During this month, we will once again have the opportunity to join in the in-credible journey that we know as Holy Week. And what a week it is! As we walk along this journey with Jesus, we will experience all the highs and lows that hu-man emotions can afford—sorrow, fear, anger, grief, hope, incredulity, all ending up with the outburst of joy we know as Easter.
Let me remind you that our Easter joy will only be as full and real as the other emotions we allow ourselves to feel as the events of Holy Week unfold. Only if we allow ourselves to experience the strange mixture of celebration and sorrow on Palm Sunday, the fear and foreboding of Maundy Thursday, and the profound grief and sorrow of Good Friday will we truly experience the hope and hilarity of Easter. The contrast of the lowest lows to the highest highs that are part of the Holy Week and Easter experiences must be allowed to come out in all its vast va-riety for there to be authentic Easter joy. Otherwise it rings somewhat hollow.
That is why I hope that all of our members and friends will do everything they can to be present for all of the Holy Week services being offered this year, or, barring that, that each of us will do everything we can to observe the events of Holy Week on their own.
Holy Week begins this year on Palm Sunday, March 20. A schedule of services can be found elsewhere in this issue of the Traveler. I hope you will take note of the dates and times of these opportunities to participate in the powerful story of Holy Week.
Grace and peace,
By the time you receive this edition of The Traveler, the Advent season will have already begun. Even so, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about our Advent worship theme, which I am calling “Touched By an Angel.” And no, this does not mean that we will be watching reruns of the old television show of the same name during church. It does mean, however, that we will be noticing the fact that angels pop up all over the place in the biblical Christmas story. Each Sunday during Advent, we will be looking at one of these angelic visitations, each of which helps move the story along as we move closer and closer to the birth of Jesus.
We’ll be learning more about these visitations during worship, but for now, it seems important to point out that the role the angels play in the Christmas story is to help folks like Mary and Joseph get ready to play their part in getting ready to welcome Jesus into their lives and into the world. And that is the role that Advent plays in our lives. Advent is not the celebration of Jesus’ birth—that doesn’t happen just yet. Ad-vent involves getting ready to celebrate, to prepare our hearts in the same way we prepare our homes.
Worship is one of the best ways to get ready for Christ-mas. There’s a lot going on in this season, I know. But wouldn’t it be a shame to miss an opportunity to be reminded of the real reason for the season, and to join others in getting ready to welcome the Christ child into our midst? And who knows, maybe as we sing one of the beautiful hymns or carols associated with the season, or hear the inspiring stories of faithful people saying yes to their role in God’s plan to save the world, you, too, might be touched by an angel.
Grace and peace,
One of the interesting situations that has been in the news of late that is the curious case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk (say that fast three times!) who was briefly jailed for re-fusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Ms. Davis identifies herself as an Apostolic Christian, which means that she is part of an extremely conservative branch of the Christian tree. As such, Ms. Davis felt that it would be a violation of her sincerely held religious beliefs to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples under her name. She framed her decision to refuse to sign these licenses as an expression of her right to religious freedom. She contends that irrespective of the law of the land, she should not be compelled to perform any duty, no matter how critical that duty is to the performance of their job, as long as that duty violates her conscience or her religious beliefs, and that the Constitution guarantees that she can do this with no consequences to her employment.
Our church was fortunate to have the Rev. Anne Robertson, executive director of the Mas-sachusetts Bible Society, as our guest preacher this past August. I recently posted her reflections regarding Ms. Davis on my Facebook page, but since many of you are not on Facebook, I thought I would share those thoughts with you in this month's Pastor's Letter.
She writes, "The earliest Christians had many, many issues with their governments and the culture at large. But they did not demand that the culture or laws be changed so that they could be spared difficult choices. They simply removed themselves from the positions, professions, and practices they found offensive. That separation was their witness. The following quote is from a book called The Early Christians by Eberhard Arnold, first published in 1970. It appears on p. 15:
"The rank afforded by property and profession was recognized to be incompatible
with such fellowship and simplicity, and repugnant to it. For that reason alone, the
early Christians had an aversion to any high judicial position and commissions in
the army. They found it impossible to take responsibility for any penalty or imprisonment, any disfranchisement, any judgment over life or death, or the
execution of any death sentence pronounced by martial or criminal courts. Other
trades and professions were out of the question because they were connected with idolatry or immorality. Christians therefore had to be prepared to give up their occupations. The re-sulting threat of hunger was no less frightening than violent death by martyrdom."
Anne continues, "Kim Davis cannot have her proverbial cake (i.e. a well-paying government job) and demand that the law of the land bend so that her faith doesn't interfere with her life. That's not how faith--especially Christian faith--is supposed to work. I stand with thousands of Christians who see no conflict between Christian faith and marriage equality, but my objection here is to the notion that demanding that she be allowed to keep a job that she refuses to do is somehow a grand form of Christian witness. That is not our heritage."
I agree with Anne. Ms. Davis is not a hero in my book. I believe that she is misguided in her understanding of what it means to witness to her faith. She should resign from her position if she is unwilling to fulfill her basic duties, rather than forcing others to conform to her beliefs. What do you think? I'd love to hear from you!
Grace and peace,
As I write this letter, plans are underway for our church's annual financial stewardship campaign, which will culminate with our Consecration Sunday Celebration on Novem- ber 22. On that day, you and I will have the opportunity to present our estimate of giving cards for 2016 as an act of worship. On the estimate of giving card will be a blank space that we will fill in outlining the financial resources we intend to give to God through our church in this coming year. I hope that you will be in prayer and conver- sation with God, yourself, and your family members as to how you will respond to this invitation and challenge. As you prepare to make this commitment, here are a couple of things I would invite you to consider.
Your giving to God through our church is money well spent. I want to challenge you to think about the difference your involvement in FUMC has made in your life. Don't be surprised if it doesn't take you very long to come up with lots of ways in which our little church has blessed your life. Multiply that by the number of others whose lives have been touched by our church's ministries, and you will begin to have a small glimpse of the many ways in which God is working through this church to make a positive difference. Your financial support is part of what makes that possible, and you can feel good about giving generously to God through our church.
Growing in generosity is one of the keys to a joyful life. I have seldom met a per- son who has regretted being generous in their financial giving to God and God's work. I know I certainly haven't. Over the years, Wendy and I have sought to find ways to stretch our giving to higher and higher levels, and we have learned that, not only do we find we live better on what's left than we ever would have had we decided to keep it all, but we truly enjoy giving. And that's because that's how God made us. God has made you and me in such a way that being generous just plain feels good. So, if you want to experience more joy, one of the best ways to do it is to grow in your capacity for generosity.
As we move closer to our Consecration Sunday, you will be hearing more about the spiritual principles of generosity during worship. A lot of folks are surprised to find out how much Jesus and the Bible as a whole have to say about the spiritual dimensions of our relationship to money and possessions. I invite you to join us for worship each Sunday during the campaign, and then come to Consecration Sunday, prayed up and ready to make a commitment that will truly represent your faith and your relationship to our beloved church.
With evergreen love, Pastor Tom
Some years ago, I was privileged to participate in a three day clergy gather- ing led by the great Baptist preacher, Tony Campolo. Among the many things that I remember Tony sharing with us during this gathering was this bit of wisdom; he shared that there was at least one thing that conservative Christians needed from to learn from more liberal Christians, and at least one thing that liberals needed to learn from conservatives. Liberals needed to learn from conservatives that there were some lines that should never be crossed. On the other hand, conservatives needed to learn from liberals that there are some lines that should never have been drawn in the first place.
I believe that Tony is right, although figuring out which lines are which is the tricky part. I see some of the same spirit at work in the life of Jesus, who on the one hand said that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and on the other hand seemed to have no problem flaunting behavior that did not fulfill the expectations of the Pharisees in terms of what they expected from any observant Jew, let alone someone who was purported to be the Messiah.
And so it is in the church today. Over time, many churches have relaxed some of their standards in terms of what would be deemed acceptable behavior and what is deemed unacceptable, believ- ing those standards to be invalid. And even when we have continued to uphold certain behavioral standards, we have changed the way we respond to those who violate those standards, so that, for example, it is rare to see a church shun any of its members, or impose any other sort of church disci- pline upon them.
But surely there must be some middle ground between the punitive, rigid ways of shaming and shunning that were often practiced in the past and the laissez faire approach most churches cur- rently take when someone in their community is engaging in harmful and destructive behavior. That, it seems to me, is the two-fold task of Christian communities in this day and age---to discern the behavioral standards that still must be maintained and the standards that we can safely leave behind, and to do the hard and holy work of holding one another accountable when someone does cross those boundaries that must continue to be held inviolate in a way that results in healing and reconciliation.
Surely the vast majority of us would agree that even as we reconsider some of the church's long- held attitudes about morality around issues like divorce and homosexuality, there is such a thing as behavior that is clearly destructive and therefore clearly wrong. Scripture and tradition, experience and reason, can guide us as we seek to discern the difference between good and bad, and how we should respond in the context of the Christian community.
As we continue our life together here at the First UMC of Gilford, I hope that we will more and more become a genuine community in the fullest sense of that word—
including becoming more adept at the difficult but important work of discern-
ing God's will for us here and now, along with the work of caring enough for
each other that we lovingly and mercifully confront those who are harming themselves and others within the community.
In evergreen love, Pastor Tom