Altars Everywhere!

Defiant Praise – John van de Laar
There are many doorways to cynicism, Jesus,
Many reasons for despair,
May causes for fear;
But there is no excuse for giving them ultimate power;
Not if we really believe what we claim to believe.

Resurrection is real, Jesus;
We have touched it, and seen it;
Our own lives bear witness to it,
And it constantly reveals itself in our world.
And so, in spite of the fear that nags at us,
In the face of the despair and cynicism that taunts us,
In denial of all that would seek to steal life away,
We offer you our love,
Our devotion,
Our lives,
As an offering of resurrection faith
And defiant praise.
Amen.

Over these past few weeks, we have been talking about what it is like to live in Scare City.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough made us want to build tall towers and make a name for ourselves.
Our fear of the unknown and what lurks around every corner kept us from stepping out in faith.
Our fear of those who are different – who live on the other side of the tracks – caused us to miss opportunities to share our gifts with them or to receive blessings from them.

Fear, scarcity, cynicism… these are all things that limit our ability to fully experience the life God has given us.
In our attempts to cling to what we have, we don’t allow ourselves to take hold of what is truly life.

Our scripture this morning comes from a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy.
Timothy was having a tough time in his work. In many ways, he was living in Scare City, perhaps facing fears that he wasn’t good enough, he was too young and unexperienced; maybe he didn’t feel brave enough for what God was calling him to do.
Or maybe, he was a young pastor, sent to a church where everything was hunky dory and he was having a hard time helping the church to grow – both in numbers and in faith.
So Paul sent this letter as a form of encouragement that young man’s ministry and as a reminder of what was really important… and I’m finding it helpful and encouraging as well.
I think its important for all of us to hear this call to move out of our attitudes of scarcity and to move into a sense of God’s abundant grace and love in our lives.

Because, friends, that is our call.

We are called to dismantle all those symbols of fear and scarcity in our lives so that we can embrace God’s abundant, joyful, overflowing life.
In our worship space this morning, we have literally dismantled the scaffolding that symbolized over these past few weeks the towers we build, the corners, and the walls…
Instead, all of these pieces are now altar spaces of their own… filled with signs of God’s hope and love and mercy that pours out into our lives.
They are symbols of OUR resurrection faith and defiant praise of God in the midst of a world that so often seems scary and uncertain.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was filled with reminders of how he could shed those fears.
The instructions were meant to help him fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called and for which he made his confession.
Confession isn’t a word that we use every day in our faith tradition.
We confess when we have done something wrong or when we are sorry, but the way it is used here also means to confess what we believe to be true.
Jane Anne Ferguson reminds us that this likely referred to the confession that Timothy made in his baptism.
A confession that he was God’s child.
A confession that he would serve God and love his neighbors.

A confession not unlike the one that we make in our baptisms…

I’ve been thinking about those promises that we in fact made during our baptisms and how they connect with the fears and the scarcity that lurk on the edges of our lives.

[slides for baptism]
So often, the feeling that we are not enough and that we have to build towers to make a name for and protect ourselves… that desire to have more and more and more… well, those are the powers of consumerism and nationalism run rampant.
When our desire to earn and spend and save money becomes idolatrous… when our patriotism blinds us to our kinship with brothers and sisters of other nations… then it is time for us to remember our confession.
Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

When our world is filled with jealousy, conflict, abuse, and rumors… when there is a constant state of bickering and violence shows up on our news every single day… when the threats of war and destruction loom over us… then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you turn away from the powers of sin and death?
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Where there is division and anxiety over those who look different or speak different or come from different places. When we look out in judgment upon those who don’t have the things that we have or when we hesitate to see and name and celebrate the gifts of people we think are below ourselves. When we forget that we, like Paul, are completely unworthy of the love of God for us… well, then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you proclaim the good news and live as disciples of Jesus Christ, his body on earth?
We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

And we do so by going back to the basics. By remembering the faith of our ancestors. By using their struggles and blessings to guide and shape the way that we live our lives. We turn to those pages of scripture, like this letter to Timothy, to remind us of the calling that is at our roots. And so, we make our confession…
Will you receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures?
We affirm and teach the faith of the whole church as we put our trust in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Like Timothy, we, too, have been called to a different kind of life.
We are called to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) –those fruits of the spirit that we talked about all summer long.
Fight the good fight of faith…
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made your confession.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.

Be grateful.
As 1 Timothy 6:6 reminds us, we are called to a life that combines godliness with contentment,
Gratitude and contentment are key and perhaps the only way we can truly move from a spirit of scarcity to one of abundance.
It is a reminder that we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.
Paul urges Timothy to remember that those who desire to be rich and to have more get caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. Their lust brings nothing but trouble.
On the other hand, those who have wealth can become so full of themselves and obsessed with their money that it becomes a stumbling block to their faith.
As the Message translation puts it, “a devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God…. If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Bread on the table and shoes on our feet.
Friends, that is all that we really need.
That is what is important.
These are signs of God’s abundance that will transform this world.

Bread and shoes…

Bread on the table… a sign of the great thanksgiving and a reminder that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
A reminder of the abundant grace that has been given to us.
And a sign of the Body of Christ and how we are all united in this common mission.
And a loaf which is meant to be broken so that not just we… but others may be fed.
Bread symbolizes the ministries of our church where we praise God in our worship and we connect with one another around tables.

Shoes on our feet… because we have places to go!
Just as the first disciples were sent out into the world to baptize and teach and spread the good news, so we have been called to go from this place out into the world. After we have been fed by God’s word, we are supposed to share it.
We are supposed to carry it with us from this sanctuary so that we can transform this world.
Shoes symbolize the ministries of our church in which we teach and share the faith with young and old and in which we go and serve in places near and far.

Today… we have the opportunity to make our commitments for next year.
As a church, we have been deepening our vision and we believe that our love, service, and prayer in this world is meant to make an impact.
Just like bread is meant to be shared and shoes are meant to go out, when we deepen our engagement in this church and when we partner with others out in the world, things are going to happen!
You and me, right now, today, we are laying the foundation for the future ministry of our church.
And it will take all of us, making the commitment to personally engage in just a slightly deeper way for our church to grow and flourish and thrive.

If we are honest with ourselves… the foundation that we are laying today is not for us.
It is for the church of our children and grandchildren.
Some of us won’t be here in 10-20 years as our dreams for this place are being realized.
But for the sake of our children, for the sake of our grandchildren, for the sake of the neighbors all around us who are hungry and yearning for hope… we are called to this work.
We are called to fight the good fight.
We are called to do good.
We are called to carry this worship and word out of this place and bring light and hope and grace and mercy to all we meet.
We are called to be generous and to share.
And when we do so, we will take hold of what is truly life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Unity, Diversity, and the Body of Christ

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Over the past week, I’ve been working to get my garden prepped a bit for spring and to start some of the seeds that will be set out after Mother’s Day.  And I was reminded as I dug my fingers into the dirt that soil is so incredibly diverse and complex.  That just one handful of the stuff contains more living organisms than there are people on this planet.   

And in every part of the soil, every one of those organisms has a part to play, impacting chemical and physical properties.  And all of these living organisms live off of and feed off of one another.  It is their interaction that makes soil healthy and thriving and good.

In his book, The Third Plate, Dan Barber describes two ways of seeing what is happening in the soil that surrounds us.

One, is a class system… or a battlefield…

We’ve all seen those videos of a tiny fish being eaten by a bigger fish, being eaten by an even bigger fish… that’s some of what happens in the dirt beneath our feet.  One way of looking at all of the interaction beneath us is to focus on how microbes are eaten by protozoa, which are eaten by centipedes, ants, and beetles.

 

 

But another way of thinking about all of that diversity in the soil is as a system of checks and balances. 

 

Fred Magdoff is a soil scientist and he thinks that “When there is sufficient and varied food for the organisms, they do what comes naturally, ‘making a living’ by feeding on the food sources that evolution provided… What you have is a thriving, complex community of organisms.”

And all of that diversity and interaction in the soil is what makes our food taste good. 

Magdoff says, “Taste comes from a more complex molecule that gets eaten, taken apart, and put back together in a different way.  The plant takes this, and all the other molecules, and catalyzes them into phytonutrients.  Taste doesn’t come from the elemental compounds (like calcium or nitrogen).  It comes from the synthesis” [The Third Plate, Dan Barber, page 85]

 

That’s really why you and I want all of that diversity in the soil after all.  Because we want the things we grow to thrive and taste good.  We want it to bear tasty fruit! 

In musical composition, unless it is a solo piece, it is the interaction of the various instruments each playing their part, yet working together that create harmonization.  

And in the church, it is the way that we each utilize our various gifts and we each play our part as hands or tongues or livers that allows the Body of Christ to make a difference in this world.  

 

But sometimes, the church acts more like a battlefield than the Body of Christ.  

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he was responding to the way factions and power and pride were tearing the community apart.  

Corinth was a port city and as such it had incredible diversity.  Ideas from across the globe all mingled and freed slaves lived amongst wealthy entrepreneurs.  The church reflected this diversity… but that created a power contest between the believers who argued with one another about which ideology or status was better than another.

At every turn, Paul reminds the people that their diversity should be seen not as a source of division, but as a blessing.  Because of their varied gifts and perspectives, they could do far more together than any of them could do on their own.  

 

We’ve experienced this as a church, haven’t we?  We have incredible diversity as far as our age and our political and theological perspectives and yet look at the amazing things that we have done together.

We raised over $5000 for Joppa in a weekend with a garage sale last year that brought so many different people together.

We built on Faith Hall and paid it off in record time because every person did their part.

We successfully launched Children’s Church because of the incredible work of so many different volunteers and people who were willing to try something new.  

Today is the last day of Third Grade Bible, which is an amazing way our more experienced folks help our young people learn about this amazing book that guides our faith journey.  

 

None of that could happen unless the various parts of THIS Body of Christ were willing to step up and play a part.  

You might be a foot or an eye or a spleen, but you play a part in this church.   We all play a part.  You might think that you are too young or too old or too busy to make a difference, but Paul says you are wrong.  You are an essential part of making the church work!  

Or you might think that church would be a whole lot simpler if everyone was just like me, but again, Paul says we are wrong.  It takes all of our different perspectives and experiences… even when they make things more complex… to be the Body of Christ God has intended for this community.

 

In the United Methodist Church right now, we are divided.  We are different.  And we feel differently about human sexuality.  We can’t always agree about how we should be in ministry with those folks on the margins, whether they are refugees or poor or elderly or tattooed or whatever else marks them as different from the majority.  And underneath all that disagreement is that we don’t all read the scripture in the same way.  

And sometimes, that diversity feels like a war.  It feels like the battle described the soil beneath us or in that clip from Minions.  We are chewing each other up and spitting each other out. And I hate the way my brothers and sisters are hurt and damaged by actions and words that cut to the core of their very being.  And I’ve watched as some people have walked away from the Body of Christ because of it.

When you focus on the conflict that diversity creates, you want to strip out everything that is different to protect yourself and others.  We want simple things.  We want unity, which means, we want to all be the same.

But I believe, and Paul believes, that to be healthy, we need diversity.  We need difference.  We need checks and balances.  We need reminders of the importance of the scripture and justice and mercy and love from people who don’t see it the same way we do. 

We need to listen. 

We need to hold one another accountable. 

We also need to challenge one another. 

We need to be willing to speak the truth in love.

And together, the interaction of all of our different parts creates something beautiful and mysterious and powerful.

John Wesley claimed the Moravian Motto: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

There are key things that are pretty essential to who we are as not only United Methodists, but as Christians:  ideas like believing in the Triune God, and understanding that grace plays a role in our lives.  Core things, without which we simply could not be the Body of Christ.  

But there are other things that are non-essential.  What style of music or which translation or scripture or if we prefer percolator coffee or ground coffee or whole bean pour over. In those things, we are called to allow the freedom of diversity and expression and to give room and space for our siblings in Christ to be different and to share their varying gifts.

But no matter what… in all things, we are called to love.  To respect each other.  To listen.  To disagree without being disagreeable.  To be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.  

In all things, Love.

It is not a coincidence that this chapter on what it means to be the Body of Christ comes right before the chapter on love.  Because the only way we make this kind of community work is through love.  We’ll talk more about that next week.   

 

In the same way the soil beneath our feet thrives on diversity and competition and interaction and synergy – this church thrives because we are different AND because we love one another.  And through God’s grace, that means we can do more than any one of us could accomplish on our own for the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

 

God Prepares a Feast

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How many of you ate too much this holiday season? 

How many of you ate just enough? 

You know, the thing about family gatherings, celebrations, and joyous events is that they are feast times in our lives.

We gather around tables.

We break bread.

We share stories.

And we experience life to its fullest.

 

As the prophet, Isaiah, envisions the day of salvation, he writes about “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.” (Isaiah 25:6)

There will be joy on that morning. 

There will be celebration on that day.

And the table will be full.

 

Now, this would have been a powerful image of hope in the midst of Isaiah’s day.  Israel had been torn apart and God’s people had suffered violence and oppression.  There is nothing left. 

Heidi Haverkamp invites us to imagine refugees from a modern war finding a heavy banquet table in the middle of nowhere… an oasis in the midst of the desert of struggle and pain and fear.

 

The people and creatures of Narnia have known such struggle.  They are survivors of a time of oppression and violence and loss. 

But in the midst of their fear and anxiety, they also hung on to hope. 

The Pevensie children, Edmund, Susan, Peter, and Lucy, are welcomed into the home of the Beavers who set out a feast of fish and potatoes, sticky marmalade rolls, bread and butter.  They filled their bellies with food and their hearts with hope. 

And then, Father Christmas arrived.

If you were with us last week, we talked about how the cold winter of the White Witch’s power was so strong that it was always winter and never Christmas.

But the world began to thaw.

The seasons began to turn with the promise that Aslan was near.

And Father Christmas came as a symbol of hope, that the winter would soon end, that a new day was coming.

And when he came across a group of Narnians in the woods, Father Christmas set out a feast of plum pudding and wine, delicious food, and decorations.

 

It was a scene right out of Isaiah.

The day of salvation was near.

And yet.

 And yet, that day of salvation is still oh, so, far away.

As those grateful people of Narnia sat to enjoy their meal with laughter and merriment, the White Witch comes along and turns their joy into silence.  She turns them into stone.

 The promise has not yet been fulfilled.

As Haverkamp writes in her reflections for this season, “A special family meal isn’t a promise that nothing will every go wrong again.  The people of Isaiah’s time would be torn apart by war and sent away into exile.  In Narnia, the Christmas supper party would be turned to stone.  But the people of Israel knew that God was with them, no matter what, and that God’s promises to them were eternal.” 

 

Every time we gather around this table, we feast, too.

We feast on bread and wine.

We remember stories and laugh and cry.

We are re-connected by these offerings of live giving sustenance.

And we know that this meal is only a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. 

 

One of most holy moments for me every Christmas Eve is to gather around this table and around the manger and break bread together.

In this one moment, the whole story of our faith is present.

Christ was born.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again. 

 While it might seem morbid to remember on that night that the child born in the manger was born to die, for me it is a reminder of just how fully God entered our human existence.

God took on our flesh and came into our lives in one of the most vulnerable ways one could imagine. 

This child cried and was utterly dependent upon the milk from his mother and the care and protection from his earthly father.  He learned to walk and scraped his knees.  And every step of the way, as he grew into a man, he reached out and connected with the least, the last, and the lost…. And the rich and powerful. 

Our God fully took on our flesh and reached out to welcome children and talked with women and taught men what it meant to truly be the people of God. 

He was praised and he was ridiculed.  He wept.  He was angry.  God became one of us.

And then our God died for us.

 

In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a moment when all hope appears lost.  In order to save the life of one of the Pevensie children, Edmund, the one who betrayed the rest of his siblings,   Aslan gives up his own life to the White Witch.

 He willing hands himself over to her in a scene that brings to my mind memories of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

And he is killed.

 The two girls, Lucy and Susan, weep over his body… like the women who went to the tomb early on Easter morning.

 And as they walk to catch a glimpse of sunrise, they hear a loud crack.  The stone on which Aslan had been killed cracked in two.  He rose and stood behind them triumphant. 

 And then, Aslan shared that resurrected life with the creatures of Narnia.  He flew to all those who had been turned to stone and breathed upon them, setting them free from the curse of the White Witch.

 

Today, we remember that in the very beginning our God breathed into us the breath of life.

We remember that our God took on human flesh and lived among us.

We remember that our God in Christ freely gave up his life so that we might have life and life abundant.

And today, we remember … every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, the promise of salvation. 

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell wrote in her reflection upon the Isaiah passage that the “prophet’s message of hope [is]for the day when God invites everyone to the banquet table, and death’s power is destroyed forever. The veil will be torn away and God will end our mourning by wiping away our tears. This is the God we have waited for. This is the moment we have waited for. This is the invitation we have waited for.”

This is the invitation we have waited for.

Come. 

God has prepared a feast. 

 

Claiming Our Inheritance

When I came home from our United Methodist General Conference in May, I shared with you these words:

Over these last two weeks, we very nearly split our denomination into pieces.  Our differences are stark. Our life together is marred by conflict as much as collaboration.  And I’m going to be honest… I’m not quite sure yet what comes after General Conference.

I went on talk about why that was:  how the source of dilemma lies in being a global church, in the way we make decisions, and the reality that we can’t agree on some fundamental basics of what it means to be church together, like what we mean by covenant or how we interpret scriptures.

 

This month, our bishops have not only announced the members of a special commission who will help us find a way forward, but they have also announced their intent to call a special session of General Conference in 2019… one year earlier than we would typically meet.  The purpose will be to allow this commission to do their work and then the delegates of our last general conference will gather back together solely for the purpose of discussing and voting on their recommendations.  Many imagine that if we cannot agree to a way to hold our differences in creative tension that our church will split at that time. 

 

For the last few months, there has been a tension in my shoulders that I can’t quite shake. 

I’m worried.

I’m worried for my country.

I’m worried for the United Methodist Church.

I’m worried for this church.

 

And the root of that worry is less about who wins on Tuesday or what kind of church we will be on the other side of 2019 or how many people stayed home from worship last weekend…

I worry about how we treat one another and whether or not we see the person sitting across from us as a person of inherent worth and dignity… and that we seem unable to set aside our thoughts and opinions for long enough to actually listen to the truth of another person.

I think the antidote to the worry we collectively are bearing might be found in our scripture this morning.  

 

One of the radical messages of Ephesians that is lost to modern readers of the scriptures is the fact that Paul reaches out and give thanks for people who are outside of his faith.

Historically, the early church experienced great tensions between Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ.  They had different backgrounds, different traditions and practices, and yet all claimed to have accepted the good news of God.  There was infighting and arguments about who had to give up what part of their heritage in order to be part of the community.

And so when Paul, a Jewish scholar and leader of the church, writes to this Gentile community at Ephesus, it is remarkable that one of the first things he does is emphasize unity.

We have obtained an inheritance”, Paul writes.

And then he goes a step farther… “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

Paul specifically reaches out to people who are very different from him… people he has never even met before… and tells them that he is grateful for them.

This letter to the Ephesians is fundamentally about unity. 

That is our glorious inheritance.

Unity with God in Jesus Christ.

Unity with the saints who have gone before us.

And unity with one another in this present moment. 

And as Paul teaches us in these first few verses that you can’t have unity without gratitude. 

 

As we light candles to remember the saints, we are reminded that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we remain connected and unified with all of those saints who have gone before us… and with all who will come after us. 

As we break bread, we sing and feast with the saints.  This meal is an act of unity. This meal and the hope it instills in our souls is our inheritance. 

And as we remember, we give thanks for eight people from our congregation who died this past year:  for Lois.  Becky.  Viola.  Ruth.  Gary.  Mildred.  Sharon.  Marcia.   Thank you, God.   

But we also give thanks for the many people, friends and family, who have gone before us. 

We give thanks for all of the saints who shaped our lives. 

And we give thanks for the multitudes of saints and the historic church that is our foundation.  When it feels like the weight of the world is upon our shoulders and that the church will live or die based upon our decisions, it is good to remember that God’s church has been around for two thousand years.  It is built upon the prophets and the apostles.  The church is far bigger than this congregation or even this denomination.  And for that I give thanks…

And I also pray that we might claim this inheritance and that somehow we might be part of passing along this faith to generations yet to come. 

 

Sarah Birmingham Drummond reminds us that the unity we experience is not only across time and generations, but also for this present moment. “Paul’s message of unity was radical in its day, as it suggest unity across divisions that were woven into the fabric of daily life.  This suggests that the early church understood overcoming divisions to be part of its mandate.”

Let me repeat that. 

The early church understood overcoming divisions to be part of its mandate.

After all, Paul was reaching out to people he didn’t have a whole lot in common with to give thanks.   His letter reminded not only them, but also himself, of the unity of Christ that brings all of us together. 

That is our inheritance, too.

 

Today, we will break bread not only with the saints, but also with people who will vote differently than us on Tuesday. 

We worship every Sunday morning with people of different ages. 

We worship with people who prefer different types of music. 

We worship with early risers and people who long to sleep in on Sundays.

Yet overcoming division is part of our mandate as people of faith.

Being a people who overcome difference in order to be in community… that is our inheritance. 

That is the faith that has been passed down from generation to generation.

 

No matter what happens on Tuesday. 

No matter what happens in 2019 with our denomination.

No matter what tension we feel as a result of our worship times or classes or studies.

Our responsibility is to look around this room and to give thanks for each soul and get busy making a difference in this world.

That is the inheritance we can claim, right here and right now. 

 

And we do so… we claim the inheritance of Jesus Christ across generations and across divisions because we believe that God’s mission is built upon a church united to transform this world. 

Because we believe that God needs all of us… past, present, and future, to bring healing and hope to a broken people. 

Because our differences are small when compared to the call God has upon our lives to claim our inheritance. 

Because we believe in the immeasurable greatness of God’s power to truly make a difference… right here and right now.  

Faithful. Kind. #UMCGC

This afternoon, as General Conference opened with worship, I was moved by the many first languages echoing through our space… One audible witness to the immense diversity of context, theology, and experience in the room.

As we approached communion, and partook of the bread and the juice, I returned to my seat and prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

In fact, I was kind of afraid to open my eyes.

There was a silent witness by a group of folks encouraging full communion. And as I sat there, praying, knowing the impact of their witness was rippling through the room, two words kept returning.

Let us be faithful.
Let us be kind.

Faithful.
Kind.

Those words echoed as a prayer for our gathering and as a plea to God and one another. Lord, may we be faithful. Lord, may we be kind.

I’m going to be totally honest.

Sometimes when I pray following communion, I’m simply going through the motions. I do a little prayer and I’m done. As a pastor, I rarely have the time to really pray and focus my attention on God, because it is time to clear the elements or refill the cups, or make sure the next group is served.

And I started this time of prayer intended to say a little prayer and be done.

But those words caught me.

The tension in the room and in those sitting around me caught me.

I closed my eyes tighter, clutching my prayer beads, and just kept repeating those two words.

Faithful.
Kind.

God knows, we each are bringing to this gathering the deep yearnings of our hearts. And, when we are honest, those yearnings can be a mixture of our faithfulness and our selfishness.

In part, the word faithful reminds me that every person I broke bread with is trying to be faithful. We earnestly love God and seek to do God’s will. I prayed that I might remember each person in that space was trying to be faithful.

And, we all need the reminder to be faithful. As Bishop Warner Brown Jr. proclaimed in the message: Jesus, we are here for you! If I had to summarize his message (and the GCORR and Christian Conferencing presentations) in two sentences: Keep Christ at the center…. And don’t say something you couldn’t say in front of Jesus.

Which leads me to that kind word.

We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Kindness in this instance is sometimes referred to as mercy.

Undeserved and unexpected acts of compassion and love, service and hospitality.

As I kept repeating that prayer for kindness, I prayed that in our breaking of the bread, we might remember the outpouring of love at the last supper that included even the one who was about to betray. I prayed that we might remember the mercy and forgiveness of the Cross.

And deep down, I was also praying that there was a safe space for all people to be fully present. I was praying that hurtful words would not be spoken. I was praying that I would let go of my own uncharitable feelings. I was praying for us to create opportunities to really hear one another.

Faithful.
Kind.

I’ve posted a lot on those few minutes.

I’m also serving on the Committee on Reference (no clue how that happened) and will have 7 am meetings all throughout conference. Yay! (Insert sarcastic face here)

We skipped a break in favor of getting our work done, and then had to take a dinner break because we hadn’t decided anything and had to get something done.

We also nitpicked the procedural process for approving our rules for a very long time. We talked for 95% of the time about the process and not the content. And ended up passing all but one without any changes.

(Not that I didn’t try)

Tonight, I returned to my Portland “home” and broke bread again… Some cheese and bread and a glass of wine with friends, as we laughed (a lot), decompressed, all so we can get up and do it all again tomorrow.

Awaiting the Already: The Promise of a New Dawn

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Have you ever sat and watched the sunrise?

The hints of purple… turning pink… and then neon orange as the sun peeks over the horizon.

What a profound thing to realize that each morning, as we wait for the sun to rise in our sky, it has already risen for our neighbors to the east… and set for our neighbors to the west.

We are waiting for something that has already happened.

Throughout this month and the season of Advent, we will be exploring these sorts of paradoxes and promises…

The already and the not yet…

The things that have happened that are about to happen again.

Of course the most obvious of these is the coming of Christ.

We remember that he came as a child to Mary and Joseph to save us from our sins.

But we also are waiting for him to come again and take us home.

Already…

And not yet…

Today, we will explore words of great comfort, as we are reminded that the promises of the resurrection are real and present for those we have lost… even as we await for the glorious day of resurrection with our Lord.

Already…

And Not yet…

A sunset, seen from the other side is a sunrise (Bishop Rueben Job)

Today is a special day in the life of the church when we take time to remember those who have experienced the final sunset of their lives.

But we do so, holding firmly to the promise that what we see as a sunset, is merely the beginning of a new dawn, a new life.

And we acknowledge that those who have died… these flames that flicker before us… they are still with us… still waiting like we are to experience the glory of God.

I have very little knowledge about the mysteries of death. No amount of book learning can prepare us for whatever might await us. But I can speak with certainty about the promises of scripture.

One of those promises comes to us from the Wisdom of Solomon – the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will every touch them… they seem to have died, but they are at peace… their hope is full of immortality.

One of those promises comes to the thief crucified beside our Lord – he is promised that today he will be with Jesus in paradise.

In the book of Revelation we have the promise of the day of resurrection – when we will all be raised and clothed in our recreated bodies and there will be weeping and crying and pain no more.

In the gospel of John, after their brother has died, the sisters Mary and Martha are besides themselves with grief… each one pleads with Jesus – “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

Martha knows in her heart – she trusts in the promise that on the last day her brother will be raised again. She knows that he and she and all of us are pressing on and that Christ is the Messiah – the Son of God who will bring us to the other side; to the dawn of resurrection.

And surely Mary understands this also. But that doesn’t take away their pain and grief at the loss of their brother in this life. No longer can they reach out and touch him or hear his laughter or look into his eyes. While they trust in the promises, it doesn’t take away their sorrow.

It doesn’t take away the grief Jesus himself feels as he weeps before the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

What Jesus then does, is to give us a glimpse of the resurrection.

Lazarus – who had been dead for four days – is called out of the tomb.

We are reminded of what awaits us all.

We are reminded that the Lord God will swallow up death forever.

We are reminded that God will wipe away every tear from our faces.

This year, we have said goodbye to many people who were a part of this church family. We have lit a candle for each of them, in honor of their lives among us, the ways they helped to shape our faith, and we wait with them for the day of resurrection.

They have joined the countless other faithful who surround us with love and encouragement.

They join the company of saints with whom we sing praises to God every time we gather around the communion table.

In Isaiah, we are reminded that God will prepare for all peoples a rich feast…

Bread and wine, joy and celebration…

As we gather today around this table, it is a reminder that the feast we are waiting for is already present among us.

It is present here today in the bread and the cup.

But it is also present here today in the company of those we love and lift before God.

As you came in this morning, I hope you received one of these paper angel cutouts.

If you haven’t… will you lift up a hand so we can bring one to you… ?

These slips of paper represent those saints in our lives who have and continue to encourage us in the faith.

We shared meals with them while they lived among us, and we continue to feast with them around the table of the Lord.

They are the names of people who took risks and showed us what trust looked like.

They lived through tough times and survived.

They refused to give in.

They were kind to us when no one else was.

They believed in the promise of resurrections.

This table this morning is set with bread and the cup, but what we bring to this meal, every Sunday we gather, but especially on this All Saints Sunday is the fellowship of each of these saints.

I want to encourage you to take a minute and think about who has been a saint in your life and if you feel led to write their name on your paper.

“Behold, God has made a dwelling among the people. God will live with them and they shall be God’s people. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…”

I really wanted to take a moment to tell you a story about one of the saints written on my slip of paper… my Grandma Doni.

But the truth is, I couldn’t do it without crying.

I had the honor of sharing a few words at her funeral in 2002 and I bawled through half of it. I’d be a blubbering mess if I even tried to start.

The day Isaiah lifts up, and John lifts up in Revelation… of no more tears?

That day is not here… yet.

But we hold fast to the promises.

We hold fast to the glimpses of resurrection we have seen throughout history.

We hang on to the amazing, powerful, awesome love of Jesus Christ that went before us through the valley of the shadow of death, who walked through the sunset so that one day, we all might rise again to a new dawn.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

**Photographer Don Poggensee

Daily Bread

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My friends and family play this game called “Would You Rather…” It sets up silly and sometimes serious scenarios and you have to decide which of the two you would rather do. It’s good for parties… it’s good for car rides…

And it’s good for getting to really know someone.

Would you rather live in a place that was always very hot or a place that was always very cold?

Would you rather swim in a pool of marshmellows or a pool of M&Ms?

Would you rather go without the internet or a car for a month?

Would you rather be poor and work at a job you love or be rich and work at a job you hate?

 

With our children in just a minute, we’ll talk about how King Solomon is faced with a “would you rather” question of his own.

God comes to Solomon in a dream and basically asks what is the one thing that he wants to receive… what is the one blessing that he wants to sustain him for the rest of his life.

Would you rather have wealth or power or love…?

Or would you rather have something else?

Solomon quickly answers with the one thing he both wants and needs… “Give me your wisdom so that I can help your people.”

********

If you are anything like me, when faced with a kind of “would you rather” question about the one thing I want or need, my thoughts first went to the things that I need in my life for daily sustenance.

And because we live in a world that is run by money… maybe that is what I would ask for.

But how much? How much money is enough?

Enough to provide daily bread for my family?

Enough for a rainy day?

(For our time of confession this morning), I want to invite you to turn to a neighbor and answer this question:

How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family? Or to put it another way, what does it cost to put food on the table for one week in your home?

*****

The Batsuuri family in their single-room home—a sublet in a bigger apartment—in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with a week’s worth of food. Standing behind Regzen Batsuuri, 44 (left), and Oyuntsetseg (Oyuna) Lhakamsuren, 38, are their children, Khorloo, 17, and Batbileg, 13. Cooking methods: electric stove, coal stove. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer (shared, like the stoves, with two other families). /// The Batsuuri family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 226). Food expenditure for one week: $40.02 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 227 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Batsuuri family in their single-room home—a sublet in a bigger apartment—in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with a week’s worth of food. Standing behind Regzen Batsuuri, 44 (left), and Oyuntsetseg (Oyuna) Lhakamsuren, 38, are their children, Khorloo, 17, and Batbileg, 13. Cooking methods: electric stove, coal stove. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer (shared, like the stoves, with two other families). /// The Batsuuri family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 226). Food expenditure for one week: $40.02 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 227 for the family’s detailed food list.)

How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family?

Guatemala 75.70

It is a question we all wrestle with…

The Glad-Ostensen family in Gjerdrum, Norway. Anne Glad Fredricksen, 45, her husband Anders Ostensen, 48, and their three children, Magnus, 15, Mille 12, and Amund, 8 with their typical week's worth of food in June. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner;  $731.71 USD. Model-Released.
The Glad-Ostensen family in Gjerdrum, Norway. Anne Glad Fredricksen, 45, her husband Anders Ostensen, 48, and their three children, Magnus, 15, Mille 12, and Amund, 8 with their typical week’s worth of food in June. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner; $731.71 USD. Model-Released.

whether in Norway

The Aboubakar family of Darfur province, Sudan, in front of their tent in the Breidjing Refugee Camp, in eastern Chad, with a week’s worth of food. D’jimia Ishakh Souleymane, 40, holds her daughter Hawa, 2; the other children are (left to right) Acha, 12, Mariam, 5, Youssouf, 8, and Abdel Kerim, 16. Cooking method: wood fire. Food preservation: natural drying. Favorite food—D’jimia: soup with fresh sheep meat. /// The Aboubakar family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 56). Food expenditure for one week: $1.23 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 57 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Aboubakar family of Darfur province, Sudan, in front of their tent in the Breidjing Refugee Camp, in eastern Chad, with a week’s worth of food. D’jimia Ishakh Souleymane, 40, holds her daughter Hawa, 2; the other children are (left to right) Acha, 12, Mariam, 5, Youssouf, 8, and Abdel Kerim, 16. Cooking method: wood fire. Food preservation: natural drying. Favorite food—D’jimia: soup with fresh sheep meat. /// The Aboubakar family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 56). Food expenditure for one week: $1.23 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 57 for the family’s detailed food list.)

or Chad

The Caven family in the kitchen of their home in American Canyon, California, with a week’s worth of food. Craig Caven, 38, and Regan Ronayne, 42 (holding Ryan, 3), stand behind the kitchen island; in the foreground is Andrea, 5. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave, outdoor BBQ. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, freezer. Favorite foods—Craig: beef stew. Regan: berry yogurt sundae (from Costco). Andrea: clam chowder. Ryan: ice cream. /// The Caven family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 260). Food expenditure for one week: $159.18 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 261 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Caven family in the kitchen of their home in American Canyon, California, with a week’s worth of food. Craig Caven, 38, and Regan Ronayne, 42 (holding Ryan, 3), stand behind the kitchen island; in the foreground is Andrea, 5. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave, outdoor BBQ. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, freezer. Favorite foods—Craig: beef stew. Regan: berry yogurt sundae (from Costco). Andrea: clam chowder. Ryan: ice cream. /// The Caven family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 260). Food expenditure for one week: $159.18 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 261 for the family’s detailed food list.)

or Des Moines.

Today, as we think about our daily bread… as we think about breaking bread with people all across the world today, on World Communion Sunday, the stark differences between what is available and what is needed in these various places across our world is astounding.

The Ahmeds’ extended family in the Cairo apartment of Mamdouh Ahmed, 35 (glasses), and Nadia Mohamed Ahmed, 36 (brown headscarf), with a week’s worth of food. With them are their children, Donya, 14 (far left, holding baby Nancy, 8 months), and Karim, 9 (behind bananas), Nadia’s father (turban), Nadia’s nephew Islaam, 8 (football shirt), Nadia’s brother Rabie, 34 (gray-blue shirt), his wife, Abadeer, 25, and their children, Hussein, 4, and Israa, 18 months (held by family friend). /// The Ahmed family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 118). Food expenditure for one week: $68.53 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 119 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Ahmeds’ extended family in the Cairo apartment of Mamdouh Ahmed, 35 (glasses), and Nadia Mohamed Ahmed, 36 (brown headscarf), with a week’s worth of food. With them are their children, Donya, 14 (far left, holding baby Nancy, 8 months), and Karim, 9 (behind bananas), Nadia’s father (turban), Nadia’s nephew Islaam, 8 (football shirt), Nadia’s brother Rabie, 34 (gray-blue shirt), his wife, Abadeer, 25, and their children, Hussein, 4, and Israa, 18 months (held by family friend). /// The Ahmed family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 118). Food expenditure for one week: $68.53 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 119 for the family’s detailed food list.)

The needs and concerns that any given family have are so varied.

The Bainton family in the dining area of their living room in Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire, with a week’s worth of food. Left to right: Mark Bainton, 44, Deb Bainton, 45 (petting Polo the dog), and sons Josh, 14, and Tadd, 12. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave oven. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, a second small freezer. Favorite foods—Mark: avocado. Deb: prawn-mayonnaise sandwich. Josh: prawn cocktail. Tadd: chocolate fudge cake with cream. /// The Bainton family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 140). Food expenditure for one week: $253.15 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 141 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Bainton family in the dining area of their living room in Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire, with a week’s worth of food. Left to right: Mark Bainton, 44, Deb Bainton, 45 (petting Polo the dog), and sons Josh, 14, and Tadd, 12. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave oven. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, a second small freezer. Favorite foods—Mark: avocado. Deb: prawn-mayonnaise sandwich. Josh: prawn cocktail. Tadd: chocolate fudge cake with cream. /// The Bainton family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 140). Food expenditure for one week: $253.15 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 141 for the family’s detailed food list.)

I recently joined the Board of Directors with DMARC, the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Today, one of their major focuses is on food distribution in Central Iowa.

And what I have learned is that the need that surrounds us, right here in Polk County is great. Many families… many working families… don’t have enough to put daily food on their tables.

 

Solomon was King David’s son and when his father died, he became the ruler of the land. He wasn’t a perfect person and he often was focused on things other than God.

But God came to Solomon in a dream one night with a simple offer: “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Whatever you wish.

He could have asked for palaces of gold, or a thousand wives, or to rule the world…

But he found himself in this new position of power and responsibility and he had one request:

“Give me, your servant, a discerning mind so that I can govern your people, so I can tell good from evil, and so I can take care of your people.”

 

What amazes me is that Solomon didn’t see this one wish, this blessing from God, as a “I” request… what do I want or need.

He saw it as an “US” request… what do we, God’s people, need.

 

He asked for wisdom.

He asked to be fed, not with the daily bread of grains and wheat, but with the daily bread of the Word of God.

He asked for something that would bless all the people.

 

Today, we are kicking off our month long series focusing on John Wesley’s simple advice for our finances… that we should earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can.

And I think that as we start to explore Wesley’s advice, he starts in the same place as Solomon.

Over the next few weeks we will discover that he encourages us to find joy in the money we make, but to do so in ways that benefit the well being of others and ourselves.

He will encourage us to be frugal, to not be extravagant or wasteful and to save as much as possible.

But the goal of both of these is always in service of the third…. To give all we can.

To make a difference in the lives of other people.

To serve God by feeding the people, visiting them in prison, taking care of the sick, giving clothes to the naked.

Wesley encourages us to do just what Solomon did…. to shift our focus away from what me and my family needs and to think bigger…

What do God’s people need?

What kind of wisdom and discernment and truth is required in order to take care of one another?

 

What is needed, here in Polk County, in order to survive?

2014-COL-polk

Above is a basic budget that details the cost of living in this county in Iowa… a comparison of the basic expenses that a family needs in order to provide a simple home and daily bread for their family. (from www.iowapolicyproject.com)

 

As the demand for food pantries and assistance in our community has skyrocketed in the last few months, I was wondering why until I saw this chart.

If you look at the final column, you will see that a family of two working parents with only one child needs to make at least $44,639 a year in order to meet these basic expenses.

That means that together, with both working, they each need to make at least $10.50 an hour.

At least.

The minimum wage here is $7.25.

If you work full time on these wages, you simply cannot make ends me. It is impossible.

 

So I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread and daily wisdom in Polk County, Iowa today.

I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread in Mongolia and Ecuador.

And I pray that God would give us the wisdom to ensure that every family has enough, as we gather around the table this morning to break bread.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Love before Knowledge

There are two things I have come to hope for on Communion Sundays:

Welch’s grape juice in the cup, and Hawaiian Sweet Bread on the table.

 

941928_479696322109898_1492252979_nAnd that’s for a couple of reasons:

First, they both taste better than most other options available.

Second, the Hawaiian Sweet Bread is the perfect combination of soft and easy to tear and yet not crumble into pieces all over the place – which is a good thing when you are the one breaking bread every time.

And third, the Welch’s are Methodist.

 

In fact, the birth of Welch’s grape juice came out of our desire to stop using fermented wine during the temperance movement. Thomas Welch was a dentist and a communion steward at his local Methodist Church. He heard about how Louis Pasteur had begun to pasteurize milk, so he decided to try and apply the process to grape juice in 1869.

His son, Charles, marketed the pasteurized grape juice to these temperance-minded churches. In fact, he quit his job as a dentist to do so and created the Welch’s Grape Juice brand in 1893. (from Welchs.com/about-us/our-story/our-history and http://www.gbod.org/resources/changing-wine-into-grape-juice-thomas-and-charles-welch-and-the-transition-)

 

While the roots of our “unfermented juice of the grape” go back to the late 19th century, we have continued to emphasize using grape juice, even long after prohibition was repealed.

Our 1964 Book of Worship included this phrase which we have continued to use until today: that while the “historic and ecumenical practice has been the use of wine, the use of the unfermented grape juice by The United Methodist Church and its predecessors is an expression of pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, enables the participation of children and youth, and supports the church’s witness of abstinence.” (BOW p 28)

I share the brief history lesson, because I think it relates to our lesson from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this morning.

As this community struggled with what it meant to be unified, they realized that a lot of different types of folks were part of their church.

Some of them were life-long Jews who had followed the way of Jesus. They had only ever worshipped one God. Yet some of the new believers in the faith were pagans. They had spent their entire lives worshipping at the temples of various Roman deities like Apollo and Poseidon.

So how were these people all supposed to share one roof? They had different histories of practice and different understandings of what it meant to worship.

One particular place where their practices conflicted was around the practice of eating meat. In the ancient world, almost all of the meat consumed was done so at a temple. That lamb or beef or whatever was the result of an offering given to the local god.

And here is where the conflict came.

Those who had been followers of Christ of a while, many from the Jewish background, KNEW that there was only one God. Intellectually, there was no worship of these various gods because they simply didn’t exist. So who cared if they partook of a little steak at the local temple?

Well, for those who had recently converted away from that temple worship, it was a big deal. The new converts were working hard to keep on the way, to follow Jesus, and all that alluring smell of roasted meat was making it awfully difficult. And when they peeked in the doors of Apollo’s temple and saw the elders of their new church eating – well, they got pretty confused.   Was Apollo real or not? And if Apollo wasn’t real, why were those Christians worshipping him?

So Paul lifted up a practical solution for the faithful long-time Christians: just stop eating meat.   It is the loving thing to do. And even though you know it isn’t idol worship, you have the ability to choose to act a different way in order to help your brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the same way, we lift up grape juice when we break bread together, so that all might be welcomed at this table. It doesn’t mean wine is bad. It doesn’t mean that some of us don’t drink. But choosing to consume grape juice together means that everyone has a place here.

There is a line in Paul’s letter that I think is key for us to remember this morning: You sin against Christ if you sin against your brothers and sisters and hurt their weak consciences this way.

Now, here Paul doesn’t mean they are weak as in bad… he simply means they are new to the faith. They still have a lot to learn. They are growing into what it means to be a Christian. And so they need to have as few barriers to their faith as possible.

Do you remember, with the children, when we talked about evil spirits? When we talked about those things in our lives that keep other people from knowing Jesus?

Knowledge is sometimes like that. We can flaunt it and it can puff us up and keep us from really and truly showing love to another person.

Love is what is important. Not rules or knowledge or what we eat or drink. Love binds us together. If we remember that we sin against Christ if we sin against our brothers and sisters and hurt them, then love leads us to ask the difficult question of how our actions keep others from Jesus. Is there something about what we are doing that is harming the body of Christ?

 

I am tempted to keep this a surface level conversation about grape juice on the communion table, but the truth is, there are all sorts of really tough and difficult things that threaten to break apart our churches. There are all sorts of things we do and say as Christians that hurt our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and neighbors.

And perhaps the one that is on many of our minds in recent weeks has been same-sex marriage. Perhaps you have read in the newspaper, or seen on television, how a retired pastor in our conference, Rev. Larry Sonner, officiated the wedding of a same-sex couple and then turned himself in to the Bishop. In our Book of Discipline, our tradition and teaching does not support same-sex marriage, even though our state laws do, and so a process was begun seeking a just resolution.

What is amazing is that we have a process of just resolution at all. According to our Discipline, “a just resolution is on that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.” (¶363.1).

It is a powerful witness to the love and grace and mercy of God in a world that is so focused on punishment and retribution. In his article on the Des Moines Register, columnist Daniel Finney wrote:

“It’s especially admirable considering how poor our public dialogues are relating to just about any issue today. Here you’ve got a veteran pastor questioning the laws of a church he has dedicated his life to serving and not a voice was raised, not a fist was shaken. Instead, there was thoughtful discussion, prayer and resolution.

Regardless of how one feels about the specific issue, there’s a powerful lesson for peaceful negotiation in this story.”

This is how we act in a church when love and not knowledge is our guide. And this is the witness we have to offer to the world… a witness of finding a way forward in spite of our differences. A witness of acknowledging the harm we do by our actions and inactions. A witness of seeking the good for our brothers and sisters.

So today, I want to share with you portions of a pastoral letter that our Bishop, Bishop Julius Trimble sent to all churches last week:

Grace and peace to you as we journey in Christian discipleship in 2015.

One of the early prayers and initial responses to the formal complaint was that we would be “perfected in Christ love” and engage, rather than ignore, the difficulties the current conflict between what is prohibited in our Book of Discipline and what is legal and celebrated in Iowa.

The reactions to same-gender marriages and relationships and the serious subject of covenant accountability to church polity remind me of a Nigerian proverb: “Children of the same mother do not always agree!

Questions and conflict regarding our future as a Church require much prayer, graceful conversations and decisions that may spell a different future for the Church…

When I was consecrated Bishop, I promised to work to uphold the unity of the Church. I believe that unity has, as its foundation, our love of God and neighbor. I also believe we can have unity of heart and not necessarily all be of one mind. While this Just Resolution is a response to a specific complaint, it recognizes the division of our church on the issue of human sexuality. This Just Resolution is an attempt to honor our disciplinary process, maintain accountability, and seek a deeper, more prayerful, listening to each other and, most of all, to God.

As your Bishop I invite you to join with me in a time of intentional listening to God and each other, remembering that as the Body of Christ, the Spirit can speak through each of us.

Be Encouraged,   Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble

We don’t have time in worship to spend time listening or really go over the content of the just resolution, but I want to extend to you that invitation for a time of intentional listening to God and to one another.  And I want to let you know that I am always available for conversation about this and any other topic that affects our life as a congregation and your lives as individuals.

We won’t all agree. We come at the conversation from various perspectives. We read the scripture through the lenses of our own experience. But above all, we are a people of love, service, and prayer. And together we can put love at the forefront of our conversations and we, too, can seek a prayerful way forward.

And that way forward starts at the table. The table of love and grace and mercy. A table, set with grape juice. Amen and Amen.