Yesterday I had the opportunity as an advisory board member of Stewartville Neighbors Helping Neighbors to participate in a conference call with the MN Department of Human Resources and members of Senior Independence Programs of Family Service Rochester. The purpose of the call was to review how Live Well at Home Grant funds awarded by the MN Department of Human Resources are being used by Family Service Rochester to serve older adults in Olmsted County.
I have only been on the advisory board of Stewartville Neighbors Helping Neighbors since September, but am already aware of the wealth of resources available to older residents of the Stewartville area, such as help with household chores, constructing ramps for those who are physically challenged, providing transportation to work and medical appointments, delivering Meals on Wheels and boxes of fresh produce donated by area grocers and restaurants.
When appointed to a particular congregation(s), clergy serving within the United Methodist denomination are considered appointed to the larger community in which their appointment resides. This expectation reflects the UMC’s mission of “Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World,” in that the local church is not meant to be a cloistered group of people who only gather Sunday mornings for worship, but a community of Christians dedicated to serving those in need in the community. This expectation of clergy is also meant to express the connectional character of the UMC, in establishing and growing connections between the local church and community as a way to help the congregation better live out the mission of the UMC.
While serving as pastor at Glenwood United Parish (2015-2020), the emphasis on connecting clergy and laity with the wider community resulted in these missional fruits:
· Providing the lower level of the church building for a private daycare provider (because the church was up-to-date on its apportionments, a grant from MN Builders was awarded to remove mold and upgrade HVAC in the lower level of the building).
· Establishing Jairus’ Daughter ministry in addressing the growing problem of sex trafficking in West Central MN.
· Hosting the Ugandan Ambassador to the UN during a Sunday worship (which included a lot of off-duty law enforcement and private security!) through Glenwood Rotary Club.
· Providing space and volunteers for the United Way monthly mobile food drop.
Although I have only been pastor at SUMC for six months, I already have a pretty good understanding of where God is at work through the ministries of the congregation. But as I make more community connections, I am getting a glimpse of where God may be calling us to stretch our faith and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ through new ministries in the community and beyond. Stay tuned!
May you be open to the call of God to serve those in need through our community of faith at Stewartville UMC!
4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.
5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.
(Romans 12: 4-5)
Last evening, I had the privilege to lead the online Youth Group while Catie is away for the week. The text that Catie sent to each youth to “chew on” in preparation for the meeting is the well-known passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans on the importance of living in community as the Body of Christ. This morning, while relaxing in my favorite recliner sipping coffee, I reflected on the wonderful experience of last evening; the sharing of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in each person’s week, prayer petitions for loved-ones and our nation, and conversations about homework, having pets, and the yearly 8th grade trip to DC. I was impressed by the sense of trust and respect exhibited by the youth toward each other, marveling at how they were living out the very text Catie had sent, probably without being aware of it. But I was aware of it! And this morning, as I sipped on my coffee while reflecting on last evening’s Youth Group, my heart was warmed with the joy that at Stewartville UMC is a group of young people who are growing in their faith, not only individually, but also within the larger community of faith. Thanks be to God in Christ!
I've been thinking lately on the meaning of faith. I think it all started when I received for Christmas a lovely metal wall hanging of the word 'faith' carved in a swirly font. Every time since then when my mind has drifted toward the meaning of faith, a certain Biblical character has made an appearance in my imagination.
Now I have considered this particular female character a friend for several years--ever since writing a seminary paper on her heroic deeds. The woman to which I am referring? Rahab. Brave and faithful Rahab, whose story appears at the beginning of the book of Joshua.
If you are not familiar with this major female character of the Old Testament, let me give you a condensed version of her story of bravery and faith.
Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho, enters the story of the invasion--conquest--entrance--of the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan, when Joshua (who has taken over from Moses as leader of the Israelites) sends a couple of spies to scope out the city of Jericho. Rahab, who lives with her children and relatives in an apartment located in the city wall, takes in the spies, and protects them from the king of Jericho's army. Because of Rahab's courage in protecting the spies, the Israelites are successful in invading and conquering the city of Jericho. (If you want to delve into the story of Rahab, read chapters 2 and 6 of the book of Joshua. Rahab also appears in the New Testament: Matthew 1: 5 (Jesus' geneology), Hebrews 11:31, and James 2:25)
So what's so special about Rahab, and what does she have to do with faith?
First of all, Rahab is an unlikely biblical character, for she is a woman and a prostitute.
Second, Rahab is not a Hebrew, meaning that she is considered an outsider. Even an enemy.
Third, because of Rahab's choice in helping the spies, her actions play a major role in the success of the Israelites; not only does she offer aid to the spies, she tells them that the people of Jericho have heard tales of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt and are terrified of them, thus empowering the Israelites to invade Jericho.
And finally, as a Canaanite, a culture that worships a foreign gods, Rahab has faith in the God of the Israelites. Because of her faith in God, she acts on her faith, in spite of the danger of being revealed as a traitor to her city.
Rahab appears in the New Testament as an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Her character also serves in Hebrews and James as an excellent representation from the Old Testament of faith lived out in action:
"By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace." (Hebrews 11:29-31)
"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body with the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead."
I thank Rahab, brave and faithful Rahab, for reminding me of two things concerning faith:
In God alone my soul finds rest,
for my deliverance comes from God,
who alone is my rock, my salvation,
I will never be shaken.
Only in God—my deliverance, my glory--
my refuge is God.
Trust in God always, my people;
pour out your hearts before God our refuge.
Humankind is but a breath,
mortals are just an illusion.
Put them on the scales and the balance
is thrown off:
they weigh less than a breath.
Do not trust in extortion,
or put false hopes in stolen goods;
do not set your heart on riches
even when they increase.
For God has said only one thing,
Twice have I heard it:
that power belongs to God:
Steadfast love is yours, ADONAI –
you repay all people according
to their deeds.
(Psalm 62: 5-12, Lukan Psalter translation)
Upon turning on my laptop this morning to prepare writing my Church Notes article for the week, the first thing my eyes fell on was this Psalm. Evidently, I hadn’t closed the order of worship document that I had been working on yesterday for January 24th’s worship. Sometimes forgetting to do something, like closing a document on the computer, may just be an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do Her work in our lives; my soul today, troubled by the horrific events of yesterday at our nation’s Capital (added to everything else going on in our country, community, and SUMC family), was starved for the words of assurance, and those offered by the author of Psalm 62 gave me the soul-nourishment needed to sustain me throughout this day.
Even with the soul-nourishment of Psalm 62, I am finding it difficult today to write much beyond the power of the Spirit within such mundane human habits of neglecting to close documents when shutting down one’s laptop. Therefore I will close with one more section from the upcoming January 24th worship service:
Opening Collect Prayer
Leader: God of our devotion,
you are the one constant in life.
Open us this day to see the things that hold us in their grip
so that we might shed unnecessary distractions that keep us from seeing
your reign on earth as it is in heaven.
People: We praise you for being our rock,
holding our lives together in the ways that matter most.
May your soul find nourishment this week in this Psalm and Collect, so that you may keep your focus on God’s reign on earth—just as it is in heaven!