Offertory Prayer

Each month's Offertory Prayers includes an "Invitation to the Offering" (see below) along with a digital image for those who might want to use it. We hope you will find this a helpful way to remind the people in your pews that their offering travels to many places to make a powerful difference in the lives of people they may never meet. You can find great stories of the difference our giving makes at http://umcgiving.org.

Invitation to the Offering
The offering you made last week empowered ministry within our congregation and in response to the needs of our community. It also helped support the work of ministries beyond the local church that reach people who are in desperate need to feel the touch of love and reconciliation. Through our connectional giving, we support the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and missionaries around the world -- such as Alex andBrenda Awad, who serve Christians in East Jerusalem and the ministries of Bethlehem Bible College. So when you revive the story this season of the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem, remember that United Methodists are still working to make the world a more welcoming place for the God of love and peace. This ministry happens thanks to the generous support of United Methodists like you. I invite you once again to give generously as we worship God through the sharing of our gifts, tithes, and offerings.

Learn more about the work of GBGM Missionaries at: www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service

December 21, 2014 -- Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dear Lord, you are the only wise God! Thank you for your faithfulness through the ages. You spoke promises through the prophets. In time, you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ. Strengthen us in faith to follow your will today. Empower us to tell our neighbors about you. May these offerings support the ways our church exhibits your steadfast love for all generations. Amen. (Romans 16)

November Offertory Prayers were written by the Rev. Rosanna Anderson, Associate Director of Stewardship Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Unfaithful Tenants, Reflection on Matthew 21:33-46

Isaiah had told what would happen when God was disappointed in Israel's behavior. Jesus is asking his listeners to reflect on their own stewardship of God's gifts. "What should the owner of a vineyard do when the tenants have abused their responsibilities?"

The tenants were put in charge. They failed their duties. The owner will eliminate them.

The chief priests and Pharisees, hearing this condemnation of those in charge, knew that Jesus was talking about them.

What do we Christians know when we hear this parable? What do we think when we reflect on our own stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to our care?

Lectio Divina: Matthew 21:42

Monday, September 29, 2008

An Unfruitful Vineyard, Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah tells the people of Israel this parable: The owner of the land, with great effort, plants vines on a very fertile hill. He got grapes, but not the kind of grapes he had worked for. He vows to make a new start, to tear down the wall that protects the vines, to quit tending them, not to prune or hoe, and he will quit watering them.

Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected to you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 5:1-2

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Time to Change

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown September 29, 2008.

Listen to this discussion of this holiday that begins the Jewish New Year on NPR's Sound and Spirit.

Consolation from love, Reflection on Philippians 2:1-13

Paul encouraged Christians to live in community and to care for one another. How might such a community look now?

Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.

Read more about this amazing experiment in the New York Times, September 16, 2008: For Distant Generations in Illinois, Unrelated but Oh So Close

Jesus Christ is Lord, Reflection on Philippians 2:1-13

Christ Jesus could have chosen a different kind of life, a different kind of death, but he didn't. He chose to live as one as a Jew in a Roman-occupied land. He accepted a cruel and what would have been considered a shameful death at their hands.

Paul is not preaching any prosperity gospel. Quite the contrary. He himself had given up privileges due him and had accepted a life of threat and pain and imprisonment.

"Don't be ruled by ambition. Look to the interests of each other."

Paul hadn't done it alone, nor is he expecting the Philippians to "God is at work within you. God will give you the ability both to want to do what is right and also to do it."

(With help from Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul)

Lectio Divina, September 28

If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy,
make my joy complete:
be of the same mind,
having the same love,
being in full accord
and of one mind.
Philippians 2:1-2

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lectio Divina, September 27

Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. Matthew 21:31

Reflection on Matthew 21:28-32

One thing this parable is about: Doing, not just saying you will

In the September/October 2008 issue of Alive Now, Andrea Woods writes about Mr. Pritchett. Although he doesn't have much education himself, he is one of the best teachers the young folks have. What he says: "I don't care where you go to church on Sunday morning or how you sing your songs. What I care about is what you do with Sunday when Monday rolls around."

They heard him say this, and they saw him live it. He fixed broken windows. He drove sick people to the doctor. When they were unable to take care of something in their daily lives, he would step in to help. He remained even-tempered. He was able to listen to other people's troubles. The Monday man at work was exactly the same as the Sunday man at worship.

Being a Christian inside the church during the worship service is one thing. Being a Christian in the world during the week confirms that thing.

Another thing this parable is about: Who can get into heaven
Jesus attacked the religious leaders by telling them that the tax collectors and prostitutes were going to get into the kingdom of God ahead of them because they believed. It's not just that the leaders are dependent on the good will of Rome, so are the tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus says "ahead of you" not "instead of you." (thanks to Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel for this phrase).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who's In Charge of Me, Reflection on Matthew 21:23-27

The question underlying the confrontation in today's reading is "Who is in charge of me?" They don't ask it that way. The chief priests and elders ask Jesus who is in charge of him. Jesus, this guy who has demonstrated a willingness to shake things up (see 21:12-13) and an ability to attract crowds (see 21:8-11).

Put yourself into the position of those chief priests and elders. You have an important role in the religious life of your people. You work in the temple, the most important and most visible site of that religion, the place where the people can gain access to God and to God's forgiveness. But, you owe your job security to the secular authority. The Romans are in charge of their empire and you live in a small and weak part of it. To maintain your own security, you have to appease the ones in charge.

Here's what they did way back then. They confronted this problem head on. They asked him to provide his credentials. In response, he turned the tables on them. Because they were insecure, they waffled.

Think about the answer underlying the answer Jesus gave them when they questioned the source of his authority. What is his authority? Who gave him this authority? Do you live as if you agree with what you believe?

Lectio Divina, September 26

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Psalm 25:5

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Question of Unfairness, Reflecting on Ezekiel 18:25-32

I'm reading again from John Goldingay's Old Testament Theology, Volume Two.

Jeremiah is writing to exiles who understand their present distress is because of the unfaithfulness of their ancestors. Ezekiel is demanding that they focus on their own acts. "You can't use the sins of the past to justify your own sinning."

"Get yourself a new heart." The Lord is going to give them this heart, but they have some responsibility as well. Positive action on their part is required. The Lord is turning to these sinners; the sinners need to turn to the Lord.

Lectio Divina, September 25

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. Ezekiel 18:32

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lectio Divina, September 24

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
Psalm 25:1

No Excuses, Reflection on Ezekiel 18:1-4

Some things feel good while you're doing them but the aftereffects do not. The old saying was that one generation enjoyed themselves, and the later generations had to clean up their mess. Ezekiel is talking to exiles who have certainly been reflecting on how their forerunners had lived in ways that God had not intended for them. These exiles are paying the price.

William Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume Two, sums it up in this way: "It is then easy for people to ricochet from irresponsibility when they are doing all right to despair when calamity falls on them."

You can probably come up with some contemporary illustrations of this habit of ours.

Ezekiel tells them that the Lord God is canceling out this warning that they have been using as an excuse. "Don't blame your parents for their sins. Stop your own sinning."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lectio Divina, September 23

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Exodus 17:7

When Things Go Bad, Reflecting on Exodus 17:4-7

Moses himself had seen the works of God up close, but even he is in doubt. Sometimes, we need more than seeing to believe.

Before, Moses could not believe God. God told him, "Take that staff you're holding in your hand and throw it on the ground." Moses did, and the staff became a snake. "Now pick up that snake," God told him. Moses obeyed, and the snake once again was a staff. "Hold on to that staff," God said, "you're going to need it again" (Exodus 4:1-17).

Moses and the people he is leading will continue to fluctuate between belief and unbelief, between gratitude and despair. And so do we.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lectio Divina, September 22

We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord,
and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
Psalm 78:4

Fear can overcome memory, Reflecting on Exodus 17:1-3

Here are some people who have witnessed the passover, witnessed the scene at the river when they were saved and the Pharaoh's army were destroyed, witnessed the manna from heaven when they were hungry. If they had been taken care of in the past, how could they doubt that they were going to be taken care of now?

Well, they're thirsty, and they aren't relying on the past. "What have you done for us lately, Moses? We were better off before you interfered."

Freedom doesn't mean that everything every minute is going to go our way. Being grateful for something that happened before doesn't inoculate us against fear.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Letter from Jail, Reflection on Philipians 1:21-30

Paul, in prison, is writing to a church that he had founded. "Stay unified," he tells them, "Stick together." The example he gives them is of Christ. "He was willing to give up anything and everything."

Paul reminds them that God can work through them to accomplish God's intentions. "Any sacrifice I make for you is worth it," Paul says. "I rejoice over you, and you must rejoice with me."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Praise, Reflection on Psalm 145:1-5

I learned something today, as I often do when I read something of his, in Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms.

This is not the only praise psalm, but it is the only one that is designated as such. According to Alter, the set title for the Book of Psalms is Tehilim, the plural form of the word we translate as "praise." They gave this book that name, although the largest number of psalms are lamentations. Of course, almost all the lamentations (88 is an exception) contain elements of praise.

Alter points out that Psalm 145 is the first of the six-psalm series that ends the book. These six are all praise psalms.

Notice how this psalm begins with individual praise, "I will extol you....". But, this praise is not between just God and me: "One generation shall laud your work to another." Further, this praise is not just once in a while: "Every day I will bless you."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Who Is Deserving of Forgiveness? Reflection on Jonah 4:6-11

Jonah was unhappy not only about the forgiveness but also because the forgiveness was of foreigners. We are still wrestling with this notion. Here are two opposing views:

Pro Immigration Amnesty

Against Amnesty for Illegal Aliens

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jonah's (Ad)mission, Reflecting On Jonah 3:10-4:5

He really didn't want to go to Nineveh and waste his time warning them that the Lord had noticed how sinful they were. To avoid the task, he jumped on a ship. That plan did not work for Jonah, and he finally decided to obey the Lord.

He preached to them. They listened. They believed. They repented. God decided not to destroy them.

Jonah's response was shocked anger. "I knew this would happen. This is the way you have always been. You talk about sin and punishment, but what you do is forgive. Why did I have to go to all this trouble, this trip, this preaching? I give up."

He sat down under a bush, waiting to see what God really was going to do.

We can find ourselves in this story. We can see times that we have been Nineveh. Times that we can say we didn't know better and times when someone had instructed us forcefully enough that we lost the defense of ignorance. Times when we did repent for our past doings.

We can see times that we have been Jonah. God wanted us to do something, and we really didn't want to bother. Times when we have done what we thought God wanted and then we weren't satisfied with the results.

How hard is it for us to accept that someone else's sins can be forgiven?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Points to Ponder after reading Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus is addressing people who might find themselves in this parable as the workers who had been there all day. They (we?) have done everything that was expected of them and had received what they had expected to get. Why are they resentful? What in us makes us unhappy in a situation in which we got what we had been promised?

Put yourself in the place of the latecomers. When have you gotten more than you had earned? What was your reaction? Why was Jesus silent on their reaction?

Put yourself in the place of the landowner. How should you pay your workers? Who has worked for you? Did you always reward them according to what they deserved to get? Have you ever been generous beyond what equity would call for? If so, were you confronted with more unhappy or more happy recipients?

Laborers who arrived late, Reflection on Matthew 20:1-16

In Jesus' time many laborers had been thrown out of work as a result of the economic conditions (Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel).

In our time, we still have to figure out how to deal with laborers who have arrived later. Here's one way that we are trying, Group Helps Those in Raid

Reading Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost, while thinking about Matthew 20:12

Robert Frost's poem Death of the Hired Man suggests that some of us are able to recognize a need to care for someone who may not have earned that care.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hunger, Reflection on Exodus 16:13-15

As a typical American, I think I'm hungry if it's supper time and I haven't eaten since lunch. What if I were a Haitian during this year's hurricane barrage? See this story for an example. \ttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-haiti-scene_11sep11,0,4958073.story


How does God send help to people in need? In Exodus, the food came down from the sky. Sometimes, God sends it through the hands of other humans. Sometimes, we are slow to help. See http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gDm7lRAjdXWzCH-GDsdZvbReCqCAD93452R05

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Journey and the Complaining about It Continue, Reflection on Exodus 16:2-12

Have you ever known anyone like the people in Exodus 16? God has brought them out of slavery, protected them from an attacking army, and provided them with water. Their response is to complain. "Oh, why did you bring us here? Things were so much better in Egypt."

What is the usual human response? How different have we human beings become over the millenia? Often, even when we can remember our deliverance, we still complain.

What is the usual divine response? When we cry out in despair, what does God do? What can we expect if we cry out in disgust with our situation?

God talks to Moses. Moses talks to Aaron. Moses and Aaron talk to the people. Moses tells Aaron to talk to them. Aaron does. Then, as Aaron is speaking, the Lord appears to the people. Or, was the Lord there all along, and the people finally woke up to the presence?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Get Over Yourself, Reflection on Romans 14:5-12

Paul was writing to a church that was made up of people from very different backgrounds, as had he been when writing to the Corinthians.

"Some of you are strong enough in your faith that the rules the others hold to seem petty to you." Once Paul had criticized Peter for siding with those who insisted on following rules. Now, Paul seems to be siding with them himself.

"If you love them, treat their needs seriously. After all, we are in this together. After all, we owe our allegiance to God."

(I've been reading Garry Wills' What Paul Meant.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Counsel to the Strong, Reflection on Romans 14:1-4

Church conflict is an old story. Paul says to the strong, "Get over yourself. Don't start a fight with those whose beliefs lead them to a stricter life style than the one you allow yourselves."

A problem I have with this teaching is that Paul characterizes the strict as weak. Do I agree with that?

In any case, I welcome his additional comment, "Don't pass judgment; that's God's job."

Friday, September 12, 2008

When You Have Wronged Someone, Reflection on Genesis 50:15-21

Matthew tells us that Jesus warned his disciples what would happen to them if they did not forgive their brothers and sisters. We may presume that this lesson is about how to keep the church together, but we may also presume that it is about the brothers and sisters who are our kin.

Joseph's brothers had so resented him when, as a youth, he had lorded it over them that they had, after considering murdering him, instead, sold him into slavery. Later, he was able actually to lord it over them. He had risen to a high position in Egypt and had used it to bring his whole family there where they could escape the famine back home.

Now, their father is dead, and the brothers fear that Joseph will finally exact revenge on them. He doesn't. "God intended this for good," he says to them.

Joseph chooses not to do revenge. God gets to handle the revenge.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sermon in Wordle, Genesis 50, Matthew 18, Psalm 103

Here's the Wordle version of the sermon I'm preaching this Sunday: Forgiving and Being Forgiven

The Power of Forgiveness, Reflection on Matthew 18:28-35

The Power of Forgiveness explores recent research into the psychological and physical effects of forgiveness on individuals and within relationships under a wide variety of conditions and translates it into a popular, accessible documentary film for national public television.

The film also explores the role forgiveness holds in various faiths traditions. It provides an honest look at the intensity of anger and grief that human nature is heir to. We see in the film that there are transgressions people find themselves unwilling or unable to forgive. Through character-driven stories the film shows the role forgiveness can play in alleviating anger and grief and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come with it.

This includes feature stories on the Amish, the 9/11 tragedy and peace-building in Northern Ireland, along with interviews with renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, best-selling authors Thomas Moore and Marianne Williamson and others.

And take a quiz to see how forgiving you are.


(Thanks to the heads-up from Alive Now, September/October 2008 that alerted me to this website.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Lot of Forgiveness, Reflection on Matthew 18:21-27

Jesus had strong words for his disciples. Look back at 18:6-9 for the imprecation against the strong interfering with the humble. He commanded them to seek the ones who stray and to bring them back into the fold (10-15).

But, what happens when that sheep is back in the fold and you would really rather have him leave. Last week's gospel lesson outlined a procedure for helping the church member change behavior. "If he won't change," Jesus said, "Treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector."

[Look back at Matthew 9:9-10 and 14:21-15.]

Now Peter asks, "How many times do we have to go through this procedure before we can give up on somebody?" Jesus' response is a number too big to keep track of.

Don't read this message as a word to those who are being abused that they need to stay in relationship with someone who will continue to harm them.

Don't read these words of Jesus as saying that sin does not matter. This message is to Peter. If the church is going to make it, then church members have to work together.

On a tangent: Am I right to read a requirement for repentance to precede Peter's forgiveness? After all, in the parable, the debtor begs the king for forgiveness.

Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike, and Potentially Others

For more information about hurricane relief, go to UMCOR Hotline

In Today's Hotline:

*HAITI: Bringing Relief to Haiti

*US: Responding and Preparing for Upcoming Storms

*SAGER BROWN: Returning to Work

*CUBA: Why UMCOR Can’t Help with Storm Relief

*UMCOR: Storm Resources

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seeing is Believing, Reflection on Exodus 14:28-31

The Israelites, on foot, were able to walk across the river bed. But, the wheels of the army's chariots were mired in the mud. Sometimes, what we thought was protection turns out to be hindrance.

Moses stretches out his hand again, and the sea returns to its normal depth. Pharaoh's entire army is destroyed.

When the Israelites saw that they themselves were alive and safe and that the Egyptians were dead, they feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and the Lord's servant Moses.

The notes in the New Interpreters Bible point out that there's a play on words in verse 31. The Hebrew word that we translate as "see" (ra'ah) sounds like the word for "fear" (yare').

As we read ahead in the story of the trek through the wilderness, we'll hear how when they saw something else--like their thirst or hunger--they would lose their trust in Moses and in the Lord's protection, and they will complain. If seeing is believing, what happens when we see something else?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lesson in a Song

On her lectionary blog, Theolog, theolog.org, Kristen Swenson recommended this folk song that refers to Moses' victory over Pharaoh. She suggested Springstein's version, but because of my demographic, I'm linking to Pete Seeger. Mary, Don't You Cry No More

Leadership, Reflection on Exodus 14:19-27

Pharaoh had let them go then changed his mind. He led his army with more than 600 chariots to go get the Israelites and bring them back. The people complained to Moses. Moses reassured them that the Lord would once more deliver them, and the Lord reassured Moses (14:1-18).

They know which way to go because God sends a pillar of cloud to lead them. the Lord shields them by sending the pillar behind them to block them from the pursuing army. When they get to the sea, Moses stretches out his hand, and a strong wind divides the water so they can walk across on dry land.

The people cannot see the Lord, but they can see the pillar of cloud. They can see Moses. They can see the water dividing.

William Goldingay asks: Why does the Lord use Moses, a human leader, to bring them out of Egypt? God could have done it alone but chose to use Moses. Why does God continue to use humans to accomplish significant goals? Using human beings to accomplish divine purposes introduces complication and vulnerability.

Goldingay also points out that Moses' story reminds us that leadership is not fun. People complain, question, express resentment, lose their belief that things can get better.

(Old Testament Theology, Volume One, Israel's Gospel, 425-430)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Prayer for Grandparents' Day

Daniel Benedict and Taylor Burton-Edwards compiled a page for Grandparents' Day.

God of Abraham and Sarah,
grandfather and grandmother in the faith
God of all generations:
We thank you today for those who are grandparents/elders.
We especially thank you for those who are grandparents to us —
those who are grandparents by blood relationships, and
those unrelated but older than we
who generously share
their love and wisdom,
their time and traditions
so that we have roots, stories, and hope.
We bless you for the gift of grandparents,
and we ask your blessing on them,
that their days may be filled
with delight in their grandchildren.
May their giving and grace toward younger generations
bring fulfillment to them
and may they be a blessing
to all they love and call grandchildren,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


The prayers are copyright © 2003, 2006 The General Board of Discipleship.
Any local congregation or church agency may reprint the prayers for a one-time worship or educational use as long as the following notice is printed with themWebsites may not reproduce the prayers, but may link to them.

Copyright © 2003, 2006. The General Board of Discipleship. Reprinted with permission.

A Wake-up Call, Reflection on Romans 13:8-14

Paul cites specific commandments which deal with behavior toward other people, behavior that destroys relationships (see Exodus 20:13-17). He says all of these specific commandments as well as any other commandments can be summed up in this one command, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He is echoing Moses. You may remember that in the center of the purity regulations that the Lord spoke to Moses was "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18).

"The way to fulfill the law, the way to live the way God intends for us to live," Paul says, "is to love."

Then, like Moses in Leviticus, he returns to a list of forbidden activities: drunkenness, debauchery, quarreling, and jealousy.

Moses was speaking to people in the wilderness on their way to the land that had been promised them. Their lives had been ruled by Pharaoh. They now have a new law. They know should recognize that the Lord is their master. Paul is speaking to people living under the reign of Caesar. It's time for them to recognize who really is in charge.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Warnings, Reflection on Ezekiel 33:10-11

"Their well being is your responsibility," Jesus tells the church. God had reminded Ezekiel, "Tell those people that I don't want their destruction. Tell them to turn back, to repent."

Bad things to happen to good people. But, let us remember that sometimes, bad things happen to good people who did bad things. And, let us remember, that if we are going to remain bound together in order to serve God more effectively, then we have to be responsible to one another.

God sent Ezekiel as a sentinel to warn people of danger. God sends each of us to speak--and to listen.

Look back in earlier chapters of Ezekiel to see the kinds of sins he was talking about. For example, "You wore expensive clothes and ate expensive meals but did not aid the poor and needed," (16:1-49). What is lawful and right, according to Ezekiel, includes caring for the poor and hungry (18:5-13).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Forgiveness in the Church, Reflection on Matthew 18:18-20

Thinking about forgiveness and the congregatingness (congregatability?) of the congregation, I read Kathleen Norris' typically wonderful poem, Mrs. Schneider in Church:

Here's the first and last stanza:

It's the willingness to sing

that surprises me:
out of tune,
we drag the organist along
and sing, knowing we can't,
and our quite ordinary voices
carry us over.
....

Now we are changed,
making a noise
greater than ourselves,
to be worthy of the lesson:
all duly noted,
all forgiven.

(Excerpted from Cries of the Spirit, Beacon Press, ed. by Marilyn Sewell

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bishop Ward's ePistle September 4, 2008

Dear friends,

In these days there are great needs in the world. Thank you for being a community of prayer, love and mission.

The Mississippi Annual Conference has been in covenant relationship with the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. We have been significant partners with Africa University. Many of us have experienced first-hand the joys and the great sorrows of the people of Zimbabwe.

This message is a call to prayer and generosity. As you are led by the Holy Spirit, you will be a blessing in this difficult time in Zimbabwe.

Gratefully,

Hope Morgan Ward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 3, 2008
Zimbabwe’s Economic Woes Create Urgent Funding Need
Africa University Shines Through Adversity
Old Mutare, Zimbabwe: Operating in a nation beset by economic and political crises, Africa University has issued an urgent plea for United Methodist congregations to fulfill their 2008 financial obligations to the Zimbabwe-based school.
Fanuel Tagwira, interim vice chancellor of the United Methodist-related university, made the plea today in a letter addressed to United Methodist leaders around the globe.
“As I write you, our 1,300 students are on the campus of Africa University for the 2008/2009 academic year. . . . While Africa University has not missed a day of classes during this difficult time, we are now facing a crisis,” Tagwira wrote.
The core of the university’s worsening financial situation is Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, tagged by the government at an astounding 11 million percent in June. The country’s currency loses value by the hour on many days.
One key source of financial support comes from a special United Methodist churchwide fund that levies an apportionment to congregations. In 2008, that fund’s target is $2.5 million.
Tagwira is urging congregations to pay their entire Africa University apportionment early to help the university get through the crisis.
“As our reserve accounts dwindle as a result of the nation’s dire economic situation, we need your immediate financial support through the apportionments that come from the Africa University fund,” Tagwira wrote.
Since opening in 1992, Africa University has become a beacon of hope for Zimbabwe and for Africa. Its graduates have become key leaders in civil society, government, and the church all across Africa. Students this year come from 22 African countries.
As Zimbabwe has been mired in economic and political crises, there have been times when Africa University was the nation’s only institution of higher education open for classes. And it is a partner in an off-campus daily feeding program, providing meals for 5,000 vulnerable children including many AIDS orphans.
Tagwira said the university has altered its billing practices because of the out of control inflation, requiring students to make monthly payments for tuition and room and board instead of paying once a semester.
“We know this creates a hardship for our Zimbabwean students and their parents, but in the current environment, we believe this is the best way to move forward,” he wrote.
“We are conserving financial resources in every possible way. We have continued to meet our payroll, pay our bills and serve our community and continent. Nonetheless, we have been forced to deplete our reserve funds to meet day-to-day obligations,” Tagwira explained.
The interim vice chancellor said Africa University is prepared to assist once the nation’s elected leaders reach an equitable, peaceful resolution to Zimbabwe’s political difficulties.
“The university’s Institute of Peace Leadership and Governance is an important resource. The Institute is positioned to be part of the long-term solution of Zimbabwe’s problems. It is highly respected throughout Zimbabwe and across Africa.
Tagwira said Africa University is “doing exceedingly well” during this tumultuous period. “During this extraordinary time in Zimbabwe, we are committed to do everything we can to meet our mission to provide a quality education within a Pan-African context. Our campus is safe. Our faculty is well qualified and respected around the world. Our students are dedicated to learning and excited to be in school,” he wrote.
“Along with your financial support, we ask for your prayers, for our university, and for our nation as it struggles to find its way during this season of unease,” he concluded.

Persons wishing to make individual online contributions to Africa University should go to the

Africa University Development Office

Web site. The office is located in Nashville, TN. The telephone number is (615) 340-7348.

Sentinel, Reflection on Ezekiel 33:7-9

Matthew, writing to churches in troubled times, reminds us that Jesus said to the disciples, "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault," (Matthew 18:15-17). As you read these instructions, think about the role God has intended for disciples throughout time: sometimes, to learn a way to avoid destroying our lives; and sometimes, in order to prevent another disaster, to seek understanding why a loss has occurred.

Ezekiel is called by God to speak to Jerusalem as it faced its fall to Babylon, to speak to a people who had lived in a kingdom in a land promised to them by God, and who had lost it.

How are any of us, living at any point in history, supposed to learn survival lessons? Ezekiel reminds us that God uses prophets, sentinels, to warn us of dangers. Jesus, in Matthew's gospel, is echoing this requirement, "You who are in the church owe it to each other to give warnings as well as encouragements."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Church Comity, Reflection on Matthew 18:15-17

Earlier in chapter 18, Jesus is talking about the joy of recovering those who stray from the flock. Now, he's talking about the difficulty of living with those who don't leave. "Here's what you can expect: some church members are going to treat you badly. Don't ignore the problem. Even if you are not at fault, you still have the responsibility to mend the relationship."

Here's the hard part. Start by going directly to the offender. Don't go around telling everybody else how much you are hurt. First, tell the one who hurt you.

Then, if that doesn't work, and only if that doesn't work, share your concerns with a couple of other church members. If that doesn't work, and only if that doesn't work, then you may tell others in the church about the problem.

If the offender won't listen to the whole church, then treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector.

Notice the irony in this last instruction by remembering how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Remembrance and Celebration, Reflection on Exodus 12:12-14

The Lord tells them to remember this day, to celebrate it as a festival. Remember those days when hunger drove you from your home. Remember those days that you were slaves to Pharaoh. Remember that I sent a savior to deliver you, to bring you home.

Not just one meal but a perpetual ordinance. Perpetual--this isn't something that happened once way back then to a bunch of other people--this continues to affect us right now. Ordinance--do it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Another Reminder that We're Old

We made an overnight trip to see our grandsons, three of whom were celebrating birthdays. We filled the car with gas, stayed in a motel, and bought a restaurant meal. We took the boys to Target to buy presents. We then went to the local record store to buy the oldest one some CDs. When we got home, our credit card company called us to report suspicious activity on our card. Not the gas, not the motel, not the food, not Target. What caught their attention was the record store.

Starting Over, Reflection on Exodus 12:1-11

The Hebrew people are still in Egypt. Pharaoh has not yet admitted defeat. He is still refusing to listen. Things don't seem to be getting better. Things don't seem to be changed.

Yet, the Lord says to Moses, "This is the beginning. This is the first month of a new year." Then, the Lord gives what seems to me to be a surprising instruction, "Have a feast. Have a big feast. And put on your traveling clothes."

We may be living in the midst of trouble, of sadness, of disappointment. We may feel stuck in a situation that is painful and seems impossible to escape. We may wonder if God has forgotten us.

What is the purpose of the feast? Is it to help them forget how bad things are? I don't think so.

Can we learn anything from this passage to help us face our troubled times? Can we hold onto hope through difficult times?