Archive for January, 2012

Forgive

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

“Forgiveness”

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

—John Greenleaf Whittier

As John Greenleaf Whittier reminds, in the end, our grievances will not keep us apart. Given the revelation of this inexorable conclusion, Whittier’s now vainly held resentment melts, thawing the ground of his bitterness.

For many of us, like Whittier, the temptation to remain angry is powerful (and often justified). Seemingly, the only force that might drive a wedge between our tightly held resentment and us is the severing reality that such resentment is at last temporary. The ultimate reality, as Whittier understands it, is that the commonality of our shared end speaks of a larger, singular, binding finality that is much more permanent and real whatever we do to separate us. Against the weight of this reality, Whittier relents and embraces the truth that wholeness and healing and leveling shall prevail . . . so why not being that reunion on this side of ground.

This week, our thoughts turn toward another patch of uniting earth. The decedents of Abraham and Sarah had been promised a place to live and multiply. That promise passed, first, from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebekah. Then, Isaac and Rebekah’s twin boys, Jacob and Esau, assumed the promise. Yet, because Jacob and Esau were twins and because they lived in a time when the first-born was the sole heir, an intense rivalry was born with them. This sibling enmity finally leads to Jacob’s deception of his brother and father, the stealing of the birthright, and Jacob’s fleeing to his mother’s homeland for fear of his twin’s retribution. In that foreign land of his mother’s birth, the trickster, Jacob, is tricked by his soon-to-be father-in-law, laboring 14 years to marry two sisters, Leah and Rachel.

After many more years pass, Jacob decides to return home, taking with him the accumulations of his life—wives and children, servants and livestock, goods and treasure. The only possession Jacob could not take with him as he returned to the land of his brother was the confidence that his brother’s anger had subsided and he would be greeted as a returning friend rather than a despised fiend.

Along the way, Jacob learns that Esau has heard that Jacob was returning home. And, rather than simply await his brother’s arrival, Jacob learns that his brother is coming to meet him. Given the less than pleasant circumstances that led to Jacob’s leaving his brother behind in the first place, Jacob cannot discern if the news of his brother’s efforts to meet him in the desert are meant to be welcoming or more a sign of war. (After all, we hear that Esau is traveling with 400 men, i.e., soldiers—not exactly the kind of welcoming party Jacob might want but one he might certainly believe he deserves and expects.)

In an effort to mitigate his brother’s anticipated anger, Jacob does what he does best; he schemes. Sending wave upon wave of gifts ahead of his caravan to meet Esau, Jacob hopes to soften his brother’s heart or at least purchase his undeserved freedom from retribution. Hedging his bets, he sends his family and remaining possessions across the river in another direction while he waits in solitude for his brother’s arrival the next morning. That night alone, Jacob has his famous dream about the ladder and wrestles with God, seemingly both figurative and literal. And, in the morning, Esau (and his army) arrive.

Seeing Esau in the distance, Jacob organizes his family and possessions and places himself at the front of the procession, anticipating the worst. As Jacob approaches his estranged and rightfully angry brother whom he has not seen for years, Jacob falls to the ground seven times, bowing before his brother. Yet, despite his genuflecting histrionics, Esau is a man on a mission and makes his move.

Seeing his brother, we read some of the most powerful and evocative words in scripture. Esau “ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Like Whittier, Esau’s resentment had melted. Did his heart melt because of the fading warmth of passing years or because of the warming waves of gifts offered by his brother or because of the lingering glow of love he held in the recesses of his heart for his own brother? Ultimately, we do not know the answer to these questions.

What we do know is that Esau seems to have favored the warmth of forgiveness to the cold bitterness of resentment.

And, for Esau, his forgiving love is embodied in a tearful embrace.

Despite the powerful and regenerative image of two estranged brothers embracing, I have no sentimental delusions that forgiveness is easy or simple or without risk. The narrative, here, confirms this stark reality. For Jacob and Esau, it took years and many miles traveled (and possibly many gifts) for forgiveness to begin. Regardless of the varying combinations of years to miles to gifts, the catalyst is the same. Esau favored reconciliation to separation. Like Jacob, Esau, too, had to give something up. Jacob was willing to give up his possessions and freedom and, maybe, his life. Esau was willing to give up his right to reparations, to be right. This willingness is an act of grace.

From the Jacob and Esau story, we learn that often forgiveness requires both parties to move, for the hard ground between them to thaw. To share in forgiveness, we too must be willing to give up something and move toward each other, not waiting for the perfect occasion. Such occasions are rare, if existent.

So, move well and move with grace. That is good news.

Pursuit

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
   or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
   where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
   and your God my God.

 

—Ruth 1:16

 

Women are, unusually, prominent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  Unlike many of the people’s histories around them, regularly, Hebrew women positively shape the trajectory of their people’s narrative, guiding the story of God and God’s people toward a destiny of purpose and promise.  This story from the book of Ruth continues that exceptional tradition.  Like Sarah, Rebekah, and Tamar before them, Ruth and Naomi are not passive or demurring.  Rather than receding into the background of the story or subtly working to influence the narrative written about God’s people, Ruth and Naomi move to the fore, demonstrating the passionate intentionality characteristic of God’s people and the God they pursue. 

 In this scriptural landscape of women of mountainous character, Ruth and Naomi stand out as two of the most prominent peaks.

In this story from the book of Ruth, Naomi, her husband, and their two sons leave Israel during a famine.  They settle in the land of Moab.  There, Naomi’s sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  Early in the story, all three men die, leaving three widows whose futures have turned rather bleak.  In a culture where women generally achieved the security of power and prosperity through their relationships with men, these women seem out of luck.  Yet, undaunted by their circumstances, Ruth and Naomi move within and through their relationship to change their futures and move toward God’s.  As the above excerpt from scripture attests, their profound relationship defines the character of their story. 

Formally, Ruth and Naomi’s relationship exists by virtue of the men in their lives.  Ruth marries one of Naomi’s husband’s sons.  When the men die, the formal connection linking them breaks.  According to custom, Naomi should return home to Israel and Ruth (and Orpah) should return to their father’s homes in Moab.  Naomi makes plans to encourage her daughters’-in-law return.  Naomi encourages both women to go to their fathers, to return to what little security they had available to them.  Orpah takes Naomi up on her offer, but Ruth refuses.  Ruth declares that the formal obligations that have held them together to this point are only an external expression of a deeper fidelity, a deeper loyalty she has toward Naomi, her people, and her God.  Legally, the women have no further obligations to each other.  Yet, Ruth will not let something as limiting as “formal obligations” define their lives. 

Going beyond custom, we discover that Ruth’s commitment is not based on legal expectation but upon something more lasting than laws.  Through her words and actions, Ruth reminds us that behind any formal relationship of value a deeper value sustains.  That value is love.

Repeated throughout the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word chessed. Chessed means loyalty or faithfulness and is clearly a theme emphasized within and promoted by this narrative.  Ruth displays chessed to Naomi.  Naomi displays chessed to Ruth.  Later in the story, Boaz exhibits chessed to Ruth and Naomi.  And, ultimately, God demonstrates chessed to everyone by returning prosperity to Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. 

Chessed weaves its way through the narrative as a common thread, telling us about God and the derivative character necessary of God’s people. 

Yet, as Ruth’s actions portray, chessed entails more than just simple loyalty.  Chessed describes a way of living that goes beyond expectations incumbent upon participants in a relationship.  Such incumbent expectations are always externally driven and only prove effective to the degree to which those in a relationship care about the fidelitious pressures accompanying custom and convention.  In such circumstances, once those external pressures are removed or those participating cease to be concerned about the pressures, then the binding character of the relationship ends.  (Do not get me wrong, positive external pressure can be a great incentive and produce commendable results.  Internal pressures just offer something more.)  As Ruth’s actions exhibit, her degree of commitment far exceeds those bonds secured by external expectations.  Her commitment is much stronger.  Her commitment does not have its origins in outer legal obligations but an inner passion of love. 

Giving our relational bonds their depth and substance, love—as Ruth’s narrative purports—demands more and presses us beyond our personal and our culture’s limits.  Laws, on the other hand, when based on obligation lack potency and permanence.  Jesus, a descendant of Ruth, makes a similar claim when challenged by the Pharisees centuries later. 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment or law.  There, he refuses to offer a law—other than the unwritten law of love—and claims that all laws within scripture ultimately derive their potency and efficacy not from their legal stature but from their loving origin.  Love, he says, always has the final say because it is love that (in the end) begins, maintains, and remains.  In the end, love pursues us, and we must pursue it.

This reliance upon love by Ruth is good news because it reminds us that our lives of faith are not limited to obligations and legal commands.  Our lives of faith press beyond such trivial conventionalities.  As such, the gospel according to Ruth is a declaration of victory over a faith defined by legalism and literalism.  Such a victory grants us the intellectual and spiritual freedom to be nimble and adjust to the various and unpredictable circumstances that confront us in lives rooted in the eventualities of the real world.  Like Ruth, lives of faith emergent from a passionate, pursuant love will always press beyond the limits of expectation toward the boundless, open possibilities of the transformative life with God within God’s kingdom.  Like Ruth, love boldly and in unexpected ways because you are boldly loved.

Pursuit

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
   or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
   where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
   and your God my God.

 

—Ruth 1:16

 Women are, unusually, prominent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  Unlike many of the people’s histories around them, regularly, Hebrew women positively shape the trajectory of their people’s narrative, guiding the story of God and God’s people toward a destiny of purpose and promise.  This story from the book of Ruth continues that exceptional tradition.  Like Sarah, Rebekah, and Tamar before them, Ruth and Naomi are not passive or demurring.  Rather than receding into the background of the story or subtly working to influence the narrative written about God’s people, Ruth and Naomi move to the fore, demonstrating the passionate intentionality characteristic of God’s people and the God they pursue. 

 In this scriptural landscape of women of mountainous character, Ruth and Naomi stand out as two of the most prominent peaks.

In this story from the book of Ruth, Naomi, her husband, and their two sons leave Israel during a famine.  They settle in the land of Moab.  There, Naomi’s sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  Early in the story, all three men die, leaving three widows whose futures have turned rather bleak.  In a culture where women generally achieved the security of power and prosperity through their relationships with men, these women seem out of luck.  Yet, undaunted by their circumstances, Ruth and Naomi move within and through their relationship to change their futures and move toward God’s.  As the above excerpt from scripture attests, their profound relationship defines the character of their story. 

Formally, Ruth and Naomi’s relationship exists by virtue of the men in their lives.  Ruth marries one of Naomi’s husband’s sons.  When the men die, the formal connection linking them breaks.  According to custom, Naomi should return home to Israel and Ruth (and Orpah) should return to their father’s homes in Moab.  Naomi makes plans to encourage her daughters’-in-law return.  Naomi encourages both women to go to their fathers, to return to what little security they had available to them.  Orpah takes Naomi up on her offer, but Ruth refuses.  Ruth declares that the formal obligations that have held them together to this point are only an external expression of a deeper fidelity, a deeper loyalty she has toward Naomi, her people, and her God.  Legally, the women have no further obligations to each other.  Yet, Ruth will not let something as limiting as “formal obligations” define their lives. 

Going beyond custom, we discover that Ruth’s commitment is not based on legal expectation but upon something more lasting than laws.  Through her words and actions, Ruth reminds us that behind any formal relationship of value a deeper value sustains.  That value is love.

Repeated throughout the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word chessed. Chessed means loyalty or faithfulness and is clearly a theme emphasized within and promoted by this narrative.  Ruth displays chessed to Naomi.  Naomi displays chessed to Ruth.  Later in the story, Boaz exhibits chessed to Ruth and Naomi.  And, ultimately, God demonstrates chessed to everyone by returning prosperity to Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. 

Chessed weaves its way through the narrative as a common thread, telling us about God and the derivative character necessary of God’s people. 

Yet, as Ruth’s actions portray, chessed entails more than just simple loyalty.  Chessed describes a way of living that goes beyond expectations incumbent upon participants in a relationship.  Such incumbent expectations are always externally driven and only prove effective to the degree to which those in a relationship care about the fidelitious pressures accompanying custom and convention.  In such circumstances, once those external pressures are removed or those participating cease to be concerned about the pressures, then the binding character of the relationship ends.  (Do not get me wrong, positive external pressure can be a great incentive and produce commendable results.  Internal pressures just offer something more.)  As Ruth’s actions exhibit, her degree of commitment far exceeds those bonds secured by external expectations.  Her commitment is much stronger.  Her commitment does not have its origins in outer legal obligations but an inner passion of love. 

Giving our relational bonds their depth and substance, love—as Ruth’s narrative purports—demands more and presses us beyond our personal and our culture’s limits.  Laws, on the other hand, when based on obligation lack potency and permanence.  Jesus, a descendant of Ruth, makes a similar claim when challenged by the Pharisees centuries later. 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment or law.  There, he refuses to offer a law—other than the unwritten law of love—and claims that all laws within scripture ultimately derive their potency and efficacy not from their legal stature but from their loving origin.  Love, he says, always has the final say because it is love that (in the end) begins, maintains, and remains.  In the end, love pursues us, and we must pursue it.

This reliance upon love by Ruth is good news because it reminds us that our lives of faith are not limited to obligations and legal commands.  Our lives of faith press beyond such trivial conventionalities.  As such, the gospel according to Ruth is a declaration of victory over a faith defined by legalism and literalism.  Such a victory grants us the intellectual and spiritual freedom to be nimble and adjust to the various and unpredictable circumstances that confront us in lives rooted in the eventualities of the real world.  Like Ruth, lives of faith emergent from a passionate, pursuant love will always press beyond the limits of expectation toward the boundless, open possibilities of the transformative life with God within God’s kingdom.  Like Ruth, love boldly and in unexpected ways because you are boldly loved.

Freed

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.”
—Exodus 5:1

The situation had gotten desperate. It just was not working out and was time to part company. This passage from the book of Exodus records that moment when God issues Moses and Aaron a message on behalf of Israel to be delivered to the Pharaoh, representing Egypt. Israel and Egypt are breaking up. Essentially, Israel is saying to Egypt: “It’s not me; it’s you.”

How did we get to this point of dissolution?

As the story goes, Israel, through Joseph—he of the multicolored coat, had been invited to live amongst the Egyptians to survive a drought and subsequent famine. After a long while, Israel had settled in to living in Egypt, and Egypt found itself with a new Pharaoh who “did not remember Joseph,” a euphemism for the Egyptian’s forgetting how helpful Joseph had been and, therefore, ceased to appreciate the Israelites’ beneficial presence. So, long-story-short, Israel goes from being an invited guest to being a captive people, serving as slaves under the Pharaoh’s whims. Concerned that the Israelites are growing too numerous, the Pharaoh has all of the baby boys thrown into the Nile. Being clever and inverting the will of the most powerful in the simplest of ways, Moses’ mother places him in a basket and uses the Nile to be his river of life rather than his death. Continuing the irony, Moses floats to the Pharaoh’s house, is taken in by the Pharaoh’s daughter, raised by Moses’ own mother as his nursemaid, and becomes a great leader in Egypt, next only to the Pharaoh. Then, seeing the persecution of the Israelites under the harsh rule of the Egyptians, Moses strikes an Egyptian taskmaster, killing him. Moses flees into the wilderness, meets Jethro and his family, gets married, discovers God, talks to a bush, and finds himself returning with divine demands to confront the very people who had banished him years before.

That’s about it. Yet, as it always is with scripture, there is much more to the story.

Here, I am particularly interested in what Moses is about to say to the Pharaoh. What I find most remarkable in the divine demand that Moses carries to the Pharaoh is not the first part of the demand but the purposefulness couched with the whole phrase. It is that first portion of the demand that garners most of our attention. And, for good reason, it is a singularly momentous event with an appropriately powerful declaration. Moses does tell the Pharaoh to “let my people go.” That phrase is of great import. In fact, the very words used there become the same words used in the New Testament to send the early Christians out into the world. The original Hebrew phrase is translated into the Greek word from which we get our notion of “apostles” or “sent people.” And, this notion of sending is highly important. In other words, the idea imbedded in this phrase of “letting God’s people go” is as much about a releasing as it is about a sending, a sending with a purpose. The purposefulness comes from the second half of Moses’ statement.

Note that in the second half of Moses’ message to the Pharaoh that the Israelites are sent with a purpose, and that purpose is to serve or worship God. This means that at the heart of the liberation that is demanded through these words that a specific kind of liberation is assumed. Israel is not so much being “liberated from” something as it is being “liberated for” something. Rather than because of something done to them, the story of Israel’s liberation from slavery was more about liberation to be free to do something significant. That is to say, Israel’s liberation is forward-looking more than it is rear-looking; it is empowering to do rather than freeing from what was done.

Let us consider the dynamism of this notion that the liberation demanded by God for God’s people is about a freedom to press into the future with a divine momentum of purposeful opportunity to serve God in a new way, in a new place. This kind of liberation is a freeing us from our pasts and the weight with which our pasts might burden us, an unshackling from guilt, from shame, from frustration, from self-loathing, from self-destruction, from what we have done, and from what others have done to us or in our name. And, now untethered, we become free to act in new ways, purposefully sent, not aimlessly wandering.

Remember, Israel enters the wilderness following their liberation, but they do not wander without direction. Israel heads toward the Promised Land, learning to serve their God and assume the character of their God and that God’s newly forming kingdom in the process.

It is this notion of purposeful liberation that is most striking to me. I am particularly reminded of that demand to embrace a freedom imbued with a sense of purposeful service and divine possibility as I type these words on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. King’s strive toward liberation was always a labor of purpose. That purpose was the embodiment of the Beloved Community. For King, the Beloved Community is just another way of saying the Kingdom of God or, like the Israelites discovered, to pursue the Promised Land.

In 1957, King summarized his concept of that kingdom and the character of the kingdom by saying that:

the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all [people]. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of [people]. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.

King’s vision of the Beloved Community derives directly from the notion of purposeful sending, meaningful liberation imbedded in the demand delivered by Moses to Pharaoh. The liberation wrought by God is not just liberation from our past nor an aimless future but a freedom to serve and to love and to sacrifice that we might create a global community more in keeping with God’s vision for it than the kinds of political and social systems we humans seem prone to produce. Regardless of our faith background, every time we choose forgiveness rather than revenge, every time we choose love instead of hate, every time we choose grace rather than the expected, every time we realize that success is a tabulation of generosity not accumulation of materials, every time we welcome more and exclude less, then God’s kingdom becomes more actual, the Promised Land that much closer.

Move with joy and with purpose, and take care where you step because each step towards that beloved kingdom is a journey on holy ground.

Covenant

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’
—Luke 22:19-20

From tabulating the top songs of the year to debating the most important newsmakers or influential citizens to efforts at identifying the year’s best athletes, recording artists, or actors, it is virtually impossible to avoid lists and discussions attempting to assess and quantify the past year. Equally, once the New Year has begun, newscasts and newspapers, pastors and governments not only review the past year but also imagine the possibilities for the year now underway. Often, these imagined possibilities include a cataloging of resolutions.

Among the countless promises, we pledge to lose weight, to save more, to spend more time with our families, to volunteer more, and to finish those projects perpetually left undone. (Generally, we plan to be better versions of ourselves.) Whatever the items crowding our personal and corporate “to do” lists, the start of another year seems an appropriate time to construct these hopeful catalogues. Much like us, John Wesley was no different.
However, more than generally assessing what we did last year and what we must do in the year just begun, Wesley was specifically interested in encouraging the members of his societies to identify those intentional actions done in the previous year that moved them toward perfection—i.e., toward being and living like God would love. In addition, Wesley was interested in fostering an environment where members would find such a pursuit of perfection successful in days to come. One means Wesley contrived to facilitate this pursuit was the Covenant Service.

But, just what is “’covenant,” and why bother having a service dedicated to it?
The concept of covenant is central to the Christian faith. Originating in the Hebrew Scriptures, covenant describes a type of relationship where at least two parties enter into a formal agreement. Much like a social contract, a covenantal agreement assumes that each party will get some benefit from the arrangement. In the original covenant established by Yahweh with Israel in the person of Abraham, Yahweh gets a people with whom directly to relate and Israel gets land, becomes a people, and is blessed. Yet, there is a difference. Unlike a contract that is about establishing a relationship to get something you expect, a covenant is a relationship that exists for itself—the benefits serve as incentives but are not essential. The existence of the relationship is more important than the personal gain acquired from being in the relationship. This shift in focus away from personal benefit toward relationship building makes a covenant markedly different from a contract.

A contract judges a relationship successful by what we get out of the relationship. On the other hand, a covenant is judged successful by our capacity to maintain the relationship. The former is personally useful while inherently about self-gratification. The latter is personally useful while inherently about self-sacrifice. This notion that covenant has similar essential components to a contract yet components that are utilized for contrasting purposes and outcomes exhibits the persistent appeal to inverting expectations that defines the Christian tradition.

In summarizing the importance and centrality of covenant to both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Kevin Vanhooser notes that from their origin covenantal concepts deliberately contrast one set of expectations with another. Emergent from a context where neighboring religious communities regularly constructed house and local deities in their own images, the Hebrew Scriptures begin with a confession that all of creation is God’s temple and that this temple is filled with images crafted in that God’s image, not the other way round. This deliberate reversal begins a scriptural trend of countervailing local expectations with a universally particular call to be different, live differently, and think of the divine differently because with Yahweh conventional assumptions will inevitably invert how we live in and see the world. Most notably, as Vanhooser observes, is the fact that the biblical covenant is always marked by divine initiative: “humans do not, as pagans do with idols, imagine a covenant; instead, God breaks into history with a revelation of relationship in terms of covenant.”

Thus, we might conclude that there are two defining characteristics of a biblical covenant: (1) covenant is descriptive of a relationship that is self-sacrificial and (2) covenant is marked by divine initiative and is, thus, inherently gracious. Importantly, these two characteristics of covenant are always expressed in the purpose of forming a particular community of people. Moreover, this dual characteristic permeates the Covenant Service crafted by Wesley as a means to remind us that when beginning our lives anew at the outset of each calendar year that we should begin that year with the expectation that self-sacrifice and gracious living must characterize our renewal.

In the passage of scripture from Luke’s gospel cited above, we hear what the church calls the “words of institution.” The institution that is established is that of communion, the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist. Yet, as the words above imply, a second something is instituted in their being said. Equally important as the establishment of a sacrament, this ceremonial act around a common table helps establish precisely that covenantal community meant to be defined by both self-sacrifice and grace. It is of our persisting and consequential membership in this graciously sacrificial community that the Wesley’s service is meant to remind us. More directly, this service aims to remind us that as members of that community that we are to embody the covenant’s gracious and sacrificial expectations.

Heavy stuff.

As I type, I am making a mental catalogue of my own, reflecting on those parts of my life—overt and subtle, public and personal—that need to be sacrificed by me and in me. Also, I think of those parts of my life requiring more grace in how I treat others—those I know well and those whom I have just met. I, also, imagine—at the outset of a new academic, general conference, and election year—those aspects and systems of this college, my communities, and my country that would benefit from additional common sacrifice and greater doses of grace.

Heavier stuff.

Yet, the part of the service that brings me the most comfort rests in the word describing the service’s purpose. It is a “covenant” service, meaning that it is a service demanding commitments offered by a people, together. The good news of the service is that we do not take our pledge to sacrifice more and supply more grace alone. We take it together. This service reminds us that no matter how much we try, we are in this together. That is good news indeed.

Have a great start to your week, your semester, and your year. Or should I say, let’s have a great start to our week, our semester, and our year.

Peace.