Monday, April 25, 2011

World Communion Sunday

World Communion Sunday has me thinking. When I was a youngster in my home church we went to Sunday School and afterwards made our way into the sanctuary. The educational building was behind the sanctuary so that if you went from one to the other you usually entered through the back door that opened into the sanctuary right beside the pulpit and altar. If we saw the communion elements and the white cloth spread out we immediately pressed our parents into leaving early.

Communion services were so long and were as somber as a funeral service. We used the old ritual; where what we said reversed our efforts at the Protestant Reformation’s focus on grace. We went back to something that resembled a large confessional booth. We used words like, “We bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time have committed in thought, word, and deed…” I felt sinful enough already. Our communion service seemed to add to my sense of guilt. The words of pardon were miniscule in comparison to the confession. I usually left feeling worse.

This is one reason that today when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper; we attempt to focus more on Christ’s marvelous work of grace than on our power to reform ourselves. We, more often than not, now refer to Communion as the Eucharist. Eucharist means Thanksgiving. The most important thing that we do when we come to the Communion Table is say, “Thanks!” to Christ for his gift of mercy. Rather than focus overly on our sinfulness, we thank God for God’s graciousness. What a better perspective!

World Communion Sunday is an event that bridges denominations and spotlights our commonality in the Body of Christ. This world would be so much better off if we looked for that which we hold in common rather than our differences. Holy Communion, rightly observed, reunites the Church. This is the pastor’s hope when he or she holds up the loaf of bread and says, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body in Christ.”

Therefore, our focus this week is in how to get over our differences and find common power to live in Christ. The Eucharist is a time of positive celebration, reunion, prayer for healing, and a sacred time to put others before ourselves. In my first parish I had three churches. I remember how shocked I was as I went to my first communion service at the smallest church of eight members. When I arrived there was a loaf of sliced “Wonder” bread still in its wrapper on the altar and a bottle of Welch’s grape juice and some small paper cups. They had not had communion in years. I was soon to find out why.

I went through the ritual and opened the altar for people to partake and NOBODY came forward. The reason they hadn’t had communion in years is that they were afraid. They knew full well that they were not living as consistent Christians. They felt too unworthy to come to the Table. I quickly switched sermons and preached on grace. Still nobody came up, but by the time I left there five years later, a few did. Those few moved from guilt to grace, judging to acceptance. They found real communion with Jesus, a sacrament indeed.

Dentist Thomas Welch found himself in a somewhat similar situation back in 1869. Communion was problematic for a number of reasons. The alcoholic content of the wine was one of them. Dr. Welch was the Communion Steward for the congregation of First Methodist Church of Vineland, New Jersey. To his dismay more often than not communion either set some of the participants off on an alcoholic binge or a rush to judgment by the abstention crowd. He and his family did experiment after experiment to come up with a solution and they did. He created unfermented grape juice, dubbed it “unfermented wine,” and soon churches all around wanted the product. By 1890 “Dr. Welch’s Grape Juice” had become a staple on communion tables, where it remains so today, all because someone saw communion as a sacrament that brought Christians together, not divided them!

--from "A Potter's View" Blog by Tim McClendon, UM pastor, SC Ann Conf.

God Is Still In Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, April 18, 2011

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named" Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9: 6-7, NRSV)


For many Christians, preparations for Christmas are more hectic than peaceful. Parties to host or attend; gifts to purchase and get to their recipients; favorite foods to prepare; houses to clean; worship services, concerts and recitals to attend; poor to care for and serve. And there are other realities which contradict what seems to be the way of peace -- crime in some neighborhoods, domestic violence, conflict in schools or in work places. The poor and the homeless whose presence, visibly or in the back of our minds, pricks our consciousness, reminding us of the violence poverty does to a body and to a heart. Along with the deployment of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, we are reminded that in too many places, the world continues to function completely antithetically to the ways of peace.


In many aspects, the days during which Christ was born were similar to our own times. The need for peace was born out of the lack of it, for the majority of God's people. In Jesus, God responded to the cries of the marginalized, the oppressed, the despairing, for whom peace was not easily attained. But it was into the very midst of conflict, poverty, hunger, disease, injustice and hopelessness that God in Christ Jesus appeared as a visible symbol of hope and life. The birth of Jesus was proof that God is a God of peace and of justice. Endless peace is the result of knowing the healing, forgiving, restorative, miraculous love of God. Jesus showed us what it looked like, sounded like, felt like as he fed the hungry, gave hope to the poor, healed the sick, raised the dead and called for justice for the marginalized and excluded.


It is often difficult to believe that these movements of God are still occurring and live within and among us. Yet, they are. The way of peace is an inside-out job. We are God's vessels for the change we wish to see. So I invite us to live into this season of new life and new beginnings, releasing from within us the peace that comes from knowing the love and presence of our God resident in each one of us.


Human nature is amazingly predictable. Love multiplies, hope multiplies, faith in God multiplies. The more we give, the more we receive. It truly IS more of a blessing to give. God's immeasurable gift of love to humanity cannot be repaid, but we CAN respond in kind. We can respond by being vessels of God's peace in the midst of the challenges of real life. We can exemplify and speak peace in our congregations, our families, our circuits, in our schools and our places of work and community. Not just some of us, but each of us, all of us. Looking to the author and finisher of our faith, we are the agents of God's change, transformation, movement and spirit of peace today.


With these things in mind, let us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Through him we expect a new spirit of peace in Wisconsin Conference. New peace that gives birth to new life in ministry and mission in Wisconsin and throughout the world! "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, And on earth peace among those whom he favors.' (Luke 2:10-14)

--In the Spirit and Peace of Christ, Bishop Linda Lee

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey

Web Content Producer

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Philosophy of scarcity or abundance?

Do we live a philosophy of scarcity or a philosophy of abundance? The difference became apparent to me when I learned of the difficulty that missionaries faced in Bolivia in the late 1960's. The farmers harvested their "potato" crop long before the "potatoes" matured.

They feared their neighbors would arrive in the dark of night and steal their crop. Neither the farmers nor their neighbors believed there was enough for everyone. Therefore, they harvested their crops prematurely and there was insufficient food for everyone. Their fear induced behavior produced the results they anticipated.

Fear and anxiety hang over many people in this country. The global recession caused many individuals and companies to collapse. Some congregations suffered from the same malady. They made bad decisions, assumed they would experience significant future growth, and these new members would be very generous contributors to the church's desired future. The recession hit and their response was to cut ministries and focus their energy on finding sufficient money to meet their financial obligations instead of concentrating on God's mission and calling.

God promises to meet our needs, but not our wants and wishes. God provides sufficient resources so that no one needs to go hungry, without shelter, or deprived of an education. God provides, but God assumes that we are willing to take only what we need and share with those who do not have what they need. God expects us to keep our eyes and hearts focused on our mission instead of allowing our fears and anxieties to lead us into acting as if God is unable to provide for our needs.

Several years ago a congregation invited me to consult with them about designing strategies for their congregation's future. It became obvious that the leaders were unable to envision big hairy audacious goals. Everything was restricted by what the leaders believed they could afford. Even when I urged, begged, and pleaded with them to allow an awesome God to use them in ways they had never known before; they were unable to shake off the philosophy of scarcity. They did not have enough money and could not imagine carrying out the ministries without the infusion of far more money than they had ever known before.

This philosophy of scarcity is contrasted with another congregation in the community that believed God would provide. They dreamed of doing ministries that some thought were impossible. They refused to allow the lack of financial resources to curtail their assurance that God would transform the lives of individuals in their communities beyond their wildest expectations. They learned to do many of the ministries without additional money. They became the resource people instead of hiring individuals to do the ministry for them. They learned leadership skills they did not know they possessed. Those big hairy audacious goals became a reality.

We worship and follow an awesome God. Our God provides for our needs. As Eugene Petersen paraphrases Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth, "Just think-you don't need a thing, you've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale" (I Corinthians 1:7).

Grace & Peace,

--by Bishop Max Whitfield

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God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey

Web Content Producer