Saturday, May 12, 2018

Potlucks and the Body of Christ

I write this from Montana. The cabinet met in Great Falls earlier this week where we also spent time with United Methodists from around that area. Tonight, I am in Missoula, where I just came from a potluck with United Methodists from around this area.

We United Methodists do potlucks really, really well, and this one was no exception. Our potlucks reflect the miracle of the loaves and fishes: no matter how many of us come together, the dishes seem to multiply so there is always enough lasagna and potato salad and desserts and deviled eggs (okay, maybe not enough deviled eggs!). You never go hungry at a United Methodist potluck.

The laughter at this potluck flowed as freely as the lemonade. Parishioners from the various churches renewed old friendships and made new friends. When we gather together to break bread at table, Christ shows up and knits us together as his Body.

This week in United Methodism will be studied by generations in the future. It is a week when there was much weeping and grieving for our beloved church, as the voting results of the constitutional amendments were revealed, and two constitutional amendments regarding gender equality and the full inclusion of people into the life of the church, regardless of “race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status or economic condition" were voted down. It was a painful statement of our brokenness as a church when we couldn’t even affirm Galatians 3:28 (“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”), which shows the width and breadth of Christ’s body, that extends beyond nationality and race, class, gender, age, ability, and status to make us one.

Then came the news that Amendment One (on gender equality) was voted on with the wrong wording, invalidating the results and requiring a revote of that specific amendment. While we have the chance to right a wrong, the fact is the second amendment still failed, crushing the spirits of so many.

I am proud of Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Conferences, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of both amendments. I am proud that we are an area formed by actions of Wyoming, the Equality State, first territory to grant women’s suffrage and the first state to allow women to vote, serve on juries and hold public office. But Wyoming was not alone: Between 1869 and 1896, only four states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho) granted women the right to vote. Montanan Jeannette Rankin was the first woman ever elected to federal office in the US.

In the midst of celebrating the gender equality we find in our region, we still have a long way to go—both within our church and in society—to ensure that all persons are valued, respected, and treated equally. May we not rest until Galatians 3:28 is truly realized.

I turn back to the evening’s potluck. May all our gatherings be centered around a table. May we sit expectantly for Christ to show up. When we live that way, we see one another not as strangers but kin and as kin, we seek the best for each other. It means speaking out when one in our midst experiences injustice. It means standing up to right wrongs. It means challenging powers and principalities that seek to diminish and harm someone’s dignity.

We’ve got work to do, dear ones. Tomorrow, kneel down and drink deeply from the well of our faith. Then, may we arise from our knees, roll up our sleeves, and do the work that God requires of us, the work of Love.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

I write this from Chicago, on the eve of the start of the Council of Bishops meeting. As many of you know, this is the meeting where we will receive the report from the Commission on the Way Forward and discern and deliberate on what will be presented to the Special Session of General Conference 2019.
There is so much anxiety and fear within our denomination right now. What will the church look like in February 2019—will there still be a United Methodist Church, or will we be an Untied Methodist Church? Will we reconcile with one another and our differences, to find a way to include all persons in the life and ministry of our church--regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity--or will we allow differences to divide us and the body of Christ? Fear of the future causes many to press the pause button, waiting “to see what will happen.”
Within our Mountain Sky Area there is fear and anxiety as well as we consider a new way of being an annual conference. Since 2011, there have been task forces and committees and discussions and studies about how we in the Mountain Sky Area can be the Mountain Sky Conference. But change is never easy. There is never a “right time” to implement change. Even we who have agreed to follow Jesus sometimes shrink back from that which we are called out of fear of the unknown.
When I look over my own life and ministry, I realize that there are times when my fear has left me frozen in my tracks instead of heading into the future God invites me to. The demands of change were just too much for me and I shrank back from the path. However, those times when I pushed through my fear led me to experiences, growth, and blessings beyond my wildest imagination.
In these days of anxiety and fear, may we sink into God’s love. In I John 4: 18 we are reminded: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When you find anxiety clinging to your soul, when fear leaves you frozen, remember to open up to God, who is love. This love will help diminish your fear and free your feet to go where God leads.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Dare to Live a Resurrection Faith



Tomorrow is the Sunday after Easter. Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. The scriptures throughout this week told of how a scattered group of disciples were reunited as they encountered the risen Christ. Doubt and fear was replaced with hope and a boldness to reclaim the life he offered them. Because God broke the chains of death by raising Jesus from the dead, a shattered community found wholeness once again.

These early Jesus followers began to reorganize their life together. Acts tell us that “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4: 32-35)

When we encounter the power of new life in Christ, nothing can stay the same. We are connected with other members of the body of Christ (some whose names we may never know) in deep and profound ways. This connection changes how we live our lives. We see how everything we do, every choice we make, impacts other members of Christ’s body. We live knowing our wellbeing is tied to their wellbeing.

Last week, we sang our “alleluias” as we retold the story: “Up from the grave he AROSE!” This week, will you be like those first disciples and allow the reality of this truth to sink in. What will be different for you because Christ is no longer in the tomb? Will you share the story with others? Will you allow a great grace to rest within your heart? How will you extend that grace to others? How will you share what you have with those who have little, so that there will be “not a needy person” among us?

The resurrection of Christ dares us to live in new ways. Are you willing?



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

WHY I AM IN WASHINGTON, DC ON APRIL 4, 2018




On April, 4, 1968, I turned 10. Double digits! Birthdays were always special in our family, and this one did not disappoint. My dad came over for dinner. We had my favorite meal. My mom made an ice cream cake, complete with “surprises” inside—pennies, dimes, and nickels, folded in wax paper, that were placed in the batter before it was baked. We played some games, and then I sat down to watch Sally Field play Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun.

Except it wasn’t on…there was breaking news about an assassination. A man named Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in Memphis Tennessee.



I didn’t know who he was. I watched the broadcast and learned about this remarkable man of faith. As I listened, the scales of innocence that I wore as a child fell off. I realized that my experience of the world was not everyone else’s experience. I didn’t know what “racism” meant when I was nine, but at 10, this word entered my vocabulary through the murder of Rev. Dr. King.

Ever since that date, my birthday has been tempered by this act of violence that took the life of this pastor/prophet who was seeking to help a nation regain its soul by living into its cherished values of liberty and justice for all. Every year since 1968, I have read more of his speeches and sermons, learned more about his life, and have come to a better understanding of the impact of both his life and death.

My vocation as a pastor has been informed by Rev. Dr. King. His words and witness have challenged me to understand racism and the privilege that is granted me by my whiteness, the overt and subtle ways racism limits lives and the generational trauma that slavery has inflicted on African Americans. I have had to speak out when some have sought to diminish, disregard, or dishonor the dignity of another because of their race. We all, every one of us, are made in the image of God. To deny the sacred worth of someone because of skin color mocks our Maker.

It has been fifty years since King’s death. Fifty years of birthdays. As I turn 60, I knew I had to be in Washington Dc for the ACT to EndRacism Rally. Racism continues to fracture and harm the human family. I am here to recommit myself to the hard work King called us to engage in: to challenge and confront anything that creates tombs of death and stands in the way of justice and fairness, anything that seeks to create second class citizenship, anything that attempts to deny the dignity and self-worth of any of God’s beloved children.

Fifty years ago, a gunman sought not to defer a dream, but to put it to death. But his bullet simply shattered it, so its pieces live on in those of us who seek to bring healing to the human family, so that every person is seen as precious, as we create Beloved Community together: that place whose hallmark is love, justice, compassion and kindness.




Saturday, March 17, 2018

Christian Becoming




I finally picked up at the library a book I have been wanting to read for a long time: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” by Col. Chris Hadfield. Hadfield became legendary for his pictures and tweets from space, as well as his musical performance of “Space Oddity” from the Space Station.

At nine years old, watching Neil Armstrong take that first step on the moon, Hadfield heard the call to be an astronaut. From that day forward, everything he did—the books he read, the school he chose, the assignments he sought—was to prepare him in the hopes that he would be chosen to be an astronaut.

Hadfield knew that as a Canadian citizen, the chance of him ever being an astronaut was slim—Canada did not have its own space program, and the chances of him being chosen by NASA was not great. But still, he persisted and was eventually chosen as an astronaut in 1992, nearly 25 years after he first heard the call.

I love how he described his first trip to space, realizing his long-pursued dream:

“In one sense I felt at peace: I’d been to space at last and it had been even more fulfilling than I’d imagined. But I hadn’t been given a lot of responsibility up there—no one is on their first flight…The difference between [the veteran on the mission] and me, in terms of what we could contribute, was huge. Training in Houston, I hadn’t been able to separate out the vital from the trivial, to differentiate between what was going to keep me alive in an emergency and what was esoteric and interesting but not crucial. There had been so much to learn, I’d just been trying to cram it all into my brain. During the mission, too, I was in receive mode: tell me everything, keep teaching me, I’m going to soak up every last drop.

“So despite having traveled 3.4 million miles, I didn’t feel I’d arrived at my destination. An astronaut was something I was still in the process of becoming.” (p. 28)

We who follow Jesus are in a continual process of becoming. Our spiritual growth doesn’t stop once we call ourselves “Christian”. Every day provides us with a chance to grow more loving, to follow the Jesus Way more closely, to be drawn to God and others in deeper ways. There are some further along the journey who are there to mentor us just as there are those just starting out who need our nurture. John Wesley said of our spiritual growth that we are “moving on to perfection.” Hebrews 6:1-3 provides instruction for growth and The Message version is quite frank about it:

“So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!

So let’s get on with it! Let’s decide to take another step further in the faith, increasing our love of God and others. Let us find our faith opening us up to God in more intimate ways. Let us see the footsteps of Jesus more clearly. Let us continue in the process of becoming Christian.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

SPIRITUAL CROSS TRAINING



For the past two weeks, our TV has been tuned to the Olympics, watching the winter sports event from S. Korea. My love of the Olympics began in elementary school, when one of my teachers introduced the event to us. I love watching young people from all over the world compete together in a spirit of good will.

There was a tipping point, over the years, when the athletes were no longer older than me. This was not a happy moment! Instead of dreaming about being an Olympic athlete (doesn’t everyone?!), there came a time when I “aged out” of the Olympics (except for maybe the luge). The Olympics were reserved for younger people who were dedicated in their commitment to better themselves in order to be the best in their sport. Once they reached for the gold, it seems they either became Olympic commentators, coaches, or simply slipped out of the public eye.

As United Methodists, we know we don’t peak early in our discipleship. John Wesley reminded us, we are “moving on to perfection.” But for many of us, our continued growth as Christians slowed sometime early in our lives. We have forgotten that every day is an opportunity to deepen our spirituality, expand the sharing of God’s love, and follow more closely the ways of Jesus.

This is the season of Lent, a time to prepare ourselves for Easter through prayer, fasting, study and self-examination. It is a time of Cross Training, of preparing ourselves for the risks of discipleship by committing ourselves more fully to Christ and community, no matter what it might cost us.

Whenever you enter worship, be prepared for a spiritual workout. May your soul be stretched. May your heart discover that it can hold still more love than you thought possible. May you fall head over heels in love with God all over again, and then leave to put into practice what you’ve learned.

The Christian walk is rigorous. It is demanding. It at times feels as if we are pushed beyond what is comfortable or even possible. But keep your eyes on the cross, and then the empty tomb. With God, nothing is impossible. Dare to be your very best, for God’s sake. Day after day after day, dare to be your very best self.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

To Become Intimate with Generosity

This week I listened to a TED talk that literally stopped me in my tracks when I heard the presenter say, “Become intimate with generosity.” Become intimate with generosity? That is a whole new way of understanding generosity: generosity is a relationship first, and an action second. It is because of our relationship with generosity that we become generous people.
This is reflected in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-11:
Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
God throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
God’s right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. God gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
How intimate are you with generosity? I believe as we become more intimate, God helps us have lives that are more generous, not only with our material wealth, but in all aspects of our living. We are able to create generous spaces where others feel welcomed. We become generous in our language, helping speak in ways that build bridges between others. We are generous with our time, making time with others—family, friends, those in need—a priority. We are generous with forgiveness, not only for others who have wronged us but also for ourselves when we have fallen short of our self-expectations.
When we are intimate with generosity, our heart is expanded and our living changes. Tomorrow, as you enter your church, bring generosity with you and see how your engagement with others is enriched.