile. Is resistance futile now? I wonder and I dream and I seek God’s guidance for our United Methodist Church.
January 1, 2020 ushers into our denomination the implementation of the Traditional Plan which continues forty years of cruel oppression of LGBTQ persons, who are laity and clergy seeking to live and serve faithfully within our denomination. As passed by a narrow majority of global delegates to our General Conference in February 2019, the Traditional Plan limits ministry of congregations, provides punitive steps to clergy who extend grace, and withholds the blessing of ordination of LGBTQ persons into pastoral ministry. I do not in any way seek to compare voters of the Traditional Plan to fictionalized characters from a TV series. That would be cruel and unfaithful to my Christian vows to love and honor the personhood of all God’s people. It is, however, the intent within and the harm inflicted by those votes that requires resistance.
As the RESIST HARM movement (resistharm.com) states and I agree “This means that, in order to be in good standing, United Methodist clergy are required to do harm in the name of Jesus…[but] lest we forget, God has called and equipped all United Methodists, clergy, and lay, [in baptismal vows] ‘to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.’” FUMC of Park Ridge has stated clearly through Administrative Council decisions and congregational affirmations that we have chosen the option of resistance to this Traditional Plan. In doing so, we find ourselves in solidarity with over 80% of the congregations and United Methodists of the Northern Illinois Conference. We are not alone in our resistance. Our strength is shaped by God’s inclusive love we have come to know in Jesus Christ as church and annual conference.
Our ministry as a “reconciling congregation” and now one of resistance is faithful to the gospel. It is faithful to our individual baptismal vows. It is faithful to God’s kindom of extraordinary inclusion and celebration of all people. It is faithful to the church we have inherited from our ancestors and as the gift we offer to the next generations. In the culture at large, where and when LGBTQ persons continue to face many forms of rejection including bullying, exclusion, trauma, abandonment, legal discrimination, spiritual exile, and sometimes even death, church is to be sanctuary, loving community, and place of care. Whether a ministry of resistance to oppression or a resolution of ministry for this new year as General Conference approaches, let us be found faithful.
As in the early portion of 2019, there will be additional opportunities to learn about our resistance and reconciliation work in 2020 before the May conference in Minneapolis. Our Administrative Council will take the primary lead in our efforts resourced by the All Means All Team. For this time, I invite you to examine with me the RESIST HARM Movement via the website resistharm.com. The RH Movement is a coalition of various organizations including Reconciling Ministries Network, UMC Next, Mainstream UMC, Love Your Neighbor Coalition and others who seek a fully inclusive United Methodist Church.
We’ve got the faithful regal resistors of Epiphany and Hebrew midwives of the Exodus story, the disciples and saints at our back, at our side, before us and with us in this good and gracious work. In the words of Captain Picard, let’s “make it so.” With January 1, 2020 we enter a new phase of ministry. We journey with companion congregations near and far and full support of our Bishop Sally Dyck and Northern Illinois Conference. We enter into the resistance.
It is not futile. It is faithful.
See you in church,
Joy Shall Come…Advent & Christmas Season at First UMC
As Worship Designer Dr. Marcia McFee notes “One of the best-loved hymns in history, ‘Joy to the World,’ turns 300 this year. In 1719, Isaac Watts penned this beautiful song, and we have been singing it at Christmastime in faith communities all around the world for three centuries. That makes this year a special occasion!”
FUMC’s Advent season begins Sunday, Dec. 1. The season will be a journey of discovering the many different ways that we can experience and bring joy to everyone around us, even and especially when our personal or family circumstances and current events are not so happy. We will honor the work of joy which is something deeper than happiness or bliss; there is a divine quotient to it, inspired by God’s faith in us made real in a little baby born in Bethlehem so many centuries ago.
• Did you know? “Joy to the World” is the most published hymn of them all appearing in at least 98 different hymnals used by churches around the world.
• Did you know? “Joy to the World” has been recorded by many artists including Andy Williams, The Supremes, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, Walter Cherry, Neil Diamond, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Vic Damone, Mariah Carey, and a capella group Pentatonix.
• Did you know? “joy to the World” by Three Dog Night isn’t really about Christmas or a bullfrog but is still fun to sing.
Seeing ALL The People
Recently, I got new glasses with an updated prescription. This is my second pair of glasses with progressive lenses. It takes a bit of time to adjust to progressive lenses. The lenses enhance reading with bifocals in the lower portion, computer work with the middle section and my near sightedness in the upper section. They are meant to help me see. Sometimes our eyes need assistance to see.
I will admit an annual eye exam isn’t quite adequate enough for me to see – especially when I try to use the eyes of my heart. Christian faith asks each of us to take a daily assessment of our vision. What impairs us from seeing others with the empathy of Jesus? What proverbial log-in-the-eye proh ibits us from seeing the ways we dismiss one another due to something superficial, on the surface, the exterior portion of their existence, skin color or clothing?
“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord” is a familiar worship song for FUMC. But what heart has eyes? We use this song in worship to open the service to acknowledge and receive the presence of God. “To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.” As we sing, we ask God to “pour out your power and love” praying that God will give us guidance and grace for the living of our days. It is an inspiring worship song.
I’d imagine the songwriter Paul Baloche wouldn’t take great offense if a church such as ours were to add the following verse to include a reference to seeing the fullness of God’s people. “Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, we want to see you. To see you in all the world, shining in the lives of your people; help us to share in your love, as we see a ll the people holy, all the people boldly…”
To see as the body of Christ we need eyes and hearts open to God’s steadfast love. Our vision of God’s people is enhanced by God’s grace. Christian faith invites us to see those we engage with every day in our homes, work places, gyms, schools and those who are new to us in our neighborhoods and the places we go with the eyes of Jesus who looked with kindness and compassion for their wellbeing and place in God’s kingdom.
September will be a month for seeing! With eyes and hearts, as the body of Christ, we will examine the capacity of our sight, how we can progress in our vision and improve in our work together to engage our communities & neighborhoods with the love of Christ. It is a love that sees all portions of us – mind, body and soul – and confirms “God has made us good.” Let’s tell and show those we see.
SEE you in church!
Summer Grace Notes
How did you spend your July? Much of my month was spent either prepping for or participating in our youth mission trips to Chicago. And you know what? The mission experiences were AWESOME! I feel very privileged to be the pastor of our middle & high school youth and in particular those who were able to participate in our July mission trips into the city neighborhoods. You may not know this but we shared God’s grace with those we served and we received God’s grace as we served too. I believe God would judge us faithful to the graceful way of Christ. Thank you Brianna, Grace, Rebecca, Adam, Kate, Rocky, Alexis, Rachel, Gavin, Katie and Judie for your graceful work with me.
Our July worship series “With God’s Grace” explored the presence and action of God’s grace as articulated by John Wesley, the 18th Century Anglican priest, his instructions on utilizing God’s grace in actions of mercy and the sacraments, too. The series began July 7 with the celebration of Holy Baptism of little Wesley Swan – grace in water and spirit – and the remembrance of Jesus’ supper – grace in mystery and meal. How cool is that?! Welcome Wesley!
Later on in that same week and towards the end of the month, I found multiple examples of God’s grace in our youth and their experiences of faith, the mission work we accomplished, the relationships we nurtured and in our times of fellowship, as well as the tough conversations about poverty and lack of resources in our city and the need for faith in action. Wesley would call these things the “means of grace and works of mercy.” Here are a few other examples of grace, too, experienced in July:
After attending the immigration/deportation rally at Daley Plaza on July 13, I made my way to Jefferson Park where two of our church kids, twins Joey and Evie Kessler-Flauto, hosted with their moms a lemonade and sweets stand at their home to raise funds for immigration justice. The donations received from neighbors and passersby and a few other FUMC folks will help students they know who may be living a very unsure existence. Joey & Evie’s work was a means of grace.
After taking a Guatemalan woman into sanctuary last fall, the congregation at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, submitted an application to the United Methodist Committee on Relief aimed at allowing their Spanish-speaking guest and friends to fully participate in worship. The grant provides for translation equipment and experienced translators. The congregation’s work was a means of grace.
On July 3, United Methodist Women announced it had awarded two grants for work to thwart suicide among LGBTQ youth. The organization awarded two $50,000 grants to The Trevor Foundation and the Tyler Clementi Foundation for their work to prevent LGBTQ youth suicide. Harriett J. Olson, United Methodist Women CEO, said the special grants were part of the organization’s response to the actions of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. “The way children and youth understand the church’s stance taken at the 2019 General Conference is particularly harmful to LGBTQ youth who are already at higher risk for suicide,” Olson said. “Our board directed us to look for an exceptional opportunity to offer financial support to organizations working with LGBTQ youth to intervene and prevent suicides.” In the history of our denomination and its present debates, this is indeed the work of grace.
Just because August is arriving doesn’t mean we have to stop celebrating God’s grace, finding it, sharing it and using it to guide our living in this world. What opportunity might exist in your life today and the month and even the year ahead for you to do the work of grace? Like I asked on July 14 in my Sunday message, perhaps the work of grace needs to begin in your heart or home where God’s steadfast love is most needed. Grace has the power to nurture your love, restore your faith and give hope. Receive it once again in your heart and be willing to share. Pray in thanks for God’s grace in your life and in your future. Pray in trust for God’s grace to be heard in your words and seen in your works. Pray for the means of grace to be part of your daily life.
See you in church,