Tuesday, May 3, 2022

In Defense of the Trust Clause

I have been voting in United Methodist General Conferences since 2004 and each time we have seen legislation come forward on the trust clause.  It has always been to loosen or remove it entirely.  Not surprisingly, the trust clause has been one of the talking points of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.  Specifically, it has been held up that the Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause.  Local churches in this expression of Methodism will own their own property.  This is always lifted up as a positive and maybe for the world at large, it would seem so.

Property ownership is part of the American dream, and we laud those who are able to become homeowners.  Home ownership allows for the transfer of wealth from one generation to the next.  It allows families to break the cycle of poverty.  These are good things for individual family units.  But as a theologian, I believe it is important to ask if we need to think differently about the church.

I have been in meetings where congregation members are shocked that their local church is actually held by the annual conference.  My response is that they are not thinking big enough!  As a United Methodist whose membership is in the Oklahoma Conference, they do own this local church.  In fact, they own all of the churches within our boundaries.  All of these properties are ours.

I'm always happy to help
the next generation understand that
we own our United Methodist
Canyon Camp as stewards for God!
As a citizen of the United States, this is a similar way for me to think about our national parks.  When we view the majesty of the Grand Canyon or behold the wonder of Old Faithful at Yellowstone, we are happy that these places are held in trust for all of us.  They are ours together.  

It is helpful for us to think about the church in the same way.

Many of our sanctuaries inspire the majesty of worship.  The architecture of our buildings can draw us upward in wonder as we encounter the divine.  Within our shared covenant, they are larger than local ownership.  They are ours together.

As I mentioned, the Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause as a part of their polity.  But in the many posts I’ve read, I’ve not heard them discuss the fact that they intend to put a lien on the church property if there is still unpaid pension liability for said church.  This is mentioned in paragraphs 351 and 903 in their Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline.  

As I’ve heard The United Methodist Church being disparaged by those seeking to leave, one of the comments is that we have turned away from Biblical values to adopt whatever the current culture lifts up.  As we think about property, I believe The United Methodist Church seeks to be shaped by Acts 4:32-33 which states, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”  The trust clause is about identity – specifically, our identity as Christians.  

A lien may also be about identity, but it communicates a more punitive image.  

While I plan on remaining United Methodist, I’m not against The Global Methodist Church.  Division is a painful part of our history, and the mother body often experiences important reform during the process of birthing something new.  But I would like the options in the process to be transparent.  If a person wants to leave, I would much rather hear why they are excited about their new venture rather than hear them tearing down the institution from which they are leaving.  

I think this also says something about identity.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Daily Devotion for Post-Lent - Easter Sunday

Scripture Reading: Luke 24

Why don't angels appear to Pilate or Herod?  It would be nice if some did and said, "Boy, you really screwed up!"

But that's not the way of Jesus even though it might be our way at times.

Rather, the angels appear to the female followers.  They are the first to be witnesses to the empty tomb.  And they are not even believed when they share the message of Easter.  "Oh, that is just the prattling of women."

It is a large reminder of how women were considered second class and always had to defer to the men.  But Jesus has started a revolution of how we see other people.

Let us remember in Luke's Gospel that the angels didn't alert anyone of importance to the birth of Jesus but rather appeared to shepherds.  These were some of the lowest of the blue-collar workers in their social standing.

Do you see what's going on here?  In the Easter revolution, anyone can be a witness.

Jesus also appears to Cleopas and another disciple but remains unknown to them until they break bread together.  This foreshadows the sacrament of Holy Communion being a way in which we continue to share in Jesus Christ as his followers.  The table fellowship we celebrate here at times has been controlled as a means of who can and who can't receive, but I believe that our reading of Luke reminds us that it is a means of grace that we should freely offer everyone.

Eating together is important.  So important that Jesus eats a piece of fish with the disciples to show that resurrection is different than a ghostly appearance.  Ghosts are often about fear and the past.  Jesus is looking to the future and asks us even now, "Why are you frightened?"

Luke ends his Good News with the ascension.  This is fitting for a life that has pointed to God.  And the disciples don't abandon their religion or their rituals.  They remain in the Temple.  But they've been changed by resurrection.  They see differently now.

As we think about this story, Luke already knew the ending when he wrote it down.  As we look back at the Gospel, we can see how Easter colors everything in it.  How can it not?

We are the inheritors of this marvelous witness.  Luke seems to be asking us today, "What are you going to do now?"

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, you give us life at our birth, and we sometimes act as if you have wound us up like an old-fashioned watch - set to run until we don't.  But when we remember the past, we know that these watches had to be wound to work accurately.  Let us see the living Lord as one who works to wind us often so that we can share a more precise picture of the world.  This view is a respecter of all kinds of people because we see them as God sees them - as beloved.  We are thankful that not even death can stop this message.  We are grateful today to be a part of it.  You have raised up Christ today and forevermore!  Alleluia!  Amen.

Photo by Giulio Bernardi via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons License.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Daily Devotion for Lent - Day 40

Scripture Reading: Luke 23:26-56

And so we see the end of the revolution.

It wasn't a revolution of arms - we never saw Jesus take up the sword.  But it was a revolution of ideas.

For the Jewish people, Jesus asked them to consider how they were treating one another in the midst of captivity.  How could they remain faithful with so much pollution going on all around them?  As the foreigners came and lived among them and even told them what they could and couldn't do, how would they retain their identity in God?

Some traded a part of their identity - colluding with the occupiers - in order to maintain certain parts of their tradition such as worship in the Temple.  From Jesus' perspective, this collusion may have been worse than that of the tax collectors.  When Jesus is betrayed by his own leadership and killed by the foreign soldiers, we see the curtain of the temple torn in two.  This may foreshadow the violent end that such collusion will lead to for the Temple.  But it may also indicate that the leadership that would work to have Jesus killed was broken.  And lest we lay all the blame on our leaders, the crowds willingly followed their plan.

We see women all through today's reading.  

They are wailing for Jesus as he makes his way to The Skull.

They watch and pray as he is nailed to the cross.

They see him taken down and placed in the tomb.

They begin to prepare ointments and spices to anoint his body following the sabbath.  

They are to be the first to discover that the revolution hasn't ended as they surmised.  In fact, it may be just beginning...

But that is for tomorrow.  For today, we have grief.  And that is enough for today.

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, we grieve our loss anew as we remember the crucifixion of our Lord.  We are participants in the story as we wail with the women or scoff with the soldiers.  At times we are both criminals - doubting your power, O God, while at the same time yearning for salvation.  But then we are also faithful like Joseph who tended to propriety and buried Jesus before sundown.  There are times in life when things seem meaningless and we go through the motions.  Today, we pray for endurance.  We pray this in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Photo by Andy Read via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons License.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Daily Devotion for Lent - Day 39 Good Friday

Scripture Reading: Luke 23:1-25

What's the best way to have someone killed who has influence among the people?

This is what the religious authorities were trying to figure out in Jesus' day.  He was a brilliant teacher, healer and exorcist.  He was itinerant in that he didn't set up shop for very long in any one town or place.  He challenged the status quo and was a threat to those in religious power.

Within the Hebrew scriptures, there are passages that grant the authorities the right to capital punishment.  However, the Roman authorities that occupied Judea kept a strict rein on the right to execute people for crimes.  They didn't allow for Jewish leaders to take matters into their own hands if it meant a death sentence.

This is the Man by Myroslav Duzinkevych, 2002

Certainly, Roman authorities executed a lot of people.  The main people that they would have had no qualms about killing were insurrectionists who threatened the power of Caesar in this locality.  So, notice through today's passage that Jesus is being painted as a threat to Roman rule.

They start out complaining that he kept them from paying taxes.  As we think about tax day in the US, I don't think this complaint was a legitimate worry of theirs, do you?

They call Jesus the Messiah - the king - which would have been a direct threat to Pilate.  But Pilate doesn't see him as a military leader.  They have plenty of accusations but Pilate doesn't see one that successfully paints Jesus as an insurrectionist.

When Jesus gets handed off, Herod just wants to see a miracle.  For some reason, Jesus doesn't seem up to it.  Jesus is not an entertainer.

In the end, neither Pilate nor Herod see Jesus as a threat deserving death.

The crowd then picks an actual insurrectionist over Jesus.  

We often choose violence over peace and have throughout human history.

On this Good Friday, I must honestly look at myself and ask why this is.  I know that I choose violence - maybe not physically - but in the words I sometimes use.  I pick violence in that my blood gets hot over things that frustrate me.  My thoughts at times are not thoughts of peace.

And in these instances, we become a part of the mob demanding Barabas over Jesus.

Prayer for the day:

Oh God, this is a heavy day.  We recognize that we do not have it all together - either individually or collectively.  Why would Jesus stay silent when a word might have released him?  Help us to sit with the fact that someone would lift us up at any price.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus, the Messiah.  Amen.

Picture, This is the Man by Myroslav Duzinkevych, 2002.  Used under the Creative Commons License.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Daily Devotion for Lent - Day 38

Scripture Reading: Luke 22:31-71

Jesus seems the epitome of the non-anxious presence in today's reading.  He recognizes what is coming his way and does pray for an alternate path.  But he also resigns himself to be who he is going to be.  He doesn't seem to get upset or angry, even when those closest to him fail him.

When his disciples do respond with violence, Jesus does seem to get a little exasperated.  Rather than chastise them, Jesus simply offers a better way and heals the man who was wounded.

It is not easy to be calm in
the midst of the chaos!
His response to those coming to arrest him shows that he is not the one acting dishonorably.  He reminds them that he was present in their midst in the Temple each day.

Later, Jesus shows them that their own statements about him are what they are using to condemn him.

Our own denial of Jesus may not come as blatantly as Peter's.  It is often more subtle and justifiable but it is there nonetheless.  I find it striking that Jesus mentions that he is praying for Peter that his faith would not fail and that he would be there to strengthen the rest.  It seems that Jesus sees the thrice denial as a moment of weakness in an otherwise faithful life.

This is a good reminder that we shouldn't measure ourselves by our worst moments.  And if this is the case, maybe we shouldn't judge someone else by theirs either.  

As we approach the end of Lent, how is Jesus helping you move past your own denials?  It may be helpful to think of Jesus saying to you, "I'm praying for you that your own faith may not fail, that you may be a source of strength for others."

Prayer for the day:

Eternal God, we give thanks for your steadfastness.  You know us through and through and lift up our strengths while pardoning our weaknesses.  Teach us to put our own anxieties aside as we serve you.  And may the calm that comes from you be a blanket of peace that we spread over the people we meet.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Photo by Jong Soo (Peter) Lee via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Daily Devotion for Lent - Day 37

Scripture Reading: Luke 22:1-30

I've always been inspired by the fact that Judas was allowed to eat with the rest of the disciples at the Passover meal.  As we see Jesus move them to the new tradition of the Lord's Supper, it doesn't become an annual rite but a regular spiritual rhythm for Christians as they gather together.

As Jesus is clearly aware of the impending betrayal, he doesn't even out Judas to the rest of the disciples (although John's account seems to indicate this).  If it ever seemed like a good idea to close the table to someone, Judas should be the top candidate.

I'm not sure who 
came up with this
name for a beer.
Maybe because
of what is does to
your liver?
So, this becomes a reminder that grace isn't earned or deserved.  Grace may not even be bothered about nefarious intent.  This is hard for us to wrap our heads around.

It may cause us to stop and ask the question, "Why even bother being good?"  Of course, the answer to this is that if we are being good so as to stand out over those who aren't, we may have our own nefarious intent.

I like in Luke's Gospel how when Jesus drops the bombshell about his betrayal, the disciples start arguing over which one of them is the best disciple.  And this is right after receiving the very first Holy Communion!  

This is a perfect reminder that we all have a long way to go before we get to where we need to be spiritually.  It is also a good reminder that taking Communion doesn't automatically fix our faults!

As tomorrow is Holy Thursday, there should be ample opportunity for you to receive the sacrament.  I would invite you to do so with a heart that is open to the greater Christian community.  There will be those of differing theological or political camps receiving this same day.  What does it mean to share at the same table with them?

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, you provide for us in a myriad of ways.  You strengthen us and you forgive us in our weaknesses.  Sometimes our weakness extends to our ability to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Regardless of how we see them, you see them as your children.  Bless us with your sight.  In Jesus' name,  Amen.

 Photo by Miquel C. via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Daily Devotion for Lent - Day 36

Scripture Reading: Luke 21:20-38

Within Luke's time, he had already witnessed the successful rebellion of Judea against Rome in 66 CE.  But then he also knew about Rome's successful retaliation and recapture of Jerusalem four years later.  It was a horrific massacre of many innocent lives, and the Temple was once again destroyed.

It would certainly seem like an apocalyptic time for the survivors.  

The Gospel gives us meaning for this today and reminds us that end times seem to occur cyclically in human history.

The Great War over a century ago
also seemed like the apocalypse
If you go back through Christian history, you will find countless times that the end of the world or the second coming of Christ has been predicted to occur.  So far, we are batting 0% on our success ratio!  

But the issue for us is that we feel like the changes we are seeing (sometimes violent in nature) are upending our world and that it seems like it is ending.

Jesus reminds us that the worries of this life can be a trap that we all fall into.  When chaos increases, so does our anxiety.  Many people fell into this trap during the pandemic as mental health professionals had to start working overtime with the skyrocketing caseload.  Liquor sales increased dramatically and the drunkenness that Jesus warns about also was evident.  I would say that seeing a mental health professional is a much better response than tipping the bottle.

What does it mean to "be alert" during a time of calamitic change?  We mustn't take this out of context with the rest of the Gospel so far.  To be alert means to avoid putting on a false self for our comfort.  To be alert means to watch out for those who have fallen and aren't doing as well.  To be alert means to make sure that our compassion isn't drowned by our disgust that is fueled by anxiety.

Luke shows us that as Jesus was teaching in the Temple each day, he would also rest and retreat from the masses on the Mount of Olives.  So even as we are to be alert, we should also take the time to rejuvenate.

As we move through Holy Week, how are you staying alert during today's apocalypse?

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, help us to rest well.  Give us sabbath time away from our worries and our fears.  Let us remember your presence as we move through today.  May we breathe deeply of your Holy Spirit as we refresh and seek to be alert to those around us.  And as we make connections with your children, may our peace in you be contagious.  We pray these things in the name of the Christ.  Amen.

Photo by USMC Archives via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons License.