I am at my first General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I can only say that within 10 minutes of the first general assembly, I was frustrated and very disappointed. I left the room wondering, “What in the world is in store for the future of my church?” Not only can we not get along, but one side is bullying the other side and attempting to stifle any conversation regarding our differences. “God,” I reasoned, “please speak through your people, in spite of your people.”
I am reminded that we all have different versions or sides to a story. Each of us interprets each act of love and hate in our own way. Our language is not the same. To make the assumption that we all speak of God, in the same way, is to grossly misjudge our sense of individuality and personal sacred worth. We should never assume that we have a monopoly on the truth. We are not God, nor are we appointed to serve as judge and jury regarding other people’s perceptions. Our task is to love God and love others.
Perhaps this conference reminds me that I serve an incredible congregation of believers. My prayer is that we will continue to grow in our tiny part of the world, and not allow those who are governed by politics and hatred to spread their doctrines into the doors of our church. May they take their “stuff” elsewhere. As for us, we will hold fast to the truth that we are all loved by our amazing Creator.
The reality is that we are a loving congregation. We rejoice in the miraculous events that happen in the life of our community, and we mourn with one another when unimaginable events knock us to our knees. Though we are different, we are united in our love and passion for God and God’s people. Praise be to the One, who fashions us in His image and creates in us a new heart and a new spirit.
I have to admit that I do not like walking through the fire. I like to tiptoe around it. Try to avoid it, and wrap it up in a pretty bow. Maybe if I ignore the fire, I won’t be burned by the flames. Of course, while I tiptoe around and ignore what is in front of me, the flame continues to grow larger and larger, until there is nothing left, but ash and smoke. More often than not, where once there was a possibility of creation, now exists only a clump of mess incapable of sustaining any sort of life.
The hardest part in life is walking through the fire. Only when confronted with the hottest heat can we breathe onto it refreshing water. Gushing from the spirit at the wellspring of who we are is a chance, an opportunity to find redemption. We save the earth, our hearts, our souls, from the ravishes of generations of chaos that burns with fury into the very recesses of who we are. No, we must move through the hardest part to get to the other side.
And the promise of our faith is this, even though we must walk through the fire and deepest darkness, we are not alone. That is the promise to which we are divinely appointed. God is with us. We need only look at the darkest part of our faith, Holy Week, to see the magnificent claim of divine love that redeems us, that calls us by name. We are children of the Most-High God. We are made new, having come through the ravages of the past. With our amazing creator, we have the power to put out the fire. But we have to walk through it first, always trusting that the one in whom we trust will deliver us and make us whole.
When I left my childhood faith and embraced the United Methodist tradition, one of the many practices that I never observed until converting was Lent. I just thought the season was reserved for Catholics, and I didn’t give it a further thought. I also assumed that Lent was just about giving up things. Little did I realize that the observance of a “Holy Lent” would become a very important part of my faith practice.
I first approached my first Lenten season with fear and trepidation. I thought to myself, “This is a dreary and depressing season. Who in the world wants to observe this time of the year?” Everything seemed to suggest mourning and sadness. I was uncomfortable and did not like the tone of the church.
As I grew in my faith, I found that Lent offered me a way to rediscover the very basics of my belief in God. I learned the importance of remembering my mortality and searching the very depths of my soul for the things that brought me closer to death. I kept asking myself, “What separates me from my creator?”
Over time, my practice grew to include things that I could add to my day to remind me of God’s love and kindness. Last year I added a commitment to writing a blog each day, this year I will pray the daily prayers of the Office of the Divine Hours. Whatever I chose, I hope to increase my awareness of the presence of the Holy One, and to once again offer myself to His service. I pray that I may grow in the love and knowledge of Christ, and develop something far beyond a faith practice. I hope to begin a life commitment.
Praise be to God, who constantly reminds us of His love for us.
Here we are in a new year. Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives. Yes, we are given a chance to start over. We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer. These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.
The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us. Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning. A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals. What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past. We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind. We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.
I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?” I mean, we start off with incredible energy. We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before. We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world. We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.
Hear the Good News! We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives. We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change. Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey. This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment. Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses. May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.
I enjoy the Gospel of Mark. I enjoy the way the narrative of Jesus is told as the issue of miracles is deeply embedded in the rich tradition of the text. The miraculous is witnessed throughout all of the population. I am speaking about a people that strive to exist in the world and hungers to have the Divine change their lives. We see the radical changes in the lives of those who Jesus heals. All of these changes cannot be defined in any terms other than miraculous.
Ah yes, the miraculous. That space in which there is no explanation for an occurrence in our everyday life. Somehow that which is infinitely bigger than who we are steps into our lives and we are changed (or saved) as a result of this heavenly occurrence.
Jesus brought this incredible love of God into our world and empowered those who called upon the redemptive presence of God to be living miracles in the lives of all who they encountered. “Wait a minute Joe! Didn’t Jesus instruct us that the greatest two commandments are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves?” While the answer to the question is yes, I believe that our actual obedience to these instructions to love is miraculous in itself.
How is someone’s life changed? It is through the interaction with others. God’s love is displayed in kindness. Maybe this person has never known an act of mercy. Maybe violence and abuse have been the barometers by which one may view their relationships with others. This kind of pattern or cycle is reflected in how someone might perceive God.
We, the disciples of Christ, are called to set people free of all of the baggage that ties one to death. We are called to be liberators who bring the miracle of truth to those in need. This truth is grounded in the love and transformative power of Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, and yes even in spite of us, we offer a world the gift of restoration back to the Holy One.
Our calling began with that still small voice inside us. I believe that is the presence of God in our lives. Our teachers nurtured that voice. These men and women of God encouraged us to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. We followed their example and now we are the ones to share the good news of faith, hope, and love to our world.
In the Gospel of Mark, we see how the disciples were taught and then empowered to share the incredible power of God by the greatest of all teachers. We see how Jesus not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. His lessons left a profound impact on not only a select group of men, but also the entire population who saw him demonstrating God’s love to humanity. That love is displayed to us today in miraculous ways. May we take the love that is shown to us and bring the miracle of God to our world.