I know that many of us have participated in the exercise of making New Year’s resolutions. But I’m betting that some of us have also made “Christmas resolu- tions.” We may not have used that terminology, but if you’re like me, at least once in your life, you said to yourself or to your family “This Christmas is going to be different” and then laid out some ways you were determined to make that happen. Maybe you have pledged to make Christmas less hectic, or less stress- ful. Maybe you have decided to try and be more focused on the real meaning of the season. But whatever you decided to make Christmas better than previous Christmases, I would call that a “Christmas Resolution,” wouldn’t you?
Now, like many resolutions, our Christmas resolutions have no doubt met with varying degrees of success. For example, you might well have found that trying really hard to be less stressed can be, well, stressful. But that doesn’t mean that the desire for a richer, fuller experience of Christmas that many of us feel should be ignored. Christmas can and should be a time of truly meaningful worship, fel- lowship, and service. But that doesn’t just happen, especially if we go with the flow of the cultural, commercial, and even religious currents that will sweep us along in a direction that we don’t really want to go.
One step in keeping our Christmas resolutions is to make a point of being in wor- ship during the Advent season. It is part of the function of worship to keep our lives centered and focused, and to strengthen our individual and collective re- solve to faithfully follow Christ in all things. Some of that is accomplished simply by joining together in the countercultural experience of corporate worship. But the proclamation of a Word in due season can also go a long way to helping us stay on track.
The theme for Advent 2016 at FUMC will be “A Different Kind of Christmas,” dur- ing which I am hoping you will find encouragement and strategies for keeping your “Christmas resolutions” this year and in years to come, as well as some fresh ideas for keeping Christmas.
See you in church!
In Evergreen Love, Pastor Tom
At the end of October, we launched our 2016 Stewardship Campaign, which will culmi- nate on Consecration Sunday, November 20. I hope that you will be ready to participate in what I trust will be a time of spiritual enrichment and growth as we discover more and more the joy of generosity in every area of our lives.
When we want to express our love and affection, we often think about how we can give something to the person who is the object of our affection. Sometimes that means a tan- gible gift. Sometimes it is giving of our best thoughts, our time, our energy, ourselves. Our financial support of our church is a reflection of our love for God as well as an expression of our maturity as followers of Jesus and our real priorities in life.
During this time of stewardship emphasis, we will share a narrative budget that ex- plains the categories of ministry funded through the church as well as stories about how those ministries are touching lives in our church and community.
But this effort is much more than presenting what the church needs to continue its mission and ministries. The real motivation for generosity is not the need of the church to re- ceive, but rather our need to give so that we can imitate Jesus and grow in our faith. Extrava- gant generosity of the sort that Jesus embodied is not a matter of affluence or even agree- ment. Extravagant generosity is a matter of the heart.
As we continue our stewardship campaign, my prayer is that each of us will catch the spirit of generosity deep within our hearts, and that we will follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in reaching new levels of generous giving and living.
In evergreen love, Pastor Tom
This past month, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met in Portland, Oregon. The General Conference is the gathering of delegates from United Methodist Conferences all over the world, and takes place once every four years. The primary purpose of the gathering is to vote on legislation that relates to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which contains the general rules and policies that guide the structure and behavior of all United Methodist Churches, ours included.
For the past several General Conferences, an increasing amount of energy has revolved around matters of human sexuality. Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has declared that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” leading to the stance that “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are not eligible to serve as pastors in United Methodist churches. Some years later, additional legislation was approved forbidding United Methodist pastors from performing same sex marriages or uniting ceremonies. As time has gone by, each General Conference has seen a progressively more determined attempt to overturn these anti-gay statements and policies, although up until now those efforts have not succeeded.
In the midst of this effort to move the UMC as a whole into a more inclusive directions, many United Methodist churches have sought to express their love for all of God’s children, including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, by aligning themselves with an network of similarly minded UMCs called the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). The RMN seeks to help local UMCs in their efforts to be more welcoming to all people, as well as to leverage the collective power of churches and individual Methodist Christians to push for change in the UMC as a whole.
As your pastor, I am fully in agreement with the aims of the Reconciling movement. I also sense that a good percentage of our members believe in full inclusion of our gay and lesbian friends in the life of the church. At the same time, I am well aware that there are others who are either opposed or unsure how they feel about this matter. With all that in mind, I want to challenge our church to begin the process of determining whether we want to become a Reconciling congregation.
With that in mind, I will be asking our Administrative Council to authorize the creation of a Reconciling Committee, who would lead our church in the process of discernment. The creation of this committee does not mean that we are committing to become a Reconciling Congregation. It simply means that we will begin a process of determining whether that would be an appropriate step for us to take as a congregation.
If you have any questions or concerns about this step, I would love to hear from you, and I hope that irrespective of your feelings, you would be in prayer for our church as we explore what it means to offer Christ’s love to our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors.
In evergreen love,
This will be my fourth summer in the Lakes Region, and like many of you, I have learned to cherish this beautiful and bountiful time of year in this breathtaking and busy re- gion. So wonderful has this special time in this special place become for me and my family that we have opted to deviate from our decades long practice of taking our major yearly vaca- tion during the summer months. After all, when you live in a place where people take their vacations, why leave?
So, then, summer in the Lakes Region is a time to relax, drink in the beauty, hike, swim, boat, and simply enjoy the gifts of God that are so evident all around us. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a time to continue to learn, grow, and explore the implications of living out our faith in the world.
For that reason, I am instituting what I hope will become a yearly time of study and growth. I am calling it Summer Session, and my hope is that every summer, we will invite our members and anyone else who is interested to dig into a meaty book or resource that will challenge us to think deeply and respond faithfully to some of the ways God is calling us to live out our faith in a broken world.
For this year’s Summer Session I have chosen a book that I think will do just that. The book is called America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, and it is written by
Jim Wallis. Wallis is president and founder of Sojourners, where he is also editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, as well as being a New York Times best-selling author, public theologian, and international commentator on ethics and public life. As the title indicates, this is a book about ending racism in America, and it is particularly addressed towards white people, and white Christians in particular. The book has been described as “powerful,” “courageous,” “daring,” and “hopeful,” as it looks at both the historical roots of American racism, as well as contemporary events such as Ferguson and Charleston.
Summer Session will last for five weeks, beginning
August 4th and ending on September 1. We’ll meet in the Fireside Room in the cool of the evening on Thursdays from 7:00 ‘til 8:30 PM. You can purchase a copy of the book on your own, whether in hard cover or electronic form, or there will be copies of the book available from the church for a donation of $15.00. A signup sheet will be posted in the fellowship hall so that we can know of your intent to participate. I hope to see you there!
In Evergreen love, Pastor Tom
There is a well-known poem that is often shared at funerals or on sympathy cards that begins with the words, “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room.” With all due respect to those who find such sentiments comforting, I must confess they have never rung true for me, and even less so in the aftermath of the loss of my mother, who, as many of you know, passed away on April 14. While I believe in and take great comfort in the immortality of the soul, and while I believe that I will see my mother (and dad) again, in the here and now, I miss them, and will continue to do so. There are, of course, those fleeting moments when I can feel their presence. But in the day to day, they are absent. I cannot see them or hug them or help them up from their chair. They are not in the next room. They are, in a very real sense, gone somewhere else. And the fact that I believe that this “somewhere else” is a joyful, glorious place of healing, restoration, reunion, and light is a powerful source of hope and comfort. But in the meantime, I would give anything to be able to give my dad a call, or drive up to see my mother, or even have lunch with her at the nursing home where she lived the last three weeks of her life.
The first Sunday after mom’s death, I found on my office chair several bulletins, thoughtfully left for me by church members who had attended these churches while they were away. As it happened one of the bulletins contained a message from a pastor who had recently lost his father. His remarks contained some helpful words from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Gospel Medicine. The second sentence makes me wonder if she wasn’t reacting to the same poem I referred to. She writes,
“Sometimes I think absence is underrated. It is not nothing, after all. It is
something: a heightened awareness, a sharpened appetite, a finer perception.
When someone important to me is absent from me, I become clearer than ever
what that person means to me. Details that got lost in our togetherness are re-
called in our apartness, and their sudden clarity has the power to pry my heart
right open. I see the virtues I have overlooked, the opportunities I have missed.
The quirks that drove me crazy at close range become endearing at a distance…
If the relationship is strong and true, the absent one has a way of becoming present –
if not in body, then in mind and spirit.”
As time moves on, I suspect that Taylor’s insights about absence will become something I reach toward as I travel along my journey. My prayer is that, as Taylor suggests, her absence will become a means of reaching a “finer perception” of who and what my mother has meant and will continue to mean to my life.
And knowing that many of you are reading this have experienced the profound absence that comes with losing a loved one, may I invite you to join me, not in minimizing the power of a absence, but in embracing that absence as a means of more powerfully appreciate and love those who we see no more in this life, and in holding fast to the hope of eternal life, not only for our loved ones, but for ourselves as well.
In God’s Evergreen Love,
P.S. On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, notes, and kind words during our time of loss.