April 14, 2014
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
As I mentioned several weeks ago, this is the last issue of Grace & Gratitude. I am retiring this June, and in order to end well, I need to give some things up. I’ve enjoyed this part of my work. It has helped keep me focused on my commitment to whole-life stewardship.
As an aggregator of resources, I want to leave you with these suggested resources:
May you and those you serve be richly blessed as you experience this Holy Week together.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Grace and peace be with you as we enter Holy Week. For many church communities, this week is the busiest of the year; it's packed to the brim with worship services, the richest biblical readings, deep reflection on Jesus' Passion and creation's ongoing "groaning" (Romans 8:22), full days and nights, and profound emotions. Then, ready or not, we arrive at Easter in all of its full glory. On Easter, our churches may fill suddenly with new people, the fragrance of Easter lilies, and the sounds of trumpets and Alleluias; our homes may fill with loved ones, feasting, and Easter goodies.
Ironically, the Gospel reading (Mt. 28:1-10) for this day reminds us that the only way to receive Easter is through the emptiness of a vacant tomb. Likewise, this holiest day reminds us that the only way to enjoy God's Grace fully is through emptying ourselves of those things (e.g., excessive busyness, sorrow, anger, acquisitiveness, etc.) that would threaten its full expression.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, "God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them." Even as we leave Lent, let us continue to engage practices that create a holy, Sabbath-like, emptiness in our lives. On Easter - the Sabbath of all Sabbaths - let us trust that God will lovingly steward our places of emptiness this day and throughout the year.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Rather than a festive end to our heartfelt Lenten prayers and practices, Easter celebrates the culmination of Lent: the "return to normal human life - a life of natural communion with God," others, and all creation (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast). Because Lent has helped us to know what it feels like to live in this state of natural communion, Easter is then our celebratory declaration to continue living in this state. Why would we ever want to depart from radically depending upon, and rejoicing in, God's Grace when we have the ability to live in it always?
Like Lent, Easter helps to set the tone for what "normal human life" can look like throughout the year. Easter day ushers in the "Great Fifty Days" - the season between Easter and Pentecost - that specifically teaches us how to remember the Sabbath, to remember how to rest simply in God's Grace. The New Handbook of the Christian Year* comments:
"This season, already well established by the third century, was like a continuous fifty-day Lord's Day. The early Christians saw it as being to the year what the Lord's Day was to the week - the prime one-seventh of the time, when we celebrate what God has done through Christ. Augustine tells us: 'These days after the Lord's resurrection form a period, not of labor, but of peace and joy. That is why there is no fasting and we pray standing, which is a sign of resurrection . . . [a sign] to indicate that our future occupation is to be no other than the praise of God.'" During this Easter/Great Fifty Days season, we will continue to explore the fundamental stewardship practice of living simply in God's Grace. We will do so by remembering the Sabbath - by remembering that we can commit our spirits (lives, wills, bodies, actions) into God's hands day to day, week to week.
*Hoyt Hickman et al., The New Handbook of the Christian Year (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992); bold added for emphasis.
From Father Richard Rohr:*
"[On Good Friday, Jesus'] pain was not just the pathetic and masochistic suffering and rejection of the sinful world, but it was precisely the result of his radical decision for the kingdom and kingdom values, which are 'not of this world.' In other words, Jesus was not an unfortunate victim of circumstances, but he in fact designed his own death by choosing for life 'and life more abundantly.' To opt for the really real is to find yourself at odds with most of the world's systems, institutions, expectations-and even religions."
From Pastor Joyce Hollyday:**
"...I understand too well that God calls us to proclaim a kingdom of peace, reconciliation, and justice, and that the proclamation calls for sacrifice and servanthood. Above all, it calls for emptiness before God, an emptiness that can only be maintained in a continual pouring out of our love, our compassion, and our lives for each other. An emptiness that allows us to continually come to God to be filled with deeper, stronger currents of [God's] love and strength.
"Let us remember that the ultimate sign of joy on Easter morning was emptiness; that an empty tomb was a tomb filled with hope."
For you, what are the connections between Easter's "emptiness" and "life abundant"? What do you foresee as potential consequences of living out these connections on a daily basis?
*From Richard Rohr's article, "To Be Jesus Resurrected" Sojourners Magazine, March 1978; bold added for emphasis. Fr. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and the founder the New Jerusalem Community (Cincinnati, OH) and the Center for Action and Contemplation (Albuquerque, NM).
**From Joyce Hollyday's article "Chocolate-Covered Comfort," in Sojourners Magazine, April 1979; bold added for emphasis. Pastor Hollyday is an Associate Conference Minister for the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ and co-pastor at Circle of Mercy (Asheville, NC).
Reflections on the Lectionary
Rather than reflecting on any specific text this year, we offer the following reflection from The Very Rev. Nathan Baxter (Episcopalian).* We have chosen to include it because it speaks of God's unmerited, unending gift of love and life (i.e., Grace) and our response to it; in other words, his excerpt speaks of the core of Christian stewardship. For Rev. Baxter, Good Friday represents the rejection of Grace; from a stewardship perspective, such rejection poses the fundamental obstacle to living the life of Christian stewardship/discipleship. After such rejection, the next, most harmful thing a would-be steward/disciple can do is to fill the space meant for Grace with other things, distractions, and "masters." Easter represents God's enduring offer to fill us with Grace and our willingness to open our lives up to receiving - and eventually sharing - it.
||Revised Common Lectionary texts for:
Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2014: Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Good Friday (April 18): Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42
Easter Vigil (April 19-20): Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 or Psalm 33; Genesis 7:1-5, 11- 18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13; Psalm 46; Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 16; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Exodus 15:1b -13, 17- 18; Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12:2-6; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Psalm 42; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 143; Romans 6:3- 11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10
Easter Sunday (April 20): Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18; or Matthew 28:1-10
"Good Friday represents the worst that humanity can do. It represents our effort to destroy God's offering of love: 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever should believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' Good Friday represents our rebellion against that gift.
"...[T]he atheist Albert Camus [wrote], 'for anyone who is without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence, one must choose a master, God being out of style.' The masters we choose in rejection of God's love are not always dastardly things like drugs and violence. The masters we choose may be perfectly honorable things such as professionalism, political activism - things that consume all of our attention and affection. Perhaps one of the most subtle is social correctness - living neat, disciplined, appropriate lives.
"...We are nice people with traditional American values. We give to the United Way, work hard at our professions, volunteer, car pool the neighborhood kids, socialize in the right circles, and pay our taxes. But our lives are so cluttered . . . that there is no room for God. In fact, whether intentional or not, our lives seem to prove how unnecessary God actually is.
"Our lives may even be traditional enough to occasionally include church. And there we read words and sing music we adore but have long ceased to believe. And so for us Christ is not risen. He is entombed in the sepulchers of our apathy, which are adorned with the garlands of our politeness and our social appropriateness.
"But Easter still represents the faithfulness of God's enduring and steadfast love despite the worst we can inflict. . . . Remember this: Easter is not just a holy event that happened almost 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. It is a little Easter on whatever day we discover our need for the love of God. When we discover that all the Good Fridays of our lives cannot destroy the love God has for us. And today can be your Easter. Whether you are in your car or simply getting ready for Easter Celebration, if you are sensing a need for God's love - for renewed faith, hope, for a sense of inner peace - know that the tomb in which you have buried your faith is now empty. It has been enlivened by the love of God, which endures forever. For to celebrate Easter is to cease the struggle against the way of God and accept the love we have so long resisted, yet so deeply needed."
*Excerpted from Rev. Baxter's 1996 sermon titled, "Easter: The Manifestation of Undefeated Love," from the "Day 1'" web site; bold added for emphasis. The Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter is the retired dean of Washington (D.C.) National Cathedral.
Image: From Hermanoleon Clipart.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
Christ the Lord is risen today! As an expression of our gratitude for the new life offered to us this Easter, let us bring our gifts and tithes and offereings.
Awareness and Action
The Need for a Sabbath Season
Please consider these indicators and implications of "busyness" (albeit somewhat dated, but still very relevant) in the lives of North Americans:*
- Employed Americans spent 163 hours more per year on the job in 1991 than they did in 1969.
- Amount of time the average working American spent behind the wheel in 1991: 9 hours per week.
- Despite the astounding economic growth between 1958 and 1980, Americans reported feeling significantly less well-off in 1980 than they had 22 years before.
- Average time spent shopping per week: 6 hours; time spent playing with children per week: 40 minutes.
- Percentage of American workers who report feeling "used up" by the end of the workday: 42%.
- Decrease in quality of life in the U.S. since 1970, as measured by the index of Social Health: 51%.
- Percentage of Americans who would like to "slow down and live a more relaxed life": 69%.
- Percentage of Americans earning over $30,000 a year who said they would give up a day's pay each week for a day of free time: 70%.
As we enter into the Easter/"Great Fifty Days" Sabbathing season, please prayerfully consider if and how you relate to these "busyness" indicators/implications. Then, please prayerfully consider one thing that you might change in your life in order to better experience "life abundant" (not just the "good life" or the "American Dream").
*Source: New Road Map Foundation's compilation of statistics documented in "All- Consuming Passion: Waking up from the American Dream."
Image: From Hermanoleon Clipart.
“And Jesus commanded us to preach to the people,
and to testify that this is the one ordained by God
to be the judge of the living and the dead.”
--Acts 10:42, An Inclusive Language Lectionary
A few years ago, I visited a church in the Indiana Annual Conference. I heard the pastor offer a beautiful prayer including the phrase, “Easter Us, O Lord.” Little did I know the words would mean so much in next few years, which included many changes and difficulties in our own family — the death of both of my wife’s parents and my own mother. Little did I know that I would have several friends and colleagues battling cancer and other diseases or that I would lose so many these past two years. Little did I know how much that prayer, “Easter us, O Lord” would continue to mean to me.
So again, this year, I find myself praying those words, “Easter us, O Lord.” As we celebrate on Easter Sunday the victory and new life that is ours in Jesus Christ, and especially as we remember loved ones who are celebrating Easter in a more glorious way, I use those words and offer this prayer:
Easter us, O Lord. Fill us with a new experience of the risen presence of Jesus Christ. Let us come to the empty tomb and hear the words, “He is not here; he is risen.” Let us discover afresh the surprising presence of Jesus who comes to us behind closed doors and barricaded hearts and says, “Peace with be you.” Easter us, O Lord. Amen.
--Adapted from Bishop Michael J. Coyner, Indiana Episcopal Area, January 2014
I believe in God, the Father of glory
Who by great power resurrected Jesus from the dead;
Giving us hope in the high calling of a heavenly inheritance;
And who is revealed in the immeasurable greatness of Jesus Christ;
Allowing us to know God's own self through the Lord Jesus Christ.
I believe in Jesus Christ
Who suffered and died for our sins
Who rose from the dead and rose up into heaven
Who sits at the right hand of the Father,
Whose name is above every name,
Whose authority is above all authority,
Whose power and dominion are above all power and dominion,
Who reigns now and throughout every age.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Who gives us wisdom and the ability to love one another,
Who enables us to believe and empowers us to be the church,
The body of Christ, indwelling and filling us with power,
And with the fullness of him who fills all in all.
--Adapted from gbod.org, January 2014
Easter represents Your enduring offer -- Your passionate desire -- to fill us with Grace.
Please help us always to be willing to open our lives to receiving Your Grace,
and please keep us open enough to let it overflow
far beyond Easter and far beyond ourselves.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen
from Radical Gratitude
Gracious Savior, we humbly offer our gratitude to you for the incomprehensible sacrifice you gave in order to redeem us. Help us to live according to your calling. Help us not to take your salvation for granted. Empower us each day to follow you more closely. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of our deepest joys and Alleluias! We sing our Resurrection songs this morning, not because of a miraculous historical event, but because you continue to bring life out of death and hope out of despair! When you rolled away the stone and let light enter Christ's tomb, you entrusted each of us who follow him to be bearers of light into the dark places of our world – carriers of the inexhaustible hope into lives filled with despair. May the joy of this morning, of the triumph of the Resurrection, empower us in our living out of these tasks, and in our generosity to support others who serve in our name. In the name of the risen Christ, we pray. Amen. (John 20:1-18)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Those who dedicate themselves to be agents of change in our churches will require superhuman doses of courage, kindness, creativity, collaboration, and perseverance. Thanks be to God, faithful change agents will find, like the little boy with his fish and bread, that they already have more resources for the journey than they realized."
Brian D McLaren
A New Kind of Christianity