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Monday, January 31, 2011

Stop Living in the Moment!

In Acts 7, Stephen has outraged the religious authorities and he is about to be stoned to death. Yet instead of defending himself, he recalls the story of the salvation of his people. He recounts the ways in which God has been with them through all the twists and turns of their history as a people, implying and trusting that God will be with him as he faces his accusers.

Stephen's story of salvation is an example of how he who is in the midst of a very bad situation--about to be stoned--gives credit and praise to God who has helped his people face adversity. I admire that ability to see and tell his story from the perspective of God's care for them in the midst of difficulty.

The way we tell the story of our lives becomes a lens by which we see life and define ourselves. It becomes a script for us in how we see ourselves, others, the world, and even God. Some people's story is that of how everyone has hurt them and they are victims. Others who may have even more experiences of adversity tell their stories in terms of how they have overcome; if they are people of faith, they give credit and praise to God for helping them overcome. We should be very careful how we tell our stories since we can spiral down into despair or find hope and courage to face the future.

Even how we tell the story of our church can provide a script that can bring despair or hope to us as a people. I would guess that there are no churches in the Minnesota Annual Conference who have not faced adversity in the past and yet they have perserved. How do we tell our story? What did we learn in those times? Do we live so much in the moment that we fail to remember how God has been with us in the past?

How do you tell your story in such a way that empowers you instead of deflates you? Let me give you an example. I was told when I was in the 8th grade that it was "too bad you're a girl, you'd make a great preacher." People often gasp in our 21st century context (although not everyone!!!). Yet I understand that the person who said that and people who believed it (so as not to recommend me to the seminary I wanted to go to because I was a woman) had no imagination for women in ministry. Even I didn't initially have the imagination that it was possible. But now I do. I could be the victim in my own story or I could see it as what continues to happen in our lives, faith, and culture all the time: there's so much we don't have an imagination to understand. See how far our imaginations have gone! How much farther might they go in the future? What is God waiting for me to imagine today?

So how do you tell your story in light of God's salvation history in your life?

How do you tell your church's story in light of God's salvation history?

How might we someday tell the United Methodist Church's story in light of the context of God's salvation history?

WDYT?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wherever Two or Three Are Gathered...

Wherever there are two or three gathered, there is Christ...and there is conflict!

Prior to the 5th and 6th chapters of Acts, the opposition against the Christian movement was largely from the outside. It's easy for us to idealize the early church, thinking that it was free of significant internal disagreement and conflict. But people are people in the first and the 21st century and not only is Christ present when two or three of us get together, but there's also disagreement! That's what happened when the church began to grow and included a diversity of people. People gathered in Christian community from different ethnic-racial groups, languages and from a lower socio-economic condition and conflict erupted!

While we are aware of the role of decline in a local church that causes conflict, having significantly grown church in my ministry, I'm aware that conflict results when a church grows, too!

"Who are these people and why are they here?"

"I don't know everyone anymore!"

"Things just aren't the same here anymore!"

As a church that was growing, we had problems; we called them "good problems," like not enough parking, seating, coat space, Sunday School rooms, etc. As the church grew, it also attracted a diversity of people with different theological perspectives, racial-ethnic backgrounds, religious traditions, socio-economic conditions. These differences created challenges for the church to include all who needed community and their spiritual needs met. A clear focus on the purpose of the Christian movement as well as the distinct leadership gifts was essential in order to deal with their good problems.

One way or the other, differences and conflict occur when two or three of us get together, even in Christ's name. We need to stop beating each other up for that reality. Keeping our focus, recognizing each other's gifts, and including all into our midst of Christian community transcend time, people and context.

Please don't give us the gory details about the conflict, but what do you see has important in moving a community of faith through the inevitable differences and disagreements that occur when two or three of us get together?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is Acts 2 Utopian?

One of the favorite passages from the book of Acts is the second chapter, specifically the last verses which describes what the church was.

So what was that early church like? Following the coming of the Holy Spirit, it says that people were amazed and filled with awe at all that was happening in through the followers of Jesus. It says that the believers were in harmony with each other, holding everything in common, even selling what they had so that "each person's need was met." Followers followed a daily discipline of prayer and worship. They came together for common meals and joy was the mark of the church.

Is that a description of the 21st century church? Your church? The church at its best? Have you experienced in this regard?

We'd all like to be a part of a church like Acts 2, but it's a utopia unless we are also living and doing what what those first followers were doing. Did you know that the word utopia means 'no place'? Acts 2 is a utopia unless we are living like those early followers. We all want to go to an Acts 2 church but without us there's no there there! It doesn't exist as an ideal place; it's a place that we're called to create. We need to make Acts 2 incarnational, in and through us. It will be less than perfect and less than fully Acts 2 but it needs to be our simple model of what it means to be church.

Acts 2 is a mirror to hold up to what we are as the church today. At our best, where do we demonstrate this palpable sense of God's presence through awe and wonder in our daily living? Where and how do we seek to live in harmony? Where and how are we willing to give for the good of all, much less even sell what we have to make sure that there is an elimination of poverty in our communities? Where have we become intentional as individuals as well as a congregations to follow a daily discipline of prayer, worship and study?

When you break it down--this description of a seemingly utopian community--there are practices that make an Acts 2 church; a real, flesh-and-blood community of faith in any place and time. So the question is: what are we as individuals--clergy and laity--willing to do and be willing to change in our lives to be an Acts 2 church?

Yes, I want to be a part of an Acts 2 church, but it doesn't just happen; it happens because the Spirit changes me to be an Acts 2 church. Where do we see this Acts 2 church lived out that gives us all inspiration to allow the Spirit to change us?

I look forward to your insights! WDYT?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Like Runners in the Marathon of Salvation History

Welcome back to my blog! Over the next couple of months, I will be blogging on a weekly basis with the Acts of the Apostles as the text for consideration. I invite you to join in the conversation; please espond with your comments on the blog so that others can see what you have to say but keep your comments directed to the discussion at hand!





At annual conference 2010, I invited all United Methodists in Minnesota to read the Acts of the Apostles for themselves and for each church to do some kind of study or sermon series during the conference year. Many individuals (lay and clergy) as well as churches have been studying Acts and others will be in the new year.





My intent is that we look at Acts as inspiration and a comparison between the 1st and 21st centuries. What can we learn from the 1st century that helps us to see ourselve differently in the 21st? I invite you to read the study guide that I posted during the Fall as some background to the scriptures. You can find that at http://minnesotaumc.org/Portals/1199/Bishop%20Corner/acts%20study%20guide%202010-2011.pdf





While I don't intend to go chapter by chapter, I do want to start with the first chapter this week.





When I read the first chapter of Acts, I'm mindful that it's a critical kairos moment, entrusted to ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings like Peter but also empowered by God's Spirit. It's post-Jesus of Nazareth and pre-church. It's a hand-off in the marathon of salvation history that hinges on all that has been with all that will be. What a moment!





I don't want to be overly dramatic here, but sometimes I feel like we're in a critical moment, too. Our transition is from post-Christendom to pre-something else! This kairos moment is entrusted to us ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings but also empowered by God's Spirit. Peter interpreted the moment from scripture and called for +1 in the number of disciples.





It's easy to romanticize or idealize this 1st century moment when in fact the reason that they scattered from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the world was because there was persecution. It was a hard and disruptive time for Christians but in the midst of the disruption, Christianity spread to new places, new people, and in new ways.





Today people are scattering, too. The next generation has scattered from the church, often because our forms of worship and our failure to live out the faith has made Christianity irrelevant to their lives. As people move or become discouraged with a local church, they scatter and often don't become a part of a faith community as readily as before or if at all. There are lots of reasons--many of them very socially acceptable like the increase of travel by many Americans--that makes a connection with a faith community weaker and weaker. While it breaks my heart that there is such a scattering of the people, instead of just beating ourselves up for it, I wonder what we might learn from Acts about what to do when there is this kind of upheaval in church as we have known it.





Phyllis Tickle in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, views Christendom from the perspective of major upheavals and how upsetting it was for many Christians and the church at each disruptive time. During these times of upheaval, people had to rethink what was essential in being a Christian but "because of the reconfiguration of those treasures (of tradition) into new shapes and vessels and accommodations, the faith they testify to was scattered across a far broader geographic and demographic area than it had previous occupied. And...(the church) was freed to develop a praxis, liturgy, and theological richness" (p. 27) than before. The church didn't cease to be but spread wider and deeper than before.



So do you think this is a "disruption" in Christianity that will allow the emergence of a new way of being Christian here in the US? And if so, what treasure do we bring out of our ancient tradition and what do we "bring out" that is new (Matthew 13:52)?

Is this just a discouraging, downward spiraling time as the church or is it actually a kairos moment entrusted to us like those hinge times in the past? Like runners in the marathon of salvation history, are we at the point of a hand-off to an emerging way of being church? If so, what is required of us?



Please share your thoughts with others!