Category Archives: mission and missions

Ascension Day

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Today, in some parts of the Christian world, the Ascension of Christ is celebrated.

I (Dan) have not blogged thoughts in a long time, as I want them to be perfectly formulated, articulated, and punctuated before I post. However, I’m also aware that at some point I just need to write. So, here it goes.

The Ascension of Christ carries connotations of promises yet also the realities of uncertainty and ambiguity.

I can hear the voices of those on the hill that day:
Wait, you’re leaving?
What now?
Can’t you stay a bit longer?
We’re not ready for this?
We know you said this day was coming, but just a little more time…please?
Don’t leave us again…

Jesus meets their fears, anxieties, concerns, and protests with promise. This always seems to be the way of God.

Moses standing sandal-less before a burning bush: “How do I know that you will do what you say? What assurances do I have – do we have – that you will deliver and provide and, well, be our God?”

To these questions God responds with the promise that they will know its true when they arrive at the mountain to worship. In other words, “You will know my faithfulness once you go through everything and look back and see that I was with you throughout the journey.”

We could remember back to stories of Sarah being promised a son or Abraham being asked to take that son to a mountain. Or we can jump ahead some stories of scripture and find a young Mary being told by an angel of something seemingly impossible – a virgin having a son.

Jump ahead a few more stories, and we find that Son – Jesus – in angst in a garden, pleading, “I don’t want to do it this way, if there is another way… Yet if there’s no other way, then I will follow through…” which is really both short-hand for protest and response to God’s promises. The longer version could sound like Moses and Sarah (in doubt?) or Mary (in faith) – “But how can this be? Nevertheless, do as you say.”

God’s promise in the garden was not ease nor safety nor a pain-free nor a trouble-free journey. God’s answer to Jesus in the Garden was the promise resurrection.

Not the greatest guarantees to be sure. You will know after the fact, but there will be no money-back guarantees, no legal recourses if God doesn’t deliver with deliverance or resurrection.

And so the disciples find themselves on a hill, located along the continuum of all those who had dealings with this God of promises.

As Jesus ascends, he gives two promises: one, that he will return again, someday; and two, that his followers will not be left alone, yet that he will send the comforter – the Spirit – to empower and accompany his followers on their journeys until His return.

“Until his return in final victory” is the proclamation Christians make when reciting the communion liturgy. Sometimes in faith, sometimes as a reminder not to give up the faith, and sometimes as a memory when it seems all faith has failed.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus went up quickly with a slight twist and arc like the Space Shuttle, or if like a helium balloon slipping from the grasp of a child he drifted lazily up at the mercy of whatever winds might have been blowing.

In any case, that still leaves us with men and women standing on a hill watching the sky trying to get one last glimpse of Jesus. And I catch myself in this posture often – staring off trying to see something that is no longer visible hoping for it to reappear while pondering, “What now? What’s Next? What does all of this – whatever ‘this’ may be – mean?”

And maybe that’s why we give thanks for angels, or in my case two children, who call us back to reality. Who call us to be present and live in the now – no matter what our longings, hopes, anxieties and misgivings may be about the future.

Why are you standing there like that? The world is here and now. The work is here and now. And God’s invitation for us to join in the holy work of healing the world is really like a great game of hide-and-seek: in the great mystery of trying to find or trying to hide or feeling lost and wanting to be found or not wanting to be found at all by God’s love, grace. Ready or not, here I come. Ready or not, here healing comes. Ready or not, here forgiveness comes. Ready or not, here peace comes. And all of these are really just other ways of God promising presence, which is in fact what Jesus promises to those gathered on the hill – a promise which continues today: “I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.”

Why are you standing there like that? Go out and be God’s vessels of love, light and truth to the world. It won’t be easy, it won’t be safe, it won’t be trouble-free or pain-free. Rather, though, God promises presence.

John Wesley captured it this way, “and the best of all is God is with us.” And while this line can be dismissed as pious and hollow in the midst of violence and tragedy in Boston and Baghdad and Bangladesh – the reality of the promise of God’s presence is that no one has to feel alone alone. Whether this presence looks like companions being with us or someone allowing us to vent all of our disbelief and depression and rage, or even grace welcoming us home after we tried to be alone alone.

Why are you standing there like that? Look around you and see where people need to know God’s light and presence now. And if you have trouble seeing, then ask for wisdom and inspiration to see anew.

The story told of the people gathered on the hill is that they needed some time to live in to this new reality and responsibility of being light, love, truth, hope, and peace to this world. Yet as they lived into this new reality, they began to transform the world.

Why are you standing there like that? God is faithful. God will be faithful. Go out and be God’s presence so that the world will know God’s love.

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Photo of the Week – a new little friend

This past Friday, Global Ministries sent another class of missionaries into service for the next few years. One couple spent the past couple of Sundays with us, and Ceara and Caleb enjoyed playing with their new friend. (We also had fun talking and laughing with her parents.)

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Remembering Randy

I (Dan) opened an email the other day to read some sad news – a friend with whom I served in mission died suddenly of a heart attack in Kosovo last Tuesday. His sending church celebrated a memorial service for him on Wednesday and live-streamed it to the community where they lived in Kosovo.

Yet more than the memories of specific events with Randy, what I am thankful for are the common themes running throughout all of them: the quick smile, the hearty laughter, the deep love for his family, and that driving all he did was the desire for all around him to know God’s passionate love for this world through Jesus Christ.

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A Fresh Stream of Tears

“They buried the boy today.”
Hearing this phrase today during a service of prayer and intercession opened a fresh stream of tears.
On Tuesday, the roof collapse in a student center in L’Viv, Ukraine killed a Ukrainian student and a mission volunteer working on a remodeling project. The Global Ministries missionary, David Goran, suffered serious injuries and spent 36 hours in a local hospital without antibiotics or pain medicine before being airlifted to Munich, Germany to receive appropriate medical care.
You can read more this story in the official press release from Global Ministries by clicking here.
The questions and tears came and went periodically on Tuesday after I heard the news. I slept fitfully. Wednesday morning on the train I didn’t write in my journal – i didn’t know where to begin with all of the thoughts and questions. I cried under my sunglasses as I watched the video produced a few months ago about the faith journey of young adult who died on Tuesday. (You can watch his story here.)
I decided to read in an attempt to take a mental breath, yet Frederick Buechner has a way of extracting words from me when I least feel like writing.
Buechner talked of people traveling to hear preachers preach, and how all of them “carried [their] world on [their] back the way a snail carries his shell.” Preachers and people, with all of their joys, sorrows, celebrations, and disappointments, desiring to hear something. What?
At this point I started writing in the book – it is a mixture of commentary, thought, and prayer:

They traveled to hear a word. I can imagine them saying, “Speak to us. Tell us something, anything. Or, rather speak to us a Truth that makes sense in our time, our places, our circumstances, our milieux.” I wonder if that sounds similar to our words today. And I wonder if these words, ultimately, are directed to God rather than the preacher, “Speak to us a word of passion – a word of direction – a word of challenge – a word of hope. Speak to us so that we know we are not alone that we are not forgotten. Speak to us so that we know that You, God, have not forgotten us. Hosanna – Speak to Us. Hosanna – Help Us. Hosanna – Heal us. Maybe we should learn from Job and wait in silence. Maybe we should not heed the council of Job’s friends and demand answers. But silence is hard when we are lost, uncertain, or hurting. And so we long for answers.
God of Silence and God of Speech (the Psalmist’s “How Long” echoes in my head), Creating God whose very word calls forth life, Break your silence and Speak to us! speak to us, please. We can demand. We can beg. We can plead. We can simply ask. Speak to us. Give us a Word in this time.”

I imagine these may echo ancient Israel words to their prophets and to God – in Egypt, in Exile, in Palestine – longing for an answer; longing for God to deliver them and free them from their oppression, their bondage, their fear, their pain, and maybe even from themselves.

“…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and the darkness could not comprehend it and the darkness could not overcome it…”

Christians believe that God has answered. Christians hope that God will continue to answer. God answers our cries with presence. As Christians, we are the body of Christ in this world. We can be God’s presence to those around us, and others can be God’s presence to us – God’s grace, love, hope, challenge, comfort, healing, and peace. Hosanna – speak to us. Hosanna – help us. Hosanna – heal us.
Alleluia.
Amen.

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Photo of the Week – Fargo

I (Dan) had the privilege of spending this past weekend with young adults in Fargo, ND. We explored themes of leadership and missions. I tried to use a passage from Philippians chapter 2 and this title to frame our conversations:
“Cross-shaped living and leadership – thoughts on servanthood, significance, and the power of God”

Anyway, I took the following photo while driving around town when I first arrived.

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Did Jesus Have A Shiny Cross? (scraps on the sermon cutting-room floor)

[ A note about this entry: This blog entry started as bits and pieces of reflections for a sermon that didn’t make the final cut. Yet I also felt like I couldn’t leave them on the sermon cutting-room floor. While some of these thoughts were already floating around in my head – others came as I read what a few others had thought about John chapter 12 and as I listened to music in the car. Read it for what you will, and receive it how you want. Hopefully some truth will resonate with you and inspire you.]

John 3:14-15 has a seemingly obscure reference to Moses (Numbers chapter 21), and likening Jesus to the serpent on the staff, which, when the people afflicted looked at it, then they were healed. John foreshadows the in which God will pursue love for Creation and implies that when people look upon Jesus, then they will be healed – redeemed.

The cross is to be seen, it is not necessarily to be understood.
And in the seeing, we are transformed.
In seeing God’s love displayed in the patient, disfigured, suffering, and Lenten colored Jesus we are transformed.

Later in John’s Gospel (chapter 12, verse 32) the author mentions Jesus saying, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people unto me…” Jesus is saying that when people gaze upon the lifted, bloody, rejected, persecuted, sin-bearing God in flesh – they may not understand or articulate love, but they will SEE love.

Sight, not understanding…So I guess the saying is true that “seeing is believing,” and in our day and age of technology that manipulates images, we see what we want to see or what others want us to see. Which can mean that seeing is often believing a truth obscured or an edited and cropped version, because then we might be able to understand it.

The crosses on many altars in churches are beautiful. The Cross – a symbol of God’s love for us. Gold plated / bronze plated / sterling silver – polished and shiny, or serenely backlit.
In some ways the Cross is edited to our liking, making it easier to digest that God would die for us. A clean and shiny cross makes more palatable the reality of Jesus dying for redemption and reconciliation than a dirty, mangled, bloody mess, because then we can get on with the business of rationalizing love, cross, redemption and mission.

We can intellectualize mission, attempt to understand mission, and even rationalize and justify why now is just not a good time to engage in mission, especially because mission is out there and what other people do.

Mission won’t happen out there unless we go, because mission, begun by God in Jesus, continues with us.
Transformation occurs when we see, maybe not understand – but when we see. And sometimes we learn to see in new ways by going.
People ask me why I do what I do, or how my passion for mission grew, and I tell them that it was by going and seeing.
Most churches that get involved in mission do so because some members’ experiences. Yes, before they go they understand there is a need – joining with brothers and sisters… yet when the people return, the articulation of understanding takes a back seat to the experiences of what the members saw.

Seeing poverty – not trying to understand it necessarily, but just seeing poverty transforms us. Seeing homelessness, sickness, hunger, orphans, and war – transforms us. Experiencing both the beauty and the horror transforms us, and gives us a taste of God’s love for all of Creation each and every day. The amount our heart breaks does not compare to God’s. The amount we want to pursue love is a fraction of God’s. God was there before we went, and will remain long after we leave, and God will remember our brothers and sisters around the world even when we forget.

Looking upon the cross transforms us. How does that transformation happen when what we gaze upon is shiny and polished? I’m not saying that we replace all of the shiny and lighted crosses with rough, bloody, wooden ones. Rather, I am suggesting that evidence of transformation occurs by pursuing love of God, of neighbor, and of enemy. When we gaze upon them – those in poverty, the homeless, the punk in school who just creates trouble, the destitute, the bully, the rich whose status can shield them, at times, from the dirt and blood – and see Christ in them, then we see them as loved by God.

As our sight is transformed our hearts are transformed.
We cannot always understand or explain the ways that God pursues us in love and works transformation in us – a process which, in the Wesleyan tradition, is called ‘sanctifying grace.’
This transformation – this sanctification – is a daily occurrence, and it testifies to God’s pursuit of love for all of us – for each of us – every day.

The Lenten Journey leads us to the cross – to Jesus lifted up – and this should not surprise us. It shouldn’t have surprised his disciples and other followers either, because for three years he told them that the cross was what would happen, but it did. Yet the journey does not end there at the cross. In fact, it does not really end at all. It moves from cross to resurrection to Jesus calling his followers to engage the world with his love.
The journey continues with each of us, and missions continues, too.
They do not end with seeing a child sifting garbage in a landfill.
They do not end in seeing effects of war and drought in refugee camps.
The journey does not end with seeing homeless or impoverished or orphaned or imprisoned or even the abused, single parent…No!
Transformation continues the journey…
– a transformation that continually witnesses to God’s pursuit to love the whole world
– a transformation that continually witnesses to God’s pursuit to love each of us.
We have hope. We have God’s promises of resurrection, restoration, and redemption.
Christ’s command for us to love one another as he has loved us is really an invitation into this work – loving is an invitation for us to engage in mission. It is an invitation for each individual and every congregation to join in God’s Holy Wok or healing the World.
And that is Good News.

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Joy in Worship

I am humbled to receive invitations to preach in various congregations, and I am privileged to worship with various congregations throughout the year. Today I had the amazing opportunity to worship with Faith UMC in Rochester, NY. Today, joy marked worship. As I am on this flight from Rochester I feel as though I am still glowing from the time with Ted & Mary, the Genessee Valley District, Hoyt, and Faith UMC. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

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