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As part of my discipline, I read and reflect upon the weekly lectionary texts.  This past week, I noticed something that surprised me.  The lectionary skipped Luke 13:1-5. It reads as follows:

Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifice.  He (Jesus) replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.  What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I was surprised because I think that scripture speaks directly to what is happening in the United Methodist Church as well as what is happening in our country.

Change Your Hearts and Lives

As I reflect upon the continual mass shootings, the blatant racism, the hurtful rhetoric, the tension within The United Methodist Church, I hear Jesus saying, “I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a hard saying. I want Jesus to say something more comforting or at least more directly related to the issues.

  • When innocent people are killed while at school, shopping, attending concerts, and on the streets.
  • When racism is becoming more publicly acceptable (as if racism is something new).
  • When we fight among ourselves over who is right and just.
  • When our leaders who have been given the responsibility of moral righteousness are the ones spewing hurtful rhetoric and setting immoral agendas.
  • When the world’s climate changes as the rainforests are destroyed and the polar ice caps melt all for economic purposes…

I want my faith to protect me.  I want justice for those who are being wronged.  I want Jesus to say something more than, “…unless you change your hearts and lives…”

Try a Different Question

Yet, my United Methodist Church is caught in the same dilemma.  There are times I feel helpless.  So, I as I reflected upon the lectionary texts, I also looked at Luke 13:1-5.

This is what I hear Jesus saying. “You are not asking the right questions.  You are shocked at the wrong points.  You have located your pain, dismay, and astonishment at a different place from where I am looking.”

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace.”  At the center of our Wesleyan theology and as amazing we may say it is, I wonder if we really are amazed by grace.  I think we express more amazement over our evil acts than at God’s mercy.  We have come to the place in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful; God will be kind; God will be gracious.  We’re not surprised when we experience God’s kindness.  What shocks us is seeing something bad take place.

By God’s Grace

That is why I say I hear Jesus saying, “You are asking the wrong questions.  You are asking why these events take place.  You should be asking, “By God’s grace how do I respond?” I think, you and I have become so calloused, that our hearts have become so hard, that we are no longer surprised by God’s grace but we are paralyzed to inaction because we assume God’s grace.

One of my favorite illustrations of God’s grace and the dilemma we face today in The United Methodist Church comes from R. C. Sproul.  He tells the story of one of his first teaching assignments as a college professor. He was teaching a required course for 250 college freshmen: Introduction to the Old Testament.

He said, “I was uncomfortable trying to communicate with so many students at one time. I printed in advance the requirements for the course, because I’d already learned that college students were all budding Philadelphia lawyers, and I had to dot my I’s and cross my t’s to make sure that the assignments were clearly set forth.  So, I gave them a published syllabus and told them what the requirements would be for the class.”

The assignments for the semester were three very small papers, book report type things. The first one was due at noon on September 30, the second one October 30, and the third on November 30.  He told the class he wanted the completed papers on his desk at 12:00 noon on the appointed dates unless they were physically confined to the hospital or infirmary, or there was a death in the immediate family. If the papers where not in on time they would get an F for that assignment.

Begging for Grace

Everyone said they understand the assignment.

When September 30 came around, 225 of students brought their papers in and presented them dutifully at the proper time.  Twenty-five of students in the class failed to complete the assignment. They were scared to death.  Being freshmen, they were just making the transition from high school, and they were in a posture of abject humility.

They came to the Professor and said, “Professor Sproul, please don’t give us a F for this grade!  Please give us a little more time.  Give us one more chance.  We’re so sorry.”  They begged the Professor for grace.

The professor granted them an extension and said, “But don’t let it happen again.  Remember the next assignment is due October 30, and I want the papers in on time.”

They said, “Absolutely.  They’ll be here.”

Second Chances – Again

When October 30 came around, two hundred of the students came and put their term papers on the professor’s desk.  Fifty of them assembled outside the professor’s office. They had not planned their time properly and were not prepared.  So once again they pleaded, “Professor, we didn’t budget our time properly. It’s midterm. We had so many assignments all coming at the same time. It’s homecoming. Please just give us one more chance.”

The professor, a softhearted guy, said, “Okay, I’ll give you one more chance, but don’t let it happen again.”  The students began to sing spontaneously, “We love you, Professor Sproul.  Oh yes, we do.”

That’s Not Fair

Sproul said he was the most popular professor in the school for thirty days. Because thirty days later the third paper was due.  This time 150 students came into the classroom with their papers prepared, while the other 100 came in as casual, as cavalier, as you can imagine. They didn’t have their papers, but they weren’t worried in the slightest.

The professor asked, “Hey, where are your term papers?”

They said, “Prof, don’t worry about it. We’ll have them for you in a couple of days. No sweat!”

Sproul said, at that moment, he took out his grade book and his pen and began to ask each student about his or her term paper.  “Johnson, where is your term paper?”

Johnson replied, “I don’t have it, Professor.” Sproul said he wrote an F in the book.

“Greenwood, where is your paper?”

“I don’t have it, Sir.” So, Sproul put F in the book.

Suddenly several voices cried out, “That’s not fair!”

The professor asked, “What’s not fair? Johnson, did I just hear you say that’s not fair?”

Johnson, who was furious, said, “Yes, that’s not fair.”

Professor Sproul said, “Okay, I don’t ever want to be thought of as being unfair or unjust.  So, it is justice that you want?”

Johnson, “Yes”

“Okay, If I recall, you were late the last time, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Okay, I’ll go back and change that grade to an F.”

Assuming Grace

The first time the students pleaded for mercy. And the professor said, “sure.”  The second time, they pleaded for understanding.  By the third time, not only did they begin to assume mercy, but they began to demand it. They assumed grace.

That is what we do with God. The history of our personal relationship with God is a history of grace.  You and I could not live on this planet for five minutes without God’s grace. But because God is so gracious, we take it for granted.

When the world starts falling apart, when mass shootings, blatant racism, hurtful rhetoric, and all we know is coming apart at the seams, we are astonished.

We have grown accustomed to God’s grace.

The question is, “Why has God been so God to me, to us?  And what are we going to do about it?” God’s grace is sufficient.

Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

Part of the good news of Christmas is God is with us.  I like the idea of God being with me in every situation and circumstance of my life.  But, as I have reflected upon God being with me, I confess that my thinking has been one dimensional.

As Emmanuel, God has disrupted my living. Yet, it is in the disruption that I experience the good news.

Advent Bible Reading Guide

 

God is With Us

I’ve been thinking of it this way.  God is with us in the midst of all the chaos and crisis of our time.  God is with us in the midst of the violence and pain we continue to endure.  God is with us in the midst of the joys and celebrations we experience with family and friends.  God is with us, embracing with a love that will never let us go.  God is with us offering us peace, even in the midst of the disruption.

So, I’m thinking about Christmas in a different way this year. I have received and read invitations, from several local churches to Christmas Eve worship. All of them invite anyone who reads them, to join that local congregation, to experience holy communion, candle lighting, special music, and God’s love with them at their place. It is wonderful to have such invitations. But, it is Christmas.  God is with us.  The good news is that God left God’s place and came to our place.Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

Going into the Community

I’ve been thinking, what would happen if we disrupted the community by leaving our places and going into the community to be with the people? What would happen if we took the love of God, the special music, the light of the world and became holy communion in the communities in which we live? God did not say “come to my place and I will give you peace.” God came to us with peace and love.

I will attend Christmas Eve worship, and I’ll be thinking of how over the next year you and I might disrupt our communities by bringing love and peace into every situation and circumstance we find ourselves. I’ll sing the carols and listen to the music, but I will be thinking about how you and I can bring a kind, caring, encouraging word into our communities by being God’s Word in the places we live, work, and play.

I look forward to celebrating holy communion with God’s people. But, I will be thinking of how you and I might enter our communities, come alongside our neighbors, both friends and strangers, to include all people in God’s love in Jesus. I’ll light a candle with all who gather to worship. I look forward to the symbolism of being a light in the darkness. But I will be thinking of how you and I might become part of the light of God’s love that brings peace to our communities and goodwill to all people whether we like them or not.

An Invitation

Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

I hope you will make Christmas Eve worship part of your Christmas practice. I will be praying that your worship will be a true celebration of disrupting the world so that we might become more the presence of God in the midst of the chaos and crisis, the violence and pain, and the joy and celebrations of our communities. I’ll be praying that your worship will lead you into the community with God’s peace and love. So, let it be!

O God, disrupt our peace so that we may experience your peace. By your grace fill us with so much of your presence that we have to disrupt the world in which we live to share your love and peace in all places with all people. O come, thou long expected Jesus!  Come and set us free! Amen.

Love

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” John 13:34-35

Martin Luther King, Jr, in A Testament of Hope writes, “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Think about those words for a minute.

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