In our Christian Scripture, we read of the need to persevere through hardship. Philippians 2 teaches us “I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We get encouragement to face the inner struggles of doing what we want versus what God wants. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans of the turmoil between doing what God wants and doing what evil in the earth wants. We are taught to turn to God for guidance, and that is sage counsel.
In the news we hear of a holy war between Islam and Christians, often referred to as Jihad. The problem with this is that it is ill informed and a bad translation. Jihad is an Arabic word that means striving or persevering. It refers to both the internal and external struggles between sinfulness and obedience to God’s will and loving nature. There is no connotation of war, holy or otherwise, in this idea. It is very similar to the descriptions Christians read in Scripture – an acknowledgement that we struggle with these two opposites.
In Orlando, Florida, a man entered a night club and massacred 49 people and did serious physical harm to some 54 more, and egregious psychological harm to 200 more in the club and countless people across the nation. In the first hours after this attack, the media was publicizing that the attacker was a Muslim. It was reported that seeing two men kissing enraged him to violence against homosexuals who frequented this establishment. Some politicians and activists started to call for tighter gun controls. Others blamed the other party for interfering with legislation that would have prevented this event from occurring.
Let’s take a moment and look at some of the elements of this event. The attacker was a follower of Islam and apparently declared allegiance to ISIS during negotiations with law enforcement over the course of three hours while he held people in the club as hostages. His father, however, reports that his son was not a radicalized terrorist and that the attack was not based on religious ideology. This would suggest that the attacker carried out this attack because of his views of homosexuals. However, some co-workers have said that he worked with homosexuals without any problems, and he had treated them all cordially. Some other co-workers, though, reported that he often talked about acts of violence such as this that he carried out, so there is an apparent disconnect between what some heard and what others heard.
May I then suggest that the attacker was wrestling with some inner turmoil that we will never be able to know of because he is among the dead from this event? Could it be, as some have suggested, that he sensed his own homosexual urges and reacted poorly to having such feelings? Could it be that he was struggling with what he understood God to be saying as opposed to what he wanted? Could the jihad of this event be the sad state of a tormented mind that could not reconcile what his religion told him and what his heart and mind felt?
Muslims in Orlando and across the country have spoken out about the horror of this attack. They have offered prayers for the families. Christian communities have held vigils for the families of the dead, and have spoken out about the horror of this attack. They too have offered prayers for the families. The politicians have attacked each other’s platforms on gun control, on same sex marriage, on the role of religion in society. Some Christian pastors have spoken out in favor of the attack, make such remarks as “the only tragedy is that more (homosexuals) were not killed. We have read of Chick-Fil-A, known for funding anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) organizations, opened a restaurant on Sunday to prepare sandwiches and beverages to be given to blood donors in response to the sudden need. There are images of people holding each other while one or both cry. There are images of people holding each other simply to touch another living being.
We should understand that this event is and is not about religious ideology. We should understand that this event is and is not about access to guns. We should understand that this event is about one individual’s animus toward homosexuals, but it is not about your view or the laws of this land. There are people who will attempt to exploit this event to push one agenda or another, somehow limiting the rights of individuals for the perception of greater safety, but that is not thought out well for unintended consequences. What this event is about, if I may presume to be able to identify just one thing, is the struggle each of us has between good and evil.
In this case, the attacker severed his relationship with God and carried out a heinous act. There was no God that called him to do this, but the evil that is in the human heart. Each of us struggles with jihad, with striving to serve God and righteousness. Sometimes we make poor choices. Fortunately, most of those decisions do not have the consequences of this event. Taking away guns will not solve this problem; that would merely reduce availability of one implement, but there are others available. Restricting the right to worship God as one understands God will not solve this problem. There are countries in which Christians are persecuted by Muslims. It would be more than sad if the US, with its bold statements about freedom of religion, were to become a place where Muslims were persecuted by Christians (and some would suggest they already are). There are some countries in which Christians are persecuted by Hindus, others by Buddhists, by atheists or humanists. Regardless of those states, Christ did not teach persecution of another faith under any circumstances.
What is the Christian response to the events of Orlando? First, cry in pain with those who are mourning the loss of their child, their friends, their spouses. Compassion is to suffer with another and we should suffer this tragedy as a personal attack to have even an inkling of the pain those directly affected by it are experiencing. There is no harm in shedding more than a few tears for the loss of life. Second, speak out about mistreatment of any group. We do not have to agree with others to be able to treat people with dignity and respect. No group deserves to be slaughtered senselessly in a public gathering; regardless of their skin color, sexual preference, ethnic origin, religion, legal status, length of hair or hair color, or any other way we can think of dividing people. Third, pray and then act. Act for justice, peace, and God’s word. We are called to be a holy people, set apart for God’s service. What should set us apart? They should know we are Christians by our love.
I have not written a blog in quite a while. It takes time and we have been at work together on many other ministries. The sessions of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, however, have caused me to take pause to put down these thoughts.
If my sexuality or sexual orientation or gender identity stands between us in our ability to worship together, we must ask how this topic came up and which of us is making it an issue. If being homosexual is a sin, is it not the church’s role to be a place of invitation for the sinner where God’s word is taught? If being homosexual is not a sin, then it should not be an issue and persons should worship God together without sexuality being a topic. If you feel that you must make your sexual identity known to everyone around you, you should not be surprised when some speak against what you are expressing (in fact, I would suggest that was exactly the response you were hoping to elicit so you could make it an issue). These sentences are not intended to state that we should not be talking about the rights of LGBTQ persons, because the oppression of these persons is real and incompatible with the position of the United Methodist Church on human rights. These sentences instead intend to bring to the forefront the question of what is intended by resolutions being considered. If my race, ethnic heritage, or skin color stands between us in our ability to worship together, we must ask which one of us has the issue. If my past sins, such as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21 NAS) stand between us in our ability to worship together, we must ask again, which one of us is making these an issue. Are we trying to decide whose sin is worse or which sins are socially acceptable? We worship a God whose word speaks of his everlasting love for his creation. As Methodists we have a heritage of stating we must agree on the essentials (belief in the Trinity and salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ) while being able to discuss the non-essentials. Declaring something to be incompatible with Christian values does not speak to the orthodoxy of the topic, but to an ethos. Our morals and values are significantly impacted by our cultures and societal norms and mores. Jesus Christ crossed cultural norms by speaking with sinners, gentiles, and the poor. Jesus Christ cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit to restore persons to health and the ability to live in righteousness. Our church, like all churches, is called to be the body of Christ and to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God within our cultural contexts.
This statement does not help the church make a decision about who is qualified to lead as clergypersons, because we should consider that ethos within our cultural contexts. As I move through the process of ordination, I am painfully aware that in some Annual Conferences I might not be ordained because I could be viewed as “too conservative” and in others I could be viewed as “too liberal.” I would have a difficult time serving as the pastor of an ethnic church (written as if being white means I have no ethnic identity) because of my ethnicity, but that would not make me less qualified for ordination. If we understand ordination as something that God does and that is merely ratified by the people of the church, then the lengthy process of education and spiritual formation are ways to equip the ordinand with tools to improve success in speaking and living out God’s word. The tools for theological study permit those who wield them to reach their own conclusions. Within the body of Christ there have been and continue to be many theologians with varying opinions. As Methodists we study excerpts from the Patriarchs, from Calvin, from Luther, and from John Wesley because John Wesley read the works of these theologians, among others, and his ministry was influenced by them. Since John Wesley’s time we have been informed by other theologians, such as Barth, Niebuhr, Bultmann, Bonhoffer, Patinga, Outler, and more. These theologians guide us to new and deeper understandings of God through observations of how God works in human existence.
If we are not prepared to call homosexuality a heresy, what business have we as a church to call it contrary to Christian faith. If homosexuality is a heresy, then so ought divorce and adultery be considered heretical. If these are sins and not heresies, why do we struggle with whether the sinner should be permitted to lead a congregation? We can read in the New Testament (Romans 5:8 among other places) that we have all sinned (and perhaps confessing that would help the conversation), so it should not be news that we already have sinners leading congregations. Are we then trying to determine what types of sins should be allowed amongst our leaders? In our United Methodist tradition our bishops and superintendents determine who should be appointed to lead specific congregations. In our Annual Conference we have seen clergy of Mexican heritage appointed to historically white congregations for the purpose of starting a new congregation of Mexican immigrants and descendants as reflects the surrounding community. We have clergypersons whose sexual orientation is known among other clergy and laity, but is not discussed because that person is an effective spokesperson for God. The bishops who make appointments have many factors to consider in selecting who is the right leader for a congregation. One’s sexual orientation and how that would be received in the community are of relatively lesser importance among those factors.
In honesty, many of those persons who fear homosexuality are afraid of things that the vast majority of homosexuals don’t like either; exploitation of minor children, rape, undesired sexual advances, sexually transmitted diseases, promiscuity, infidelity, broken trust, abuse. There is a perception among some that homosexual acts are perversion of the sexual relationship intended by God, while there are others who do not hold that opinion. There is little scientific data to substantiate or refute predilection toward homosexuality and perversion is a judgment of morality (at one time and still in some communities, sex in a position other than "missionary" is considered perversion). There are real issues that homosexuals must deal with that heterosexuals do not; misunderstanding, bigotry, fear. Interracial heterosexual relationships were once viewed with the same misunderstanding, bigotry, and fear as homosexual relationships are viewed today, and while the vast majority of Americans have accepted the normalcy of interracial marriage today, there remain some people who will never accept it and will continue to teach their children in that way. As we listen to persons who speak of their struggles to reconcile their sexual orientation or gender identification with their Christian faith, we have to consider the implications of our own sexual orientation and decisions (premarital sex, extra-marital affairs, promiscuity, pornography viewing, masturbation, etc). Perhaps we have never given that thought, but the homosexual person has been forced to consider these because they are the realities of secular and spiritual life. Each of us should consider the implications of our behaviors in light of God’s word and make our decisions about how we will live out God’s love, seeking forgiveness for those times when we have missed the mark.
It is the prerogative of every organization to establish its own rules and guidelines. It is imperative for persons to make a decision about joining an organization based on its established rules. It is disingenuous to join an organization stating that one will uphold its polity but with the intent to change it. It is right, in fact imperative, for members to strive to change what is wrong within an organization or dissociate from it. While at General Conference we may not make the changes some would hope for and conversely we may make concessions and changes that some would oppose, may we strive to find the middle ground that expresses God’s love for us without judgment of morality? The bickering and name calling (from both sides) is contrary to our historical traditions and hurtful to the denomination as a whole. Pope Francis has given guidance to the Roman Catholic Church in his words that makes the church invitational to homosexuals without having given a moral statement about whether it is right or wrong. Should we be so different? Should we exclude from the church those who think homosexuality is a sin by making a statement that says it is not? Can we rightly continue to apparently exclude homosexuals? I don’t personally believe that I must plant a rainbow sign in front of the church building to be invitational to the LGBTQ community because it is simultaneously exclusionary to a larger segment of society that may also want to worship in this place. Instead, I believe the teaching of God’s word and a sincere welcome by God’s people will do far more. At all cost, let us not replace words that exclude one group with words that exclude another. In all things, let us Love Like Jesus.
Women in the contemporary church
The conservative church has maintained that women should be restricted to support roles in the church and are not permitted to teach or preach to groups with baptized adult males present. The dominant voice in North American culture calls for equality between the sexes, despite residual inequity in pay and limitations in some career fields. The Christian church should be a driver in culture instead of merely yielding to the whims of the society in which worshipers live and should use the Bible as the primary source for that leadership. Despite this, there are churches that insist on subjugating women and relegating them to support roles. Some of those churches even send women out as missionaries with permission to preach and teach, but then silence them when they return to their home churches in the United States. Four interpretations of passages from the Bible have led to different models in church leadership with only one that rightly places women in equal roles with men.
There is a story of a mother who once sent her adult son two sweaters as a holiday gift. The son opened the gift box and took out the sweaters one at a time, as they were stacked in the box on top of the other. He liked both sweaters and since he was joining his mother for the holiday meal he chose to wear the first sweater he took out of the box. When he arrived at his mother’s home she said, “What’s this? You didn’t like the other one?”
In this anecdote the son saw both sweaters as nice, but he could actually only wear one at a time. One interpretation of the Bible suggests that men should be the leaders of the church because Adam was created before Eve and Eve was created to be man’s helper. Some would even suggest that Eve was more culpable for eating of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden because she ate first and that the snake identified her as the more-easily manipulated (weaker) sex. I’d suggest that interpreting women to be more easily manipulated is Satan still working through the words of the Scriptures. These ideas have been disproven by various studies and life experiences; one’s sex has almost nothing to do with how easily one might be manipulated and becomes a factor only when considering how a person interacts with the sex of the person attempting to do the manipulation. Though we profess that God can do anything, God chose to create first man then woman, but this does not suggest a man is superior or a woman is inferior. If we were to use similar logic then everyone would be scrambling to buy the first mixer because obviously it must be better than the second or the thousandth mixer manufactured. The argument that man is superior because he was created first is without merit. The Bible, however, has more to say about the role of women and various authors have offered interpretations of those passages.
Culver’s essay on the role of women in the traditional church, and similarly Foh’s essay on male leadership, relegates the voice of women to singing songs and participating in community prayer in worship at best. Both of these essays draw upon three scriptural citations: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16[i]; 1 Corinthians 14:34-37[ii]; and, 1 Timothy 2:8-15[iii]. Despite these passages, both Foh and Culver appear to place more authority in the practices of the church over the centuries than on the words of the Bible. Their essays correctly state that the traditional, conservative church has restricted women in various degrees to positions outside of the pastorate. Proper interpretation of these passages that makes consistent use of possible translations and includes contextual considerations shows that women have an important role of leadership in the church and are not excluded from pastoral ministry. Foh cites scriptural passages, acknowledging that Paul saw women spreading the gospel message, naming Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Mary, Euodia and Syntyche , mentioning Philip’s daughters (Foh 79). However, Foh then draws the conclusion that because none of these women are identified explicitly as apostles, evangelists, or elders, these roles are not the domain of women. It is important to note that many of the conservative evangelical and charismatic churches of the so-called post-Christian era also limit the role of women in ministry, so as to not make it appear that this is only a problem in the older churches.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is interpreted by some churches to require women to wear a head-covering whenever she is to speak in church. It further appears to indicate that all women are to be married and have no role in church or society if they are not married. Two issues arise from these views that need be examined. Verse 11:6 allows that to pray or prophesy properly in church a woman should have her head shaved, but if that is shameful then her head should be veiled. The first clause regarding shaving the woman’s head is rarely addressed and might suggest that all men who pray or prophesy before the congregation are already bald. There is no Scriptural foundation in the New Testament to substantiate this practice. Culver and others don’t suggest that all men who pray or prophesy are bald because they may be young or old yet the nature of their masculinity reflects God. Culver et al then posit that women reflect their husbands instead of God, which is why they are to be veiled. If we understand that prophecy is the word of God given through another person and God chooses to give prophetic words to a woman, then is she reflecting God or her husband? If she is reflecting her husband, then we can hardly say that the words are the prophetic words of God. One might also further assert that if all people are created in the image of God and we recollect Genesis 1:27[iv], then it is hardly fitting that only men represent God without shaving one’s head or covering it with a veil.
In the Gospel of Luke there is fairly significant amount of space given to the telling of the annunciation of John and of Jesus. In both of these stories God sends messengers to the mothers, Elizabeth and Mary respectively, not first to their husbands[v] or other male. It might be weakly argued by some that neither Elizabeth or Mary were prophets, though most people would consider the messages they carried were prophetic, so it is appropriate to mention at least three more women who prophesied and were either unmarried or their marital status is unrecorded in Scripture. Miriam is referred to as a prophetess as an adult. Her marital status is unstated. In Malachi 6:4, though, her name is listed along side Moses and Aaron and credited as having led the people to freedom from Egypt. Miriam is noted in Exodus 15:20-21 for leading worship after crossing the Red Sea. Nehemiah remarks about Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and though he appears not to regard her well he refers to her as a prophet. Nehemiah 6:14 provides an interesting insight through the grammar, as well. Nehemiah refers to Noadiah along with other prophets who have tried to scare him. The male form of the noun, prophet, is used as is common when a group consists of both male and female persons. This use also implies equal standing among the male and female prophets, not placing the female prophets in a lesser role. The daughters of Phillip mentioned in Acts 21:8-9 are explicitly described as virgins yet are seen to prophesy. Each of these women prophesy without the intervention of a man and do not have husbands whom they should reflect. This should be sufficient to indicate that God may use whomever is chosen to speak the words of prophecy, yet some will persist that women must take authority from a male leader before speaking as indicated by a head-covering.
While some might argue that the daughters of Philip were still under the authority of their father, Anna was of great age, as described in Luke 2:36-38 as being a widow. Based on these observations, it is apparent there is no biblical support for the idea that women must have their heads shaved or covered or that God cannot use a woman for prophecy.
1 Corinthians 14:34-37 is often cited as instruction for women to be silent in church. Reading the Scripture it is certainly clear that women were praying and prophesying in the churches already and Paul, apparently aware this is occurring, raises no issues with these practices. These verses appear disjointed from Paul’s other writings and the surrounding text. Sampley writes, “Verses 34-36, with their injunction of women’s silence and assertion of their subordination to men, vary from what we have seen in the rest of 1 Corinthians. First, it is clear that women are praying and prophesying in the church at Corinth (11:5) and Paul not only makes no effort to stop it, but he appears to assume it is quite proper;” (Sampley 969). Sampley goes on to describe that, though we cannot discern today what specifically was added by later editors to Paul’s letters, it is clear that some texts were inserted after Paul’s letter was originally written and this text appears to be one such addition. He makes this proposition on the disparity between the assertions of this text compared to the corpus of Paul’s writings, which elsewhere greet female leaders with respect. Paul praises Phoebe, who is identified as a deacon at Cenchreae, and refers to her as his patron. This would be implausible of Paul were making a general direction to women in the church instead of addressing a particular situation, if we insist that Paul wrote these verses at all. Mikelsen writes, “Even those who use “selective literalism” with these verses to rule out women teaching or preaching never choose to follow them exactly. If they did, women could not sing in choirs, or even in the congregation, or teach Sunday school or operate the church kitchens” (Mikelsen 199). Clearly that is not Paul’s intent.
1 Timothy 2:8-15 is also used as means to apparently describe how women should dress and comport themselves in church. The Greek could be translated equally well as husband and wife instead of man and women, as is seen in 1 Pete 3:1-6, which nuances this passage to address the status and sanctity of marriage rather than church behavior. While churches met in private homes, this guidance would affect the hosts and possibly the guests, not to over-adorn themselves. It is only in the most recent century that women have gained some semblance of equality in marriage, and not universally at that; so, the views of relationship to the husband reflected in this passage suggest a cultural perspective instead of a Biblical mandate for subordination of the woman to the man. We must also note that the author (presumably Paul) wants women to learn, which would be pointless if they were not to also then teach their children and others as well. Keener brings us quickly to a solid understanding of this passage, writing; “There is a universal principle in this text, but it is broader than that unlearned women should not teach. If Paul does not want the women to teach in some sense, it is not because they are women, but because they are unlearned” (Keener 120). Though there are other elements of this passage that have been used, and will probably continue to be used, to subordinate women in relationships with men, the thrust of this brings stability to marriage and limits teaching to those who are learned.
Those who use Scripture to subjugate or dominate women fail to contextual the texts, avoiding passages that speak to the roles of men, especially in relationships with women. Some have used alternative or inconsistent translations of words from the original languages to promote their ideas. However, throughout Scripture we read of women who prayed, prophesied, taught, and generally worshiped God in the church, in their communities, and in their homes. God created man and woman, both in God’s image, and gives both the responsibility to speak prophetic words and teach God’s commandments. Neither male nor female should be silent, but both must know of what they speak before either presumes to represent God’s words to others.
Our United Methodist tradition has recognized the important role of women in ministry and the pastorate, though admittedly this came about only in the last century. John Wesley held a view that would limit the role of women in ministry, but his mother and his wife demonstrated such power in their teaching that he could hardly speak a critical word as they drew people to closer relationship with God. A complete timeline of the role of women in the United Methodist (and predecessor) denomination can be found at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/timeline-of-women-in-methodism. I am posting this today because of the disturbing articles I see widespread across the internet that again attempt to cast women into support roles alone and deny their ability to lead. The mission of the church depends on all voices being heard, so let's permit God to take authority and not scrutinize the messenger simply for their gender.
Works CitedFoh, Susan. "A Male Leadership View: The Head of a Woman is the Man." Women In Ministry: Four Views. Ed. Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989. 69-102. Paperback.
Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives:Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1992. Paperback.
Mikelsen, Alvera. "An Egalitarian View: There Is Neither Male nor Female in Christ." Women in Mininstry: Four Views. Ed. Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989. 173-206. Paperback.
Sampley, J. Paul. "The First Letter to the Corinthians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary:. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. X. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002. XII vols. 773-1003. Hardcover.
[i] 1 Corinthians 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head-- it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious-- we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
[ii] 1 Corinthians 14:34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) 37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.
[iii] 1 Timothy 2:8 Therefore, I want men to pray everywhere by lifting up hands that are holy, without anger or argument. 9 In the same way, I want women to enhance their appearance with clothing that is modest and sensible, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. 10 They should make themselves attractive by doing good, which is appropriate for women who claim to honor God. 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. 13 Adam was formed first, and then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. 15 But a wife will be brought safely through childbirth, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.
[iv] God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
[v] Jewish custom would hold that even though Mary and Joseph were not yet married, their state of betrothal is similar enough that the word husband is not inappropriate. I understand that our modern language use would prefer fiancé or similar term, but in the interest of brevity and to underscore the point I am attempting to make I have chosen to use only the term husband.
Our denomination considers work in the community to be important. John Wesley is known for his comment “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Our upward relationship with God leads to our outward relationships with people which builds our inward relationship (or more simply stated, our faith in God feeds our care and compassion for others which deepens our faith). Works in our community might include volunteering at Payson Community Kids as a reader or tutor, or helping with meal preparation and service. It could also include volunteering at the Police Department, serving at Veterans Helping Veterans, helping at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or any of the 17 or ministries in which the church is already involved. Perhaps it might include starting a new ministry.
Last spring tornadoes struck at the heart of Arkansas. An acquaintance and colleague of mine reported on Facebook that the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) trailers with relief supplies were on site and ready to help before the news trucks from the “local” TV stations showed up. He showed pictures and video taken from a circling helicopter of the utter destruction of his church and the surrounding neighborhood. Our apportionment dollars help the denomination live out our goals of helping others through ministries like UMCOR that reach beyond the borders of our Annual Conference. Such services are also able to respond more quickly and with greater resources than any one church could do on its own. As we have heard in the Ministry Moments during the worship service, our contributions help support the largest center in Arizona for displaced children, Tucson Metropolitan Ministries, and many more programs in the Conference. Aside from merely providing money, we have the opportunity to work with organizations, such as FaithWorks, that provide ministries and services to the First People on the reservations as well as internationally.
Our faith in God assures us of God’s love for us (or it should), and because of that faith we are called to act upon God’s grace given to us. Every person should be engaged in ministry outside the walls of the church building. I love our motto “The Church has left the Building,” and I know I am not alone (I overheard a small group take on that motto because one of our members talked about what this congregation is doing to live into that catch-phrase). Truly, ministry outside the walls of the church is what we are called to; as individuals and as the body of Christ. As we explore our call to ministry of missions, we should each examine our own hearts and find how we can be at work in our community, in our area, and around the world.
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (NRS)
Steve was a homeless man. One day a person observed Steve going through the dumpsters in search of partially eaten meals abandoned by those who purchased them. This Samaritan offered Steve a meal from the nearby fast-food establishment, which Steve gratefully accepted. At the restaurant our Samaritan purchased the largest meal they offered and left Steve to eat it after they had received the meal. After driving only a few blocks, the Samaritan again thought of Steve and knew that he could buy Steve a few meals, so he returned to the restaurant and offered to buy Steve a gift card. Steve gratefully accepted; never had he asked for money or for anything at all. Steve told his benefactor that he was on the streets because he had cancer, a large tumor visible below the skin on his abdomen verified the claim, and Steve did not want to be a burden on his family but that he had lost his job and couldn’t afford a place to live.
Homelessness is a big topic in the United States recently. Our capitalist economic system would have us believe that these persons have many opportunities to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and they must just be lazy if they aren’t helping themselves. Stories like that of Steve indicate that homelessness is more complex. We can become jaded by persons who do not want to exert the effort to change and live with society or by the persons who are scrounging for money for their next fix or drink. Drug addiction, alcohol abuse and alcoholism, sexual abuse, theft, and hygiene are common issues among the homeless population. Not all persons who are homeless are unemployed. Not all persons who are homeless are addicts, uneducated, or unskilled. There is a disproportionate number of our veterans who return to the United States and end up on the streets because they are disillusioned about what they will encounter when they return.
Christ calls us to be in ministry to all the world through the Great Commission (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”). When we look at Mark 9:35, we get a good image of what that ministry should look like. It is not enough to tell the hungry person to eat their fill; we must give them something to eat. It is not enough to tell the oppressed that they are free to do as they want; we must work to ensure that freedom is real. Christ calls for us to serve others because of our faith. God provides us the resources to make the world a better place, but we have to put those resources to work.
Our series on missional living will look at ways we can serve locally and globally. I hope we can live into Christ’s call, and a bumper sticker I appreciated reading some years ago – Think globally, Act locally!