Pastor’s Corner – Dec. 4, 2016

Dear Pastors of the Mountain Sky Area,
 
These have been difficult days for our divided nation. From all parts of the political spectrum, words have been hurled that hurt rather than heal, that break down the well-being of healthy community, that have reduced people to issues and objects instead of beloved, precious children of God.
 
Never in my years of ministry has the message of hope and healing that the Gospel offers been more needed. We must not shrink back from our task as disciples of Jesus, to participate in the work he started and continues to invite us to:
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
 
Below is a letter from Council of Bishops President, Bishop Bruce Ough, sent on behalf of all the bishops of The United Methodist Church. As we enter into Advent, I ask that this letter be read to your congregation and distributed for study, prayer, and action. We must provide a bold witness to the world that the power of love continues to move in our lives and world, and we shall remain vigilant against any force that seeks to overcome love, fracture further the human family, or strip our brothers and sisters of dignity and worth.
 
Advent is a time of watching and waiting. It is not a passive waiting, but one that causes us to seek out the One we are waiting for. May we discover anew the Child born in Bethlehem, who has claimed our hearts and lives and calls us to love one another across our lines of difference, so that together with God’s help we might live into Beloved Community.
 
 
Blessings,
Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
 
 
 
To the People Called United Methodist:
 
Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!
On the eve of Advent and in the post-election climate in the United States, I write as President of the Council of Bishops to call for a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ. Isaiah prophesized that a child would be born to re-establish the beloved community – a time of endless peace, a time of justice and righteousness, a time of reconciliation and unity.
 
For a child has been born to us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He shall establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV
 
In a post-election article, Bishop Gregory Palmer eloquently stated the reality of a divided United States. “Everywhere we turn we are reminded of the profound fissures along the lines of gender, race and class, just to name a few. The truth is these fissures and divisions are not new and not directly attributable to the long campaign season just ended. For many years, there has been a growing trust deficit in public leadership and institutions. These are trying times, and the fabric of who we are and who we aspire to be has been stretched beyond anything we desire to look upon. But look upon it squarely we must.”
 
This state of division and discord is global, fueled by the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric of the recent U.S. election cycle. Recently, Pope Francis warned against the “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people of different nationalities, races and beliefs. He was blunt and warned against animosity creeping into the church, as well, noting “we are not immune from this.” Pope Francis reminded us of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”
 
As followers of the Christ, we are harbingers, models and guardians of the Beloved Community. As those baptized into the Body of Christ, we “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and to renounce the spiritual forces of evil in the world, our respective nations and the church. As disciples of Jesus, we stand against all expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. As those who serve Christ, we love whom Christ loves. As stewards of Jesus’ Good News, we are peacemakers, pray for our enemies and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged.
 
At the November 2010 meeting of the Council of Bishops in Panama, the Council issued a pastoral letter calling for United Methodists to be bearers of the beloved community across the globe. The letter is eerily contemporary and relevant to our current context. It points to the opportunity that is uniquely ours to bind up the wounds and to proclaim the Advent prophecy of a time of justice and righteousness. I include the full text as a reminder of the kingdom reality we are called to incarnate:
 
“We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, feel compelled to renew our commitment to work to become the beloved community of Christ. We, as a Council, desire to deal with the crucial issues of racism and the sacredness of every human being. Therefore, as the spiritual and administrative leaders of the church, we issue an urgent call to the whole people of God, lay and clergy: to speak the truth in love in public and private discourse, to act with compassion, and to work for peace with justice in the world.
 
In order to transform the world, in faithfulness to Christ’s command, we must model respect and kindness and extinguish the fires of animosity. And thus, we call on all churches to engage in genuinely honest dialogue and respectful conversation, such that others who observe the action in our lives might declare, ‘See how they love each other!’
As people of faith, we are charged to build the beloved community because Christ has broken down the dividing walls and ended the hostilities between us. Yet, we continue to build walls in the church and the world which separate us and cause our hearts to grieve.
 
On the continent of Africa and in many parts of Asia, including the Middle East, the Philippines and India, the historical and contemporary impact of colonialism, racism, tribalism, hostility and religious persecution continue to affect human relationships. The challenge in the Philippines is to break down the barriers between mainline society and tribal peoples. Meeting this challenge will accord equal rights such as land possession and free education for all.
 
By nature, colonialism in Africa thrives on hostile, violent and demeaning human relationships. Racism and tribalism cut deep wounds, not in one’s flesh and blood, but also on the soul and the spirit. These gaping wounds leave permanent scars.
 
In Europe racism is a growing issue, with political parties openly working against minority, ethnic and religious communities. Prejudice is overly articulated in the media, in politics and even in churches. Throughout the United States, there has been a rapid escalation of violence related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious preference. This escalation includes personal attacks, bullying and vicious and criminal acts of violence to the mind, body and spirit of persons. These actions diminish life for victims and their families, as well as for the perpetrators and the whole community. They are the ultimate, insidious and irreverent attacks on the sacredness of God-given life.
 
Across the world, terrorism – as demonstrated by wanton acts of violence against innocent persons – leaves a trail of loss of life, limb, home and community. Discriminatory treatment is widely practiced against immigrants and refugees everywhere around the world. All of this creates a universal atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and fear. Often this is the result of religious persecution of various faith communities, including Christians, which threatens the capacity or hope for reconciliation and peace. The church is called to decisively and directly counter these acts and engender and empower a ‘perfect love that casts out all fear.’ (I John 4:18, NVSV) Through intentional action we can ‘overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12:21, NRSV)
 
It is incumbent upon the bearers of this vision of a beloved community to do whatever we can today to hasten the day of a just world with peace. This is our hope, our prayer and our commitment.”
 
Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice.
 
We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack and criticism. As Richard Rohr recently noted, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual.
 
So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment. May it be so!
 
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church


Gratefulness Corner – Nov. 20, 2016

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This past week has been challenging for our community and nation. We continue to see increasing division, and across our nation we have seen an increase in the reported incidents of hate crimes. Last Sunday in worship we saw a higher than average attendance and I have spoken to several of the people who joined us. Many have stated they sought out worship to seek answers for their sense loss and concern. Over the past two weeks St. Paul’s has been refuge to people hurting from loss and a place where people have come to seek hope for their lives.

As your pastor I have personally been in prayer and deep conversation to understand how we, people of faith, need to be present to those hurting in our community. This past week I have been with people who are scared for the future and unsure how to talk to their friends, family and neighbors who disagree with them. I have met with people in our community who have shared a gut-wrenching fear for their own well-being in this conflicted climate. Fear is pervasive in our culture right now. This brings me to deep concern because throughout history we have seen fear breed the worst kinds of behaviors.

In prayer I came across this passage of scripture. It seemed to fit this challenging time of deep division, concern for the future, and most certainly this climate of fear.

Romans 12:9-18 (Common English Bible)
Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.

The quote you see attached to this letter is from Susan Henry-Crowe, she is the director of General Board of Church and Society. I invite you to use the quote and the scripture from Romans as a prayer tool. This week I invite us all into a time of prayer as we gather with family and friends. I would ask that we pray for those who voted a way we chose not to vote, to pray for those who are hurting and in pain, to pray we have the strength to help stop hate in our community, and to pray ultimately for hope in our own lives and in those that are struggling.

Please join me in prayer,

Pastor Tyler



A Message from Bishop Karen Oliveto

November 9, 2016
 
Dear brothers and sisters of the Mountain Sky Area,
 
At the conclusion of a contentious election process, we are left with a country that is more divided than ever before. As we look at the challenges facing us as a nation, the deep divisions that are fracturing us, I call on the clergy and laity of the Mountain Sky Area to be in prayer together, as we seek the healing of our nation. We who follow Jesus are called to offer our neighbors the love of God in all we do. In our words and actions, we need to offer hope to those who feel despair and healing for those who feel broken.
 
Yet, Jesus calls us to do much more. The love we are to share as disciples of Christ is transformative, changing individuals, families, communities, and yes, even the entire world.
 
I believe in the power of love. And whether today we are lamenting or celebrating the election, here is what I know to be true: the love we as Christians are called to live out cannot be legislated. It is not controlled by politics. It is to be lived out, not talked about or debated. This love is realized when we stand with the poor and marginalized. It is embodied when we seek justice for the oppressed.
 
This love is the heartbeat of humanity that cannot be stopped by hatred or fear. It is the recognition of our brother and sister in those whose names we don’t know, whose dignity we will honor and respect.
 
This is the love God calls us to, which always and forever moves us all towards Beloved Community.
 
So, today and in the days to come, may we get on our knees to pray for our nation and the world’s peoples. And then, let us rise from our knees to love our brothers and sisters, the leaders of the world, including President-elect Donald Trump, the earth, and all living beings. As followers of Jesus, we can do no other.
 
 
Blessings and peace,
Bishop Karen P. Oliveto