Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

header-logo_large.gif

The United Methodist Church has spent significant resources in the past years emphasizing that we have “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” While I think this does express who most of our church strives to be I wonder what Jesus would think of this?

Our scripture on Sunday will be looking at Luke 14:12-23 where Jesus tells us to not only have Open Doors but to “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

Is it enough to open the door, or does scripture call us to actually take the table outside?

Advertisements

Grace

At the heart of the Christian story is grace – affirming that we get what we don’t deserve. We have not, and can not, earn God’s love – yet God loves us.

This idea is pretty counter cultural in America – that people who don’t deserve love are the very ones who get it abundantly. Many Americans have embraced the “protestant work ethic” that means we work hard and think we’ve earned what we get – and we take great pride in this! It is such an important part of our cultural heritage to tell the stories of people who have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” that we don’t really embrace stories of people who get great reward for little work. People “born with a silver spoon” in their mouths are not valued as much as those who have worked hard to get where they are in life.

No wonder it is so hard to understand grace! None of us deserve God’s grace, and yet we all get this gift. As Methodists we understand that there are three different experiences of grace, and the first is the universal experience of “prevenient grace.” This is the grace of God that chases after us, invites us to be in relationship with God, and frees us to say yes to this invitation!

God’s grace comes into our lives in big ways and little ways. Just today my sister and I tried to buy some bottles of juice when the register in the store stopped working. The clerked looked at us and said, “go ahead, I’ve got you covered.” We were perfect strangers and he could have simply refused to sell us our drinks, but instead he extended grace to us – we got something we didn’t earn because someone decided to bestow grace upon us.

Grace happens everyday…do we stop to notice it?

Resolutions vs. covenants

This is the week where many of us (myself included) make “New Year’s Resolutions.” Typically people make big sweeping promises as we enter a fresh year, not yet tainted with the resignation of our own weaknesses and inabilities to maintain self-disciple. Ideas like, “I’ll go to the gym EVERY day” or “I’ll finally de-clutter the entire house” are a bit unmanageable. Most advice I’ve heard says to make the goals smaller and therefore more attainable. I took that advice last year, and had a much better success rate than ever before: I accomplished 50% of my 2007 New Year’s Resolutions.

That means…1 out of 2. The first was to submit my paperwork on time to the board of ordained ministry. That was met when I mailed off my packet Jan 6, 2007. The second, however, remained “something I’ll do when I find the time…” and I never did find all that time that seems to get misplaced in life. So, I’ve yet to learn a new dance step as I resolved last year, but I did learn something – it is easier to accomplish smaller and more realistic goals. It is so tempting to think that finally in 2008 I can totally change my life around and become a more disciplined person…but that just isn’t reality. So, why is it that just last Sunday I asked two parents, on behalf of their infant presented for baptism, to make promises that are greater than any resolution I’ve considered making? Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and rejecting the evil powers of this world is a much bigger deal than losing a few pounds…yet, on a regular basis the church asks people to affirm this statement.

The difference is that a resolution is a promise I make to myself, by myself. In our baptism we enter into covenant with God – that means we make promises to God, not just ourselves, and that God upholds part of the deal. “The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love.” (UMH p. 32) Jesus is the only one who could enter into the Baptismal Covenant under his own power, because he was already divine. We humans must enter into this covenant relationship with God only through God’s power and invitation. God is at work, and we get the awesome privilege of celebrating that in our lives through outward signs like baptism.

That is one of reasons that I affirm our denomination’s practice of infant baptism. Whether a person is cognitively aware or not we do not enter into this covenant relationship with God because we understand what is happening, but because God invites us into this relationship. I do hope that all those baptized as infants have the opportunity to grow up and hear God’s story so that they will know in their heads as well as their hearts that God is at work in their lives, and that at some point they will respond to God’s love with a heart for discipleship.

John Wesley was a man with a heart for discipleship. One of his spiritual practices was to celebrate the New Year not by making resolutions (those promises to ourselves that fail because we rely on our own power) but by participating in a covenant renewal service – reaffirming his participation with God’s work in his life.

Reaffirming this covenant means that we continue to cooperate with God. Even if we’ve slipped in our Christian walk during the past year (or many years) God has remained faithful to the covenant made at baptism – we never need to be re-baptized, but sometimes we do need a reminder that God keeps faithful and takes us when we’re ready to re-commit to our part of the covenant.

Remembering that baptism acknowledges that we are God’s and not our own, I share with you the words of “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition.” (UMH #607)

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

I am grateful to Pastor Jeff Clinger who provides a more modern adaptaion of this prayer (With thanks to John Wesley and Lance Winkler).

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your hope and service.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be made also in heaven.
Amen.