Friends in Christ, Thanksgiving is Thursday and Advent starts next Sunday.
My heart is anguished after the murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs last weekend. In “barely a minute,” five people died, 17 others were shot, and two others were injured. The 22-year-old shooter, carrying an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, stalked his prey in a place people came for sanctuary from anti-LGBTQIA+ hatred. They were unarmed in an enclosed space, like sitting ducks or fish in a barrel.
No one has the right to hunt and kill innocent people. No civilian should have the right to carry an assault weapon designed for war.
If you are a person who identifies as LGBTQIA+, I see you, I love you, I need you to survive. You should not be targeted for ridicule, bullying, or bodily harm by people who don’t understand you or hate you. I believe that Jesus calls every Christian to be a trustworthy ally as you seek to live the fullness of life God sets before you, but many are slow to respond to this call.
If you are a person who hates or fears LGBTQIA+ people, I’m sorry for you; you don’t have to remain where you are today. Each of us is held to account for our fear, our hatred, and our inaction. In the gospels, we have a front-row seat as Jesus meets all kinds of misunderstood and marginalized people – leper, blind, possessed, lame, tax collectors, women caught in adultery or with a flow of blood, robbers. He seeks them out, speaks with them, and invites them into his circle of friends. He saved his disdain for high priests and pious people he thought should know better – like us.
If you follow Jesus, he will introduce you to LGBTQIA+ people, and you will be given the opportunity to grow in your knowledge and love of Jesus by seeing what Jesus sees in them. We must love our way out of hate, or we will find ourselves on the side of Herod, slaughtering innocents in the pursuit of his rival, Jesus, instead of on the side of humble shepherds, tending their flocks and welcoming his arrival.
Regardless of political party, it is time for Christian people, striving to walk in the way of Jesus, to join with others of generous spirit, to rise up to stop the sale of assault weapons. Courageous citizens have the power to protect innocent victims from people who lack the intellectual, moral, emotional, or spiritual ability to resist an impulse to wholesale slaughter. It is blasphemous to pray for God to do what we have the power but not yet the will to do. We are our brother’s/sister’s/sibling’s keeper. We can act, and so we must, to save countless lives.
This Thanksgiving, I hope you will enjoy good food in the company of people you love, whether family, friends, or strangers. I hope you will pray for those on both ends of gun violence. And as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, learn more and work to ban private ownership of weapons designed for war. I urge you to see how our General Board of Church and Society is helping us get involved in resisting gun violence. I hope you will also consider writing a letter to your elected representatives, as Olympia First UMC encouraged us at our annual conference session in June. We can make it safer for innocent, vulnerable people to gather without fear for work, a concert, a drag show, a movie, a nightclub, school, church, for love.
Love is born at Christmas!
Elaine JW Stanovsky Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area
Growing up in rural Alabama, it was Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth’s grandparents who made sure he got to church – even on the days he didn’t want to be there.
But it was in the church, Lakeview United Methodist and Oakville Baptist churches that he found purpose – even on the hard days. After serving in the U.S. Air Force and earning a bachelor’s degree in religion from Samford University and a master of divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology, he has found the joy, purpose and calling that led him to become a newly-elected bishop in The United Methodist Church.
“Hopefully, people can see that the degrees, the titles, and the experiences are not where I began. That’s just where I’m on the journey right now,” Bridgeforth said. “I do that in a way to connect with people. My leadership style is about connecting with people.”
On Jan. 1, 2023, Bridgeforth will begin serving as bishop of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The UMC. The GNW Area comprises the Alaska Conference, Oregon-Idaho Conference and Pacific Northwest Conference. He currently serves as the director of communication and innovation for the California-Pacific Conference.
When he was elected on the 18th ballot at the Western Jurisdictional Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 4, he became the first openly gay African American male to hold the title of bishop within The UMC. His husband, Christopher Hucks-Ortiz, stood by his side as he was welcomed. It’s history he’s proud to make, but it is only part of his story and ministry.
Raised on a farm in rural Alabama, Bridgeforth has served churches in the California-Pacific Conference since 1999. He became an ordained elder in full connection with the church in 2006. He has served at Bowen Memorial United Methodist Church and Crenshaw United Methodist Church, before supervising many churches as a district superintendent in Cal-Pac Conference. He also has been a clergy coach and nonprofit consultant, has served on the board of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, worked as the director of academic programs and outreach at the University of LaVerne and is a published author, to name a few things.
“I want my story to be open and available to people. There are parts of it people will connect with immediately. There are parts that people will hear and say, ‘I don’t get it.’ And that’s fine. All of us have that in our lives,” he said. “My leadership style is very personal. I try to be accessible to people. I like to hear people’s story because it helps me connect with them.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, he met his good friend – who later became his colleague – Dr. Larry Hygh, Jr., when Hygh and others attending the Strengthening the Black Church conference were stranded in Los Angeles due to the terrorist attacks on this country. Hygh said then-District Superintendent (now Bishop) Grant Hagiya sent church leaders out to check on those who were grounded in Los Angeles. Bridgeforth was one of those pastors.
Hygh recalls a caring presence in that moment. The two became better acquainted when, less than a year later, Hygh became the communications director for the Cal-Pac Conference and got to see what Bridgeforth’s ministry was like up close.
“I think he brings a gift of strategic leadership. I also believe he’s a person who can work with folks from various theological perspectives,” Hygh said. “Even when he might not agree, he can find commonality for the sake of the gospel. Folks like him are what we need.”
Hygh said he’s always appreciated his friend’s ability to meet people – all people – wherever they’re at in life. Hygh watched Bridgeforth work, as a district superintendent in the Los Angeles area, with some of the most diverse churches, communities and neighborhoods in the country.
“He makes connections that sometimes other folks do not see,” Hygh said.
This past summer, Bridgeforth, an avid cyclist and supporter of HIV/AIDS research, encouraged Hygh to train for and participate in a 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for the San Francisco Aids Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
“He is a much faster cyclist than I am,” Hygh said. “I’m the caboose in the back.”
Nevertheless, Hygh said his friend rode with him in the back one day on the seven-day course and saw a different perspective.
“He’s a servant leader who walks the talk,” Hygh said.
Bridgeforth calls himself collaborative by nature and hopes to bring that work to his role as bishop. He describes it as “a necessity” at this time in the church’s life.
“For us to innovate at the rate we need to, we have to collaborate,” Bridgeforth said.
As he steps into the episcopal role in the Greater Northwest Area, he knows the church is at a critical point. Membership is in decline, and the church may be splintering as some churches seek to disaffiliate before the 2024 General Conference. He knows it’s something that the church will grapple with, and to do that, people must first maintain their hope in Jesus Christ.
“I’m not a person who believes divorce is a bad thing,” Bridgeforth said. “Sometimes divorce is necessary, and it is the only thing that will bring about healing.”
He said it’s a good thing for people to be clear about their values and to bless each other as they depart. But the faithful disciples who remain within the denomination need to be clear about why they have decided to stay – not just because some people they disagree with left.
“Did we remain United Methodists because we believe in the strength of Wesleyan grace? Do we believe in the strength of being connected? Do we believe that serving together is better than just serving on our own? Do we believe that there is truly hope in Jesus Christ? Do we believe we have a message of salvation and resurrection that can resonate in this season and in coming seasons? I’ll preach that; I’ll teach that,” Bridgeforth said. “I want to organize us so that we are delivering that message in every way possible. So that we examine our structures, we examine our policies, and our behaviors so that they align with this understanding of resurrection – of hope on the other side of division.”
Kristina Gonzalez to serve as GNW Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky has named Kristina Gonzalez Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality for the Greater Northwest Area. Gonzalez will continue to work with Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, Director of Innovation for an engaged church. The Innovation Vitality (IV) Team supports local churches, innovation projects and boards and agencies to continue to embrace inclusion, innovation and multiplication as practices of Christian discipleship that are core to vital ministry in the region.
Gonzalez will step into this leadership role following Dr. William Gibson’s resignation as the IV Team Lead, effective March 31.
In making the announcement of Gonzalez’s new role, Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky affirmed that “Greater Northwest Area leadership remains committed to supporting new ways of being church, especially as IV projects help us learn where God is calling us today.”
“The United Methodist Church is struggling. We are declining, divided and constrained by white cultural norms,” Stanovsky acknowledged. “But Jesus continues to deliver good news and invites us into abundant life every day. Many of us struggle to keep pace with what God is up to. Kristina develops systems that foster disciples who look beyond decline to lead a new and bright future. We are blessed that she is willing to step into this role at this time.”
Gonzalez will be responsible for hiring and supervising the IV team staff and consultants, in collaboration with conference directors of connectional ministries, and providing strong support systems for innovation vitality projects and their leaders. She will also continue to ensure that intercultural competency leadership is at the heart of our efforts for this transformative work.
“The Innovation Vitality Team helped to position intercultural competency as central to vitality in our new and existing ministries. Our abilities to interact across cultural differences – race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identities, physical and mental abilities and more – will define us into the future. As Rev. Dr. Barber says, ‘innovation happens at the intersection of difference,’” Gonzalez said.
In her role serving three conferences, Gonzalez will report to the bishop of the Greater Northwest Area. As executive director, Gonzalez will lead during a transition period. The Vitality Commission formed by the 2021 Annual Conferences is reviewing the structure and operations of the IV Team to recommend changes to strengthen this work. The Commission will make a progress report to this year’s annual conference sessions in June and will bring recommendations to improve and streamline vitality work in 2023.
Gonzalez is a trusted leader and expert in intercultural competency with deep connections to United Methodism in the northwest and beyond. First hired as a Pacific Northwest Conference staff member by Bishop Elias Galvan in 1998, she joined the IV Team in 2018, bringing her gifts to the Greater Northwest Area.
“I’ve had the privilege of serving the Pacific Northwest Conference and the GNW Area of our United Methodist Church for more than 20 years. Despite title changes, restructuring and varied visions, my work has been about embedding intercultural competency at all levels of our complex church structure, from local church to the denominational Connectional Table,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is a qualified administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and an associate with the Kaleidoscope Institute for diverse sustainable communities. She has served as faculty of the annual school for United Methodist supervising clergy for 19 years and consults and trains ecumenically in intercultural competency.
Gonzalez has professional experience in the public and non-profit sectors working in the arts and human services. Her community service work includes eight years on the curriculum committee of Leadership Tomorrow, a community leadership program serving the greater Seattle area, and a term on the board of trustees.
She served on The United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table, from 2004-to 2008 and chaired the Washington Association of Churches (now Faith Action Network) for two terms. She served on the board of directors for Bayview Retirement Center in Seattle for two terms.
“My new position title, Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality is simply an extension of my hopes and dreams over time,” Gonzalez said. “Those hopes and dreams; that we in the GNW Area of The UMC embed in our culture the practices of inclusion, innovation and multiplication, as a means of refreshing and renewing our relationships with Jesus Christ through our Wesleyan heritage in ways that are relevant and resonant today.”
Three practices for vital ministry
1. Inclusion – if WE – our ministries, leaders and members become more interculturally competent then we will learn to welcome, include, and partner with our diverse neighbors.
2. Innovation – if “WE” expands to include the variety of people in our neighborhoods, then WE will reach out with openness to join what God is already doing in sparks of innovation that come at the intersection of difference.
3. Multiplication – if our ministries make a difference in the lives of people and their communities, then we will follow Jesus to engage with more new people, and their needs, multiplying the people we partner with and serve.
“La muerte ha sido devorada por la victoria. ¿Dónde está, oh muerte, tu victoria? ¿Dónde está, oh muerte, tu aguijón?” 1 Corintios 15:54b-55
Amados en Dios,
Este es un pasaje bíblico muy fuerte. Hemos estado en la sombra de la muerte.
Sentimos el aguijón. En la sala de urgencias hospitalarias En las calles devastadas por la guerra Mientras vemos a nuestros vecinos como acechan a los que están corriendo En la estación del metro donde muchos son afectados por el humo Y también al ver como la tormenta, las inundaciones y los incendios forestales arrebatan todo a los inocentes.
Las sombras de la muerte (tristeza, miedo, ira, desesperación) oscurecen nuestros días. ¿Cómo podemos cantar “Aleluya” cuando la muerte está tan cerca para nosotros como en tu teléfono y la televisión?
En la mañana de Pascua, miraré hacia el este. El sol saldrá, hará retroceder las sombras y derramará su cálida luz sobre la tierra. Pero, ¿qué pasa con las sombras en nuestros corazones que acechan nuestro espíritu? El sol no las ahuyenta simplemente.
En la Biblia, caminamos con Jesús de Nazaret, vemos cuando El se encuentra con todo tipo de personas. Escuchamos mientras habla de la realidad de sus vidas, y aprendemos que Jesús también nos conoce, nos reconoce, comparte nuestras luchas, pecados y tristezas. Y como conociéndonos por dentro y por fuera, Jesús nos ama. ¡Eso es como el amanecer!
Pero es fácil vagar en las sombras y olvidarnos de que Jesús nos ama. Pero, en la fe, nos amamos unos a otros, de diferentes maneras, que nos recuerdan el amor de Jesús. Y nos esforzamos por amar a las personas que no conocen el amor de Dios, como Jesús nos ama y como nosotros nos amamos unos a otros. El amor es cómo la esperanza, se eleva como el sol. El amor alivia el aguijón de la muerte. El amor es la luz espiritual que no se puede apagar, que tiene el poder de salvarnos al final de nuestro caminar.
Por lo tanto, mis amados amigos, “estén firmes y constantes, sobresaliendo siempre en la obra del Señor, porque ustedes saben que en el Señor su trabajo no es en vano”.
¡Cristo ha resucitado! El amor nunca termina, en Semana Santa y en las noches más largas y oscuras.
Obispa Elaine JW Stanovsky
Translated and adapted by: Rev. Cruz Edwin Santos, Director of Hispanic/Latinx Ministry
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
– 1 Corinthians 15:54b-55
Beloved of God,
This is a hard scripture. We have stood in the shadow of death. We feel its sting. In hospital emergency rooms On war-torn streets As neighbors stalk joggers In a smoke-choked subway station As storm, flood and wildfire snatch the innocent.
Death’s shadows – sorrow, fear, anger, despair – darken our days. How can we sing “Alleluia” when death is as close as your phone and the TV?
On Easter morning, I will look toward the east. The sun will rise, push back the shadows and shed its warm light upon the earth. But what about the shadows in our hearts that haunt our spirits? The sun does not simply chase those away.
In the Bible, we walk with Jesus of Nazareth as he meets all kinds of people. We listen as he speaks to the reality of their lives, and we learn that Jesus also knows us, recognizes us, and shares our struggles, sin and sorrow. And knowing us inside and out, Jesus loves us. It’s like dawn breaking!
But it’s easy to wander into the shadows and forget that Jesus loves us. So, in faith, we love each other in ways that remind us of Jesus’ love. And we strive to love people who don’t know God’s love, just like Jesus loves us and like we love each other. Love is how hope rises like the sun. Love soothes the sting of death. Love is the spiritual light that can’t be put out, that has the power to save us at the end of our ropes.
Therefore, my beloved friends, “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Christ is Risen! Love never ends, on Easter and through the longest, darkest nights.
Bi-vocational ministry is nothing new. Since the formation of the church, some level of bi-vocational “tentmaking” has allowed pastors to serve the local church while also providing for their families. Proudly, many licensed local pastors have represented this model in The United Methodist Church system. However, due to many factors, it is often hard for a United Methodist clergyperson to think in bi-vocational terms. Inevitably, this consideration leads to conversations around strategy.
Forging new strategies and reimagining existing models of ministry is the Innovation Vitality Team’s (IV Team) focus, in collaboration with the Greater Northwest Cabinet and identified leaders across the area. Collaborative efforts are built on a change theory where the practices of inclusion, innovation, and multiplication can allow for a shift in ministry, community engagement, and new relationships, teaching us how to pivot. For example, the pandemic changed how the whole world functions, especially for pastors, churches, and vital community partnerships. How can we sustain positive social change and community impact as the ground quakes underneath our feet? This brings us to our topic of bi-vocational ministry.
In many ways, tradition tends to hold our churches in the posture of ‘how we’ve always done things.’ Yet as culture emerges and our contexts become increasingly post-Christian, new ways of being church in community need exploration more than ever, both from a pastoral and a congregational perspective. Sustainability, measured impact, and quantifiable change demand it. And we will need to create space for our system to embrace renewed models of pastoral ministry.
Prepare the way of the Lord, Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
— Excerpts from Luke 3
When he was still in elementary school, I took our oldest son, Walker, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at the Langston Hughes Center in Seattle’s Central District and the march downtown that followed. When the standing-room-only crowd broke into song, I was surprised to see our son rise, respectfully to his feet, and sing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by heart, and sang it with all his heart.
The music teacher at Madrona Elementary School was married to an Africa Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) pastor. She had taught her students to stand and sing the song with conviction. I was moved to tears as my son participated in that powerful gathering of people honoring the legacy of the civil rights struggle and continuing to call out and demand equity and justice. He participated in the power of the history, the lament, the community, the cause, the witness, the hope.
This month, I was grateful when the local UMC I attended for worship on MLK Day included the song in their service, invoking the long, bloody struggle from enslavement to justice and equity for Black people in America.
As United Methodist Christians, I hope that we all carry in our hearts a yearning for racial equity and justice as a gift and challenge from Jesus. I hope we all know the work isn’t finished,
that all Americans have work to do to make the American Dream equally accessible to every American,
that white European-American immigrants to this land have had unfair access to the riches and opportunity embodied in the “American Dream” since Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492, and since people were first captured and enslaved in Africa and transported to America in 1619.
God’s good vision of human community cannot be achieved without racial justice and equity.And it cannot be achieved unless people who benefit from inequality and those who are deprived by it work to name and dismantle the systems that protect white privilege and preserve exclusion and oppression.
February is Black History Month. I hope you will use “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in some way in worship this month. It is # 519 in The United Methodist Hymnal and is in the public domain, so you don’t need copyright permission to use the words or music. Be sure to share the history of the hymn, when it was written, by whom, for what occasion and how it came to be known as the Black National Anthem.
Consider using the TREASURE HUNT below to deepen your appreciation and love of this song. Use the linked resources to find the answers to the questions in the box and the resources offered.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” TREASURE HUNT
Searching for Treasure
When was the song written? In Black history, what is this period of history called?
Who wrote the words and music?
How are United Methodists connected to the writers/composers?
Is the Black National Anthem only for Black people to sing?
Why is it called the Black National Anthem?
What occasion was it written for?
What member of Congress proposed legislation to designate “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as America’s national hymn?
What one line from the song will you carry in your hearts, as a follower of Jesus?
Last evening cabinet members and I gathered on Zoom with Tongan pastors in the Greater Northwest Area (GNW) to pray for the safety and recovery of the people in Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunamis. They shared the latest information they have heard through media and the few reports received from family and friends in Tonga. As a community, Tongans are dispersed around the world.
“Tonga is home to 106,000 people, but more than double that number live overseas, mainly in the US, New Zealand, and Australia. Remittances from the overseas population have been declining since the onset of the 2008 global economic crisis. The tourism industry is improving but remains modest at under 90,000 tourists per year.” – via Wikipedia
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is the largest religious group on the islands, representing 36% of the population. Christianity was introduced to Tonga in 1822 by Methodist missionaries, pre-dating the arrival of Methodism in the Northwest in 1834, when Methodist missionary Jason Lee arrived at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Tongans are our spiritual elders, embracing the Methodist movement ten years earlier than Northwesterners.
When Tongans immigrated to the GNW, they turned to The United Methodist Church to establish faith communities. Today Tongans gather for worship in six local churches or fellowships that identify as Tongan and are active members of many more congregations.
I am asking you to do two things before the end of January: Pray and Act.
1. PRAY for the people of Tonga and their leaders as they work to respond to the immediate crisis. Pray for encouragement in the long, silent waiting; pray for rain to clean the air and settle the ash that has fallen everywhere.
Rev. Sia Puloka reminded us that “What Tonga needs is your love. We haven’t heard. We cannot be there. But Jesus is there. Your prayer to Jesus is what Tonga needs.” Pray for hospitality and shelter for those who have lost their homes. Pray for no more eruptions and for quick repair of the communication cable that is their lifeline to the world.
Pray also for our GNW siblings in Christ and their faith communities as they wait for word of their relatives and friends in Tonga. They reminded us last night that, while we cannot be present, our prayers can still encircle them.
And, as you pray, please go to the Facebook pages of these faith communities or their pastors and post your prayers and words of encouragement. We must open our hearts to share this tragedy with those most affected.
2. ACT to share resources in Tonga’s time of need. We are preparing to help the recovery effort in Tonga, where many homes are destroyed and ash blankets the land, killing crops, polluting air, water, and fish, the primary source of protein.
Rev. Taufoou mentioned that disasters like in Tonga, and Tongans in other countries are used to sending supplies to help their families recover. But, he said, “this will be a long journey. There may be another eruption; now ashes cover the kingdom. We must send relief for more than our families, for the whole Kingdom.”
I encourage you to designate donations to your local church for “Tongan Relief” now. At the same time, we are working to determine the best channel for these funds, perhaps through partners in New Zealand, which can deliver goods to Tonga much quicker than from the United States. Your gifts can be sent to your Annual Conference with this designation and will be channeled for this purpose.
“Por la entrañable misericordia de nuestro Dios, Con que nos visitó desde lo alto la aurora, Para dar luz a los que habitan en tinieblas y en sombra de muerte; Para encaminar nuestros pies por camino de paz”.
La Gracia de Dios este contigo esta mañana, estamos en la temporada de fiestas, la temporada de fiestas santas. Y realmente no he conversado últimamente mucho con ustedes, mi gente del Área del Gran Noroeste de la Iglesia Metodista Unida. Una y otra vez, he pensado que quiero dar un buen mensaje, compartir buenas noticias con las personas con las que sirvo. Y, sin embargo, las palabras no han llegado.
Entonces, quiero comenzar esta mañana simplemente agradeciendo nuevamente. Espero que me hayas escuchado decir gracias antes. Esta ha sido una temporada incómoda, difícil, agotadora y ustedes se han mantenido vivos y sanos, la mayoría de ustedes. Y lamentamos aquellos que no han superado esta pandemia por razones de COVID u otras circunstancias de la vida y de salud que les han quitado la vida.
Pero aquellos de ustedes que están escuchando este mensaje, que están escuchando este mensaje hoy, están vivos, están sirviendo, se preocupan y están luchando. Gracias! Dios obra a través de nosotros. Aunque nos sintamos preparados para la tarea o no. La gente encuentra bendición en nosotros. Y así, nos levantamos cada mañana, saludamos al sol, y seguimos adelante de la mejor manera que podamos, contagiando amor, esperanza y ternura a las personas que nos encontramos. Así que gracias!. Gracias, que Dios los bendiga y los guarde.
Sin embargo, es una época extraña y desorientadora, ¿no? ¿No te parece así? Ciertamente lo es. Hay tantos asuntos urgentes a los que prestar atención, a los que abrir nuestro corazón, aprender sobre ellos, responder con compasión y comprensión. Cada vez que pienso en traerte una buena palabra, me encuentro atrapada.
¿Les hablaré sobre el clima, las inundaciones, los incendios forestales y la necesidad de alejarnos de los combustibles fósiles y encontrar nuevas fuentes de energía sostenibles?
¿Les hablare del COVID, de las muertes, los peligros, las pruebas, de no poder reunirnos y cantar juntos?
¿Les hablare del 6 de enero y de las divisiones que parecen separarnos como pueblo, como nación y amenazar los cimientos mismos de una sociedad civilizada?
¿Les hablare sobre el racismo y los juicios de Rittenhouse y las personas que mataron a Ahmaud Arbery y Charlottesville y el peligro de perder el derecho al voto?
Cada vez que pienso en qué hablarles, creo que, si hablo una palabra, esas otras palabras no se dicen, y lo llevamos todo, todo al mismo tiempo. Y, sin embargo, no podemos hablar de todo al mismo tiempo. Y así, me he encontrado en una temporada de silencio. No porque no tengo un sentimiento profundo, no porque no esté en sintonía con lo que estás luchando, con lo que el mundo está luchando. Pero me encuentro incapaz de hablar porque es tan amplio y profundo y hay que tanto de que hablar, que es difícil saber por dónde empezar.
Busque en las Escrituras, en la oración, profundamente en las últimas dos semanas para prepararme para este mensaje y lo que encontré fueron dos grandes historias en el Evangelio de Lucas de personas que se sentían atraídas a la quietud.
El primero es de Lucas 1 y es el cántico de Zacarías. Recuerda que Zacarías está casado con Isabel y ella queda embarazada del bebé que se convertirá en Juan el Bautista. Y Zacarías recibe este anuncio y está desconcertado y no confía del todo en él. Zacarías e Isabel son mayores y no están seguros de poder tener hijos. Y entonces, cuestiona al ángel que le trae esta noticia. Y el ángel lo calla, le quita la voz por dudar de la palabra de Dios.
Y Zacarías espera en silencio, hasta que Isabel da a luz y nace el bebé. Lo van a llamar Zacarías en honor a su padre, y María dice: “No, su nombre es Juan”. Y la gente se vuelva hacia Zacarías y les dicen: “¿Qué dices acerca de esto? ¿Qué piensas? ¿No debería el bebé llevar tu nombre?” Y Zacarías recupera su voz, su voz regresa. Y él responde, no dice que quiero nombrarlo, Juan. No dice que lo llamo Juan. Dice: “Su nombre es Juan” como si viniera del más allá. Este es un momento poderoso en las escrituras.
Y luego también me atrae María. Y todo lo que ella meditaba en su corazón mientras el mundo giraba a su alrededor, ella había dado a luz a este nuevo bebé entre, pastores, ángeles, el cielo se abrió, los profetas estaban hablando, y ella habla una palabra. Pero luego reflexiona sobre todo en su corazón.
Los escritores de la Biblia saben por lo que estamos pasando: el miedo, la desorientación, el peligro, el desplazamiento, la exclusión, la traición, las plagas. Lo saben todo, está todo en la historia. No es una historia feliz de Nochebuena con bebés, animales en un corral. También es una historia de profundo desplazamiento, indiferencia, huida. Y, sin embargo, es una historia que nos invita a esperar, a encontrar nuestro propio silencio, a anticiparnos, no a esperar pasivamente, sino a anticiparnos, a estar atentos, a prepararnos y a vivir con esperanza.
Porque el núcleo de las Escrituras es el mensaje de que lo que sucede a nuestro alrededor, lo que vemos con nuestros ojos, lo que escuchamos con nuestros oídos, lo que experimentamos en las complejas e impredecibles vidas sociales que llevamos no lo es todo, es lo que esta debajo de eso, el lugar donde hay un espíritu. Hay un lugar donde viven nuestras almas, hay un lugar donde Dios que observa y atiende toda la complejidad de nuestras vidas, nos atiende, planea un buen futuro y nos invita a asociarnos en la creación de ese futuro.
Aquí estamos. Estamos invitados a esta temporada de Adviento que está a punto de llegar. Adviento significa venir. Se trata de la venida de Dios al mundo, sí, en el niño Jesús. Pero Dios viene todos los años cuando celebramos el Adviento, todos los días, cuando nos despertamos al amanecer, para guiarnos por nuevos caminos, para enseñarnos cosas nuevas, para invitarnos a participar en nuestras propias vidas en el mundo con los ojos abiertos, y nueva conciencia.
Quiero leerles el Salmo 46 esta mañana. Puedes escuchar esto como un optimismo limitado, una ilusión superficial, o puedes escucharlo como una invitación a buscar dónde está viva y naciendo en el mundo la bondad y la esperanza que Dios promete.
Dios es nuestro amparo y fortaleza, Nuestro pronto auxilio en las tribulaciones. Por tanto, no temeremos, aunque la tierra sea removida, Y se traspasen los montes al corazón del mar; Aunque bramen y borboteen sus aguas, Y tiemblen los montes a causa de su ímpetu. Selah
Hay un río cuyas corrientes alegran la ciudad de Dios, El santuario de las moradas del Altísimo. Dios está en medio de ella; no será conmovida. Dios la ayudará al clarear la mañana. Braman las naciones, se tambalean los reinos; Lanza él su voz, y se derrite la tierra. Jehová de los ejércitos está con nosotros; Nuestro refugio es el Dios de Jacob. Selah
Venid, ved las obras de Jehová, Que ha puesto asolamiento en la tierra. Que hace cesar las guerras hasta los confines de la tierra. Que quiebra el arco, rompe las lanzas Y quema los carros en el fuego. Estad quietos, y conoced que yo soy Dios; Seré exaltado entre las naciones; enaltecido seré en la tierra. Jehová de los ejércitos está con nosotros; Nuestro refugio es el Dios de Jacob.
Y así, en la temporada de adviento, esperamos, anticipamos, nos preparamos. Esperamos que lo que nos dicen las Escrituras sea la verdad que a veces no podemos ver.
Estate quieto. Quédate quieto con Zacarías. Quédate quieto con María. Quédate quieto con Job. Quédate quieto con Jesús en el huerto.
No se deje consumir por lo que ve en la televisión o en las redes sociales. Busque ayuda en medio de los problemas. Fíjense en dónde se alegra nuestro mundo, nuestra ciudad, nuestros vecindarios.
Únete conmigo en esta oración de respiración. Ven, Jesús, nace en nosotros hoy. Ven, Jesús, nace en nosotros hoy. Ven, Jesús, nace en nosotros hoy. Y fíjate si puedes levantarte alrededor de las siete de la mañana o un poco más temprano y mirar hacia afuera, encontrar un lugar que mire hacia el este y ver si puedes ver salir el sol.
“Por la entrañable misericordia de nuestro Dios, Con que nos visitó desde lo alto la aurora, Para dar luz a los que habitan en tinieblas y en sombra de muerte; Para encaminar nuestros pies por camino de paz”.
Que sea así para usted, para su congregación, para su vecindario y para el asombroso mundo de Dios.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Translated and Adapted by: Rev. Cruz Edwin Santos Director of Hispanic/Latinx Ministry December 6, 2021
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Grace to you this morning, we are well into the holiday season, the holy holiday season. And I have not been speaking to you, my people across the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church much lately. Time and again, I have thought I want to give a good word, to share good news with the people that I serve with. And yet, the words have not come.
So, I want to start this morning just by saying thank you again. I hope you’ve heard me say thank you before. This has been an awkward and difficult and trying season and you have kept alive, most of you. And we mourn those who have not made it through this pandemic for reasons of COVID or other life circumstances and health circumstances that have taken their lives.
But those of you who are listening to this message, who are hearing this message today, you are alive and you’re serving and you’re caring, you’re struggling at times. Thank you. God works through us. Whether we feel up to the task or not. People find blessing in us. And so, we get up each morning, we greet the sun, and we go on, as best we can, spreading love and hope and tenderness to the people that we encounter. So, thank you. Thank you, God bless you and keep you.
It is a strange and disorienting time, though, isn’t it? Don’t you find it so? I certainly do. There are so many urgent matters to give our attention to, to open our hearts to, to learn about, to respond to with compassion and understanding. Every time I think about bringing you a good word, I find myself caught.
Shall I speak about the climate and the flooding and the wildfires and the need to move away from fossil fuels and find new sustainable sources of energy?
Shall I speak to you about COVID and the deaths and the dangers and the trials of not being able to gather and sing together?
Shall I speak to you of January 6 and the divisions that seem to be separating us as people in our nation and threatening the very foundation of civil society?
Shall I speak to you about racism and the trials of Rittenhouse and the people who killed Ahmaud Arbery and Charlottesville and the danger of losing voting rights?
Each time I think about what to speak to you about, I think, if I speak one word, it leaves unspoken those other words, and we carry it all, all at the same time. And yet we can’t speak of it all at the same time. And so, I have found myself in a season of silence. Not because I don’t feel deeply, not because I’m not attuned with what you’re struggling with, with what the world is struggling with. But I find myself unable to speak because it is so broad and so deep and there’s so much, it’s hard to know where to begin.
I turned to scripture, into prayer, deeply in the last couple of weeks to prepare for this message and what I found there were two great stories in the Gospel of Luke of people being drawn into stillness.
The first is from Luke 1 and it’s the song of Zechariah. You remember Zechariah is married to Elizabeth and Elizabeth becomes pregnant with the baby that will become John the Baptist. And Zechariah receives this announcement and is puzzled by it and doesn’t quite trust it. He and Elizabeth are older and not sure they can have children. And so, he questions the angel that brings him this news. And the angel strikes him silent, takes his voice away for doubting the word from God.
And he sits in silence, then until you recall that Elizabeth gives birth, the baby is born. They’re going to name it Zechariah after his father, and Mary says, “No, his name is John.” And that people turn to Zechariah and say, “What do you say about this? What do you think, shouldn’t the baby be named after you?” And Zechariah gets his voice back, his voice returns. And he says, he doesn’t say I want to name him, John. He doesn’t say I name him John. He says, “His name is John” as if it comes from beyond. It’s a powerful moment in the scripture.
And then I’m drawn also to Mary. And all that she pondered in her heart as the world was swirling around her and she had given birth to this new baby and shepherds and angels, and the sky opened up and prophets are speaking, and she speaks a word. But then she ponders it all in her heart.
The writers of the Bible, know what we’re going through – the fear, the disorientation, the danger, the displacement, exclusion, betrayal, the plagues. They know it all, it’s all in the story. It’s not a happy Christmas Eve story with babies in and animals in a barnyard and halos. It’s also a story of deep displacement, disregard, flight. And yet, it’s a story that invites us to wait, to find our own silence, to anticipate, not to wait passively, but to anticipate and watch for and prepare for, and live in hope.
Because the core of the scripture is the message that what’s going on around us what we see with our eyes, what we hear with our ears, what we experience in the complex and unpredictable social lives we lead isn’t everything, that beneath it, there is a spirit. There is a place where our souls live, there is a place where God who watches and tends the whole complexity of our lives, tends to us, plans for a good future, and invites us to partner in creating that future.
So here we are. We’re invited into this season of Advent which is all about coming. Advent means coming. It’s about God coming into the world, yes, in the baby Jesus. But God coming every year as we celebrate Advent, every day, as we awaken to the dawn, to lead us in new ways, to teach us new things, to invite us to participate in our own lives in the world with open eyes, and new awareness.
I want to read to you Psalm 46 this morning. You can hear this as foolish optimism, superficial wishful thinking, or you can hear it as an invitation to look for where the goodness and the hopefulness that God promises is alive and being born in the world.
Our defense is sure, our shelter and help in trouble, God never stands far off. So we stand unshaken when solid earth cracks and volcanoes slide into the sea. When breakers rage and mountains tremble, the Lord of cosmic power, Jacob’s God, will shield us.
A river delights the City of God, home of the Holy One most high. With God there, the city stands. God defends it under attack. Nation’s rage, empires fall. God speaks, the earth melts. The Lord of cosmic power, Jacob’s God, will shield us.
Come, see the wonders God does across the earth. Everywhere stopping wars, smashing, crushing, burning all the weapons of wars. An end to your fighting. “Acknowledge me as God,” God says. High over nations, high over Earth, the Lord of cosmic power, Jacob’s God, will shield us.
And so, in the season of Advent, we wait. We anticipate. We prepare. We hope for what the scripture tells us is the truth we sometimes cannot see.
Be still. Be still with Zechariah. Be still with Mary. Be still with Job. Be still with Jesus in the garden.
Don’t be consumed by what you see on television or on social media. Watch for help in trouble. Notice where our world, our city, our neighborhoods are being made glad.
Pray with me this breathing prayer. Come, Jesus, be born in us today. Come, Jesus, be born in us today. Come, Jesus, be born in us today. And see if you can get up about seven in the morning or a little bit earlier and to look outdoors, find a place that looks east and see if you can see the sun rising.
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
May it be so for you, for your congregation, for your neighborhood and for God’s amazing wide world.