Hebrews 13: 1-3: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
As this year comes to a close, there is much to reflect on. We see polarization and division within families and across borders, we anticipate uncertainty at every turn, and we feel the weight of our collective suffering bearing down upon us. Where can hope be found in times like these?
The answer will be different for each of us. Perhaps hope can be found in new life brought forth from the swollen tummies of pregnant mothers, or spotted in the twinkle of a stranger’s eye as they pass us on the street. Maybe hope sounds like the laughter of the neighborhood’s children, carried on the wind like a song as they race by on their bicycles. At times, hope may feel like a distant and elusive thing. But might it also be found in one another?
A few weeks ago we found ourselves with positive covid tests, dizzying coughs, and an empty refrigerator—seemingly the worst combination for a two week quarantine with Thanksgiving smack in the middle of it. Loneliness fell heavy upon our shoulders those first few nights, separated from family by far too many miles. And yet, the heart of God was not lost on us. Even here, love found us.
Where there is suffering, there is opportunity for healing. And if our suffering is great, as is now the case, then isn’t there space for healing on a scale so grand that we can hardly comprehend it? Perhaps that is where we can find hope in this season. A hope for healing; for unity; for love.
In our time of need, we found our church working as body with its many beautiful parts to meet our every need: a letter of encouragement sent through the mail; a sack of cookies dropped on the doorstep; small-groups over Zoom continuing to deepen our faith; meals delivered with a warm smile and lively waves of “hello” and “take care!”.
In the midst of our loneliness, when the burden feels too heavy to carry alone, there are helpers and healers among us, working diligently to spread Christ’s love. This is where our hope is.
Our church is filled with gifts of kindness and warmth. Rather than building up walls to keep all of that goodness within, we have been so generously offered a place at the table. And there has been no shortage of goodness to go around. How much hope there is to be found in one another!
Loving God, be with us here. We pray today for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. May your love wrap us in an embrace so warm that we cannot help but feel cared for. May your goodness lift our spirits, and may your kindness overflow so that we might be even more generous to our neighbors. Thank you for watching over us. Our hope is in you in this (and in every) season. Amen.
Each fall at Oconee Street UMC, children are invited to the altar to stand with their Sunday school classes and officially start the new year. The kids who are promoting to a new Sunday school class take a ceremonial step to join a new group and meet a new teacher.
While we currently aren’t meeting for in-person Sunday school or worship, the children’s Sunday school teachers want to mark this time and get a chance to see the precious faces we miss. While children and youth in third grade and older will continue to meet online, we are launching some socially-distant activities this fall and winter that we hope the youngest Methodists will enjoy and help them feel connected to their church.
On Oct. 18 at 2 p.m., the church will hold Promotion Sunday in a drive-thru format, where kids will get a chance to see their Sunday school teachers, celebrate their place in the church and receive gifts, including the pins and certificates that they normally take home from the ceremony at the altar. Third-graders will receive Bibles and seventh-graders will get their confirmation workbooks.
If you are new to OSUMC and would like to get your kids involved in Sunday school, now’s the time. We’d love to celebrate you joining Sunday school and allow your kids to meet their teachers in person (if through the car window).
So, families with kids, mark your calendars and, if you would, fill out this RSVP.
To the Athens community and especially our Black and Brown siblings:
Following in the steps of Jesus who, in love, offered healing and liberation to all he encountered, who wept over unrepentant cities, and who expressed anger at injustice and oppression, we are angered and grieved at the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor – among the latest Black and Brown individuals senselessly murdered.
We are concerned the police chief, mayor and city manager of Athens dispersed the remnants of the crowds protesting on Sunday with tear gas. Although we heard Mayor Girtz’s explanation of the process that led to this decision, we ask the mayor, commissioners, chief of police and city manager to show support of peaceful protests. We ask them to assure the safety of all involved in the upcoming rally on Saturday, June 6, as well as any other protests that may be forthcoming. We also ask for police officers to refrain from using force against those assembled in peaceful protest in response to the ongoing injustice in this city and nation.
Through our various missions and ministries, in partnership with groups like Athens Anti Discrimination Movement Group and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens, we at Oconee Street UMC will continue to work for justice and healing in the Athens community. As a church of Jesus Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many,” we commit ourselves to discipleship in the way of Jesus – to serve the needs of our Black and Brown siblings and to continue to repent of the sin of white supremacy as God requires of us.
As you may already know, Oconee Street UMC has committed the money to buy food to prepare breakfast every other Wednesday and lunch the second Monday of alternating months in 2020.
That means, there are TWO times of day that you can serve a meal at the soup kitchen; one of those times may fit into your schedule! It’s a great way to get to know other church members and the community of people who eat meals at First Baptist Church. Seriously, the work is easy, you meet interesting people, and you get a free meal. Can’t beat that deal.
Isaiah 8:11-17; 9:1-7 “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Isaiah 8:13-14a
My first deep encounter with the season of Advent came in 2007, when Bryson and I were living at Jubilee Partners as an engaged couple. Jubilee is a Christian community just down the road in Comer, Georgia, on a rural campus of almost 300 acres. For the past 40 years, Jubilee’s primary work has been to receive newly-immigrated refugees and accompany them in the first steps of their transition to permanent resettlement in the United States. Staff at Jubilee commit to (trying to) live, work, and worship together in the spirit of the early Church, and share chores, prayer time, and meals together 5-6 days a week.
During Advent at Jubilee, everyone gathers at 6:15 for a brief pause before community dinner. We sit in the main community building that doubles as cafeteria and worship hall, and form a semicircle around the Advent wreath and crèche. We take turns leading the group in two Advent carols, then read a short excerpt from the Messianic prophecies. At that point, all lights in the room are extinguished and we wait, in the darkness, in silent meditation.
Although only held for a few minutes, this waiting in the dark often stretches a little longer than feels comfortable. The silence is maintained even as curious children begin to stir or visitors file in late. Then the Advent candles are lit, and into the darkness we sing “Come thou long expected Jesus,” to the lilting Celtic melody Hyfrydol, usually with a little guitar or fiddle accompaniment. We close with prayer, which usually includes thanksgivings and petitions both big and small. It’s a simple practice, and manages to encompass many elements of the Advent season: earnestness, impatience, wonder, anxiety, hope, and acceptance.
“Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him.” Isaiah 8:17
The prayer concerns of the prophets, it turns out, overlap greatly with our own—refugee crises, food insecurity, environmental disaster, rising militarism. When I struggle to see, or trust the existence of, the face of God, I am comforted by the knowledge of my kinship with people through the ages who share this longing for the urgent breaking forth of God’s transformative kingdom.
Since I’m not a theologian or a scholar, I wanted to share one of the best resources I do know of for connecting with that kinship. That is the amazing 1960 album “Christmas Spirituals” by Odetta Holmes, known simply as Odetta. This album was recently re-released, complete with a multiracial nativity, world-music-inspired percussion, and a children’s choir. That’s not the one I recommend for this purpose. Take the time to find the original 1960 album, which features a hand-carved Black Madonna cradling baby Jesus against a dark background. It’s still available. Here’s a link to the first song on YouTube (apologies for any ads that may pop up):
Odetta’s Christmas Spirituals challenge every sugar-coated image I ever held of the coming of Christ. One glance at song titles like “Poor Little Jesus” and you realize this is not going to be the usual celebratory, somewhat smug victory march of typical Christmas hymnody. This is the resolute time-keeping of runners determined to finish with dignity a race they do not expect to win.
The opening song, “Virgin Mary Had One Son,” dives steadily down a minor chord toward the bottom of Odetta’s astonishing vocal range. There’s no peppy brass band, just a tinny folk guitar and a lonely, sorrowing bass. The song opens with a plodding groan, then abruptly shifts to an almost frantic rhythm that sounds more likely to accompany a chase or escape scene than a moment of sublime transcendence.
“Mary, whatcha gonna name your pretty little baby?” sings Odetta, in the same tone of affectionate sympathy a kind-hearted but resigned neighbor might extend to any new teen mom. Later in the album, she declares from Mary’s perspective, “Some call him one thing, I think I’ll call him Emmanuel,” with the resolve of a mother defending the value of a child the world considers to be worth-less.
These carols help orient me in the direction I understand Jesus asked us to follow him—that is, toward common purpose with the exiled and the shamed in their modern-day mangers. I don’t mean to reinforce the fantasy that the oppressed receive some supernatural glory by means of their suffering. But I realize that every step I have taken up the ladder of privilege and power—earned or unearned, desired or undesired—has narrowed my comprehension of those whose circumstances are different.
For Christmas to be the observance of Incarnation, I need my attention yanked toward Jesus, who said, “Look. You want to see me? That’s easy. I’ll always be in the places of suffering, whether of mind, body, or spirit. But look: don’t go there out of pity, or even out of a virtuous desire to make restitution. Go because that’s where you know you can find me. Go, and find your kindred by the greatness of their need for me.”
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2
Prayer: O God, in this season of darkness, help us to have faith that even as the darkness is great, it will never overcome your Light. Amen
The Way Forward concerns possible changes to language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning “homosexual practices”, ordination of homosexual persons and marriage of non-heterosexual persons within the church. Over recent decades, efforts to change this language at General Conference has led to impasse after impasse. There are many members and churches who do not think thy can be true to their understanding and remain in the church with expanded roles for LGBTQ+ persons. There are many members and churches that cannot abide the use of faith language to deny full participation to all children of God.
General Conference in 2016 approved the Commission on a Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops. Methodists representing all jurisdictions and a range of perspectives were appointed to examine and consider revisions to the Book of Discipline provisions regarding human sexuality and to identify options that might maintain unity within the church.
A Special Conference will occur in February to consider their report which proposes three plans: the One-Church Plan which is supported by the Counci of Bishops, the Connectional Conferences Model and the Traditionalist Plan. You may want to consider:
– An Simple Plan Overview – final that was coauthored by our own Sally Askew who spent many long years serving with the United Methodist Church Judicial Council in addition to her leadership in the Women’s Division and her years as a clergy spouse
– Furthermore, there is another option which was not included in the Way Forward report but may possibly be proposed from the floor of the Conference in Feb. It is supported by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus and their Simple Plan Overview – final includes their commentary.
I hope many of you will join us next Wednesday for what I hope will be an enlightening and meaningful chance to respectfully share about an issue that is crucially important in our communal faith lives.
Four opportunities for Adult Sunday School will begin on Sunday, Sept. 9. Please sign up by Sept. 2 for the following opportunities:
Moms Set Free Book study, Mom Set Free: Good news for moms who are tired of trying to be good enough. Seven weeks: Sept. 9 – Oct. 21. Meet at 717. Facilitated by Hope Cook.
Book provided. Sign up by Sept. 2 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Renovare Renovare Spiritual Formation Groupusing contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational traditions to enrich spiritual practices you are naturally drawn to and uncover possibilities for growth in new areas.
Nine weeks: Sept. 9 – Nov. 4. Meet at 717. Facilitated by Katie Calkin.
Workbook provided. Sign up by Sept. 2 by emailing email@example.com
No sign up is required for the following Adult Sunday School classes. Please drop-in any week …
Adult Sunday School Explore lectionary readings, faith journeys, and living out the Gospel through social justice work, prayer & meditation, and community.
Every Sunday. Drop-ins welcome. Meet in downstairs conference room. Members take turns facilitating.
Bible Study Every Sunday beginning Sept. 9. Drop-ins welcome.
Meet at 717. Facilitated by Paul Quick and Darlene Bressler.
Join us on Monday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m. for a discussion with author Sarah Quezada, who recounted her and her husband’s experiences navigating the U.S. immigration system as a mixed status couple.
As a young Christian, Sarah Quezada had a heart for social justice. She was also blissfully unaware of the real situations facing today’s immigrants. Until she met someone new. . . who happened to be undocumented.
In Love Undocumented, Quezada takes readers on a journey deep into the world of the U.S. immigration system. Follow her as she walks alongside her new friend, meets with lawyers, stands at the U.S.–Mexico border, and visits immigrants in detention centers. With wisdom from Scripture, research, and these experiences, Quezada explores God’s call to welcome the stranger and invites Christians to consider how to live faithfully in the world of closed doors and high fences.
With Quezada as your guide, discover a subversive Savior who never knew a stranger. Get to know the God of the Bible, whose love and grace cross all borders. Respond to an invitation to turn away from fear and enter a bigger story.
If you plan to attend, please complete the survey so we know how many to expect: