Spirit of Embodiment

Format Image

Last week I talked a little bit about how I am trying to be more healthy and strong and one of the ways I am doing that is by going to the gym.
I’m there four-five days a week and each time, while the majority of the exercises we all share together, there are a few movements where you can choose which equipment you use based on your level of experience and comfort.
This past week at the gym I moved from the beginner to the more advanced movements in our exercises. And, whew, I can feel it.
My back is still a bit stiff, my shoulders ache… My dad keeps telling me that I shouldn’t get old because this kind of soreness will just keep coming, but unfortunately that’s just a natural process I’m pretty sure I don’t have the power to stop.

Many of you have joined in prayers for my dad in the past couple of weeks. He is someone who works incredibly hard… always has… but who hasn’t always taken the time to stop and take care of his body. He gets so focused on the work that is before him and us Ziskovskys also have been known to have a bit of stubbornness when it comes to our diets.
He developed a sore on his big toe, which became a deeper infection, which eventually led to an amputation of that digit. He is recovering very well – body, mind, and spirit.

You know, sometimes we think of our bodies as just the physical container that holds the real “us.” We imagine that our lives will continue without the burden of flesh someday – either through technology or computers or floating around in heavenly places.

But the scripture constantly reminds us that our bodies are incredibly important.
They are an integral part of who God created us to be.
Our flesh and blood are not earthly things that we have to shed before we get to heaven… according to scripture – these bodies go with us – in one form or another.

Some of our sloppy thinking around bodies comes from a misunderstanding of the writings of Paul. In Romans 8:5-6, we read:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Our modern ears known what flesh is… our skin and bones… those things that ache and touch and feel and move around.
We know what our spirit is… our souls, minds, that of God which dwells within us.
So, bodies must be bad and spirit must be good.

Except, the word that gets translated “flesh”… sarx… has more than one meaning. It can mean our skin and bones – but it is also used to describe the lesser parts of ourselves – the animal nature, the cravings, the wretched parts of ourselves that keep holding on to sin no matter how hard we try to do what is right.
That is what Paul is talking about… not these good, old, sometimes worn-out bodies of ours.
In fact, this passage from Romans is a reminder that God’s abundant life, that God’s very Spirit dwells within these bodies. Far from being an argument against our earthly life – this is a challenge to live up to the potential of what we can in fact DO with God’s spirit living within us.

So this morning, we go all the way back to the beginning, to that time when God made the heavens and the earth.
As Mel shared with us, Genesis tells us that God formed humanity from the dust of the earth. We were made out of the same stuff as all of the rest of creation.
But then God did something amazing.
God breathed into us.
The breath of life filled us.
The Spirit of the Lord entered our lives and these bodies became God’s body. You and I became the hands and the feet of God in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we have responded perfectly. After all, one of the first things that Adam and Eve did with the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them was to focus more on their own desires than what God wanted them to do. They lived according to the flesh, the sarx, and allowed temptation to distract them.
They sought their own comfort and pleasure before the well-being of the world or God’s creation. Their sin had consequences for not only themselves, but all of creation.

But, our scriptures tell us, God found another way to empower our bodies with the divine spirit…
God came and took on our flesh.
In that tiny child in Bethlehem, in the incarnation of Jesus, the very Word of God took on our human life.
Every aspect of our bodily existence was experienced by God.
Love and loss.
Stubbed toes and broken promises.
Laughter and tears.
Fear and grief.
Jesus experienced the fullness of our lives – and the ultimate depths of suffering and death.
And then, Jesus gave the Spirit to all who would be his disciples.

All summer long, we have been talking about the blessings of that gift and what it looks like when the Spirit dwells within us. Our lives begin to bear the fruit of love and joy, peace and kindness, goodness and gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, community, surrender, and patience.
But none of it happens without our bodies.
The Spirit cannot move without these hands and feet, eyes and ears.
When we let the Spirit of God become incarnate in OUR lives, and to fill up OUR bodies, then we are empowered to live very differently in this world.
We are set free from sin and death.
We are set free to love God more than we love ourselves.
We are set free to participate in God’s saving work in this world.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about what difference it has made that we spent this whole summer talking about the Holy Spirit. I’ve been wondering what it might look like to really add flesh and blood to these words that we have been saying all year long.
And I realized as I have watched not only the devastation of Harvey, but also the outpouring of human kindness just how important and precious our bodies really are.
Perhaps you were as heartbroken as I when you saw the nursing home residents under water…
and then wept for relief when I knew they had been rescued.
All across the region, people pushed
and carried
and turned to one another for support.
and now countless folks whose homes have been destroyed turn to one another and to us.
What does it mean to be the church in the wake of something like Harvey? Or the landslides earlier this year in Sierra Leone? Or the flooding in India?
PUT ON UMCOR HAT –
It means that we roll up our sleeves and we get to work.
We send flood buckets to help clean up.
We turn our sanctuaries into shelters
We build up trained helpers who have the knowledge and skills to truly make a difference.
and through a simple thing like toothbrushes and soap, we help take care of people’s bodies.

Today – you’ll have the opportunity to give a little bit extra towards disaster response by writing in the memo of your check or putting in one of the envelopes in the pew, or giving online towards disaster relief.

But, I also want you to hear two specific invitations… ways you can use YOUR bodies to make a difference.
First… if you feel called to go and help and put to use your hands and feet there is an opportunity to join one of the Early Response Teams. There are a few fliers on the back table about a training that is happening THIS coming Saturday right here in Des Moines.
Second… as a church, I want to challenge us to help take care of some of those bodies by putting together health kits. Beginning NEXT Sunday, we will have a bulletin board right outside of the sanctuary where you can indicate which specific items you will commit to bringing as we first gather and then assemble these kits.
Then, for our Fifth Sunday Service Project in October we’ll put all of these kits together and send them out with the Thanksgiving Ingathering.

Whenever we let the Spirit of God live within us, the transformation of the world begins.
Thanks be to God. Amen!

The Spirit of Gentleness

Format Image

Yesterday morning, Brandon and I were walking through the farmer’s market downtown when suddenly before us was a man holding a gigantic sign. As people passed by, averting their gaze, he shouted out condemnations and warnings.

“Don’t return to church,” he said as I crossed his path, “Return to the Lord!”

Most of you haven’t met my husband because he is not a churchy person. He had some bad experiences with the church as a younger man and they have forever left an impression upon him. In many ways, he left the church because of people like the man who stood shouting in the middle of the street.

I don’t doubt for one second the sincerity or faithfulness of that man.

I don’t doubt that he is standing there in the street out of an honest desire to bring people to Jesus Christ and to share the message with salvation with them.

But today we are going to talk about not only the message, but the method for how we share God’s saving power with others, and how we should respond when that message falls on hostile ears.

For most of this summer, we have used various biblical characters to exemplify the fruits of the spirit that God has given for ministry. From the healing powers of Peter to the patience of Esau, these ancestors of our faith have been witnesses of how God equips us for ministry.

Today, we are going to learn from example what NOT to do.

As Andrea and Noah just shared with us, the prophet Elisha is a man of God, but he is also a very human being.

In a moment of frustration and embarrassment he lashes out at a group of young boys.

Every time I hear this story, I am reminded that this kind of conflict and tension between grumpy old men and rude young boys is timeless.

From Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace to the character of Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, in Gran Torino we catch a glimpse of Elisha’s mindset in this story. Like Eastwood’s character, Elisha is overcome by recent grief, which only complicates his violent response.

But we also have seen the impertinence of those who jeer the elderly, mock the disabled or anyone different from them. Sometimes we try to excuse the behaviors, thinking that boys will be boys, but bullying in any form, at any age, is inexcusable and it hurts.
As I shared with the children, sometimes our first instinct to bullying or frustration is to push back – through words or actions.

And so many of us has let a curse slip out of our mouths in a moment of anger or pain.

Elisha is only human and that kind of response is understandable.

Yet, Elisha is also filled with the Spirit of God and he is new to the whole business of being a prophet. Just days before, his mentor Elijah had been carried away up into the heavens and the mantle of God had been left to HIM.

And Elisha doesn’t quite have this power of God figured out yet. He doesn’t understand, like the prophet Nathan did last week, that his ability has tremendous power to harm as well as help.

Aristotle once said that a person who displayed gentleness would be angry, “only on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

Elisha let his anger get the better of him.

He might have been hurt because he had been teased, but these were children and rather than an “eye for an eye” – his curce called out bears from the woods and killed those children on the spot.

We can look firmly at his actions and state without a doubt they were anything BUT gentle.

The same Spirit of God filled the first disciples when they were sent out on their first steps of ministry. Jesus called them and gave them this charge in Matthew 10 and Luke 9:

“Go to the lost, confused people right here in this neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons…”

Along the way, they were sure to encounter their share of hostile glances and threats. He tells them to not be naïve, because “some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation – just because you believe in me.”

So Jesus also added these instructions. Knowing that they were still new to this work of God, he told them:

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

We imagine they might have followed his advice and performed much better than Elisha had with this power of God within them… yet by the end of the chapter in Luke’s gospel the disciples have already forgotten that Spirit of Gentleness.

When a town will not welcome them, James and John turn and ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to destroy the people.

Again, we discover rash, arrogant, and excessive behavior, which Jesus quietly rebukes and they move on.

So, what is gentleness and how are we supposed to live it out in our lives.

The The Full Life Study Bible defines gentleness as “restraint coupled with strength and courage.”

Aristotle says that it is halfway between excessive anger and indifference.

It is the kind of restraint that Nathan showed when he confronted David in our text from last week, the same that Paul tries to emulate as he writes to the Corinthians. He asks them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit.” (1 Cor 4:21).

He could be angry. He could be harsh. As a teacher, he probably knew something about discipline… but he wanted them to repent and transform their lives not out of fear… but out of the love and gentleness that was shown to them.

Maybe that is why I am so troubled by the good and faithful folks who stand in the middle of the street at places like the farmer’s market, shouting out dire warnings at all who might walk by. Because I believe that change comes when we approach one another with a spirit of gentleness and not fear.

In John Wesley’s writing, we see that gentleness in his command to “do no harm.” As our former, Bishop Reuben Job reflected on that command, he writes: “I have found that when this first simple rule was remembered, it often saved me from uttering a wrong word or considering a wrong response.”

He adds, “this simple step, when practiced, can provide a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done.”

Maybe that is the key. Gentleness invites us to take a step back and to determine proper response.

And I think that if we are faithful to the scriptures we will find that gentleness should be our response to the world.

In Luke, chapter 9, the disciples remember times when the power of God was unleashed on the people and on communities unwilling to repent or upon people who don’t appear to be on their team. They think that they might be justified in doing the same.

Maybe, they are even thinking back to the horrific mauling of those children by the prophet Elisha.

But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).

And as Paul encourages us,
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 19-21)

Jesus responds to the anger and pain of the disciples and gently rebukes them and in doing so, he shows us how we should respond when threatened or encountering injustice.

He is aware of the power of the Spirit that lives within him and he uses it to be gentle to those in need of transformation.

As Stanley Horton writes, “The broken reed He would not crush but would fully restore. The flickering wick of a lamp He would not put out but would cause it to burn brightly again… [Jesus] gently takes the sinner and makes him whole.” (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/top/fruit8_gentleness.cfm)

That man who stood there in the farmer’s market is correct in naming that there will be a time of judgment. After all, our God is great. God is strong and mighty and I truly hope that there will come a day when all things are made right and justice comes to those who have harmed and destroyed on this planet.

But I also know that only God knows how to unleash that power “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

And so the spirit of gentleness we are called to embody is to take a step back and allow that work to be God’s.

Elisha tried to be the judge, jury, and executioner when he encountered wrong in this world.

Instead, God’s spirit calls us to embody gentleness by remembering that we are all sinners.

We are all broken.

We are all filled with the power to lash out or shut out.

And way the message of God’s good news of saving grace is shared is just as important as the message itself.

For my husband, the words shouted out in the street did not open up new possibilities for God’s grace to enter, but probably closed him off even more.

As we live out a spirit of gentleness in this world, let us instead do no harm and in gentleness and love give God time to transform the lives we encounter.

The Spirit of Patience

Format Image

Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us.

Some of us are built with fairly short fuses.

I think it is because we get personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.

But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and sometimes we behave in ways that are far from Christian.

So, this morning we are going to talk about patience through the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.

Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.

Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.

And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright and deathbed blessing from his brother, Esau.

Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him.

This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from some sore muscles – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question.

As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”

It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.

Usually when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.

We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.

But today, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan to the son who was left behind.

The fruit of the spirit we know as patience, is often translated as longsuffering.

It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you.

It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.

Barclay’s commentary writes that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward.

Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.

If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.

The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him.

If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is this moment where everything is taken from him and Esau is pissed off.
But, even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.

I haven’t played a lot of disc golf this summer, but there was an afternoon a few seasons ago when I hit four trees, in a row, on four consecutive shots, before I ever got to the basket. I hadn’t been playing well all afternoon, and my frustration was building. My temper was getting the best of me.

If we truly think about patience as having the grace to not revenge a wrong, then patience would have been taking a deep breath, not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for it being in the way.

Many people in today’s world who had something done to them like Esau experienced would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.

Patience means being slow to anger and while Esau became angry, he didn’t allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He put his anger on the back burner.

In moments when you find yourself on the brink of acting out of frustration or anger, patience is taking a moment to breathe and to pray.

It is asking for God to come into the situation and remind you of what is really important… and if necessary to let go of the anger.

Esau also helps us to understand patience in how he lives his life after Jacob flees.

He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes.

When his brother is sent away, Jacob is commanded not to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau is not given this expectation, but he also chooses such a bride, always looking to please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.

And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.

Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother.

Not once does he try to make good on his promise that his brother should die.

No, he moves on with his own life.

He carves out the best possible future for himself.

In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures.

That is longsuffering. That is patience.

Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.

Yesterday, I had the honor of helping to celebrate the life of a woman named Renee. When our church began its work with the Women at the Well Re-entry Teams, Renee was the first person that we had the honor of walking with.

As I sat talking with her dad, Paul, he mentioned to me how you always think that someone else’s child would be homeless, or addicted, or abused. You never imagine that it could ever happen to your child. But it did.

From the ages of 4-14, Renee was sexually abused by a family member who also gave her alcohol. Her addiction began before most children even know what a drink is. That terrible injustice had a profound impact on her formation. In some ways, it led her to be scared of being successful – often getting in her own way. But in other ways, it provided the source of her ability to connect with people who were struggling, homeless, down and out. Her experience helped her to share her life story and God’s word with people who desperately needed to hear it.

In the midst of the hurt and pain of her life, she knew that God was with her and that her journey was not something to be ashamed of or to run away from, but it was an opportunity to share with others. As the Message translation of Isaiah chapter 50 reads, “The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, so I know how to encourage tired people.” And in spite of her addiction, Renee used her humor and writing to bring encouragement to people who needed it the most. She didn’t allow herself to be overcome with bitterness and despair.

That is God’s longsuffering patience.

Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through his ability to forgive.

We sometimes think of patience as simply the ability to wait… to hold out.

But the kind of patience that God invites us to embody is that grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t.

Had Esau simply been waiting for the opportunity to strike back then his moment would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.

And Jacob knows it.

Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.

Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.

If Esau had been “patiently” harboring revenge all of those years, he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.

But Esau was a man of godly patience.

He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred.

When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.

He looked upon all of those gifts, the wealth his brother had humbly offered, and Esau could have taken them all out of righteous indignation. He could have said, “it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back.”

Instead, he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”

The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers reunited at long last.

My family has experienced the kind of conflict and betrayal of family members that Jacob and Esau struggled with and I have to be honest that they have not yet reached the point of reconciliation.

It is difficult to forgive.

It will take time to forgive.

But I also know that when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.

My prayer for my family and for all of us who have experienced the frustration of relationships or illness or pain is that instead of holding onto revenge, bitterness, or despair, that we would instead seek God’s patience.

It is the kind of patience that our Master has with us.

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that God is patient towards us, not wanting any to perish but for all of us to be able to change our hearts and lives (3:9).

God’s gracious spirit chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed.

God’s gracious spirit waits until we finally turn back towards love, grace, mercy and peace.

God’s gracious spirit shows us true patience, waiting with open arms for us to come back home, no matter how many wrongs we have done in this world.

Amen and Amen.

The Spirit of Peace

Format Image

This is a vuvuzula. It is a long, narrow horn that really caught on in World Cup soccer matches a few years back.

These simple horns can produce up to 120 decibels of sound when you are standing just three feet in front of them. That is as loud as a rock concert or a jet engine. It’s kind of hard to believe that such a little piece of plastic can make all that noise!

At that level of sound, there can be permanent hearing loss, damage, and actual pain from the noise that is involved.

So, if we imagine 300 men, surrounding the Midianite army in the middle of the night, blowing horns and smashing pots and creating the noise of 300 rock concerts going off in the middle of the night – maybe, just maybe, we can understand why the Midianite army turned around and fled before a rag tag bunch of soldiers under the command of a man named Gideon.

As children, when we hear the stories of God’s victory in the Old Testament, we might be reminded of how Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and made the walls come tumbling down with marching and shouting.

We might think of the shepherd boy David and how he took down the giant of a man Goliath and thus saved the day.

Or we might think of the story we heard this morning about Gideon’s defeat of the enemies with a bunch of horns and smashed pots.

As children, we hear these tales of God’s victory… but rarely do we go into the harsh realities of battle and war. We conveniently skip over the parts of the story where men, women, children, and animals are destroyed in the name of God.

As adults, when we reread these familiar and inspiring stories I know I start to wonder what kind of a God the Old Testament describes… how could this be the same Prince of Peace that we find in the gospels? Where is the God of mercy and love?

I know that more than one of you has come up to me after some of these difficult bible passages and you have asked what we should make of these stories of war and destruction. We don’t understand the genocide that we read on these pages that accompany God’s victory. We can’t comprehend the loss of life.

Or maybe we can.

Maybe these battles seem so real to us because of the wars that we engage in.
We, as a nation, have been fighting in Afghanistan for fifteen years.
In your lifetimes, we have been a part of war on five continents.

And in a week like this, when we have celebrated our nation’s independence, we know that so many of our battles were entered to preserve and defend the truths for which we stand.

At the same time, we are tired of all the fighting.

We took my niece and nephews to a parade recently and as the procession turned the corner and we caught a glimpse of the color guard, the kids began to sing – “you’re a grand old flag.”

We have lots of patriotic songs, but their school had spent some time in the past year with that particular one. At ages 5 and 8 they knew every single word and shouted them out proudly. You’re a grand old flag. You’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave…..

And forever in peace may you wave…

those words jumped out as me as these children sang them.

Forever in peace…

I once believed that the opposite of peace was war.

I believed that we would finally have peace in our lives when men and women… but mostly men… laid down their weapons.

I believed that peace would come when all of our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters returned home.

But I’m not sure that is true anymore.

Anyone you ask will tell you that we have a lack of peace in our world, but we also lack peace in our nation, in our state, and in our families.

Even if all the swords and guns in the world were destroyed does not mean that peace will come.

Peace, you see, must be bigger than a lack of war.

Peace must encompass more than the fights we find ourselves in.
The peace that we seek is like the peace of Isaiah in chapter 65….

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;

21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
23 They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox…

In the Hebrew Scriptures THIS VISION, lifted up by the prophets, is Shalom.

Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace, not only in terms of fighting and conflict – but it describes the wholeness of life. As one commentator put it, “everything fits together, the relationships work like they were designed to, and things just work right.” (http://listeningtoscripture.com/Textual_Studies/Isaiah/12isaiahspeace.html)

Paul Hanson says that shalom is “the realm where chaos is not allowed to enter, and where life can be fostered free from the fear of all which diminishes and destroys.”

Doesn’t that sound amazing?
A life free from the fear of all that could destroy us?

That is the peace that we seek.

For those of us who are farmers or gardeners… when the usual flow of the seasons and the weather doesn’t cooperate… we fear that drought or too much water could destroy our crops and our livelihood.

When we work with machines, like in a factory, there are constant safety protocols to keep the terrible from happening… we are constantly regulating the chaos and trying to prevent spills, injuries, and death.

When we are a part of families, we try to manage our time and our schedules, fearing we won’t have enough time with one another and that our relationships will suffer because of it.

The opposite of peace isn’t war… but chaos.

And chaos is a life where there is no freedom from fear. A life where any and everything takes away from our ability to live and live abundantly.

How many of you know chaos in your lives today?

In Ancient Israel, chaos was the norm. Nation states were constantly fighting for land and power and dominance. There were no programs for social security. A single drought could wipe a family out. That was if they had anything left after the rulers took away their goods.

In the time of Gideon, the people were afraid. Their crops were being confiscated, their lands were being consumed by the Midianites and they cried out for help.

And God responded… NOT by sending them into war… but by reminding them that God was and always has been on their side.

My favorite part of this story is when God whittles away the army of 32,000 able men to 300.
Three hundred individuals take nothing but jars and torches and trumpets and scare away a whole army.

And God does this to remind them that while human warriors can’t defeat the forces that destroy shalom and bring chaos… God can.

The Israelites have no need to raise a standing army and to set a king over them… they have one God who reigns over them.

And God will fight for them.

They don’t need to be afraid of those things that might destroy them. They only need to trust.

But you know what, that trust in God doesn’t last long amongst the Israelites.

They keep demanding a king. They keep crying out to be like the other nations and to be able to demonstrate their strength through armies.

Finally, God relents and allows them to set a king over themselves.

But as Bruce Birch reminds us, “Israel, in the belief that it could create its own security, was in reality flirting with chaos.”

If you read through the books of Chronicles and Kings and the prophets you see how time and time again, the kings went to war – with God on their side or not – for power and territory.

They brought chaos upon themselves, because they were trusting in their ways and not God’s ways.

It would be tempting to say that if we simply trusted in God more, chaos would disappear.

The rains would come more regularly.
Our paychecks wouldn’t be so sporadic.
Fights between parent and children would diminish.

I’m not sure that God promises us that… at least in this lifetime.

The peace offered to us by Christ is a peace that is different from the one the world offers.

It is the peace that comes from relationships returned to their rightful balance through forgiveness and mercy.

It is the peace that comes when we learn to trust in God more than our pocketbooks.

It is the peace that comes when our priorities are realigned and family comes before our jobs.

It is the peace that comes when we remember that while this moment or this present struggle might be difficult, in the end, God is in control and those forces of chaos will not have the final say.

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and to be a shining city on a hill, an example to all.
And I think the core of how we do that is to trust in him.

To allow the Spirit of God to enter our lives and transform them.

To set us right inside.
To set us right with one another.
To set us right as a people.

And when the chaos of fear leaves our family… or our church… or our city, then people will look at us with wonder and say – what is it that they have figured out?

And when they do, we can point to the One who brought peace… shalom… into our lives and we can tell them all about it.

Amen and Amen.

The Spirit of Community

Format Image

This summer at Immanuel, we have been exploring how the Holy Spirit shows up in the lives of characters throughout the scriptures.

Today, we find two men who have very different attitudes towards the work of God: the sorcerer and the eunuch.

Philip is a deacon, a servant of the church, and he encounters lots of people who hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ. So, what is it about the sorcerer and the eunuch that make their stories so special?

It is how they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit.

One is arrogant and brash, the other humble and full of questions.

For one, the power of the Holy Spirit is a commodity to be bought and sold, possessed and tamed.

For the other, that power is precious, mysterious, and a gift to be treated delicately.

First – there is a difference in how they each are introduced to the Holy Spirit.

The sorcerer was familiar with magic and illusion and he saw the Holy Spirit working from a far. When he heard the good news of God he joined the fellowship of believers. So, in many ways, he is a changed man, but he still desires to be the center of attention. He still wants to draw a crowd. And so when he sees the apostles laying hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit, he suddenly wants their job.

So he runs over to them and throws down a bag of coins… “I want to do that, too!” he begs. “Give me that authority.”

The sorcerer believes the Holy Spirit is something to be possessed. The sorcerer wants a new bag of tricks for his show.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to bring Philip and the eunuch into a relationship. She leads Philip to take a certain road. She tells him to walk alongside the cart. And, She has been present in the life of this eunuch – they are reading the scriptures, hoping to understand them. And so, when they hear the good news, and an oasis of water suddenly appears alongside their desert road, they ask – what would stop me from being baptized too?

It is not a demand, it is a humble question of faith.

In our journeys of faith, sometimes we get jealous of what other people have – faith that seems so strong, a prayer life that seems so powerful. We often struggle with what we don’t have.
Maybe you have uttered the phrase, “I wish I could pray like so and so” or “if only we had a choir or a praise band” or “I wish I could read the scriptures like that person.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in our faith. There is nothing wrong with seeing what other people are doing and seeking God’s guidance about the ways we can live out our faith.
But in the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we are invited to see that it is not what we don’t have that matters…. what matters is what the Holy Spirit has already brought into our lives.

We can be so busy looking at what others have and what we desire that we can’t see the gifts right in front of us. We each have a voice that we can use, we each have a part to play in our time of worship. Just because we don’t have robes and lights and big voices does not mean that there isn’t a song to be sung.

Secondly, there is a difference between these two characters and what they hope to gain through the Holy Spirit.

While the sorcerer had once been the center of attention, he finds that notoriety fading as a new player, the deacon Philip, comes on the scene. Suddenly, it is someone else doing the healing… someone else drawing the crowds… and the sorcerer himself is astonished by the power that the followers of Christ possess.

But as soon as he perceives the source of this power, he wants it for himself. He wants to again be someone that others flock around. He wants to have the magical ability so that he can carry it to some far off place and again be on the stage with people at his feet.

Our sorcerer is a performer and faith is a tool, a prop, to get him what he wants.

Maybe I’m being cynical and faith IS a part of his life, but he hasn’t quite given up his old ways and he is trying to get the faith to fit into his life rather than allowing it to transform him.

Notice, nowhere did I talk about a community, or a group… faith for the sorcerer was all about himself and what he could use it for.

On the other hand, the eunuch wants to be included. They want to belong. They want to be a part of a community that understood.

Our text tells us that this African man was coming from Jerusalem. He had probably spent some time worshipping in the temple. Yet, as a eunuch, the fullness of worship would have been closed off to him. He would only have been allowed into the Court of the Gentiles.

Gary DeLashmutt writes that because of his social standing as a “sexually altered black man from a pagan country” doors were automatically closed for him. Time and time again, he had probably been turned away from opportunities.

In spite of his standing in the court of the queen of Ethiopia… in spite of his wealth… in spite of all the power he could and did possess, the eunuch knew that he could not buy a place in the family of God. He knew that there were countless barriers in his way, but all he wanted to do was to belong.

In spite of the threat of further rejection, the eunuch persists and when he and Philip come to that small oasis of water by the side of the road, he asks a heartbreaking question: “What would prevent me from being baptized?”

He wants to belong.

He wants to join in the fellowship.

And he found in Philip a person who, according to DeLashmutt, “understood that his standing with God was based not on his ethnic identity, moral record, religious heritage, etc.—but through Jesus’ death alone… He understood that Jesus loved this eunuch and was able to give him new life just as he did Philip.”

So Philip leads him down to the water and the eunuch is baptized.

Although our story says that he went on his way rejoicing, we do not know the end of his story. We don’t know where he goes or how his life and his faith continue in the story of God.
All we know is that he wanted to belong… and my experience is that when someone finds true welcome, they can’t help but pass it on.

In the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we find a performer desiring a stage and a person seeking a home.

In their contrast, we are reminded that faith through the Holy Spirit is not about me or you, but about us.

Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member… may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church”

That is what we do when we gather to worship. We join our singing to the song of the church. We join our lives to the body of Christ. We become part of something far bigger than ourselves.

Many of you are here because you have already found a spiritual home in this community of faith. But at some point in your life, perhaps you, like the eunuch, were searching for a place to belong and a song to sing…

Others gathered here this morning might still be looking for that sense of community.

One of our hopes in gathering out here on the front lawn this morning was to simply be present with our neighbors and to remind one another that we are not alone.

The Spirit of God is moving through our midst, uniting us, binding us together, and helping us to create a place where all might know God’s love.

It is not about you.

It is not about me.

It is about us.

So, let us not be sorcerers who want to control and possess the power of God, singing by ourselves – or even worse, letting someone else sing for us while we sit back and watch…
Instead, like the eunuch, let us humbly join our faith and our voices with those of others.

Let us celebrate the welcome and the community we have found and like Philip, and like the eunuch, let us not be afraid to share it with others.

Amen.

The Spirit of Kindness

Format Image

One afternoon when I was serving the church in Marengo, a young woman walked into the church and asked to use the telephone.

Not a problem, I said.

We talked for a bit and I learned she had just been released from the county jail, was 80 miles from home, and no one was coming to get her. She finally got a hold of a friend or a neighbor… someone she thought might help and was chewed out over the phone. She hung up in frustration.

And so I asked if I could give her a ride. She was seven months pregnant and needed to get home. We got in my car and headed out. And on the way out the door, she asked if she could have one of the bibles on my shelf.

As we drove, we talked about our lives and stopped for food. We talked a little bit about church – but only enough to learn that she had never found one that had felt like home. She had dreams that she wanted to fulfill… but also was raising kids by herself and had put her goals on hold. But she was going home. And for the moment – that was all that was important.

An outsider might look on that situation and see a random act of kindness. Going out of your way to do something nice for a complete stranger. But what I did on Monday morning was far from a random act… and this young woman was far from being a stranger.

Each week this summer, we are exploring how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives and provides what we need for any situation. Today’s gift of the Spirit is kindness – and so we are going to wrestle with where it comes from and what it looks like, in part through the story of Joseph.

When Joseph finds himself sold into slavery in Egypt, he is purchased by Potiphar, a very important man and an official of the Pharaoh. It is like he was sent to work for one of our government’s cabinet officials.

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he writes about Christians who find themselves living under the authority of government officials. He tells Titus, “remind them to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully to anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2) Paul reminds Titus that it is God’s kindness and love that has saved us so that we can do these things.

The word that Paul uses here for kindness, chrestotes, describes a sort of temperament that is respectful and helpful without expecting anything in return. Rick Renner describes this attitude “being adaptable to the needs of others.”

Adaptable might be the best way to describe Joseph.

When sold into slavery, he tried to figure out what he could do to best please his master Potiphar. He served him with respect. Respect – even to the point of denying the advances of his master’s wife.

When that got him in trouble… Joseph adapted. His new home was the jail. His new task was to be the best prisoner he could be. And his willingness to be obedient and courteous put him in good favor with the jailor. Joseph was promoted in the prison system and was put in charge of the other prisoners.

And although he was there unjustly… and although he had no reason to treat the other prisoners with respect, he did. He cared for those other prisoners and did what he could to help them.

Which means that when the royal cupbearer and baker are thrown into jail… Joseph is the same person that he was the day before… he treats them with the same respect he would have treated anyone else in that prison. And his kindness eventually gets him out of that jail and in front of Pharaoh.

In Paul’s letter to Titus, we see that kindness is being ready for every good work. In that sense, it is not random at all, but an intentionally willingness to let God use you in every moment.

Here in Iowa, we are really good at being nice, but kindness is not just being nice or saying nice things… The Holy Spirit empowers us to live out a spirit of kindness so that we are ready to act on behalf of another person.

Kindness is always looking for the next person that you can bless.

Kindness is seeing others not as competition or as obstacles to your success – but as recipients of your grace.

The people who enter your life are not strangers… but they are children of God. The Hebrew word for kindness, Khesed describes how we should behave when we have a commitment to another person. And because we have a relationship with God, we have an obligation to love and care for every person we meet. It doesn’t matter if they are beneath you or the very kings and rulers and presidents of your nations. Every single one of their lives matter and the spirit of kindness urges us to look out for their best interests.

Last week, a number of us from Immanuel attended our Iowa Annual Conference. Our theme for this year is about being difference makers. Throughout our work and our worship, we heard stories of how people of the United Methodist Church are making a difference all across our state and received encouragement to come back to our churches to make a difference in our own communities.

Friends of Immanuel, you already have been difference makers. We go out in mission to make a difference at places like CFUM and under the bridges with the homeless here in Des Moines. We put together kits that make a difference in the lives of people all across this world. In your personal lives, you are part of service organizations that are making a difference for people far and wide. And before our service is over today, we will commission the Bell Tour, who have turned their musical offerings into service and who share God’s love with people who are lonely through the gift of a teddy bear or doll or stuffed animal.

And that is because the spirit of kindness is flowing through this place. We believe that God has called us, in Christ, to live lives of love and service and prayer. We believe that God is sending us outside these walls to bring healing and hope to broken people and places. We are ready for every good work.

One of the ways we have tried to live out that service this year has been through our 5th Sunday Service projects. In January, we put together care packages for some of our local police departments, in gratitude for their service and as a way of reaching out in love after the loss of some of our local police officers. We wanted to bring healing in the midst of their grief and we continue to pray for them.

At the end of April, we put together May baskets for our neighbors and our homebound folks. Those small offerings of love were a good work, a blessing, that we hoped might bring healing to those who were lonely.

We have another fifth Sunday coming up at the end of July but as we have been reflecting on what it means to go out and serve others, what it means to be ready for every good work and to act on behalf of others, and what it means to be open to where the Holy Spirit is sending us, we have a challenge for you.

On July 30th, our next Fifth Sunday Service project, we want to share 100 acts of kindness in this world. Instead of all picking the same project, you now have six weeks to get together with friends, and neighbors, and pew mates, and to figure out together what good work God is prompting YOU to do in the world.

Maybe you want to wash your neighbor’s windows and you can pull together 3-4 people to help you.

Maybe you are feeling called to visit some of our homebound folks. Round up a friend, or even better, a couple of children from the church and go and spread some joy.

Perhaps you know of a local agency that needs help with a project. Find out what is needed and take your book study group with you.

You could pull weeds, or write cards, or play bingo, or clean gutters.

All that we ask is that 1) you do it with at least one other person and 2) you make a difference in the world.

All together, we are hoping to bring about 100 acts of kindness on July 30th. If you can’t be here that day, plan your project for the week or two ahead and send us a picture of what you have done so that we can lift it up and celebrate all the ways Immanuel is making a difference in the world.

We can only do this big, amazing, and wonderful thing if YOU let God use you… if you let the Spirit of God fill you with kindness so that you can be ready for every good work.

Throughout the tale of Joseph, we discover that he is continually in the presence of God. He knew that every person he encountered was someone that God had put in his life. And so he treated Pharaoh the same way he treated his fellow prisoners.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that even sinners love those who love them, and are good to those who are good to them. We are called to do even more… to love our enemies and do good to them. We are supposed to love all people the way God, our Father, loves us. And if God is kind and generous and gracious even when we are at our worst… well, that’s how we should treat all people (Luke 6:27-36).

As the Message translation puts it in Luke 6:36: “Our Father is kind; you be kind.”

And the loving-kindness of God saved us not because of anything worth that we had done… but according to his mercy. We were once ungrateful and wicked… and some days we still are.

Our job, as recipients of this grace and this mercy is not to go out and point to the sin in the lives of others… but to love them as we have been loved.

When that young woman walked into my church in Marengo, I knew that the Holy Spirit was prompting me to be kind.

I couldn’t begin to meet all of her needs, but I could get her home. I could buy her lunch. I could let her know that I didn’t care if she had spent a few nights in jail or a thousand years or if she was Mother Theresa – but she was loved by God and by me and she deserved to have someone help her. I could do that. Or rather…. God could do that through me.

And God can do amazing things through YOU. Live so that you might be open and adaptable to God’s promptings.

See every person you meet as a child of God, your brother or sister.

And remember that with the Spirit’s help… God’s kindness will be your kindness. Amen.

Hi, I’m your small group leader AKA why I’m voting for #rule44 #umcgc

I started my day at 7am with the  Committee on Reference and when everyone else was done for the evening, I joined  a group of 50+ folks for a three hour training session for a process we might not even choose to implement.

I’m exhausted. It was a 14 hour day and I’m spent. So I apologize for any typos.

But I have to tell you… if we don’t pass rule 44, we are missing out on an opportunity to listen to one another and to let the Holy Spirit move in our United Methodist General Conference.

I was really challenged by the Episcopal Address this morning… particularly Bishop Palmer’s words that we can get all of the words of a petition right, but if we don’t get the process right, then we have failed in our witness as a church.

And I’m going to be honest.  There was not a lot that has been shared before this conference about what the process would actually look for Rule #44 like that was helpful. A lot has been vague. Rule 44 doesn’t actually talk about how the small group process will work OR the facilitation team. It only sets out the foundation for the process. So no wonder there has been speculation and misinformation and fear and trembling.

Because we didn’t know!

I was invited to be a small group leader (they were nominated by heads of delegation/bishops and then chosen by the Commission on General Conference) and I didn’t know what it would look like.

So twitter and facebook and tables conversations are blowing up with #rule 44 (seriously, it has its own twitter account – @RuleFortyFour) commentary that has no basis in reality.

Tonight, I was handed a packet full of the complete process. And I was trained in how to use it. And because it isn’t a secret (and it never has been… it just for some reason was never actually shared) I feel obligated to share. I feel like someone has to put out the information about the process we would actually use if Rule #44 is approved.

    1. We vote on approving Rule 44 (or not… the body decides)
    2. We vote on whether or not to use the process this year for any given piece of legislation
    3. If we choose to use it (no matter the legislation… although the materials are prepared for our conversations around human sexuality and the church) the following process will begin:
      1. There will be an orientation to the process for all delegates in a plenary session
      2. We will move into our small groups on Saturday and work the process.  And guess what… for many, the small groups are the exact same small groups you were in for the conversation on the worldwide nature of the church (some were better organized than others, utilizing the group assignments, but that is a separate issue), which means that for many there has already been the establishment of a relationship and the beginning of trust.
      3. Small groups are assigned based on a) legislative committee assignment, b) seeking diversity of cultural , geographic, gender, clergy/lay, etc. experiences, while at the same time c) grouping participants together so that ideally there are no more than two languages in each group (to allow for better use of translation). /ol>
      4. The small group process (what I’m calling phase 1):
        1. Centering with 2 questions: 1) As you come into this discussion how are you feeling? 2) What are your hopes for the UMC as it makes decisions about _______ (in this case, LGBT people in the life of the church)?
        2. Here, we have conversation, but do not record answers. If instead of speaking you want to signal that you agree with what someone else has said, you can indicate that by raising a card.
      5. The small group process (phase 2):
        1. We examine a group of petitions about the same subject (or paragraph in the Book of Discipline) by focusing on ONE petition in that grouping that has been chosen as a focus petition. It was selected because it represented the most changes or issues to discuss given the varying petitions. Everyone begins with the same grouping/topic
        2. Three questions are asked: 1) as you consider this petition, what is important to you and why? 2) Does this petition express what the church needs to say at this time? 3) At this stage, can you see anything that needs changed to make this more helpful for the church? We have conversation, but do not record answers and can again indicate that we feel the same as someone by raising a card.
      6. The small group process (phase 3):
        1. For each proposed change in the petition (deletion or addition) we ask the following two questions and answers are recorded: 1) Do you support the change? (no spoken answer, simply raise card to indicate yes,no, or abstain… the results are recorded), 2) Do you have an alternative to what is suggested? (this is where amendments can be made… and each is suggested and then the group records support via: yes, no, abstain).
        2. This is done for each portion of the petition, then there is a final question: Is there anything that would be helpful for the GC to say to the church on this subject? Suggestions are recorded and we discuss and take votes of support: yes, no, abstain).
        3. The report contains the record of yes, no, abstensions for every piece of the legislation as well as suggestions and their support. This is what is reviewed and turned in.
      7. When the first topic/group is complete, the group decides which topic/grouping of petitions to address next and repeats phases 2 and 3.
      8. Facilitation Process:
        1. The facilitators are elected by the General Conference from a slate and serve as servants of the delegates. Their role is to compile and to develop the focus petition into a piece of legislation that mirrors the will of the body and will bring forth a report based on what we have recorded on the small group sheets. This report will contain recommendations like: Keep the addition of this word because 68% of small group participants indicated support of the addition. Do not delete this phrase because only 22% of the small group participants favor deletion.
        2. The facilitation group will also incorporate the suggestions of the small groups that were included on the sheets if there might be some ownership of that idea. One group might support a suggestion with only 30% yes votes, but if it comes up in a few other locations too, the facilitation group might include it. What they are doing is giving us the opportunity to test if that is the moving of the Holy Spirit by allowing the whole body to discuss the suggestion.
        3. The goal is to help the whole body see the voice of the whole body. The focus petition might look different when it comes before the plenary because a) the pieces were not supported by the small group votes, b) suggestions were made and had some support (even like 15%, are incorporated, c) division in support in various parts of the pettion might cause the facilitation group to divde the petition into separate sections.
      9. The Facilitation Group will present the compiled petition to the body and it will come before us like ANY OTHER PIECE OF LEGISLATION, with the addition of the report including our % votes and rationale behind the inclusions or exclusions.
        1. Like ANY OTHER PIECE OF LEGISLATION, we can vote to amend, discuss, table, divide, etc.
      10. The four groups/topics if we vote to use this process on the topic of human sexuality are (based on a sorting of roughly 60+ petitions) :
        1) Human Sexuality (paragraph 161.F ) – All groups will do this one to start.
        2) Marriage – divided into three subgroups: Definition of Marriage ( paragraph 161.B), Unauthorized Conduct (paragraph 341.6), and Chargeable Offenses (paragraph 2702.1)
        3) Ordination (paragraph 304.3)
        4) Inclusion in the Church (paragraph 4)

        The rationale behind allowing the small groups to choose which topic they want to discuss second is that it allows for them to determine focus. If no small group chooses to complete one of the topics, that says something about our willingness to engage in those petitions. The various small groups will choose the ones that are important to them.

        As small group leaders, we also had a lot of discussion about how we help these conversations to be a place for open, honest, safe dialogue.

        Again, I was really challenged by a line of Bishop Palmer’s this morning that went something to the effect of:

        “Our relationships are so superficial that we will not risk saying something that we might have to apologize for later.”

        I have really wrestled with the monitoring role of our conversations because the conversation I see on social media goes in two very different directions:

        1) LGBTQI folks are not an issue. They are human beings. And some the language and terms we use to discuss their lives are hurtful.
        2) If people are not allowed to speak the truth of where we really are because they are silenced by those who disagree with them, or out of fear of offending, or even because they have offended through their words, then we have not really had a conversation.

        I brought this up tonight at the training and we had some good brainstorming around strategy. And I articulated this so much better four hours ago, but I think tonight I came to the conclusion that we can only have this kind of trust and openness this conversation requires if we are willing to be hurt by what someone else says. If we are willing to be vulnerable enough to be honest and speak our truth as it is in this moment. And the way to resolve that tension and spiral of the speech/harm/silence/harm cycle is that we have to first use “I” statements. We have to avoid talking about “those people” or “you” or “whatever labels.” Second, we need to pay attention to how others experience what we have said and invite one another to hear the impact of the words we use. Third, as a leader, I can reframe language that is unhelpful by trying to get at the core of what they are trying to say. Lastly, we have to be willing to apologize, to humble ourselves, to learn and to grow, if in the process of doing one, two, and three, we recognize that what we said was not okay. These conversations represent a snapshot in time of a journey of understanding and “because people are searching together for God’s leading… where [an individual] end[s] up may not be where they make a comment in the discussion”

        The above, we should do always and everywhere. And for that reason, tonight’s training and the hours of time were not a waste. if Rule 44 doesn’t pass. In fact, I think that because there are individuals in every single legislative committee now who have been through this training, our conversations there will be richer as a result.

        There are some logistical concerns, but I hope that the feedback and learning from the worldwide nature of the church conversation will be implemented by Saturday. There are some intercultural competency concerns, but I am aware that we have those same concerns whether we are using Rule #44 or not… they are present in every plenary session and every legislative committee.

        What I hope that this post does is alleviate some of the concerns that are based in speculation and fear about this mysterious, weird process that we’ve never done before. But we are meeting in a city whose slogan is “Keep Portland Weird.”

        It is a risk to use it.

        If we don’t do it right, there is a chance that we will never attempt something like this again.

        But we know that what we are doing doesn’t always work. We know Robert’s Rules are not the most Spirit-filled tool and comes with its own set of cultural baggage. Four years ago, we decided we needed a different process and here it is.

        I’m voting tomorrow that we support Rule 44. And I’m praying my heart out that if it passes, the delegates, the monitors, the small group leaders, the facilitation team, the interpreters, the folks who set up our meeting space, the volunteer students who type up the responses, the volunteers who give directions in the hallways will enable the Holy Spirit to move in ways that surprise and delight us. I’m praying for every person and every square inch of our space so that the process we use might truly enable us to give God the glory.

        Maybe I’m naive… or maybe I’m just a prisoner of hope who refuses to let doubt and fear keep me from seeing where the Spirit blows.

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.