Sermon: Fallen Fragments

Altar display on Sunday, featuring our broken and re-broken cross.

“Fallen Fragments”

(July 29, 2012) We all are broken. While we may be tempted to focus on the magnitude of the things Jesus does, in God’s economy, the broken, fallen fragments are of infinite worth, and add up to more than whatever we started with. If you’ve been gathered into God’s nameless love, will you take a basket and gather the broken? (John 6:1-21)

I found the Welcome from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community on Jon Acuff’s blog.

In case you are unfamiliar with them, here are the lyrics of the closing hymn, “How Can We Name a Love” (UMH 111), which spoke powerfully to me this week.

How can we name a Love that wakens heart and mind,
indwelling all we know or think or do or seek or find?
Within our daily world, in every human face,
Love’s echoes sound and God is found, hid in the commonplace.

If we awoke to life built on a rock of care
that asked no great reward but firm, assured, was simply there,
we can, with parents’ names, describe, and thus adore,
Love unconfined, a father kind, a mother strong and sure.

When people share a task, and strength and skills unite
in projects old or new, to make or do with shared delight,
our Friend and Partner’s will is better understood,
that all should share, create, and care, and know that life is good.

So in a hundred names, each day we all can meet
a presence, sensed and shown at work, at home, or in the street.
Yet every name we see, shines in a brighter sun:
In Christ alone is Love full grown and life and hope begun.

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Sermon: Finding Center

“Finding Center”

(July 23, 2012) Jesus takes time away– both by himself and with his closest friends– to reconnect to God and center himself so that he can do his ministry in the world. We too need time, using whatever tools work for us, to find our center (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56).

the irony is not lost on me that I talked for 20 minutes about peace and quiet.

Sermon: Fool for Love

“Fool for Love”

(July 15, 2012) King David is well-known for writing poems and songs in praise of God’s extravagant love and steadfast presence. This thanksgiving for God’s blessing overflows in tangible ways, seen most powerfully as he leaps and dances before the presence of God represented in the Arc of the Covenant. Unafraid to be foolish, instead he embodies the joy he feels. Are we prepared to be fools for God’s love? (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19)

This sermon makes reference to Patch Adams and the Gesundheit! Institute. More information can be found here.

We All Have a Dream…

The DreamUMC conversation is more than two months old, and growing in some exciting ways. We are putting words and ideas to action, and finding new partners across denominational lines.

Background

Coming out of the 2012 General Conference, many delegates, volunteers, and folks who had followed the proceedings from afar looked for a way to continue a broad conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us. Using the social networking platform of Twitter, we created space for this communication through the account @DreamUMC and the corresponding hashtag #DreamUMC. The central goal is to have the communication and vision building be as open, grassroots, and participatory as possible. We fundamentally believe that there is something inherently Methodist about seeking out, listening for, and valuing every voice, rather than assuming direction comes from the top. Sometimes—often, even!—the Spirit speaks boldly through the people one might least expect.

Every two weeks, Monday nights at 9 Eastern, we have participated in moderated Twitter chats or “tweetups,” where people follow the same hashtag at the same time, and respond to discussion questions. Three separate people from two different Jurisdictions have moderated the chats, and participation has been strong, with the number of people tweeting declining, but the number of new tweets and secondary level questions increasing as the conversation goes deeper. The chats are archived on a Facebook page so that people who can’t tune in at that time can read the questions and responses later. Often, one or more person summarizes the conversation (here’s one of my early summaries) for people to read.

Challenges and Benefits

Certainly there are challenges and drawbacks to this method; not everyone is able to use Twitter and Facebook or comfortable in those platforms. Our conversations have been tipped toward United States based individuals (although we have several participants who sign in from Europe or Africa), and most popular in those under 40 (although there are again many active participants who are young at heart if not in years). Overcoming these limitations to being inclusive with respect to age, geographic, and socioeconomic status remains a top priority.

The benefits and advantages are stunning, however.

One might expect the conversation to be monolithic theologically, or to point to particular polity positions. This has not been the case. In the open conversation forum, participants have voiced widely diverging opinions, beliefs, and positions, and returned to engage with one another two weeks later. Sharing insights, the people tweeting have offered up a wide range of creative, forward-thinking ideas on a range of topics from the major lessons of General Conference to the need for theological and spiritual formation in local churches, from the essential qualities of an episcopal leader to spreading the message and model of DreamUMC’s open-source conversation.

Focusing the conversation

With people weighing in from around the United States and around the world, both during the chat and on their own time, the folks of DreamUMC have begun to identify key areas of focus for conversation and action moving forward, including building toward a United Methodist Church that is more connected to its Wesleyan heritage, has a stronger focus on discipleship and development, more inclusive, and more equitable globally. For weeks, we have discussed the need for education and formation in local churches, and for the development of lay and clergy leadership at all levels of the church. We have also heard frustration about the divisions, exclusions, and process-related technical details that keep us from being as effective as we can be in mission and service (like debating almost all critical topics using Robert’s Rule of Order rather than living into a more open and holy conferencing style).

These areas of interest are exciting to think about as the conversation continues. The plan is to invite participants to place themselves on one or more teams and work intentionally around these topics, while continuing the wider discussion about the United Methodist Church as a whole, and where the Spirit is leading us in the months and years ahead. For a full list of the topics we’ve lifted up, or to add a topic that should be included, please visit the DreamUMC Facebook poll.

Ecumenical dreams unfolding

One of the most exciting developments in the DreamUMC movement is not limited to the UMC. At the recent Presbyterian Church, USA General Assembly, a conversation began on Twitter that was very similar to the conversation that we had experienced at our General Conference. One United Methodist, following the PCUSA tweets, mentioned this similarity, inviting the participants there to peruse the conversations that we’d been having through DreamUMC, and suddenly @WeDreamPCUSA / #DreamPCUSA was born (you can read Rev. Andy Oliver’s perspective on the launch of this sister movement here).

Within days, new hashtags and user accounts popped up for other denominations, including the United Church of Christ (@DreamUCC and #dreamucc), the Episcopal Church (#Acts8), the Disciples of Christ (#dreamccdoc) and a broader ecumenical gathering, @MainlineDreams / #MainlineDreams. Together, we’ve begun to think of ourselves as a movement not unlike the “Arab Spring,” in the term Andy coined as the “Mainline Summer” (there’s a short summary of the known movements so far here by Rev. Emily Heath).

Dreams carry forward

My personal hope for this wider movement is well stated by Emily when she calls for a “new chapter in mainline Christian renewal.” That’s what we’re talking about here: reconnecting to the things that make us Christian, that give us power and purpose as the Body of Christ, and that inform and shape us in our various theological and historical foundations. In talking with a friend from another denomination this morning, we reflected that the ecumenical movement has historically focused on either mergers or, more typically, on sharing in mission. What if this time, we focused on a different kind of mission: to reclaim and reinvigorate mainline Christianity, to engage with a culture hungry for meaning and purpose and connection, and to offer what the church as a whole has found in Christ, trusting that individuals will flock to the particular and distinct denominations with which they best resonate?  Can we, this summer, this year, at this season in the church, open a conversation at all levels and in all places, hearing, discerning, and sharing where God is calling the Christian church into a new and more relevant, vital, connected future?

Now that’s a dream I want to live into.

Diary of a Delegate: Jurisdictional What?

Logo for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference

Howdy folks!

After an early summer hiatus of laziness self care, I’m getting ready to head out next week to the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

The what?

Jurisdictional Conferences– those regional gatherings of delegates from several annual conferences– are like the poor, forgotten middle children in some weird family, who actually are the ones holding the whole system together and taking none of the credit. I think. We all love Annual Conference, with the blessing of seeing friends and colleagues from one’s close connectional ties once a year (okay I love it). And everyone gets the scope of General Conference, with delegates from all over the world gathered together once every four years to discuss and vote on The Big Issues that impact The Future Ministry of the Church.

But those little Jurisdictional Conferences? What are they good for? That’s where we set a couple of regional budgets, and elect bishops. Nothing exciting.

Except I’m really excited.

Because I think Jurisdictional Conferences could actually be kind of radical.

Following General Conference, I helped create and facilitate an opportunity for ongoing conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us, DreamUMC. Through that online conversation, we’ve been talking about ways to live into grassroots movement, deeper Wesleyan spiritual formation, more authentic and inclusive Christian Community, and more relevant action in the church and the world. I’ve become convinced that Jurisdictional Conferences offer an opportunity to do this.

  • Jurisdictional Conferences are smaller in number than the gatherings at either an Annual Conference or a General Conference session. There will be about 250 delegates at the Northeast JC. This seems like a perfect number of people to me– large enough to share a variety of ideas, but small enough to get a chance to talk to just about everyone, and form meaningful connections and create or strengthen the relationships that are at the heart of Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition.
  • This smaller size should allow JCs to function with greater agility and to tackle challenges more creatively. Yes, I know; we’re still the church and being agile isn’t exactly our strong suit. That’s why I said should. But the potential is there.
  • With geographic regions larger than an Annual Conference, but smaller than, you know, the whole world, Jurisdictional Conference sessions can be opportunities to think about and strategize for regionally contextual ministry, which is something the church desperately needs as we live into the future of mission and ministry wherever we are.
  • Jurisdictional Conferences do have the opportunity to pass legislation together, and should be able to give this legislation some careful thought (again, should). I know of a couple of pieces coming before our gathered body that I’m interested in, one dealing with the structural makeup of the church at its various levels (trying to address some of the problems of power imbalance we saw at GC2012), and one speaking to the need to be in more faithful ministry with and as GLBTQ persons in the Northeast.
  • Finally, yes, Jurisdictions elect and place both board members and bishops. That means we should spend huge amounts of time asking ourselves: what are the needs of the United Methodist Church in our region as we seek to live out God’s calling for us, and what sort of leaders and leadership can help us get there? I don’t know about you, but I find that to be an exciting question!

So as I prepare for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, I’m looking forward to a time to connect as Methodists in relationship and vision, thinking and praying about ministry in a regional way, taking bold steps together, re-imagining leadership and direction, living into a bold, outside-the-box commitment to follow the Spirit’s movement wherever She is leading us, and selecting and equipping the lay and clergy leaders that the UMC needs for the mission and purpose ahead.

Sermon: Home Town Humility

“Home Town Humility”

(July 8, 2012) Jesus is rattled by the undercutting words and actions of the people who once knew him best. Is it possible that our faith in God matters? How do we undercut ourselves, others, and the work of God in the world when we refuse to trust? (Mark 6:1-13)

soooo sorry everyone! I think most technical problems are resolved, and I might even be able to catch up and get back to blogging. Oh wait, after Jurisdictional Conference.