In Prayer for Our Way Forward
We will soon enter into the season of Pentecost which marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Our scripture stories will tell us of its arriving among the followers of Jesus as holy fire. The Spirit will inspire the believers to speak and listen with holy wisdom. The Spirit works to unite the diverse peoples of the Ancient Middle East as the church is given birth with holy passion. The Spirit will fill God’s people with holy love.
Wisdom, passion and love are gifts of the Spirit to the church. The Holy Spirit works to bring forth and enrich the gifts God has given to each of God’s beloved ones including you and me. The gifts are brought together to enable the church – the body of Christ – to be in ministry. No gift is lesser than the other; no talent is greater than someone else’s – all are needed for the body, the church, to function well and to live holy and wholly. Every member is of equal value. All share in serving Christ as we find him in our neighbors and world.
With this in mind, I am deeply concerned about the lgbtq members of our church and their families as I read the article included in this newsletter as well as other reports coming from what is known as the United Methodist Church’s “Commission on the Way Forward.” The denominational commission has been created and charged by the United Methodist Council of Bishops to develop options for maintaining denominational unity. Much of the reason for the commission’s existence is due to the continuing debate within the UMC as to the presence, value and inclusion of lgbtq persons as fully accepted and welcomed lay members, lay leaders, employees, church staff and ordained clergy.
As a Reconciling congregation that celebrates our diversity, we can trust the Holy Spirit will help us discern our way forward. This is a time to pray and to be led by the incredible gift that is the Holy Spirit. This is a time to honor our commitment and share the good news we experience as a welcoming congregation. This is a time to hold precious our lgbtq members, loved ones, kids, parents, friends and church members with unwavering support and love. This is a time for confronting discrimination in and outside the polity of the church as well as society at large.
As additional resources become available, our All Means All Team and I will share them with the congregation. The team is preparing for our Reconciling Sunday on June 10 as well as a number of other activities throughout the month of June that will allow us to gain strength and find joy in our ministries of inclusivity and welcome. I pray for your participation in these events. I welcome you to share with me any concerns or questions in regards to the Commission on the Way Forward, the future of our United Methodist denomination and what this means for our local church.
See you in church,
Based on a poll of several hundred young adult Christians, Stephen Mattson, a writer for Sojourners Magazine, highlighted questions all Christians eventually ask themselves. The most common ones are listed below.
1) What is salvation?
2) Do I own my faith?
3) Can I trust the Bible?
4) How do biblical texts apply to modern society?
5) Who is God?
6) Why does God allow bad things to happen?
7) Why is God so morbidly violent in the Old Testament?
8) How does free will affect my faith?
9) How can you believe in something that can’t be scientifically proven?
10) What makes Christianity different than any other religion?
11) How has my faith been influenced?
12) Am I using my faith to serve another agenda?
13) What is the point of following Christ?
The questions have many layers to them (context, faith experience, life situation, education, etc.) as do the answers. How do we approach such questions? One tool is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Developed by Wesley Scholar Albert Outler, the quadrilateral seeks to build upon the wisdom John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who employed various methods to study scripture, develop his sermons and train parish preachers. In any question of faith or issue, what does the scripture say, what does reason suggest, what are the traditions of the church as it pertains to doctrine and discipleship, what are one’s personal experience of the issue or argument? Wesley’s was a multi-layered approach that is useful to any believer today.
Our seminary student/intern Scott Marsh will lead us in an intergenerational time of study and discussion on this multi-layered approach on Sunday, April 8. You will find an additional article on the event in this newsletter. I will be building upon this event in my Sunday morning messages through Eastertide, April 8-May 6. I look forward to discovering more answers (and even asking more questions) of our Christian faith. What questions might you have? Let’s seek answers together and may the God of all wisdom be praised in the process.
See you in church,
Our Lenten Season…
…began on VaLENTine’s Day…and it will end with Easter morning… on April Fool’s Day?
WHAT?! The 2018 calendar is a bit odd, but it provides us with a great opening to explore just how odd Easter is and in particular the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. Did you know there is no Easter story in the original ending of Mark?! (Ok, I’m a biblical nerd – but all pastors are!) The original ending of the 16th chapter of Mark is this:
“So they [the disciples] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
WHAT?! The fi rst and oldest gospel of Mark doesn’t mention Easter until several years later when as biblical scholars tell us an addition was written to correspond to the other gospels’ accounts of the Resurrection. Can you believe it? I’m not fooling you. Fear is found at the original ending of Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ story. Not joy, not celebration, not happiness but fear. Maybe this original ending gives us pause to think about how many times we may have experienced some very tragic or diffi cult event in our lives and wondered “how is this going to end?” It might have been difficult to feel anything but fear or grief or a great amount of confusion. These were the emotions felt by the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and others upon Jesus’ death. Jesus was crucified. Of course, there was fear – could the disciples be next?
But Easter tells us that the original ending does not need to be the fi nal draft! Easter bursts from the pages of scripture! Christ is alive in the testimony of the disciples whose joy could not be contained by their fear. The additional verses that tell us of the resurrection of Jesus are part of the larger story not to be forgotten – a larger story of God’s unfailing love, God’s amazing grace, God’s power to bring life out of death.
The early Christians were known as “fools” by those who did not understand or would not understand the event of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m not so totally sure that just by reading it I fully understand it either. Perhaps the understanding comes through faithfully trusting in a God who makes life where there was death, a new hope for a new day, and joy out of what could have been a very horrible ending.
Enter into the ending of Jesus and find hope for your new beginning. Our Lenten season continues through the end of March, to our Holy Week of prayer and worship, and Easter morning on April Fool’s Day, Sunday, April 1 with services at 8 am and 9:30 am. Blessings to you.
See you in church,
The Lenten season begins on Valentine’s Day!! Can you believe it? Ash Wednesday is February 14. Valentine’s Day offers us the chance to tell the one(s) we love just how “ga-ga” “over the moon” “gooshy” and “sweet” we are for him or her. Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent which is a season used by the church to focus on our need for repentance from sin and change in our ways to align our lives with that of God’s commands and desires. What will we do to bridge the two: love & repentance? The words of the Psalmist may help. From Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
The poet of scripture asks God who has created the original heart to recreate it, clean it, dispose of any bad feeling or sin and by this a restored relationship based on love is formed. God who is love is in love with the created: you and me. Forgiveness is the heart of this relationship. Through Psalm 51, the poet reveals the places in the heart where there is need for redemption and reconciliation. We reveal. God redeems. Between God and us there is reconciliation. Forgiveness is the heart of our Lenten Season at First UMC. We all need help when it comes to learning about forgiveness and the sacred practice of revealing, redeeming and reconciliation.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter ran for a second term as president against Ronald Reagan. According to David Wallis in the New York Times Magazine, prior to a televised debate between the two candidates, columnist George Will came upon Carter’s debate notes and sneaked them to the Reagan camp. Reagan won that debate, and went on to win the election. Carter did not forget what George Will had done to him. In a 1987 interview with Wallis, Carter said:
“I was teaching forgiveness one day in Sunday school, and I tried to go through my memory about people for whom I had a resentment. George Will was one of those people, so I wrote him a note. I asked myself “What do we have in common, and I had known that he had written a book about baseball, which I had refused to read. I went to a bookstore and found an old, unsold copy. Paid $1 for it. I then wrote him a note: that I had a feeling of resentment toward him, that I had found his book delightful and I hoped that we would be reconciled. He wrote me back a nice, humorous note. He said his only regret was that I didn’t pay full price for his book.”
In passages from the Gospel of Luke (the prodigal son/graceful father, loving our enemies, Jesus on the cross between criminals, and the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet) we will learn about the power of forgiveness as an outgrowth of our relationship with God who in Jesus Christ is purest love. Our season begins on Valentine’s Day with Ash Wednesday services at Noon and 7 pm, and continues until March 24. Let us discover what love can do and how forgiveness can become the key to a clean heart and renewed spirit.
See you in church,