Tag Archives: Missouri Annual Conference

Commissioned to do what?

Sermon given on Fathers Day, June 18, 2017

Scripture connections: NLT

Opening:  Psalm 46:1, 8-9

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. . . .

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

 

Sermon connection:  Genesis 18:1-15

1The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”

Closing:  Psalm 46:10-11

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

 

Reflection: Commissioned to do what?

Back from annual conference, I find myself trying to sort out all the ideas, the testimonies, plus the Wesleyan and Biblical references shared by Bishop Farr and the other presenters—elders, licensed local pastors and laity. Annual conference is a state of Missouri’s UMC message with a strong thread of encouragement to continue following Jesus’s great commissioning as found in Matthew 28. We have read, heard, and discussed Matthew 28’s verses repeatedly, yet I always feel like I fail. I find myself asking: I am commissioned to do what?

The three scripture verses are really not long and complicated, but the message easily feels overwhelming:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

This is what I/we are commissioned to do! How does one sort out these verses in the context of one’s life? The human demands upon us seem to take priority over the commission that Jesus delivered to the eleven Apostles. Yet, these words clearly tell all who believe, not just the eleven, to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and then teach them to obey all the commands.

This commission is not new, it is, was, and always will be God’s commission to his faithful. What if the Old Testament scripture of Abraham and Sarah were not part of the story? The apostles grew up in their faith based on the Old Testament stories, and Jesus prepared the apostles by using those ancient lessons of faith. Reading the scripture from Genesis, there are really two lessons that Jesus and the earliest disciples knew: hospitality and faith.

Abraham and Sarah were not young people: they were living examples of God’s chosen people who faced disappointments and trials throughout their lives, especially not having any children. Yet, they continued to follow God’s commandments and welcomed three strangers into their home and fed them:

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

The scripture does not tell us that he recognized the three men, rather he just raced out and greeted them, offering them relief from the hottest part of the day.   Recognizing that the Lord was with them came afterwards, after the reality of the promise that Sarah would have a child a year later.

This story relates to Jesus’ teaching as written in the Gospel of Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Abraham and Sarah carried out God’s commandment without question. They did not ask what was in it for them. They did not expect a reward for their efforts. They simply cared for three strangers, one being God who recognized their faithfulness. They lived their lives with a purpose, to love God and their neighbors—whether they knew them or not.

The Lord rewarded Abraham and Sarah’s faith with a miraculous birth. Despite their age, the habit of hospitality to the three strangers fulfilled God’s greatest commandment that Jesus continued to teach his apostles. God’s commandments and his commission were taught throughout history, and we are to continue that work.

Thank goodness the eleven apostles did take on the challenge outlined in scriptures because the task was divided up and carried out at very difficult times and lead to the continued work of all disciples since Jesus ascended into heaven. The work of the earliest followers has continued by the efforts of the disciples they taught carrying the commission forward through the generations and on around the globe.

The concern facing Christians today, though, is whether or not they are carrying out the commission as God intended. This brings us back to annual conference. This is the time when United Methodists are asked to be accountable. Are we honestly able to say that we are making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them? Maybe even more critical is the question whether or not we are faithful to God?

Let’s look at one of the hymns, Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548). The verses remind each of us, both individually and as a congregation how we are to live faithfully:

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Granted we are not all gifted with the skills to heal as our medical professionals are, nor do we all preach. Yet we can do our best to share the responsibility of healing and preaching. Maybe we do what we can right here, beginning with prayers, but also with helping our neighbors when they are sick:

  • A simple runny nose may need a tissue and encouragement to blow,
  • Just listening to another’s bad day can help one heal; or
  • Taking a meal to someone who is not feeling well can also help heal the sick.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Each Christian can find ways to share the word whether by modeling the Christian lifestyle or sharing one’s belief in casual conversation. When others can see and learn how your faith is central to your life, then you are fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

The acts of piety that John Wesley taught his followers are practices that keep us grounded in our faith and are ways to teach others about Jesus’ life and death for our sins. When we believe Jesus died for us, then we live anticipating “life heavenward” and share the sense of freedom faith provides.

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Our news is flooded by evil, and again this week living in an open society challenges our Christian mindset. Yet, we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors regardless of earthly boundaries. To live faithfully, offer prayers for God’s intervention, for his healing, and for forgiveness, too. We cannot judge, we can only do what we can. The concern for each of us is to determine whether we are doing whatever we can. Are we praying individually and in community for God to guide and to protect us?

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

This final verse summarizes the value of our Christian faith. We have hope, and hope makes it possible to manage all the earthly challenges that can so easily defeat us. This is the good news and we must share it. How is found in the hymn’s refrain:

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

 

Each of us has been given special gifts that we can use to fulfill God’s commission. Certainly it is not easy to know what gifts we can use and when to use them all the time, but we are called by God to do whatever we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

The questions must be asked of ourselves and of our church itself:

  • Are you/we doing all that you/we can?
  • Are you/we living faithful lives as Abraham and Sarah did?
  • Are you/we spreading Jesus’ message as the Apostles did?
  • Are you/we following the very practices that John Wesley expected to continue living faithfully and doing all that you/we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

 

During Annual Conference, the stories of the different ways churches are doing all they are shared. The stories range from awe-inspiring to just every day routines. These Methodists know their Christian purpose and have found ways to be faithful and to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and more, because that is what we are commissioned to do.

Let’s watch testimonies shared at conference and then consider how our church is fulfilling the Great Commission:

[Links to the videos:

https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5 – https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5

Begin with the Orange tee shirt, then the young boy, and close with the lady.]

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God,

We hear your call to Christian service.

We hear the church’s reports.

We hear the testimonies of the faithful.

 

Help us to hear your call in our lives.

Help us to find energy in serving.

Help us to love one another.

 

Show us your vision for our community.

Show us the ways and means to live faithfully.

Show us the joy that comes from serving.

 

Wipe away our weariness.

Erase our judging minds.

And renew our spirits

 

We accept the commission

To make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

In your holy name, God,

In your son Jesus Christ’s name,

And with the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Supplemental handout for the sermon:

The Great Commission Scripture from Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 25:34-36

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

John Wesley’s Means of Grace

[Accessed on June 17, 2017 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace ]

Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines. Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Works of Piety

  • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
  • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment.

Lyrics for Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548)

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

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Let’s do something: Let’s build a legacy

given on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Annual Conference is over. In many churches, the pastor will be absent because in two weeks, they have to have their homes packed, move to a new spot in Missouri, and unpack into a new house. On top of that, they have to prepare that first, all-so-important sermon for the new church.

Fortunately, many are continuing in their current assignment, so they have planning in order to continue their ministry. Each pastor steps into an assignment with goals, and the outcome(s) is/are reflected in the church’s legacy. Ultimately the legacy should align to the Great Commission, which is to make believers in Christ for the transformation of the world.

So here I am. I did quite a bit of thinking during annual conference. I kept thinking about what we have done, what we have not done; what goals did I have and whether they were well communicated. I even wondered if I should review all seven years of notes and sermons. What I found was one conclusion that echoed in my head—I have gone soft!

When I introduced the Matthew West song, Do Something, I felt I had found a key to trigger an action. And action in the form of serving or in intentional faith development or working together in a ministry is how churches create their legacy.

Of course, a legacy is not the goal. Legacy is often a term used when something comes to an end, but legacy is also a record of what has been done. The concern at this point is just what way does the church see the term legacy. Is the church’s ministry over or is it ongoing?

If we see no forward movement, then are we serving God? If we see promise and are working to do more, then we are doing something. The legacy we are creating is either an epitaph or a catalog of on-going ministries that demonstrates God in action.

Annual conference’s theme for 2015-16 is “Discipleship: Growing in Grace.” The call, or maybe cry, is that churches focus on outward ministry rather than inward. Churches that see ways to serve outside the church are the churches currently seeing the most growth.

Methods are presented, examples shared, and suggestions are made for how churches can develop discipleship. Intentional faith development is so important for the individual discipleship; but church discipleship grows when the local church becomes engaged in ministries within the local area, in an outreach mission, or work on a global initiative.

God called each and every one of us to discipleship. He wants us to see the world through God’s eyes. He does not want us to hand over the responsibility to someone else; he needs us to remember that our discipleship is needed right here, right now. It takes personal discipleship to move the local church into discipleship.

The lectionary reading from Mark includes two proverbs that provide guidance with this practice. The first parable is the growing seed,

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Understanding the parable is developing personal discipleship. Read, study, pray and discuss with others the meaning of the parable is the same way that Jesus taught the earliest disciples.   For those of us in a rural area, the seed analogy is much easier to understand than many other ones.

Moving the lesson into outward action within the community or as the reason to involve the local church in other mission fields shows how personal discipleship turns into action for the benefit of others.

Just imagine if the Clean Water for Haiti initiative is felt to be so personal that giving a dollar a week to that fund can turn into four individuals with clean water for a full year. Multiply that amount by four more families, and the size of the initiative begins to grow exponentially—more funds, better buying power, more lives affected.

That is what happened with the mosquito net initiative. The overwhelming response has led now to preventive measures and research funding. The Missouri Methodists demonstrated discipleship at a conference level, but it took personal discipleship that pushed local churches to turn to outward ministry an ocean away.

Did I go soft over the past few years in the effort to improve personal and local discipleship? I think I did, and I apologize. The truth is that I have not taken pastoral authority as full time pastors tend to do. I wanted to honor your church, your ownership of the church; but the church that is focused on Sunday worship only, will find its legacy is an epitaph.

Taking pastoral authority means being honest. Over the past seven years, a variety of ideas were offered, but few could survive the trial run partly due to a lack of honest communication or commitment. The first stumbling block was scheduling, the second was vocational, the third was location, and finally low involvement.

During conference one presenter was from the conference office in Ohio. Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey authored the book Ultimately Responsible that introduces the “breakthrough prayer initiative.” Her presentation was compelling, and I found myself wanting to race back to church and begin implementing the techniques immediately. But, I cannot do it alone.

Taking pastoral authority, I could use the book as a sermon series; but that does not allow members to become involved in the initiative. Also, jumping into the process without proper training could lead to failure.

Using the book as a study to intentionally develop one’s faith is the goal. Are you committed enough to join such a study? Are you willing to make the time investment? Are you flexible enough to work with others to find the right time and place to meet because the breakthrough prayer initiative is worth it?

The small rural churches are struggling in a world that has changed dramatically since they opened their doors. No one thinks a thing about driving an hour to the city for shopping or entertainment. The rural church was established because the distance had to be short enough for the different modes of transportation. The rural church often became the family church. Now the family is spread throughout the county, the state, the country, why even around the globe. The reason to maintain a small rural church depends on whether or not it is actively ministering to its community.

The small rural church must provide for the needs of those in the near vinicity, but it can also reach out to others who find that the Holy Spirit is alive in the church and meets their spiritual needs. Prayer and outward-focused ministries will fill the church with the Holy Spirit and a church on fire with the Holy Spirit will continue to create a catalog of its legacy and not an epitaph.

I went soft as a pastor, and now I must implement pastoral authority in an effort to improve personal discipleship, to develop more outwardly active ministries. The Holy Spirit is within each and every believer, but we must listen for God, we must talk with God, and we must act to grow in discipleship. Are you willing to grow with me? Let’s do something!

Closing prayer

Oh, Father, Son & Holy Spirit,

Thank you for opportunities to be in worship together.

Thank you for listening to us even when we complain.

Thank you for speaking to us through your Spirit.

As we look around our church, outside of the doors,

Show us what you want us to do here and beyond.

As we consider discipleship as a believer and as a church,

Teach us all the ways we can grow in grace.

Open our hearts and our minds to ministries

You call us to do with the gifts you have given us.

We know we must do something now

To assure family, friends, neighbors and more

Life everlasting through Christ, our savior.  –Amen

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Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?

 

Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

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