Posts Tagged ‘methodist tradition’

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My Ebenezer

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

EbenezerLast week I attended the memorial service for a cousin of my father’s. It was at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church, 3 miles south of Green and about 8 miles west of Leonardville. A group of German Methodists immigrated to the area in the 1870s and established the church, barely a decade after the Civil War. My great-grandfather, a child at the time, was among them. The remote location of the church is memorable, as miles and miles of farmland surround it. It is on the slightest of rises in an otherwise flat expanse of pasture, wheat, and soybeans.

Ebenezer UMC is a familiar church because of family reunions, funerals, and other gatherings I have attended there since I was a child. It is a plain, no-frills, wooden structure. There are no stained glass windows, no fancy stone or woodwork, and no vaulted ceilings. This church was built for function, not form, consistent with the folks it was built for – practical, down-to-earth, and humble. I always found Ebenezer UMC disquieting, due in part to its name. Perhaps it reminded me of Ebenezer Scrooge – bah humbug! Perhaps it was the puzzling line from an old hymn: Here I raise my Ebenezer; but something about the name made me think of ancient and haunted things. The church stands proud, however, on this unforgiving, horizontal vastness, tempting the unrelenting Kansas winds to blow it off its foundation. At least in my lifetime, no storm has phased it.

The biblical references to Ebenezer are in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. I assume the “stone” that Samuel placed was large enough to be seen for miles. That stone, which he named Ebenezer, stood as a symbol of God’s constant and helpful presence throughout their struggles. Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they gave up everything they knew for the promise of a new life. A group of Methodist immigrants gave up everything familiar and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for a similar promise of a new life. They landed in a vast country where they could eke out a reasonable living with the sweat of their brow. In the midst of this fertile soil, they erected a visible reminder that God is good; a place to call the faithful to worship and, in their time, to call the saints home. An Ebenezer – a symbol of hope, a reminder of God’s presence – is a good thing to have as we weather the storms of life. God is always near, but sometimes we forget. When we enter new life territory, when we feel lost and alone, when we need to remember, may there always be an Ebenezer in sight.

Come home to church this Sunday. Where is your Ebenezer?

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Christian Values: Service

Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that  whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.  — Ephesians 6:7-8

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

– Bob Dylan

In his research on Christian values, Ben MacConnell found the characteristic of service referenced in the Bible more often than any others, except for justice and love. In the preface of his book, The Case for Servant Leadership, Kent Keith writes, “There does not have to be so much pain and suffering, so much war and violence, so much starvation and disease, so many crushed dreams and untapped talents, so many problems unsolved and so many opportunities ignored. The world does not have to be like this.” Keith attributes much of what is wrong in the world today to leaders who are more concerned with their own advancement, their own accumulation of wealth and power, and their own legacy, than with providing leadership committed to the service of others. The term Servant Leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf (www.Greenleaf.org), who believed the world needs leaders whose core motivation is their desire to serve – those who are servants first. Greenleaf’s test of a servant leader is this: “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?” That is a standard not taught in most leadership training.

Typically, we associate service and servants with the lower, not the higher levels of business and society. The most well-known leaders in the Bible, however, clearly were servants first. In Matthew 20:26b-28a, Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” In Philippians 2:3, Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, wrote “Do all the good you can…to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.”

Current day philosopher Bob Dylan sings that we are all going to have to serve somebody. Our world needs unassuming and dedicated servants at every level of every business, church, community, and government. According to the writer of Ephesians, we are to render service with enthusiasm because whatever good we do, we will receive the same from God. If we are going to have to serve someone, we may as well serve God, and we may as well serve cheerfully.

Come home to church this Sunday. The road to greatness is a path of service to others.

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Do Not Steal

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13

The eighth of the Ten Commandments, like the sixth and seventh, is straightforward: Do not steal. The common interpretation is that we are not to take what belongs to someone else. While I do not deny it is wrong to steal from another, there are instances that give me pause. The first such instance occurs in a life-or-death situation, when taking something from someone else without his or her permission will help. For example, if my children were starving and I had no resources to acquire food for them, I would steal to preserve their lives. Although this is an unlikely situation, it is an example where I believe the circumstance warrants theft.

A more common, but related situation occurs when people are starving in other countries. Does their right to life override my right to decide the fate of that which I possess? If I have sufficient resources to end the starvation of another, is it stealing for someone to take those resources from me and give them to the other? Is it a form of theft for me to hoard resources well beyond my need when others are in desperate need of those same resources? These are difficult faith questions, and stealing is a faith issue. For the thief, taking what belongs to another shows a lack of faith that God will provide for his or her needs. However, I believe it is equally faithless for those with much not to share their abundance with those in need. Indeed, inspiring people to share is a basic way that God provides for the poor and needy. The faith issue for the richly blessed among us manifests in our decisions about sharing our gifts. If we are miserly in our giving to others, our faith is likely small.

Finally, the story of the moneychangers illustrates another interesting area of theft, one that sends Jesus into a rage in the Temple. The moneychangers and other vendors exchanged currencies and sold sacrificial animals for worshippers. The problem was that they marked their prices up so high they were essentially stealing from those who came to the Temple to worship. Jesus felt this was unacceptable and drove the moneychangers out. Imagine what Jesus would do when buying popcorn and a soft drink at a movie theater today. Our commandment not to steal goes beyond just taking something belonging to another. The commandment requires consideration about taking more than our share, as well as giving less than we can comfortably give.

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Life Notes—May 31, 2012

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”  Romans 8:15-16

I did not grow up in the Methodist church, where baptism is performed on infants.  Infant baptism symbolizes God’s claim on our lives; a gift we can never earn but is given freely to us.  When a child reaches adolescence they are given the opportunity to respond to that claim during a Confirmation process, when they can join the church as a full member if they desire.  The church I grew up in christened babies, but did not offer baptism until adolescence or older, when the recipient was old enough make their own decision to be baptized or not.  Receiving the Spirit of God through baptism was a conscious choice in that tradition, made as one was beginning the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

I found the Methodist tradition of baptizing infants curious, at least at first.  But now I love the symbolism of God’s love being poured on us long before we can pretend to have done anything to earn it.  For that unfathomable gift of love and grace is not contingent on what we do.  The various choices we make reflect our response to God’s grace, but do not determine whether or not we receive it.  As children enter the transition to adulthood in the Methodist tradition they make a conscious decision about their response to the gift of God, already given, including whether to join and support the church or not.  But their choice is never whether to receive the gift, for God’s adoption of us is given regardless. 

Just as the Spirit of God descended on Jesus at his baptism in theJordan River, so our baptism symbolizes the Spirit of God descending upon us. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, we do not receive a spirit of slavery so as to remain the captive of our fears, but a spirit of adoption—adoption into the family of God that not only spans the space of this earth, but all time and eternity.  That adoption makes us children of God and that is the gift, freely given, that we can neither earn nor fully understand.  We are adopted because we are wanted—valued and loved and committed to. Neither a new-born baby nor a full-grown adult can earn that kind of love—all we can do is respond to it.  When we respond in love to our fellow family-members, we live out and demonstrate our kinship with Christ and honor and acknowledge our adoption. 

This Sunday Mitch will be preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Night Vision,” based on John 3:1-17.  Tom is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  How have you responded to your adoption?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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