At almost every service the people are given some "Words of Meditation" as they enter the sanctuary. The words and thoughts are intended to deepen and fill the heart andprepare a person to experience God. The words are often associated with the morning message, but they can be inspirational on their own.
You can access any Sunday's "Words of Meditation" directly from the on-line sermon or access a related sermon from the individual Words.
These inspirational messages are grouped below into the quarters of the year (2013 only).
October - December
July - September
April - June
January - March
October - December 2013
“I Empty My Pockets”
I empty out my pockets for you.
The keys of my gratitude and awe
I give to you.
My shopping list of hopes and cares
And the people I love
I place in your hands.
My wallet of pride and self-protection
I hand over.
The ticket stub of all my sorrows,
All my fears and doubts,
You take gently from me.
The used tissue of my guilt,
My need to be remade,
My anger and despair at my weakness,
You keep and do not return.
The paper clip of my tiredness,
My wandering mind,
You receive like a treasure.
The lint of my not knowing what to pray or how,
My not really praying, just pretending,
My not even trusting you are there,
I turn the pockets of my heart inside out for you
Because in my own crazy way I love you.
And you are delighted,
And in your crazy way
You hold me.
For more reflections from Pastor Steve, check out unfoldinglight.net, and subscribe to his daily email devotional.
On October 11th, all youth from all of our circuit churches were invited to join us for a lock-in hosted by Reno First UMC. While we did a lot of fun stuff that night, including an epic game of Sardines, the pur-pose of the lock-in was to discuss and prepare a presentation for this charge conference. The pastors of our circuit wanted to make sure that we knew our voice was important in the life of the church. We wanted to answer the question: what do we believe is important, and what are we willing to do as lead-ers within the church? So we are here to speak. We are here to let you know exactly what we think mat-ters, and what is in tune with God's call for us in the world...
We, the youth of the United Methodist Churches of the Reno-Tahoe circuit, In order to form a more perfect church,
- Establish justice,
- And ensure ecclesial relevance,
- Provide for the acceptance of all people into God's house,
- Promote God's love,
- Secure the blessings of peace and plenty for all God's people,
- Do solemnly declare our vision for the United Methodist church
- Here and Now:
- The church welcomes all people: whatever your age, ethnicity, creed, family, socioeco-nomic status, sexual orientation or gender identity, whether or not you have tattoos, piercings, addiction, family, histories, baggage or hair color!
- The church encourages, supports, and stands by one another without judgment in order to create authentic loving community.
- The church engages people in a variety of ways: interesting worship, relevant theology, creative expression, real world experience, built on a foundation of prayer.
- The church heals, feeds, shares and offers ourselves to a world that is hurt, hungry, de-prived, and disconnected
- So attest by unanimous-ish consent of the slightly sleep-deprived but faithful youth present this twelfth day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, in witness whereof we have here-unto subscribed our names: (signatures)
When love beckons to you, follow him,
though his ways are hard and sometimes steep.
And when his wings enfold you, yield to him,
And when he speaks to you, believe in him.
And he shall ascend to your height
and caress your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love, you should not say, "God is in my heart"
but rather, "I am in the heart of God."
And think not that you can direct the course of love,
for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
-- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. —Jeremiah 31.33
Beloved, hide your Word in me, so deep in my heart that I can't turn away even when I try,
a great weight in me off center, leaning toward your good.
By your handwriting in me, your signature on everything, I know who I am: I am yours.
I will not travel toward you or attain you, but turn inside out and become you.
This silence is the pen I give you. Here is the paper of my heart, so that you may write.
"So That You May Write" by Steve Garnaas-Holmes To read more from Pastor Steve or subscribe to his daily devotional, go to unfoldinglight.net.
A flaming orange tree opens its heart to me.
It is not ashamed of its gift or its ardor, not embarrassed at its naked passion.
The pond gives light as if it has saved it up, the light from underneath the pond, light of trees reflected, the open eye of sky, mists evaporating, with jewels of geese, chosen and held, wrapped until today.
The tall grasses nod and wave and bow, as if toward saints they bow, in silly exuberance they wave, in reverence they bow.
Something in me lets go like a leaf:
from a flower among spent flowers a bee on its faithful little errand lifts clumsily and swings through the tinged air— and I fall in love.
"Fall" by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
To read more from Pastor Steve or subscribe to his daily devotional, go to unfoldinglight.net.
"The Guest House"
By Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice— though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. "Mend my life!" each voice cried.
But you didn't stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do—determined to save the only life you could save.
July - September 2013
Psalm 139 is a poem attributed to King David, written after he had committed adultery, deception, and murder. It was written to a God who knows all the things about us that we don't like to advertise: our self-centeredness, our guilt, our pride, our fears. It was written because David had all the money and power in the world, but he was also human, and made mistakes, and regretted them. He realized that authentic relationship with God is full of grace for our mistakes. And he realized that grace for past mistakes is the only way we can move forward with the freedom to choose something different.
Lectio Divina is a way of praying with scripture that means "holy reading." Take some time to try this kind of prayer this week. First, find a quiet place, free from distractions. Relax your mind, and let stray thoughts flit in and out again without grabbing on to them. Breathe deeply. Read Psalm 139 through slowly several times. Each time, think about one of these questions:
(First time) What words or images stand out for you?
(Second time) What words or images stand out for you, and what might God be telling you about your relationship with God, with yourself, with others?
(Third time) What words or images stand out for you, and what might God be calling you to do or be this week?
Close with the Lord's Prayer
Each hurt a thread
String spins into twine
Twine turns into rope
Rope twists into knots
If I pull on this one it leads to anger
If I pull on that one it leads to deep sorrow
These knots inside the heart
are making it hard to breathe
With every coil and tangle
the river inside chokes
Who snakes the rope you ask
Who else is here?
Grace and Peace to you, and a Happy New Year!
Well, why not? Why not today be the beginning of something new?
What are you waiting for? Why wait for some flip of the calendar, some shift
of the earth? The story is not over, nor is it set in stone. God is still creating,
right now. God is setting free the slaves this very day.
Today is as good as any to make a new beginning, to turn a corner,
to start over. to do that task you've neglected; to forgive what needs to be
forgiven; to let go of resentment, bitterness and regret; to restore a broken
relationship; to celebrate what you have been given and look forward in hope
to what will come; to begin a new way of being; to be born again.
Today is the day God lets go of your past and creates you anew.
Today you awaken to the sea parted before you. This is the day you lay
down your shame and fear, shoulder your hope and start out. Do not wait.
Today is the beginning of a new journey, a new creation. May
you have a blessed new year, full of grace, full of light, full of life.
This is the day which the Lord is making. Let us rejoice and be glad in
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Prayer of Examen
Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, The Examen is a tool that helps you ex-amine your life to better serve God. This adapted five-step prayer takes about fifteen minutes and can be prayed anywhere. Try it just before you go to bed, or before your start your day.
1) Breathe. Recall you are in the presence of God. Calm your mind. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look at your life with love this day.
2) Give Thanks. Look at your day with gratitude. What did you receive and give this day? When did you feel close to God? When did you feel most at peace, most joyful, most generous, most lov-ing? With whom did you experience God's grace and love? Give thanks to God.
3) Look Back. Take some time to review your day with an open mind. Ask the Holy Spirit for clarity and truth. Resist judging yourself, and simply be open. Notice the details. Look at your actions and reactions of the day. Think about your feelings and your motives. Where did you fail? Where did you fall short, or experience a barrier to God's presence? Do your daily habits and patterns enable you to be open to God's presence? Are there any people or tasks that increase your negativity? Are there any people you dismiss or ignore? Ask for forgiveness, and ask for God's presence to be with you the next time a similar situation arises.
4) Look Ahead. God is with you every step of the way. How will you pro-ceed from here? How will you be open to God's love and grace? What is God calling you to be, see, or do? What do you want God to help you with tomorrow? What are your needs? What are your fears? Ask for God's help and guidance.
5) Close with the Lord's Prayer. As you close with this prayer, you are praying with countless others the words that have united us and refocused us on God's presence and will in the world. Know that you are surrounded by a loving community who supports you as you seek to grow closer to God.
Thoughts to Ponder:
Who have been your mentors in the faith? Who taught or showed you what God's love looks like? If you could offer them a blessing, what would you say?
Think about a time you may have made a mistake, lost your temper, reacted badly, or judged a little too quickly. Where was God in the midst of that? What have you learned from it? Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past. In other words, forgiveness allows us to find a way to accept what happened and move forward constructively. Do you forgive yourself or others easily? Do you ask for forgiveness? Does anything cause you to hesitate?
I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. – Romans 8:38 (The Message)
Despite our mistakes, histories, and imperfections, the best way God's love is known in the world is still through people – through US. How are you making God's love known in the world? To whom are you playing Elijah, intentionally or unintentionally? Who experiences God's love through you? If you could offer them a blessing, what would you say?
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as every you can.
- John Wesley
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan. —Mark 1.13
You who shadow me you are the part of me that is afraid to be me
the part who does not believe in who I am or trust that it is enough
Anxious One, always needing needing to prove needing to possess
I will hear you for I cannot silence you But I will not obey
I will sit with you, still I will learn to walk through you like a shadow
For I too have my secrets hidden in plain sight: I am not alone
Spirit fills me Christ accompanies me You have no power
I Am this is sufficient and God's doing, not yours or mine
Dear Shadow, poor thing come sit with me and be at peace.
July 14 One by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
"I ask that they may all be one.
As you, Mother, are in me
and I am in you,
may they also be in us."
— John 17. 20, 21
You who are Holy, You who are One,
by your grace we are one:
not unanimous or alike, but one.
One living body, with one spirit,
part of one another,
present in each other,
as you are present in us.
We and all strangers,
our most bitter enemies, are one.
The cry of the most far-flung peoples
rises in our hearts;
the hope of our salvation
rests in theirs.
Our pain, our freedom, our beauty
is all one thing.
O One, may the light of your love
dispel the illusion of our manyness,
the great sadness of our separation.
With the glory of our varied lives,
in your love,
we are one.
July 7 "Summer Day" by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
April - June 2013
Many years ago a priest friend of mine told me that the origin of the term "holy smoke" came from the belief that if an afflicted person waved the smoke from the extin-guished altar candles over them in a gesture of anointing, then they would be blessed. I of-ten think of this when I leave the presence of people I've felt a deep spiritual connection with, whether the time we've spent together has been at a retreat, around their sick bed, in the presence of a loved one who is passing, or any of the other hundred and one possibili-ties for soul merging that happen within Christian community. Once the particular moment of fire is gone, it is the smoke that remains, hov-ering over us, blessing us, reminding us that what once was will forever connect us with one another.
As the beloved community of First UMC Reno prepares to light another pas-toral fire, the smoke of all the previous ones hover over this holy place: the mountain top ex-periences, the depths of tragic loss, the radiant spirit connections, the warmth of loving kind-ness, the love of Christ shared, proclaimed, and boldly lived. Breathe in the holy smoke.
-Dr. Mary M. Maaga
FATHER'S LOVE LETTER,
You may not know me, but I know everything about you. (Psalm 139:1)
I know when you sit down and when you rise up. (Psalm 139:2)
I am familiar with all your ways. (Psalm 139:3)
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. (Matthew 10:29-31)
For you were made in my image. (Genesis 1:27)
In me you live and move and have your being. (Acts 17:28)
For you are my offspring. (Acts 17:28)
I knew you even before you were conceived. (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
I chose you when I planned creation. (Ephesians 1:11-12)
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book. (Psalm 139:15-16)
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live (Acts 17:26)
You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)
I knit you together in your mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
And brought you forth on the day you were born. (Psalm 71:6)
I have been misrepresented by those who do not know me. (John 8:41-42)
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love. (1 John 4:16)
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you. (1 John 3:1)
Simply because you are my child and I am Your Father. (1 John 3:1)
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could. (Matthew 7:11)
For I am the perfect father. (Matthew 5:48)
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand. (James 1:17)
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs. (Matthew 6:31-33)
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Because I love you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore. (Psalm 139:17-18)
And I rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
I will never stop doing good to you. (Jeremiah 32:40)
For you are my treasured possession. (Exodus 19:5)
I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41)
And I want to show you great and marvelous things (Jeremiah 33:3)
If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
For it is I who gave you those desires. (Philippians 2:13)
I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
For I am your greatest encourager. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
When you are broken-hearted, I am close to you. (Psalm 34:18)
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart. (Isaiah 40:11)
One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes. (Revelation 21:3-4)
And I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth. (Revelation 21:3-4)
I am your father and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus. (John 17:23)
For in Jesus my love for you is revealed. (John 17:26)
He is the exact representation of my being. (Hebrews 1:3)
He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you. (Romans 8:31)
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you. (1 John 4:10)
I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love. (Romans 8:31-32)
If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me. (1 John 2:23)
And nothing will ever separate you from my love again. (Romans 8:38-39)
Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven as ever seen. (Luke 15:7)
I have always been Father and will always be Father. (Ephesians 3:14-15)
My question is: will you be my child? (John 1:12-13)
I am waiting for you. (Luke 15:11-32) Love, Your Dad,
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And he replied, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."
In many ways this beloved old quote has become the story of my life. Like so many others, I do cling to the known and clutch at my old lights of security and certainties. But the times I have been able to step out into the unknown, holding God's hand, have been for me the times of ecstatic unfold-ing, the highest adventures, growth undreamed of, and light no longer confined to my former suns and moons.
-Minnie Louise Haskins, "God Knows," more popularly known as "The Gate of the Year" in The Desert (1908).
Scripture speaks often of God's hand, that symbol of endless loving strength, guidance, and new creations. The "hand" means both challenge and comfort. (Not always the same as comfortable.) When we are born, strong hands draw us out of confinement into the risk and glory of light, breath, and space. When we marry our joined hands draw each other out of the old securities towards new frontiers. When I was ordained into ministry, the most memorable moment for me was when the sur-rounding ministers laid their hands of consecration on my head. I remember vividly the weight and warmth of those hands leading me into a new life and new ways of loving.
One such way of entering a new life occurred during the final days of my husband's illness. A few mornings before his death, he who had not moved or spoken for days, suddenly sat up, threw off his covers and said vigorously: "I've got to get up and get going!" Then he lay down and slept again. Two nights later he spoke to me in a dream: "This is like being in a swift stream in the water." In re-sponse to this night message, I felt moved to go around the house, taping up pictures of swift, joyful movement: flying birds, flowing rivers, waves cresting, to help both him and me through the awesome change of release into God's hands.
When I am faced with challenge and feel gripped by anxiety, I am slowly learning to respond to Jesus' challenge: "Stand up, raise your heads...when you see these things taking place, you know the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:28, 31). I am trying to be very literal about this. When my heart speeds up, when my breathing is tight as I open that letter, wait for that phone call, sit in the doctor's office waiting for those test results, scan the bank statement, face a diffi-cult personal encounter, experience a loss, admit a serious mistake, I try inwardly to stand up, raise my head, look straight at the possibility of a changed personal world. Then I remind myself that at that very moment when the ground trembles and my old secu-rities pass away, God is with me "with power and great glory." Where will that hand take me this time? What new life is opening up?
-Flora Slosson Wuellner, "When the Stars Begin to Fall"
Home At Last
O Gracious God,
Whose lover's quarrel with us
is our anguish, history, and hope,
we confess that too often we lack courage
to join your lover's quarrel
with ourselves and the world.
We have not quarreled with power
when it's used only for the privilege of a few
because too often we're the privileged.
We have not quarreled with the cleverness
that twists truth into lies to profit some
because too often we've profited.
We have not quarreled with the arrogance
that dictates the dominance of one race,
or nation, or gender, or religion
because too often we're the dominant.
Have mercy on us, heal us, Lord,
and deliver us from our self-promotion,
cowardice, and lack of compassion.
Then empower us to be among those
who dare to do the things that are just and beautiful,
true and faithful, visionary and deeply joyful,
so we may be free and whole
and home at last, home where we belong,
home with each other,
home in the human family,
home with you;
through Christ our Lord.
Life or Death? You Choose
Excerpt from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."
People of faith and faith communities can play a unique role in addressing the environmental crisis. That does not mean we will, however.
There is a story about a Zen master who is known for his wisdom, for always having the right answer to difficult questions. Then comes a day when one of his prideful disciples decides to chal-lenge the master. He holds a small bird in his closed hand and asks, "Master, is the bird alive or dead?"
The question is intended to be a trap. If the master says that the bird is alive, the disciple can merely crush it in his hand, place the bird at the feet of the master and say, "No, you are wrong. The bird is dead." And if the master says, "The bird is dead," the disciple can then prove the master wrong by opening his hand and letting the bird fly away. The master pauses, and then repeats the question: "Is the bird alive or dead?" And then he adds: "It is as you will."
It seems to me that also is the appropriate answer, and perhaps the only answer, to the question: "Is our earthly home as we know it on its way to extinction or to new life?"
"It is as you will," says our Master. Prayer Creator God, show us ways - real and con-crete ways - we can choose the way of life rather than death, both for ourselves and for your creation.
Author Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.
The journey of faith is a journey through life.
We are pilgrims, travelers, making our way.
We sojourn on the pathway of the saints.
We walk the same highway
and follow the same landmarks which lead them.
But for each generation, in each place and time,
and for each seeker who travels this way
the road seems different.
Today we celebrate tomorrow's leaders,
the heroes of a history yet to be made.
We hold out our hands to them
and beckon them to join us on the journey.
As they walk beside us,
we may tell them our stories,
but we may not tell them the way.
It is a quest they must follow by themselves.
We can tell them of our questions,
but the answers must come from within their own hearts.
We celebrate a new generation of faith,
a new branch, with its leaves about to blossom.
Let us all make a place for them
and let them know that the family of Christ
is their family too,
as we all worship God together.
Come Holy Spirit!
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Songwriters: ROOT, GEORGE F./KRIEGER, DONNA J.
Arrangement & Additional lyrics; Bill Deaton & Blair Masters
Jesus Loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They're all precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Whether you're rich or whether you're poor
It matters not to him
He remembers where you're going
Not where you've been.
If you're heart is troubled
Don't worry, don't you fret
He knows that you have heard his call
And he won't forget
All around the world tonight
His children rest assured
That he will watch, and he will keep us
Safe and secure.
As Close as Breath
Sometimes, by grace, I have glimpses of what it might feel like to let God’s “supporting breath drive all my fears away.”
Once I was alone in a sea kayak off of the coast of Maine—so far beyond the breakers that in the trough of every wave I completely lost sight of the land. All I could see, in those rhythmic alternating moments, was ocean and sky. I stopped struggling to make headway toward the shore (knowing at some level that the waves would bear me there eventually). I rested the paddle over the gunwales and let my slender craft be carried by the waves, borne irresistibly up and down, in and out, with the swell of the sea. I felt—viscerally—as though I were on the back of a great living creature, riding the lift and fall of its unimag-inably vast breath. I was, in that moment, letting the Breath breathe me.
I was completely unafraid. For the small time out of time, I knew without trying that God was near. I was not anxious about anything.
In my (still, God help me) recurring times of anxiety, I remember such moments gratefully. These memories help me to trust—even when I am not able to sustain the awareness—that I continually live as a feather on the breath of God, as once I floated in a small boat on an endless sea. I will keep breathing in and out. I will keep praying. Eventually, I hope I can come to trust more steadily that faith is not so much about my perfecting the way I breathe as about remembering that God is with me always, as close as my next breath. And God will bear me up in any storm, at any unfathomable depth, through whatever I must endure, in this life and the next.
-Deborah Smith Douglas
The United Methodist Church believes God's love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people's lives to risk interpreting God's love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other "mind-makers-up" that exist in our society. [Excerpt from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2012]
"The commandment of love is a gift, a sweet gift. Submit to it. Bind yourself to it. Open your heart to it. Embrace it joyfully as a gift of God." ~Francis Asbury
For Wesley, there was no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness. In other words, faith always includes a social di-mension. One cannot be a solitary Christian. As we grow in faith through our participation in the church community, we are also nour-ished and equipped for mission and service to the world.
Excerpt from Who Are We? Doctrine, Ministry, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church
The Authority of an Open Wound
John 20:20 "...showed his hands and his sides." Donna Schaper Jesus used his wounds as a kind of authority. He showed his disciples and let them touch.
Lots of people try to imitate him. Some succeed and some fail. John McCain, using the authority of his war wound, is in favor of gun control. Valerie Russell once said to me, "Sometimes Donna you just have to walk with an open wound." Father Greg Boyle, who runs an organization of kids in gangs called "Homeboy Industries," has buried 163 kids.
"I welcome my wounds, how can I help the wounded if I don't welcome my own wounds?" An organizer in the Sanctuary Movement recently said to me, upon news that he might have a personal reprieve, that he didn't know if he could keep organizing. How could he organize without his own wound, as a point of identifica-tion?
Jesus used his wounds as a kind of authority, to show people he had "been there, done that." Some of us just nurse our wounds and don't put them to use. Others let wounds so perma-nently wound them that they want more wounding.
To be more Jesus-like, we can drag our wounds into the Easter Story. During Eastertide we have a choice. We can open the graves and rise from them, carrying burdens forward, with each other. Or we can get stuck. Once hurt, we can go on to hurt. The choice is ours. Grave-digging is a low paid occupation. Rising, now that is a job with benefits.
Wounded one, teach us to rise from our wounds, to find each other, to connect and to share bur-dens. Amen.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
Check out her blog, Grace at Table, at donnaschaper.com
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Donna Schaper I used to call the people who come to services on only the highest of holidays—the ones who get the best music, wear the best clothes, see the best flowers, take up the best seats in the crowded sanctuary, only to abandon the rest of us to pick up the heat bills, custodial service and high comic drama of church administration—the "Easter Only Crowd." I have changed. Even I, who has never missed an Easter Sunday in 65 years, have no way to explain the "resurrection of the body." When the organ pumps out "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," I mostly like the organ and the ascending alleluias. They raise me. If we also do the Palestrina, its paced Alleluia assures me that the strife is over, the battle won. The Passover of gladness has arrived. I don't want to tell you how little I truly believe about the songs that I truly sing. Now with more respect I call the "Easter Only Crowd" the "Easter Maybe Crowd." We sing that death has lost its sting and we support our song with lilies and other props to help ourselves believe what is clearly either not true or only mysteriously so. We imagine that
we are going to be brought safe through Jordan, and in imagination possibility rises. Are we regulars really strangers to the Easter Maybe crowd? No. We are all toe-dippers in a mystery called the sting of death. The true outsider on Easter morn is me. I stand at the stoned-close grave and knock. I stand there with all the others who hope it is true. In our hoping, we make it true. Prayer Ever-rising God, raise our hope in gladness. Let us use props if need be. Amen
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
Check out her blog, Grace at Table, at donnaschaper.com
January - March 2013
Grace and Peace to you.
Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, but there's six inches of snow in the yard and it's still coming down. In the woods where days ago there were pools there are now piles of snow. We are ready for spring to come, but it comes in fits and starts. As a little girl once said, "I've figured out the seasons. It goes summer, autumn, winter, spring, winter, spring, winter, spring." Of course all the seasons do that. This is just the Vernal version of Indian Winter. We notice it most in spring be-cause we long so deeply for renewal.
Sunday is Palm Sunday, and as Jesus enters Jerusalem we'll celebrate him as a king, shouting praise. But before the service is over we'll be shouting, "Crucify him!" Winter, spring, winter.... We are saved, but we are still working out our salvation. We are one with God and with all Creation, but we trust our oneness only in fits and starts. We who are made new still long for renewal. We believe; God help our unbelief.
Neither we nor the Church nor society are "getting better every day." Some days we get worse. But Jesus understands. He knows his disciples will deny him, but says, "Listen! Satan has de-manded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your sisters and brothers" (Lk. 22.31-32).
Neither our inner nor our outer lives are one smooth, simple arc like a hit baseball. The path is rough and winding. We rise and fall, dip and swing, lurch and stop and lurch again. Stuff hap-pens. But through it all, Jesus walks with us and prays for us. The Spirit bears us on. Spring is in us still, working its life-giving magic, producing renewal. It just doesn't come all at once, forever. The Beloved breathes in us, and even in our failures and desolations we are becoming more fully the beloved people God creates us to be. Under the snow the crocuses keep pushing up; the buds still swell on the trees.
Even when spring reverts to winter in your soul, shovel the snow, but keep the faith. We are being transformed, from one degree of glory to another. We are being re-created. The world is turning, and our inconsistencies can't stop it. The Spirit is living and growing in you. Wait for the Lord.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Steve
"I know your deeds: you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
Upon entering the village, the sojourner asked the gatekeeper for directions to the place of restora-tion.
"My soul is weary," she said, "and I need to find the place where I can divest myself of power strug-gles and find strength in the acknowledgement of my weaknesses. I need to find the place where I can be honest about my need to be forgiven, and my need to forgive others, and my need to for-give myself. I want to find the place that is defined by its compassion for everyone and that genu-inely seeks to include the outcasts."
The gatekeeper responded: "Go down this road two blocks and turn left. The place you're looking for will be right in front of you."
"Thank you," said the sojourner. "Is that the Village Church?"
"No" said the gatekeeper. "That's the Village Bar." "The Village Church is a whole different kind of place from what you just described."
How many misleading signs do we accept every day?
The sign of the cross on the church lawn, behind which there is no community whose main business and central focus is love. "Department of Justice" signs, behind which resources for criminal rehabilitation have been abandoned in favor of feeding the prison industrial complex for profit. "Board of Education" signs, behind which professional job security is often given a greater priority than quality education for students. "Office of Public Safety" signs, behind which criminal behavior is prosecuted but the economic and psychological causes of criminal behavior are never addressed.
The sign that says "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," in a land where deep divides of race, gender, class and sexual orientation are historically and systemically entrenched.
It's really up to each of us to work to ensure that the signs and symbols that announce us truly re-flect the deeds and content that define us. Signs are only significant if they don't mislead us.
Dear God, please give us the impetus and the energy today to make our substance more consistent with our signs. In Your Name, Amen.
-Kenneth L. Samuel
Prayer to Be Freed From Tizzies
you who did not invent tizzies, be with me when I get caught in the wild worrying of my mind, and the needless scurrying around in my fearful heart.
Trip me up when I fret and stew so I can see the trap of tizzies, with their schemes to keep me bunched up in stress and strain.
Let me fall headfirst into the truth of your never-ending presence, and calm my doubts and fears.
Shout loudly in my spiritual ear when my nerves get knotted, my mind feels cramped, and my stomach screams.
It may be difficult, but do try to get my full attention, because tizzies are not healthy, and they definitely chase peace out the front door of my heart.
Dear God, you did not invent tizzies, I did, and only I can send them on their way, and I will, if you strengthen me to let go of my anxious hold on what is nonessential.
Out of the Ordinary
"...we do not have any historically reliable stories about Jesus before about age thirty. However, from the gospels a few conclusions may be derived...He had four brothers and an unknown number of sisters, all presumably children of Joseph and Mary. Joseph probably died before Jesus' public activity began. Jesus grew up in
Nazareth, in the hill country of southern Galilee, about a hundred miles north of
Jerusalem. Population estimates...vary widely, from two hundred to two thousand people. Nazareth was less than four miles from the city of Sepphoris, whose popula-tion of forty thousand made it the largest in Galilee. Sepphoris had been destroyed by the Romans as they were quelling a rebellion that arose when Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. Rebuilt during Jesus' youth, it was quite cosmopoli tan...Indeed, Jesus' environ-ment was considerably more cosmopolitan than we have typically imagined...it is clear that Galilee was not a bucolic rural backwater...Trade with other parts of the Mediter-ranean world was extensive...The area contained a considerable number of Gentiles and the Greek language was widely used. It is possible that many or most Jews were bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek...It is quite likely that he went to school in the synagogue in Nazareth, where the emphasis would have been on reading and writing, with the Torah as the primary text. He probably became a woodworker (in Greek tekton)...[making] wood products...a tekton was at the lower end of the peas-ant class [and] belonged to a family that
had lost its land."
-Marcus J. Borg,
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time
"Irony arises from the mind's keen aware-ess of incongruities in people's lives. Jesus was keenly aware of these spiritual contradictions, particularly in the myopic and serious attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, and was quick to point them out. Presumably not funny to the recalcitrant, those who were able to see the irony of their actions and laugh at them-selves were in a position for new growth."
-Lee van Rensburg
The great third-and fourth-century flight made by thousands of Christians into the Egyptian and Syrian deserts stemmed in part from a similar impulse: to strip, to cull, and to give away or eliminate anything that might tie one to the past. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were on a quest for purity of heart, and they understood that physical items are never just themselves but rather symbols and reminders of the life we are ever to change.
Mary Margaret Funk points out that the narrow way Jesus describes in the gospels involves a fourfold renunciation, the first of which is giving up our former way of life. We must be willing to undergo what she calls conversatio morum, or ongoing conversion. This process necessarily involves breaking our strong emotional ties to the familiar (and comfortable) past and turning our faces, with however much trepidation, toward an unknown future.
A junk drawer is the classic repository for what we are meant to leave behind. Not only does it symbolize our histories, but it also reveals the speed at which we lived through them: how did a sunflower seed wind up among the rubber bands and old corks, and this seventy-five-year-old baptismal gown stuffed into a brown paper sack?
When we clean out a junk drawer for Lent, we are in some small way dealing with the detritus of breathless hurry and our corresponding inability to focus. We are beginning to tear through the sticky web that binds us to our past: not only to the fine and happy times, the poignant seasons of growth and change, but also to the tears we once shed, the idols we once worshipped, the myths we once believed, and the lies we once told our-selves.
Simplifying the Soul
"New Year's Resolution 2.0"
by Dr. Mary M. Maaga
By Ground Hog Day most people have given up on their New Year's Resolutions and gone back to old behaviors they hoped to give up permanently. For a lucky few there has been a new beginning, freedom from the bondage of chronic overeating or the lethargy of a sedentary lifestyle, but for most there is not only the resurgence of old habits, but a deeper sense of helplessness, even hopelessness.
The good news for Christians is that the Lenten Season offers a fresh, more empowering season of renewal and resolve that can help you become the person the Lord Jesus would have you be. But for a Lenten Vow of Renewal (my answer to New Year's Resolutions) to really work you must understand the differences between the two. Here are my thoughts:
Renewal must be soul driven, not ego driven. For example, a person wishing to shed extra pounds can't just go on a diet. Instead, a Lenten Vow means cutting back on calories – perhaps by giving up fast food for the six weeks of Lent – but this must be combined with reaching out to people who do not have enough food to eat. How about putting money in a jar for your local food bank or UNICEF every time you eat healthy instead of junk?
Renewal is between you and God, which means the Holy Spirit is your supporter and helper. Let's say you want to exercise more. Jesus knows you, knows the struggles you have with body image and self-esteem and how hard it is for you to take time for self-care. Therefore, your Lenten Vow for more physical activity is first and foremost an act of prayer, not an exercise commitment alone. How about making your daily walk, stretch, or trip to the gym also your prayer time?
Renewal is a season that culminates at Easter. One of the main problems with New Year's Resolutions is that people get overwhelmed with the prospect of permanent change. Lenten Vows are for six weeks. On Easter you can decide to carry on your commitment further into the year or not.
As a follower of Jesus, transformation is your birth right. As winter gives way to spring and you start feeling better and looking healthier, people will ask you how you're doing it. When you tell themabout your Lenten Vow you will be witnessing to new life in Christ.
Happy New Year, indeed!
What I Learned at the Tattooists Convention
Excerpt from Luke 5:29-32
They asked Jesus, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
I once participated in a small gathering of United Church of Christ officers and pastors charged with considering how we can become a more multi-racial and multi-cultural church. Around the table were African Americans, European Americans, a Native American, a Japanese American, Latinos and Latinas, as well as folks of different sexual orientations.
We had wonderfully serious and probing discussions about how we can become a more inclusive church that accepts differences and claims a larger unity.
At the same time and in the same hotel there was a large convention of tattooists. Every corner of the hotel was crammed with tattooists. The men wore cut-off T-shirts and the women wore scanty outfits to show off their tattoos. They had tattoos on every imaginable part of their bodies and I am sure other parts I don't want to imagine. Their bodies were pierced in ways that made even worldly liberals stare.
After we had finished our last discussion, our inclusive UCC group opened the door of the packed hotel lounge and, seeing these tattooists all together - like moving wallpaper - we simply closed the door. One member of our group said with a laugh, "You know, it's one thing to be open to differences, but I'm not sure I'm ready to drink with a crowd of tattooists."
Since then I've wondered if we might have learned more about being an inclusive church if we had abandoned our polite and careful discussions around the conference table and instead had spent the day hanging out in the lounge with the tattooists.
After all, when we opened the door to that lounge we didn't look around long enough to see if Jesus was there. And Je-sus was criticized for eating and drinking in just such a place. Prayer God, open my heart and mind so that I might see who you are calling me to eat and drink with.
Martin B. Copenhaver
Grace and Peace to you. Out running in the cold winter air, most of my body was warm, but my fingers were cold. Riding my bike, it's my forehead that suffers. But they're all a part of me. And while I deal with the winter cold I think of you who are in Australia, who have been living through this awful summer heat. We're at different extremes, but we're all part of the same planet. While we in the US celebrate the inauguration of our elected president, others suffer tyranny and repression. But we're all part of the same humanity. Paul says we're all parts of one body. Somehow, even without our knowing, when one suffers we all suffer. When one rejoices we all rejoice. Our sadness and gladness mingle together into one joy. In prayer we enter a deeper consciousness, even if it's beyond our knowing: the reality that we belong, that we are all one living being. We enter into the suffering, and the joy, of the world. We become one with all our body. Our joy is there for others, and our pain is not ours alone. We receive the gift of their happiness, and help them bear the weight of their sorrows. Our souls are woven with theirs. In this way, even sitting in our room in silence, by the mystery of God's grace in us, we become part of the mending of the world. Receive us, Holy One. Hold us in the mystery of your one love. Your compassion flows through us to all living beings, with whom we share one life. We give thanks.
Wheel of Fortune
Turn, turn, turn,
another turn on the merry-go-round,
a spin on, a spin off of the potter's wheel
until we are molded and modeled in the creation that God has in mind for us.
The eye of God sees what we cannot know or feel,
or what we somehow sense, but are helpless to change.
The potter sees the flaw, and feels the imbalance in the dried vessel.
And so we are cracked, broken down, scattered and
splintered. Then we are brought together,
water treated and mixed with other ingredients,
and pushed, pulled, and punched
until we are pliable enough, moist enough
to be kneaded, and thrown on the wheel once more.
Becoming a piece of God's handiwork is a joy ride,
but it's painful and humiliating once dried
and readied for the kiln to find ourselves in pieces
and beginning again composed of a different mix.
How little we know, how much we need
the judgment of God
to make us into vessels fit for the fire.
Turn, turn, turn
the wheel of promise spins.
It is a wheel of necessity and good fortune
preparing vessels from which new wine shall flow.
Dearly Beloved, Grace and Peace to you. Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." —Matthew 2.1
What led these mysterious figures, characters from the misty edges of our worlds, descending from towers in our dreams, to travel as they did? To change their lives? What led them to seek and to find, to kneel and to honor, to give gifts and praise? What led them to leave palaces behind, to submit to the pointing of strangers, to change their way and seek new roads? A star, a small light in a great darkness, true enough and sure. A star led them. A Word, a promise from ancient scripture, still alive, and whispered deep within. A Word led them. A dream, a knowing given in darkness and sleep, received, not made. A dream led them. A longing, a desire for wisdom and belonging, rising in the deep sky of their hearts. A longing led them.A willingness, the humility to listen and follow, the confidence, even as kings, to obey. A willingness led them. What led them? You led them. Each step, each error, each turn, you led them. Christ, my child, my star, my dream: lead me. And I shall follow.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net