Sign of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

February 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 9:8-17                       Mark 1:9-15                           1 Peter 3:18-22

Imagine that you are driving a fifty-three foot long, fully loaded, tractor trailer, weighing thirty-five thousand pounds empty, loaded with forty-five thousand pounds of cargo, for a total of eighty-thousand pounds.  Now imagine that, as you are driving over the mountains of West Virginia, constantly shifting through ten to eighteen gears as you ascend and descend the various mountain ridges along the turnpike, that some critical component of your braking systems fail, and as you steadily gain speed going down one of the biggest and steepest grades on the highway, you now have no ability to slow down. 

Quickly your speed passes the posted legal limit, and you move to the passing lane to avoid crushing a family in a minivan.  You try downshifting but your speed is already too great and still your speed increases.  First eighty, then ninety miles per hour, and now you are desperately flashing your lights, honking your horn, and shouting on your CB radio for other trucks to get out of your way as, despite attempting everything that you can think of, your speed continues to increase.  You do everything that you can to keep your mind on the task at hand and not to think about how this will inevitably end. 

Still your imagination easily pictures mangled cars and a long plummet down the side of forested mountain valley… and then you see it.  A sign along the far side of the road announcing that only a mile away, is a runaway truck ramp.  You see it in the distance and quickly shift your truck back into the right lane as you race towards it… and almost before you think about what will happen, you leave the highway, race up and impossibly steep slope and feel your truck sink into the loose sand as it tears away at the tires and undercarriage.  Small plants, bushes, briars, and grass fly as you plow up the hillside but… finally… your slow… and come to a stop.  Your truck is probably totaled, and it will almost certainly take several wreckers, and maybe a bulldozer and a crane to get your truck off the side of this mountain… but you are alive.

Your day might have ended very differently if it hadn’t been for that small sign at the side of the highway.  That small sign gave you the warning that you needed to be.  That small sign was the symbol of the rescue that waited silently at the side of the road.  It saved your life.

It was the sign of your rescue.

For the rest of your life, whenever you see that sign, or one like it, you will remember.  And you will give thanks, not just for the sign, but for your life that you live, and the rescue that it represents.

Sometimes signs are more than just symbols.

Keep that in mind as we read the conclusion of the story of Noah in Genesis 9:8-17 where it says…

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

As God prepared to destroy a corrupt civilization, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  Today, although we argue whether that flood was truly a global event, nearly every culture, on every continent, has tales about a flood that destroyed the world.  But just as God provided a way for Noah and his family to survive, he also promised that there would never be another flood with the same destructive power.  And you can be sure, that every time that Noah and his family saw the sign of God’s rainbow in the sky above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.

But years passed… first decades, then centuries, then millennia, and people forgot.  They forgot the flood, they forgot the ark, they forgot the rescue, and they forgot the promise.  Eventually, a rainbow was just a rainbow.  And then, Jesus began his ministry by submitting to his baptism with John in the Jordan river.  We read that story in Mark 1:9-15.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temptedby Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus didn’t need repentance or forgiveness, but he submits to baptism as a sign of his ministry, and as a sign of God’s rescue, to the people of Israel and to the world.  The baptism of Jesus is a sign to the world that God was keeping his promises and that, as he had done for Noah and for his family, God was making a way for us to be rescued from the judgement that was coming.  The Apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 3:18-22:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

And so, the disciples themselves understood the connection between the sign of Noah’s rescue and the sign of our rescue with the arrival of the Good News of Jesus Christ and his baptism.  Just as Noah and his family passed safely through the waters of the flood, God promises to bring us safely through our life in this strange, difficult, and sometimes hostile world in which we live.  Just as the ark carried Noah through the flood to the dry land that eventually followed, the gospel message, and our rescue through our baptism into a new life as a part of God’s family is a sign and a symbol of God’s promise to carry us safely through to the other side through the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As God prepared to bring judgment upon a corrupt civilization in the time of Noah, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  And now, as God prepares to bring final judgement upon all of humanity, he once again brings a warning to anyone who will listen and offers a way in which we might be rescued.  We remember that long ago, when Noah and his family looked into the sky and saw the sign of the rainbow above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.  Like them, as we remember our baptism, while it is a sign and a symbol, it is also so much more than that because we see that sign, and we remember our rescue… and give thanks.

As humanity hurtles down the side of the mountain toward certain doom, there is in baptism, a sign at the side of the road pointing toward one last chance to see tomorrow.  It may not be the most impressive, amazing, or artistic sign, but it is a sign of rescue, a sign of belonging… and a sign of hope.

Let us remember our rescue and give thanks but let us also point as many others toward that sign as we possibly can so that they too can find Jesus, find rescue, find hope, and arrive, with us, on the shores of a new life on the other side.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0nqL1PsPKp4

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Life is Not a Show

Life is Not a Show

February 17, 2021*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                        2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the character, Jacques, declares that all the world is a stage.   The first few lines of this soliloquy begin like this:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…

But despite Shakespeare’s insistence that the world is just a stage, our life is not a show that is lived for the benefit of other people.  In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus cautions us this way:

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus is clear that although we might, as Shakespeare suggested, live our lives on a stage viewed by others, the only spectator that matters is God.  As we live our lives, we do not donate food to impress the people at the food pantry, or put money in the offering plate to impress people, or pray out loud so that people will think that we are religious, or holy, or somehow better than anyone else.  This isn’t an act.  Our lives are real, and our actions have eternal consequences.  Our goal should never be to look good, or to impress people, or to inflate our own ego, but always, and only to do the will of God.  Our goal is to be obedient and faithful and that’s all.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he amplifies this message of faithful living by saying this in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that no matter what happens, our one, singular goal, is to get our hearts right with God, and to return to a right relationship with God.  That, my friends, is the entire reason that we set aside this season of Lent.  It is a time for us to reflect upon our lives and our actions.  It is a time for us to consider how we have been doing and consider the health of our relationship with God. 

Have we been as obedient as we could have been?

Are we as faithful as we could be?

Are there ways in which we can do better?

Are we doing things that make it harder for others to believe that we are following Jesus?

Or that make it harder for them to believe in Jesus?

Let us consider where we have fallen short and where we can do better.

And let us commit ourselves to using this season of Lent, to draw closer to God, to live in such a way that we look more like Jesus, to be more obedient, and to be more faithful.  Not so that we will look better to the people around us, but so that the people around us will see Jesus more clearly and be drawn closer to him because of the change that they see in us.

 All the world may be a stage…

            …but our lives are not an act.

Let us live lives that carry us into an eternity with God, and which draw as many others as possible along with us

_______

Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ULPY2qwgoek

Did you enjoy reading this?

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Strength for the Main Thing

Strength for the Main Thing

February 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 40:21-31                      Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

In football, the “main thing” is moving the ball toward the goal line.  But there are plans in place to keep the players healthy and rested.  The team can’t move the ball if everyone is too tired to play.  The same is true in the Indianapolis 500 the Daytona 500, 24 hours at Le Mans, or any other automobile race.  There are plans in place for pit stops, fuel, water, Gatorade, tire changes, and in the case of Le Mans, even driver changes so that drivers can take a nap and be well (more) rested.  But imagine what would happen without rest?  If a football team played without rest, and the other team didn’t, it isn’t hard to imagine that the rested team would, at some point, gain a serious advantage over the team that didn’t.  An auto race without pit stops for fuel would end quickly and a Le Mans race without sleep is, literally, and accident waiting to happen.

But what about our “main thing”?

Last week, we said that “keeping the main thing, the main thing means sharing Jesus’ message about rescuing the lost and the salvation of the living.”  But what are our plans for moving the ball toward the goal line or finishing the race?  How do we keep the players on the field, or the cars on the track, so that no one gets too tired to play, or runs out of fuel for the journey? 

There are, at least, two answers.

In Isaiah 40:21-31, God’s prophet proclaims this news to God’s people, and it is advice that is often repeated at funerals and other times when we are feeling as if our feet are going out from underneath us or the wind has gone out of our sails.  Isaiah said:

21 Do you not know?  Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

[Note: “no one can fathom” has also been translated as “unsearchable” and can mean that God’s understanding is “beyond our imagination”]


29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The first part of our answer, and the first part of our plan is that the source of our strength is not to be found within ourselves, but in God.  God is the one who created us, who gives us breath, and strength for each day of our lives.  God’s promise is to give us the strength that we need to do the work, and the mission, that he has given to us.  But that still doesn’t make us superheroes.  We still need food, and sleep, and rest.  And Jesus, being fully human, had those same needs.  And so, when we read the stories of the New Testament, like the one found in Mark 1:29-39, we see the plan that Jesus used to stay in the game, as he kept the main thing, the main thing.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus was working hard.  He was doing his work.  He was carrying out his mission and ministry.  But he was tired physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And Jesus took steps to combat that fatigue.  First, he had a place where he could be himself, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.  But after he was physically rested, Jesus found a quiet place, alone, where he could pray and draw close to God.  Much like we read in Isaiah, this is how Jesus, in addition to getting a good night’s rest, received the physical, spiritual, and mental strength that he needed to make it through the day.  The recipe was to not only take care of his body, but to take care of his body, his mind, and his soul.  How often do we complain that we are tired, despite having had a good night’s rest, because we have forgotten to take the time to care for our minds and our souls?  If we want to keep the main thing, the main thing, and have the strength and stamina that we need to carry out our mission, we must remember to care for the whole person of our bodies, minds, and souls.

But while we are thinking about the strength that we need to do that “main thing,” let’s keep our focus on what we mean when we say, “the main thing.”  In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul says:

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul says that he must do whatever God called him to do and do it to the absolute best of his ability even if that means that he surrenders his biblical right to get paid, or gives up his freedoms, or his belongings, his money, his personal comforts, or anything else.  Paul says that he was willing to do whatever needed to be done, so every effort could be made to save as many people as possible.  And, from Paul’s history, we know that meant that Paul worked as a tent maker while he was caring for a church rather than ask a struggling church for any kind of salary.  It meant that Paul was willing to leave behind his wealth and his privileged lifestyle, to travel the world, to be arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and eventually executed all so that he could keep the main thing, the main thing, pursue his mission with all the strength that he had, and all the strength that God had given him, and preach the gospel to as many people as he possibly could.

And of those things flow downhill to us.

As individuals, and as the church, we have inherited the mission of Jesus Christ just as Paul did.  Not all of us have been called into missionary service or to pastoral ministry, but all of us have been called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for those who don’t have a voice in the halls of government, to stand up for the abused and the downtrodden, and all the other things that Jesus did, and commanded his followers to do.  It is an enormous task.  Doing all these things, and keeping the main thing, the main thing, is just as physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting today as it was for Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul.  For us to do what we have been commanded to do, to do it well, and to keep on doing it, we need to care for ourselves.  We need to take the time to rest, to get plenty of sleep, but also to regularly spend time in prayer, spend time studying scripture, and spend time drawing closer to God.

You wouldn’t send your football team onto the field without a plan to rotate players and give them rest.  You wouldn’t send a racing team onto the track without a plan to stop for fuel, tire changes, and Gatorade.  And you wouldn’t dream of asking a Le Mans racer to drive for 24 hours without rest.  But trying to do what God has asked us to do, without taking the time to care for our team is just as foolish.  We must all be diligent about eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, taking the time to study scripture, and spending time alone with God.  Without these things, the players grow tired, become exhausted, and our team falls apart.

Our team must play to win, and each of you are an integral, and vital, part of that team.

Like Paul, we must do everything that we can to share the Good News and to rescue the lost.

But we cannot rely upon our own strength alone.  We cannot do it without God’s strength.

Let us commit to taking care or ourselves, and caring for one another, in body, mind, and spirit.  Let us plan to eat right, sleep well, study scripture, and spend time alone in prayer with God.

The lives of our families, neighbors and friends are hanging in the balance.

Don’t let them down.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/lLWTO0y2-d8

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”

Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

—-

    Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion.
The bishop refused.
    Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury.  In this way, the Methodist Church was born.  No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did.  As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States).  We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop.
    Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar.  Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes.  Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army.
    In those days, there was no separation of church and state.  For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told.  Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army.  For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants.  In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire.  During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.
    There was also much bloodshed in England.  Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind.  As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert.  Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse.  There was much bloodshed on all sides.
    In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time.  But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States).  Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell.  For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.
    Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities.  We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope).  We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches.
    Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another.  I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University.  There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation.  Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together.
    During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest.  He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan).  I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.
    In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”

Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.

 


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Youth Questions: Why Doesn’t the Methodist Church Modernize its Thinking?


 Question: Why Doesn’t the Methodist Church Modernize its Thinking?

 

    I’m not exactly sure what the questioner had in mind when they wrote this, but the short answer is that we do, regularly, change the way that our church works.  The longer answer will take a little while.
    First, there are some things that we can’t change.  If we believe that the Bible is true and was given to us by God, then we must be formed and shaped by what it says and it is not for us to rewrite the Bible so that it says what we think it should.
    Second, as United Methodists, our organization, structure and doctrine all flow out of “The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”  It is not the Bishops who speak for us, nor the Council of Bishops (we don’t have a Pope), but the Book of Discipline.  This book is revised every four years during our General Conference.  The General Conference is a democratic body of delegates who are elected by each geographical area (called Annual Conferences) and each area sends a delegation based on the number of church members in that area, much like we, in the United States, elect members to the House of Representatives.  Because The United Methodist Church is a global church, representatives come from around the globe from every continent except Antarctica.
    Almost everything is up for grabs when the General Conference meets.  Nearly every page of the Book of Discipline may be amended or even completely replaced with only a small section that is unchanging.  In the beginning of the Discipline is a set of Restrictive Rules that specify those sections that cannot be amended.  These sections include the fundamental doctrine of our church that defines who we are, our basic confession of faith, a few rules regarding bishops, the right of clergy to trial by committee, and how we are able to spend the money earned by through publishing.  In all, from a book with nearly 900 pages, less than twenty are unchanging.  The rest are available for revision every four years.
    Who can suggest or propose a change?  You can.  Any member, or clergyperson, from any United Methodist Church, can write a proposal to the General Conference to amend or replace any section of the Discipline.  And to be sure that your opinion matters, the Discipline requires that the General Conference consider every single proposal that is submitted.  Many of these will be similar or propose changes to the same sections, and these will be read, and incorporated into a single proposal by working groups of conference delegates.  Every delegate belongs to one of these working groups and each group is responsible for a working out the proposed changes to a particular section.  Once the working groups are done, these proposals go before the entire General Conference for a vote.  The exception to this are those changes that are editorial or are so totally uncontroversial, that no one feels the need to vote on them, these are passed, as a group, by the consent of the conference.  But if any delegate feels that any particular proposal should be voted on individually, they can ask that that proposal be moved off of the “consent calendar” and brought to the floor for a vote.
    So, while we maintain core beliefs that are unchanging, there is much of our “thinking” that is being “modernized” on a regular basis.  Among these things that are being revised is the Social Principles, which is a separate publication from the Book of Discipline, but which contains the official position of the church on social issues from abortion and adoption, to the rights of women and youth and everything in between.  It is here, in the Social Principles, that you will find the official church position on divorce, the death penalty, population control, racial and ethnic rights, collective bargaining, sustainable agriculture and a great many other things.
    Keep in mind that The United Methodist Church is a church made up of individuals that are very different, who come from very different places and different cultures.  Our church has members from nearly every political affiliation you can imagine and we don’t always agree.  Although I admit that politics are sometimes played in the writing of changes to the Discipline and the Social Principles, I appreciate that we are trying to do theology together.
    We are not a North American church that is writing “rules” that must be followed by people thousands of miles away, but we are one, global, church that is trying to discern, together, what God is saying, and where he is leading us.
That process can be a little messy, but we are working it out, together.
 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.

 


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Ten (or more) Lessons from Ferguson


    Recently I read an article by Jeremy Smith, in United Methodist Insight, in which he wondered why more  clergy did not speak out on the events of Ferguson, Missouri.  In the article, Smith insists that when we don’t speak out about injustice, we make it seem that we aren’t responsible for things that happen far away from us.  In his words, “When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. “  He’s right of course, but I have a hard time speaking out about events like those in Ferguson because I am so personally ignorant, confused and conflicted by them.
    I’m a white guy and I grew up with the privileges that come with that.  Our family was far from wealthy, but I haven’t suffered from the subtle or overt discrimination that my non-white friends did.  I have not been pulled over by the police for “Driving While Black.”  I have no idea what that must be like. 
    I know that because I am white I do not fully appreciate all of the issues in play in the mess that is Ferguson, MO nor do I feel the impact of those events personally, as people of color undoubtedly do.  I know that anything I say about these events will lack understanding.   But Jeremy Smith is right, keeping silent allows injustice to continue and so I feel like I have to say something. 
    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to stand against injustice, and there has been plenty on every side.  Not long ago, a colleague of mine posted a link to an article (to which I will not provide a link) that was so filled with hatred of hate and racism that it became hateful and racist itself.  In opposing racism, it named anyone who disagreed, for any reason, or for any principle, as a racist.  That sort of language is unhelpful and it doesn’t help any of us to think clearly.

    So here are ten lessons that we can learn from the mess that is sorting itself out (and will be for years) in Ferguson, MO:

1)      There is never an excuse to hate someone whose skin is a different color, simply because their skin is different color.  It isn’t okay to hate someone because they are black but neither is it okay to hate someone because they are not.
2)      In a town that has a population with a majority of African Americans, it is inconceivable that the police department can’t find African American recruits or that the imbalance should be so substantial.  As I understand it, the federal government is investigating this disparity, and they should.
3)      When there is injustice it should be okay to protest that injustice. Peacefully.

4)       Protests about injustice should not devolve into riots in which property is destroyed and innocents are put in the hospital, and worse.
5)      It’s not okay to use injustice as an excuse to cause injustice.
6)      It’s not okay to hurt someone who is on your side, just because they are the wrong color.
7)      It’s not okay (nor is it helpful) to destroy the businesses that have supported an abused community to make the point that the community has been abused.
8)      To say that it’s NOT okay doesn’t go far enough, it is flat out wrong, offensive, and even criminal, for the police department to try to disperse a riot by showing up dressed and equipped for a war.  Uniforms and weapons of war have no place on our streets.  I have no idea why anyone thought that showing up with M-16’s and armored personnel carriers was going to bring peace.
9)      While it is important, even necessary, for the media to have access to the story and for the story to get a wide distribution, there is a point at which the media becomesthe story.  From several stories that I read, from several very different media outlets, a point was reached when most citizens had gone home and rioters appeared, many from out of town, simply because the media was there.  I don’t know how we could, and we probably can’t and shouldn’t place restrictions on media access, but when the media’s presence makes the violence worse, something needs to be done.  Perhaps the media outlets themselves can agree on some sort of code of conduct, or organize a media pool as is often done in wartime, to share stories and prevent an area from being mobbed by reporters.
10)   As to who is guilty in the original event that triggered this mess, I have to admit that the conflicting reports in the media make me unsure.  A young man is dead and shouldn’t be.  I don’t know who is at fault, but I am sure that a careful investigation is needed.  I am also sure that the Ferguson Police are not the ones who should do the investigating.  In Ohio, it is standard procedure for accusations against social workers to be investigated by a neighboring (outside) social service agency.  Perhaps police departments ought to do the same with any officer involved shooting.
    Ultimately, there is plenty of fault to go around.  Ferguson may not be a “Perfect Storm” where everything went wrong, but a whole lot still went wrong.  The police got it wrong, the protestors got it wrong, the media got it wrong, and probably a few others as well.  But in every case, we, the people of God, the church, need to find a way to fight against injustice. 
All injustice. 
    We need to speak up against institutional racism.  We need to speak out against a police force that is preparing and equipping to fight a war against its own citizens.  We need to speak out against rioters who overshadow legitimate protestors and also against a media machine that makes problems worse instead of better.
    As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be salt and light to the world.  We are called to stand against injustice.  We are supposed to be doing all we can to make things better.
    The events of Ferguson, MO make it clear that no matter where we live, regardless of our race, we have a LOT of work to do.

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We *Are* Making a Difference


    I have friends who like to say that the world would be better off without the church.  Today, 2,400,000 Africans would disagree with them.  If it had not been for the United Methodist Church (and her partners) many of those 2.4 million people, most of them children…

…would be dead.
    In 2010, children in sub-Saharan Africa were dying from malaria at a rate of one every 30 seconds.  Today that rate has dropped to one every 60 seconds.  The difference?  Our church’s campaign to eliminate malaria.  In 2008, we had “Nothing but Nets” which partnered with the NBA as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Then in 2010 this effort became “Imagine No Malaria.”  Imagine No Malaria still has the support of the Gates Foundation but also the World Health Organization, The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the United Nations Foundation.  Since 2008, The United Methodist Church has raised $40 million dollars toward our goal of $75 million.  Together, we have distributed 1.2 million insecticide treated bed nets and trained 5400 community health workers to distribute bed nets, train families in their use, and track usage rates.  The results are obvious.  In the last three years we have reduced the childhood death rate (from malaria) by half.
    Why us?  Why is the church important if the NBA, Bill Gates, the UN, and these other big names are already involved?  Is it just because eleven million United Methodists can raise money?  That is undeniably a part of it, but helping the poor has been a part of our United Methodist DNA from the very beginning.  For 200 years we have built and maintained hospitals and schools all across the continent of Africa.  When this project was conceived, everyone knew that while Americans can often be generous, and some are great at publicity, someone had to be the “boots on the ground.”  United Methodists were already there, all across the continent of Africa.  Over two centuries we have built relationships with governments, leaders and decision makers in many of those nations and we established a reputation as being genuinely interested in the welfare of their people, as well as trustworthy.
    Of course, we can’t rest yet.  The job isn’t done.  We haven’t reached our goals and one child every sixty seconds is still way too many.  The goal of Imagine No Malaria is the total elimination and eradication of malaria from the face of the earth.  That’s a long way off, but we’re headed in the right direction.
    I don’t pretend that United Methodists have a monopoly on compassion.  Clearly our story is just one of many.  Imagine No Malaria is just one way, that one church, is making a difference.  And so, to all those who think we would be better off without the church, I say this:
The people of Africa would like to disagree with you…
…because today their children are not dead.

Top Ten 2012 Blog Posts


    As promised, here are my top ten blog posts of 2012.  There are a few interesting points that I will note along the way, but among these is just the growth of this blog.  While it is still pitifully small compared to some of the mainstream “big name” bloggers with tens of thousands of subscribers (I have five), there is a marked difference between 2011 and 2012.  In the last year, the number of readers has grown enough that of all the posts included in last year’s list, only the number one post from 2011 would have made this list and even then at number eight. Hey, while you’re here, why don’t you click on the “Subscribe to Blog Updates” link in the right hand column?
    In any case, the readership of this blog, however small, has doubled in one year, and for that, I am both humble and grateful.  I hope that my musings make you think, regardless of whether we agree or not.  This year’s list is reversed, David Letterman style, with number ten presented first, so that you have to scan the whole list to see the most popular.
10) As was the case in other multi-part blogs I have written, “Part 2, Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology”, was less popular than Part 1 (which comes in at number 7).
9) In, “Is It Time to End Spousal Benefits?” I pondered the injustices of the way that many employee benefits as well as Social Security and other Federal benefits are calculated.  Several comments showed me that that my thinking was not as clear as I would have liked and made me think that I may need to think this through a bit more and revisit the subject sometime down the road.
8) “Why I Stand With the Catholic Church” discusses why I agree that our federal government is overreaching in its demand that church agencies be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion inducing drugs despite in a clear violation of their religious beliefs.
7) Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology (Part 1) is the first, and most popular, of my reaction to some seriously dumb things that were said by politicians.  Honestly, I sometimes think that this happens every day, but when these same politicians begin to justify their dumb stuff by saying that it’s God’s fault, I have to say something.
6) In John Wesley’s Crazy Rules?, I list the rules that the early Methodists had agreed to live by.  Today, most all have been abandoned and most church members would panic if we even suggested bringing them back.  On the other hand, under these rules the church grew and under ours we’re shrinking.  Perhaps something in this list we ought to learn from?
5) Why is Homosexuality an Argument Instead of a Discussion? Isn’t even my blog post, but a link to a post by Dr. John Byron, one of my seminary professors.  Here we wonder why everyone wants to demonstrate and shout from their polarized positions, but not have an honest discussion about the issues.
4) The blog entitled, “Just How Many Homosexuals Are There?” was taken, by some, as a political post even though I made some effort to deliberately distance myself from making any overt political statements.  The unfortunate truth, as we’ve seen in other posts, is that anything regarding abortion, homosexuality and a few other topics automatically become argumentative instead of the opening of a discussion.  Here, I simply found statistics that indicated that nearly everyone has a dramatically wrong idea of what we are talking about whenever we begin such an argument.
3) What’s the Big Deal About Sex? was written after it was discovered that several Secret Service agents and military personnel had been cavorting with prostitutes during a trip in which they were to be guarding President Obama.  While what they did was immoral, I wonder why all the fuss?  These folks aren’t monks?  Clearly there are national security concerns, but otherwise, in a culture that values sex and money above all else, what do you expect?
2) Censorship is never the answer.  The beauty of our freedom of speech here in the United States is that it allows atheists to blaspheme my religion and my God, but it also allows me to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In Christians are Wrong; Atheists are Right I argue that when Christians lobby for censorship to protect them, they really undermine the most important protection of all.
1) This is the one that makes me smile.  I first wrote, Ahimaaz – Patron Saint of Cross Country Running? , about a man known to King David who loved to run.  When it was written, almost no one read it.  For months afterward… almost no one read it.  And then something interesting happened.  Because I suggested that Ahimaaz ought to be a patron saint of long distance runners (clearly, being Methodist, I have no inside track on this), this blog started to turn up in Internet searches for patron saint of cross country and track.  As track season came closer it began to get a few, but regular, hits each week.  By the end of the year, just like the story of the tortoise and the hare, slowly but surely, this blog had become the most popular of the year (and continues to grow).

The Church vs. Education?


    I have a few atheist friends who seem fond of bashing religion on their Facebook pages.  While their attacks most often reflect a pitiable ignorance of what religion, specifically Christianity, is about, one meme that is often repeated irritates me more than most of the others.  The theme of these irritating (and wrongheaded) attacks revolves around a perception that religion and education are mutually exclusive or, that somehow, religion is opposed to “real” education.  Not only is this way of thinking just wrong, both historically and in a contemporary setting, but,  I find this accusation particularly offensive as a United Methodist, a church whose core DNA has always included support and encouragement of education.

    Obviously, a blog is not the place for a lengthy treatise on education, but let’s look at a few facts.  Two thousand years ago when education belonged to the rich, it was the Jewish high priest who mandated that schools should be opened (in 64 AD) because the Torah required literacy and study.  These schools were not particularly successful, but the literacy rate was still triple that of neighboring Egypt (3% vs. 1%).[1]   A thousand years after that, it was again the church, this time the Roman Catholic Church, which, in 1179 mandated that free education be provided for the poor.  In fact, until 1600 nearly all universities in Europe were built, taught, and funded by the church and, during the “Dark Ages” it was the monasteries that preserved the wisdom and knowledge of the ancient world.  Had it not been for the church, what we know of Socrates, Plato and many others would have been lost.   In the Islamic world, education was supported and funded by the government, but, Islam being a theocratic system of government, this too was, essentially the church.  Throughout the Reformation, the majority of universities remained church supported organizations.
    In the American Colonies, and then the newly birthed United States, there was little or no opportunity for higher education unless one returned to Europe.  When it became obvious that institutions of higher learning should be built, who do you suppose it was who raised the money and built them?  The church.  What schools did the church build?  You might have heard of some of them: Harvard, William & Mary, Yale, College of New Jersey (which is now Princeton), Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Oberlin, Fordham, Duke and host of others.  In fact, between 1636 and 1861 nearly 800 colleges were founded, and of these, 182 still survive.  Of the 182 surviving colleges and universities, only 21 were built by states or municipalities, the rest were built by the church through a variety of denominations. [2]
    As for us United Methodists, our founder, John Wesley, started building schools in 1739 in Bristol for the children of coal miners and in the United States we authorized the construction of our first college in 1784, eight years before we even held our first General Conference in 1792.  In 1820 and again in 1824 our General Conference instructed each Annual Conference to establish schools, literary institutions and colleges and they did.  By the time of the American Civil War, the Methodist Church had established over 200 such institutions.  Our Evangelical United Brethren brothers were a smaller church but they still managed to build eight colleges by the middle of the twentieth century.[3]  In 1968 these two churches merged to form The United Methodist Church and together we are now connected to 122 colleges and universities in the Untied States including research universities, seminaries, historically Black colleges and universities (including a medical school), and two-year colleges, as well as 358 post-secondary institutions outside the United States.  If we were to include elementary schools and others, this number would be absolutely astounding.
    I’m sorry friends, if you think that people of faith don’t believe in education you’re ignoring the facts.  But if you think that atheists can do better, I invite you to go ahead and prove it. 
But first, you have a whole lot of catching up to do.


[3]Robert A. Williams, From the Beginning: a School-Related Church, Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2013