Our pastor’s thoughts and reflections…
Audio podcasts of Pastor David’s weekly sermon may be found at sermons.net.
PART 1: UNDERSTANDING UMC PROTOCOL
While driving back from a few days holiday with a bit of Racine kringle in my mouth, I turned on the car radio to NPR and proceeded to hear a report about The United Methodist Church splitting. With a loud gasp of “What?!” and without too much of the kringle being wildly distributed across my dashboard, I listened and heard a bit of truth and a lot of assumptions about a new agreement known as “The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” developed by a 16 member team of representatives from a variety of factions with the UMC and world-class professional negotiator. You might have heard or read the news of the protocol, too. The UMC has not separated or divorced…well…not formally. Could this protocol serve to do just that?
If passed, what this protocol might do (strong emphasis on might) would be the elimination of discriminatory language in our Book of Discipline against lgbtq clergy, removal of limitations on ministries of pastors and congregations, and the graceful exit of the “traditionalists” from the denomination to form their own organized Wesleyan-style of faith organization. The potential impact of the protocol would be huge for clergy, laity, congregations and conferences within the global Methodist connection.
As online, television and print media have failed to fully describe, the protocol still has a long journey towards potential adoption. After years of work, all other proposals for unity and/or dismantling of the present denomination would need to be set aside in unified support of the protocol. Nine hundred international delegates as well as a nine-member court known as the Judicial Council of the UMC will render judgment upon it on and/or at the next General Conference in May of 2020. You can read more about the protocol at UMC.org as well as the comments by our bishop in this newsletter and at www.umcnic.org. Quoting Bishop Dyck “In spite of headlines, the UMC has NOT split or separated or even decided to do so today. The protocol is the initial work and legislation to implement it will undoubtedly be amended at General Conference 2020…”
I’m grateful for those FUMC members who joined me for an initial discussion January 12. More opportunities will be presented to study the protocol and other plans, legislation and process of the General Conference in the months ahead. For now, please keep our church and lay leadership in your prayers. May our faithfulness to Jesus Christ and his beloved community around the world continue to increase.
PART 2: PRIMARY CONCERNS
Election season primaries begin in earnest in our next door neighbor state of Iowa with their Democratic caucus on February 3 followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. As I read, listen and watch debates, speeches and rallies, issues of faith are a primary concern for me. Across our nation, there is a great diversity of thought among God’s people and in particular within the Christian church as to how people of faith should respond, act and even vote upon issues as a matter of faith.
But what is and what isn’t an issue of faith? For the Christian is every political issue a matter of faith? As I ask myself these question, I am choosing to let the testimony of scripture, the traditions of the church, my experiences and capacity for reasoned judgment inform my response. This is a good Wesleyan four-fold practice. The other resources I’ll employ include the United Methodist Social Principles and the teachings of John Wesley.
After an eight year journey and a deeply United Methodist experience of revision, a newly revised Social Principles will be put forward to the General Conference of the UMC in May 2020 for its approval. “It is a document with a strong theological grounding and a more focused, succinct, and globally meaningful form.” Such a teachable document will assist us in the election season to come. Download a copy from www.umcjustice.org.
If you are not familiar with Methodism, John Wesley began what became the Methodist movement as a young man working to find more ways to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus as he understood it. He keenly understood that Jesus’ message must intersect with real people’s real lives. These are some of his core understandings in his own words addressing the political issues of his time – think 1700’s, friends. A top three are offered here:
- Be ye ready to distribute to every one, according to their necessity.
- Wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor only because they are idle…. Find them work…. They will then earn and eat their own bread.’
- May not women as well as men bear an honourable part….…..yield not to the vile bondage any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God.’
May our country’s heart be one of justice for the voiceless, mercy for the marginalized, freedom for all and hope for the world. Let us be in prayer and action for the goodwill of all who today and in the months to come seek the inclusive promise of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness whether it be found in voting or in the works of faithfulness or both.
See you in church,
“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!