“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.”
(Luke 1:68-69, NRSV)
I don’t know about you, but I am definitely ready for this Advent season and Christmas. Actually, to be honest, I am not at all prepared as there is so much still to do. But I am ready for the Advent season to enter into my life. Advent means that we begin a new Christian liturgical year focusing particularly on the promised arrival of God’s Word in the Flesh into our earthly midst. It’s a refocusing time whereby we are reminded that being Christian necessarily means being focused on Christ. Interesting that Advent comes at the end of our yearly calendar, after we have pushed and pulled, climbed and fallen, laughed and cried through almost the whole calendar year. Advent caps off the calendar year, while concurrently beginning the Christian liturgical year.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.’”
(Revelation 21:3, NRSV)
Do you ever read the last pages of a book to see how the story is going to end before actually starting to read the book proper? This one verse (above) from the last part of our Christian Bible, Revelation, is among the most hope filled God inspired words of Scripture. It is not uncommon for us to hear these words at services of Baptism and Holy Communion, as well as funerals and the occasional wedding. They lead to the gripping description of how existence will look upon the fulfillment of creation as intended and designed by God. In six verses, this Scripture captures the most foundational essence of life from start to completion, “the beginning and the end” (6a). I encourage you find a quiet moment and dwell on those verses of Revelation 21:1-6a to see what I mean.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5, NRSV)
I am grateful to be a United Methodist. The United Methodist Church has a very visible emphasis on inclusiveness and ecumenicalism, acknowledging our diversity between cultures and faiths, but being first and foremost all members of the one body of Christ. One of the most visible is our joining in the celebration of World Communion Sunday, traditionally held on the first Sunday of October. It is one of the six special Sundays of giving that we celebrate as a denomination where we put our money where our central beliefs are. But even more, it represents a focus and commitment toward world-wide unity where numerous Christian denominations around the world celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion as a unified expression of Christ’s body. Admittedly, not everyone or every faith participates, but that must not deter those that do. It is when the very best of all cultures and faiths come together that we may best represent all that humanity is meant to be, and that which was displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
“Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can.’ ”
(John Wesley, “The Use of Money”, 1872)
September … already! That means the purchasing of new school clothes and supplies, beginning another round of school program fees and tuition, planning and procuring materials for the next church liturgical year, and just when it couldn’t get any worse, there is next year’s budget and stewardship initiatives. Yep, that’s right! It’s time, once again, to get serious around how we plan to live out Christ’s Great Commission and what resources we will need to do it.
Interestingly, our roots as Methodists are in both prosperity and mission. A result of John Wesley’s methodology for living a life in Christ was the wise appropriation and utilization of resources including, of course, money. Through the diligence of work, and the discipline of non-waste, Wesley knew that God’s divine economy of abundance would provide all that is needed for oneself, for one’s family and household, and for others less fortunate … and would do so in abundance. In fact, Wesley’s tenant of “make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can” led to an amazing period of prosperity and growth for Methodist Church members, the Church’s connectional ministries, and the Church as a denomination. I share this not so much as a recipe for personal prosperity, but rather to demonstrate just how much resource has been put in our trust to use wisely and to share.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV)
There is surprise and delight when we just happen to stumble onto something of interest or value. But, there is a deeper sense of satisfaction when we find something we had set off to find, or discover a solution to a question or problem we intentionally were trying to answer.
I think it works the same with tasks and accomplishments; and I know it works the same way with relationships and our interactions with areas of our faith. Acts of worship mean much more when we are intentionally engaged with them. Fellowship with one another is much more satisfying when we intentionally focus on that interaction. I think this mindset is where such phrases as “be the ball” or “be in the moment” come from; sometimes they are said in a spirit of humor, but that humor makes them no less true.
It is easy to discern if a person is passionate about something. Wouldn’t you agree? They express strong feelings about the topic, their enthusiasm shines like a spotlight, and they show their intensity through their knowledge and commitment toward that topic. The word, passionate, in itself, does not infer either positive or negative direction, but when human passion gets linked up with positive initiatives, amazingly wonderful things almost always happen. Further, we like seeing passionate people doing amazing things in most all areas of life. We hear and share stories about amazing doctors, favorite teachers, highly recommended repair technicians, incredible cooks, dedicated musicians, and even spectacular athletes.
I believe God is passionate about us. As well, I believe God wants us being passionate about God, as well as being passionate about each other. After all, Jesus showed us the very essence of passion—power, intensity, commitment, strength, emotion, and above all, ardent love—and in absolutely everything he was and did. It did not matter how overwhelming or seemingly insignificant the initiative was, Jesus’ initiatives were always positive and always passionate, and amazingly wonderful things always happened.
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.’” (Acts 2:38 & 41, NRSV)
When you stop and think about it, the month of June is a rather interesting time. For most all of us, usually in multiple ways, it reflects a marked time of transition. For example, the school year is ending, the growing season shifts into high gear, air conditioners are being revved up, and vacations and travel plans are being pursued. As the Church, all around the world, we are transitioning from Eastertide through Pentecost into Kingdomtide (you know, that long stretch between now and Advent). As a denomination, United Methodist Annual Conferences around the globe are taking place and we are putting into motion new directions from those annual meetings. Perhaps more importantly is how all these transitions find their way into our individual and personal lives. Certainly, I can speak from personal experience about transitions in my life that have been born out of these events. I am guessing that you can also relate to areas in your own life that reflect transition in one way or another.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7, NRSV)
Clicking the keys on my computer and arranging letters into words for this month’s Newsline, I cannot help but reflect on what an amazing month April was. Holy Week was a powerful time worshiping together beginning with our Palm/Passion Sunday service, then Holy Thursday, and finally our Community Good Friday service hosted by the Free Methodist Church here in Milan. Easter Sunday was energy and hope-filled beginning with our Fellowship Breakfast and moving into worship in remembrance and celebration of the Resurrection. Our celebration continued with our Eastertide Cantata that was filled with numerous surprises and powerful spirit. There is a buzz around our Marble 20/20 initiative where we are engaging in open and faithful conversation as a congregation as to whom we are and how we can continually live into that vision as a local church. We continue to forward plan our summer month events and programs aimed at maintaining our momentum and spiritual formation, as well as all the on-going ministries and activities that continue to take place. In some ways it feels like there is so much going on, and at the same time it feels like we are just getting started. Whew!
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are."