“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his Glory.”
(John 1:1, 14b, CEB)
As you read this column, you are either well in the midst of your Christmas preparations or, if you are like me, you are wishing you got an earlier start, or both. Either way, we look forward to Christmas. We anticipate it, we plan for it, we get things ready for it. We stand weeks before it, point ourselves into the future, and both think and align ourselves to what is about to come. This includes the festive adornments in our homes and on the streets, sounds and smells and tastes of Christmas traditions, time with family and friends, and even special Christmas programs and church services. And of course, it most importantly includes our remembrance of the coming of God into the world as the Christ.
I find it interesting how much “future orientation” is involved with the Christmas and Advent season. On the surface it looks like an orientation toward making it through and completing the Holidays, but I think it is actually much more than that. I believe that all our planning and prepping in anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday is really fueled by a hope toward our future well beyond any given December 25th. Perhaps not so much in toward keeping around all those continuous holiday songs, all the used wrapping paper, or even all the decorations. Rather, it is a hope for a world continually transformed by the continuous presence of Christ in it.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:21, CEB)
Normally, I utilize this space in our monthly newsletter to share a noteworthy tidbit that relates to our near-term future as a local church congregation, while providing both Scriptural and theological background behind its significance in our church life. For this month, however, I would like to reference more our near-term past … October 16 to be exact. On that date, many within our congregation witnessed a rare event indeed … me virtually speechless (this does not happen to preachers very often, trust me). I was brought to my verbal knees, so to speak, as a result of the outpouring of love and support that was demonstrated to me at the end of that Sunday’s worship service. And so, admittedly departing from my typical focus, I would like to use this newsletter space to relate a more personal message—one that I hope is also grounded in both Scripture and our understanding of God, but also one that expresses just how grateful both Rochelle and I are for God’s placement of us here at Marble, and for who you are as its congregation.
Let me begin by saying “Thank you” for all your gifts presented to us. The personalized sculpture box is beautiful, and its reminder of just who we can place all our trust in to guide us through whatever may come our way will always be where we can view it often. And its contents of individual gift cards are an amazing display of thoughtfulness and how much you really pay attention to some of our favorite things. I say “amazing” because I cannot remember ever letting on to many of these favorite places … yet you capture so many. Of course, I guess I should not be at all surprised about Starbucks being among those captured. Even the Oats ‘n Honey bars and eclectic array of candles and music show how much you know us. For every single card and gift, please accept our heartfelt thanks.
“We are constantly praying for you for this: that our God will make you worthy of his calling and accomplish every good desire and faithful work by his power.”
(2 Thessalonians 1:11, CEB)
On October 17, the Ann Arbor District (of which our church belongs) will be holding its Annual District Meeting for 2016. It is similar to Annual Charge Conference, which is our meeting with the District Superintendent at the local church level, but focuses its business and topics around the connection of all United Methodist churches in this district. Please let me know if you are interested in attending. It begins at 6:30pm with everyone joining in a meal together, with the actual business meeting immediately following.
But my real reason for mentioning this meeting revolves around an assignment each church was given to submit 3-4 pictures of it doing ministry in its community. Admittedly, I really tried to closely follow the directions but in the end felt compelled to send in 5 pictures. We included pictures of our work in Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, and Youth Service Project. These pictures will be compiled into a District presentation to be unveiled at the Oct 17 meeting, and will then be used to introduce our District to our new Michigan area Bishop, the Rev. David Bard.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)
If January is a time for making a brand new start, then September is a time for building upon where we already are, but pointed upward. The new school year takes us into the next grade, third and fourth business quarters are viewed with anticipation, and even the fall colors are a magnificent crescendo to nature’s growth over the year. September kicks off the fall season when we are busy planning and setting goals with expectation for the coming year. As might be obvious, Septembers are an exciting time of the year for me.
This September is no different. We are already preparing for this year’s Charge Conference taking place on November 29, we are actively discussing and planning Christian education for all ages, and we are looking at ways where we all can strengthen our spiritual formation in worship and mission. Sounds like a lot, and in some ways it is. But in many other ways, it is continuing what has always been a part of the church life of our congregation.
“All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.”
(¶126, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012)
You may have noticed that my reference text for this month’s Pastor’s column is not a direct quote from the Christian Bible, although it sure can pass as one. Rather, it is taken from our denomination’s Book of Discipline, the official voice of who and what and how we are as United Methodists, and it states a foundational premise undergirding everything that is to flow from us as followers of Christ. One can make the case that the 710 pages that follow define the details around how we agree to go about doing this as members of the United Methodist Church, which is definitely a very long definition. But while reading all these 710 pages of details can be one of the best cures for insomnia, that foundational premise would wake anyone from the deepest of sleep.
It says that all of us who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior are specifically called as ministers in servanthood to the world, and to do so for the glory of God and its implications to human life. It says that each and every one of us Christians are called by Christ to be ministers in this crazy, upside-down, broken, sin-sick, but awesomely beautiful and desperately hopeful world. This tells me that there is no ambiguity as to “who” is called. It means you, me, ALL Christians.
“He said to them, ‘The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.’ ” (Luke 10:2, CEB)
Have you ever found yourself without being able to think of something to do, all the while knowing that there is so much to be done? I think sometimes our to-do list can have so many items that we are at a loss to figure out where to start. It’s like the proverbial messy bedroom, or garage, or basement, and not knowing how to get started cleaning it up.
Sometimes I wonder if we find ourselves feeling similar with regards to serving those in need. Habitat for Humanity, Aid in Milan, Cass Community Social Services, Flint Water Crises, Detroit Flood Recovery, Volunteers in Mission, various disaster relief efforts, … so much need that it seems hard to figure out which to do and/or where to start. Local or distant, straight forward or challenging, a few hours or multiple days, brain dominated or physically demanding, … so many options and so many decisions.
“It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:45 NIV)
Have you ever stopped to think about how much of our lives are impacted by seasons? Certain seasons make certain things possible, from the kinds of work that can be done, to the particular foods we can get ahold of and eat, to the past-time activities we can do, and even including our relative physical comfort. For example, in addition to the seasons of the calendar, we also have a season for planting, one for eating fresh strawberries, seasons for hunting and skiing, and one for sneezing (i.e, the allergy season). Of course, there are also sports seasons, i.e., baseball, football, soccer, basketball, etc. Actually, that is the very definition of a season … a period associated with particular phase, activity or phenomenon.
Turns out, in much the same way, we also have various seasons of the Christian year, and each season is intended to focus our attention on a particular emphasis of our Christian walk. Our more commonly known Christian seasons include Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter—with each one having its particular focus and emphasis for our spiritual journeys. Pentecost Sunday, which came on May 15 this year, marked the end of the Easter liturgical season, and the following Sunday began the lengthy season of Ordinary Time, which goes all the way to the end of the Christian year, or end of November.
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:3-4a)
We traditionally celebrate Pentecost on the 8th Sunday after Easter, which this year falls on May 15, and this begins that long stretch before we cycle back around to the start of the Christian year and Advent in November. I read the Biblical account in the Book of the Acts that we associate with Pentecost and imagine what it must have looked like to see tongues of fire over the heads of each of the disciples. Whether literally or metaphorically, it represented fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that they would be clothed with power from on high. It represented the flame of the Holy Spirit within each of them.
Actually, the view from our sanctuary’s pulpit is not much different. While actual burning flames may not be present, I get to see the Holy Spirit burning brightly in everyone chatting before service, in everyone participating in worship, and in everyone departing to start off their week. Such workings of the Spirit serve to bring energy into the ministry and fellowship of those who congregate in the name of Jesus Christ. And, such an embrace of those workings serves to align those congregants’ lives with the will and blessing of the God who loves, and promises ultimate protection and abundance for all who love God back. Such love cannot be quenched. I guess it is not at all surprising that we often describe “love” in terms of fire and burning flame.
“Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning
and the end.’” (Rev. 21:6a, NRSV)
The late Steven R. Covey, educator, author, keynote speaker, and business consultant, wrote the book (so to speak) on personal and organization effectiveness, entitled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The very first habit he presents is to “Be Proactive.” In other words, don’t just sit around and react to the situations of your life, but choose to intentionally respond to life. The second habit, interestingly enough, is to “Begin with the End in Mind.” This essentially says to start with envisioning what you want in the future so that you can plan and work toward it. Of course there are five more habits in his list but I will save them for some future newsletters.
Anyway, it is interesting that Covey’s ground breaking set of guiding principles for personal and organizational effectiveness say that the best place to start is to make a point of connecting where we presently are with where we are ultimately heading. And to be honest, my personal life experience informs me that Covey is not only spot-on with this sage advice, but that it applies to every aspect of our lives—personal and corporate, professional and spiritual.
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. … I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1,5, NRSV)
Do you have a pet peeve? Now be honest. Do you have more than one? Again, be honest. A pet peeve is something about which a person frequently complains, often an irritating experience caused by others in which one cannot control. I must admit that I have more than one, and if I am having a particularly rough day, I have an abundance to keep me occupied for hours. How about you? (Need I say ‘be honest’ again?)
Problem is, upon deeper reflection of those various peeves, I come to realize that I have my own personal abundance of shortcomings as well. And when I think deeper about that other person who has slighted me, I come to realize that there is a good chance they did not do so out of malice; thoughtlessness or inconsideration, perhaps, or even an unfolding of events that was outside of their control. I then come to realize that it may be more accurate to assume the best of that person rather than the worst. At least, it gives me a more constructive perspective for the minutes or hours that follow. As well, it puts my mind, and my heart, in a much better position to lift that person up to God. After all, they are not loved any less by God because of my pet peeves.