Pastor’s Blogs

It’s All About Relationships

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
–John 1:1

One of the unique characteristics of our Christian tradition is our belief in one God in three persons — Father, Son, and Spirit. The “Trinity” (as we call it) recognizes that Jesus was not only the Son of God but that Jesus was, in fact, the same God that created all the world, and that the Holy Spirit is likewise one and the same as the Father and Son. Honestly, the Trinity is a mystery that can boggle the mind at times, and while there are all sorts of ways of trying to explain it, it is something that we ultimately have to recognize as unexplainable and something that we affirm through faith.

For me, the central truth of the Trinity is that we believe in a God who at the very core is relational. Our belief in the Trinity should (if we really reflect on it) should help us see that Christianity is never something that is individual but rather always about relationship. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, understood that an individualistic approach to faith was dangerous to the church and God’s Kingdom. He wrote, “I shall endeavor to show that Christianity is essentially a social religion and that to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.” He would later say that “Holy solitaries” is a phrase that no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

We live in a time when there is a great focus on individualism — both in the secular world and in the church. We talk about Jesus as our “personal” savior and folks will talk about how they don’t need the church because it’s all about “me and Jesus.” But to make the message of Jesus about personal fulfillment without being part of a relationship is to miss out on the relational God who created us for connection.

A friend of mine recently told her story of coming back into the church after being outside for a while. She had developed a friendship with a Presbyterian pastor who didn’t hit her over the head with a bible or tell her how sinful she was, but rather simply loved on her. At one point she looked at him and told him that she was “spiritual, but not religious…” (a phrase I often hear among younger folks these days). He looked back at her and said “That’s like saying I play football, but not on a team.”

During the month of October, we’re going to think about what it means to believe in a God who is relational, and how we are called to be in relationship to that God, to one another in the church, and to the world. I really believe that Christianity is a religion that is all about relationships. Our calling as Methodist people is to proclaim a faith that absolutely believes that we are interconnected to one another, that we called to seek after God in community, and that the church is a place where Christ can be seen and experienced in a very real way, for the church IS the Body of Christ.

For sure, we are broken humans who often disagree — but in a world so polarized as what we experience today we have an even greater responsibility to model that we are still one body, even in the face of our disagreement. What is more important than our right belief (orthodoxy) is making sure that we maintain right relationships with God, with one another, and the world.

I hope you will join me this Sunday morning at 8 or 10 a.m. as we think together about what it means to follow a relational God.

–Jay

Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the weeping

This morning, the scripture focus in my devotional time was from Luke 6. In particular, verses 20-21 jumped out at me:

Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Lukes version of these “beatitudes” (blessings) differs a bit from Matthew’s in the Sermon on the Mount, and Luke is careful to not overly spiritualize them. Given Luke’s focus on the poor and marginalized, it’s likely that he is talking about folks living in poverty, those who are hungry, and those consumed with grief. In Luke’s vision of God’s kingdom, there is a special relationship between God and those on the margins and there is always a word of hope for folks for whom life is a struggle (as well as a word of warning for those whose riches are built on the backs of the poor).

However, in my reading this morning, I found myself reading these verses in the context of our church, specifically the City Road Chapel congregation to which I’ve been sent to lead. As all of you know, City Road is a place that experienced great success in the past, but in recent years has struggled as the community and the world changed. While compared to some places we are a place of great riches, our current reality is that doing ministry in our context is hard and that we have challenges in maintaining that which God has given us. We have the riches of a wonderful facility, but as our Bishop likes to say, “…we are building poor…” in that the facility is larger than what we need and expensive to maintain. We have dedicated members committed to ministry in Madison, but it’s been hard to bring a new generation of folks to join us in the journey of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. There are even times when we are brought to tears over the loss of what we were are we are heading toward an uncertain future.

And yet, as I read Jesus’ blessings this morning, maybe that place of poverty, hunger, and weeping is just where we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus says clearly that it’s when we are poor we fully experience the riches of God’s Kingdom, when we are hungry that we begin to find satisfaction with the most basic things, and when we are weeping that we will be moved to joy and laughter.

I think this raises some important questions for our church:

  • How are we poor?
  • What do we hunger for?
  • What in the world is bringing us to tears?

We all will likely have different answers to these questions. None of them are right or wrong, but they are still important to think about as we pursue the goal of proclaiming and bringing forth Gos’ Kingdom here on earth.

The first question can be the most difficult in some ways because it’s easy to find ourselves with a list of things we are missing or ways that we fall short of our desires. Yet, one of the interesting things about folks who seem to thrive in the midst of poverty is their ability to see beyond what they don’t have and instead focus on the blessings that they do! We begin to experience the amazing bounty of the Kingdom of God when we are able to recognize the smallest of blessings as signs of God’s blessing and providence. These are lives of gratitude, thanking God that we are alive and seeing the smallest things as great gifts. To be “poor” and know the Kingdom of God is to live lives focused on abundance rather than scarcity.

The second question, how are we hungry, is important to think about as we consider what we do together as a church. For far too many years we have been churches focused on “programs” rather than understanding ourselves as a place called to feed the hungry – both physically and spiritually. Addressing spiritual hunger is absolutely as important as addressing true hunger, for it is the spiritual hunger that we carry with us throughout our lives whether our stomachs are growling or not. Many of us in the church rarely (if ever) miss a meal but give short shrift to thinking about and addressing our spiritual hunger. How are you hungry and are you taking any efforts to get fed, or are you simply sitting outside the gate grumbling at how hungry you are.

Finally, what are we weeping about? What are the things in our community that are bringing us to tears?

In my own life, there are many things that I see today that break my heart:

  • Those who are unable to believe in a loving God due to a church that has been judgmental and exclusive.
  • A community in which there is not a supply of housing for those living in poverty, and the tendency to blame these persons for their plight rather than finding a way to help them in their need.
  • A society that is deeply polarized with little conversation across political and theological lines, and a lack of respect for those who differ with us.
  • The proliferation of payday lenders in our immediate neighborhood which make a financial profit on the backs of those who are struggling financially.
  • The loss of a generation of youth to poverty, drugs, and violence through our inability to speak to them and address their needs.
  • The inability of the church to be a community of love and acceptance to all people.

I’m sure you have your own list, and I hope you will share it in the comments below. I simply hope and pray that there are things in the world that are bringing you to tears, things that make you hungry for finding a solution that is worthy of the one who created and loves us.

Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the weeping.

May we be those people together.