Living Water, a Gladdened Heart, a Compelling Question, and a Deep Thanks…
You may have noticed that in most seasons of life there is not just one thing happening. It is more like a plethora of colors with the freshness of one season giving way in beauty to the necessary release that enables God’s creation to be renewed. In this spirit there are several things I want to name with you to celebrate and to ponder in our life together throughout the conference. Especially I want to name how these pieces are part of the larger weave of Christian discipleship and ministry to which we together have been called.
Living Water ONE
On November 3rd, I was privileged to join with delegates and friends of the former Western Reserve and Eastern Ohio
Associations as they officially become one association, now named Living Water ONE (Ohio Northeast). You may or may not know that this new season of coming together has actually been in process for a number of years. It did not begin with constitutions and by-laws, but rather with shared practices of ministry and times of building relationship. There was a living together long enough to form a shared story that expressed a tangible presence of God’s unifying love. I have to believe, as others have noted well before me, that there is important learning for our evolving practices of ministry together in Ohio, West Virginia, and Northern Kentucky. Could it be that sharing in ministry practices and forming deeper relationships might be part of our process in our life together? I have to think the answer is “yes”. Our Conference Moderator, Cathy Green, shares about some initial first steps in her article this month. So, I say, blessings Living Water Association! May your witness to mutual love and collaboration flow into our wider life!
A Gladdened Heart
I don’t know about you, but this past month has brought me through a range of emotions. Recent deaths due to gunmen whose hearts were captivated by anti-Semitism, racism, and other hatred of various types, has brought me to a place of deep grief and sadness. I cannot imagine the pain of the families and communities who have experienced these horrific events. But I have noticed something else happening deep inside me, call it a madness or an anger that such realities persist. I am reminded of the theologian and ethicist Beverly Harrison’s writing about the power of anger in the work of love. She helpfully reminds us that anger is an energy around things that matter. While it must not be the endpoint of one’s life energy, it can serve to motivate one, empowered by love, into action.
Can it be that a saddened and maddened heart can lead to a gladdened heart? I have to believe yes. Let me explain. On October 28th, I attended the dedication of the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park, a vision of members of First Congregational Church, UCC, in Columbus. It is “[t]he first park in the nation dedicated to the theme of social justice – bringing Columbus together to build the path to a better future through art, education, and dialogue. Located at Broad and Cleveland in the heart of the Discovery District – just a few blocks from the Statehouse.”
You may remember that the Rev. Dr. Washington Gladden, who pastored First Congregational Church, in late 19th and early 20th centuries was a leading voice in the articulation of what came to be known as the “Social Gospel”. It is the idea that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to have “here and now” effects on the lives of those who are most at risk in the human family. Gladden challenged the church and the public at large not only to acts of mercy to meet immediate human need, but also to acts of justice that would change the systems that made such needs a reality in the first place. It was this work that literally “Gladdened the heart”.
A Compelling Question…
When we are saddened and maddened, what is the call for gladdening the heart, not only personally, but vitally in the wider communities of which we are a part? Toward what vision is God through Christ Jesus calling us in this season of the life of the world, local and global? I believe that much of how we live is shaped by the definitions we carry either consciously or unconsciously. I have been contemplating much about what we mean as followers of Jesus Christ when we use the word justice. I would like to suggest my working (as in unfinished and always in refinement) definition to encourage you in your thinking about this dimension of the Christian life.
Here goes: Justice is the work toward an arrangement of life where all God’s children can live into their full human humanity and empowered by God’s agape love may freely use their gifts without fear for the upbuilding of the common good and the good of the whole creation, so that all may flourish, sharing in God’s abundance and joy!
What would it look like in our personal, local, association, conference, national and global settings of the church if we were to engage the world with this kind of heart and mind? An equally important question, it seems to me, is this one: “What kind of encouragement is needed to foster this kind of loving motion in ourselves, in our local congregation and other settings of ministry and in the life of the world?”
It seems to me this is where God’s gift of covenant relationships in our various settings is and can be even more vitally important, especially in a cultural season of polarization and parochialism. In the coming weeks and months, I look forward to forming with you a new clarity of response to these questions (and many more, I am sure). I am especially interested in knowing from you what your compelling questions, hopes, and dreams are for the way in which you sense God leading you to be agents of Christ’s love in the world.
Finally, A Deep Thanks!
In this month when we set aside a special day to offer thanks and are reminded of the things for which we are daily grateful, I want to offer my deep thanks to all of you. For your support of Our Church’s Wider Mission that provides support for ministry that extends to our associations, the conference, national and global settings, I am so very grateful. I know well that in this season in which the church finds itself, such giving is not easy. But it is one of the critical means by which ministry is supported that impacts God’s people in many ways that would not otherwise be possible. Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you!
Additionally, I want to thank you for the sacred trust you have given to me for leadership in this season of our life together. I receive that trust with joyful seriousness, deep commitment to God, Jesus Christ, and to you! I hold you daily in my prayers and continue to ask the same of you for me. Blessings on you and may your thanksgivings give space for joy to rise!