Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This week, we tried an experiential sermon time at DPUMC. There was only small amounts of exposition; most of our time was spent in practicing two kinds of prayer. Below are instructions for our in service activities and how to follow up at home. Special thanks to our pastoral intern, Annie Meek, for the Sharing section.
Take three deep breaths, feeling the air fully inflate your lungs and fully exit your lungs.
Focus your attention only on what comes from your senses. Be aware of what you’re touching, hearing, smelling, and sensing. Know that you are safe and comfortable.
Take a word, preferably single syllable, that represents God’s love and care for you. Hold in your mind only this word.
As thoughts, questions or distractions arise, repeat your word until they subside. Then allow the word itself to fade.
Allow yourself to simply be in the presence of God without goal or agenda. Take up your word when you need, then let it fade.
At home, try repeating the practice for 20 min in the morning or evening (or both). Give yourself plenty of time to experience just being with God, but don’t worry if its hard to do for long at first. As you finish your prayer, use your sense to draw you back out of the silence and into the world. Repeat the focusing of attention on touch, sound, smell, and sense. Remind yourself you are loved.
1) Ask your neighbor if they would share a prayer request with you.
2) Listen mindfully and calmly, not trying to fix whatever comes up or go on tangents.
3) Allow for a moment of calm silence and focus on your breath, remembering God is ever present, tending, and loving.
4) Pray for each other aloud or silently as you feel led.
At home, continue to practice sharing with these prayer practices alone or together with friends or family:
1) “Give thanks and pray for the world, the Church, and the concerns of the heart, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.” (The Book of Offices and Services of the Order of St. Luke, a United Methodist ecumenical religious order)
2) Share gratitude with someone. Ask “what are three things you’re grateful for today?” And share the same for yourself.
3) Share time in silence or stillness. Practice contemplative prayer or meditation with a friend for 2, 5, 7, 10 15, or 20 minutes a day. Talk about it!
There are several variations and patterns for Examen. This is an easy outline with which to begin:
Remind yourself God is present and what that means to you in the moment.
Recognize where God has been at work around you.
Repent your mistakes, transgressions and opportunities you missed to practice grace and service.
Reflect on the state of your heart and feelings that emerge during prayer.
Renew hope for growth and the days to come.
In my planner, I have the following examen prayer. It helps to center me and invites me to reflect when things get difficult. Like most prayers of examen, it is meant to be prayed slowly with space for reflection and listening after each section.
This week, try making a Prayer of Examen part of your spiritual practice. Journal what you discover about yourself and God.
You may have seen the UMC denomination in the headlines over the weekend. A plan called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was released Friday and captured the attention of many people both inside and outside the UMC. Since then I have and several questions and conversations about what this will mean for Deer Park UMC.
The shortest answer is, it means nothing until General Conference meets in May. The UMC has been having a long conversation about polity and human sexuality. That conversation has been particularly intense over the last 18 months. At a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019 the denomination adopted part of what was called the Traditionalist Plan. It maintained prohibitions on performing same-sex weddings and ordinations, and restructured the process for dealing with complaints and punishments for violation of those prohibitions. That legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020.
Caucus groups across the denomination met over the year and several have submitted plans or legislation for General Conference 2020. Notable among them are The Bard-Jones Plan, The UMC-Forward Plan, The UMNext Plan, and the Indianapolis Plan. All provide for some form of separation from the UMC denomination or breaking the UMC into multiple denominations. The Protocol is like these in that responds to GC2019 and proposes a path forward via multiple expressions of Methodism; all will require debate and adoption by GC2020 to become a reality.
What is different?
The Protocol was worked out by leaders from a wide spectrum of caucus groups with the help of a professional mediator and is being supported by 8 Bishops.
The Protocol does not yet have legislation for its implementation. When that legislation is ready, it will need to come to the GC2020 either through a Special Session of an Annual Conference (our AC is Texas Annual Conference) or by permission of the General Conference organizing committee because the deadline for legislation is long passed.
The signers of the Protocol have expressed a desire for the plan’s legislation to come to the floor for debate and vote as a whole (inseparable) package. The Indianapolis plan also has an inseparability provision, and the validity of that has been challenged.
The way the Protocol was crafted and released gained far more media attention than any similar legislation.
UMNews has done an excellent job of summarizing the specific provision of the Protocol and had provided an extensive FAQ.
The Protocol is ultimately one plan among many coming to GC2020. I will not speculate here on its likelihood of adoption and we will not have a firm answer on this plan or any other until May. It is worth noting that the Protocol, like several other plans provides for votes by Annual Conferences and/or local churches. Our bishop, Bishop Jones, has already announced that all actions stemming from GC2020 will be taken up at a Special Session of the Annual Conference in August. This is because our normal session occurs only 9 days after the close of GC2020, and that is not enough time for meaningful conversation or considered decisions.
The leadership of DPUMC was already considering when to hold information sessions and town-halls ahead of GC2020. Those will likely be scheduled in the March-April time frame. While possibilities and contingencies will be discussed all year, no decisions can be finalized or actions taken until we know what the General Conference does in May and the Annual Conference does in August.
In the meantime, I ask you to do 3 things:
Be in prayer for our church, our leadership, our denomination and its world wide leadership.
Check any information you see in or on a major media outlet. The UMC is a large denomination, movements are going to make headlines from time to time, but they often fail to do the background research necessary to understand our polity or the wider implications of a single action. umnews.org is a great source for accurate information.
Be in conversation with one another. In times of anxiety or conflict it can be tempting to seek peace through silence. We have reached a point where that is not viable. We need to listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and hold each other accountable for understanding the options on the table.
Across generations, the people of God have created metaphors and imagery to explain God, imagine God, and relate to God. Children asked to draw God will often picture someone who cares for them and teaches them about God. As adults, how we imagine God can have a subtle but profound impact on how we live our faith.
What does God look like? The Bible gives us lots of imagery for God
Is God a He? Yes, especially when we’re talking about the human/divine Jesus. For all of God, She and They (singular) are also appropriate.
Does the way we imagine God affect how we live our faith? Yes.
Find an image from art or life that helps you imagine God and journal about what that picture says to your faith.
Spend some time with a scripture that images God. Pray through it and respond to it by creating visual art that reflects what it teaches you about God.
Ask someone else how they see God and mediate on their answer and how it relates to you.
Gather images of God from Christians around the world. Study what each one reflects about their culture and God. Create a devotion or series of devotions around the images and share them with your Sunday School or Small Group.
Though we won’t often admit it, we all like to know our boundaries. What is the minimal effort required, what is the most that is acceptable. We might not always color inside the lines, but we like knowing where the lines are. So perhaps we find ourselves asking questions like: What is the least you can believe and still be Christian? or What must I do to be saved? The questions are eternal, and so is the answer. As Jesus said, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Does everyone need salvation? Yes
Does Christ offer salvation to everyone? Yes
Do I have to go to church to be saved? God does the work of salvation, church helps us grow in our love for God and neighbor.
James exhorts us to pray in the midst of suffering and celebration. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Again and again we hear the power of prayer exhorted. But exhortation doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions. There is great power in prayer, and it is an essential part of our faith life. But what if that power is bigger and wilder than what we imagine with our well loved platitudes.
Does God always hear our prayers? Yes
Why doesn’t God answer every prayer? God always answers, just not always in the way we expect or with what we hoped for; sometimes the answer is no, or not right now.
If God is in control of everything, do our prayers matter? Yes.
Big things begin from small seeds. A tax collector can be reformed by dinner. A small group of women in a church basement can become a mission organization with worldwide outreach. You may see your gifts as small, but in them God sees great opportunity.
Remember a time when you offered a small kindness that was received as a great blessing.
What actions have had ripple effects in your faith community?
What big work would you like to see accomplished? What small step might begin it?
Set aside 30 days to pray for discernment about where God is leading you now.
Read “Maid” by Stephanie Land
Volunteer 10 hours with an organization that works directly with poor or marginalized persons
Commit a year to learning about a broken circumstance in the world (poverty, immigration, polarization, etc)
Start a small group to focus on a single issue. Study together, pool money, and offer service together.
Peter says in Acts “God is no respecter of persons”, meaning God does not show partiality. The world marks all kinds of status divisions, wealth, influence, age, race, gender. The Church as the body of Christ should be without partiality, but often we can be as infatuated with status as any other community. Our discipleship calls us to rise above and see the image of God in all.
Have you ever been honored for your contributions of time or treasure? How did it feel? Were you more or less inclined to give again?
Have you ever refrained from supporting a ministry or program because you didn’t like an aspect of it? What would Mary McLeod Bethune have said to that?
Make a list of places you give time or money. Ask yourself how you chose those.
List places you used to give time or money along with the reason you stopped. Were any of those about a need for control?
Pray about one place you could give time or treasure that has no benefit for you.
Make all of your giving for 1 year anonymous. Reflect on how that changes your attitude.