Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Para. 123 The Global Nature of Our Mission

The Connectional Table continues to seek to “discern and articulate” (¶904) our vision in a worldwide connection.  The Book of Discipline gives us language that says:

The Church seeks to fulfill its global mission through the Spirit-given servant ministries of all Christians, both lay and clergy. Faithfulness and effectiveness demand that all ministries in the Church be shaped by the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. (¶123)

Keep in mind, this paragraph is preceded by our United Methodist mission statement, our rationale for the mission, and the process for carrying out our mission.  The process for carrying out our mission was heavily shared throughout General Conference 2016.  In Portland, we illustrated how we proclaimed the Gospel, led persons to commit their lives to God, nurtured persons in Christian living, and sent people into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ. (¶122) But what does “Spirit-given servant ministries” throughout the world look like?  And do we define “faithfulness and effectiveness shaped by the mission,” the same way?  In other words, what does the fruit of mission look like in our worldwide Church?

The Connectional Table is tasked with “reviewing and evaluating missional effectiveness” (¶905.4) in our worldwide church.  The Discipline asks us to look at general program-related agencies and connectional structures of the church and see what they do “collectively” in order to aid annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the mission of The United Methodist Church…  (¶905.4).

In this task, we have discovered that in order to fulfill our global mission, we have to look at each region of our world with a culturally and contextually sensitive lens.  What is needed for missional effectiveness in one part of our world may not be the same in another part of our Church.  Despite these differences, we believe what we are doing is “shaped by the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.” (¶123)

“So, what?,” you might ask.  Leaders throughout our connection are trying to figure out WHAT we need to hold together because we are a part of the United Methodist family throughout the world and WHAT do we need to let each region in our connection figure out for themselves.  This will take courage, humility, honesty, and grace.  Gil Rendle wrote in a monograph on courage, “Doing what is right because it aligns with purpose, as opposed to doing what is desired, is a courageous act because in church systems our leaders exercise their leadership ‘in community.’ The pastor, or the denominational executive, is a part of the community to which he or she offers leadership. In other words, the leader is dependent upon the very people he or she leads.” (Rendle Monograph)

The Connectional Table represents the whole church and all people who call themselves United Methodist in every nook and cranny of our world.  Our challenge is to serve our community well as we seek to fulfill our purpose through our mission of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On Christian Perfection: Wesley's Sermon #40 - 1741

On Christian Perfection: Wesley’s Sermon #40 – 1741

For me, Wesley’s sermon on Christian Perfection has always been a challenging topic for discussion as it brings so many cultural and contextual issues with the word “perfection.”  Heitzenrater and Outler remind us in their introductory comments on this sermon what they believe Wesley had in mind when he put this message out there for people in his time and place.

 “For Wesley, salvation was the total restoration of the deformed image of God in us, and its fullness was the recovery of our negative power not to sin and our positive power to love God supremely.  Wesley chose to call that furthest reach of grace in sanctification and its triumphs in this life ‘Christian Perfection’, a position that he had stated earlier in ‘The Circumcision of the Heart’ (1733).” (John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, p. 69)

They go on to state how few from a western cultural milieu ever “envisioned it as a realistic possibility in this life.” (p. 69)  As we enter into this time of Lent, I’ve been challenged to think about how Wesley’s message of Christian Perfection applies to our United Methodist connection.  If sanctification is about “what God does in us,” then what evidence will we find that God is at work in the quest for human flourishing for all who have been transformed through their relationship with Christ?  Is this what Christian Perfection means?  And if this is the case, then what is the Church’s role in partnering with God on this quest for human flourishing?  What is our role and responsibility as The United Methodist Church? 

Wesley goes on to unpacking what he means by “Christian Perfection,” and points to the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Matthew, the writings of Paul and the words of James.  He states, “And as Christians indeed are freed from evil thoughts, so are thy, secondly from evil tempers.  This is evident from the above-mentioned declaration of our Lord himself: ‘The disciple is not above his master; but everyone that is perfect shall be as his master.’”  Then he points to how Christ lived:

·      Christ was lowly of heart;
·      Pure from self-will or desire;
·      Christ desired only to do the will of his Father and to finish his work;
·      Pure from anger, in the common sense of the word (for all anger is not evil);
·      Christ was meek and gentle, patient and long-suffering.

If our role and responsibility is to be as the master, then maybe the role and responsibility of The United Methodist Church is to be lowly of heart, pure from self-will or desire, desiring only to do the will of God and finish God’s work.  Can our church be pure from anger, meek, gentle, patient and long-suffering?  Is that God’s call?  At the same time, I wonder about what it means to be “angry at the sin, and in the same moment grieved for the sinners” as Wesley states in his sermon.  Should the church practice “righteous anger?”  In the uncertainties and disparities in the world today, I tend to believe there is a time and place for Christians through the church to step forward. 

But, I also struggle with the call for meekness and gentleness, patience, and long-suffering.  Maybe this is why all Christians are invited to come together as the whole Body of Christ.  Where one part of our Body steps up in one arena of Christ’s perfection, the other part of Christ’s Body can be challenged to rise up.  This is why we need one another in a vital connection.  We must strive together to live into the vision of “Christian Perfection” as the whole Body of Christ.  For if we just live as individual parts, we lose the gift of grace offered to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Well, at least that is the wisdom I have captured today as I re-read Wesley’s sermon on Christian Perfection. May by God’s grace more wisdom come through our collective reading of the scriptures and our study of our forefathers and foremothers interpretations of God’s Word.

With God's Love,
Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker

Monday, January 23, 2017

Salvation by Faith

Last week a group of agency leaders and bishops gathered in Charleston, South Carolina to discuss the strategies of our connectional work in our mission.  As most know, we have zoomed in on our collective work in increasing vital congregations throughout the church as they carry out mission and ministry in our four areas of focus.  This mission and ministry fruit will be known as we create new places for new people and invite 1,000,000 new disciples to profess their faith in Jesus the risen Christ.  It will be known as we partner with 400 communities engaged in ministry with the poor through our annual conferences around the world.  The fruit will be known as we invite 3,000,000 Christian disciples to make an outward commitment to their experience of the inward gift of grace.  And of course, our efforts in joining hands to save 1,000,000 children through life-saving interventions is an important way we live out our transformed lives.

As we engaged in this conversation, someone raised the theological question about our church striving to do good works, and forgetting why we do this work to begin with.  Everyone paused and started engaging in the conversation about whether or not we knew how to “BE” the church, rather than being stuck in the “DOING” part of our church work.  It reminded me of the “Salvation by Faith” sermon Wesley wrote in 1738.  It is part of a series of sermons introducing Wesley’s “new gospel,” proclaiming that salvation is by faith alone. 

He writes: For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand.  ‘All our works thou, O God, hast wrought in us.’ These therefore are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this also is the gift of God.

Wesley continues to make the case that there is nothing in our will or in our being that warrants God’s salvation on us.  But, rather it is our faith in Christ that overrides all our actions and inactions.  Instead it is about being and becoming new creations through our faith in Jesus.  It is about inviting everyone to discern where God is calling and responding out of our love for God and our deep desire for living with God’s grace in us, through us and in-spite of us.  So, how can we BE the church as we strive for these strategic directions together?  How can we communicate that everything originates from that glorious and wonderous gift of grace?  It wouldn’t hurt us to re-read “Salvation by Faith,” and find ways for us to live as people transformed by the power of Jesus Christ who are reaching new people, developing Christian leaders, engaging in ministry with the poor and striving for abundant healt for all.  This is who we are.  This is what we do as people saved by God’s grace through our faith.

With God's Love,
Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker