The Spirit of Surrender

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A little bit later in the service today, we will be receiving a new member of this Body of Christ.
And we will ask Tom some questions… questions that all of us were asked when we joined this church, questions that our parents and sponsors were asked when we were baptized.
Do we accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do we put our whole trust in God’s grace and promise to serve him as our Lord in union with the church Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

In light of those promises, I want to invite Pastor Todd to read a statement that Bishop Laurie has invited all churches in Iowa to share this morning:

Many of you have heard about the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier today. White nationalist and other right-wing groups had scheduled a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of Confederate symbols in the city, including a statue of Robert E. Lee. This afternoon a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen others. Two others have died. Self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi and hate groups were very open in their intentions to provoke violence, and Virginia’s Governor declared a state of emergency.

The United Methodist Church condemns the evil, hatred, and bigotry that led to this violence, and we ask you to pray for those who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed. We also ask you to pray for the restoration of order and peace for the community of Charlottesville.

At this tragic time, may each one of us renew our commitment by our words and actions to create a world where all people live out the words in this prayer of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

In today’s scripture from the book of Acts, we find a scene from the early Christian community.
In many ways, those early followers of Christ were trying to create that world in which their whole lives exemplified the teachings of Jesus. In the chapters before this, twice we hear tales of how the believers sold everything they had and made sure there were no needs in their community.
Twice, we have been told of their love and faithfulness and how everyone who joined this community of Christ was full of prayer and devotion and the church was growing exponentially every day.
They were standing up for what was right, willing to die for their beliefs, and always sought to share the love, grace, and mercy of God with one another.

But, living in community is not easy… in fact, to truly commit to living with one another is dangerous.
A community that truly cares for the needs of others is a community where people can share their needs without being embarrassed with them.
A community that heals the sick is a community where people are not afraid to speak the truth about their own disease.
A community that cares for the widows and the orphans and the oppressed is a community where people sacrificially put their own lives on the line for the lives of others.
A community that offers grace and mercy is also a community that speaks the truth and names evil and sin in the world when they see it.

And I imagine that many of us in this room today would hesitate and pull back from that type of life, because there are great risks involved in being vulnerable, open, honest, and accountable to a community.
We might have to take off our fake plastered on smiles and tell the truth about the problems in our lives.
We are afraid of our own tears, afraid of our own weakness, afraid that the community around us will turn their backs if they really knew what was going on.
We are afraid of what those outside the church might think if we took a stand for something that we truly believed in.

In Acts chapter 5, we find the story of this couple who just couldn’t surrender it all to God.
They had seen the acts of sacrificial love and were on the fringes of this community who shared everything in common without worrying about what belonged to whom. And perhaps they were inspired by a man named Barnabas who sold a plot of land and laid the proceeds at the feet of the disciples.
Immediately following his sacrificial act, Ananias and Sapphira decide to do the same… sort of.
They, too, sell a plot of land and bring the proceeds from the sale to the disciples… except they lie about how much they sold it for and keep some of it back for themselves.

In the midst of a community where all are of one heart and mind…
in the midst of a community where everyone cares for everyone else and no one has need…
in the midst of a community – united by the Holy Spirit – where no one says “that’s mine, you can’t have it…”
… Ananias and Sapphira are looking out for themselves.
They essentially embezzle money from the sale and hide it for themselves. In doing so, they reject the community, reject the Holy Spirit, and seek to provide for their own welfare.
Ananias and Sapphira were telling the church – it’s nice what ya’ll are doing, and we want to help, but we’re not going to become beholden to you.
We’re going to stand over here on the sidelines and get praise for our giving but we sure as hell are not going to let you take care of us.
We can take care of ourselves just fine, thank you very much.

What they fail to understand is that the Body of Christ asks every person, every member, to fully participate.
No one is more important than another.
An eye can’t see without a brain to process the information.
A hand can’t reach out to help without an arm to support and extend.
A stomach is pretty worthless without a mouth to bring it food.
For this Body of Christ to work, for it to witness to the world, it asks us each to play our part and to do so with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We can’t hold back.
And we have to allow others to do their part.

In the last question we will ask Tom as he professes his faith, we invite him to confess Jesus Christ as his Savior, to put his WHOLE trust in his grace, and to serve him as his Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

The reason that we, as Christians, as baptized members of the United Methodist Church, have to look out on the actions of white nationalists and Christian hate groups and denounce their words and actions as sinful is precisely because they go against everything we proclaim in that profession of faith.
As Bishop Trimble wrote, “naming hate, injustice, and the sin of “-ism” is the only way for us to tackle the forces that would divide us and that would have any of us believe that there is less opportunity to reach our highest God-given potential because of one group of people or another.”

I used to think that the greatest sin of Ananias and Sapphira was the fact that they lied to God and the community about how much money they had sold their land for.
But the more I put this story into the context of this community of believers who relied upon a spirit of trust and vulnerability and risk in order to be united, I realized that their sin wasn’t so much that they lied, or stole the money, but that they believed they could follow God without relying upon the rest of the community.
They thought they were better than everyone else.
They thought they had the right to stand apart.
They were not just clinging to their money… they were clinging to their ideology and trying to carve out a space in their life where God and God’s people couldn’t exist.
And in the process, they were denying others the opportunity to reach their “God-given potential.”

We are asked to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
We are to become “living sacrifices.”
Jesus Christ died for us and he wants our whole selves in return.

And here come two people who want to be a part of the community and want to walk with Jesus, but who don’t want to dive all the way in.
They pretend that they do – they want the prestige, they want to be a part of this awesome new movement, but they just are not ready to commit ALL THE WAY.
And you know what is really sad – they didn’t have to. They could simply have said that. They could have been up front with Peter and said “Hey, we want to support the church and see what you guys are doing and maybe someday we’ll be at the point where we can do what Barnabas has done and really place ourselves in community.”
Peter even reminds Ananias that the land was his to do with as he pleased and he didn’t have to sell it and he didn’t have to give it to the church…
but when they did so, and when they lied and pretended to really surrender themselves, when they hid who they were, they were actually putting the whole community in danger.
They were acting directly against the Holy Spirit and the unity it brought to the church.
In their act of holding back their resources, of refusing to fully give in to the power of God, in their lack of surrender of their ideologies and power, Ananias and Sapphira let a Spirit of Discord into the body of Christ.
They said with their actions, “it’s okay God, I’ll take care of myself.”
And God’s response… well – this is the difficult part of the story.
First, Ananias and the Sapphira fall dead.
I find this so troubling because I sometimes hold back, too.
We don’t always let God have our hearts and minds and soul.
We are timid with our faith.
We surrender some… but not all.
This passage makes me uncomfortable, because I realize that I’m really no different than Ananias and Sapphira… what on earth prevents God for striking me dead, right here and right now for holding back, myself?
What we learn in the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that we still worship a holy, awesome, and fearful Lord.
In a world full of grace, we do not simply have a free pass to act however we want.
God is still righteous and just and has every right to punish sinners by death or other means.

We are tempted to simply believe that grace covers all and to run through this life as if our actions do not matter.
We are tempted to rest in the love of God and not consider what the consequences of our sin might be.
And, we are tempted to sit back and not speak out when we see the words and actions and beliefs of others in our community or neighborhood or world… we are tempted to not hold one another accountable for the sin and evil that is perpetuated out of fear.
And yet the consequences of sin in the world is real.
Three people died yesterday… communities and families can be destroyed… when we allow sin to run rampant in this world than we have essentially turned our back on God.
Christ demands all and we give some.
We hold back and don’t fully let the Holy Spirit build up this Body of Christ.
We refuse to surrender and therefore we deny the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, this church, and the world around us.
We might not be struck dead here in this place at this moment, but what do we stop from growing and living and thriving by our blatant denial of the Holy Spirit?
This path of Christian faith is not easy.
While the book of Acts has begun with all sorts of joyous accounts of healing and transformation and triumph over the powers of evil, these passages remind us that discipleship is hard.
It is a warning to those who are considering this faith: think twice.
Think about the price you are being called to pay.
Think about what is being demanded of you.
But also think about the joy and the possibility and the abundant life that awaits if you are willing to let go of what you think and what you believe you deserve in order to embrace what God knows you need.
Are you willing to let go?
Are you willing to dive in?
Are you willing to let the Holy Spirit transform us into the body of Christ?

The Spirit of Goodness

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We’ve heard of goody-two-shoes…
Good riddance…
Goodness gracious great balls of fire…
Things can taste good, we like to read good books and tell good stories.
We tell our children to be good and to get good grades.

But what does it really mean to be good?

The Random House dictionary has 41 different definitions for the word… and that’s just the adjectives.
But in general, I think we usually say that something is good if it fulfills our expectations – if it does what it is supposed to – and if we get some kind of benefit from it.

Take the cookies we just gave the children, for example. If they had taken a bite of the cookie and it was old or dried out… they wouldn’t be so good. They wouldn’t have been all that they were made up to be.
In the same way, we are good when we fulfill the expectations of ourselves and others and if we benefit others as we do so.

I keep using the word benefit, and that is because there are lots of things that fulfill their purpose that we would never call good.
An example – those cookies might taste good – but for all of you adults who didn’t get to eat them, since we didn’t have enough to share, they are only good for our children.
Or, think about what makes a good chef’s knife.
It is sharp, it cuts the way it is designed to, and we can use it to prepare food and eventually be fed. We benefit from the design and use of a good chef’s knife.
But, in the hands of someone unskilled, like a child, the knife becomes dangerous and what we thought was good could harm them.
In the hands of someone who is angry or revengeful – the very thing that we called good only a moment ago, can turn into a weapon.
It still has the same qualities that fulfilled its purpose… only it is being used to harm instead of help.

So… to be good, something or someone must fulfill the expectations and be a benefit.

Throughout the scriptures – we hear stories of men and women who were good:
Noah was a good man and so his family was saved from the flood.
Lot was a good man and so his family was rescued from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Even Rahab the prostitute was good. She fulfilled the expectations God had of her by taking in the spies from Israel, benefitting the people of God, and because she did so, her family was saved in the battle of Jericho.

Culturally, morally, we might wonder how could such a person be considered “good.”
Well, God has a tendency to upend our assumptions about a person’s worth or value. All throughout the scriptures, God chooses unlikely people to accomplish God’s will.

Throughout the scriptures, there are also people that are not good.
They didn’t do what was expected of them.
They lived not to benefit others, but only themselves.
And It is to such people as these that the prophets were sent.
Prophets like Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Hosea… and our prophet for this morning: Nathan.
Today’s story is one of paradox.

You see, David was a man after God’s own heart.
We always think back on all of the good things that he did – his trust in God, his loyalty to Saul, his music, and his love…
But in some ways, David was a kind of bad dude.
As we heard this morning in our scripture, David breaks two commandments all in a week’s time.

First, he sleeps with another man’s wife. Bathsheba was married to one of his soldier’s Uriah and David saw her from afar and decided that he wanted her. Her husband was away at war, and so David took what he wanted.

Then, to cover up the fact this terrible thing he has done, David breaks another commandment. He has Uriah killed out on the battlefield.

Neither of these are good things. His actions go against God’s expectations for David and they harm both Uriah and Bathsheba and they mar his moral leadership, harming the entire nation.

Nathan’s job here is simple. He is called, he is expected, to bring God’s judgment upon David for these acts.
So this morning, we are going to look at how the goodness of Nathan shines through and how WE might be called to be good in the fact of another person’s wrongdoing.

First, Nathan helped the truth to come to light.

In Ephesians 5 we hear that God’s children should live as children of light and that “the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.”
With the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we are expected to allow the truth to be seen in the world.

Grace and mercy, forgiveness and love are all good and holy things, but they only have meaning in relation to the truth of what has gone wrong.

When I attended the General Conference in Tampa, Florida five years ago, we spent one evening participating in a service of truth-telling about how United Methodists and our predecessors had harmed Indigenous Peoples across the world. As people of faith and in the name of Jesus Christ, we perpetuated crimes against our brothers and sisters. We took land, forced our values upon others, and destroyed cultures. We actively resisted peace processes and in some cases were the instigators of violence and bloodshed. That night, we heard stories about the role that Methodists had played in the Trail of Tears, and in the slaughter of peoples in Philippines, Africa, and Norway.

The act of betrayal that hit closes to home was that of the Sand Creek Massacre. A Methodist preacher, U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, ordered the attack on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho. These native peoples had come to that site to fulfill their side of a recent peace treaty that had been made with the U.S. Government. While their men were away hunting, Chivington attacked the camp, killing mostly women and children.
It was hard to hear. It was hard to re-live. It was hard to dream that the damage could ever be reversed and that wounds could ever be healed.

And that night, one of the things our leadership focused on was that this night was not the full act of reconciliation. That night was only the first step. Repentance has to begin with understanding what we have done.
Nathan did not ignore or shy away from the wrongs and the harm that David had perpetrated. Rather, he made sure that the truth came to light and that David knew that he had done wrong.

Second, Nathan provided a way for David to turn away from his harm towards good.

The prophet was fully aware of David’s sin.
Had he followed the letter of the law, the right thing to do as soon as David confessed would be to have him stoned. The law was clear that the punishment for adultery and murder were death.
But Nathan shows us that goodness goes beyond simple righteousness. It is far more simply pointing out the wrongs in others.
Nathan spoke the truth about David’s sin, but his first instinct is not to carry out a sentence, but to wait for a response from David.
As people of faith, too often we are quick to bring judgment and condemnation upon others. We are good at bringing unrighteousness to light. We demand that justice be carried out swiftly through every possible means available.

What we aren’t good at is leading people into repentance.
When righteousness is only about the letter of the law, judgment can become a weapon, leading us to harm people or communities.
But by telling David a story, Nathan creates an opportunity for David to confess, to repent, and to choose to live a different life.
In the years that have followed that night at General Conference, United Methodists in various parts of the world have been working to listen and to repent of the various ways we have harmed indigenous peoples. One group in particular was formed to learn more about the tragedy at Sand Creek and to explore whether or not healing could be possible.
Four years later in Portland, a member of the Northern Cheyenne, William Walks Along, shared that although that date “can never be erased from the memory of our people… together let us discover the treasurers we can learn from hardships and from the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow human beings.”

He was extending a hand of friendship to the United Methodist Church and the willingness of fellow descendents of those victims to reconcile and move forward together.

Third, Nathan blessed David because of his repentance.

Not only did the prophet bring the truth to the light, not only did he invite David into a spirit of repentance, but Nathan also gave him the encouragement he needed to faithfully follow God in the future.

Nathan did what was needed to set David back on the right path… what was needed to build him up so that he could once again fulfill God’s expectations for him and live to benefit the children of Israel.
That does not mean that there were no consequences of his actions…. But Nathan reminded David that there was also room for God’s grace and mercy to flow back into his life.

That is a reminder that we all need.
As Christians, we have all have fallen short of the glory of God.
That is the plain and simple truth.
Every single one of us have places in our lives where we need to repent, where we need to turn around and seek God’s forgiveness.
On our own, we are unrighteous and our hearts seek our own benefit and expectations instead of God’s.
And yet, through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are made righteous.
I believe the basis of righteousness is fact that God sets us right.
God forgives us.
God leads us on the right paths.
It has nothing to do with how many answers we get right or how many good deeds we do.
It has everything to do with God and the divine goodness that exceeds every expectation and whose great love seeks only our benefit.
And when we are made righteous, when we are made good, we are meant to let that goodness become contagious. God’s grace and mercy is not ours alone… it is meant to be shared.

Friends, you are armed with a powerful tool that can be used for good or for harm in this world.
The truth of God, the reality of God’s expectations in our lives is now in your hands. And you are invited to let that truth to be know, but you are also invited to share it in a way that brings blessing and benefit to all.

The Side of the Road

I had an experience last week that deeply shook me.

My dad asked me to come help him move farm equipment as he moved from one set of fields to another for harvest.  In essence, I was a chauffeur and would follow the tractor or combine and then take him back to the farm to pick up another.

gravel roadAs we came around a corner on the quiet gravel road, we discovered a person lying on the edge of the road in the ditch.

It all happened so fast.  We stopped the car and leapt out and into action.  911 was dialed.  We assisted the person the best we could – the wind whipping around us, the cold seeping in, the reality that we really had no unique skills to care for someone in a medical emergency causing anxiety and yet we were there and help was on its way.

After the emergency responders arrived and the statements had been made, and we breathed a little bit deeper, my dad and I made our way back to my car… which I then discovered was still running.  We had been so quick to rush into helping, I forgot to turn off the car.

I remember later that day, after I had time to process what had happened, feeling incredibly angry.  Someone had mentioned in passing the idea of being a “Good Samaritan” and all I could think about was how I didn’t have a choice.  Of course we were going to stop.  Anyone who could have passed by and kept going… well, that’s where the anger came in. Having experienced a person in need on the side of the road, I cannot understand how a pastor or religious leader could have crossed to the other side and not stopped to help.

Luke 10: 25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[a]

28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31  Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32  Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33  A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.34  The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35  The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36  What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Part of me wants to take that priest and Levite by the shoulders and look straight into their eyes and demand to know why on earth they refused to stop.  The scripture doesn’t tell us.  We make plenty of excuses for them… they were on their way to worship, they were maintaining ritual purity, the law prevented them from helping. But to see a person dying on the side of the road and to NOT stop…  There is no excuse.

Lately, instead of a person in need on the side of the road, I’ve been witnessing a church that is not quite sure what part of the road we are on. In the midst of the work of ministry and church we are also distracted and focused on statements and trials regarding pastors who performed same-sex marriage ceremonies.

As I read the testimony of Tim, whose father, Frank, was found guilty this week for officiating his wedding, I couldn’t help but think about the injured man on the side of the road.  Too often, the church has played the roles of the thieves in this story – battering and bruising our LGBT brothers and sisters by telling them they have no place in the church and leaving them on the side of the road… without hope, grace, or mercy.

I’ve listened to voices on all side of the arguments about homosexuality and the United Methodist Church and I try to be someone who does more listening than talking.  I try to hear the good and find common ground.  And the deep nugget of difference lies in the fact that one side believes that to be an LGBT person is to be who God has created them to be and the other side believes that six verses of scripture demonstrate that the actions of LGBT persons are sinful and therefore incompatible with Christian faith.  One side is talking about conscious, willful decisions to sin that requires us as people of faith to hold one another accountable… but the other side is talking about the core of a person’s identity that includes gender and sexual orientation and ethnicity. Because it appears as if we are talking about two very different things the conversation and conferencing is immensely difficult.  We are all people of faith but right now we are stuck.

I know the deep faithfulness of persons who are trying to uphold the ideals of Christian teaching and I do believe we need to hold one another accountable in love and grace for our sins.  But today, I have to speak from the experiences in my life and prayerful nights and studying of scripture and admit I am faithfully standing on the other side of the argument.  I believe in many of those passages we are taking the words of God out of context; the scripture is actually talking about pedarasty or ritual sex and not LGBT relationships. In others, the passages are simply wrong for our time; just as we have come to understand scriptures on slavery and the prohibition of female pastors and divorce differently in a different time, through the Holy Spirit, God is leading us to new understandings of what it means to be faithful people today. My friends and family who are gay and lesbian and bi and trans do not choose their reality.  They are some of the most faithful and compassionate and God-fearing people I know.  And as they work out their own salvation with fear and trembling and experience attacks that shoot to the very core of their identity… it does harm.  Tim Schaefer is simply one voice among many who have been turned away at one point or another and who felt like his very existence was “incompatible.”

 Part of who I was, my sexual orientation, was broken and evil, according to them. I felt incredible shame.

Every night I prayed, begging God to make me normal. I pleaded with God to fix me. Many nights I cried myself to sleep. I was in the 10th grade when I came to the realization that my attraction to men was not going to change. I began to think that the only way to avoid bringing shame to my family and community was to take my own life.

But thank God, Tim’s family supported him.  Thank God there are churches who surround LGBT brothers and sisters (and all people) with love and compassion.  Who allow God to speak through them.  Who baptize their children and who hold their hands as they watch loved ones pass.  Who serve them communion and welcome them into the church and allow the gifts God has blessed them with to bear fruit in the kingdom of God.  Thank God there are people who have stopped on the side of the road to be engaged in acts of ministry and care and love.

These past few weeks, the core of what we are debating in official circles and in church trials is whether we are going to be a church that stops by the side of the road to do the work of Jesus… the work of the gospel and the core of the Law… or if we are going to hold fast to tradition and rules and step over to the other side of that road and keep going.  If we are going to focus on “upholding the Book of Discipline in its entirety” or if we are going to get about the ministry of Jesus in his world.

Do you know what I hear in Luke 10?  That we are called to go out into a harvest that is “bigger than you can imagine.”  That we are to locate ourselves among the people God has led us to – healing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.  That we are to love and serve God with all of our heart, being, strength and mind.  That we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That the law demands mercy.  That it is more important to sit at the feet of Jesus than to do the upkeep of the house.  I firmly believe these things we can all agree on – no matter what side of this particular division… and that is what gives me hope. 

I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m traditionally a rule follower.  I love our church.  I love our connection.  I love our accountability.  I even love our Discipline.  But I have been called to love and serve God and God’s people and sometimes I just want to weep at how we set up barriers to the kingdom.

Christ have mercy, for the times we have been so distracted by rearranging the chairs that we forgot you were among us.

Lord have mercy, for costly trials that distract all of us from the work of saving the lost and hurting in our very midst.

Christ have mercy, for the times we have focused on following the letter of the law and didn’t help you lying on the side of the road. 

what you may not realize about the loss of guaranteed appointment #gc2012

Tonight, my heart was stilled from its racing on the guaranteed appointment issue.

I have felt the both/and of a desire for a clear, mission process for appointments AND the deep desire to protect my brothers and sisters who might unfairly be discriminated against in the process where homophobia, sexism, and racism still exist. I was not of one heart on the issue. When asked how I would have voted on the floor had I been seated, I honestly could not answer… perhaps I would have abstained.

But tonight, a colleague of mine – Sean McRoberts – and I dove deep into the legislation to figure out what the actual implications are.

1) this is not a simple power given to the bishop or cabinet to dismiss you to ministry… there are checks and balances all throughout the process. According to the legislation we passed and the BoD, either a lack of missional appointment placement OR an ineffective pastor who is not appointed has to be approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry AND the clergy session. Someone who recieves the status of “transitional leave” must be voted on by the order and so as clergy, if we feel uncomfortable with this process, we need to remember that we have the ability to vote and support one another if the process/boom/cabinet is acting discriminatorily…

2) the appointive cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, and Clergy Session all have to agree for a person to move to transitional leave (it is a status change). Transitional leave has a two year maximum according to the discipline. A person cannot simply be returned to transitional leave again and again. If a person is being transitioned out of ministry due to ineffectiveness, that two years gives time for a process of healing, discernment, counseling, and new calling to occur. In Iowa, we currently have a three year process to counsel and support clergy who are ineffective so that they can either grow or discern a new calling.

3) some important work was done in the legislative committee. They added a requirement for accountability that says statistical reporting on the people put on transitional leave and/or appointed to a less than full time position (age, gender, race) has to be sent to the executive committee of the BoOM and the conference and jurisdictional committee on the episcopacy.  Committee on Episcopacy should then include those statistics in the annual evaluation of the bishop.  (we also approved at this general conference a switch from bi-annual to annual episcopal review).

Prior to this GC, bishops were not evaluated on their appointment making activities, only on the other areas of their ministry. If there were complaints, we could use administrative process to require remedial action and/or bring charges.  This is still the case, only this way we have a process of statistical information to help evaluate if their are patterns, intentional or unintentional, that exclude persons from the table. The process already is in place for helping ineffective or discriminatory bishops transition out of ministry (we just never use it!)

4) there is an important addition, also from the legislative committee, that calls for a group of four laity, two clergy, a district superintendent and the bishop of the annual conference to determine annually criteria for missional appointment making. These criteria are then to be used by the cabinet in their process of discernment. This adds the voice of clergy and laity into the process.

So… with these four clarifications/implications… what do you think?

putting your money where your mouth is… even if it hurts

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Recently there has been a call on some of the social media outlets I follow… a call to take money out of the big banks.

As a part of the larger “occupy”movement, people are being asked to put their money where their mouth is… literally… and close their accounts with the the big guys on Wall Street and to move that money to local banks and community credit unions.  A link to the pledge can be found here:

I like this idea.  I appreciate local businesses. I like the accountability that comes when you are in personal contact with the people who take care of your money. I like that it is more than just feet on the ground complaining about things they don’t like, but people willing to make changes in their personal lives based upon the message they are preaching.

I don’t like what doing this would do to my personal credit rating.
When the pledge first crossed my desk, I immediately went and started searching for information on the statewide United Methodist supported credit union.  I looked at loan rates and credit card rates and started doing the math to see what kind of a personal financial impact it would have if I closed my accounts with the “big banks” and moved my debt and my checking account somewhere more local.

My Bank of America credit line has been around for over 11 years.  As a freshamn in college, I caved to the credit card pressure… but it was a “Working Assets” card – and they donated 1% every year to non-profits that you get to choose.  At the time, I justified my decision, thinking it was the “conscientious choice”… if I was going to have a credit card, that’s the one I wanted.  But they were bought out by the big guys and I’ve been with BoA ever since.  Because I have been with them for a while, and pay my bills faithfully, it is also my largest line of credit.

The only line of credit I have with Citigroup is fairly new… and I opened the card to transfer some balances with no interest so that I could work on paying off debt from college/seminary/long-distance-relationship-plane-tickets…

To close the first account and to open a new one would drastically reduce both my average age of open credit lines and my open card utilization percentage… thereby significantly affecting my credit score (especially since I have that newer line of credit from only a year ago).

To transfer balances would involve fees and especially with the Citigroup account, I still have another year of no interest and would rather spend that time paying off that little amount, rather than incurring another fee and having to pay interest.


Sometimes, doing something that is seems right, hurts. Taking a stand involves personal cost. Finding the courage to literally put our money where our mouth is… priceless.

(sorry, I couldn’t resist).

But we should spend time wrestling with financial questions.

Where is my money invested?
Who benefits from my money/debt?
What kind of transformative change does the power of a single dollar have?

Does my bank align with my values?

What kind of damage does debt do to my spiritual life?

What does your spending say about your spiritual life?
All sorts of thoughts are rolling around in my head, all as a result of a little tweet.

Knowledge and knowledge

Many have been discussing lately social media monitoring of clergy and candidates/ordinands. A post by sheyduck on Everyday Theology got me thinking about my one hesitancy regarding the issue.As I posted there…

There is a tendency of some who do not understand social media, to use it as an evaluation method, rather than understanding online discussions as works in progress. 20 years ago if you were to publish something, it was final and complete and authoritative… Now, you push a button and your best understanding of something at a particular moment is out there… But it can be edited and critiqued and the knowledge can grow in comments and follow-ups. It’s a different way of thinking about what is true, and I worry that some who monitor ordinands conversations won’t understand that.

Earl Creps described generational differences in knowledge in his book, Reverse Mentoring: How Young Leaders Can Transform the Church and Why We Should Let Them. I heard him talk about the book to a small group at University of Northern Iowa’s Wesley Foundation.

One of the things that struck me most was an analogy he used regarding knowledge.

He described folks his parents age (60+) who saw Knowledge as something important, rare and treasured. It was kept inside of beautiful buildings that you had to have special passes to access, aka, libraries.

People in his own generation (40-60) started to have access in much more profound ways. At the library, a whole world of microfilm was available, the internet started making its way in and so the scope of Knowledge expanded. Tools helped you to access what you needed.

But younger generations see knowledge in a completely different way. Knowledge itself has become a tool. There is so much knowledge, and all of it at your fingertips, that it is almost a worthless, commodity. Instead, its about using the hacking the system, using the knowledge for other things like community, status, work, etc. It is chopped up into bits and bytes and reassembled in a thousand different ways on blogs and forums.

I understand that Knowledge isn’t one right answer out there, but the way that knowledge changes and grows and expands through conversation, exploration, experience, revelation, and any number of other means. That means my answers will never be complete. That means I will probably have more questions than answers. That means what I write or say or do might never end up in a vault of information we call a library.

And that means that there will be doubt, waffling, changing stories, confessions, errors, and growth shown on these pages… And similar pages from my peers.

My only fear is that someone “monitoring” our interactions will mistake our quest for knowledge through these forums as not living up to the standards of truth from another generation…


Perhaps a few too many days have passed since the event for me to recall everything clearly.  I would have gotten to the blogging right away but a few things got in my way.  I watched with much excitation the Iowa/Ohio State football game while I was waiting for my flight.  Then I got up and did church Sunday morning.  And then I helped move a friend.  And then I was sick, sick, sick the rest of the day.  Monday I was a zombie.  And since then I have been playing catch up.
But there are some key things I want to get down before they slip away completely. 

The church and the congregation are not the same thing.  The congregation is part of the church, but the church… the Kingdom of God… the bride of Christ… is SO much bigger than the congregation – or the denomination.  I knew that, but the way that we talked about the specific role of the congregation last week (public worship, teach core doctrine, care for congregation, institutional player) I realized both how limited that role is and also how important.  
To be honest, as I look at my gifts for ministry – I am gifted to be a leader and a pastor within the congregation.  I love worship and I want that worship to be available to all.  I strive to be an institutional player in my community and build connections between my institutions and our schools and our city government and our state agencies.  I’m a good ambassador in that sense.  I’m a good representative.  I have the gifts to care for people in my congregation – I did it this afternoon as I sat with a family around their dying father.  I love to teach and I have the gifts and abilities to take complex ideas and help people understand them. 
I also deeply feel called to be a part of small communities of people who are trying to live the gospel with each other.  And I think in part what I realized this weekend is that I may not be called to be a leader of a group like that, but I am called to join one.  I’m called to help create space for them to happen.  I’m called to equip others to lead them. 
As an institution, our congregation can be a hub for missional activity.  I love that imagery.  and I want to make THAT happen.
As a part of the conference experience, we were at Lockerbie Central UMC/Earth House.  This is a church that has converted its basement into a vegan restaurant, its middle floor into office space and a coffee shop, and it’s top floor/sanctuary into a blank worship space and flexible auditorium/stage/performance space.  I am in LOVE with the whole thing.  I love the beautiful old stained glass windows and the homemade chai lattes and the organic fair trade coffee and the gorgeous hardwood floors and the fact that so many different types of people are trying to figure out their lives and their faith in that space.  I love the fact that yoga classes and cooking classes and films about social justice issues and conversations about salvation are happening in the same space.  I love that people enter that community (enter THE CHURCH) through all sorts of different venues.
I stayed with a young woman who come to the community in part because of a yoga class.  And she worships there sometimes.  She helps non-profits across the state find the resources they need personnel wise to be effective.  And she’s finding community and hope and inspiration there at the Earth House Collective AND the Lockerbie Central congregation. 
Our hosts coordinated homestays for many of us, and that in itself was a blessing.  I got to know December, even if just for one evening of really deep and vulnerable conversation over a cup of tea. It was amazing to experience that and to know that there was someone, a stranger, who had a similiar story to me.  It was a reminder of how small the world is and also a reminder of how powerful the gift of hospitality can be.
I’m really struck by the difference between the inclusiveness of what the public congregation should be and the exclusiveness of a committed group of disciples who are trying to live the gospels.  I’m not sure if this quite came into focus for me completely until this morning as a sat around a table with pastors from other traditions.  I had said something about our open communion table and realized how sharply that contrasted with my LCMS colleagues.  Ironically, I was at the same time arguing for committed exclusive discipleship groups.  We were having a discussion about the limits of God’s kingdom, and I realized the beauty of the Methodist/Congregational structure.  We can HAVE the absolute openness of the Kingdom in the congregation, in the sacraments, in worship, in teaching… everyone is welcome.  And then we can invite those who want to take deeper steps into discipleship groups.  The problem with a lot of churches with rigorous discipline is that it creates and us vs. them mentality, you are in or you are out.  If we instead have a partnership that lets us know all who believe are in, and then invite everyone to go deeper, we get around some of that exclusivity. 
What I am trying to figure out is how to translate that back into my institutional congregation.  I believe we have the structure within our language already.  We have baptized members and professing members – and TECHNICALLY professing members should be people committed to living out their baptismal vows through specific practices.  And if someone decides they aren’t ready to commit to those practices, they can still be baptized members of our church!   Really, what that takes is for us to take our vows seriously and to seriously hold one another accountable AND to value baptized membership in a new way.  To realize there is a difference between those who follow Jesus and those who are disciples.  Ideally, everyone would be a disciple.  But not everyones ready.  Not everyone’s ready to take that risk – but they still believe.

Hebrews Part 6: Discipline

My nephew has recently picked up a bad habit. Lying. Whether it’s just a phase he is going through or if developmentally he has just realized that he can make up stories and try to get away with things… it hasn’t been working. His parents see right through his lies. They catch him all the time. But they couldn’t figure out how to get him to stop doing it.

But they recently got some advice and figured out a new way to discipline him. Each time they catch him in a lie he has to pay them a dollar. Now, for a 7 year old, a dollar is a lot of money. And he has to go all the way up to his bedroom and get his piggy bank and pull out a dollar and come all the way back downstairs and pay up.

And since they have instituted this new form of punishment do you want to know how many times he has lied? Once – the first time – and it was so painful for him and it made such an impression on him that he hasn’t done it since.

As we come to the last chapters of the letter to the Hebrews this morning – we find that we have come full circle. We have gone from being accepted by Christ and called his brothers and sisters in chapter two – to being addressed as children of the Lord in chapter twelve. And like all children – like my nephew – we are going to learn a little bit about discipline.

All of that stuff that happens in between – all of those big words like Christology and atonement – they help us understand how we become children of God, but what really matters is that it happens. Because of what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection life – we are restored and redeemed and we are now children of God.

We have been adopted into God’s household – but there are some changes that we are going to have to make in our lives – some new “house rules” if you will. Because what Christ did is set us on a new path – we have a new direction in this life and our job now is to run this race to the end.

We talked a little bit about that race last week – but today we are going to talk about what running this race is really like.

So first a question – How many of you here are runners? Not very many, I would imagine.

Running is very hard work. On and off for about 4 years I have tried to take up the habit of running. And I’ve learned that you have to start off slowly, step by step, little by little. If you tried to start off running 5 miles a day – you would cramp up and your heart would scream at you. But slowly, gradually, you can build yourself up to that point.

The reason why my attempts at running have been unsuccessful is very simple – I lacked the discipline it takes to become a runner.

I might start off good for a week – or maybe even two weeks. I would gradually increase my time running and my lungs would expand their capacity to take in air and my heart would become gradually stronger and my legs would slowly start to adapt to the work I was asking them to do…

…. but then I would get busy, or get tired, or get frustrated because I wasn’t seeing the instant results I wanted. And so I would skip a few days… and then those days would become two weeks, and then I had to start all over again. I couldn’t pick up where I had left off – because my body had already reverted to its pre-running stage.

What I really need is a running coach – someone to yank me out of bed in the morning. Someone to remind me of the basics and to teach me new skills. Someone to keep me on track. The kind of discipline that a running coach would encourage for their student… healthy eating, drinking plenty of fluids, warming up your body, and the part I dread: wind sprints, endurance running, and pushing yourself a little farther each day… is all designed to help create the best possible conditions for a running lifestyle. Each and every single thing is important to turn your body into a running body.

I don’t think its mere coincidence that our reading on discipline in Hebrews this morning comes right after the introduction of this race metaphor. Bill Long wrote that “discipline can not only ‘chisel’ or ‘sculpt’ the body…, but it can shape the soul.” And just like a runner, we are being asked to transform ourselves – mind, body, and soul – into something different. We are being asked to become different people – and that takes discipline.

What is true for my habit of running is often true for our spiritual race as well – the discipline we need often has to come from without.

The good news is that this race comes with its own coach. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that we can look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith who has tread this path before. When we look to him – who endured more than we could possibly imagine – we find the strength to keep going.

And then what we are asked to remember is that this race isn’t going to be easy. We are going to run through some rough terrain. We are going to bump elbows with people who are running different races and we might get pushed around in the process. There will be potholes and roadblocks and dead ends and hills and valleys along this race.

But in each of those struggles, in each of those trials, God is disciplining us – we are being shaped into children of God.

As verse 11 reminds us – discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Just like wind sprints strengthen and transform our hearts… although they make you feel like you are going to die in the process… so too does the discipline of God transform our lives.

Something that is rattling around in the back of my mind… and I want you to bear with me for just a minute, because I haven’t fully figured this bit out… is that discipline is not punishment.

Now – I know that in the version of the scriptures that you have printed there it actually uses the word punishment – but it is the only version that does so and I believe it’s a bad translation of the passage.. Almost every other version I have looked at uses the word “rebuke” instead of punishment…. God is expressing disapproval, God is correcting us. In the greek, the word is elegchomenos… literally, we are being exposed when we are on the wrong path or doing the wrong thing.

But the type of discipline that then is carried out is not some arbitrary punishment, God does not take pleasure in causing pain in our lives or seeing us struggle… but God’s discipline helps us to correct the mistakes in our lives… it is a training or teaching that will equip us for righteousness.

If I am running incorrectly and someone doesn’t point it out and correct my form, I could cause serious damage to my body. The initial correction might be tough, it might be painful and it might hurt my pride, but it will strengthen me for the long haul. So too, the discipline of the Lord puts us back on the right path and strengthens us for the tougher parts of the journey ahead. It will forge us into the type of people that God knows we can be.

What that also means is that God doesn’t send trials into our lives just for the sake of trials. God only disciplines us because we are loved and only disciplines us to correct missteps and to prepare us for the future.

I firmly believe that God doesn’t give us cancer to teach us something, or send hurricanes to shore to send us a message. Love is not the foundation of that kind of discipline.

But when tragedies befall us – when we face roadblocks – when we are rocked to the core by a death or a disaster… we can know that we have strength to endure because of what we have already been through and we can be assured that God will bring us through to the other side a stronger person than we were before.

The final thing that I want to say is that discipline not only happens between us and God, it also happens in a community.

John Wesley was really big on discipline. The very reason we are called Methodists today is because he and his friends had such a meticulous method to keep their minds and souls conditioned – to keep them running on the right path. Wesley often referred to an early church saying that “the soul and the body make a man; the spirit and discipline make a Christian.”

In the last chapters of Hebrews our joint responsibility for one another’s discipline is clear. “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” “make sure not root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble.” “ remember those who are in prison, as if you are in prison with them” “let mutual love continue” “remember your leaders… your earthly coaches… who are charged with watching over your souls…”

But we also remember that the same charge is given to us whenever we stand together and make our member ship vows. Each time we do so, I say to you:

“Members of the household of God,
I commend these persons to your love and care.
Do all in your power to increase their faith,
confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”

Our job as Christians is more than to simply believe… we also must be in relationship with the living God… we must live our lives differently. And discipline is how we hold those two together. Discipline is how we make sure that our lives match our beliefs. It forms us into the kind of people God wants us to be. It is our training ground for the life to come. And the good news is – we are all in this together.