Humble Beginnings

I am grateful to Chuck Winkler for having invited me to lead a session on “How We See Jesus” at the Men’s retreat at Camp Mingus last month. It was a beautiful setting and we all learned so much from each other. To begin, I asked participants to consider some of their earliest or childhood
images of Jesus: maybe a picture, sculpture, or song. For me, it was a small crèche my mom had brought back from Germany as a young adult. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus – crafted from dried corn husks. I remember as a boy my folks putting that simple nativity out each Christmas season. Now as an adult I’ve come to realize another layer of meaning around that simple piece of folk art, fashioned of discards – I mean, besides tamales, what else are corn husks good for?

Jesus had a heart for “the last, the lost, the least” – those often regarded by society as “outcasts,” even “refuse.” Stories of his birth hint at his own marginalization: Mary, an unwed mother, expectant in a most unconventional way; the Good News coming not to the learned and powerful but to (dirty) shepherds working the night shift; the babe of whose birth we sing born not in Rome but some backwater province of the empire, and laying in a cattle feed trough, not a castle.

It’s easy to sentimentalize Jesus, especially during this season when we celebrate his birth with dazzling lights, lovely Hallmark cards and entertaining Christmas pageants.  That simple corn husk crèche reminds me of the earthy reality of the birth of an outcast-soon-to-be-refugee who would devote his life to helping all to see – powerful or vulnerable – that everyone is no less than a child of God!

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Jeff


History

Recently my family and I were on the East Coast visiting colleges and basking in the glorious hues of fall. Browsing in a used bookstore, I discovered a dusty, leather- bound tome entitled History of Methodism in Maine: 1793-1886. Thumbing through its pages, my eyes fell upon the minutes of the 1840 General Conference in Baltimore. I was gobsmacked to read the following:

The Bishops’ address was read, in which they express their approval of the pastoral address of the previous General Conference, especially that part of it relating to the subject of slavery, concurring in the advice to the entire church “to wholly abstain” from all abolition movements …

My thoughts turned to John Wesley, and to the final letter that he penned a few days before he died in 1791, to William Wilberforce.

Fifty years before Methodists were advised by that 1840 General Conference to refrain from participating in the anti-slavery cause, the founder of the Methodist movement wrote a letter encouraging the great British abolitionist Wilberforce in “opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.” (Previously, in 1777, Wesley had published an abolitionist tract called “Thoughts on Slavery.”) Thanks to the courage of Wilberforce and others, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807.

As was the case with Jesus and Paul, within a generation the radical message of John Wesley was watered down to accommodate the status quo. The Methodist Church would split over slavery in 1844 – 16 years before the Southern States seceded from the Union, precipitating the Civil War. The two general conferences, the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South reunited in 1939, but only after the South made the creation of a special “Central Conference” for blacks – “separate but equal” – a condition of the merger.

It is not hyperbole to say we stand at a similar crossroads in our day. A special General Conference will be held in February 2019 in St. Louis. 800 delegates from around the globe will determine the future of the UMC. Just as slavery divided the church then, divergent understandings of human sexuality may well split the church now.

Our bishop, Bishop Robert Hoshibata, is convening “Holy Huddles” for laity and clergy “in order to better understand and prayerfully share our thoughts for our Church.” I have already attended two of these sessions and heartily encourage you to attend the Holy Huddle on November 17th at North Scottsdale UMC, 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Here’s the link for more information about Holy Huddles and the 2019 General Conference.

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. One of the things for which I am grateful is the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan heritage. My prayer is that we will find a way forward in love, following the counsel of John Wesley, who said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” The very future of our denomination depends upon it.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Jeff


Tikkun Olam

Pastor Jeff with Rabbi Dean Shapiro at Temple Emanuel Synagogue’s Ship Ahoy! gala event on April 28, 2018.

Last April, Janice and I represented Dayspring UMC at a lovely gala sponsored by Temple Emanuel, the synagogue located around the corner from Dayspring, near Rural and Guadalupe. Dayspring was honored with their George Korobkin Community Service Award “presented to individuals, groups or organizations that have had an impact on the togetherness of the Valley and its people.”

Renewing our relationship with Temple Emanuel has been delightful and gratifying. Dayspring was a big support during the synagogue’s early years. Rev. Bert Lewis and Rabbi David Pinkwasser brought the two faith communities together to develop mutual understanding and to support a number of neighborhood initiatives.

I first met their present rabbi, Dean Shapiro, at a meeting of the Tempe Interfaith Fellowship shortly after being appointed here. We partnered on the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Dayspring in November of 2014 and have collaborated on a number of projects since. Last year, Temple Emanuel held their High Holy Days’ services at Dayspring – we have double their seating capacity – and will be doing so again this fall. In fact, we have all been invited to attend their closing Yom Kippur service at Dayspring on Sept 19 at 5:45pm.
Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days that starts with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the intervening days, the person seeks to improve their behavior and be reconciled to others and to God. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

There is a Hebrew expression, tikkun olam, which literally means “to mend the world” or “to perfect the world.” We play a role in mending the world when we recognize where we have fallen short in our relationships and our commitments and then take steps to remedy our shortcomings. Other intentional steps involve building community and working for peace and justice. To that end, Rabbi Dean and I are in the process of planning shared activities for our congregations. An interfaith build day with Habitat for Humanity, a panel on “Earth Stewardship from a Faith Perspective,” and “Community Conversations” over a meal or refreshments are all in the works. I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these opportunities to foster community and grow in our understanding of each other’s faith traditions. Jesus himself, after all, was Jewish!

Shalom,
Pastor Jeff


Wesley and the People Called Methodists

John Wesley, the co-founder of what would become the United Methodist Church, relates in his journal a life-changing experience while crossing the Atlantic in 1736. The voyage to America took four months and the passengers were comprised of two main groups: folks from England and German Moravian Christians. Toward the end of the journey there was a third storm, more violent than the others.

“In the midst of a worship service the sea broke over, split the main‑sail to pieces, covered the ship, poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming was heard from the midst of the English, but the Germans calmly continued to sing their hymn. Afterwards I asked one of them, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

Deeply moved by the faith of the Moravians, Wesley wrote, “It was the most glorious day I had ever before experienced.”

It would be some time before Wesley himself would experience that utter assurance of God’s unconditional love and acceptance, and be able to declare, with Paul, that

“… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I believe we are all looking for that Gospel reassurance – that we are God’s beloved and that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

I find in Wesley’s humanity and life-long quest to follow Jesus a compelling and inspirational example. During the month of August, we will be considering the legacy of John Wesley with a sermon series on spirituality, faith and theology of this remarkable leader. I hope you’ll join me!

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff


The Untied Methodist Church

The Untied Methodist Church?

No, that’s not a typo.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata at the consecration service of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church, held on July 16, 2016 at Paradise Valley UMC.

On April 23, 1968, the United Methodist Church was created by the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Methodist Church.

Fifty years later, things are on the verge of unraveling.

Every four years, lay and clergy delegates gather from annual conferences around the globe to reflect on the state of the church and to review and amend our denominational polity. The most recent General Conference was held in May of 2016, when thousands of United Methodists, including about 850 delegates, gathered in Portland, Oregon.

At the outset of that conference, 115 LGBT United Methodist clergy came out of the closet and an additional 2,000 UMC clergy (including yours truly) signed a letter of support. Some 25 bishops also signed a letter requesting changes to our polity eliminating the exclusion of LGBT pastors and the prohibition of same gender weddings. Recognizing the potential for a church-wide split, the General Conference decided at the urging of the Council of Bishops to defer all votes on human sexuality until a specially called General Conference, to be held Feb. 23-26, 2019. It also empowered the bishops to create a commission to bring a recommendation to that conference to determine the way forward for our denomination. Until then, the question remains: will we be united or untied?

Two months later, on July 15, 2016, the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. I was privileged to attend her historic consecration service at Paradise Valley UMC that weekend. Needless to say, it has not been a smooth journey for Bishop Oliveto, as the church struggles to be fully inclusive.

I rejoice that for nearly two decades Dayspring UMC has had a Statement of Welcome that includes all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Moreover, in 2015 Dayspring affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, comprised of United Methodist churches that publicly welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While our denomination struggles to live up to its slogan of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, I am grateful that Dayspring has made considerable strides toward embodying that ideal. I hope you’ll join your prayers with mine for a fully inclusive and united church.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Festival of God’s Creation

One of my fondest childhood memories is hiking with my dad and his Boy Scout troop with my older brother into Havasupai. I was seven years old. My father carried my sleeping bag and everything else I needed. I carried but one thing: a half-gallon tin can looped with a rope handle. Maybe a few smooth, river-polished stones or a disgruntled toad – my dad’s nickname for me as a boy was “Newt,” probably for that very propensity – I don’t remember what I collected and carried in the can, but that childhood memory has come to symbolize for me an unquenchable curiosity, a desire to know all about the wonders around me.

Rachel Carson captures the awe we all felt as children when she writes:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that . . . vision . . . is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

The United Methodist Church has invited each local congregation to celebrate God’s Creation on April 22, in keeping with Earth Day. While we are called to live each day in harmony, as part of God’s interconnected creation, the UMC dedicates one Sunday every year as the “Festival of God’s Creation.” The Rev. Michael Dowd will be with us this year, preaching in the morning and offering an afternoon lecture (learn more). Let’s join together to celebrate the wondrous gifts of the creative Spirit and reflect anew on our vital responsibilities as faithful stewards!


Spring, Lent, and Easter

A popular camp song contains the line,

“What a wondrous time is Spring, when all the trees are budding . . .”

Spring has sprung early this year. It has been marvelous watching the three ash trees we had planted in front of our house a few years ago leaf out. Being young trees, we are able to get up close and personal with them, as I do almost daily. Beholding the mystery of growth and renewal at eye level.  Since spring has come early and Easter will be here in the blink of an eye, I can’t help but re-think Lent. I remember theologian Matthew Fox re-imagining the Lenten season as a time to take up something – rather than give something up. (Most “sacrifices” are rather inconsequential, anyway: chocolate, coffee, etc.) Why not try a new spiritual practice or creative outlet? Watercolors, photography, scrapbooking, writing poetry, sculpting, sketching, hiking . . . or an ancient Christian spiritual practice like walking the labyrinth or contemplative prayer?

We’ve begun a new cohort of Covenant Groups on Sundays from 11:45am-1pm. Each week a different traditional practice is introduced and experienced. In addition, on Wednesday evenings during Lent, I invite you to dinner at Wednesday Evening Fellowship, followed by a choice of two amazing classes. Hopefully these opportunities, too, will be sources of growth and renewal, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of
new life and resurrection that is Easter!

And speaking of Easter, we will be celebrating our 6:00am Sunrise Service at Kiwanis Park this year! Plan to support the youth Sierra Service Project mission trip by joining us for breakfast at Dayspring following that service – or before our regular 9:00 and 10:30 worship celebrations (breakfast will be served 7:00-10:30am).

Here’s to growth, new possibilities, and new life!
Pastor Jeff


Lenten Reflections

The season of Lent will soon be upon us. The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, happens to fall on Valentine’s Day this year. That’s poetic, I suppose, since Lent is a time to examine our hearts.

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen,” and refers to the lengthening of those long-anticipated days of spring. The forty-day period before Easter offers Christians pause to reflect on our spirituality, examine our hearts, and take an inventory of our lives. Why forty days? The number forty is derived from the traditional forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. His desert sojourn was a time of solitude and self-examination, quiet prayer and meditation.

We are offering several such soul-nourishing opportunities during this season, including Sunday covenant groups (a new five-week session begins Feb. 25th), Wednesday Evening Fellowship meals and classes (starting Feb. 21st) and “Christian Mindfulness,” a seven-week Lenten experience facilitated by Joseph Lambrecht and myself, utilizing spiritual practices of centering prayer, lectio divina and contemplative prayer (begins the week of Feb. 5th, offered at three different times: Mondays from 6:30-7:30pm (Adult Room), Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30pm (Friendship Village) and Thursdays from 10:00-11:00am (Adult Room).

A Lenten devotional based on the poetry of Mary Oliver will be available to help enrich your journey to Easter. I hope to worship with you on Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, at 7pm as we commence the season of Lent.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Happy New Year

Philips Brooks, who gave us “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for Christmas, has given us another gift for the New Year. Discovering in his own experience that life was too short to nurse grievances, harbor grudges, remain resentful, he made this confession to his congregation:

 

You who are letting miserable misunderstandings run on from year to year, meaning to clear them up some day;

you who are keeping wretched quarrels alive because you cannot quite make up your mind that now is the day to sacrifice your pride and forgive;

you who are passing someone. . . not speaking . . . out of some spite, and yet knowing that it would fill you with shame and remorse if you heard that the other died this morning;

you who are letting your friend’s heart ache for a word of appreciation or sympathy which you mean to give someday;

if you only could know and see and feel, all of a sudden, that time is short, how it would break the spell! How you would go instantly and do the thing which you might never have another chance to do.

 

Here’s to a New Year and a New Slate. An opportunity to start afresh, mend bridges and heal rifts. “Behold,” says the Spirit of Life, “I am making all things new!”

 

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Christmas Blessings

A number of years ago, Janice and I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam. It was April and the tulip fields were in full glory! Another highlight was a tour of the Anne Frank House. As you know, that courageous youth left the legacy of a journal that continues to inspire new generations of readers. She has fast become a hero to our daughters. May her words bring fresh meaning to your Christmas:

Give of yourself, give as much as you can! And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!

If everyone were to do this and not be as mean with a kindly word then there would be much more justice and love in the world. Give and you shall receive, much more that you would ever thought possible. Give, give again and again, don’t lose courage, keep it up and go on giving! No one has ever become poor from giving!

As we find ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle of what the Christmas season has come to mean for so many of us, we would do well to consider gifts of love, gifts that need not be bought or even wrapped. As Anne Frank reminds us, abundant life cannot be found apart from giving of ourselves.

May this prayer by DeWane Zimmerman (my pastor growing up) help guide us in the coming days:

O God, lest I come to Christmas
over-committed and under-nourished,
more pressured and less prepared,
more filled with Christmas shove than love,
trying to buy what can’t be bought,
help me each day to take time:
to look often and long
at the marvelous earth
and all that lives upon it,
to be with heart and soul
a friend with all I find.

Merry Christmas, Pastor Jeff